Innovation. Ideas. Insight.

Why Second Life Doesn’t Work For Me

In Insight on April 18, 2008 at 5:29 am

I’ve played around with Second Life a bit, made an avatar, toured some of the islands, but ultimately it didn’t really knock me out. The problem wasn’t a technical issue, but rather something more fundamental.

The issue for me was a lack of narrative. There just wasn’t a compelling enough reason for me to stay in this universe.  It was deeply immersive, but it lacked a connective thread that made me want to move forward. What were all of us doing there? Was there a greater purpose, some common goal that we were trying to achieve? I don’t necessarily mean I needed to be rewarded with a piece of cheese when I completed the maze, but was the point just to walk around, build houses, dress eccentricly and try to sell stuff and make money in their economy?  Why do that in Second Life when doing it in real life is challenging, and interesting, enough. I’m sure fans of Second Life will say I just “don’t get it” and maybe I don’t. But I think there is a reason I’m much more interested in other fictional universes: They aren’t just deeply immersive, they contain a narrative as well.

The examples range accross all entertainment mediums: Books (Dune, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter), Movies (Star Wars, Alien, Indiana Jones), Video Games (Grand Theft Auto, Halo), Television (Lost, Twin Peaks) Lost Action Figureand ARG (The Beast). All these franchises have started in one medium and crossed over in to just about every other. I can’t imagine a Second Life tv show or book series.  The same goes for Reality Shows. The Biggest Loser – The Movie, anyone?

The desire for narrative can’t be underestimated, it’s practically baked into our genes. Creating such a story is going to take more time, effort and money, there’s no doubt. It’s probably going to take more to maintain it as well. But the results can easily support the effort. The more entry points you give consumers, the deeper the connection and the more opportunities for new fans to buy in. I’m not just talking about t-shirts and toothbrushes either, it’s more than just crass merchandising. Look at the level of fan devotion that Star Wars has:


Now, the costs are going down considerably as the fans are doing the work for them. That’s right, those weren’t Lucas Films actors, those were fans who spent hundreds of dollars and countless hours producing costumes that were movie-quality. When you produce a quality story, fans will come and they will respect your creation enough to build upon it in the right way. This sort of thing is a long term play. It can result in an immediate success, but more importantly it builds a platform for long-term fan engagement.

So keep adding layers of depth and complexity. Create a character, then add his back story. Incorporate supporting characters for your brand and allow your consumers to add more color. Define and expand your universe. Spend a little time every day adding something new that consumers can discuss, digest and tweak. That’s a Deeply Immersive Narrative Universe.


  1. Hi, Rick, I’ve been in Second Life going on three years. I’ve heard variations on your comment many times. I’m coming to think that Linden Labs, the creator of SL, has dropped the ball on hooking folks like you when they come into SL.

    The truth is, there is narrative all over SecondLife, but you don’t generally find it by touring. You find it by exploring the thousands of groups that exist in SL. Open Search, click on the tab for Groups and type in an interest of yours — art, live music, role playing, political orientation, computer graphics, building, economics, Shakespearean productions, discussion groups on dozens of topics. Odds are you’ll pull up not just one but several, and in some cases several dozen, groups involved in what you’re interested in.

    Join the groups, meet the people behind the avatars and find the narrative you all want to share and develop it.

    The secret to Second Life? No game developer has preordained the narrative for you. Instead, you create your own narrative, alone or with others, then bring it to fruition.

    Anya Daligdig

  2. Anya,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response, and for illuminating some of the aspects of Second Life. I can appreciate that Second Life offers the opportunity to create your own narrative, but without the connective tissue of a shared narrative, I find it hard to see how Second Life goes beyond what it currently is. Now, perhaps Second Life has no need, or even desire to go beyond its own online existence. Again, that’s totally fine, I just can’t imagine a Second Life movie or other extension for the brand.

    Maybe I’m comparing apples to oranges here, but I think for a property, brand or franchise to really break out, it needs to be adaptable to various formats. For that, I think a connective narrative that can be built upon is critical.

  3. I do think you’re comparing apples to oranges. Would you say our world lacks a narrative? Or does it lack a SINGLE narrative?

    Every longtime SL resident has had the experience of a newbie materializing in front of them and saying, “Ok, what do I do next?” Their expectation is that this is a game, with a story line, a goal, a beginning and an end. When you answer them, “Whatever you want”, they are stymied. They have not experienced anything like SL before.

    SL is a world, not a game. I do think you need to approach it with a totally different mindset than you do a game in order to get from it what it offers.

    I don’t think Linden Labs intends to market SL along the lines you’re talking about. They see it more as a platform, or a 3-D browser that others can mold to fit their needs. Numerous colleges have opened campuses in SL. IBM has contracted with SL to create versions of SL behind their firewalls, to be used for intracompany meetings, group worksessions, etc.

    BTW, while there may not be a SL movie upcoming, it has featured in at least one novel, and a two-episode CSI: New York .

    SL is a tool. We are the users.

    Anya Daligdig

  4. Hi Rick,

    It’s great to see a PR/marketing blog at the top of WordPress’ hot list – congrats!

    You might be interested in a post I wrote late last year about SL: Why Second Life is Your Fault.

    I think there is a connection between my assertion that SL was often old marketing in a new marketing environment and yours about the lack of narrative.


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