Elf Clan Social Network

-- A commentary by Wayfinder, as is my occasional habit  ; )

We've all read a great deal lately about problems with Virtual worlds, specifically Inworldz because this is our home.  Some view such as "negativity".  I view such as solid gold customer feedback.  Companies pay for this kind of "information from the trenches".   Valid or invalid, positive or critical... it's customer feedback. 

Customers silently fuming is far more negative and destructive.  If they're talking... it means they still care.

Inworldz is by no means "failing", nor have they failed.  Time estimates and predictions may have been a bit overly optimistic, but that is a trait of the human species.  It is very difficult to estimate the progress of software development-- improbable at best and ludicrous at worst.  Sometimes this causes people to expect things that simply cannot be delivered.  Such is life... especially with a developing company.

Many people expected things 2-3 years ago that are only now coming about.  Region crossings, improvement of physics, server code, viewer code and other basic, essential items have been long and slow in coming.  On the positive end, they have been steadily coming.  Sure, there have been setbacks, but at least we haven't seen dead ends and widespread customer frustration as were often experienced on SL.  

LIMITATIONS

When we see a movie by Disney, Lucasfilms, Pixar or other major production companies, we don't see just three credits at the end.  We see hundreds or even thousands.   On the other hand... they have hundreds of millions of dollars with which to work.  

Inworldz unfortunately has a limited budget and staff count.  Perhaps something should have been done about that long ago.  But discussing the back-end-business issues is not the purpose of this blog.  Rather, I wish to discuss the uphill struggle of virtual reality as a genre.  Mind you, all of these things are just my opinions.  I'm just another user, like you.  But  "the wise General heeds daily information from the trenches."  Consider me as part of "the trenches".  Many of you out there share the same position and experience.  You know from whence we come.

TOO DIFFICULT

Most likely the chief deterrent to virtual worlds is the almost 90 degree learning curve.  We all know this; no one doubts it exists.  All we have to do is look at the extensive user, builder and scripter menus to realize just how difficult it can be for a new user to get started.

People don't like difficult.  They like intuitive.  They appreciate learning-on-the-run.  Compare: 

1) A game which requires reading 64 pages of instructions before it can be even played

2) A game which teaches those 64 pages of instructions, step by step, while the game is being played.

Which game would you prefer?

Inworldz is not a "game" by any means.  It can be a game to some people, and that's fine.  But it is in reality a society, with all the trappings and bells and whistles thereof.  On the one hand that makes it potentially very exciting.  On the other hand, it can make it very complex.  In general, people do not like complex, especially in their entertainment.   Further, even businesses don't appreciate complex when it comes to adding additional business. They're willing to tackle just about anything, but they want to know how and they want their employees to be able to master it now, without years of special learning.

Right now, to be totally honest, virtual reality takes weeks, months or in some cases years to "get the hang of it" on a relatively full level.   One can learn to move and fly in a day.   But to achieve all the things virtual reality has to offer... that takes a bit more time and effort.   No, let's correct that:  it takes a lot more time and effort.

Therein lies the foundation flaw of virtual reality as we know it:  it is just too difficult.

So... how do we "dumb it down" without making it goofy?  That task is also not the purpose of this blog.   I am merely the person that cries, "The Emperor has no clothes!" as I have done in the past.  It's up to the Emperor to recognize and correct that situation.   Over the years I have learned one dominant thing about forums and blogs:  one can write until carpal tunnel syndrome sets in, and it won't do a bit of good at all unless the powers-that-be decide to recognize the problem and do something about it. 

Despite all claims, VR success has never been in the hands of the customers.  It is the job of the company to promote the grid.   That is the reality of business.

NO GOALS, NO ACHIEVEMENTS, NO REWARDS

Generally speaking, players love goals.  They love having things to strive for, markers along the way, achievements to accomplish, rewards for doing so.  In virtual reality, there is very little if any of this.  For the average computer enthusiast, this makes virtual reality rather boring. 

We have heard that comment time and again.  "I'm bored."  While we often consider that the cry of the unimaginative, the truth is people come to computer sites to be dragged into worlds of imagination... not create them.  As such, they want  set goals to achieve, affirmation they have reached that goal, and rewards for accomplishments.   To be frank:  for the most part virtual worlds simply don't have any of that. 

Oh, we can be merchants... but we have to struggle and grab that title with each. difficult. step.  One has to be multi-talented to be a top, recognized merchant.  

We could be a land-baron, but that too is a specialty skill.   One can start a group but groups are a dime-a-dozen and relatively few of them actively successful over a period of years. 

Every one of these goals and achievements are self-assigned and the rewards sketchy at best.  Most of all: they are not the property or within the ability of the average user.  Again: high learning curve.

As  result, the people virtual worlds attract are those with vision, imagination, creativity, time and spare cash.   Anyone care to estimate what percentage of the population meets all those requirements?  (Hint:  research indicates it's somewhere below the .02% mark.  Significantly below.)

WHERE DOES THE BUCK STOP?

So how does Inworldz deal with these realities?  Partial answer:  it's not by relying on customers to do it for them.  The idea is to create customers by offering such things.   To do that, one has to have staff or volunteers specifically devoted to those areas. 

The advantage of staff is that they're paid and they will follow company guidelines or else.  It's a controllable asset.  The disadvantage of staff is it costs $$$.  

The advantage of volunteers is they are free, but the disadvantage is that they're not paid and they need to be motivated.  Quite often they do what they please, resulting in disharmony and drama unless they have very capable appointed leaders to guide them in a unified process and goal.   Frankly, such accomplishment is rare.

Such a thing seldom happens in the virtual environment.  It does happen.  It happened in Elf Clan.  It's happened in other groups.   We members are aware of this.  We know why we joined Elf Clan and we know why we support this group-- even when some aspects of it don't agree with our personal ideals and whims.  We support Elf Clan because we believe in it, because we understand its goals, because we agree with the overall harmony, peace and friendship of this group.

Other groups have accomplished similar things, if on smaller scales.  But with a company such is much more difficult to achieve, because quite often company policies and concepts do not agree with the desires and goals of potential volunteers.  Then what?  Usually those potential volunteers either don't volunteer or they present ideas that the company discards... which demotivates one of the greatest potential assets virtual worlds can have.  Too often there is the concept of "No, that's not the direction we want to go"... when the current direction isn't exactly panning out.  

A visionary discarded is a visionary lost.

"Don't put all your eggs in one basket."  That is an ancient and well-known adage.  So why do virtual worlds do so on a regular basis?  Why do they head one single direction, without examining alternative possibilities.  Why don't they let their customer-visionaries run with an unusual concept to see if it works?

When OpenSim started... why did they decide to imitate almost to a "clone" the Second Life environment-- a company which they'd left in disgust?  Why did they base their worlds on a buggy viewer surrounded by widespread controversy?  Why didn't they start from scratch and try something better?

I have no answer to these questions.  But what see as a result are numerous virtual worlds all basically styled after the original Second Life concept... and none of them being all that original.  And that is a real problem.  Because along with the SL concept came inherited SL problems and it seems Inworldz has been spending the majority of the last five years trying to fix those problems.

That can certainly form a large part of an uphill struggle.

Might it have been easier to totally re-design the system and originate the code?   Perhaps.  Hard to say at this point, five years down the line.  The real question though, is what will people be saying ten years down the line?  Will VR as we know it even still be around, or will it have been wiped out by someone who decided to do things smarter and better?  No one can predict that future.  (Well actually some of us can try... but no one really wants to, me included.)

NO RECOGNITION

People like to be recognized for their achievements.  It's not a matter of pride or arrogance; it's the reality that every human creature has a certain degree of ego.   Take any employee of a company and have that person work hours on end with zero recognition... and odds are that employee will soon be looking for another job, no matter what their pay scale.  There are few personalities that will just plod on endlessly without recognized achievement.

Inworldz users aren't paid.  It's the other way around:  we pay to use the system.  But there is no recognition system built into the system.  Again, there are no goals to achieve, no titles to be won, few rewards or awards, and sometimes actually anti-recognition.

A semi-recent situation comes to mind.  Inworldz asked for people to design a new IDI, the very center of Inworldz intake activity.  But so that they could not be accused of "favoritism"... all creators were to take on anonymous avatars and submit their work as such, would receive no credit for what they'd done, and in reality didn't even have access to their primary avatar building inventory.

As a result, many experienced and highly-talented creators simply said, "No thanks, we don't appreciate the limitations" and refused to participate.  

That is now history.  But did Inworldz as a company learn from that experience?  Has IDI been successful?  Is the average new visitor impressed with IDI?  

What is the initial first impression of the current IDI environment for both new and experienced users?   We don't have to guess; people have stated such clearly in the forums.  They aren't impressed.  General statements:  It's a nice, peaceful, well-built environment... and boring as grass.

That's what happens when people don't receive recognition.  That's the result of no goals, no achievements.   That is part of why virtual worlds are not growing.  (This includes both Second Life and Inworldz.  Inworldz has hovered at around 800 private regions for some 2-3 years now.  Second Life has actually declined in popularity.)

STILL THE SAME

"If one continues to do what one has done, one can expect to remain where one has been."  That's a simple and obvious reality.   It's not that Inworldz or Second Life isn't trying new things; it's a matter of are they fixing the very basic, obvious things listed above?   What are virtual worlds doing to attract new customers, other than token "quick fix" gestures? 

As an experienced user, I have to observe:  very little that counts.  This is evidenced in simple region numbers.

The bottom-line is that if one is not an imaginative, creative individual (or alternately someone who can lamely dance and cyber-sex for months on end)... virtual reality doesn't offer much attraction.  People don't see the value in it.  Businesses have seen Second Life rise and fail-to-achieve... and they're not impressed with other virtual worlds trying the same recipe but just offering cheaper ingredients.  None of these things alter the problems listed above... the high learning curve, the lack of goals / achievements / rewards, the element of "What is there to do?"  

The currently existing answers to that question are evidently not sufficient; if they were, people would be buying more regions.

It is possible to progress without growth.  We can work and try and try and try... but unless we break beyond existing barriers, unless new things are tried, unless new visions are entertained and attempted... the failures of the past will continue to be failures of the present and of the future. 

Fortunately with virtual companies the possibility of significant growth exists... but only if the companies themselves are willing to try new visions and go far beyond what has been already attempted.  Gimmicks are not going to work.  Virtual companies have to get to the core reality of human psychology and offer customers what they really want.  Not just the creative and imaginative .0002% of the population... but the average person.  VR needs to access the Facebook crowd, the gamer crowd, the people who currently spend their time watching television and DVDs.  How do we appeal to them?

If something is currently failing to achieve growth, it will likely continue to fail to achieve growth.  In order to grow, one cannot avoid change.  One must embrace new visions... and those visions cannot be limited to a tiny path with few or no alternatives.

Take out of that what we will or ignore it.   This is the credo by which companies live or die.

FAILURE TO MATURE

While both Second Life and Inworldz are regularly increasing in numbers of registered users... those numbers are irrelevant unless they become active.  That means buying lands, starting their own projects, becoming contributing members. They will only do that if they have reason to do that.

The numbers that count on virtual worlds are the numbers that bring in revenue, namely:  the number of privately-owned regions.  On Second Life that number has been steadily decreasing since 2008.  On Inworldz that number has set, stagnated if you will, at around 800 regions for quite some time. 

This brings us to a very valid question:  Since the registered user numbers are increasing... why aren't sim purchases increasing proportionately? 

So what can be done to get these registered users to become active, paying customers?

If Inworldz / Virtual Reality-as-we-know-it was attractive and exciting to new users, they'd be buying their own lands, creating their own projects, adding to the rich diversity which already exists.  But that's not happening.   One can make all sorts of excuses or try to justify / rationalize why this is the case, but the bottom line is that new users simply are not impressed enough to invest their time and money in the system.  

Why is that? 

The answer to that question is the answer to the uphill Virtual Reality struggle.  It doesn't just affect Inworldz; it affects every grid based on the Second Life premise. 

REALISTIC OBSERVATIONS

It is my opinion that we can add all the coding, gimmicks, bells and whistles we want, but it's going to do little good if we don't catch the attention of the first-time visitor.   In order to grow in lands, Inworldz has to convince people early in their exposure that there is good reason to buy land.  Currently, obviously, that simply isn't happening. 

Yes, we need to concentrate on background code.  Yes we need to develop new things like Windlight and Mesh and other goodies.  But none of that is going to matter if new visitors aren't impressed at first look, if they're not swept off their feet, if that first taste isn't all that impressive.   To sell burgers, the first bite has to be awesome.  Then we have to give people a good reason to come back and buy more burgers.  Are we doing that at this time?  If not... how could Inworldz offer a far better and more motivating first impression?  

A virtual reality company needs to make a lasting first-impression, one that sparks and motivates the visitor to become an avid customer.  Code is extremely important.  Customers are equally so.  One cannot focus on one and ignore the other.  

Inworldz simply needs to provide a far better first impression... and a more lasting, motivating impression.  

How do we do that?

IT'S NOT THE TIME FOR NEGATIVITY

This isn't a negative blog; it's a realistic one.   Virtual Worlds simply are not growing, progressing or accomplishing what they originally intended to accomplish.  Whether it is Second Life, or Inworldz, or OpenSim or any adaptation thereof... no one is growing where it counts: increasing revenue to fuel additional R&D and grid economic growth.

The problem with an uphill struggle is that it continues to be uphill unless someone figures out a different path.   We can continue to climb on, struggling upward, but until someone builds a new stairway, lift or rocket, that struggle is going to continue uphill with very slow progress.

Eventually perhaps, the summit of the mountain will be reached.  Or alternately perhaps members of the climbing party will die along the way from failure to plan ahead or adapt to the harsh environment.   This is the reality of what virtual worlds globe-wide are facing.  The question is:  do they develop new ways to reach the summit,  or plod on in the current method, failing to adapt to an ever-changing and demanding computer environment?

As with all such tasks... the proof will be in the outcome.  Claiming one is going to climb a mountain may gain some initial fanfare, but it's only reaching the peak that makes such claims a reality.

--o--

Views: 714

Comment by Wayfinder Wishbringer on June 14, 2014 at 7:24pm

Note:  I added a section above called "Realistic Observations" for those who read the blog earlier. 

Comment by Strand Starsider on June 14, 2014 at 7:45pm

Agreed, learning curve is crazy steep, even RP is a learning curve, the desperate pieces and parts (code etc) can and often do cause frustration.

I spent the day at E3 last week...  Project Spark http://www.projectspark.com/#public already a 1,000,000 creators and just yep free. It meets virtually all the points made above and more... 

1- design your own sims (games) terraforming, textures, water atmosphere, plants etc all of it

2- create your own characters and give them brains (pick from lots of different ones)

3- create your own game play, coop etc

4- games (sims in the context of iwz/sl) are uploaded, shared and part of a huge library that keeps growing and growing

Comment by Ferrator Montoya on June 14, 2014 at 7:53pm

wow and golly. Quite a dissertation there. What can be done that is different? Ever get to Blue Mars? Damn but that was gorgeous! However, there was little or no place for the 'hobbyist' creator. Unless you were a professional with high end software, you were out of luck. so, we are still trapped within the realm of the OpenSim platform. Still, it was beautiful.

So, with IW we have the OpenSim. While the techie things have been improved or outright redone, it is not really different. Faster, smoother, same game.

I feel there is a bit of the 'out of touch' going on also. Like with the redoing of IDI there seems little the users have to say. I remember trying very hard to get a RP HUB set up and running. 3 times, all epic fails. But now, after the town meeting, IW has jumped on the wagon and look at the forum. RP is about all that is being discussed. This has pretty well disenfranchised me. I am left with the feeling it doesn't matter what the users might want. Unless it get's an official 'okie-dokie' from the Founders it isn't going to happen.

Comment by Ferrator Montoya on June 14, 2014 at 8:02pm

Hawt damn! Going to be checking this out!

http://www.projectspark.com/#public

Thanks Strand!

Comment by eekee eebus on June 14, 2014 at 8:16pm

The old IDI was certainly more characterful, even after they lost bits of the coffee kiosk. I'm in no mood for deep thought tonight, but I thought this insightful. It's fuelling my consideration of free vs commercial grids. Whatever the internal details, OpenSim really doesn't feel all that far behind InWorldz for my usage. You might say physics is behind, but the free BulletSim engine for OpenSim is maturing, and as for InWorldz PhysX, what good is it when it's so hard to script for, and when other features needed for vehicles are so buggy? Besides vehicles, I used to enjoy just flying in Second Life. InWorldz application of PhysX hasn't given me that back; it's a clunky thing where I can't swoosh naturally and stopping flight in the air results in my avatar dropping like a stone, sadly not in a cartoonish way. The small birds I used to watch from my second floor window would stop flapping their wings mid-flight to pick up speed. I used to love flying in a similar way in Second Life, but it's not possible in InWorldz.

Anyway... I got sidetracked. I really ought to write a blog post on free vs closed grids in general. OpenSim is maturing in a way which makes me think much of the future of virtual worlds may be hobbyists running little grids for fun. I always thought that was more human (in the best sense of the word) than closed grids. However reasonable its owners, a closed grid has a lot of little holds on its users. In technical matters, I didn't really have any hope for OpenSim, but they seem to be pulling through somehow. I spent a couple of weeks of my virtual-world time in a modest-sized OpenSim grid recently, and it was a revelation to find how not far behind InWorldz it was. It might have worked better because it was small, but 230 sims isn't very small in real terms. Crossings were fine, the presence bug seemed rare, most everything that was going to work worked promptly... and you know what? Sims were only $20 a month, for 30,000 prims. ($30 is more common for that prim count, but still.) I'm thinking of lot of grids of about that size hypergridded together, and I'm fearing for InWorldz survival, lol. One big catch is hypergrid friends only show as online when they're in the same grid as you, and I imagine the same applies to group notices and chat.

I know I'm rambling; I need to get to bed. I intend to explore the hypergrid in coming weeks, and.. well, I strongly suspect I'll find some very interesting things to write about.

Comment by Strand Starsider on June 14, 2014 at 8:27pm

Ferr, I can sure understand that...  let's see if there is a solid follow up on the RP initiative and then of course if it actually works. A RP sim is like having a full time job and it takes a very very special person to actually dedicate themselves to that... not a sustainable business model for growth. Having viewed the games at E3, current virtual worlds are way behind.

The gaming communities are exploding, games are bigger than movies and virtual worlds are declining. 

If there are 800 regions and each was paying $75 a month (just for the sake of discussion), that's 60 k a month and company revenue or a 720 k a year.  

That's a small company... pretty tough to do any kind of innovation when the assets are working on basic's, sim crossings, physic's etc...

I sincerely hope the RP initiative brings players, because players bring revenue and the whole system thrives, but.... how many Bim's are there? Which brings us back to Wayfairs' point, grid cant rely on its users to grow... 

Comment by Strand Starsider on June 14, 2014 at 8:31pm

*Wayfinder

Comment by Wayfinder Wishbringer on June 15, 2014 at 2:00am

Main problem with Project Spark is that it only works on Windows 8.1. 

So count out about 70% of the Windows market on that one.

Comment by Cinnamon Raymaker on June 15, 2014 at 3:10am

I have to say that my RP group and live music would be the only reasons I would visit SL these days. I visit InWorldz to be with friends and if I feel a creative urge or just want to walk the lands or help out Elf Clan members or maybe hold or participate in an event. I agree that users want things to do - I have recently started playing online games with other educators when I have spare moments - trying to suss out what games may have to offer in the classroom context. I have researched virtual worlds in the same context and I could really only come up with RP and creative arts involving building or even mapping coordinates and perhaps scripting for more advanced students. Minecraft has an added attraction with the way in which its biomes unfold over time depending on the actions of players and its redstone based switches which could lead to lots of interesting mechanisms being developed. The added attraction of achievements and the varied modes available in Minecraft is possibly what draws a large community base.  I'm not sure how the Virtual World grids will unfold in the future and await the developments with baited breath :)

Comment by eekee eebus on June 15, 2014 at 9:38am

Good point, Cinn. Minecraft is a contender in this area, and if I understand right, it's tens if not hundreds of times more popular then SL. It's far easier for newcomers to make amazing things in Minecraft, even in survival mode where you have to gather resources and fight off monsters. In creative mode... lol, it's so easy, I don't even bother playing it. There's no challenge! Graph paper suffices to help translate an idea to Minecraft blocks...

Here's one of my Minecraft builds: http://ethan.uk.to/static/minecraft/2013-12-01_06.26.31.png

I think several changes in Second Life have made it harder for newcomers to make impressive things. The old software lighting system meant areas you'd expect to be dark -- under a forest canopy or between big buildings -- were dark without any extra effort required. Sculpties have been a mixed blessing. You can buy them, but then you end up with thousands of shapes to keep track of, and you'll still find yourself without the right one for the job sometimes. Creating them is a whole other job to learn on top of the really complicated viewer. Meshes are the same. The viewers themselves have grown vastly more complicated than they were when i joined in 2005, and they were pretty bad then.
 Come to think of it, better prims could be chosen; especially better than the torus and its relatives.

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