January 22, 2010

Thoughts on Second Life Viewer 2 Public Beta

Yesterday, Howard Linden posted on the official Second Life blogs about the impending release of Viewer 2 to public beta (click here). He made a few "interesting" statements. First, the rationale for Viewer 2:

Over 50% of new Residents who register and download the Second Life viewer log in once and never come back a second time.

And second, and perhaps more disturbing:

With Viewer 2, our revamped web site, a new Orientation Island and much more, we've taken a step back and tried to create an end-to-end experience that will be much more compelling and relevant for a new Resident.

Both statements juxtapose two completely different concepts and assumes a relationship. The assumption seems to be, "our software is difficult to learn" therefore people won't stay in Second Life so we're going to throw resources at the software.

While the viewer may indeed be part of the problem, I think it's actually a relatively small part. (Indeed, if the organization of the "revamped website" and the horrid design of the blogs is any harbinger for the future of SL, may the great Flying Spaghetti Monster save us all!)

Here's why I don't think the interface is the big issue. For one, there are far more complex interfaces out there than the existing SL viewer(s). I don't play video games but I am constantly amazed when I watch friends playing some incredibly complicated game with controller movements that are nothing short of contortionism combined with chess and psychological warfare strategies. If Grand Theft Auto can sell some 3.5 million copies, the difficulty of the user interface can't be that huge a barrier. Now consider this -- every time a NEW video game comes out, buyers have to learn a completely new (and very complex) interface all over.

What's really at issue is the new user experience on the other side of the screen. 50% aren't walking away after their first use of SL because the interface is too hard, they are walking away because:
  1. They're being griefed and harassed at the very welcome areas that introduce them to Second Life.
  2. There are no clues on what to do next once the basics are learned.
  3. They've been dumped into a world full of strangers many of whom aren't particularly interested in meeting clueless newbies.
I honestly don't have good solutions to these other than throwing real people at the problem. Maybe you can create a quest or hunt that helps with #2. However, my feeling is that the Lindens would rather spend their time in cubicles figuring out the next cool thing to code rather than spend it in-world figuring out how to keep a potential customer. Or maybe they believe that customer retention can be completely automated? Second Life is first and foremost a social and creative platform!

Viewer 2 doesn't address any of these issues. Yet, it's where Linden Labs has plowed a LOT of its own internal resources plus those of third-party developer, 80/20 Studios. So I just don't see how it addresses retention in any major way. In fact, if it significantly degrades the experience for long-term residents, it might accelerate user losses of paying customers.

Anyway, I'll be curious to see what the retention numbers are after Viewer 2 comes out. I reserve the right to be wrong. In fact, I hope I am.


  1. I did write about some of this not so long ago (December) http://www.massively.com/2009/12/28/linden-lab-isnt-daft/

  2. Yes, now I remember your article. What I'm not sure about is whether the Lab is really doing any real follow-up checking (focus group type stuff) to see if the interface really is the reason so many don't return. I think it's more because many people don't "get" SL - the "why am I here" and "what do I do" sorts of questions.


All thoughts are welcome.