Monday, August 9, 2010

are you sure what side of the glass you are on?

Game Theory's second installment (you can find the first one here, on game snobs) is interesting for what it's saying: essentially, evolve or die. Move or fall behind. Thrive--or fail. Nothing in between.

"Just because everything is different doesn't mean anything has changed." Irene Parker said that, and that's how the video opens. What follows is ten minutes of preaching the value of agility in new markets. Are they right? I believe they are. I believe that far more game companies are going to discover the value of going into pure digital developments--a download, a key, artwork that's entirely hosted on the web; nothing physical to hold in hands.

But along with this, is the chilling thread of paring down to only essential services. Cut, one commenter says. Cut to the bone. We've seen it with the Labs, we've seen it in a lot of major companies; to keep up with social/casual gaming markets, as opposed to big-ticket expensively-promoted games, we're seeing layoffs, staff restructuring, employees of companies that suddenly find themselves doing three entirely different things rather than the half of one thing they were responsible for in the past.

Change is good? Maybe. Change out of panic is nearly always bad, though. In February Activision laid off over 90 employees directly, and oversaw the cut of 50% of Radical Entertainment's staff (a subsidiary). Several months prior to that EA laid off over 40% of their total staff. And we know about the layoffs at the Labs--what did it end up being, a third of their total staff prior to the cuts?

Now--while the actual names differed--it has come out that those are all firings to bring the Labs back down to pre-expansion staffing needs--but more long-term Lindens were cut, over newer, younger Lindens from non-gaming source hires. (Pink's eBay background comes to mind...though for irony, Pink herself was also laid off.)

From Jordan Grant's profile comes this stunning concept: "if there's nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire."

Ouch.

Do we have to?

"The moral panic over 'sexualisation' assumes instead that sex is only ever damaging to young women, and that having sex or behaving sexually must be resisted for as long as possible. The problem is not, however, that young women are 'growing up too fast' – rather it is that they are growing up to understand that they are erotic commodities, there to be used and abused, shamed if they express legitimate desires of their own, and taught to fear their own bodies."

Excellent points this article raises, and unbidden, I'm thinking of the battle for the reorganization of the Second Sex blog. What point sexual awareness if it's all the same thing, over and over? From whence innovation? Restriction we've got in spades; hells, the Lindens popped a whole continent to keep those of us who want to be fully functional virtual adults away from everyone who...well, wasn't, precisely.

[23:16] Pariah Squeaky Bewbies!: Cupcake Khaos's right bewbie was squeaked by Cupcake Khaos

And on that note...

Out of the blue, Atari--if one gets over the fact that they had a booth at all at Gencon--announced that they were working on a Dungeons and Dragons-based MMO, but would say little else about it. A little digging revealed that they'd bought four domain names, all centered around Neverwinter Nights.

The buzz is now circling around the question: will there be a Neverwinter Nights MMO soon?

[23:43] Vasha Martinek tapdances through chat on her way to the belltower, wearing only frogs and a fez, toting an assault rifle.
[23:44] Broken Genesis: Wearing frogs? o.o
[23:44] Morganna Irelund: oh, is it Tuesday already?


Moving right along...Word filtered down that Desmond Shang was preparing some changes, in preparation for potential other changes. (He does this a lot.)

[1:09] Desmond Shang: ok time for one of those 'crazy announcement' things from Des
[1:09] Desmond Shang: this one is about Caledon Oxbridge in general
[1:09] Desmond Shang: a few of us know this, but about time I tell the rest of you
[1:10] Desmond Shang: I've been in contact with Philip Rosedale on this
[1:10] Desmond Shang: and basically, he's got a new 'vision' of how people will come to SL
[1:10] Desmond Shang: the idea he has, is that, people should be able to come straight to what they are looking for
[1:10] Desmond Shang: music, shopping, whatever,
[1:11] Desmond Shang: and not go through an 'island'or an 'orientation' sort of thing.


Yeah...so, see, immediately I'm rolling my eyes. This hasn't worked so far. This isn't something we can even blame on M, because it started under Philip's original leadership.

This? This is a stupid thing to do, to be blunt. And it's absolutely insane from a business standpoint.

Think of SL as it is now. We are two years, over two years, past the single-Orientation station days. We are over two years past the corporate log-in sites, with the 'fast tracks' for business users. We are over two years past the ability to log in, choose an avatar, and go directly to the grid, do not pass Go, do not collect L$200 (unless you use a credit card at log-in).

What has this gained us?

More (and more innovative) griefers. Artificially inflated user counts--some users have a single established alt linked directly to their main account; most, however, have multiple alts; one gets banned, they hop onto the next one created, no big deal.

More residents without a clue--how do they fly? How do they buy things? How do they unpack things? How do they change clothes? How do they use a walk animation? All these things were covered when Orientation Island actually meant something.

I may get heat for saying this, but SL is not easy. And maybe it's not supposed to be. Logging in and learning how to use the client, how to use the grid is the equivalent of an intelligence test. You have to be at least somewhat intelligent to use SL.

Remove that and what do you have? An entire residency of people too stupid to learn things. How does this contribute to the bright youthful world of music, fantastic vacations, and educational opportunities that Second Life uses for video reference?

[1:17] Desmond Shang: I would expect oxbridge to become INSANELY popular if the gateways and orientations largely vanished.
[1:17] Desmond Shang: or maybe there would be 1 or 2 others, but, pffft
[1:18] Desmond Shang: so... a lot of factors going on, but one I might seriously take is the 'private' option


Now, in truth, Oxbridge being the essentially only newcomer-training center on the grid--at least, the only neo-Victorian/steampunk one--would funnel a lot of interested newcomers to that particular door. And to be fair also, that would eventually lead to loyalty, returns, income...I don't think Des is wrong to think these things.

I said to a friend, "I just can't believe Philip in all this. He just gets control of the company back, so the first thing he does is gut the one thing giving people any kind of clue about the interface?!? Is that smart?" I mean that. I still think it's an incredibly boneheaded move to make.

[1:33] Emilly Orr: I have a foreboding.
[1:33] Sphynx Soleil: of?
[1:33] Emilly Orr: Facebook integration being back on the table
[1:34] Sphynx Soleil: ewwww
[1:34] Sphynx Soleil: should I ask?
[1:34] Emilly Orr: No, just--think this through
[1:34] Emilly Orr: Eliminate all OI interfaces
[1:34] Emilly Orr: Let new folk log in from go to wherever they want to be
[1:34] Emilly Orr: Okay, there's a learning curve, and we've got new people who just want to get up and running. Solution?
[1:34] Emilly Orr: Dumb down the browser even more
[1:35] Emilly Orr: In fact, dumb it so *far* down that now, *anyone* can log in and use SL
[1:35] Emilly Orr: Including people who've never used it before
[1:37] Emilly Orr: So. Browser that a five-year-old could use, no real skills necessary, hells, they could even set up preprogrammed 'avatar sets'--"Metro Girl: comes with radio, California ranch house, high-top retro sneakers, and a bouncy little AO"
[1:37] Emilly Orr: How far is it from there to playing Facebook plug-in games?
[1:37] Emilly Orr: Hells, how far is it from there to 'quest points' to rack up other-world currencies? Facebook, WoW, whatever?
[1:37] Sphynx Soleil: don't have facecrack, so I wouldn't know... but yuck, I don't think the grid needs a flood of idiots :(
[1:38] Emilly Orr: We're already there--when the OI system originally went opt-in, the mass intelligence on the grid went down by forty points


Seriously, am I wrong? Does this not sound like the first steps towards that vital "everyone gets it" phase? We are far from the age of early adopters--even I came in on the second wave--but whatever mass understanding point exists for more people to grok SL just hasn't quite happened. And I think that's what the Lindens (left) are going for.

[1:40] Desmond Shang: tries to summarise...
[1:40] Desmond Shang: ah, short story, why would anyone hire someone with M's background (forget about the man himself for a moment)
[1:41] Desmond Shang: basically, to 'go big' and IPO, or sell the place ~ both provide liquidity for original investors.
[1:42] Desmond Shang: basically you got a bunch of guys who put RIDICULOUS money into making SL
[1:42] Desmond Shang: it's been 10 years
[1:42] Desmond Shang: money in, money out ~ but there's only 2 ways to get it out.
[1:42] Desmond Shang: IPO, or sell.


Which I've been saying for a while--the company is trying to reinforce assets, retain platform ability, and make it look good on paper before selling it off--but the mass Linden layoffs earlier confused my prognostication sensors. Now, I just don't know what they're trying to accomplish.

[1:46] Desmond Shang: anyway ~ all this comes down to: what happened? and what happened, was that they printed too much land for money, until land auctions died, and printed $L until there was no further demand for $L
[1:46] Desmond Shang: that broke the back of the LindeX, and they were making something like 1/3 of a million USD/month from selling $L, and suddenly couldn't do it any more.
[1:47] Desmond Shang: imagine if your cashflow was cut by 1/3 of a million overnight.
[1:48] Desmond Shang: so, they have to keep covering people like me, who actually cash money out of SL
[1:48] Desmond Shang: how long would private estates last, if we couldn't cash out? probably only a few small ones would still stay.


It's true. Solace's Ayesha Lytton is scaling back; so is Lady Serra. A lot of estate holders are, slowly or quickly, selling off plots and reinforcing what's left.

[1:50] Alastair Whybrow: Strikes me, LL are running out of feet to shoot themselves in

Pretty much.

[1:51] Denny Kozlov: I mean, I came here more recently from the kiddie wading pool of online RP communities, Gaia Online--and they have a staff person whose title is Economist, to tune their internal economy and keep it from inflating.
[1:51] Desmond Shang: yes that's what they need Denny
[1:51] Desmond Shang: or just someone with realistic expectations


And this brought up a damned good question that the Labs really should consider--do they have anything resembling an economist on staff? At all? Do they even have someone who occasionally flirts with paper accountability? A tax preparer, even?

Someone. Anyone. Hells, will they take volunteers from world? I'm fairly sure there are people on the grid that a) know basic economic structure and b) know their goddamned world. Unlike most of the rest of the people who are working at the Labs.

Note: I am not saying me. I am bad with financing. I have always been bad with financing. I get money; it goes. I have come to accept this.

But other people are not like this, and if the Lindens really don't have anyone with any financial background whatsoever--and no, I do not mean a background from eBay--then they have done themselves a giant disservice.

For the love of all gods, Philip--hire an economist NOW. Trust me, the Linden board of supervisors will thank you.

[1:52] Desmond Shang: we've been very lucky here.
[1:53] Desmond Shang: my sense of things ~ how many of you read Tyche Sheperd's reports?
[1:53] Desmond Shang: anyone?
[1:53] Desmond Shang: gets a link
[1:54] Denny Kozlov: It just seems so elementary, when you're going to build a virtual world with an internal economy that can actually cash out to RL, that you damn well better have some folks onboard who understand economics and finance ... or else crap like this will be sure to happen :-/
[1:54] Desmond Shang: http://gridsurvey.com/economy.php
[1:55] Desmond Shang: anyway, the grid is 'shrinking' now slightly
[1:55] Desmond Shang: private estates closing, massive market shakeout
[1:56] Desmond Shang: this is actually good for those who hold on, because what happens,
[1:56] Desmond Shang: we take on refugees, and have more marketshare of what's left


Me, yeah, okay, a lot of people invested beyond their means, made SL their RL incomes, and they're being hurt now. Some of them are picking up on the changes and reacting, some aren't, and there's bound to be a lot more trauma before everything settles. We are in the belt-tightening time, have been for a while, and people are suffering.

I get that. But by and large this--like so many other problems--can be laid at the Linden door, with no malice intended or implied. We may have pushed the car downhill, but we didn't light it on fire.

[2:03] Wrath Constantine: I still wish they would come out with the 'megaregions' already. Instead of running 4 or 8 regions on a nehalem, they could run a 768x768 megaregion or supersim with a 135,000-prim limit. It would be about the same resource load, but with no simlines.
2:04] Desmond Shang: Wrath, add cryengine to that and that's kind of what some platforms are doing


*coughs* Like Blue Mars *coughs* f'rinstance...

[0:15] Ardrianne Torrance: come slap these babies
[0:15] Ardrianne Torrance: leet your bet be unigue

Oookay...whatever the hell that means.

I've pretty much ranted this into the ground, anyway. We know where we are, and how we got here--now we need to figure out how to keep going. In the meantime, we survive how we can, or leave the grid for greener-pixeled pastures. Or at least ones that look greener, from where we stand.

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