For a while I was quite addicted to Second Life. When you find a good group of people to chat with and can create scripts, objects and be creative it is really fun. I was able to also be a DJ, run a small lottery and explore creating a lot of toys inside the Second Life world.
Problems with Second Life have definitely made me loose interest. First off, they are a BETA product, not a “final release” so there are a lot of errors. For some reason they don’t like to actually advertise this which would help us with our expectations of their product, but instead they simply hide their “we might have times where we’re unstable” in their terms of service. The problems are also not limited to their in-world issues but also goes into legal, billing, staffing and public relations.
BETA - a term used to explain software which may not be “finished” yet and is expected to have a problem here and there. Second Life staff never has appreciated when I’ve referred to their product as a beta, but instead likes to say it’s “bleeding edge”. I fail to see why it’s such a big deal, but having BETA on the front page would be a way to stop half of the complaints. When people buy inventory for their character or loose money, it would be known up front that there may be a problem.. but instead Second Life prefers to let their consumer think that this is a “rare” item.. although if you look through the Second Life blog, you’ll find MANY times that “inventory” and “lindens” (in-world dollar) are mentioned as failing. The lack of informing consumers that Second Life is beta software means that vendors and businesses in Second Life have to explain to their customers that they may not get what they pay for.. and it ends up creating a bad name at the vendor level when inventory or money does not make it to the customer.
Second Life is a legal nightmare. By having a US based company hosting everything in the US, it means that they are bound by US laws. This means that customers connecting from around the world need to be familiar with US laws to do business in this world. Additionally, Second Life’s terms of service were recently viewed as unrealistic by one court. According to the current terms of service, a resident can have their entire inventory, land and money taken away and no recourse for the user to reclaim them. The next item I expect to see will be Second Life policing of the radio stations on land. In the “real world” websites that give out a list of unlicensed stations are removed by the RIAA. Even though they are not “directly” broadcasting the music, they are enabling the illegal activity. Second Life can be held responsible for this same activity.
Billing for Second Life has been changed to a new company recently which was apparently responsible for triple billing many Australian users. This was never reported on the Second Life blog even though it reportedly had an impact on a considerable part of the Second Life user base. In our case we had to show all of the credit card statements to Second Life and it took over 1 full month to get this resolved. It also came up that one of their billings was done TWO MONTHS after it should have (April billing was done in June). During our experience with the billing department we also found that the billing page provided by Second Life in the “account history” area of the website is not even REMOTELY accurate. It did not list all of the charges or the refunds.
Staffing for Second Life has been an interesting set up. Initially they seemed to have a small company of programmers and then a volunteer staff to handle the public and support. As Second Life expanded the ability to find “live help” has been removed and replaced by the mentors who can answer some simple questions and a help ticket system which is available for paying users (non-paying can log certain types of tickets only). The staff themselves are not all that helpful. There are some staff we have found to really know their product and react in a responsible way, however the vast majority do not understand the product they support, some are flat out rude, others like to simply not respond at all. We’ve had staff tell us that our land suddenly having performance problems is due to items that have been on land for MONTHS and just happened to be the item that someone walked in to during the last lag spike. There’s another staff member who has only answered a help request once for me but spoke gibberish - and has never responded to any other IM or e-mail (8 attempts in all to talk to this one). Philip, the CEO of the company, has responded to ONE of my e-mails.. the ONE that complained about Nissan spamming on our land. Every other mail about stability, inventory loss and other questions has remained unanswered. Our attempt to contact billing regarding the triple charges for our land was plagued by a lack of communication back from the billing department. The “ok, we’ll call you back tomorrow” was not done and the resolution for the problem took a full month.
Public relations is a game that Second Life is playing which can be very dangerous. On one side they’re trying to win over the open source community with their browser project, they’re adding new features, they have corporate sponsors and even have educational institutions testing the waters. Unfortunately for Second Life, almost everything has backfired. The open source community want to see a server code released and to work on the stability issues of Second Life. The new features come at a time when stability is questionable at best. The features are listed on the blog as “coming soon” and albums of Torley’s pictures. People are outraged by the new features being worked on at all given the amount of stability issues with the Second Life product. The blog entries saying “look!” are full of comments complaining about “fix SL before adding new features”. The blog itself may end up being a large downfall for Second Life since it shows the massive amount of outages and gives the outraged public a place to comment. The blog has become very predictable; after a few outage notifications there are carefully placed announcements of new updates, legal clarifications and other information to push the outage notices out of the top items shown on the page. Some of the companies that have attempted to use Second Life for publicity stunts have also found that it can back-fire. An example would be NBC’s tree lighting ceremony which was badly announced (gave the land name of “NBC” which wasn’t available at the login screen), it exceeded capacity (all of the land they set aside for this was full and people could not get in) and the feedback was not all positive.
Second Life’s future is uncertain at best. The company likes to release the huge number of subscribers, the numbers of people who were online in the last 90 days, etc.. but even many users like myself skew those numbers.. I have about 6 accounts and I login once a month to clear my messages. The lack of copy protection for content, the problems with the stability, the lost inventory and funds, the billing issues, the staff incompetence and many other problems will probably plague Second Life for the rest of it’s existence. I hope that someone else does take the idea and do a better version someday. The idea is promising, the implementation and staffing remains a problem for this version.