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Wednesday, February 09, 2005

SOCIAL EXPERIMENT

Before we leave the subject for at least a few weeks, one last entry on the new Second Life economic policies that remove funding for resident-run non-educational events. (Or what some might call the Nightclub De-Subsidization Act.) While Philip Linden insists the change is not directed against nightclub venues, many residents, like The Edge nightclub owner Jenna Fairplay, predict dire consequences as a direct result. No longer able to get Linden sponsorship for their parties, runs their argument, nightclubs will begin to fail, while at the same time, the few nightclubs which do thrive will be the ones that emphasize sexual content (since they'll be able to charge willing patrons for that.) There's a fascinating question at the heart of these predictions: are the nightclub venues popular with residents because they help fulfill a basic human need (as Ms. Fairplay argues), or because they're the easiest and most accessible Second Life locations to visit? If the former, then the nightclubs will probably thrive even without Linden subsidization; if the latter, most of them are probably fated to decline.

Or to get even more meta: What's most essential to human nature? Being a social animal, or taking the path of least resistance?

The cool thing is, we get to actually run that last philosophical point through the empirical wringer. The screenshot above is a list of the most popular twenty sites in Second Life, as of today. And as they have been in recent memory, most of those places (twelve) are nightclubs; five of those emphasize Mature-themed sexual content. Three locations are primarily billed as shopping malls; two others emphasize casinos and casual games. One of them is a social and sandbox hangout for the Furry subculture, another is a thematic recreation of New York City; still another, Dark Life, is a mini MMORPG.

I'll check the Popular Places board again next month, and find out how, if at all, the new economy has altered the culture, and the way residents play.

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Comments

If SL really is meant as a simulation of RL - a meaningful RL - it does not make a lot of sense to pump money into the economy so the citizens can visit night clubs (mature content or not). Do we want a kind of welfare state, a society consisting of dozed consumers? This might seem to be fun for some of these consumers ... for a while. But in the long run?

Night club owners might see this differently and I sympathize with their opinion - taking into account the different interests. But the question remains how we can build a meaningful Second Life which satisfies more than the lower parts of the maslow pyramid ... and which parameters set by the Lindens might further our goals. (This at least remains a question to those of us, who want "more".)

Where is the real problem with events for which residents have to pay? Its like in the real world: if these events are what the residents want, they will pay what they think it is worth. This is NOT different from the real world. And in RL not all entertainment is "adult", because "the patrons are willing to pay for [only that type of entertainment]". Thats a gross oversimplification.

There is even a lot of fun to be had in SL outside of any club!

... Just with the other citizens. Just by walking around (or flying around) and enjoying what is there ... at least in the regions with have not been destroyed be ugly night clubs or tight settlements.

Posted by: Kim Charlton at Feb 10, 2005 12:09:59 AM

Hamlet, keep in mind that the top picks is now determined by winning an auction, so it may not reflect the social dynamic you are looking to explore here, just those motivated enough to get placed by winning their slots.

If your focus is primarily economic, I suppose it could still be used that way, just other social things exist without being in the top picks at all.

Posted by: Maxx Monde at Feb 10, 2005 12:28:12 PM

Maxx, you are thinking of sponsored links. The screenshot that Hamlet posted is the popular places tab in Find. It's based on traffic.

Posted by: McWheelie Baldwin at Feb 10, 2005 12:55:34 PM

Doh!

Yes, you're right. Dwell, or the mighty Trafficvs himself be praised!!

Posted by: Maxx Monde at Feb 10, 2005 1:22:39 PM

Heh. Though now that you mention it, it would be interesting to see what the Sponsored Links are, too. It tells you who is willing to pay the most to advertise their in-world group/place/product/ service, and what that is.

Posted by: Hamlet Linden at Feb 10, 2005 2:37:20 PM

The 'most popular' list says it all and you cant,try as many of you might,argue with those facts when they are placed right in front of your faces.

The majority of people spend the majority of their time in Second Life being the social animals they are and they do it in clubs.The majority of clothing is geared towards people who go to clubs - you dont buy sparkling outfits to sit in your front room with 3 of your friends.

Knock on effect? Oh I think there is one coming.I have over 30 Vendors on my land,now check the most popular list again - done it? - my club had has dwell of over 27k and is the no1 spot in the game,and sales are DOWN.

Not ALL people in Second Life are clubbers but the majority are,you people keep banging on about business and you should heed your own warnings because in business if you dont cater for the majority you go UNDER.

I know what I SEE in Second Life,every single day I can SEE the changes in mood and in attitude and people HATE thes changes and they ARE quitting SL because of them,the new players that are coming in are having to struggle too hard at something they see as recreation.

And therin lies the point ALL you adovocates of the big business world you want Second life to become seem to miss - why the hell would I spend my free time busting my backside just to survive here when I can turn it off and go play something else?Even MORE to the point,why would I pay over $200 a month to run THE most popular place in the entire game,getting almost ZERO support from Linden Labs when I can sell the lot and go play any other online game for $13-$20 a month?

Sonner or later your world will come crashing down - change it back.

Posted by: Sox Rampal at Feb 10, 2005 3:50:27 PM

People seem so down on nightclubs and the nightclub culture in Second Life that sometimes I think they are completely missing the real people this is hurting, and that is the newbie player.

MMOG's have suffered through similar problems where they start to focus almost exclusively on the concerns of the superusers, or in MMOG lingo, 'uberguilds.' I think Second Life is in danger of doing that and its a bad sign.

The newbie probably doesn't have any talent at all for designing clothes, or building, or scripting or any of the other things that might earn him an income, and these changes have made life for Mr. Newbie more difficult in a world where being a newb was already tough. Hamlet tends to write about people who are at the top of the SL food chain because they built something neat or done something never done before or are otherwise newsworthy. It would be interesting to see more interviews with the 'normal' mundane folks that aren't the best builder, that haven't set up a new weird theme park, that don't have 8000 votes for their appearance and are still struggling (key word struggling)to find their place in the world of SL. The results might be surprising. It would be interesting for Hamlet to try starting a new account and living as a newbie without any of the support mechanisms he has and see what life is like.

Posted by: Etain Peregrine at Feb 10, 2005 5:51:14 PM

Sox, I totally aggree with your obversations i.e. think they are plausible:

> Not ALL people in Second Life are clubbers but the
> majority are, ...... because in business if you
> dont cater for the majority you go UNDER.

> I know what I SEE in Second Life, every single day
> I can SEE the changes in mood and in attitude and
> people HATE thes changes
but this attitude and the corresponding behaviour is at least to some degree the result of the parameters the lindens set for game. For example how much money the players get for "doing nothing", how events are sponsored etc. These parameters attract a certain kind of player and further a certain kind of behaviour.

I don't condemn that behaviour. Please don't get me wrong. All I am asking is, is that simply "given"? Are there other combinations of parameters which would lead to a different game - maybe with different players and a different behaviour?

From a business point of view another question remains: what maximises the bottom line for linden labs. (Would be naive, to not take that into account, wouldn't it?)

On the one hand the Lindens are interested in the greatest possible number of registered users. Every one has to pay between 6$ and 10$ per month. Thats fine. A simple business model. Make it satisfying for the majority to be a resident and new users will flock to SL. Big Money.

But if a player which gets all the fun she wants for the L$ she "earns" with that monthly payment alone , there is not a lot of motivation to spend more - for example buy land which leads to ownership fees. The business model gets a bit more complicated here ...

Additionally, i think there are a lot of other ways to get a satisfactory experience out of a game like SL than just seeing your avvie dancing in glitzy club wear. It IS fun - never thought how much fun this can be. But forever and only? Maybe this will become boring after some time too?

If the purpose of SL - as seen by the Lindens - would be to create a world, where people can dance, chat and have virtual sex, they could have done that with a much more simple set of rules, charge 12$ a month and be done with it ...

This is not "banging on business". I like "business". Know why? Its fun! But there are a lot more business-models possible in SL besides running a night club or designing clothes for dancing there.

Posted by: Kim Charlton at Feb 11, 2005 5:13:49 AM

Sox: "in business if you dont cater for the majority you go UNDER"

Yeah, it's just tragic the way companies like BMW keep folding because they don't sell as many units as GM.

Posted by: anon at Feb 11, 2005 11:35:12 AM

Etain Peregrine: "The newbie probably doesn't have any talent at all for designing clothes, or building, or scripting or any of the other things that might earn him an income"

You have a perfectly reasonable point. But what about the newbies that don't want to go clubbing? I expect there are some of those, no?

Why are club-going newbies the ones that should be uniquely catered to with special subsidies?

Posted by: anon at Feb 11, 2005 11:43:31 AM

Heh, we were all newbies once. Mistress Midnight started from nothing, Cubey Terra vehicles were once not ubiquitous with the Gridverse, and Francis Chung went to scripting classes to familiarize herself. And heck, all of these three are STILL learning to get better and better, and that's why they're the best at what they do. :)

When I was a newbie, I went to a lot of clubs and enjoyed -- haven't done as much lately, but I will again. Comes in waves for me, this whole temporal continuum thing... as in First Life, people in Second Life go through phases. There are some hermits now who used to be wild party animals, and those who came from another environment such as TSO and finding many more open possibilities here. An important thing is to be aware of all the choices available to you.

Further along those lines: I'm very much thrilled by the self-discovery that SL offers, but if you don't try, how do you know? I encourage more Residents to look at the whole buffet menu, the whole yummy smorgasbord, and pick and choose what they like. I'm certainly not in favor of someone narrowmindedly limiting themselves to some sinkhole category because I can't relate to that -- I'm an explorer.

Apparently, some people don't even know what's out there. I see stupid prejudices on "both sides of the fence", people who lash out without asking more questions and investigating situations and then *experiencing* it for themselves. I'm prolly not gonna judge something until I give it a whirl. As a tangential aside, if Tringo's good enough for Bel Muse and Ama Omega, it's good enough for me. Hey, if it's fun, I like it. :)

Here's an idea: why don't more "traditionally" divisive factions like "clubbers vs. content creators" unify their talents to come up with something totally uber than neither could achieve on their own? Is it REALLY that hard to work together? Have scripters advise club owners on efficiency; managers and graphicians collaborating on aesthetic form + function; and encourage extended discussion between the creators and the consumers, and people who are both -- which is far more than some would care to stereotype, not surprisingly. The odd gem comes through... take the now-defunct Gravity Space Station, for example. I'd like to see more of that positivity.

UNITY IN DIVERSITY IN THE GRIDVERSE.

ROCK ON!!! =^_^=

Posted by: Torley at Feb 11, 2005 1:39:09 PM

, it's just tragic the way companies like BMW keep folding because they don't sell as many units as GM.


Posted by: anon at February 11, 2005 11:35 AM

But the way Linden has made it is as if the goverment took all the tires away from BMW and told them to find another means of getting the car to roll other then a tire and that they only had about a month to made this new device to replace their tires.

On top of that giving the tires sole to GM saying you get free tires all the free tires you want because GM educates drives on how to build an engine or how to custome paint their car.

Many new car owners just want a car with tires so they can explore and find out just what road they want to travel. They dont want a car and be taught how to rebuild their caborator.

In addition all the car shops that provide auto repair and/or custom paint jobs are hurting cause less and less people are in need of their servies because now they can paint their own car or redo their own brakes.

Most new car owners just wanted to enjoy the ride and will then decide they dont want to have a car any more and will leave because GM's financing options sucked! They will then deicde to leave the car and go to fly a fully equipped plane that they dont have to worry about building or buying the expensive gas for because that game didnt base their game structures on money but around the players.

Posted by: Jenna Fairplay at Feb 12, 2005 2:42:23 PM

jenna, i totally aggree with you,
> told them to find another means of getting the car to roll other
> then a tire and that they only had about a month to made this
> new device

that was hard - maybe even unfairly so - to all businesswomen (and -men), especially to expect them to adapt to these changes on such a short notice. and its sad that the Lindens don't seem to see these businesspeople as their partners in developing SL but obviously as "just players" and are playing god with them. they are throwing away some very interesting opportunities that way, IMHO.

on the other hand, i really don't think that SL will "die" and to speak of "suffering" in the context of newbies with not so much money on their hands now sounds a little dramatic to me too. what the lindens are doing just now, IMHO again, is fumbling around with the little "knobs" of the SL society - to maximise the profits of Linden Labs of course. the intent seems to be, to make the game more interesting for a different group of players. a group that - maybe - will pay more than the standard monthly fees and "produce" more of what will make SL a strong economy. this experiment might fail, of course.

but i don't think so. the Lindens are as much interested in the success of SL than any businesswoman or -man in the game. and if the changes really prove catastrophic. they will change again ... not always nice for us guinea pigs in the lab.

i do not want to sound like a cheap management book, but ... change is good - for some! if you look back on the history of big regulatory changes in SL (for example switching prohibition on/off in the US), you'll see that they were allways hard on a lot of businesses - but a great chance for creative businesswomen like you.

btw: i liked your metaphors! drove a BMW for some years and just imagined how the ride would have been without tires. LOL. and i really understand your angriness.

Posted by: Kim Charlton at Feb 13, 2005 12:42:29 AM

Thank You Kim for the feedback. I agree SL won't die but it will lose a lot of players as we are already seeing. The massive amounts of white land forsale and first hand seeing friend after friend leave the game.

Change is always good and yes in moderation. My favorite book about change would be "Who Moved My Cheese" by Spencer. What I'd like to know is why we the social event suppliers were not approached when SL felt a need to some change.

I have seen postive things come forth from these changes but I have seen more negative.

There was a point when these changes along with another SL issue just got to be too much. I wanted to just say hey if I and what I've done is not appreciated then Ill just move on. That SL is telling me that I don't contribute and therefor I am not entitled to any support. I heard from player after player even ones whom I didnt get along with tell me that I did contribute and helped them and their friends.

The Edge is self supporting as been for a long time, but thats because I've been playing for a long time but due to the size of the change and time given it even took me for a loop and I struggled. In addition what of those players who weren't able to adapt.

Linden has given us no compensation for their poor and drastically imposed changes. If they want to look at GOM, should we the ones effected estimate how much they cost us in real world dollars? I haven't even bothered cause its not why I play. I can go on and on ask Hamlet :P

If there are any typos or parts that just dont make sense Im sorry I just woke and am suffering from hypocaffination syndrom dont worry Ill be fine.

Id like to also say Hamlet deserves a huge Mahalo "Thank You" his articles should be available in SL self via notecard magazine stands cause they are some good reads. ^_^

Posted by: Jenna Fairplay at Feb 13, 2005 3:36:22 PM

Somebody,Linden Labs included,just missed the point by a WIDE margin.

FANTASY - This was a fantasy for a lot of people,Mrs Average with 4 kids could log into SL and have a rampaging social life and BE the club diva she cant be in her real life.

REAL LIFE has thousands of 'jobs' the unskilled can do, but Second Life does not,because SL is a virtual world if you cant script or use Photoshop or,more importantly,dont have the time,you are dead in the water.

Events & Ratings was a good mirror for unskilled labour and you just chopped all those people off at the knee in order to cater to an 'elitest' world.

The upshot of all this of course is that Second Life has now become a world for those who also have the money in real life - Mrs Average cant afford to go to GOM everytime she runs out of Lindens - and you are going to see a world that produces the goods with nobody buying.

Posted by: Sox Rampal at Feb 14, 2005 1:23:43 AM

Jenna: obviously we have somewhat different opinions in this matter, but again, i totally aggree with your point regarding Linden Labs
> What I'd like to know is why we the social event suppliers were
> not approached when SL felt a need to some change.
i think it's a grave error not to involve the SL-entrepreneurs before such changes happen. most of what SL is now has been built by its residents and especially the entrepreneurs.

Sox: I don't think the Lindens would like to build a 'elitist world'. what was intended, maybe, was just a shift in the economical balance. under the old rules a resident could lead a very entertaining life without contributing anything more than his voice in the chats. the last changes made the incentive to contribute just a little stronger. SL still can be a lot of fun without any additional income.

i aggree with you and jenna, that there are residents, who were pissed - maybe rightly so, when the rules were changed AFTER they signed the contract. but again: if SL was intended by its developers as a kind of amusement park, with "all the rides" for a flat fee, they could have build the whole thing a lot simpler.

> Second Life has now become a world for those who also have the
> money in real life
when referring to GOM sounds at least a little bit populistic to me. for example 8 (real) $ for an additional 2.000 L$/month, which should be sufficient to lead a very nice second life, does not sound to me as something only the superrich can afford.

Posted by: Kim Charlton at Feb 14, 2005 7:06:04 AM

> But the way Linden has made it is as if the
> goverment took all the tires away from BMW and told
> them to find another means of getting the car to
> roll other then a tire and that they only had about
> a month to made this new device to replace their
> tires.

Jenna,

I have no problem with clubs, and I suspect that the changes the Lindens implemented were too drastic. My complaint is with Sox's overwhelming sense of entitlement.

Posted by: anon at Feb 14, 2005 8:51:08 AM

In the whole discussion of Value and rewards for contribution, it has been forgotten that a casual user invests his time to be here, and if what he gets for his time is too much effort or restriction and too little freedom, he will go to another, more rewarding site. It is a considerable restriction on a new user if he a) does not have places he can meet lots of people (e.g. clubs on every corner) or b) has so little Money that the price of goods is only depressing. The bulk of every society is consumers, here as well. In normal society, people work and what they earn, they spend on goods and services. Second Life is however a reward people allow themselves for having worked already in RL - the costs of internet and computer, and especially the time a person spends here, have to be adequately compensated for, simply by the the fact that one IS here. Without this vast consumer public, this is no longer a chat world, it is a project area. And if I want to just chat, I use yahoo. I am here because I can interact with the world and its residents, and that is partly penalized by costing Linden. It is however balanced out by my getting money regularly.

I am delighted that the Merchants etc in SL are pleased with the new system. But they are only speaking for themselves. The silent majority doesn't say anything. If it's not nice, they just don't come.

Linden Labs could have a statistic on that - is the access to SL becoming more elitist? Online time, consumer behaviour, Dwell Time in SL itself - it is relatively easy to see if the Poor People are fed up.

Without a Very Strong Poor People or Pure Consumer layer, SL will not grow. And that is an example from a Stagflation that is currently running here in Europe. The Folks have no spare cash, they don't buy, prices get pushed down, redundancy follows, people have less money... etc. Means : It costs more than I enjoy giving, and the system collapses inwardly.

Market Driven does not only mean driven for the Content and service providers - it also means making sure the market CAN and WANTS to absorb the goods and services, and that the market does not shrink.

I am very nervous about these "minor changes" in what was a Very Successful economy. Smaller changes in real societies have resulted in economic collapse.

Posted by: Fritz Rosencrans at Feb 17, 2005 2:52:04 AM

... a small addendum: to make the point more obvious! If a Reward for Contribution System is going to be used, and apparently it is, a very big contribution is simply being here. Perhaps both the basic and premium users should get a per time factor on their basic allowances. The people who are here, make the world alive. Not the stuff, which is an attraction that LEADS to that, but the people who are here. So Being Here is the fundamental contribution to the aliveness of the world, and should be the basis of any contribution reward system I think... And that is what I thought so nice about the Dwell factor.

It rewards those people who made the place nice enough for me to WANT to be here... And when I am here, I have to be somewhere. If there is nowhere I want to be, I stay offline.

Posted by: Fritz Rosencrans at Feb 17, 2005 4:00:51 AM

My complaint is with Sox's overwhelming sense of entitlement.

Sox doesnt have one,try this out for size Mr Anon.

Second Life is a game and as such has to compete in the gamers market.I can pay $19 a month and go play Star Wars Galaxies,for my $19 a month I have EXACTLY the same chance of sucess as everyone else does from day one,I can be as big or as small as I want to be and all within the confines of the game.I do NOT have to go outside the game to buy in-world money to survive.

Second Life does not have what EVERY other online game has - not everyone has the same chances Mr Anon.If you cant script,cant build,cant use Photoshop in SL you are relegated to doing what?

You and everyone like you consistently ignore the huge pool of the unskilled in this game and its going to be your downfall.You want to compare this to real life? why to we all do our 9-5 jobs in real life Mr Anon,why do we all bust our buns day in day out Mr Anon?

It's to have a social life isnt it Mr Anon.

Why do people buy all the latest gear in SL Mr Anon,why do people want all the cool clothes?

It's to peacock down at their favourite club Mr Anon.

Second Life's STRENGTH was its social aspect,not its scripts or its builds and while I agree 100% that walking along the streets of New York in a virtual world is very cool....what do you DO there Mr Anon?

You dont think removing event support damaged this game? Go look at the events board....TRINGO TRINGO TRINGO..I rest my case.


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