Overhead & Benign Neglect in Second Life

Witchport (moderate)

As entertaining as it might be, I can’t be angry everyday. It would be too exhausting and I’d feel like a shrill nutcase on the street corner. :) Today I’ll use Witchport↑ as a backdrop to some further, albeit more restrained, comments about the support/enforcement situation inworld.

I spent many years working with Board members and senior executives of large and medium sized companies. My job was almost invariably to figure out what had caused some problem and work with them to plan remedial action. Because of some trends in business planning, a pattern quickly emerged.

Witchport (moderate)

I never, ever, saw or heard an individual propose or talk about a deliberate attempt to screw-over customers or users. The problems that occur in these areas were always a byproduct of business decisions that neglected to include potential fallout as part of the analysis they had done.

In other words, narrowly focused decision making not malicious intent. In spite of all the paranoid fantasies that you read, most business people (and I’ll not include bankers here) just try to improve their bottom line the best way they can. Much like Wiccans, “do no harm to your customer” is a fundamental rule. They reason that, if they do their core responsibilities better, they will gain customers and make the existing ones happy.

Witchport (moderate)

One of the approaches to strategically positioning a company to move into the future is to do a core business analysis. Identify those things you must do as part of your mission and stop funding things that don’t move you forward. This allows an organization to focus on what’s important and to put its resources, people and money, in the areas that will do it the most good.

Every time I’ve seen this process occur, the areas that are reduced or eliminated are the ones that involve communication/training/support and access for their customers. Every single time. And, every time I’ve been called into fix a problem for a company who has done this they have had to reinstate those “fuzzy” departments.

Witchport (moderate)

Think of it as a policy of benign neglect. In SL’s case, there’s a strong and active community. It’s easy to imagine somebody concluding that withdrawing support and making it automated/minimal would not impact the daily lives of residents. It’s a large cost and if that time and money could be devoted to viewer improvements or new products that would be good for the bottom line.

No analysis was done to say what are the potential outcomes of this type of decision. I saw one gaming company wind up having to deal with scandals involving fraud, theft from customers, infuriated regulators and a reversal of the streamlining. They didn’t knowingly wind up in that situation.

We don’t have a problem with lack of governance or support because Linden Lab hates us. I really believe that. We have the problem because, in an organization that uses a development methodology which doesn’t think analysts are required, a company full of bright technical minds who think “fuzzy” stuff is just overhead, there was no understanding/evaluation/belief/recognition of the impact eliminating those roles would have on the residents or the Lab’s bottom line. It’s time to fix the problem.

Witchport (moderate)
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  1. Inara Pey

     /  January 5, 2013

    Hey, my gravatar works once more…!

    More importantly, bravo and well said.

  2. I absolutely agree. LL is not willfully trying to hurt customers. Its just a bad habit they have developed over the years.

    I am curious, in your career working to help corporations improve, have you ever come across a company like LL where customer service is such a low priority? If so, how did you advise them? Did they take your advice? Did it work?

    One last question — will you please go work with LL? I think if they listened to you (and others like you) Second Life would be far better off.

    • Oh yes I’ve seen it and they fixed it by reinstating the business functions they’d dropped – although improving them at the same time. LOL I’d go work with them but being situated in Canada makes me ineligible. :)

  3. Well said. From the point of view of one who has been an employee in these situations, it can be heartbreaking, especially in the public sector where the bottom line is enforced by politicians and keeps going down as the cost of everything goes up.

  4. You hit the nail on the head. Economising by reducing customer care is going to be very expensive in the long run. I am sure LL will be used in the future as a model of how not to do things.

    • There’s a reason they do case studies in business schools. Unfortunately the organizations out there don’t read those.

      • slutrix

         /  January 5, 2013

        Their CEOs have supposedly read them during their MBA years; in a break between brown-nosing to a politician and trying to woo a future trophy wife with their status as a future MBA holder.

  5. Pamela

     /  January 5, 2013

    I understand that LL may no longer have the manpower to handle critical support and governance tasks, for whatever reason. It doesn’t even look like they have many people on staff who have a very clear understanding of how SL works and who their customers are. But I am betting that those who invest heavily in SL would not be averse to paying some kind of fee to get the right people in the right positions, if that’s what it takes. This Wild West environment is not working at all. If it costs us a bit more to have some effective TOS enforcement — for example, to delete accounts promptly after guilt has been established, or to respond promptly to ARs — many of us would be more than willing to pay (and I am sure many would not).

    • I understand wanting it enough to say “I’ll pay more”, I do. But this type of thing is a cost of doing business – and the return makes it a sound investment.
      The Lab should be doing it. :)

  6. Thank you for expressing so well what has always been a conviction for me, Honour. This is a great post everyone should read instead of making inane plot theories.

  7. Wow. I hate to be a me too, but that is the most concise, logical brief on SL I have read. I am busy applying your thoughts to decisions by LL that I find odd and aye, many fit into that framework,

  8. Well put, Honour. The Lab is toeing the fine line between benign despotism and benign neglect. This is clearly a leadership issue, however. From the Lindens, Moles, and contract workers I know in-world, the rank and file is still working hard and interacting with the community.

    But why? At its incept, Second Life was on the cutting edge. The world was on fire and The Lab was holding the torch. But look at any tech company culture and you’ll see that eventually “adult supervision” is brought in and the company is stuffed into an early 20th Century business mold. That happened to The Lab. The creative forces that didn’t voluntarily leave were pushed out over time – a period not-coincidently the same length as it took for the world to change.

    Meanwhile, those in the Lab that kept quiet but went the extra mile to keep Our World fun have been hampered but keep chugging away. The LDPW Moles are the best example. I’m sure these critters are reasonably well-paid (after all, how much can root beer and meal worms really cost) but it is clear that their work is also their play. A key component in this is that they regularly interact with Residents. Management doesn’t.

    The tech that people use to connect has been revolutionized. Users are mobile, content with smaller screens, and have busy lives. I don’t think that The Lab has seen this yet.

    • I don’t think there’s a lack of will or passion on the part of the Lindens and, yes, the Moles are a great example. The Leaders set the priorities and that’s where I think a mind-shift is required. :)

  9. Well said and I think this helps all of us understand what has happened at Linden Lab.

  10. Reblogged this on Being Yordie Sands and commented:
    Honour McMillan really puts the problems in Second Life into perspective. This is a post everyone who has wondered about how LL has become so seemingly indifferent to its customers.

  11. Leanna

     /  January 6, 2013


  12. Great post Honour, and great, insightful comments from everyone – thanks all!

    There is the concept of “Good Profits” and “Bad Profits.” Companies high in “good profit” are companies like Apple and Google. Their customers love them, want to see them succeed, are happy to make repeat purchases, etc. Companies with “bad profit” are, well your banks of course, and also cell phone carriers (especially in the low quality high price USA market). These companies either have to find new customers when the contract is finally up because their customers are so pissed off at them, or else they’re in monopoly or duopoly status and the customer doesn’t have a lot of choice.

    Only big picture team members can really “see” the difference between good profits and bad profits. To an accountant, they’re actually identical. When someone like you comes in, in the situations you’ve described, it’s because even though the bad profits looked pretty good to the accountant, over time, their customers did erode and they need to make adjustments. Telecos & banks don’t appear to worry about this. They have fees, fees, fees, and they just press on, and in at least some cases make a fortune on gouging their customers. @YordieSands can talk at length about LL sim prices! :P

    I do think you’re right, that it’s not “a conspiracy,” but neglect. Whether LL will at some point try to improve relations, or just milk SL as it slides and develop other properties in the meanwhile, well, who knows, but it’s not the most optimistic looking landscape.

    For me (yesterday’s disaster aside) things in SL run well enough ATM. SL presumably won’t last forever, but I still find it a valuable platform. Safe to say though, it seems like over recent years, almost everyone has tried to “diversify their virtual world portfolio” with other grids or platforms. Is this a natural maturation of the space, or a response to LL “bad profits”? IDK. The future of networked creativity looks pretty bright, but this SL moment does seem special, and I’m happy to cherish it for however long it continues.

    Thanks Honour!

  13. Tippy Wingtips

     /  January 12, 2013

    Thank you Honour for giving us all a greater understanding. I wish you did live in the US and could help LL get a grip on things they have lost sight of. (please forgive the poor grammar) And thank you Yordie, for bringing this post to my attention… and thank you all who have commented and enlightened us more even with “claps” /me winks at Leanna! Please continue to hang on to the life boat… we need you here!

  14. That was an excellent post, and I agree completely. The Lindens did away with the Governance and Response Team, replacing its professional and helpful staff members with a group of low-paid and clueless contractors. Apparently LL’s latest move is to do away with the contractors and offer no real-time support at all. It’s probably part of the push to “do more with less” that seems to be popular these days. The trouble with that philosophy is that in the long run, it will cost LL more to hire and train new staff members for the new GTeam than it would have to just keep the original GTeam in place.

  15. Well written and very informative!

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