Thursday, February 25, 2010

Beta is Crashtastic!

I started writing this blog post while waiting for my inventory to reload on 1.23 viewer. My beta testing of the new 2.0 viewer for SecondLife was FAIL in a lot of ways, yet it succeeded in showing me where Linden Lab is very shortsighted.

I also have a greater sympathy for those that have a lot of problems crashing on the current viewer because they have older systems. I am going to be in their shoes if I am forced to use 2.0 to stay involved on the grid. It is how "games" go, though. The new versions always require the latest hardware, no matter what they say in their minimum requirements. Now, you say, SL is not a game.

When it comes to its use of computer resources, oh yes it is. Which brings me to the point I would really like to discuss in this blog. How is this viewer going to improve the new user experience when their hardware is not going to be able to handle it?

I spent a lot of time on Myspace. I met a lot of cool people there. I did not, however, meet a lot of people with high end systems, unless they were a power gamer, or needed the functionality for their work. The average, casual user of the internet has a computer relatively close to mine in specs, which in SL terms means at the very minimum of listed requirements for Viewer 1.23(my current choice), and if my experience with 2.0 is any indication, below the minimum needed to run Viewer 2.0. Shoot, the one friend I almost got on SL with tales of a virtual wrestling federation had issues with 1.23 crashing the second time he logged in.

He hasn't been back. He went to City of Heroes, better customer support and better game performance on his machine. This a dude who would have spent hundreds of dollars here over time, and gotten his father's business a presence on here as well. All lost because Linden Lab expects casual users to have top of the line machines. More to the point, his machine is only a year old and had issues. You can't retain users like this. You can't live in an imaginary world where everybody has top of the line computers and expect to get new users. Do the Lindens live in SL and pay no attention to the average net user? I believe that is the truth of this matter, since the Facebook style of the chat is an obvious push to get some of that crowd.

If the problems of this viewer crashing on lower end systems are not solved, this may be the death knell for SL in the internet media. If they succeed in getting new users over here from Facebook with their "noob" friendly interface, they're going to lose the majority of them at the first crash. It's that simple. People expect the magic box to just work, dammit. Those are 75% of your heavy users on social networking sites. If they had computers set up to play the newest bells and whistles online game, they would be there, not building up plots on Farmville. I know this, because I have a lot of friends that try to get me to play the Facebook apps with them. They'd be here if their system could handle the viewer.

In conclusion, the UI is perfect to lure in the noobs, but the push will fail the first time they crash. For those with a real urge to join the grid, they might give it a few more tries. I have crashed about 20 times in the past two days trying to test out the features of the new viewer. Media on a prim is great. The sidebar smooshing my view of the world is not. It crashes my graphics card. It would also be nice to use my inventory at all. I'm not sure if my full inventory has downloaded ONCE during my beta test experience. I am pretty sure it hasn't. The most consistent thing that threw me into FAIL? Searching my inventory. As soon as I type a letter into the search bar, it is instant shutdown. I could try to toss it off as just an issue because I use Linux, but I don't think that is the case. Said example friend is a Windows user. In fact, 1.23 never crashes on Linux for me, but if I try to run SL in Windows, I join the legions of crash abused.

Sorry Lindens, but new users aren't going to run out and buy a new machine so they can spend enough time in SL, without crashing, to get hooked. You need to make the sidebar an overlay or you're not going to retain the majority of the new users you're looking for. So sad that you have made most of your current residents irate over a viewer that won't work effectively for the audience it is targeting. So sad. Get out of the techgeek bubble you live in and learn about what the average internet user is running to access the web. Then build a viewer that will actually work well on their machines. If you don't, I may have to leave the grid. I have never been fond of watching anything die.

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