Business in Virtual Worlds, Deep Thoughts, Second Life

Rezzable Out, Http-In

There were two places that convinced me of the power of Second Life as a platform: Svarga (recently up for sale - and I’m not sure if it still is, but if nothing else it needs to be preserved by Linden Lab) and Black Swan Rezzable.

Svarga convinced me that Second Life supported a quality of storytelling and immersion that would have, well, game-changing implications for how we experience things on-line. And Black Swan convinced me of the emotional and, I’ll say it, spiritual potential of the immersive experience.

The third place, and equally important, was my first little plot of land, stuck between a giant mega prim hiding a mall on the one side, and a beach house on the other populated by a seemingly endless stream of Germans. And the third place was important not because it was land, but because it was land on which I could rez my first prim. Little did I know that one prim would lead to investing thousands of hours rezzing other prims, and then trying to write about it…this blog was merely a place to keep notes, I didn’t expect to stay for very long.

But now, Rezzable has announced that it’s closing up all of its sims other than Greenies Home, and with it, will be shuttering Black Swan, which I can only describe as, well, a tragic loss - although frankly, I gave up going after Starax (or Light Wave as he was reincarnated) did that really weird sky box thing with the fascist imagery or whatever it was supposed to be - I took it as either creative frustration or a comment on humanity, or Linden Lab, or the Grid, or all of it. But Light Waves made prim magic, and it moved me, it made me want to somehow combine the creative impulse with the rest of my life - to make my work more like SL and to make SL a part of my work.

See, I kept looked to Rezzable for guidance. They had some of the smartest people on the Grid over there, rezzing prims, making magic. Greenies was - well, it was fun, although I kept wondering whether I was part of a story or part of a post card, it was fun to walk through a comic book, but I didn’t understand what MY character was supposed to be, and in Second Life we are all the stars of our own adventures.

But forget about Greenies - the whole set of Rezzable sims, 40 of them over the years by Rezzable’s count….well, I figured that with all that magic and all those visitors and all of those folks building, and sand boxes, and fashion shows, and art at the Cannery and whatever - that it all masked a plan, and that if we could only decipher the plan, we could all hop on board and ride the wave to the future, the Lab wasn’t much help, we’d need to construct it together.

What Was the Plan?
I used to spend countless hours speculating. I’d wander the Rezzable sims to try to figure out what they were up to: at Surfline, I’d look for a signal that maybe they were going to sell beach houses and land, but there was no such signal, and I couldn’t even find a decent bathing suit; then, there was that mountain thing with the cars under it, and I figured they’d be selling STUFF, like cars or whatever, and sure they sold a few things but it was hardly an uber-mall, and I distrusted the object economy in any case, as it relied on an endless flow of either new goods or new customers, the first of which is labor-intensive, and the second of which relies on factors outside our control, like the Lab promoting and marketing or whatever.

For a while, I figured they would try to own the new user experience, and thus their ‘consumption pathway’ or something, they had some sort of orientation hub in an old temple or something, but it never seemed to get finished, and I never saw noobs there.

But then one day I had a big deflating moment, and it was when Rezzable started charging admission. And it suddenly dawned on me that maybe they don’t really HAVE a plan, or the plan was the same plan as I was pitched in 1997 or 98 or whenever it was, and the plan went something like this: “Jump on this band wagon, it’s growing, aggregate eyeballs, it’s a network effect, and if you can be the one to grab the eyeballs FIRST then all the ones that follow will be yours” or, put it another way, the plan was the same as the Internet hype (and the resulting collapse) that killed a thousand blooming flowers a decade or so ago, the lesson of which was “The first wave is the dangerous wave, wait until it settles down and we’ve learned a few things.”

What I REALLY hoped was that I’d see some sort of synergy with brands or something, but then we were still in the post-CSI days, and the brands had sort of lost interest and wandered off to populate Facebook with widgets.

Now, Rezzable held faith when the brands had left, and that was a good thing. And frankly, I had hoped that they might do what Linden, at the time, could not: bring some sort of coherence to how the Grid might be shaped. I wrote:

“It’s time (for Rezzable) to stop just showing and start sending out some beacons for the rest of us. Some sculpted prims and a Garden of Delights will go a long way in convincing the people like myself who stayed in SL because of Svarga, or because of Starax….but what goes further is a feeling that it underpins a deeper vision of what next. Because surely we’re not finding it in Linden Lab. And as much as we mope and pine about the land market, it doesn’t seem like the overlords particularly care. And as much as “education and collaboration” is the next thing, a lot of those folks are decamping for Wonderland and Open Sim.

So we turn inward and look for a few hints of people who see a roadmap of their own, and wonder, and wander, and hope that someone has a clue or two, because there’s enough evidence that there’s a lot of heart and passion and talent and a few boundless dreams, enough to go around at least.”

But it turned out that Rezzable didn’t have a road map. Or, rather, they had one, but it relied on Linden Lab to deliver something (10 million new users comes to mind) that they never said they would, and that all evidence suggested wasn’t possible.

The strange thing in all this is that it turns out that it’s Linden Lab who has a road map. And Rezzable has openSim.

Now, I’ve long been interested in OpenSim, which is where Rezzable is headed, and it held the promise of being able to do things that were problems in SL.

See, at some point I figured that you actually COULD make money in virtual worlds, and I’ve been proven right. And the key to that, for me in any case, is that virtual worlds are not some separate thing, they are and will be integrated into all the other media and tools and technologies that help to make stuff happen.

But Second Life had problems: all that pesky adult oriented content, lack of a firewall option, lack of customized registration, inability to share desktops and integrate with Web-side content. And OpenSim promised that it HAD those things….and it also promised that with its “modular architecture” that it would be somehow, well, more innovative. So far, at least, it isn’t. You can change the physics and fiddle with the controls, but it’s still primarily a reverse-engineer.

On the other hand, the road map that the new(ish) crew at Linden Lab have placed out is, so far, being FOLLOWED (with a few mis-steps and corrections along the way, mainly the debacle of the homesteads), and I like being able to understand what’s coming next. In any case, just as Rezzable is leaving, Linden Lab is finally delivering against what I’ve long asked for: a coherent sense of a road map with milestones and deliverables and a team that understands how to build products and services as compared to code.

Now…don’t get me wrong, I still hedge my bets a little, primarily because I produce stuff for clients across other media, and just as my “meetings and conferences” business is a little slow these days because of the economy, my virtual business is up, and maybe next year that will change and I’ll be back to trudging through airports every week.

HTTP-IN, which has been on the map for a long time, is one of those quiet advances that is pushing Second Life along, and opening up new ways to innovate that, sure, are maybe being done on OpenSim but in this case they’re being built on a platform with stability, and a user base, and an economy, and all of the other stuff that has taken the Lab 7 years to build and (mostly) stabilize. And with HTML on a prim not far behind, and a new viewer on the horizon (am I the only one, by the way, who believes that the new viewer will be CLOSED source?), and new Web-side initiatives that I personally think rock, there’s some steam left in the engine, and there’s a company running the show that’s making money (which isn’t to say Adam Frisby or whoever isn’t making money, but it’s for himself, not for the “OpenSim product” like SL is the product of Linden Lab).

Which is to say that OpenSim holds promise, but I personally don’t think it’s entirely ready for prime time.

Look - these are all brave new worlds, and we’ll look back at the trials and tests and compare them with what we have 5 years from now and we’ll wonder why we thought it was such a big deal. I don’t have my little plot of land any more - for all I know, it’s empty, or someone else is there rezzing their first prim. And I’ll leave other sims behind as well, and maybe hope that this time, if nothing else, I’ll learn from my plan, just as I’m sure Rezzable has learned from theirs - but will try, and try very hard, not to blame anyone else if something goes wrong, and instead just head off to my next adventure.


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