Friday, June 11, 2010

no good deed goes unpunished

The trailer from Battlestar Galactica Online was released today. This is from the trailer: implying innovative camera movement, intensely beautiful graphics, thrilling space battles, and gripping gameplay.

This is one of Bigpoint's (the company behind BSG Online) current games: browser-based, turn-based gameplay, heavy emphasis on cute animals and forum posting, big wide cartoon eyes and Civilization-style graphics. Possibly Populous-style graphics, even. Eh, I'll throw 'em a bone, I'll say they're on par with Evony.

At this point, my prediction for the BSG MMO? It will tank, and it will tank hard. Wrong company, wrong concept, wrong property.

[2:50] Sanura Snowpaw: I see this voice thing being a HUGE HUGE issue
[2:51] Kate McLaglen: oh yea unneeded fluff
[2:51] Sanura Snowpaw: not to mention really this is something we need?

That's always the first question on my mind. Is voice morphing something the grid needs, or is it yet another distraction so we'll stop filling up the JIRA with valid complaints? Because remember, 30% staff reduction, now they have even less willing bodies for technical support, and fixing crucial system bugs.

[2:51] Sanura Snowpaw: Kate did you see the memorial Codie made?
[2:51] Gothique Graves: Why are they doing it?
[2:51] Sanura Snowpaw: for money
[2:51] Gothique Graves: Who would buy it?
[2:51] Sanura Snowpaw: it cost 750L a month per voice pack
[2:51] Kate McLaglen: so they can talk somebody.... anybody ... into using version 2

And this should be keenly noted by observers--this is an action that has more impact than the Lindens intended--not in terms of trust, per se, but in terms of value sets. Specifically, Linden value sets.

And I mean the currency.

Most of this year has been spent, if not in actively devaluing the Linden dollar, at least in telling people it is purely an internal value limit; that it has no RL rate of exchange because, essentially, it is not an economic marker.

Then voice morphing. Every interested resident must go to Voice Island, set themselves up for the technology, and then pay a monthly subscription fee to use whatever voice morphing packs they select.

Now, L$750 isn't that much--it's the cost of a moderately expensive dress, or a low-cost full avatar; a mid-range large home, a virtual pet. Equivalence is hard to come by, as pricing varies so much.

But at least in US dollars, it's currently a bit over $2.75, and that varies day to day, lower to higher, depending on internal economy fluctuations. So, over the course of a year--and a year is far, far longer than I think anyone will keep buying the individual voice packs--each resident who chooses to download 2.1 and use the voice morphing option will be laying out around $33--at least--for the privilege. That's paying WoW's subscription fees twice. That's paying Second Life's own subscription fees more than three times.

For...the ability to sound like a completely artificial construct. Yay?

Because that's the problem, innit? None of the voice packs sound like anything more than they are--electronically modulated voice alteration. The original voice can generally be heard, in some cases quite distinctly; and in even worse news, the quality is abysmal; there are broken patches, scratchy interference on some voice packs, and it's yet again coming in via external stream, which some computers won't parse without increased lag, and others will fail to intercept properly at all.

And as Prad Prathivi points out in the blog entry mentioned above--who are all the residents begging for this feature? Because I can virtually guarantee that 1) there's not as many as Linden Labs seem to think and 2) this isn't what they wanted to have, at all.

[2:54] Gothique Graves: I guess I'm prehistoric
[2:54] Gothique Graves: I dont even use voice on here

I do use voice, but outside of a certain volcanic event in Caledon some years back, I never--and I do mean never--use it in public spaces. In fact, if people are using voice in public, I am equally likely to either 1) leave that place or 2) shut off voice.

When I use voice it's generally to one to at most, six, other people, and we are either chatting on Gchat or Skype, or, on rare occasions, chatting in Steam (though Valve's voice channels SUCK terrifyingly). I have tried voice when they implemented it in Runes of Magic; I turned it right back off again.

Is it fear of being heard online? Not really. Voice-matching-gender is not a concern for me, and I trained vocally for twelve years; while my stamina for sustained notes is woefully underpracticed, I still maintain good tone and I've been told by more than a few people I'd be ideal for phone work ('phone work' being a euphemism for...well, do I have to spell it out?).

That being said, though, I have no interest in blithely chattering away in world. If there is a reason--a meeting held in voice, a question and answer session with The Powers that Screw Us, whatever--then fine, I'll use voice. If there's ever a client who wants to speak instead of type, I have voice enabled for the sales office at Solace.

Otherwise? Supremely uninterested; it doesn't affect my life, I just don't want it to be a part of my life.

[2:55] Gothique Graves: one thing i WOULD pay for
[2:55] Gothique Graves: IS MORE BLOODY GROUP SLOTS!!

[2:55] Sanura Snowpaw: OMG YUSH
[2:55] Emilly Orr: OMG YES
[2:55] Gothique Graves: Now there they would make a killing
[2:55] Gothique Graves: Not that stupid voice crap

And there it is; while I'd have to work and work hard to pay rent and cover an equivalent monthly payment, I and many others would, because we want extra group slots that badly, and we have been begging for them since 2007. Three years of begging = nothing in Linden terms, though.

Whereas extra voice fluff? Ooh, potential cash cow to be milked, yes, definitely, people will LEAP at this...right?

I highly doubt that. I really do; I think it's going to be a novelty that a few thousand residents will try out, then abandon. I doubt it's going to be a sustainable source of income for the Labs, because yet again, the Labs aren't listening to what residents really want; they're off in the wilds of insane speculation on what they can do to increase profit.

Profit and sustainability are two separate things.

[2:56] Sanura Snowpaw: gimmie 10 more slots
[2:56] Sanura Snowpaw: I'd happily pay for them

I admit, I would too. And so would many of us. More picks places? Done. More groups? Gods, yes, BRING it, we would pay for it. The Lindens don't seem to realize the importance, considering all the changes they've made, of extra groups and extra picks.

And they've failed to realize this since, again, 2007.

[2:58] Gothique Graves: Aside from that I just don't see the point
[2:58] Gothique Graves: Is typing so hard?

For some people? Definitely. Does this mean this will increase their ability to communicate? No.

And, moreover, barring genuine disability (dyslexia, lack of motor function, technological keyboard hangups), do we really want an incoming deluge of folks who don't bother to type and don't bother to speak well when they speak aloud? Will FaceBook integration bring the crowd that the Lindens want in here, which is apparently bored, affluent and willing to pay for just about everything?

One thing they seem to be forgetting in their mad dash for funds is that affluent people are affluent because they don't spend wildly. And the subset of that--young urban professional sorts, easily bored and looking for the next thing that goes bang--most of those folks have either already given SL a test drive, and didn't like it, or will dip in, wander about, then leave when there's no clearly defined point handed to them--like, talk to five merchants, get a blue dress; talk to ten residents, get a two-handed stone axe. There are no quests in Second Life; it's not a game in the sense of WoW and EverQuest; it is, and always has been, something else.

Not everyone gets Second Life. Heads up, Mr. Kingdon--not everyone is meant to. And while that may terribly disappoint you, that you can't seem to make SL the next cognitive leap on the web, that everyone flocks to; what you've got, you've got for the long-term.

Be realistic: would you rather have 95,000 new residents who will stick around for three to thirty days, spend high, then leave, never to return? Or would you rather have 8,000 new residents who will play for free and spend low for a year, before becoming premium account holders and buying islands--and keeping those islands for the next five years?

Seriously? Bring on that 8000.

Put another way, if there's a man who eats a five dollar sandwich every day at a diner, and leaves a two dollar tip, it's in that diner's best interest to keep that man happy, versus the eight-top who comes in every six months and orders $135 in appetizers. You want to keep the eight-top happy, as well, but the one you want to concentrate your business on is the man who comes in every day. If he's unhappy, he stops coming in. If he's unhappy, those twice-a-year appetizer celebrations won't pay your restaurant's rent; only the daily customers will.

About the only thing SL has going for it at this point is that there's nothing else quite like it. But Blue Mars is talking about changing the way their content is streamed; and there are up-and-coming virtual worlds.

The people who build in SL, the people who work in SL, the people who live in SL, we aren't your big spenders. We suffice on building it, or finding it for free or cheap, and what we do spend on is generally textures or sculpt maps for building; and rent. Those are our big expenses. Some of us make do without premium accounts; some of us have premium accounts, but we still keep our costs low.

We are your daily clients. And Mr. Kingdon, you are upsetting us wildly. Sooner or later, something else WILL come along. You keep this up, our loyalty to Second Life will shift.

Will, Mr. Kingdon, not might. WILL.

Dame Ordinal's pretty clear on the current outlook of SL in her latest posting; that outlook, of course, being bleak.

Michele Hyacinth sums it up, with a deep sense of foreboding and tragedy, here; the statement from that entry I'd pull out that best fit for me was this:
"World domination without a vision simply isn’t a business model, isn’t meaningful, isn’t engaging, isn’t compelling. It’s not even in demand."
I think Miss Gwyneth Llewelyn makes excellent points in her entry on the real backstory behind the Labs' changes, but where will that knowledge take us? We still can't do a thing to stop M Linden. He owns the virtual world he's wrecking. Nothing we can say changes that.

Grace McDunnough pointed out that it's the first time she's seen mass concern for the Lindens:
"Never before have I seen such an outpouring of concern for individual employees of a company in the midst of a restructuring, even in the throes of the current economy."
More than that, I think nearly all of the bloggers I've been tracking down and reading share that concern--even me, long known to be one of the most Linden-antagonistic bloggers on--or off--the grid.

The reaction goes on, though, and continues to spread...and why? Because:

The work of the truly creative was less important, and the work of the money makers was more important.

That about sums everything up, so far. And is that likely to change, at this point? I sincerely doubt it.

And one more thing I'd toss in--Massively's cuttingly accurate view of the SL economy compared with the layoffs--which, I at least would argue, was only made necessary by Mr. Kingdon's steering the company so far away from the reliable user base--in essence, that base that buys Supply Linden, that base that spends it, that base that pays tier on their regions and owns virtual land in the first place. That base? Is under what feels like continual seige from the very company that should be helping it stick around, not make things harder to exist, at all.

Kingdon keeps this up, he'll be steering his company into the breathlessly clean, pure waters of nonexistence. Good luck with that.


Rhianon Jameson said...

Hmm, I wonder how one says "lol" in voice? :)

Brinda said...

Couple things...Spot on about keeping us that spend years here at a moderate level..(although my $6,000USD a year isn't "moderate" by my standards).
I posted recently about that very subject...I have no identity *issues*,I don't have a microphone, or a speech pathology. I'm not deaf, English is my first language.
Maybe it's just me... I have a difficult time multitasking and listening to voice. It always seems to me that those that insist on voice believe that what they have to say is supremely important and over rides anything else I'm doing. With text I can always bring up a chat history.
For me voice removes much of the immersion here.
One of my friends says voice has made them lazy...I type with two fingers..this friend has told me before that they type in excess of 100 wpm...OK, what can I say?

Alexandra Rucker said...

I suspect many of the "in charge" people who prefer voice are just that - "in charge" people. The same types of people as corporate executives who dictate letters to their secretaries because they either can't type, too lazy to type, or see no reason to type.

Personally, I can't parse more that two voice conversations - and even with just two I have issues. I can keep track of 10 written conversations just fine, though, and generally travel with voice off.

Emilly Orr said...


Sadly, by SL standards, I'd still say you're mid-range, because the upper level of SL's buy-in contains people like Desmond Shang, who, at least at one point in Caledon's history, was paying over $800,000 in tier fees. (I think he may well be over that now).

I'd say the low-range figures waver between $10 (the price of premium, flat, holding no more than 512 square meters independently) to around $2500, say (island chain, several chunks of linked mainland, three very large malls, whatever). Mid-range, for me, at least, goes $2500 to $10000--even though credible arguments could be made that if you're spending anything over $300 in SL, you are a serious committed player, as well as a client the Labs need to pay attention to.

As far as voice, I think it does break the immersion factor completely. Not to say that talking to other people is a bad thing--it's not. And as more than a few people have told me, they set up in-world or Skype-based conferences when they're in heavy build mode, because it keeps them on task. (More power to them; I tend to shut down all vocal channels and just build.)

But for me, if I'm typing to you, I'm in world; if I'm talking to you, that's out of world. And if I'm talking to you, then why am I in world again?

Emilly Orr said...


That works fine if that's what the "in charge" people want--pithy little executroid conversations around virtual watercoolers.

This fails entirely to explain voice morphing, why the Lindens introduced it, and why they introduced it after laying off a third of the workforce.

Unless it was just "the next thing" they had on the list to introduce. In which case, hey, way to learn from the mistakes made during the OpenSpace debacle, and the Zindra controversy.

Emilly Orr said...

Miss Jameson,

There's actually significant conflict on that question. Some say they are initials standing in for words, therefore, it should correctly be pronounced "ell oh ell", with each letter distinctly separated. Others put more of a Southern twang on it, option for "lawl", with the center "o" drawn out. Still others declaim this, saying it should properly be simply read as written, thus: "lol", for a sound akin to "lohl", but less forceful.

Still others wonder why people are bothering to speak a net contraction in the first place.

Though it's amusing to note that "lol" in Welsh means "nonsense". :)