Virtually Speaking

Second Life along with the First.

Letting Go

A close friend of mine recently had to have her favorite pet put to sleep. She agonized over the decision for weeks – the dog had been part of her family for almost 10 years but had developed leukemia and her life was slowly becoming a living hell. In the end, the only thing left to do was to perform an act of mercy no matter how emotional the decision was. No matter how much she would always miss her best 4-legged friend after she was gone.

My own trials of late have not involved the life or death of anyone close to me, but I empathize with the struggle we all sometimes have when we wonder whether it’s time to let go of something we love. It is never easy. It is never clear. We can only weigh the options and make the best decision for us.

In my case, I’m referring to the Archan Community. I’ve been a part of this community for over a year and Head Manager (no puns please) for most of that time. I’ve watched it go through so many changes I can’t list them here — the most dramatic being the decision to move toward a Members-Only policy to combat the high level of griefing and stress on the management of the place.

At the time it seemed like the best course of action. If membership was restricted to those who demonstrated a willingness to put forth effort into their appearance and agree to standards of conduct, wouldn’t it be more fun? Wouldn’t the quality of people improve? All of our reasons looked good on paper. Except for one small detail:

Membership restrictions don’t work in Second Life.

It isn’t the first group I’ve belonged to in SL that was restricted to members-only. And without exception, I can’t think of a single one of them that has survived for long. Perhaps part of that is simply the temporary nature of groups in SL. But a large part of it goes directly to the fact that, in Second Life, you are always competing with other groups for ease of access and instant gratification. Why join a group like Archan for friendship when you can find friends almost anywhere by frequenting the same places enough? Why join a group like Archan to get pixel sex when you can go to any of a dozen other places with traffic in the 50,000 and up range without any restrictions at all? Does it really matter to you that most of those 50,000 or 150,000 other members are still in their default Linden jammies? Apparently not for many residents.

I believed that the remedy to those normal SL dynamics was no more complicated than creating a business model. I do it in my RL job all the time. I’m good at it. Why wouldn’t it also apply to a Second Life business?

I proposed that Archan come to grips with the fact that the Members-Only policy had severely restricted traffic — building a couple of small ugly buildings that were open to the public wasn’t the answer. A few poseballs weren’t the answer. The sense of a community was rapidly slipping away because the owner was not prepared to invest the additional effort required to make Archan into a social magnet. Some of the better managers drifted away. Those who were left were either frustrated with the way things were or didn’t understand what it meant to be friendly, engaging, and customer-centric. It was headed downhill already and I wanted to reverse the trend.

I should note here that the owner is a good guy. I have nothing against him personally. When the former owner, Milosz, offered to give me the land and I couldn’t afford the tier, the new owner accepted the responsibility on the condition that he not sell the land for profit out from under us. He’s kept his word — but he’s also limited his role at Archan to paying the tier and logging in every month or so to send me event funds. He’s resisted attempts at restructuring the staff. He resisted suggestions to charge rent for the group mall land, which would have provided funds to hire full time event hosts – the business plan which would have salvaged Archan’s traffic. He did pay for the new clubhouse we built, but otherwise he has operated with a very radical “hands-off” approach. Basically, it meant that I and a select few active managers were left to run things on our own…

– Without the power to make important decisions.

– Without the power to remove absentee managers, or those whose behavior ran counter to what we needed.

– Without the power to set community policy.

Is it any wonder that things began to unravel?

I’ve been accused of being responsible for allowing Archan to languish. I won’t shirk my part of the responsibility, but I wonder what else can really be done when the only person taking an active role as a leader is met with resistance and has no visible backing from the ownership?

In my own defense, nothing I did was done without some measure of concensus from the rest of the active staff. Staff members had a major hand in designing the new clubhouse. Staff members helped to build the outdoor park and contribute their own items and furniture. We almost had our own website built, complete with events calendar and a members forum but personal conflicts interfered. I even purchased my own webhost service to try to do it but ended up hitting a wall I like to call “don’t know shit about php”. I made the unilateral decision to remove the members-only restrictions, but too late.

I cannot hold their frustration against them — my own level of frustration matched theirs but I didn’t feel I had the freedom to just walk away. They had that freedom and some eventually used it. I miss them tremendously, and Archan is much poorer without them.

If you’ve read this far you probably see where I’m going. If you’re not an Archan member, you may not really care much. That’s ok. Maybe this is useful experience that other SL club managers can learn from.

If you’re an Archan member, though, I want you to know the truth: Nobody in that community could possibly love it more than I do. Nobody in that community could possibly be as saddened as I am to watch it fall apart and feel powerless to change it. I’ll not claim I made all the right decisions, but I made the decisions I thought were best at the time. Things didn’t work for reasons that were ultimately beyond my control.

Like my friend who lost her dog, maybe it’s time for me to admit that I cannot control the situation any longer. I am tired of feeling emotionally drained whenever another decision has to be made or when I drop by the clubhouse and find it empty. I’m tired of the most basic business principles being rejected out of hand and then watching something I love languish into a coma.

This hurts me deeply. But I don’t think I can go on like this. It may be time to make that tough decision and just let go.

To the core group of you who stuck with me until the last: I love you. To those Archan members who, like me, love our unique little community: it’s your turn to speak up and let someone know what you want. It’s too big of a job for one person to attempt alone. It’s too big for two or three people. It takes the whole community. It takes love, a plan and an active owner.

I’ve given all I had to give
And now it’s time for me to live
And I won’t look back
And I won’t regret
Though it hurts like hell
Someday I will forget

– Sozzi

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June 30, 2007 Posted by | Second Life | 5 Comments