When I first contact JR Breed, he's not sure he wants to talk with me. He's never heard of New World Notes, for one thing, and he's not sure it's worth my time. "I'm just a guy who likes making cars in Second Life and selling my creations. No one special," he insists. "Just your average Joe." But I have to press, because at the moment, JR Breed-- in real life a twentysomething from the American heartland-- has created an SL-based car dealership that's nearly three times as popular as the automotive site backed by a Japanese-based international car conglomerate that earned $39 billion over the last six months.
Produced by The Electric Sheep Company, Nissan's Second Life presence debuted last week, a series of connected islands with a race course and stunt areas, and a witty, building-size vending machine designed to disgorge free Nissans like they were cans of soda. Taken together, it's an impressive, highly polished presence, offering Second Life Residents a chance to engage with a real world brand in a way that's compelling, immersive, and above all, fun.
The thing is, in the days after its premiere, Nissan island had a Traffic ranking of around 8,000. (Analagous to web page views, "Traffic" is the SL metric by which aggregate foot traffic-- the number of feet, and how long those feet stay-- is measured.) It dropped to about 5,000 over the weekend, and currently ranks (as of a few hours ago) at 3925. By contrast, Breed's automotive dealership of custom-made virtual cars has solidly remained at between 10,000-12,000 in Traffic throughout that period.
Which is why, when you search for "Cars" in the Second Life interface, among the first listings you'll find is the "Need 4 Speed" dealership of JR Breed.
Or to be more precise: ~CARS~ Need 4 Speed ~MOTORCYCLES~ vehicles Rides Whips PIMPIN!!
The several times I visited, Need 4 Speed was always a hopping place, with clusters of blinged-out dancers strutting beneath giant screens that constantly stream hip hop videos, ringed round by JR's detailed precision cars, modeled after Ferraris and other high performance classics. Strange as it may seem, JR Breed tells me, when he joined Second Life earlier this year, he had no prior skills to manifest them. "I didn't think I had what it took to build and texture a car," he recalls, "considering I had no experience with any type of paint program. Of course my first car looked like crap but that wasn't going to stop my new found passion..." He taught himself to script, learned a graphics program, and over time, began building up a market for his vehicles, especially after he opened the dealership in April/May. "I'm really shocked to see how far Need4Speed has come," he tells me.
The upshot is one of the most popular car-centric sites in Second Life. ("SILVER MOTORSPORTS COMPLEX", a Nascar-style race track, currently gets nearly the same amount of traffic.)
Since Nissan's site was so comparably low (and declining), I asked Sibley Hathor, CEO of the Electric Sheep, to explain. In his view, much of that's attributable to a recent Second Life update that temporarily broke the Nissan car dispensor, and hurt the performance for vehicles driving between the linked islands. "This project is not centered around trying to get traffic," he adds. "Many people came to get the Sentras when the project was first announced, and now have those Sentras in other parts of Second Life; they're still using the product, but not generating traffic at the central location."
As of a few hours ago, according to the vendor's "Number Served" register, 1672 Sentras have been given out since last Monday's opening. (Which would mean-- since 177,954 Residents have come in world, over the last seven days, according to Linden Lab's stats-- that about one percent of them have availed themselves to a free Nissan.)
Pointing all this out is not a criticism of the Sheep's efforts in particular, it's important to add, for it fits a larger pattern that still lacks a convincing explanation. As mentioned last week, for whatever reason, corporate-sponsored sites are generally much less popular than their grassroots analogues. Aimee Weber's site created for the American Apparel fashion company now garners 550 in traffic, while Aimee Weber's Midnight City created to sell fashion from Aimee Weber and her friends, earns 7423; another fashion and furniture site, StyleHive Headquarters, created by
NWN sponsor Millions of Us Aimee Weber, currently takes a paltry 111. (This pattern doesn't always hold true: the HQ for The Metaverse Messenger, for example, now has 247 in traffic, while Reuters' SL island has 1105 in Traffic.)
"As I'm sure you've noticed," Sheep CEO Sibley Hathor goes on, "these corporate projects in SL are gradually becoming more sophisticated, but still aren't to the point where they're providing the level of entertainment that many user-operated locations in SL are. To make truly engaging content, you have to have people refreshing it, changing it, hosting events, etc."
In that regard, maybe they could learn a lesson from Residents like JR Breed. As it turns out, one of the larger metaverse companies did actually try to contact him recently, but he chucked the IM without giving it much thought.
"I get so many people trying to do business with me," says JR, "I now just ignore most of it."
Update, 10/31: Corrected Stylehive credit.