Editorial: How You Can Prepare for the (Eventual) Closing of Second Life

Someday, it will happen. Not if, when.

Now, before you all get your torches and pitchforks and tar and feathers out, and angrily run me out of town, I do want to reassure you: Second Life is still going to be around for many, many years. It still reliably generates millions of dollars of profit every year for Linden Lab, it still generates a fair income for a great many content creators, and it still has—at the ripe old age of 16—approximately half a million regular monthly users. Linden Lab would be absolutely crazy to shut down this cash cow, especially as their latest social VR platform, Sansar, is still struggling to attract users.

However.

Based on what happened in 2019 with High Fidelity, and based on the recent layoffs of much of the team building Sansar at Linden Lab, it is important for people to realize that these platforms are not charities run for the benefit of their users. These are private companies that are doing the best they can to provide value and generate income for their staff, and they are accountable to management, boards of directors, and (in some cases) shareholders and venture capitalists—not to us.

Do not for one second assume that Second Life will be around forever. After observing how Linden Lab is handling the Good Ship Sansar, I am beginning to suspect that when they do decide to shut Second Life down, it will be sudden, unexpected, and brutal.

So how do you prepare for the inevitable? How do you deal with the loss of a beloved virtual world, which will happen someday in the future?

Well, here’s a few tips to get you started.

First, do a little personal research on the process of grieving. Whether you like to admit it or not, you will probably go through all of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

In other words, it is normal to feel bad after any loss, even a loss that you might not see as very significant at the time. Depending on how you use Second Life (ranging from an idle pastime to an essential source of income), your reactions to the eventual shuttering of SL are likely to vary. You may go through the steps of grief out of order, plunging directly into depression rather than denial (I myself often do this).

Second, remember this harsh truth: these are businesses, not utilities, charities or non-profits. As I mentioned up top, in business anything can and does happen, and it often happens unexpectedly. Sometimes companies are mismanaged into the ground. Sometimes companies have to do things that you as a user of their products might not like.

For example, it is within the realm of possibility that a behemoth company like Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, or Microsoft buys out Linden Lab and shuts down Second Life, perhaps even to force them to migrate to one of their platforms. (We already saw this happen when Yahoo! bought up the short-lived virtual world Cloud Party, just to grab the programming talent, and then they shut that world down completely. They did hold a lovely farewell, though.)

One of the reasons I got so upset about Sansar is because I got emotionally attached to the platform, associating it with my most recent recovery from serious clinical depression. Unfortunately, my soft spot for Sansar became a major blind spot, and I landed up getting triggered and getting extremely upset and angry when unfortunate things like the layoffs occurred, even though they did not affect me personally.

So it’s probably best to try and reframe your perspective on Second Life. I admit that many people feel about Second Life the way that I felt about Sansar. Hell, even I sometimes feel that way about SL! But after I processed the shock of the sudden Sansar staff layoffs, I do consider myself more emotionally prepared for when the inevitable does happen, and Second Life does shut down. It’s a matter of when, not if.

I look at SL as a hobby, a way to pleasurably pass the time that satisfies my creative and social needs, and if it all goes away tomorrow, well, I had a wonderful time, I got to know some great people, and I will have many happy memories of countless hours of (mis)adventure. (And one hell of a lot of avatar makeovers!)

Third, it’s probably time to gently begin exploring other options. When Linden Lab shuts down Second Life, there will be a massive diaspora, who will likely land up in various successor social VR platforms and virtual worlds. However, the whole process will go a lot smoother if you do not put all your eggs in one basket.

Now would be a good time to see what Sinespace has to offer, for instance. Or perhaps you decide that Sansar is for you, after all. Or any one of the platforms in this spreadsheet I prepared last November (which I will try to keep up-to-date as the market changes and evolves). Who knows? Maybe you will be attracted to the upcoming Facebook Horizon (even if you can’t be whoever you want).

So get out there are explore alternative social VR/virtual worlds. In almost all cases, it costs you nothing to get started. And you might be pleasantly surprised to find a place you quite like, and want to spend a bit of time in. Having options is usually a good thing—and having options is a necessity if you are a content creator. Many designers and creators already have their brand in several different virtual worlds, and they will have some sort of cushion when Second Life fails.

I hope that you find what I have written here to be helpful, and not see it as an attack on Second Life or Linden Lab. It’s not. But now might be a good time to start preparing for the eventual, inevitable end of SL.

Because someday, probably when you least expect it, it will happen.

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UPDATED! Sansar Troubles: A Mini Update Causes a Major Bug

I’m quite sure that Linden Lab wishes they could bring back some of the programmers they laid off, today. A mini update to the client yesterday caused a major problem: male avatars won’t load at all!

The error message reads:

The avatar failed to load and may be corrupted. Would you like to delete this look?

Umm, no I don’t want to delete this look. I just want my avatar back, dammit!

*sigh*

Why do I have the feeling that we are going to have more problems like this in Sansar in the weeks to come? I look over to the right-hand-side of the official Sansar Discord client, and I see 7 staff members listed as online—the lowest figure I can remember seeing, ever (see image right). That is profoundly dispiriting.

And, even more concerning, I still do not see CowboyNinja Linden (a.k.a. Sheri Bryant), the new General Manager for Sansar, among that group.

If this is going to be the new normal, I am not liking it one bit. I have been informed that this is a problem with the default human male avatars only; female avatars and custom avatars will still load properly.

UPDATE 2:11 p.m.: The bug has now been fixed. Thank you, Linden Lab!

Editorial: Now Is the Winter of Our Discontent

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If I could sum up in three words how I am feeling this weekend, they would be: disenchanted, disillusioned, and depressed.

Photo by Ethan Sykes on Unsplash

It’s not my own circumstances that leave me feeling this way. In my personal life, things are going well, both at work and in my life outside work. Between my truly wonderful Patreon patrons (thank you!) and my Google AdSense and WordPress WordAds blog advertising, I am covering the hosting costs of this blog, for which I am grateful.

I have a growing reputation as an commentator and expert on social VR. I was recently a guest on Draxtor Despres’ podcast. Kent Bye wants to interview me for his Voices of VR podcast about social VR (that is, if we can ever arrange to be in the same physical location on the planet at the same time!). Hell, I am even accepting my first-ever award for my services to virtual world journalism on December 1st! So, things seem to be going well for me.

But what is bothering me (and especially weighing on me this weekend) is the current state of social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse, and the many travails, upheavals, and setbacks it seems to be going through. I spent my lunch hour sitting in my local McDonalds, having a text chat with someone who had invested in MATERIA.ONE (formerly Staramba Spaces), who saw my mention of a possible lawsuit being launched against the company in a previous blogpost, and wanted to know more information. I feel for him; like so many of us, he saw the promise and potential of a particular metaverse platform, and wanted to get in on the ground floor, only to get burned. It can happen to any of us.

After seeing what happened this year to both High Fidelity and to Linden Lab’s Sansar, and how so many other projects are struggling to become profitable, I am feeling disenchanted about the future of social VR. I don’t know if this feeling is a temporary grey cloud in my sky, or an indication of something more pronounced and permanent: an omen of more bad news on the horizon, more bad tidings to come.

Having covered the metaverse so assiduously over the past three years, I used to feel that I had developed a sort of sixth sense for determining which platforms will succeed, and which will fail. That sixth sense has completely abandoned me (or, more likely, I never had it in the first place).

I am humbled that I did not forsee High Fidelity’s abrupt pivot earlier this year; nor did I predict Linden Lab’s wrenching staff changes to the team building Sansar. I believed that those companies would continue to build their platforms in anticipation of future crowds; those crowds never came, and it depresses me to admit that they might never come. Whatever HiFi, Sansar, and other social VR companies are offering, few people seem to want it, at least at the moment.

Someone on Twitter alerted me to a brand-new, 15-minute Sansar promotional video posted by Disrupt, featuring CEO Ebbe Altberg and Sansar’s new General Manager Sheri Bryant, along with other Linden Lab staff such as the hard-working Sansar Community Manager Galileo Linden (a.k.a Ryan Crowe):

It’s a well-produced video, and an excellent, upbeat introduction to Sansar to someone who is new to the platform. Ebbe and Sheri and company cheerfully and valiantly hit all the major selling points of Sansar: an opportunity to make a profit selling user-generated content, etc.

But I watched this video, as good as it is, with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I used to believe that Sansar was a sure thing, a can’t-miss bet. Now, I am just feeling disenchanted, disillusioned, and depressed. I’ve got a bad case of the social VR blues.

We’ve seen attempt after attempt after attempt to sell social VR to the masses, with very limited success so far. As Shakespeare once said, now is the winter of our discontent. The question is: when will we get our glorious summer?

Editorial: When Holding Back Seems Like the Best Option

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

My original plan was so simple: retire early from my librarian job at the university, devote my resulting free time to learning how to use the Marvelous Designer software proficiently, and embark on a fabulous second career as an avatar fashion designer in Sansar, emulating so many successful brands that I had seen in my time in Second Life.

But, as often happens in life, things have not gone according to plan. My financial advisor at the bank strongly advised me not to retire at age 55, and I have listened to that advice, after seeing how much better my pension would be if I were to stay at my job until I turn 60, for instance (which is the new plan). I will continue to take things year by year, and see how I feel about it all. And 60 is only four years away now.

And watching what has been happening in Sansar this past year, as an increasingly concerned observer, I am not feeling quite as bullish about hitching my wagon to this particular star (particularly after the recent layoffs of approximately half the Linden Lab staff working on Sansar). Simply put, my initial enthusiastic infatuation with Sansar, which has buoyed me over the past three years, is showing signs of fading. And therefore, my original dream of becoming an avatar fashion designer there is looking a little less likely than it did a year ago.

Frankly, I’m in a very good position to take able to take a look at all the social VR platforms out there so far, and I’m just not feeling a tug towards creating content such as avatar clothing (or, for that matter, anything) for any of them. I think I am going to bide my time, continue to watch from the sidelines, and see how things shake out over the next year or two.

I may decide, instead, to pour my off-work hours and energy into learning how to edit digital video well. My producer of the Metaverse Newscast, Andrew William, is still tied up with real-life work projects, which means that future episodes of the show are currently on hold. This might be my opportunity to pick up some new technical skills! (I do have some limited video editing skills that I picked up as part of my paying job, using TechSmith’s Camtasia software to create student tutorials, so I already have a foundation I can build upon.)

The lesson I am learning here is twofold:

  • Don’t be too tied to any one platform; and
  • Don’t be too tied to any one plan.

Be willing to go with the flow and adjust to changing conditions and circumstances. I’m sure that many content creators (and potential content creators) are biding their time as I am, watching and waiting to see what platforms will be worth the investment of their time and money. Nobody wants to have sunk resources into a losing platform.

The vendors might not like it, but waiting to see how things shape up in social VR may be a smart strategy, especially in a time of high uncertainty such as this. Invest in your content design skills using Marvelous Designer, Blender, Avastar, or other programs, test out a few creations on various virtual world marketplaces to see where and if they are popular, and just be patient. Eventually, one or more social VR platforms will have their breakthrough moment, and then you can make your move!

So, what do you think? Am I right or wrong in holding back? Feel free to leave a comment below, or, as always, you are welcome to join the freewheeling discussions and debates about social VR and virtual worlds taking place on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, the first cross-worlds discussion forum! We’d love to see you there.