Ars Technica returns to Second Life

Khodovarikha; Inara Pey, October 2017, on Flickr Follow Your Bliss, Second Life

Writing for Ars Technica on Monday, October 23rd, Samuel Axon, the Senior Reviews Editor, tells of his time Returning to Second Life. It’s a lengthy, involved piece, and perhaps one of the most broadly integrated write-ups on Second Life to have appeared in a good while.

Mr. Axon is no stranger to SL, having been dipping in and out over a number of years up until around 2012. As such, he brings to the piece first-hand experience based on more than just random exposure to the platform. In addition, he spoke directly with Peter Grey, the Lab’s Global Director of Communications, and Bjørn Laurin, Vice President of Platform – who has responsibility for both Second Life and Sansar. But that’s not all, he also sought out a number of Second Life creators to gain their insights as well.

The opening paragraphs encapsulate Second Life on a number of levels: the early hype around it being the “Internet 2.0”, the media hysteria of 2006/7, and an attempt to explain, as quickly as possible, was SL “is” for those who might view it as some kind of MMORPG.

From there, the article weaves a fairly comprehensive tapestry of several aspects of Second Life: commerce, creativity (and their relationship), social interactions and the changing face of discovery in SL, and more.

Samuel Axon, writing for Ars Technica

For example, with commerce and creativity, he brings together several threads: how both have given rise to what might be regarded as “unusual” (to the outside world) markets – such as breedables; how creativity has changed thanks to mesh and (for many) the move away from prims to external tools; the influence this has had with commerce, the rise of the Marketplace, and its impact on land in in-world stores.

The article also doesn’t shy away from issues. It delves into the question of why Second Life failed to become as all-encompassing as the early days seemed to promised. Here the finger is pointed squarely at social media being a major reason (outside of the overall hype surrounding SL), and I wouldn’t dispute it’s validity. Back when SL was at the height of its hype (2006-early 2008), Twitter was just starting out, as was the iPhone, Android had yet to arrive, and even Facebook had yet to start its meteoric rise in user numbers (2008 onwards). Thus, there wasn’t really anything out there by which SL’s real potential could be measured and the hype around it countered.

Sex in Second Life is also dealt with head-on, with a very tidily written sidebar to the main article. In it, Mr. Axon offers one of the most considered and well-balanced ripostes to those who insist Second Life is, to its larger extent, “all (/just) about sex”.

There are one or two elements in the article which might have been tackled a little differently. The changing face of discovery – where to go and what to do in Second Life  – is examined, with a degree of lamentation that the kind of exploration possible when SL was more mainland / very large private estate oriented (i.e. pre Homestead) no longer seems to be the case, with the bias now towards “siloed” activities on isolated private islands or “big public” calendared events, with information on them effectively coming through word-of-mouth.

However, rather than lamenting the change, I’d perhaps liked to have seen it examined more along the lines of how we tend to imprint our physical world activities on Second Life. It’s fair to say our social activities in the latter are “siloed” between our homes and public venues / calendared events. We visit family and friends via the most direct means possible, rarely taking time to explore what lay between; we rely on specific “word of mouth” to get news on events of interest – websites, social media, clubs / organisations, etc. So is it really that surprising social activities have evolved in a similar manner in SL, particularly as some of the tools – like Groups – naturally lean in that direction, and are very effective in their reach?

Later in the article, Sansar enters the equation – as might be expected, given there is much concern about how it might impact Second Life. Here, those concerns are confined more to the technical / fiscal:  that Sansar will draw off resources / investment from Second Life to its detriment.

While these – and other – concerns are valid, right now none of them are coming into play. On the technical / fiscal front, for example, we know the Lab is still recruiting skills specific to Second Life, and we’re still seeing user-visible capabilities added to the platform, Animesh being the most recent (albeit on a test basis), with things like the Environmental Enhancement Project and Bakes on Mesh (see my CCUG updates) following it down the pipe. The Lab is also continuing its overhaul of the infrastructure underpinning Second Life, up to and including an attempt to move SL services to the cloud.  If nothing else, and providing other factors don’t come into play, all of this work should help towards SL’s continued longevity.

I could go into greater lengths, but really, suffice it to say that in Returning to Second Life we have an informed, balanced piece on the platform, which reasonably attempts to reconcile past with present and offer honest insight into why, fourteen years after its public opening, the platform still has appeal, as well as offering viewpoints from both the Lab’s and users’ perspectives. As such, it is more than worth a read in its own right, and if you haven’t done so already, I urge you to do so.

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PC Gamer unboxes Second Life

Strawberry Singh, 2014, on FlickrOne of my favourite self-portraits by Berry, from 2014 (Flickr)

Second Life is a virtual world with an infamous reputation. If you’ve never played, you may only be familiar with the tales of kinky sex rooms and the YouTubers who troll the locals for a cheap laugh. But Second Life is so much more than that—a point driven home after I spent a whole evening reading a Second Life beauty blog.

So opens Second Life’s makeup unboxing videos are surreal and wonderful, by Steven Messner, writing for PC Gamer. It’s a refreshing look at the platform through the eyes of someone who may well have been aware of the SL’s reputation, but may not have spent much (if any) time in-world himself – and it makes for a pleasing read.

Steven Messner

The focus – as can be gleaned from the title of the piece – is Berry’s popular unboxing videos. These are actually a clever way of offering non-SL users an alternative point-of-view on the platform simply because, as Mr. Messner points out, unboxing events do permeate modern consumer culture. Hence, it’s a neat hook on which to hang a look at Second Life as seen through the eyes of a knowledgeable, empathic ambassador for the platform, and Mr Messner wisely allows Berry’s own words frame the important aspects of the exchange – the attraction of the platform as a social medium, as a mean for personal growth, and as a powerful means of personal and creative expression.

It is in the latter regard that the article particularly frames things, with Berry correctly pointing out that the pseudonymous nature of Second Life is a powerful enabler. Not only does it provide us with a means of being fully engaged in the platform and with one another whilst keeping whatever comfortable separation we feel we need between our digital and physical lives, it also allows us to enjoy a much wider canvas for creative expression if we so wish – video, photography, etc., utilising platforms such as YouTube and Flickr. It also allows use, if we wish to present our art and creativity to the physical world through our digital personas, as the likes of Toysoldier Thor and Bryn Oh have done.

As Berry also points out, this freedom can also something of a two-edged sword; frustration can be born out of a desire of wanting to more fully reveal oneself whilst knowing circumstance, the attitude of friends, the potential reaction (which is somewhat born out by some of the comments which follow the article), do much to push one away from doing so as much as any concerns vis career, etc.

The other attractive aspect of the article is Mr. Messner’s own approach. He writes frankly and openly, without any lean towards personal bias of the subject matter or need to add any snide pokes at the platform – a trait not always apparent in pieces about Second Life, even when well-intentioned. It’s also clear he’s come aware from his conversations with Berry with a new awareness and – dare I say – respect for the platform:

My conversation with Berry has given me a rare glimpse into a world that is often negatively branded as bizarre. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll find a community of artists and creators who have banded together to share and celebrate each other. It’s not something you see in other massively multi-player games, but it’s something I wish there is more of. It makes me a bit sad, then, that Second Life will always be labelled by its strip joints and sex clubs. As Berry tells me, “That’s just not what Second Life is about, there’s so much more you can do here.”

All told, a nicely written piece which makes a very worthwhile read – so do please follow the link at the top of this article and see for yourself, if you haven’t already. Kudos, Berry and Steven.

Horizons land auctions: final round-up

The Horizons land auctions having finished
Horizons: rounding-up the land auctions

On Tuesday, November 15th 2016, the Lab launched the Premium members’ Horizons community, a “retro-futuristic” mainland environment featuring 36 residential regions each with 24 parcels available for auction to Premium members, with auctions commencing on Friday, November 18th 2016, with parcels being auctioned in batches of (generally) 10.

Obviously with 864 parcels to auction, it would take some time to get through things, but Whirly Fizzle and I decided to monitor things to see how they progressed, and I gave a brief snapshot at the end of the first week of auctions, and another when the auctions reached a half-way point.  The final lots of parcels was auctioned on the 12th-14th February, and given this, I’d thought I’d round-out the updates with an overall look at things.

All L$  / USD figures are approximate and based on available data. Some approximations have been made using the average parcel price for a region if the actual bid price was missed in collating data (applies to a total of 8 parcels across 864). The US dollar figure is based on a rate of L$260 to the US dollar.

SUMMARY OF AUCTION BATCHES AND TOTALS
Batch
No. Regions
No. Parcels
Total L$
Total USD
Batch 1 10 240 8,744,976.00 33,634.52
Batch 2 8 192 4,304,186.00 16,554.56
Batch 3 8 192 3,334,978.00 12,826.84
Batch 4 10 240 4,489,691.00 17,268.03
TOTALS
36
864
20,873,831.00
80,283.95

Note: a total of 4 regions have been re-auctioned; however, two may have been re-auctioned as a result of original bidder defaulting on payment, as the parcels were apparently re-auctioned without being claimed. If the original payments were made, then a further L$59,131 / approx US $227.42 should be added to the appropriate totals.

Unsurprisingly, this batch of auctions drew the highest bid prices, due in part to the fact that two of the region – Horizons Apollo and Horizons Pandora – have genuine access to sailable open water – the open water to the west, north and east of the Horizons regions currently represent the grid edge, and is not accessible.

Both Batch 1 and Batch 2 were part of my half-way report, and since then, there has been some juggling between those parcels initially put up for sale, those initially offered for rent, and those offered for either rent for purchase.

For those interested in a more granular breakdown of auctions by batch / region, a complete set of tables is available here. The following tables provide a breakdown of parcel usage, based on original bidder’s actions with the parcels they obtained.

GENERAL STATUS OF PARCELS – ALL REGIONS, 864 PARCELS
Parcels Obtained For
Auctioned Sale Rent Either Comm. Private Unkn Re-auct’d
Batch 1 240 100 59 13 4 17 46 1
Batch 2 192 57 55 24 7 13 35 1
Batch 3 192 101 15 37 2 11 26 0
Batch 4 240 69 57 17 5 10 82 0
TOTALS 864 327 186 91 18 51 189 2

Notes

  • Comm = obtained for commercial use
  • Private = obtained for residential or group use
  • Unkn = those most likely obtained for sale / rent but which either have not (as yet) been offered for either / do not appear to have been made available (parcel holders did not respond to enquiries)
  • The re-auctioned parcels are limited to those were a second payment for the re-auction amount can be confirmed. As noted above, two other regions re-auctioned may not have been paid for by the original bidder prior to being put back up for auction. These are currently available for rent, and have been classified in the Batch 2 rental figures.
SNAPSHOT OF PARCELS OFFERED FOR SALE BY ORIGINAL BIDDER
Total for Sale Unsold
Commercial
Private
Offered for re-sale / rent Withdrawn from sale
327 180 23 31 81 12

Notes:

  • “Offered for re-sale / rent” indicates parcels purchased from original bidder and offered for sale / rent by purchaser
  • “Withdrawn from sale” indicates parcels initially offered for sale by bidder, but then set to  “not for sale” & with no indication they are available for rent.
SNAPSHOT OF PARCELS OFFERED FOR RENT BY ORIGINAL BIDDER
Total Offered for Rent Available for Rent
Rented Commercial Rented Private
186 157 12 17

 

SNAPSHOT OF PARCELS OFFERED FOR SALE OR RENT BY ORIGINAL BIDDER
Total Offer for Sale / Rent Available
Sold Rented
91 64 10 (5 on resale) 17

Notes:

  • Of the 10 sold, the 5 not up for re-sale have been sold for commercial / private use
  • The 17 rented parcels represent a mix of commercial and private use

General Observations

General interest in Horizons appears low – however, this many change now the auctions have finished. Currently, most of the land sales which have occurred post-auction have been between those land resellers / renters originally bidding on the parcels, rather than onward selling to those interested in using Horizons as either a home or a business location.

Sale prices across the  regions appear to be settling into the mid-20K through mid-40K range, although some – notably those with direct open-water access  (as opposed to river / canal access) or perceived water access can carry a premium. Rentals appear to remain at low ebb. As noted previously, this could be down to a lack of direct promotion by those offering them for rent.

Of the 189 listed as “unkn”, almost all are held by those selling and / or renting parcels, so it is not unreasonable to anticipate these being made available for sale / rent if / when current offerings are sold / rented.  One of those holding such parcels did confirm they would be offered for rent, but declined to indicate when.

Those interested in Horizons parcels – whether to purchase (Premium) or rent (anyone), should tour the regions with care. A number of parcels are offered for rent / sale offering boat docking where this is not strictly accurate (e.g. the parcel doesn’t directly join water, or the water it faces is actually off-sim). The regions are also unzoned, so judging how well they may keep to the desired theme is hard to quantify. There are a number of decidedly “non-sci fi retro” buildings across the regions, but many of these are place holders, and should be seen as indicative of the overall region styling.

Horizons land auctions: the half-way point

Horizons: looking at the auctions to date
Horizons: looking at the auctions to date

On Tuesday, November 15th 2016, the Lab launched the Premium members’ Horizons community, a “retro-futuristic” mainland environment featuring 36 residential regions each with 24 parcels available for auction to Premium members, with auctions commencing on Friday, November 18th 2016, with parcels being auctioned in batches of (generally) 10.

Obviously with 864 parcels to auction, it would take some time to get through things. However, the holiday period marked the half-way point in the auctions with 432 parcels auctioned across 18 regions. As Whirly Fizzle and I started monitoring things (largely out of curiosity), and I gave a snapshot at the end of the first weeks of auctions, the half-way point seemed a good opportunity to provide a further snapshot, based on how those 432 regions looked as of Friday, January 6th, 2017.

GENERAL STATUS OF PARCELS FOR BATCH 1 (10 regions) AND BATCH 2 (8 regions)
 Auctioned Parcels Available For (Sold / Rented) Original Auction Others
Sale Rent Either Sold Rented Comm. Resid. Aband Pend Unkn
Batch 1 240 95 55 9 (30) (13) 4 18 1 13 47
Batch 2 192 45 66 24 (3) (3) 7 13 1 0 36
Totals 432 139 121 32 (33) (16) 11 31 2 13 83

Notes

  • Parcels Available For = those parcels bid for and placed immediately on sale / for rent / either
  • Sold / Rented= number of parcels actually sold / rented whether placed for sale  or for rent or either. These set subsets of the Parcels Available For figures, and further breakdowns are provided below
  • Original Auction = those parcels which went directly to private residential use / commercial use during the original auction
    • 4 of the residential parcels may in fact be rented out by bidder
  • Others:
    • Aband = parcels already abandoned by original bidder
    • Pend = regions obtained for sale, but either currently not on sale by bidder (6) or removed from sale by bidder (7 – see sales review, below)
    • Unkn = regions which are not currently in use, nor are they apparently for sale or for rent, and where parcel holders have not responded to enquiries.
RENTAL PARCELS SUMMARY
For Rent Total Rented (16)

Residential Commercial
153 13 3
  • 153 is the total number of parcels available for rent (121), and those offered for rent or purchase (32)
  • Of the 153 parcels currently for rent / rented:
    • 89 are offered through one group of rental operators
    • The remaining 64 are offered through 11 rental groups, with between 1 and 14 parcels on offer per group
  • The average weekly rental for those parcels offered for rent is L$885 (low: L$550; high: L$975)
  • The average weekly rental for parcels offered for sale or rent is L$608 (low: L$495; high: L$800)
PARCEL SALES REVIEW
 Total for Sale Sold (32)
 For Sale Below Bid Price
Residential Commercial Both Re-sale
139 17 10 1 4 20
  • Total for regions on sale does not include those parcels offers for sale or for rent – see rental figures above
  • Of the 139 parcels currently available for sale / sold:
    • 98 are offered by three land sales groups
    • The remaining 41 are offered by 12 land groups / individuals, with between 1 and 12 parcels per individual / group
    • 5 parcels are on sale at prices above L$100,000, ranging from L$112,000 (58.98% mark-up on bid prices) to L$249,000 (255.67% mark-up on bid price) by two land holders
  • Average sale prices:
    • Among all 139 parcels for sale:  L$45,408.
    • Among the three biggest parcel sellers (98 parcels): L$37,360
  • The margins between bid price and sale price vary hugely, between just 2.42% (L$41,000 on a bid price of L$40,033) through to 231.38% (L$199,999 on a bid price of L$62,232)
  • Some 45 parcels have been reduced in price since first being offered for sale
    • The average mark-down on their original price being approximately 25.88%
    • 20 are current for sale at below their original bid price
      • Average drop below bid price: 17.44%
      • Largest drop 50.02% – sale price of L$15,000 on original bid of L$30,010
      • Smallest drop is 0.3% – sale price of L$38,000 on original bid of L$38,010
      • The majority of these drops have been to parcels auctioned in the first batch, and bring prices down to more closely match the prices of parcels the same bidders are selling on other Horizons regions
  • Of the four regions purchased and flipped for re-sale, 3 are by residents without an associated land group / business; one is by another land company active in Horizons.

Commercial Activities

Commercial activities are largely stores (avatar accessories, building materials etc.). Two adult club environments are within Horizons and one sci-fi themed bar.

Approximate Revenue Breakdown

The following table gives a breakdown of approximate revenue across the 18 regions auctioned to date. The US $  value is based on L$260 to the $.

APPROXIMATE AUCTION REVENUES – BATCH 1 AND BATCH 2
Auction Batches Approx L$ Raised Through Auction
Approx US $ (at L$260 / US $)
Batch 1 (10 regions / 240 parcels) 8,714,966.00 33,519.10
 Batch 2 – (8 regions / 192 parcels) 4,309,833.00 16,576.28
TOTALS: 13,024,799.00 50,095.38

Unsurprisingly, the two regions with direct access to open water (that is, parcel which directly access water, with no intervening protected land) – Apollo and Pandora, both located on the south side of Horizons and facing Zindra across water open for sailing / boating, drew the most competitive bidding.

BATCH 1 BY REGION (All 24 Parcels per Region)
Region Total L$
Approx US $
Highest
Lowest
Direct Water Access
Apollo 962,882.00 3,703.39 L$80,000 L$29,787 (x2) 6 parcels
Astrid 749,142.00 2,881.32 L$45,009 L$27,087 (x2) None
Galatea 882,008.00 3,392.34 L$70,010 L$27,010 None
Halley 857,738.00 3,298.99 L$60,010 L$27,111 None
Mercury 903,371.00 3,474.50 L$60,010 L$28,110 None
Nova 857,107.00 3,296.57 L$65,010 L$27,110 None
Pandora 1,029,400.00 3,959.23 L$102,454 L$27,110 (x2) 6 parcels
Polaris 960,663.00 3,694.86 L$60,020 L$27,111 None
Thule 785,673.00 3,021.82 L$45,565 L$27,087 None
Triton 726,982.00 2,792.08 L$40,033 L$26,010 None

The second batch of regions auctioned drew considerably lower value bids, with the third batch of regions more-or-less matching the second thus far.

BATCH 2 BY REGION (All 24 Parcels per Region)
Region Total L$
Approx US $
Highest
Lowest
Direct Water Access
Atlas 542.964.00 2,088.32 L$40,010 L$15,010 None
Celeste 495,317.00 1,905.07 L$30,010 L$12,022 None
Halo 461,464.00 1,774.86 L$32,010 L$13,038 None
Neptune 583,522.00 2,244.32 L$40,121 L$12,121 None
Orion 589,377.00 2,266.83 L$37,799 L$15,009 None
Pluto 521,321.00 2,005.08 L$40,000 L$13,039 None
Sirius 580,799.00 2,233.84 L$42,010 L$12,455 None
Venus 535,069.00 2,057.96 L$40,033 L$26,010 None

General Observations

Outside of those bidding on the parcel lots, there appears to be little direct interest from Premium members in obtaining a property within Horizons. Some may be put off by the Adult rating, others by the lack of any covenant. While the high price of bids places during the first batch of auctions might be considered a reason, the second batch of auctions averages close to half the per parcel bid price of the initial batch, and still generated little direct take-up. This appears to be the case with the third batch.

Rentals  – which should allow non-Premium members to gain a parcel within Horizons if they wished – are currently gaining little traction, although this could be own to lack of promotion on the part of the rental groups. Obviously, the advantage of Mainland holding is they are not a tremendous drain on resources in the way that partially occupied private regions can be.

There may be a follow-up report at the conclusion of the bidding. Or at least a summary of potential revenues. Putting this report together was too much like hard work!