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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An Hour with Jaron Lanier in Sinespace

I got to the Delphi Talks event early, so I could grab a good seat near the front. I opted to stay in desktop mode rather use my VR headset, and use Sinespace’s built-in snapshot tool to take pictures, like the one below:

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Check out Sinespace employee Sun Tzu’s centaur warrior avatar (above image, right). The detail on his outfit is AMAZING. Sinespace has really improved their avatar appearance in the last few updates to the client software!

Jaron showed up a little late, due to real life traffic. His avatar is the octopus with the dreadlocks in the pictures below:

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Jaron Lanier in Sinespace 25 May 2018

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Among many other topics, Jaron talked about the artwork from the medieval era as a sort of precursor to today’s virtual reality. He was also rather disturbed by Facebook’s purchase of Oculus. He still hasn’t seen the movie Ready Player One, and he talked about bringing VR to Hollywood and giving demos back in the 1980s, when it was super expensive to recreate what we now have as relatively commonplace, consumer-level VR.

Here is a link to the livestream of the event.

Jaron Lanier Speaks at the Delphi Talks in Sinespace Today

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This is just a reminder that virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier will be speaking at the Delphi Talks in Sinespace this afternoon, Friday, May 25th, at 2:00 p.m. Pacific Time. You do need to RSVP to attend this session, at the link provided above. This is a rescheduling of the original event, which had to be cancelled due to technical problems. They had a really good turnout on that first attempt to hold the event, so I would urge people to get there early to get a good seat!

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Jaron Lanier will be interviewed by Wagner James Au of the long-running blog New World Notes. Jaron will discuss his book, which charts three decades of VR, and tells the story of the enormity of what we are witnessing as the medium impacts our lives. The talk will also touch on Jaron’s work as an interdisciplinary scientist at Microsoft, and his thoughts on the latest generation of VR technology and social platforms.

UPDATED: Why the Ready Player One Movie Tie-In Did Not Give Sansar a Boost

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Wagner James Au’s “scoop”

Last week, Wagner James Au of the long-running virtual worlds blog New World Notes, wrote a blogpost about Sansar, using user concurrency data collected by Gindipple, who is runnning a program which automatically scrapes data from the publicly-accessible Sansar Atlas listings sorted by popularity. Wagner wrote a blogpost citing Gindipple’s data, underscoring the fact that Sansar had less than fifty concurrent users at any one time. It was the first time any sort of user concurrency figures for Sansar had been publicly released, and some people were surprised at how low they seemed to be.

This is partly my fault. Wagner first reached out to me via Facebook Messenger, saying that he had heard that someone had some Sansar user concurrency figures, and if I knew how to get them. I told him that I didn’t have any, but I did mention Gindipple’s work. I then referred Wagner to Gindipple directly, who decided to share his data with him, thus Wagner’s blogpost last week.

I must confess that I feel very conflicted about the role I have played in this, even though Wagner very kindly thanked me publicly for making the connection. Gindipple has, quite rightly, pointed out that his figures are accurate and truthful. But Wagner’s coverage of Sansar has always been somewhat negative (at times unfairly so, in my opinion). In a sense, Gindipple just gave Wagner another really good and valid reason to bash Sansar.

Wagner went and cross-posted his blogpost to various Second Life communities prefaced as follows, which really made me grind my teeth in anger:

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I get a very definite whiff of schadenfreude here. If Wagner had wanted to make a fair comparison, he should have compared Sansar’s concurrency with Second Life’s user concurrency nine months after it was first released in 2003, not with today’s SL user concurrency figures. And it doesn’t help that he is sharing his news specifically with SL communities who might already feel aggrieved (rightly or wrongly) that Second Life is suffering by comparison as Linden Lab continues to put resources into Sansar. This is just like pouring gasoline on a raging fire, in my opinion. It makes a big flash, it sure gets attention, but it’s not going to put the fire out, or help the situation overall.

But Wagner does make a valid point in his blogpost based on Gindipple’s data: the fact that the official Ready Player One movie tie-in really did not make much of a difference at all in the overall level of usage of Sansar (the following is a screen capture of the section of Wagner’s blogpost where he discusses that):


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If Linden Lab had been hoping for an uptick in Sansar usage as a result of the Ready Player One tie-in, they must be feeling rather disappointed by now. So why didn’t that happen?

I am going to compare the RPO movie tie-in with a similar situation over a decade ago when Linden Lab also had a media tie-in, this time with the popular TV crime drama CSI:NY. (The episode was called “Down the Rabbit Hole” and it aired October 24th, 2007.)

Recently, there was a discussion thread in the popular Second Life Friends group on Facebook, asking people to share their stories of how they got involved in SL. And a surprising number of those people stated that they started SL due to the CSI:NY TV show tie-in. So why did that one work so well for Linden Lab and Second Life, where the Ready Player One tie-in failed to ignite user interest in Sansar?

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One of the Virtual CSI:NY sims in Second Life (from my archives, 2007)

First, Second Life was an integral part of the storyline in that particular CSI:NY episode. Second Life was mentioned by name throughout, and there were also several in-world video segments showing television viewers what SL looked like and how it worked. By contrast (as far as I am aware), there was no mention of Sansar in Ready Player One, and no in-world footage of Sansar in the movie. (I’m not 100% certain of this, because I haven’t gone to see the movie in the theatre yet.) People could come in, watch the movie, enjoy it, and leave without ever hearing about, or knowing about, Sansar. There was never a definite link between the two properties in people’s minds.

Second, the Second Life tie-in to the CSI:NY episode was an interactive game where avatars were expected to work to solve a puzzle (see image above). The only level of interactivity in the two Ready Player One experiences that Sansar Studios created, were clickable icons with audio clips of Aech describing various artifacts. The experiences were beautifully done and skillfully assembled, but after you visited them once and listened to all the audio clips, you were essentially done. There was really no reason to return, unless it was to show someone else the experiences.

Linden Lab may have won the jackpot in getting an official movie tie-in for Ready Player One, but that win has not translated into increased attendance in Sansar. They’re now hoping that the tactic of signing up with some popular livestreamers like UmiNoKaiju might attract people (hey, it worked for VRChat). It’s becoming really clear that simply offering people beautiful experiences is not enough to retain users. You need to give them something to get involved in, something for them to do. And a “soft” movie tie-in is simply not enough to bring people in nowadays. You need more.

Wagner James Au may be more on the negative side of the fence about Sansar, and I may be more on the positive side. But we do agree on one thing. Linden Lab, unfortunately, is going to have to go back to the drawing board when it comes to drumming up interest in Sansar, and promoting the platform effectively. The old playbook, used in the days when Second Life was pretty much the only game in town (and pretty much sold itself based on its merits) doesn’t seem to be working like it used to. They’re going to have to think outside the box.

And, especially after my guided tour of Virtual Universe last weekend, I realize that the marketplace for compelling social VR experiences/virtual worlds is going to be extremely competitive. I can now pretty much guarantee you that not every virtual world product currently on the marketplace is going to survive. The days of a virtual world like Second Life having the market essentially to itself are done and over. Every company is going to have to try harder to get the consumer’s attention, and keep it.

As Bette Davis said in the movie All About Eve“Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

UPDATE 8:48 p.m.: Galen made such a great comment that I wanted to add it here to the blogpost. He said:

Nice essay, Ryan. I especially appreciate the distinction you draw between the CSI:NY tie-in and the RPO tie-in, which helps explain the different outcomes.

I don’t actually think that the NWN blog post was all that bad. I thought it was relatively fact-based and not really slanderous. And I think the world and even LL benefit from some transparency. I don’t think there’s any reason for LL or the Sansar community to be ashamed of the relatively small persistent population here right now.

Gindipple’s pioneering work in collecting data from Sansar inspired me to finally get around to doing the same a bit over a month ago. Not surprisingly, my data generally agree with his. But one conclusion I draw from the data I see is that there is a very steady stream of new people coming to Sansar every day. From a few fuzzy indicators I would estimate it’s around 50 first-timers each day. That translates to maybe 1,500 first-timers each month. At HoverDerby, we usually see 1 – 5 newbies each weekday during just one practice hour.

The important take-away from this is that Sansar may be new, but it is fresh and growing. And the work we residents are doing to capture the attention of those daily newcomers, combined with the new features LL is regularly adding to Sansar, are slowly yielding fruit. Stay tuned.

Worlds Adrift is a Promising-Looking MMORPG/Virtual World

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Wagner James Au of the long-running blog New World Notes has been following the development of an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) called Worlds Adrift, which he calls “the single-shard, open world sandbox MMO with physics, a working ecosystem, and user-generated content — i.e., a virtual world worthy of the term — running on the well-funded backbone of Improbable“.

He recently posted that Worlds Adrift is launching in early-access on May 17th. Now, I’m not a really big fan of MMORPGs (or MMOs, as some people prefer to call them), and I don’t really cover MMORPGs on this blog, but I did play a little bit of World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online back in the day, so I’m familiar with the concept.

Here’s a year-old introduction to the game:

And here’s their most recent teaser:

They refer to themselves as “the world’s first community-crafted MMO”, so they may tempt a few virtual worlds creators to join their early-access program. (Wagner reports that some Second Life users have become Worlds Adrift fans.) It certainly looks interesting! Here’s another video showcasing some of the worlds that people have already created: