PostHeaderIcon Second Life: Attrition Can Be A Real Bitch


Making my usual SLogosphere rounds this week I took great interest in Tateru's (Massively) take on some of the information she grinds into meaningful data - as best she can, anyway. Her post this week highlight the decline of concurrent Second Life (SL) "residents" for the first time ever (emphasis is mine):

While running some routine analyses of the user concurrency figures for Second Life from 2006 to the present, we noticed some interesting things. Median concurrency, one of the indicators we've traditionally eyeballed to indicate the health and growth of Second Life took a recent dive after many years of steady increase.

[From Second Life median concurrency declines as bots/campers progressively purged]

I started my reply to the comments on that article post, then decided no, I'll just post my reply here as it is really a bit more than a reply.

I have genuinely believed at least since the last quarter of 2008, perhaps before that, two out of every three "dots" (indicating a logged-in account onto the grid) on the in-world map are "zombie" bots. Avatar accounts remotely controlled via a "light" grid client application. Inactive for all intents and purposes. [and edited to add: 'or drooling bonehead campers spending 10-times as much first life money compared to what they earn.]

The statement from Tateru that kind of caught me off-guard is:
"Far more bots, it seems, than even we had imagined."

(Tateru is part of an editorial team.)

Actually, this does not surprise me, and I genuinely believe the sweep is not over, yet. As "small" a company as Linden Research, a.k.a. Linden Lab is, it still moves like a large enterprise: "Turn, Captain, ice burg dead-ahead!".

So here is my own perspective, I'll try hard not to ramble...

In short, Ari Blackthorne is my second account, the first long-gone. I came into SL in March '06. Created Ari in November or December '06 (SL Birthdays really don't mean much to me - so I don't think about it much.)

The "mad rush" into SL ramped-up throughout 2007. From there to here there have been a lot of things happening: drama between Linden Lab and users; over-the-top-sensationalist news stories; marketing experiments; policy changes.

The mad rush happened because of all the "get-rich-quick-playing-a-video-game" rumors that were so irresponsibly reported and prevalent. As people came into the grid, they looked for ways to make this money.

Lots of scammers, tricksters, plagiarizers, (I don't believe such thing as "stealing" or "thieving" even exists in SL - it's plagiarizing,) were beginning to flood the grid. The viewer was barely stable and crashed often. New features and bug-fixes were inserted almost as fast as new bugs were introduced in both the viewer and the simulator (sim) server software. There were some real nightmare instabilities on the grid in general.

Server software was updated weekly when the entire grid would be shut-down on wednesday mornings. Those of us there in 2006 watched concurrency creep-upward at an alarming rate: 6500...7500...8500. Panic was running amuck that the grid will "self-destruct and melt" as soon as 10,000 concurrency is reached.

The funny thing is - it really did seem that was going to be the case as unstable as the grid and viewer really were. Then, we hit that threshold and it made earth-shaking news across the SLogosphere.

And so the grid grows. All those people flooding-in. Many of them after that pot at the end of the virtual Second Life rainbow. Of course if you're one of the honest ones it means creating, creating, creating. And selling it all.

Frontier Linden_001One of the strategies was to open a club or some other social venture. Include a "market" or "mall", sell the space to merchants. Money made from the merchants renting space in your market is used to pay the tier fees. Once fees are covered the rest is profit. However the merchants (in an uninformed, mistaken understanding) wanted foot-traffic. So the social-club owner had to get 'warm bodies' in there.

This boosted the parcels "traffic" rating, a measurement process long mysterious. Because SL is a social platform and search result listings automatically were sorted by highest 'traffic' score, those looking to make new friends, meet people, whatever...started at the top of that result list.

Thus the race to the top of the list by racing to the bottom of "ethical" practices: it started with "camping chairs" - where people not willing to spend a first-life dime would sit and actually spend more first life money in electricity alone, not to mention wear-and-tear on their computers to earn a fraction of a first-life penny each hour.

However, those zombies sitting there boosted the traffic score. Then along came "bots" - robot avatars, bogus SL accounts for the sole purpose of camping, these were connected to the grid via "light" software - robots. It means they are inactive. Talk to them: nothing. Bump them, push them, kick them, bite them - nothing. They are just sucking-up space, bandwidth, your rezzing time and system resources (yes - including your own machine processing cycles).

The only people who do not utterly hate and despise bots are people who are actually running them. Everyone else would rather see them die a slow, painful death never to return. They are and always have been the scourge of the grid. There were and still are camping bots, land bots (that buy and sell virtual land), and even camping-chair bots, which it the ultimate irony: a parcel owner who sets-out camping chairs to pay people to camp are really paying camping-chair bots who do nothing but earn money for their owners - which is easy because they can set the bot application to login hundreds of bots at one time.

Cool BuildsThe problem with bots: Second Life is really a social platform; people meeting people and enjoying each-other's company in whatever fashion they choose. Meeting new people and making new friends. The best way to 'randomly' meet people is to look at the world map and go dot-hopping: teleporting into any mass-bundle of green dots. Or, search for your chosen category and hit-up the places with the highest traffic.

Only to discover that the other 39 "people" on the sim are just drooling zombie bots that stand there doing nothing, frustrating you because of the time-wasted rezzing everything and then searching for these warm bodies only to discover they are inaccessible. So Linden Lab creates a policy that anyone "gaming traffic" will be removed from search results. The policy does specifically mention "bots" and "camping systems". Not that you cannot have bots or camping systems, mind you. But rather that you cannot game traffic with them.

In an effort to end-run around the policy, many of these bot-herders set their bots to "model" their wares. Okay, an outfit where a majority is prim-based: okay. But a modeling bot can be set to change it's outfit every 5-minutes (or more or less). So only one or two bots are needed to demonstrate hundreds of outfits. But these bot-herders will use one bot for one outfit, because the bots are jacking-up the traffic score as a 'bonus' side-effect by 'camping' there.

No matter. Linden Lab is serious about gaming traffic and they are steadily making progress as they sweep the grid locating these bot-herders. The first contact garners a warning and a point to the policy description details on the web. The second contact removes those parcels from search results. No other penalty is administered. Additionally, Linden Lab has finally simplified the traffic scoring process.

Many of these bot-herders are finally getting a clue and their knees are knocking. They are beginning to shut-down these camping bots. Mind you we are only at the beginning of this attrition loss. Concurrency will begin falling at a regular, steady rate as these bogus accounts are turned-off.

I genuinely suspect real-person SL accounts had plateaued back in early to mid 2008. I am referring to real life people - not SL accounts, because there are too many alternate (alt) accounts in the virtual world. It is rare and difficult (on computer systems and bandwidth) to be logged-in on multiple accounts simultaneously with a 'standard' grid-viewer - so concurrency will not be much affected by the ridiculous number of alt accounts that exist.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if concurrency falls as low as... and this is my game: to guess the number ... 45,000 by the first of 2010. It will be all those bots going poof because their owners don't want to be banned from search results. Bots are ridiculously easy to spot, too: often under the ground or way-up-high in some inaccessible skybox.

When will merchants whose main purpose is selling something and being so infatuated with traffic when traffic score means nothing with regard to actually making any sales, figure out that the description in their classified, picks and parcel information is what counts?

So there's the game: what number do you predict concurrency levels will reach by the first of 2010 - plus or minus 5,000 - averaged?

art: Ari Blackthorne; Robin Roar
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