Tuesday, February 05, 2013

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Why Second Life Usage Skews Mature: Probably Because Desktop PC Ownership Skews Mature Too

Second Life demographic survey

The Prim Perfect blog has a very eloquent post on the many Second Life users who are 30 or older, and it is rooted to a true datapoint -- according to the best Second Life demographic data that we have, about 60% of the userbase is older than 30. Some people assume this must mean there's something about Second Life that makes it uniquely appealing to older people, and while there's some truth to that, the key factor probably is not the virtual world itself, but the hardware required to run it well. Take a look:

PC and laptop ownership by demographic

This chart is from a 2010 Pew Report on technology usage (.pdf link here), and the clear takeaway is this: People 35 and older are more likely to own a desktop PC, while Millenials 34 and younger are more likely to own a laptop. Second Life was and is developed to run optimally on a desktop PC with a dedicated broadband line, as opposed to a laptop with wireless. So by dint of demographic probability, an older person who launches Second Life on their desktop PC is more likely to get a good experience in the world, while a younger person who tries SL on their wireless laptop is far more apt to say, say, "WTF up with this lag and gray!"

Second Life is not even unique in this case; generally speaking, MMOs which run best on desktop PCs and dedicated broadband lines also skew to an older userbase. We can also see that games/virtual worlds with similar features to Second Life can and do attract a younger audience -- Habbo Hotel mostly attracts teens and people in their early 20s, as does IMVU, as does Minecraft. All of these had or have millions of users, far more than SL... and unsurprisingly, run far better on a laptop than Second Life. If Second Life is so uniquely appealing to mature people, why are there other games and worlds with SL-like properties that are much more popular with younger people? 

Make no mistake, it's great that Second Life does have a large userbase of older users, and as Prim Perfect suggests, Linden Lab should make more effort to cater to them. At the same time, it's important not to confuse the cause. Because if SL was better optimized to run on laptops -- and now tablets, which are growing increasingly popular among the young and old -- we'd see a growth in younger users too.

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Rowan Derryth

As a gen-xer who does SL on a laptop, I have to say this logic is bizarre. You can use statistic to prove anything. I'm not sure that a slightly higher percentage of PC to Laptop (according to a survey of just 3000 people) can account for the appeal of Second Life to mature users.

Shockwave Yareach

You can polish a t*rd until the corn glints like gold in the sun. But it won't be anything but a t*rd.

SL has many, many problems and faults that date back to day one. There certainly can be an optimized approach, where all the textures for 3 or 4 linden arrival spots are precached in everyone's computer already. But until we can have more people in a spot and can walk from one sim to the next without crashing, putting the bugfest on tablets will do nothing but increase the amount of new-user churn we see today.

Pussycat Catnap

We could say the same thing about any MMO or PC computer game.

Except we can't.

Not all of them 'skew' to mature ages.

The entire world has not yet abandoned to desktop/laptop save for the 'geezers'. Nor is it rushing to do so at the pace some predict.

Yes many are buying tablets - but many of those who do are not doing it to replace a computer, but as an additional tool. Its more viable as an eReader and smart phone replacement than a computer replacement - and will stay that way until its graphics capabilities improve and tablet OS's like Windows take hold over those like iOS (which won't be happening any time soon).

Rowan Derryth

Also: gaming laptops?

Metacam Oh

There's also the stigma Second Life carries by its name. If you're a younger person in high school or college, and you're worried about what people think of you or what have you, you're not going into a place called "Second Life". It assumes you don't have a first life. Mature older people don't carry this initial reaction. (for the most part)

draxtor

Desktop owners skew professional I might add: Pro Tools does not really work on an iPad and neither does FCP :(... yet?

elizabeth (16)

I agree with Rowan

if go back to 2004 or 2005 then teens and young people mostly had desktops. and the SL age demographic was the same then as it is now

Serendipidy Haven

i'm not convinced by this argument. There's a huge array of variables that could account for the older demographic of SL user - i'd venture that greater spending power for leisure pursuits combined with a different focus on what exactly constitutes 'leisure' is possibly a greater factor in determining the age of SL users than desktop PC ownership.

Arcadia Codesmith

As people grow up, they can afford better toys.

There you go.

Savoree LeDesir

Yes, PC ownership is a factor. Also (related to this) is the tendency of the younger generation to be more mobile, and attracted to entertainment that uses less bandwidth.

Just as important, however, as the technology gap is the difference in life experience. The younger generation has yet to learn the value of keeping one's private life private, so they are more likely to equate "I have nothing to hide," with "I have nothing to protect." Those of us who have been around awhile know better. ;-)

Mariko Nightfire

I was 18 years old when I entered Second Life. I quickly became aware that most people that I encountered and befriended were so much older than I. Even a generation older. It became a unexpected blessing as they became mentors, role models and protectors. As I commented in my blog, they helped to pave my way to full adulthood - http://mariko-nightfire.blogspot.com/2012/11/thoughts-about-second-life-on-my.html

Ferd Frederix

Correlation is not causation. It is more likely to be disabled or retired when you are older than younger. That type has more time and finds friends and support in Second Life. And the older you are the more likely you are to have the extra money to spend on land and toys.

A.J.

If the future of SL is to be a bunch of old people sitting at desktops, fine by me.

I just hope whoever is in SL has has an attention span larger than a pea if they are going to start personal conversations.

Hamlet Au

"if go back to 2004 or 2005 then teens and young people mostly had desktops. and the SL age demographic was the same then as it is now"

Actually, no, SL skewed significantly younger back then. It's why MTV got interested in it.

"I'm not sure that a slightly higher percentage of PC to Laptop (according to a survey of just 3000 people) can account for the appeal of Second Life to mature users."

This misses the other part of my argument: If Second Life is so uniquely appealing to mature people, why are there other games and worlds with SL-like properties that are much more popular with younger people? A question I just added to the post to emphasize that more. :)

Orca Flotta

[i]why are there other games and worlds with SL-like properties that are much more popular with younger people? [/i]

Hamlet, SL-like properties doesn't equal SL-like qualities.
The quality of SL can't be measured in technical terms alone (desk vs laptop is silly anyway, they are both fully capable computers), it is in the people itself. They make the distinction between SL and other grids. That's why all the OSGs are struggling. Maybe that's what makes SL so appealing for us older, more settled folks and women. We don't always need the latest shiny stuff but we want our communities and the social content.

Pathfinding, mesh clothes, server updates every other day, games ... ??? Doesnt mean much for us geezers. Most ppl of my generation and older are capable to amuse themself and don't need external stimulation. Quite the contrary: as long as LL doesn't step on our toes all the time we're happy bunnies.

Wolf Baginski

I can't rule this out as one of many factors.

And I think tablet hardware is always going to be inadequate. Can they ever do the work for a 3D world with a reasonable combination of weight and battery life? It doesn't mean that there cannot be useful tablet apps, but can they provide the full range of access a user wants?

Laptops do a better job than tablets, but are still constrained by battery and wifi limits. Use them as a transportable machine and some of those limits are minimised. I suspect many are.

Desktops give you big screens, almost insane levels of computing power, and a wide choice of control methods. My laptop is about where my desktop was five years ago.

I sometimes wonder whether the people taking the strategic decisions about SL have a useful view of the product. Few of us in the outside world have high-speed, low-ping, connections to the servers, for instance. Just being on another continent, which is running away from the USA on full impulse power, gives me a worse connection than a Linden on Battery St. will ever see, roughly an extra 100ms on the round trip.

And, while I'm thinking in that mode, US-only survers on hardware ownership could be misleading. SL is a world-wide service. I would be unsurprised if the laptop/desktop ratio in Japan was much more biased to the laptop but are there enough SL customers to matter?

If SL wants to stay viable, maybe those gaming desktop users aren't the key market any more. But what will keep the place alive is satisfying new users, which needs far more than matching the product to the computer power they have.

Valkin

I read a story on this blog a couple years ago, that I think partially explains this. Many Gen Xers and younger, grew up in a more social internet than those of us over 30. I know many of us who came to SL in the early years were more interested in the technology and being able to build and experiment in a virtual world.

Most of the newer people I meet in SL don't seem to be interested in building or role play. I think for most of them, the social interaction is more important. Hardcore gamers never did "get" SL to begin with, even with their advanced hardware, they were looking to game.

I'm sure if Sl were just starting now, it would be a very different animal. And also a lot smaller and less hardware intensive. I just hope if or when LL decides to make SL more acceptable to young people; they won't forgot those of us who paid for everything and still just want to play with prims.

Orca Flotta

If SL wants to stay viable, maybe those gaming desktop users aren't the key market any more.

Why not Wolf? All the big computer games, with much more users than SL can dream of, are run on big chunky gaming desktops by 98% of their users. Only for lan parties a small minority is using laptops now.

I don't really trust the statistics neither. If the sales of desktops are showing a downward trend it's mostly due to the simple fact that those machines are super easy to configure and assemble. I can basically keep my pc alive for 10+ years and only swap out the basic parts when needed. It's fun, like playing with Lego. A new GPU, faster and more RAM, a new SSD here and there ... without ever showing up in any sales statistic. And without giving a single penny to Dell, HP, Acer and what have you. And that's I guess how the majority of desktop users are operating these days.

Let's not forget I'm a "crusty", a mid 40s housewife without any previous knowledge or education about computers. I spent childhod, adolescence and a big part of my youth without any computers at all. Heck, I "build" my one desktop machines now. And if even I can do it it's hard to believe that none else had this splendid idea.

Masami Kuramoto

Laptops capable of running SL have not been around for too long. In the past you had to choose between long battery life and powerful graphics, and the latter would often cause significant fan noise. Today many laptops have hybrid graphics. They are durable and silent, but very powerful on demand.

Many desktops are still around simply because they were purchased before laptops were ready to get the job done. However, one would be a fool to believe that millenials don't appreciate a 23inch desktop screen for hardcore gaming or content creation, or that the geezers don't appreciate a laptop in their living room.

By the way, SL over wi-fi works flawlessly unless you have a NAT router that sucks. Don't blame SL, replace the router instead. Hopefully with IPv6 at some point we can get rid of NAT altogether.

Will Szymborska

Laptops, iPads and any other piddly money wasters are expensive under-powered pieces of trash. I'm 23 years old and all my friends have PC's or had laptops and realized how limited they were and have since "switched over". No one cares about this 'digital revolution' of silly Zyanga games and annoying Facebook features.

If they wanted that, they would go on their phone. If they wanted to spend quality time gaming, they would have a machine that's appropriate for that.

I don't understand why someone would believe only older people use PCs. That's short-sighted. Whoever believes that probably does their taxes on an iPad and reads 'The New Yorker' on a Kindle. Give me a break.

Dartagan Shepherd

This is still a bit of a stretch, but the answers are found by understanding people, not trends and technology.

Some of it is pretty simple on the surface ... are older people going to prefer something like legos (Minecraft) or a more immersive and "mature" product like SL?

SL is time consuming, it's pretty intuitive to understand what a younger person is going to gravitate to as opposed to someone older.

When buying gifts, reasonably priced electronics have always been an easy option. Uncle Hank may have gotten a laptop for a gift at their peak when they were inexpensive. Now Uncle Hank may get a tablet. What's going to appeal to Uncle Hank to run on it. Mincecraft or wish-I-was-Minecraft Patterns?

Is it attention span, depth, or just stuff what older or younger people run on their latest electronic toy?

Companies that do best are those who understand PEOPLE, not trends and electronics-as-platforms.

Uncle Hank and Aunt Betty may read this and smile and nod. They probably won't have your magic answer, but if you spend some quality time with an older Aunt Betty and Uncle Hank, learn their background and upbringing more intimately, life experiences and what makes them tick you might actually get close to an answer.

You won't get your answer from trends and statistics if you don't understand the generations or the people themselves.

Something that LL has never really been able to do, either. It's really not difficult or complicated though.

Iggy

Hamlet, it's not the device, it's the setting.

My students consistently find SL "creepy" and consider it full of "sketchy older people who lie about who they are and have fake sex."

Meanwhile, networked youth do not need avatars, when they have their own augmented bodies and social networks.

Desktop's decline might hurt with adoptions, but among the youth with desktops, SL does not compare to serious games.

AJax Manatiso

Glad to know you think of "over 30" as white-haired and wrinkled - per your illustration. Today's kids have the attention span of a gnat and need 200 channels so they can constantly channel surf. SL requires the attention span of at least a nervous cat. You can almost tell when an avbi is under 30 - they can't dance in one spot and have to slide around and collide with everyone, they have to cause scenes and make drama and get themselves ejected.This is the demographic LL wants? Maybe they should think really really really hard until their brains hurt.

Iggy

FWIW, I was already a bald-headed freak by 30; bald-headed geezerdom came later. But I did have and retain the ability to sustain my attention, for geeky hours on end as needed. SL does require a heavy investment of mostly attentive time, which means time away from heavy multitasking.

My long-suffering and patient students are going to be pointed over here to this thread. Perhaps they can dope-slap me or some of you.

Adeon Writer

Second Life was very infamous in my college, and I made no mention of my being part of it during my stay there. It was viewed in a very negative light (Usually involving furries, ALSO something I'd never mention during my stay there.) the handful of times it was mentioned. (And it was well known in my major, it was even preinstalled on all campus computers, which is how I joined.)

It is no surprise that it's not popular with that age group. At least not publicly.

I'm very worried about Linden's Steam release.

Adeon Writer

As to not being ableto keep my avatar in one spot, and feeling compelled to slide around and bump into other avatars,

Guilty.

ZZ Bottom

I still remenber the best Ipad of all times, Spectrum X86!
As for the rest of the topic, LL mentality is older then any of its users, but not wiser then most!

Metacam Oh

"This misses the other part of my argument: If Second Life is so uniquely appealing to mature people, why are there other games and worlds with SL-like properties that are much more popular with younger people? A question I just added to the post to emphasize that more. :)"

@Hamlet

It's the name, Second Life. Younger people are more likely to be turned off by the name and what they may think it implies or what their classmates etc may think of them. Older people are much more likely to be beyond this stage of shallowness. If SL wasn't a term that could imply you're a loser with no life I bet younger people would give it a try. The name coupled with the early stigma it was placed with give you perfect reason why kids blow it off.

Jo yardley

I've been using an old wireless laptop for SL for the last 3 years.
Yes that meant that I couldn't run it at the maximum settings and that I suffered a lot of lag.
But that didn't stop me from enjoying SL and even building a sim there.
There are many reasons SL isn't always doing great, its reputation being a bigger reason then age or hardware.

elizabeth (16)

@hamlet - many of the people who were on SL in them days still have an account now

if add 8 years to their RL starting age then how old are they now?

like is their average age now still <=30? which it would be if their starting age average was 18-22 back then

elizabeth (16)

@Ajax - todays kids are processing information faster than previous generations. bc of the overload they exposed to. is in its infancy yet but has been a number of studies done on this already

is suspected that pre-schoolers who are exposed to high levels of fast-paced interactive information are having their brains rewired to counteract this

is the same with the TV generation who got raised on fast-paced passive information (cartoons) their brains operate differently from their previous generation

studies also show that in the development stage kids/teens discard informational inputs irrelevant to their immediate situation faster than older people

this generation of kids/teens is even more faster at this than the TV generation

elizabeth (16)

@Bettina - thanks

@Hamlet - more arithmetic

70-57 = 13. 13/70ths = 19%

if 19% of under 35s who did leave SL did so bc they no longer have a desktop then why did the 81% leave?

is not because they haven't got a desktop. they have

and if they left for other reasons then would those reasons not be for the same reasons why they wont come back and/or sign up new. even if they could

+

ps

the median age for SL always been recognized as 34yo. which came out of that linden chart in your other story

+

the actual future of young people in SL was foretold. can just look at the Teen Grid numbers

2013

The entire article is flawed from the beginning. Stats from 2010?

Hamlet Au

From what we know about 2011-2012 data, the generational divide between laptops and desktops is widening even further, and also shows tablets strongly cutting into the usage of both.

The Tier Is Too Damn High Party

Well SL doesn't make any user really happy, does it?

elizabeth (16)

@Hamlet - yes can understand your reasoning on the trend to mobility

is the mobility factor that is attractive to young people. and their parents who usual end up having to buy the devices. is not the actual devices themselves. can use at school or at home or at your friends or where ever

if people could buy the power of a today gamer desktop rig in a tablet or other mobile device for the same price then they would. like i would anyways

+

has been some massive improvements lately in HTML5 from the browser makers. engineering wise. on Ener Hax iliveisl has been some people doing the Fish Test of this

is quite interesting what the results are showing. device wise

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