Thursday, 5 February 2015

108: Thinking about the model

An interesting article came to my attention the other day and it got me thinking. The article is here, about a casual gaming convention; "a gathering of the designers and money-power behind mobile gaming's pedlars of color-matching, fruit-slicing, endless-running, top-down conquest-a-thons." Since the article is titled A dismal appraisal of casual gaming 'crap' and a dire warning, you may well imagine that it is not too complimentary about casual gaming.
     The article, by Colin Campbell in Polygon, quotes a presenter as saying, "If we look at casual games in 2015, what's out there is mostly crap. It's three or four game principles. We use different characters, we use different sounds, we use different setups, but it's all the same thing." As a casual consumer of casual games -- oh, who am I kidding, I play the damn things daily via Facebook -- I agree. There's racing, solitaire, simulations, and various sub-types and crossovers. All of them are free to play, but the game's purpose seems to be to induce you to spend money on it (and/or to recruit your friends to play the same game).
     You're thinking, so what does this have to do with Second Life?
     Well, it's no secret that sooner or later -- probably sooner -- Linden Labs will come out with its sequel to Second Life, which I'm calling "Second Second Life" or SSL until we find out what they're going to call it. It will possibly be based around Oculus Rift; it might have all kinds of technological innovations and new ways of doing things, and it will be very different from the Second Life platform with which we're all familiar.
     I'm expecting that what will happen is that, when SSL begins, some of us will make the transition and some of us will stay with SL, and there will be a lot of bitching and moaning about nearly every aspect of this you can imagine and some things I haven't thought of yet. Some people will also enter the SSL modality out of curiosity and stay there, and some will taste and leave, just as it is with SL today.
     Second Life is what's called a "free-to-play" game. If you want to arrange your affairs in such a way as to do it, you can stay in Second Life without buying anything ever, or having any Lindens. This seems rather regrettable in terms of nightclubs, where that would be like enjoying the banquet but having forgotten your wallet when it comes time to tip the server. And you'll have to change your (free) clothes and rez your (free) acquisitions in public places. It's barely doable.
     Where Linden Labs makes its money is in a couple of ways. Some people use the subscription model and opt for a Linden house on a little land with a few prims; they pay Linden Labs directly. Some people don't subscribe, but purchase Lindens via LL and spend them on Marketplace or in stores inworld. Linden Labs earns money via the sale of Lindens and indirectly from merchants who list on Marketplace or rent land to erect stores. And some people rent entire sims, have a relationship with Linden Labs that includes a concierge, and become an embedded part of the economy.
     There are other models of gaming. Colin Campbell makes the point in his casual gaming article that it's all about analytics, data, marketing, and customer retention. I have to think that Second Life scores pretty high in terms of customer retention when you have a situation where a few customers become a part of the virtual economy. Analytics and data are what Linden Labs won't share with us, and marketing is those damn banner ads LOL.
     What I'm wondering about is, when considering Second Second Life, how will Linden Labs introduce people to it -- using which model? As I said, I play casual games through Facebook. If someone were to adapt my experience with a hidden-object game called Pearl's Peril to Second Life, every fifteen minutes I was in Second Life, I'd receive a notecard that said "If you're enjoying this experience, why don't you open a Premium account and ask all your friends to join you?" This would cover your screen until you clicked "Delete". Yeah, that's the casual gaming model in free-to-play situations.
     I'm not seriously suggesting that that would happen, by the way. But if you're thinking that Linden Labs is merely going to migrate to an Oculus Rift platform and screw you out of your entire SL inventory -- well, yeah, it probably is. But LL will also take the opportunity to examine its model and see if they can tweak it to their benefit without losing revenue.
     The article quotes EA boss Andrew Wilson as saying, "As we look to the future, we believe a very big part of that player base will expect a free-to-start experience. When we look at film, television, music, books, very often there is this free trial notion that actually on boards new players, new listeners, new readers, or new viewers into a service."
     "We're actively looking at how we could offer that type of experience to our players, console and across other platforms. From there, it really comes down to, do they make their next step in terms of a premium download, a micro-transaction in a free-to-play type environment, or a broader relationship through a subscription?"
     As I understand this statement, a micro-transaction is what happens when I buy a bathing suit on Marketplace or rent my land for a month. Subscription is Premium membership. And I'm not sure precisely what a "premium download" is in terms of Second Life, but I suspect that Second Second Life might equate it with Oculus Rift.
     I'm not bitching and whining, at least not yet. I've committed sufficiently to Second Life that I spend more than it would cost me to have a subscription, although I have no use for the perks that come with a Premium account. If I have to pay the equivalent of a Premium account fee for access in SSL to Oculus Rift, well, I suspect I would do that. I'm just hoping that there is a difference between the people who create MMOs like SL, and the people who create marketing plans for Pearl's Peril or Candy Crush.

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