Second Life Dropouts Return To Real World - InformationWeek

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02:04 PM

Second Life Dropouts Return To Real World

Most people who try Second Life give it up and don't come back. We talked to two disaffected users.

This is a followup to Second Life Tries For A Second Act.

About 15 million people have tried Second Life in its five-year history, but only a half-million people are active users. That means a lot of people are Second Life dropouts. They try the service for a few minutes or months or a couple of years, and then give it up. Early abandoners cite difficulty learning to use the service and finding things to do as problems.

People who drop out after a longer period say they get tired of wrestling with Second Life technology problems, or difficulties doing business with Linden Lab. Or they just plain get bored.

One complaint about Second Life is that its graphics are poor.
(click for image gallery)

Among the ranks of ex-Second Lifers is Mike Gunderloy of Newburgh, Ind., a work-at-home programmer/consultant, husband, and father of four who used Second Life under the name MikeG1 Schumann. He was a dedicated Second Life user for months in 2007 -- going so far as to lease three servers, known as "sims," from Linden Lab, at a cost of US$1,675 each plus $250 per month maintenance. He then built a business on subletting space on the sims to other users, known in Second Life jargon as "residents." (I rented a Second Life home from Gunderloy for several months.)

But Gunderloy got frustrated, and walked away from the service.

"I seem to have flipped a switch on Second Life," he said. "It was an endless succession of bad client builds, sims down, screw-ups with every piece of Linden Lab technology, and their continued attempts to prove that they're going to be more user hostile than Microsoft."

The last straw for him was when Linden Lab slashed the price of sims to $1,000 each, soon after he bought land at a much steeper price. "That was an asset that, at one stroke of the Linden pen, was massively devalued," he said. He decided to sell. Fortunately, he was able to find buyers who were willing to pay a premium to buy land fast. "I only took a couple hundred dollar per sim loss," he said. He sold two sims, retaining the third only because he doesn't want to abandon his tenants. He logs in infrequently now.

"Maybe the new guy [Kingdon] can turn things around. I don't know," Gunderloy said. "I'd still like to see Second Life succeed, but at some point someone is going to come along and eat their lunch."

Another disaffected Second Life user is Michael Durwin, creative director of the Boston ad agency Rize Yongho. The agency has land and an office in Second Life, and did some campaigns for clients in Second Life two years ago. Second Life campaign performance lagged YouTube and MySpace. Durwin sees several problems with Second Life as an advertising or marketing platform.

Among the problems: Graphics are poor. "Even the cheesiest video game has better graphics and works smoother. Even Monkey Ball [a game] on my iPhone has better graphics," Durwin said. Second Life requires a download, which puts off most users. "If Linden Lab figures out how to get Second Life into a browser, things will change," he said. The audience is small and cliquish; residents form tight communities and don't interact outside their communities.

However, Durwin said he hopes to try Second Life marketing again, with the right company and the right technique. Second Life marketing can be successful if it's used to engage with an existing real-life community, Durwin said. The TV show The L Word has a thriving fan community in Second Life, as does Gossip Girl, both sponsored by the shows' creators. Other TV shows have their own, unofficial fan communities in SL, including Battlestar: Galactica, and Lost. (On the other hand, the Gilligan's Island area of Second Life seems to have nothing to do with the show other than the name.)

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