Does the End of PocketGacha Mean That Second Life’s Economy Is In Trouble? No.

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Image by Mediamodifier on Pixabay

It never fails to amaze (and amuse) me how much I have been blogging about Second Life recently. As I have said before, I never intended to blog about SL at all! This blog was originally about Sansar and Sansar only, and then last January I broadened the scope to include all the newer social VR platforms (High Fidelity, VRChat, Sinespace, etc.). And then, I decided to start sharing my 11 years of accumulated knowledge of how to get the best steals, deals, and freebies in Second Life with you, my readers. And those posts generate a fair bit of traffic, too.

Lately, I have been covering other aspects of Second Life, such as the upcoming ability for Premium Second Life account holders to choose a new first and last name for their avatar. That one blogpost is now by far my most popular, with well over 2,500 views!

As you probably know, gachas are a big, big thing in Second Life. Which is why I was so surprised to hear that PocketGacha was shutting down, even though it had thousands of users and earned lots of money:

  1. Just over $300,000.00 (DOLLARS…not Linden!) were transacted via the two HUDs [PocketShop and PocketGacha] – generating real sales and real money for creators. This is demonstrative proof that those who feel SL is not “real life” are grossly mistaken. Small cottage industry brands (People!) benefit and, in many cases, PocketEvents proudly contributed to their lives and well-being. A number and fact we are very proud of.
  2. Over 30K unique users engaged the two HUD’s during this time. While we have no idea how this compares to other events we can say this: given an average of 30K users on SL at any one time it seems a healthy percentage of the grid at the very least tried and embraced the shopping HUD platform with us.

I used and enjoyed PocketGacha myself, and I loved the convenience of the service. So why are they shutting down? The PocketEvents team explains:

With that said the team has felt of late that now is the time to move on to new ventures. Those age-old words of “always leave a party when you are having fun” never rang so true.

It’s no secret that PocketShop never really resonated with shoppers like PocketGacha. Just like PocketGacha we worked to address the needs and wants that so many voiced. Creators wanted traffic driven to their mainstores. We did that. Shoppers wanted less lag and instant gratification at events without having to fight to TP. We did that too. HUD based delivery of Demos to try in private…check. Just like PocketGacha we looked to be more than an event but a solution to the most common wants. Yet, despite it all, shoppers were less than impressed with PocketShop.

We have spent two months trying to understand if this lack of engagement was a result of anything we did, a failure to properly market the idea, or perhaps a fault of the HUD design. Nothing made sense as those who did use the HUD found it just as easy as the popular PocketGacha HUD. What we surmised is that in the end shoppers better associated us with Gacha and their seeing beyond that was difficult.

There is no doubt as well that SL commerce is changing. The boom-boom days are long in the past. While perhaps the top 1% of brands might still be doing fine (though I’m certain not selling what they once were) the new and emerging brands are finding it harder and harder to connect with shoppers. The drastic drop in new users in SL and an inability to retain these avatars has led all of us to this juncture. In some ways we have reached the point where we are just selling sneakers to each other. Or, to better quote the old adage, “delivering pizzas to each other.” Because, really, how many sofas can one own after years in SL? The people at Linden Lab are smart. I am sure they know this as well and are working on solutions. Let’s all hope.

The finale to this perfect storm is that the world of events is becoming saturated to the point of being destructive to one another along with the brands that try to balance doing them. While the old-line events may thrive to a point (I think, again, not like they once did) new ones arise it seems each and every day and SL is starting to feel like a town of 50K people that has built 50 shopping malls. It’s just too much for the current market.

Wagner James Au calls it a sign of an SL recession, saying:

This closure comes despite Pocket Gacha and a related HUD being used by a reported 30,000 unique users transacting over $300,000.00 “DOLLARS…not Linden!” across the service.  What Pocket Gacha lead developer Oobleck Allagash tells me suggests a larger economic trend I’ve also noted elsewhere — less emphasis on virtual homemaking, and more on Second Life as a social media experience:

“That shopping is being affected, especially in the area of Home and Garden, due to a minimal amount of new users and a lessening interest in creating sim builds,” as he puts it. “After all, how many sofas does a 10-year old avatar need? Photography has been a saving grace to a point but at levels nowhere near what we saw a few years ago.”

In other words, as more and more of the Second Life experience is shifted to virtual fashion/lifestyle screenshots and video on Flickr and YouTube, there’s less need for virtual land, and less need for housewares to furnish that virtual land. All that remains is what’s core to the user — their avatar, and their avatar’s appearance (clothes, mesh bodies, poses, etc).

I’m not sure that I agree with Wagner that Second Life is undergoing a recession, and I also don’t agree with the PocketEvents team’s assertion that there’s simply too many stores chasing too few customers in Second Life. Stores and brands are always going to come and go, and some of the newer ones have been phenomenally successful (as anyone who tried to teleport into the Scandalize store this weekend will certainly attest).

I spent a good chunk of time signed into Second Life over this past weekend, visiting various stores, and I can assure you that there is certainly no shortage of shoppers. Now, mind you, I can only attest to the health of the avatar fashion market as I see it; Oobleck may indeed have a point that the level of SL home and garden shopping has gone down somewhat.

Although Linden Lab certainly has sales figures for the SL Marketplace (which of course they don’t share with us, other than giving an aggregate sales figure at events such as the 15th anniversary), they really have no way of knowing how well items are selling in stores that operate on the grid. All they (and we) have to go on is word of mouth, and the news can be contradictory at best. There has always been, and there will always be, good news and bad news. Some vendors are doing well, and others close down. It’s all cyclical, I believe. New vendors enter the marketplace as older vendors leave it (or, more likely, leave their goods to sit forever on the SL Marketplace; Linden Lab really needs to put a date filter on Marketplace search).

Second Life is constantly evolving and changing over time as it matures. This does not mean that it is in a serious decline. As the recently published academic book Living and Dying in a Virtual World: Digital Kinships, Nostalgia, and Mourning in Second Life states:

At fourteen years old, Second Life can no longer be perceived as the young, cutting-edge environment it once was, and yet it endures as a place of belonging, fun, role-play and social experimentation.  In this volume, the authors argue that far from facing an impending death, Second Life has undergone a transition to maturity and holds a new type of significance.

I do believe that Second Life will endure and that it does have a long and successful life ahead of it, although the overall number of users may continue a slow decline as more people make the move to Sansar and the other new social VR platforms and virtual worlds. Many will no doubt keep a foot in both Second Life and the newer worlds. I know I will!

So, don’t worry; the shuttering of one Gacha HUD does not mean the end of the world.

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900 Blogposts!

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Woohoo! Yet another milestone for the RyanSchultz.com blog!

Here are my Top 20 most popular blogposts since I launched this blog on July 31st, 2017:

    1. UPDATED: More Details on the Upcoming Ability to Change Your User Name in Second Life
    2. Pick of the Day: Aech’s Garage, the Ready Player One Movie Experience in Sansar
    3. Second Life Versus Sansar: Why Linden Lab Can’t Win, No Matter What They Do
    4. VRChat Pick of the Day: Club Transcendia
    5. UPDATED: Earning Money Creating Custom Avatars in VRChat: An Interview with Ghoster
    6. Virtual Reality vs. Real Reality
    7. Why Women Don’t Like Social VR: Interview with Jessica Outlaw
    8. Reader Poll: On Which Social VR/Virtual World Platforms Do You Have a User Account?
    9. A Few (Second) Thoughts About the Sudden Popularity of VRChat
    10. Updated: Which Virtual World Boasts the Highest Avatar Capacity Per Region?
    11. Linden Lab Announces a Mainland Price Decrease in Second Life
    12. UPDATED! InWorldz: What Can You Do to Save Your Inventory Before the Grid Shuts Down?
    13. UPDATED: Intellectual Property and Copyright Issues in Social VR Spaces/Virtual Worlds
    14. The Idea of the Universal Avatar
    15. Oasis: A Brief Introduction to a New, Adults-Only Social VR Platform
    16. A Complete List of Every Social VR Space and Virtual World Platform I Have Written About on The RyanSchultz.com Blog
    17. UPDATED: Staramba Spaces—Another Blockchain-Based Virtual World, Built Around Celebrities
    18. Decentraland: Why I Remain a Skeptic
    19. Decentraland Land Sales: Is This a Financial Bubble in the Making?
    20. Exclusive Video: A Guided Tour of Virtual Universe with Jeroen Van den Bosch

On to the next goal: 1,000 blogposts!

Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: Free EXMACHINA Male Full-Body Avatar

There are three options for male avatars who are looking for a free/inexpensive mesh head and body, all from Altamura:

  • The two versions of the free Altamura Max avatars at the freebie stores at UniHispana Crea and Ajuda SL Brasil (see here for more details). Note that you cannot remove the head to replace it with another mesh head.
  • The free Altamura Robert avatar from the Freebie Megastore at London City (see here for more details). One advantage of this body is that you can remove the head to use another mesh head with it (like the recent freebie mesh head from Akeruka).
  • The free Altamura Tommy avatar at the Altamura mainstore (you do need to join the Altamura group for L$50 to get this freebie; see here for more details). Again, you cannot remove the head to replace it with another mesh head.

Well, EXMACHINA has just released version 4 of their full-body male mesh avatar, and you can pick up a free demo version at their store. You do have to join the EXMACHINA group for free to use the vendor.

One drawback is that the included shape that comes with it is NO modify, which is a real pain in the ass. However, there are a couple of ways around this limitation. You can click on the Giorgio and Andrew skin and shape panels located on the wall to the right of the demo version vendor, and buy those for L$0 (you must be in the EXMACHINA group). While you cannot use the skin appliers with the free demo version of the EXMACHINA mesh body, you can use the modifiable shapes. Also, there is a L$10 Diego shape available on the SL Marketplace which you can use with this body, and you can modify it as you like. I bought the Diego shape and used it for the pictures below.

Here’s what my avatar looks like with the slightly adjusted Diego shape (I had to play around with the eyes, mouth, nose, torso muscles and arm length a bit):

Exmachina 1 16 Sept 2018Exmachina 2 16 Sept 2018

The avatar comes with the mesh eyes you see here. It also comes in two versions: nude, or with the blue bathing suit you see here. It’s actually quite a nice-looking avatar! Please note that you cannot change the skin colour (remember, this is a demo, not the full version).

The hair is Minato by Argrace, a free group gift (the group is free to join). The AO I used is the Daily sLife free Bento male AO (available free from Tuty’s). The total cost of this avatar is FREE! You can’t beat that!

Another serious limitation with the free EXMACHINA body is that it does not come with alpha sections on the HUD (in fact, there’s no HUD at all!). So, basically, you’re going to have problems getting clothing and shoes to fit, unless they are designed for this body. Note that there are a few clothes for sale, designed to fit the EXMACHINA mesh body without the need for alphas, so you can try those. I did spend another L$250 on a muscle shirt and a pair of jeans, both of which fit this mesh body perfectly!

Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: Ryan’s Eight Rules for Freebie Hunting

Here are 8 rules for freebie and bargain hunting that I have compiled over eleven years in Second Life:

  • Be patient: Freebies can come and go; freebie stores like The Free Dove and Ajuda SL Brasil rotate their freebies regularly, so it’s worthwhile to visit every couple of month just to see what’s new. It can take some time to pull together a complete look from various components picked up as freebies at different times from different stores and events.
  • Monitor the various freebie news sources: Here’s the best six groups to join for freebies. Here are four blogs and four Flickr groups to follow for news of freebies. And read my blog 😉 and other SL fashion blogs and Facebook groups for news. And watch the Cat Pink SL series of YouTube videos for more news about hunts and other freebies.
  • Join groups which are known for giving great deals and freebies to their members: For example, if you joined the Akeruka mesh heads group a year and a half ago, you would have picked up no less than six fully-adjustable Bento mesh heads (three female and three male), all for a single group join fee of L$150. That works out to only L$25 per Bento mesh head, a truly outstanding deal! Also join the Altamura group for L$50, which gives you access to the deals that Akeruka offers on mesh heads and bodies at various events around SL, as well as many group gifts in the mainstore. Alien Gizmo’s regularly gives away L$200 gift cards for their store to their group members. Join these groups and stay in them, because you never know when there will be a bargain or a freebie available in future.
  • Watch for free group join periods: A perfect example is Scandalize, which has lifted its group join fee of L$100 from Sept. 15th to 17th (more info here).
  • Use the lucky chairs and panels: You can often pick up some great freebies this way. Here’s my list of the 18 best lucky chair and panel locations in Second Life.
  • Participate in hunts: Hunts are often a great way to pick up free or inexpensive items. The Free Dove picks three different designers every month who hide hunt items all over the store. A recent example was the August hunt by Sweet E’s at The Free Dove and Sweet E’s mainstore.
  • Visit fashion and gacha events: These can be another great place to pick up free gifts (be careful, though; some gifts at some events can be as much as L$10!). For example, the regularly held events run by the Gimme Gacha group have dozens of free gifts available for you to pick up. FaMESHed is another regular event with many high-quality freebies.
  • Don’t be too picky: Even though the free item might not be the exact style or colour you wanted, you can probably still make it work, and look good too. It’s the picky shoppers who land up spending a lot more money to get exactly what they want. For example, do you really want that expensive ballgown, when you can pick up that simple but beautiful Nadia ballgown as a free gift from Hilly Haalan (the group is free to join), with a HUD that gives you 15 different colour choices? You can probably make that work well with accessories already in your inventory, and look stunning.

Here is a perfect example of an avatar where I was able to pull together the entire look, over the course of a year and a half, for only a single Linden dollar! It is a combination of lucky chair prizes with free group gifts (joining the group when it was free for a limited time), plus store giveaways. Please click on each picture to see it in a larger size:

This avatar is wearing:

Mesh Head, Eyes and Makeup: Kenna mesh head (free group gift from Genesis Lab; the group join fee was free at the time I joined, but they have since raised it to L$99)

Mesh Body and Nails: Afrodite body by LUCYBODY (free from the Midnight Madness board if you join their group for free; more details here)

Hair: Ivy hair (free gift from Entwined; the 3 HUDs included in the package give you a total of 65 different hair colours!)

Dress: red and black Devil’s Heart Sweets dress (lucky chair prize from Alien Gizmo’s; enter the store at the main entrance, turn left, and walk along to the second courtyard near the far end to find the lucky chairs, or just use your map and follow the red arrow from the provided SLURL)

Choker: Nina choker by RxK (free from the Ajuda SL Brasil freebie store; more details here)

Clutch: Helena clutch (lucky chair prize from MODA; the HUD gives you 24 colour choices for the purse, and a choice of either gold or silver for the metal accents; enter the main store in front of you at the spawn point, and go around into the back room where the four lucky chairs are located or just use your map and follow the red arrow from the provided SLURL)

Shoes: Bijou pumps (lucky chair prize, also from MODA; the HUD gives you 36 colour and pattern choices each for the shoe and the platform)

Avatar AO: Your First AO Basic Female Mocap by Vista Animations (L$1; it’s located at the back of the Female AO section of the store, so use your map and follow the red arrow provided by this SLURL)

Bento Hands AO: Jenny Hands AO (part of the free Jenny Altamura mesh body package available for free at the Freebie Megastore in London City; it can be worn with the Vista AO, which does not have built-in Bento hand animations; more details on how to get Jenny here)

Ankle Lock: by Baby Monkey (freebie from the blue bag on the reception desk)

My total cost to assemble this complete avatar look was only L$1 (for the Vista AO).

Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: Scandalize (Again!)

The Scandalize group in Second Life is (once again) free to join from Sept. 15th to 17th. Why is this important news?

Because, if you join the group now, for free, you get dozens and dozens of free group gifts! Scandalize is one of the most generous stores on the grid when it comes to gifts to their group members. Usually, you have to pay L$100 to join their group, but for the next three days, it is FREE to join!

The group gifts wall is located on the wall behind the main reception desk (please note that this is an old picture; they have redesigned their store):

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So hurry down! There’s also a hunt going on, find ten cherries hidden around the store for more free gifts!

What Is a True Metaverse?

Book cover for Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash, by Bruce Jensen

Will Burns, the Vice-Chair for IEEE’s Virtual Worlds Standard Group and a blogger whose work I have talked about before on this blog, gave a recent interview to Wagner James Au of the blog New World Notes, where he talks about what he thinks is—and isn’t—a true metaverse. It turns out that Will helped refine the definition of the term metaverse, which was first used by the science fiction novelist Neal Stephenson in his 1992 book Snow Crash:

Will first helped craft a definition in 2008, inspired by Neal Stephenson’s original description in Snow Crash, which IEEE adapted in 2013. “Now, if you type the word Metaverse into Google, it pops up with that definition from Wikipedia, which in turn cites the IEEE Virtual Worlds Standard group for it.”

In Will’s opinion, a currently-in-alpha MMORPG/MMO called Dual Universe (which I have also written about) comes the closest to being a “true” metaverse. He is quoted in Wagner’s blogpost:

“As you can see,” says Will, “they not only have 1200+ concurrency and able to scale, they also have a persistent universe with planets. I have to reiterate that last point — an actual virtual universe that is persistent.”

“Not that I want to disparage Philip Rosedale and his team, or even Ebbe Altberg and Linden Lab, whether this is Second Life, High Fidelity, etc,” Will went on. “But the honest truth is, 300 or 500+ concurrency isn’t very impressive to me when I know what is possible, and generally how it is made possible two years ago. It’s not very impressive when a hybrid decentralization method would ultimately shatter those paltry numbers.”

So, it would seem that he’s not that terribly impressed by reports that High Fidelity can now get over 350 avatars in a single domain. He goes on to say:

However: “[H]ere’s the problem: that platform and others, who all call themselves a Metaverse, are all off on the wrong foot, and locked into their particular paradigms. Unless we’re taking things like Dual Universe into account, it’s just an echo chamber among the pretenders about their accomplishments and milestones. Lots of nice virtual worlds, but that’s about it. While everyone else is waving around the ‘Metaverse’ title and debating who is better, or who is going to be the Metaverse, it’s the shallow end of the kiddie pool by comparison to Dual Universe or even No Man’s Sky.”

“It comes across like I’m salty or disparaging,” he says, “when I’m really not intending it like that. But it has to be said that we are amid a VR hype where nobody wants to look at things with a critical eye. I see a large group of virtual worlds crowning themselves as a Metaverse because it’s marketing hype. But ‘a’ Metaverse sounds as silly to me as saying ‘We are an Internet’. What we have are very impressive (or in some cases less impressive) virtual worlds:

“Second Life comes out as a MetaWorld at best, but even struggles there. Sansar took the Worlds Inc. model, just like Blue Mars, so they are a MetaWorld at best, but isolated non-connected spaces perceptually. High Fidelity follows that same route and comes across like Cybertown or Worlds Inc back in the 90s. It’s like we’ve all taken a large step backwards and harbored collective amnesia about the past while declaring our current progress as top of the line when in reality we’re retreading old ground. Rehashing the past approaches with maybe a technical twist.”

Then compare the capacities of these new worlds with what’s happening technically with Dual Universe:

“[T]o me, watching things from the sidelines, despite spending twenty or so years helping to better define the Metaverse with a great amount of awesome people… it’s like watching used car salespeople trying to tell the public that their Honda Civic is a Bugatti Veyron or the Millennium Falcon. It does a disservice to call every virtual world a Metaverse because it deliberately waters down what it actually is and could/should be. It comes down to: I expect better, and so should everyone who even remotely gives a damn about the future of The Metaverse.”

I think that Will is being overly critical here, which perhaps is understandable when you realize that he was part of a team of academics who worked on a carefully crafted definition of the word “metaverse”, and the social VR/virtual world marketplace has essentially ignored this definition and come up with their own, slightly different, version. Here is the definition of metaverse from Wikipedia, which is on my definitions of terms page:

The metaverse is a collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the internet. The word metaverse is a portmanteau of the prefix “meta” (meaning “beyond”) and “universe” and is typically used to describe the concept of a future iteration of the internet, made up of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe. The term was coined in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, where humans, as avatars, interact with each other and software agents, in a three-dimensional space that uses the metaphor of the real world. (Source: Wikipedia).

The Wikipedia page goes on to state:

Conceptually, the Metaverse describes a future internet of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe.

And it links to the IEEE Virtual World Standard Working Group archive, which is quite interesting to browse through if you have the time.

My take on all this? I think that the definitions of all words tend to slowly evolve over time, and I believe that the term “metaverse” is not necessarily so strictly or formally defined as it was back when the IEEE Virtual Worlds Standards Group was doing their work. The term is still very useful as an umbrella term when referring to virtual world and social VR platforms, even MMOs, whether or not they are “an actual virtual universe that is persistent”, which Will Burns seems to feel is an essential requirement of a “true” metaverse.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments!

New Book on Second Life: Living and Dying in a Virtual World

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Last October, Dr. Margaret Gibson of Griffith University posted to the official Second Life forums:

Hi everyone, my name is Dr Margaret Gibson and I am writing a book with Clarissa Carden titled Living and Dying in a Virtual World: Digital Kinships, Commemoration and Nostalgia, to be published by Palgrave Macmillan. See link:  https://sociologicalexplorations.com/second-life-living-and-dying-in-a-virtual-world/  We are writing a chapter on sentimental objects in SL and we would love to hear any of your stories. These could be things in your inventory that matter to you because someone died or they remind you of an important part of your SL or RL.   If you are interested in participating in the book more fully and being interviewed via chat in SL we would love to hear from you. As you can see from book title we are interested in death, grief, family relationships in SL, nostalgia…

Any responses will be anonymous and if you do not wish for your response on this forum to be included in the book please say so. Thanks!

Well, the results of that research have now been published by Palgrave MacMillan. Titled Living and Dying in a Virtual World: Digital Kinships, Nostalgia, and Mourning in Second Life, the book is described as follows:

This book takes readers into stories of love, loss, grief and mourning and reveals the emotional attachments and digital kinships of the virtual 3D social world of Second Life. At fourteen years old, Second Life can no longer be perceived as the young, cutting-edge environment it once was, and yet it endures as a place of belonging, fun, role-play and social experimentation.  In this volume, the authors argue that far from facing an impending death, Second Life has undergone a transition to maturity and holds a new type of significance. As people increasingly explore and co-create a sense of self and ways of belonging through avatars and computer screens, the question of where and how people live and die becomes increasingly more important to understand. This book shows how a virtual world can change lives and create forms of memory, nostalgia and mourning for both real and avatar based lives.

The book is rather expensive (Amazon.ca lists it at CDN$93.54), so see if you can get it through your library (I was able to access the electronic version via my university library’s SpringerLink ebook service). Thank God for libraries!

I am looking forward to reading this, and I may write a book review afterwards. Here’s a brief excerpt from the introduction:

Now that it is 14 years old, SL attracts less news attention. Where a reporter is assigned to cover a story relating to SL, their copy carries a faint air of astonishment, as though the author believes that this world ought, surely, to have disappeared by now. The fact that it persists goes against the grain of consumer media logic of upgrading, replacing, and letting go of the old for the new. It also speaks to an implicit recognition that the demographics of SL are not “young people” even though the image culture of avatars valorises the appearance of youth.

Despite this disconnection with media logics, SL has in no sense disappeared. Instead, it has been transformed. We argue in this book that SL is now a mature virtual world. It is a world in which residents have lived and lost. It is a world which has seen significant social changes. This is a typeof virtual world that has never existed—and which could not exist—at any previous moment in history. This is a book about the maturity that has come with age. Inevitably, as an extension of that, it addresses the memory, loss, and grief that have marked the lives of SL residents. It is also a book about the care and compassion residents show towards one another and about the strength of the attachments that are formed online.

Also, an older blogpost on a topic related to this: Why I want to leave my Second Life avatars to other people when I die.