October will hold the fifth anniversary of when I joined Second Life under the name I came to refer to as my "main" account. I dabbled in it under various other identities prior to that but I never understood what it was really for and would often get bored after a few minutes (or an hour if even that), lost for what I was supposed to do in a "game" that had no real goals or direction. It didn't help that it required a credit card back then; a big issue for me at eighteen when I didn't even have my own bank account and instead had to rely on someone else signing up with theirs for me to even get started. I would roam for a little while, sometimes interact with people, but usually get tired and let my account lapse pretty quickly. I didn't see the use in a 3D chatroom and didn't really think there was anything more to do.
Eventually, under my present account, I happened to meet someone on the first day of my reboot who showed me the wonders of content creation. I'd known about that component all along, of course; it's hard to ignore it, it's readily apparent (and back then was plastered all over the marketing materials as well). I started building things and quickly fell in love with the freedom I had to make stuff. I've never really had much artistic ability (at least with respect to visual art) and have always envied people who could draw or texture well, so Second Life was an outlet for me that I lacked in other environments. It was also a launching pad for my interest in other 3D art tools, something I probably would never have picked up on my own otherwise.
The last five years have not been glorious, though. Second Life is an incredibly buggy piece of software. When it isn't crashing on you all the time or eating 90% of your inventory, it has so many quirks and inadequacies that make professional artists turn their nose up and laugh. Its failings have been a point of contention for the userbase for years and Linden Lab, its creators and developers, have almost always seemed incapable of doing anything about it but putting tape over the cracking seams. Being around as long as I have I know it's always been this way, but with various crests of media attention coming and going, bringing waves of new signups each time, it's like a whole new generation is constantly realizing the system runs like something coded by monkeys.
But, until somewhat recently, they were at least our monkeys. It was difficult, for a long time, for residents who'd been around as long as I have and earlier to really criticize Linden Lab. No one was really under any misconceptions that things weren't working badly, but we also knew Linden Lab had created something unlike anything else on the internet. And they were accessible; it wasn't unusual to have employees on your friend list readily around to talk to or chat with and when you contacted support you dealt with a real person sans form response. It wasn't perfect, but it made up for the fact that everything was crumbling around our ears. It felt more like we were using a piece of software developed by our cool nerd friends and it was okay when things went tits up because we were all still buddies.
As Second Life got more and more popular, personal attention became harder to maintain. Linden Lab fumbled with various incarnations of Corporate Presence, never really solidifying on any method that worked. People became upset, the Company response was to withdraw and pretend to be serious business. More and more people signed up who'd never experienced the "good old days," and didn't have the rose colored glasses that the older residents did. Opinion soured, frustration skyrocketed. It didn't help when Linden Lab as a whole made blundering policy decision after blundering policy decision, ignoring the opinions of their customers (or in many cases flagrantly shooting them the bird while screwing them over.)
About three years ago I joined my fellows in the Great Second Life Dream and opened my own in-world "business" developing miniature robot avatars that you could use to change your entire appearance. It was a niche from the get-go, since despite having the ability to be whatever you wanted most people still settled on creating perfectly beautiful idealizations of themselves as humans (in rather interesting Peter F. Hamilton-esque capacity). I never set out to make buttloads of money and allow myself to retire early and I was always happy with breaking even. As my "business" grew I purchased more and more "land" to increase my representation, eventually taking advantage of a Linden Lab policy change that allowed me to purchase the space of a full private region for significantly less in rent than I would have paid if I bought a whole island. In Second Life land is like renting server space with a normal webhost; parcels of various sizes would be the equivalent of different featuresets with shared hosting, while a full region/island is like buying a dedicated server. Mid-2008 Linden Lab changed the offering of their "openspace regions" which were similar to private islands in terms of total acreage, but had lesser processor power and were shared amongst fifteen other regions. I have always found full islands prohibitively expensive, but the change to the openspaces dropped the price enough that the budget of my in-world store could manage it. I was hardly alone in this because after Linden Lab dropped the price on these regions significantly, the number of such regions ordered skyrocketed out of control. At a certain point these islands-lite were so popular that Linden Lab made a decision to jack the price up on them (again, significantly), royally pissing off the people who bought them. Various explanations have been floated on why the price need to be changed, but despite protest Linden Lab went forward with it, increasing the rent in the beginning of 2009. Many canceled their purchases, unable to afford the near doubling in cost.
[For an expanded breakdown of this whole scenario I implore you to read this link, since it encapsulates the problem and Linden Lab's deplorable handling of it better than I've ever seen.]
I struggled with the increase personally. I was breaking even on mine before the hike and my in-world sales were sufficient for me to cover the cost of renting the region without having to pay anything out of pocket. I was no longer making a profit, but I figured that was okay since I had been able to create a cool cyberpunk environment that I was really proud of. When the cost of the sim doubled, I was sinking money in a company I was more and more frustrated dealing with. Despite my attempts to bring things around things never improved enough and now, about eight months after, I have decided that I've just had enough. My interest in Second Life has waned further and further for some time now, as stupid policy decision has stood on the foundation of the stupider decisions that came before it. Stability of the platform has been laughable for as long as I've ever used it, only ever going through various severity of broken. The decisions that Linden Lab as an entity has chosen to stand by have been abysmal and unconscionable. I have tried to find the silver lining in my dealings with them, but as time goes on I can't make excuses anymore for the fact that I'm simply being ripped off.
The breaking point was when I sat inside Maya earlier this week making an avatar which looked absolutely stunning within the program– and would have been equally as stunning in any other video game– but because Second Life doesn't utilize meshes and instead makes use of jinky hacked "sculpties" looks completely stupid and has to be coaxed a hundred ways to work at all. That is really, in the end, what Second Life is all about; for the longest time I thought it was the ability to express yourself and create things that cannot exist in the real world, but in reality all of the wonder and beauty you'll find in Second Life stands in very defiance of Second Life, spitting in the face of the instability and crashing and pathetic tools and embarrassing company ethics.
So I've decided to close down my store and get rid of my sim. I can't justify the expense anymore, and the joy I used to feel when I made something and slapped my name on it hasn't been around for months. I hardly log in at all to begin with and when I do it's an effort to get anything to work properly. I don't see the point, and I can't convince myself of all the glorious used-to-be's to compensate for the lost value anymore.
For a time, Second Life was an exciting thing to be a part of. I still think it has potential, but only as a platform for smarter people with better management to build on further down the road. I've long lost the confidence I had in Linden Lab's management to usher their product into anything long term or responsible. But I'm not interested in helping to finance their failure anymore, personally.