Monday, December 13, 2010

Further Thoughts on Desperation Isle Estates

UPDATE (12/14/2010): We have found the remaining sims a new home!

I’ve been very quiet the past couple of weeks, but now that I’ve personally contacted all affected residents and vendors (and now that it’s actually sort of made the news), I just wanted to officially confirm and explain what’s going on with Desperation Isle Estates.

We are indeed shutting down our public meeting place and mall, New Desperation Isle, and we are exiting the business of managing multi-tenant residential sims. The detailed announcement I delivered to our residents is viewable on our estate blog. I don’t want to repeat what I’ve already said on the blog, but I did want to discuss a few specific things related to the decisions we made, and on Second Life as a whole.

Linden Lab’s Role

I tried to be very careful in constructing my official announcements, because I didn’t want to sound like I was saying, “Boo hoo, Linden Lab made it too hard for me to make money.” Success anywhere (in Second Life or the real one) means work, both to achieve and maintain. Linden Lab did in fact make quite a number of decisions that affected our mall, skybox store, and estate business, but those changes weren’t individual killing blows- they were just speed bumps that would require a lot more time, effort, and money than we’re willing to invest right now to overcome. A number of judgments Linden Lab has made, I might have done myself if I were in their position.

The only policy change Linden Lab made that I absolutely disagree with was the granting of reduced monthly tier to a small number of the very largest estates on the grid. Anyone who doesn’t see this decision as an openly hostile move against all new or small/medium estates on the grid is at risk of Kool-aid-induced diabetes. It is not the same as offering bulk discounts on new sim purchases (it cannot be compared to the Wal-Mart or Best Buy model), and doesn’t make business sense in the short term. Linden Lab realized they were leaving money on the table by allowing grandfathered tier to carry across sim transfers- and they fixed that- but then they secretly blessed a few favored estates with lower maintenance costs even though they would have sold just as many sims had they kept the original tier for themselves. Linden Lab is subsidising the estates who get these breaks and leaving the rest to fend for themselves (apparently most Atlas participants don’t even get this discount). And even this move makes sense in a very clinical, calculating way. I’ve discussed my theories about why I think they’ve done this extensively in other threads, and I believe Linden Lab’s own actions and statements throughout the past year have corroborated my beliefs.

We recently sold two of our islands, with residents, to a fellow estate for almost no money. I wanted to move these two specific sims because each one had a tenant with builds that occupied nearly a fourth of the island that I just couldn’t bear to see go up in smoke. I did try to find homes for all of the other sims- even offering them for free to anyone who promised to take care of the builds and tenants, but anyone looking for islands right now wants unpopulated “blanks” that they can parcel and shape to their desire. I will be deleting the remaining six sims when the time comes. This will be my $21,240USD-a-year protest against Linden Lab’s secret tier breaks. They won’t get the (full price!) tier from my sims anymore.

Anyway, the tier breaks alone were hardly enough to push us out of the multi-tenant sim business. I’ll address that more in a moment.

Success in Second Life is Still an Option

Even though we’ve chosen to leave this particular part of the land market, I still believe it’s possible to run a viable, successful business there. It’s just a lot more work now than it was in the past- and you have to fight on all fronts.
  • If you compete on price alone, you will fail. Someone will always be able to underbid you, whether they have grandfathered tier, sweetheart discounts, or they’re just that hungry.
  • If you compete on search placement or classifieds alone, you will fail. Everyone wants top placement and only the person who works hardest (perhaps employing shady means) will get there.
  • If you compete on marketing alone, you will fail. You can slap banner ads on every SL-related site on the Internet and someone else will be doing that AND optimizing their Google placement AND taking advantage of pricey Linden Lab marketing opportunities, and who knows what else.
  • If you compete on customer service alone, you will fail. Someone is always going to be better-staffed and in-world more than you are.
  • If you compete on theme or uniqueness alone, you will fail. There is definite value in having a “themed estate.” It worked for us, and has worked for many of our peers. But if you are successful in your niche, you can and will be copied.
  • If you compete on name recognition or “SLebrity” status alone, you will fail. The cachet that comes with notability is limited; you deliver a poor service or experience and that tarnishes your brand. You only have fifteen minutes; use them wisely.
If you compete competently in most or all of the above areas you will succeed. If you fail in any of these areas (except for maybe the last one?) you’d better count your blessings that you’re still in business at all.

Game Over

I used to enjoy all of the challenges I just detailed above. I call Second Life a game, and THAT was my game. I obsessed over my placement on the PMLF chart (and was bummed when they removed the economic stats page) and relished my “Business Owner Level 2” LindEx trading status. I actually developed a passion for real-life Economics as a result of analyzing and discussing the fluctuation of the L$ with fellow forumgoers and now daydream about having a chance to do college over again to study it.

But it’s time for me to get off the competitive SL treadmill and onto a real one. (I’ve gained an embarrassing amount of weight ever since Second Life usurped Exercise in my evening activities five years ago.) I love Second Life for what it once was and what it yet can be. I love it for the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had. I may have a grudge over the tier breaks thing, but I could never hate the company who helped me meet so many great people.

The Future of Desperation Isle Estates

For anyone wondering whether our continuing single-tenant sim business might turn out to be as ephemeral as our multi-tenant business, you just need to understand how different those businesses really are. If I lose a customer on a single tenant sim and can’t rent the sim before tier is due, I can delete the island from the grid without affecting anyone but me and The Lab. It’s not like a full-prim, full-tier sim with 20 parcels on it, where you start hemorrhaging money if the sim is any less than 70-80% full.

Also, the amount of work required to keep my customers happy is significantly reduced. A single-tenant sim customer never has to complain that their neighbor has banlines or that someones new rabbit farm is lagging the entire sim. They also have more control over the island and only ever contact me if they’re moving out or if one of Linden Lab’s egregiously frequent maintenance restarts results in a sim boot hang. We can basically maintain this business indefinitely, for as long as we have customers and as long as Linden Lab doesn’t raise our rent beyond what those customers can afford.


Over the past few days, I have received so many beautiful notecards and IMs from customers and friends, thanking me for giving them a place to live and play and sell. I’ve told a couple of people already that as the stress of maintaining the businesses mounted in the past couple of years, I grew to see myself as just “the landlord” and had kind of become oblivious to all the wonderful times people were having in this community that I built. I will never regret what we had there. I only wish that each day were a few hours longer so I could have the time necessary to keep our little village viable in the years to come. I will miss it, and I will miss the people who called it home. The one bright spot in all of this is that from now on, when I log onto Second Life more often than not it’s going to be for pleasure, not work.

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