There is a new wave of enthusiasm and excitement going trough the virtual reality community lately.
I too have felt the new atmosphere in SL and it has made me want to revisit some of the ideas I have about improving our virtual world but also share some new plans that have popped into my mind.

Yes, I may have said some of the things I’m saying before, I may be repeating myself.
I’m old, it is allowed.

Reputation
This to me is one of the biggest problems SL has; it either has a very bad reputation or people aren’t even aware it (still) exists.
But this is something that can relatively easily be solved.
For starters, SL needs to get back into the media’s interest and in a good way this time.
Luckily the Oculus Rift and the coming Virtual reality renaissance are already doing this, SL is being talked about again and not always in a bad way.

Suddenly we’re part of something big and interesting again that is happening right now.
But educators are still scared to mentioslgameadn it or suggest a school or museum to use it because of its past.
People still think that SL is just a place where weirdos come to either pretend to look like Barbie and Ken or do all sorts of kinky stuff.

And of course that is true, but there is more to SL than just that, and Linden Lab and us, the users of SL, have to try and make people realise that there is this whole other side as well.

Up till now LL has has not been doing well when it comes to improving their reputation.
Their advertising often shows very pretty young avatars who are either shopping or suggesting something sexy might happen.

The Bikini advertisement they are using right now caused a bit of a stir, to be honest, if I had seen that ad before I joined SL, I probably wouldn’t have, assuming SL was just another IMVU, or worse.

But this post is not just about complaining, I also want to offer some ideas and suggestions.
And when it comes to advertising, I am not just talking as a user.
I graduated from Film school, made a few short movies that got every positive reviews, wrote and directed things for TV, owned my own production company, etc, etc.
Not to mention that my father worked at an advertisement company while I grew up and he brought his work home.
So if you permit me, I’d like to share a few ideas for SL advertisements, for free.
And when I say free, I am of course telling lies.
If LL uses these ideas, I really wouldn’t mind a pile of cash 😉

When SLGo went live, they had a nice, cute, advertisement.
It was well made, unfortunately it reinforced some of the ideas people have about SL, that all we do is shop, flirt and dance, but it looked good.

http://youtu.be/Ysi4fE-VFAA

The most valuable and interesting thing about Second Life are its users and Linden Lab should use them and what they make to promote SL, in a good way.
Imagine the following advertisements;

A very slick and smooth video shows a game, someone flying a mini airship with a cannon, dirty children running trough Victorian Steampunk like streets being chased by a scary man, explosions, smoke, danger…
It looks like an advertisement for a new game… coming to your computer soon… for free!
Then a young chap who is playing this on his computer turns around, looks into the camera and says; I made that!
‘Second Life; make your own game’
An idea of course based on one of SL’s best creators Loki Eliot.

We see an avatar walking into a bar, other avatars turn around, wave at the avatar, welcome him back, they chat, they dance, they laugh.
It is busy and very social, a bit like Cheers perhaps, and maybe, why hide it, there is the promise of romance in the air.
But then we see a guy behind his computer take off his Oculus Helmet, smile because he has just spend some time with his friends and then we see that he is (of course) cool and handsome but lives in the countryside, has a touch job far away from society, maybe gamekeeper in Africa or he works on an oil rig, or perhaps he is even a soldier at the front who now has to go back to do his duty.’

We see a typical ‘soccer mom’ (I hate that word and btw, it’s called football), at home in a kitchen, she is designing clothes on her computer and selling them in Second Life.
Her teenage son comes in, pretends he is not interested but can’t avoid peeking at the monitor.
He has to confess, that last dress she made is actually pretty cool.
She tells him sales are good, he grins and asks her if that means he’ll get a new computer for his birthday.
Mum says they can’t afford that but then checks out her Linden Dollar balance, she smiles and we see her open another window and start searching for that new computer.

A timid and shy teenage girl living in suburbia, in a very boring household where everyone just watches tv, in a very quiet and soft voice she tells her parents she is going upstairs, she gets no reply.
She goes up to her room, logs into SL and we see her avatar get on stage at a full club, everyone cheers.
Then she starts singing, she has a great voice and sings something that is completely opposite to what her character in RL seems to suggest she would sing.
She rocks.
We see her in her little room, perhaps with the Oculus on her head, singing and swinging, having a great time.
We switch to another user who is in the audience, at home in RL he is also enjoying her show, he is a cool kid.
In the background we see his father, busy on the telephone behind a desk, there are gold records on the wall, he hears the music his son is listening to in SL, the man stands up, walks over, gets excited and then holds the telephone by the computer speaker.
It is clear that this shy teenage SL user is about to be discovered.

A high flying career guy at a fancy modern office tells his secretary he is going home, he is going to meet some old friends.
He lives in a nice fancy apartment, he has a good job, there are pictures everywhere of friends, parties, his wife is there, perhaps kids too.
He puts on his Rift and starts up Second Life.
His avatar is suddenly a kid, he is in a basement, everything there is 1980s, the posters, the computer games, the books, the toys.
Other avatars teleport in, all young boys, they laugh, they chat, they play 1980s music and computer games.
We see that behind these avatars are all business men who are living all over the world and who have clearly not been together as friends since their childhood.

A big strong muscular guy is hammering iron onto an anvil, he finishes a sword and leaves the forgeand walks trough the narrow busy streets of a Medieval town.
Everywhere people are working and making something, they agree, that is one nice sword the blacksmith made.
He walks to a castle and hands over the sword, the lord of the castle tells him that the sword is really good, he will get an A+.
The blacksmith takes off his Oculus Rift and turns out to be a 12 year old kid in an Irish classroom.
He is excited, and asks if he really just got an A+.
The lord of the castle takes off his Oculus and turns out to be his teacher who confirms it.

Black and white, we see a young pretty avatar dance with a sailor, the settings is a 1940s sim.
Vintage cars, big band music, a dance hall.
They have a great time.
The girl takes off her Oculus Rift, she turns out to be an 80 year old lady, a tear rolls down her cheek, on the table next to the laptop we see an old black and white photo of her in the 1940s, with a sailor next to her, on their wedding day.

Ok, I know, I got a bit carried away, some of these are a bit silly and over the top, but try and imagine what the target audience would think about them.
Also just forgive me, I’m used to writing drama and have way too much imagination and love for melodramatic romantic stories.

It is not about avoiding adult content, I would be fine with showing someone who in RL is perhaps “in the closet” and who uses SL to realise they are actually attracted to the same sex and explore this.
Or someone who is a very dull office typist but who has a double life as some sort of dominatrix.
It is not about making SL appear better than it is, all of what I suggest is already possible, SL has some stunning places but so much of it will never even be seen by new users who don’t stay long enough and only see the 5 year old abandoned half empty shopping malls.

The idea is that we show that SL has many options, it lets you be who you want to be, that everything you see is made by regular people and that there are real people behind every avatar who do all sorts of different things in SL.
We need to show the world that, yes SL is for shopping, yes it has hanky panky but it has so many other options as well.
If you can manage to make one or lots of small videos that show, in a positive light, the many ways people use SL, you may end up with something that they will want to share with their friends and family to show them what it is they do in SL while now they probably don’t want to tell anyone they even are in Second Life.

A good advertising agency can probably stuff all these ideas into one commercial, they can without doubt also come up with better stories.
SL has creativity, romance, education, an exciting future and so much more.
Stuff all that into one video, even into one picture.
Sure, show bikini babes, but add someone in a medieval dress or a space suit as well!
I know that young people who are interested in social interaction, shopping and romance are the biggest business in SL, but I also know that the advertising that is bringing in these people does not bring users to SL that stay very long.
If the advertisement policy was working, we wouldn’t have such bad retention, more about that later.

The last SL advertisement video I saw did show a very diverse selection of sims and possibilities, but it didn’t link this to real people actually building all of that and using it.
We need to let possible future users know that everything we see was made by regular folk like them.

Another thing LL has to keep an eye on is how the media represents Second Life.

Why are there still stories being published with screenshots from 2007?!
Do journalists not check the LL press page?
Does the actual Second Life website not have a press page?
I looked, I couldn’t find it.
Imagine you’re a lazy journalist, you have a deadline, you have to write about Second Life.
You look at the SL website, can’t find a press page, you don’t bother checking the Linden Lab site.
You need screenshots, they need to be in the public domain so you don’t get hassle with copyrights.
You look for them, all you can find is some old screenshots of weird people doing weird things, well what a coincidence, you think that is what SL is all about so this will illustrate the article perfectly…
People, not just journalists, are lazy.
They want to spend 5 minutes on Wikipedia, 5 minutes on google an then write their article.
Screenshot_4So you have to offer them ready made information packages.
When I still made movies and had press viewings, we made sure they got whatever they needed to write their review, a folder with copyright free pictures, background information, facts & figures and some extra stories.
I think that if you can steer the media a bit in the right direction the odds of them writing something positive about you or at least something that is true and up to date increase.
Make it easy for them, stick a big ‘Media enquiries’ button on the SL website, just in case they don’t visit the Linden Lab website.
Keep the press page updated, the current ‘Linden Lab in the News’ section seems to suggest Linden Lab has not been in the media since October last year.
Journalists want to know we’re already experimenting with the Oculus Rift!

As for copyright free images, they link to their flickr collection where they have only 10 pictures that, although good looking, are not very exciting or showing the many different sides of SL.
Many of us would be happy for LL to offer the pictures we make for press use, so why not look at the art we make and ask the makers if you can add them to the copyright free collection the media gets to choose from?
I’ve already uploaded some of my snapshots to Wikipedia Commons so there are at least some up to date pictures there.
If the media does not portray you the way you want to be portrayed, make sure they have easy access to the side you do want them to see.
Don’t ignore misconceptions, fight them.

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Tier
The high costs of Second Life remains an issue, it is stifling creativity and stops Second Life from growing.
Land in SL is expensive, maybe the price is somehow justified, but it is still a lot of money that many people can’t afford and there is competition out there that offers more for less already.
Stopping the discounts scared many educators away and Tier is also stopping a lot of people from starting a project or opening their shop.
I’ve written before about tier and I understand that actually lowering tier is a scary thing to do, even for a big company, as they risk losing a lot of income and can’t be sure the alternative will actually work.
I suggest that in stead of just lowering all tier, LL should add more kinds of tier.
That is what big companies do if they have a product that their customers feel is too expensive, they offer special deals, discounts, give away extra’s and above all; offer more choice.
We already have the discount for educational sims back, but why not add other options for regular users such as making tier lower just for the first two months to give people an incentive to start something new, reward sims that are doing well by lowering their tier after a few years, and above all I think Linden Lab should expand their merchandise.
At the moment you can only buy 3 types of region in Second Life!

You can buy a full region, it costs $1000 (!) to buy and has a tier of $295 a month.
Or get a Homestead region, it is the same size but you get less prims and less people can visit it at the same time, it costs $375 to buy and $125 a month in tier.
Or you can get a so called Openspace Region, it costs $250 to buy and $75 tier a month.
Real dollars, not Linden dollars.
I personally feel that all these prizes are much too high but besides that, why are these the only options available to us?
I don’t know much about the technical side of maintaining Second Life, but to me it doesn’t seem like it would be a lot of extra work to sell 2 half regions in stead of 1 full one.
Why can’t we buy a full or quarter region?
Just split a region in 2 or 4 parts, or just create completely new regions of different sizes.
They shouldn’t be next to each other, otherwise you might as well rent it from a landlord, they should look and feel like regular regions, should be place able in the middle of nowhere, just smaller.
A quarter sim would get you 16384 square meters, 3750 prims and would allow 12 avatars to visit at one time.
But it would also cost you $250 to buy and have a tier of about $74 a month.
Still a lot, but cheaper than the other offers and you would actually own your own land and not have to rent.
This may be just what someone is looking for who does not want to buy a full region.
All I am saying is that Linden Lab should look into creating more alternative choices for the customers.
I’m sure we can come up with more than 3.
And although this would create some cheaper alternatives for the users, the land will still give Linden Lab the same income.
Because when I started buying land, I didn’t care about the size but about the costs, the amount of prims and how many people would be able to visit at once.
I would have been really happy with just half a region.

Another idea I’ve had is to create ‘part time sims’.
A lot of social life in SL is centered around clubs, running these can be a lot of work and it is very difficult to break even.
But most venues don’t have a show on every day, maybe just one or two in the weekends.
The rest of the week the club is empty, just using up recourses.
So why not offer sims that are only online in the weekend?
Activated only 8 days in the month, turned off the rest of the month.
If we spread Tier across 30 days it turns out a full region costs about 10$ a day and by only using the sim 8 days a month LL could lower the tier for a full region to 80$ a month.

Of course, as I said before, I have no idea what the possibilities are, but I am sure there are some.
Either way, you could give people more options without lowering the tier per actual square meter.
And this way Linden Lab can test how many people are actually interested in buying smaller regions at lower costs and test if lower tier does actually increases the amount of people buying land.

Retention
Now this is a big one, still.
I think we’re going to get a lot of new excited VR users trying SL out (again) when the oculus Rift and/or other headsets become available to consumers.
But according to LL figures we already have a lot of new people signing up every month.
Problem is, they don’t stay long.
After trying SL as a noob the new CEO of Linden Lab Ebbe Altberg came to the conclusion that first moments in SL for new users are pretty bad.

To be fair, I haven’t tried the new user experience myself for a long time, but this video I shared last week gives a pretty good idea and well, it is rather horrendous;

In previous blogs like this one and this one,  I’ve suggested a few possible solutions;

-Let new users create their custom personal avatar on the SL website before they even start the viewer.
-Give new users an online tutorial on the SL website where they can figure out the basics and also learn how to use the search function (or check the destination guide), choosing their first landing location so that their first steps in SL are in a place they picked themselves.

To my previous suggestions I want to add a new one.

At the moment new premium users get a free Linden Home, in general people don’t seem to be very excited about this offer.
There isn’t much you can do with these buildings, you don’t get a lot of prims and there are so many rules.
It doesn’t really represent the SL slogan “Your world. Your imagination”.
But the idea of giving new users a home, a place to go to, is a good one.
Why not give every new user some land without a building on it?
For free!
Ok I know this will cost Linden Lab but it will also make the first visit to SL a lot more fun and the odds of new users returning a lot greater.
After all, they now have a place where they can try building something, they know where to go to unpack their shopping and where they can invite people to who they meet.
Not to mention that they could begin their Second Life there in stead of being thrown in at the deep end, between the freaks and grievers.
But make it a temporary deal, new users get their deserted island in the sea but it will only be there for a month or so.
When that time runs out those who have stayed in SL will probably want to find a new home so they can keep the house they’ve build or keep enjoying the other benefits of having your own piece of land.
That means that they will rent something from a landlord and thus support the SL economy or they may decide to buy land from Linden Lab.
And it also means that Linden Lab can stop building portals, creating in world tutorials, etc.

Education
I’ve just blogged about this and seeing the Irish school class using another virtual world in stead of Second Life for their amazing history lessons made it clear that Linden Lab has to do more work to get education (back) in SL.
More discounts, more freedom, more options.
Why is this so important?
Because it shows a whole different side of SL and thus it is good for its reputation and second of all, it is a way to get future generations involved with Second Life at an early age and this increases the chance of them returning to it after school.
But above all, it uses Virtual Reality for something really worth wile and valuable.
The video I shared with you has gone a little bit viral, people are discussing it everywhere, that could have been free PR for Second Life.
But teachers need some security, they need to be able to make sure their pupils don’t teleport out, don’t get grieved, don’t bump into things that will freak out the parents.
They will need to be able to download and save the things they and their pupils made.

Oh, and I want more group options, improved basic avatar animations and 24 hour days in SL 😉

Anyway, lots of ideas and plans, let me know what you think and add your own in the comments!

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