Elf Clan Social Network

This was posted on Inworldz forums but I decided to post it here as well, as part of the ongoing history of Elf Clan's involvement with virtual reality and Inworldz.

It has been suggested that the task of growth falls on the customers. That has indeed been the case for the last several years, but that phase is past.

There are only so many contacts customers have. I think it safe to say Elf Clan has spent the last few years exhausting our pull from SL. As a result we have 60+ regions here-- and are very grateful of that environment. We could have never accomplished that on Second Life. Could we accomplish more? Yes-- if we had the tools to do so. But we don't have those tools-- the things it takes to convince our remaining members on SL that Inworldz is better. (Better viewer, easier to use, awesome interface, compatible physics, a growing market...)

Our own resources for assisting company growth are currently exhausted. Inworldz is a business. We helped it get started; it is now the responsibility of that business to see to its own growth.

There are several valid points made in the prior posts. Tranq is correct: Inworldz cannot continue to look to SL to spur its growth. I believe the time will come that we will receive a significant fallout from that grid (unless SL2 is surprisingly attractive), but that's something Inworldz should not count on. The future of Inworldz is from currently-untapped markets external to existing VR.

Sara's short-but-sweet post is also right. She has the view an Inworldz user should have: I'm having fun and that's what counts. That's the view we'd like a whole lot more people to have. So how does Inworldz create that sense of fun and belonging and more importantly-- make that obvious to new visitors?

The RP Hub concept is great (so long as the creators cooperate), as is InShape. Inworldz may have really lucked out on Google adopting its physical fitness concept at the same time that InShape is getting fleshed out. Time will tell. However, no matter how much work is done on the RP Hub and no matter how great it is, it is only a partial solution that may attract part of the market. Why? Because not everyone is a role-player. The past has proved that the majority of VR users enjoy socializing, live music, shopping, and events.

There is a huge gamer market out there, but VR isn't what they will be attracted to. Pursuing that market will be largely a waste of time-- as SL has significantly proved. The only way Inworldz could attract that market is to offer them something new that they don't currently have-- with software that performs on a gamer level. While buildable-VR is certainly something they don't currently have... software that performs at the level of current computer games is a pipe dream at best. We blew that possibility when OpenSim decided to follow the SL track rather than creating a new-and-improved concept. Is it too late to fix that? Most likely. So we've got to go with what we've got and hope that SL2 is a stinker that totally fails on all levels.

Speaking of SL, now that we have PhysX... what are we supposed to do with it since it's not totally compatible with SL scripts?  There are very few physics scripters on Inworldz, almost none of them are coming over from SL and hardly anyone is willing to learn / figure out the specifics of PhysX.  Balpien has tried to work on compatibility, but my simplest flying scripts from SL don't work. Automobiles nosedive into the ground regularly.  Nothing I've tried has been able to overcome these problems... and most scripters from SL aren't going to be willing to take the time to even try to upgrade their scripts to be Inworldz compatible.  As long as I've been scripting, if I can't get physics to function here... what are we to expect from the casual user who just wants to get his car to run down the road?

PhysX is great. But we need compatibility work-ins. If that's not conceptually possible-- then Inworldz really needs to start providing users with some very operational and versatile vehicle and "popgun" scripts so people have at least a chance of getting started with physics on Inworldz.

The big problem here is that we have not eliminated three primary blocks that kept Second Life from growing more than it did:

1) A complex viewer that needs a totally re-designed interface (and please... no repeat of SL Viewer 2.0)
2) In a related issue, an extremely high learning curve for new users, which brings us to...
3) A failed new-user experience lacking in both attraction and accomplishment

These are three realities, realities that I'm guessing the majority of readers here will readily agree upon. So what can be done about that? I hate non-productive criticism... so here's how I'd fix that:

1) The viewer functions are just fine, and are much better than they used to be. But the viewer is non-intuitive, cumbersome and far more difficult to learn and use than it has any need to be.

So create a beginners interface, one that presents the primary things required to enjoy Inworldz. Make that interface VERY intuitive, easy-to-use, with all the basics new users will need to use this world. Movement, teleporting, purchasing, opening boxes and use of inventory should be highlighted and made extremely easy. Rezzing and positioning things (a new home, trees) should be fully-explained and controls simplified for ease-of-use, and new clothing easy to purchase, add to inventory, actually LOCATE in inventory, and wear.  At this time just adding a new outfit is a complex task for a newbie. That needs major simplification. A newbie needs to be guided as to the difference between replacing, wearing or adding something to their avatar, not just presented with a menu and no clue as to how these things work.

Smart "How to" and descriptive options should be right-click available on everything. Pie-selections should be eliminated in favor of sensibly-organized and far more informative pop-up menus, with each item of that menu having its own available "help" option.

An intermediate interface would introduce them to building. That interface would include easy-to-use basic build functions as well as immediate access to simple commonly-used scripts for items such as doors, to make a car run, a plane fly, a boat sail across water, create a light fixture, turn something visible / invisible and phantom/solid.

An advanced interface would include the whole 9 yards, but in a much more user-friendly and intuitive format than it is now.

In addition, Inworldz needs to find and eliminate those [expletive omitted] memory leaks... and fix the cache system. Those are core issues.

Bottom line, the Viewer is the new-user interface to Inworldz. That house needs the walls torn down and re-modeled from the inside-out.

2) How do we deal with the extremely high learning curve:  Aside from making the viewer easier to use, we make the new user experience more fun and informative. We make the grid self-teaching.

Many people here have played PORTAL. One of the best things about that game is that there is no need for an instruction manual. People pop in the game and they learn how to use it as they play it. They learn the functions one step at a time by going through an addictive process of easy puzzle-solving which gradually leads them to the more complex processes.

That's how you overcome an extremely high learning curve. You simplify it by improving the user interface (the viewer) and then make the system self-teaching. Which brings us to...

3) New user experience. Let's be honest: all of VR has a lousy new user experience. "Please walk through these signs which explain how to do this and that in the most dull, droll and boring method possible, highly informative... if you can stay awake and resist hitting the exit button.

I think we have a rather attractive new-user tutorial course and I don't mean to slam it. It's far better than others I've seen. But it's not interesting. It's not addictive. It fails in any way to encourage people to come back to Inworldz and maybe make this a primary hobby in which they actually buy land and merchandise. It doesn't teach them how to build, it doesn't show the possibilities in scripting, doesn't really do anything except teach the most basic stuff.

The new user experience needs to be exciting, needs to be an adventure, needs to have achievable goals and ranking. "CONGRATULATIONS! You just leveled up!" There are no results from what they do.  In contrast imagine:  "You just created a car. Now take it to your inventory for future use!" Where there are no accomplishments, no achievements, there is no fun.

So no wonder Inworldz isn't growing. Does it encourage growth?

IDI (Inworldz Desert Island-- attractive name there) is a nice, flowery park-- and totally unimpressive. There are alternatives.

Consider:  A newbie logs into Inworldz. Since we know exactly where that newbie will be landing, the textures could be already pre-loaded into their cache. The intake area rezzes around them almost instantly. Their first impression is, "WOW!" The entire area is visually and audibly vibrant and exciting. They can visit special interest kiosks, easily teleport to areas of special interest (such as the RP Hub), get valuable information from bots... and be escorted toward the above-mentioned new-user tutorial experience that will get them started on Inworldz.

Mentors would still be in full use-- but they'd be there to help people with special questions and needs, not to hand out basic information packets (a bot can do that easily). What is available (and where customer volunteers can really help) are a dozen people ready to accompany the new visitor on their tutorial quest if they so desire. Some people like to explore on their own-- others would like a guide, someone to show them around. Those guides could hang around Inworldz Intake and when a newbie comes in, greet them, give them brief explanation, and offer to guide them around. Their job stops at the end of the Newbie tutorial area as they send the new user in whatever direction they want to go.

Okay, I'm done for now. These are just ideas of the kind of bold steps needed to put Inworldz on the map. It's not up to the customers. It's not up to groups. Growth fall squarely in the lap of Inworldz and its Founders and whether it grows or doesn't-- will depend on some really major decisions that are going to be made or not-made over the next few months. This lengthy post is nothing more than feedback and constructive criticism-- the very best kind-- from customers who really care. It doesn't mean I'm totally right. But after 11 years in this business (as of last month) I'm pretty sure the above isn't far off the mark.

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Comment by Balpien Hammerer on December 14, 2014 at 4:20pm

I do take exception on some of the things you mentioned, but I responded to them before in the IW forums, and I do not have much else to say about them. Also, you are bringing  up many valid points. But, all those concerns and suggestions need to be contrasted against something that goes a bit deeper than one might imagine. This is a small company who is unable to deliver on required maintenance, and feature parity experiences that stabilizes the user experience. It has two fronts in which it needs to excel, doing neither well to date. Note that the IW grid is much better than the vanilla OpenSim grids, but better is not good enough for long term viability.

The people who did come over from SL, all 0.5% of them, have expectations that things work reasonably well, not exactly the same if there are compelling reasons why some things are different, but a general expectation of not needing to constantly tinker with things. Using the measuring stick of SL, with all its imperfections, people judge the IW experience as sub par (granted there are superior parts) because people tend to give more weight to negatives than positives. So, given the negatives, there will not be any significant moves across from SL. That's a fact with plenty of metrics to back that up.

That leaves new markets to fuel much needed growth. The reason for that needed growth is to get enough people so that their  purchase of services goes well above the cost of operations. Only then can sufficient capital be available to fund developers to get things done. That is critically important because there are deep bugs that mar the user experience presently and, especially to that new market.

No amount of viewer tinkering is going to fix the inability to see the world around you, the inability to not experience crushing lag when more than 20 avatars are hanging around. No one is going to hang around when the various media related functionality is so broken that simple sounds can no longer be synchronized, when quite a number of features, which used to work several months ago, are now broken. Even the act of rezzing or deleting objects has major performance related delays.

This problem, of breaking otherwise working parts of the system when new fixes or changes are introduced, is growing. There are limits to the patience of current builders having to find to workaround to make their products work here. Worse, there are limits to builders' patience having to go *back* to use-to-be working products to find workarounds to newly introduced bugs. That is very expensive to them, having to rush free updates to their customers because of some new breakage.

There is also a limit to how long anyone will do grid development work when they are not paid and not compensated: to fix bugs, to introduce new features and capabilities, to improve performance, and to workaround bugs introduced by other developers.

For myself, I am deeply disappointed. I just had a major amount of work I did on the RP Hub project ruined by bugs I had reported on months ago. The negative reception given by people was indeed correct and my deep frustration is that there was nothing I could do about it.

All of the workarounds you mentioned will only work if the infrastructure is working properly. It isn't. The fundamentals need to be addressed first because anything else is like putting lipstick on a pig (love that old saying).

Comment by Balpien Hammerer on December 22, 2014 at 3:07pm

BTW, you mentioned this in your OP:

((Consider:  A newbie logs into Inworldz. Since we know exactly where that newbie will be landing, the textures could be already pre-loaded into their cache. The intake area rezzes around them almost instantly. Their first impression is, "WOW!"))

That preload would be entirely unnecessary if texture downloading worked right in InWorldz. It is quite broken presently, which is why the 'greys' happen so much, why sculpts and mesh objects are either mangled in appearance or do not appear at all for minutes. I went to SL with a cleared cache to see how bad it is there. I was surprised how fast things loaded. Within 2 seconds almost everything loaded. Within 10 seconds everything was loaded.

I remember it used to be like this and better in InWorldz. Something broke, months ago. Instead of fixing it,  I hear them taking about institutionalizing workarounds. Cache preloading is exactly what SL is doing today. It works. It works well. It could work again in InWorldz if they fix the fundamentals.

If you wonder why I am getting highly critical of all this, it is because they are losing customers. They used to have over 915 private regions. It dropped to 824 a couple of months ago and last night the private region count dropped to 800. That is a 14% drop in region revenues! We all have to complain about our problems to break them out of their complacency.

Also, about this:

((The entire area is visually and audibly vibrant and exciting. They can visit special interest kiosks, easily teleport to areas of special interest (such as the RP Hub), get valuable information from bots... and be escorted toward the above-mentioned new-user tutorial experience that will get them started on InWorldz.))

The RP Hub is running now. It will eventually be the place where people, who indicated interest in role-play on the WEB site, will end up when they first log into InWorldz. It is designed to be cinematic and vibrant. People start right into a role-play quest to get an immediate sense of involvement.

BTW, there is a serious sound glitch grid bug that I mentioned ruined the experience. I have mostly worked around those bugs (they do not exist in SL), and I'm told it is being looked into, though have not seen any movement on that front. My hope is that this area of the fundamentals will get fixed.

Comment by Wayfinder Wishbringer on December 22, 2014 at 4:05pm

I'm glad to hear the RP Hub is working out well.  I haven't seen it myself but the concept you mention is the kind of shot-in-the-arm Inworldz needs.  If there is one thing I miss about SL... it is old Ahern.  In the early days Ahern was a constant meet & greet zone.  The most well-known people on SL used to meet there and welcome newbies.  We'd have regular dances, or themed meets (such as "goofy avatar day") or other things that would make newbies realize this is a fun place to be.  That stopped when a griefer bombed Ahern and LL didn't have a backup (believe it or not.  sigh).  It just never was the same when they rebuilt it... with a huge cumbersome center area that separated people and made things not so fun any more.  In truth, the second Ahern resembled nothing so much as today's IDI... and it stopped being a fun center.  I really miss the atmosphere of the original Ahern.

"If you wonder why I am getting highly critical of all this, it is because they are losing customers. They used to have over 915 private regions. It dropped to 824 a couple of months ago and last night the private region count dropped to 800. That is a 14% drop in region revenues! We all have to complain about our problems to break them out of their complacency."

Yes, I fully agree.  I've mentioned on the forums several times that the region count has been static for 2 years... and that this was a very bad sign.  No one seems to agree (or at least, not outspokenly, on the forums-- who can blame them), and thus IDI has remained as it is, without improvement, and as you state Balpien: Inworldz is suffering for it.

I don't know if that will continue or not, but after a recent bout on the forums of yet another drama troll breaking every rule in the book-- intentionally-- and still being allowed to post the next day... I realized Inworldz had become a waste of time for me.  The grid is declining, the TOS not being enforced (thus customers not being protected from abusive personalities)... and as I told Elenia it's starting to feel like SL all over again.  After 11 years on VR (during which I could have been doing far more beneficial and lasting things)... I just decided to move on. 

That's my personal decision; I find I no longer enjoy building or scripting (the market is awful, no matter what claims the Founders make), and I surely don't enjoy the abusive forums and lack of respect even prominent users show for that forum.  As I emailed Ele: that is going to drive the supportive, creative users away from the grid-- which is exactly what we see happening.  You'd think they'd have learned that lesson when forum drama cost the company $20,000 a year.  They didn't... so now they've lost Snoots and no telling how many others as well. 

As you say Balpien, the grid is declining... which is why we're pointing out that we believe the grid (meaning the company as well) is in trouble.  If people are going to pay even $75 a month for a piece of virtual land, they're going to expect certain levels of performance and security.  As comparatively low as $75 is to SL prices... it still isn't just a spit in the bucket.

Their main problem right now is that they are severely understaffed and there is no marketing going on (at least not that I'm aware of).   Any merchant knows:  you can't just build and script an item, put up a vendor, and expect people to flock to your door.  Yet that seems to be exactly what Inworldz is doing.  They asked their customers to help promote their grid, and that's fine.  But that doesn't replace the company taking obvious and necessary steps to make Inworldz better-known and more inviting to people when they do visit the grid.  The fact that their sim count is declining is strong indication they are not offering what people want.  If they remain on this same course it stands to reason that will continue to be the case. 

Up until this time Inworldz has survived on the goodwill, patience and investment of existing customers.  But after 5 years many of those customers are simply wearing out and seeing all their hard work amount to nothing... are moving on to more productive activities.  They're putting their money into things they consider more important.

I'm by no means anti-Inworldz.  I'm just bored with it... and fed up with the forums.  The only positive thing I can say is that our group has thrived on Inworldz as we never could have on SL, and that's a big bonus.  But... if we don't see new people coming through, if our lands become nothing more than beautiful attractions with no new visitors... what good is that? 

Of course, it could be that after more than a decade I've simply exhausted my enthusiasm for VR.  That's quite likely.  But I think the declining region count says more is involved than tiredness on my part.  If Inworldz was booming, if we had regular new visitors to our regions, if the forums were inviting to merchants and helped us survive (as opposed to some drama queen harassing us at every turn)... maybe my enthusiasm wouldn't have waned.  But as it is, I don't think you could bribe the dwagon to return if you offered him a dozen cookies.  But it makes sense:  If losing a customer worth $20 grand a year didn't make Inworldz sit up and take notice... I doubt a single dwagon heading out will have any more impact. 

Inworldz has a lot of potential, but not much of it is being tapped.  Several years ago I stated, "Only time will tell how VR will turn out."  After all this time... that's still the case.  So we're left with the question:  how long is it going to take for this product to get out of beta?

A valid question, methinks.


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