Last week, well known virtual persona Botgirl Questi explained why she believes that Linden Lab is investing in new products “instead of” Second Life. Botgirl’s argument, based on factors mentioned in an “employee” review, is that Second Life is built on ten year old technology that has inherent limitations. She believes that the virtual world market is stagnant; therefore it wouldn’t make good business sense to invest in reengineering the platform. In conclusion, she asserts that we will still see tiny “incremental improvements to the client” or “small fixes for issues that don’t require a large investment,” but in a few years “a declining Second Life and an emerging OpenSim will tilt the balance and we’ll see a fast decline in both land ownership and active users.”
Before I can continue with the point of this post, I have to point out several fallacies in the disproportionately negative logic of this proposal:
- Employee review
Botgirl draws insight from what she refers to as an employee review, but this is simply a review made by an anonymous person. We have no way of knowing if this person was ever actually a Linden Lab employee. I would argue that with a large, active and vocal community like Second Life has, it may be more reasonable to conclude that this review was not made by an employee, but a frustrated user. However, even if we were to assume that this review were by an actual former employee, if would still just be one factor in a big picture put forth by a disgruntled member of a large organization.
- The virtual world market is stagnant
This simply isn’t the case. Just because giants like Google have focused on other current trends and haven’t publically tried to take on virtual worlds after failing at their first attempt does not mean the space is dead. Although, I suppose this could depend on your definition of virtual worlds. In the broad sense, many analysts have been talking about the increase in real time social environments and the rise in funding, like this recent $15 million dollar investment, only renewing interest in avatar-driven virtual spaces. But even if you are referring to a more narrow definition of virtual worlds, Botgirl herself cites the “emerging” Opensim community and no one can argue the recent popularity of using Unity 3D based spaces. In addition, investments like the $1 million dollars in funding that Language Lab received for education in Second Life demonstrate the power they’ve been shown to have.
- Only tiny improvements to the client or small fixes
All evidence points to the contrary and Botgirl has no way of knowing what Linden Lab is working on. When I was participating in the Second Life closed beta for mesh support I heard so many users complaining that Linden Lab doesn’t listen to them, that the Lab never does anything to improve Second Life, that Second Life was dead, that mesh was never coming, etc. I was so excited by what I was seeing that I wanted to scream it from the roof tops, but I couldn’t say a word. Who knows what’s being developed now that we don’t know about, yet?
- Emerging Opensim
While I believe that certain platforms can be better suited for certain uses, there just isn’t clear evidence to support this. Despite its misleading headline, a recent report shows that Opensim’s top grid is planning to purge as many as 50-60% of its regions due to inactivity. Another report shows that Opensim has about 15,000 users, the same as it did in 2009.
- New products instead of Second Life
Botgirl’s theory overall explains why she believes the Lab is investing in new products *instead* of Second Life, however, there is no evidence that Linden Lab is putting any less time, attention, or money into Second Life. Linden Lab has already stated that it isn’t pulling employees from Second Life teams to explore and create these new products, they are hiring new additional ones. They are also hiring new additional employees for Second Life itself.
The above fallacies are not why I wrote this post though. On this week’s MetaReality Podcast I agreed with ex-Linden, Karl Stiefvater’s contention that these types of assertions are often unproductive. I also happen to think they are dangerous.
Botgirl’s post is a false dilemma. Her theory that because Linden Lab is also working on new products then Second Life must be unsavable and dying ignores numerous unknown factors and therefore leads us to an irrelevant conclusion. In the end, it’s little more than unnecessary gossip.
The reason I find these types of posts so particularly offensive is they are full of black and white thinking, overgeneralizations and catastrophizing which only exploit the community’s emotions and trigger strong reactions from all sides. It’s not only unproductive, it’s toxic. Yet we voraciously consume and spread it. What’s even more concerning is that the more and more it gets repeated, the more it’s believed as truth or fact.
Accepting the Things We Cannot Change
The Dalai Lama has been quoted as saying:
“If there is a solution to a problem, there is no need to worry. And if there is no solution, there is no need to worry.”
There are so many more productive and important discussions that we can have to actually improve the future of virtual worlds. It may be less titillating, but it’s definitely more fulfilling. In the meantime, I’ll be in-world creating, experimenting, exploring, and enjoying the present virtual worlds. No matter what any rumors say, they truly are an amazing experience.