Tuesday, October 6, 2009

On Merchanting

Some of you may have heard by now that my friend Ilsa Munro of Munro Imaginary Motors has decided to shut her Second Life business down in response to a rather over the top customer. The short of the whole nasty affair was that the individual filed an AR on her for failing to respond to an IM in under two hours during her RL workday. He then proceeded to set up an autospammer outside my Eyre shops to "warn" customers not shop there. My short communication with the individual was...less than satisfactory. Among other charming turns of phrase, he expressed hopes that my horses would be copybotted and that our businesses would fail. Mind you, that was after he got a full refund in under three hours. It's a select group, the Caledon ban list is. You'd be surprised how short it is. I suppose the chap ought feel proud of himself.

I wince at writing the above, as I don't care to give someone like that much "head space". But the unfortunate truth is that oafs are often successful in making other people unhappy. And for Ilsa, it was just too much: it's not just this one thing, but the whole pain in the bustle bit of trying to run a business in Second Life. Unhinged customers are thankfully rare, at least in the horse and vehicle business (my friend Kamilah Hauptmann has many a story about the animation market, though). But there are a whole host of other annoyances, from SL updates that break scripts, to vendor maintenance, to monitoring ads, and just to the daily customer service. And all this for rates that make minimum wage look fair good, once the hours spent are all added up.

So why on Earth do we do it?

Some of us don't, actually. That's Ilsa's answer. And it's a common one in Second Life. One shows up, discovers building is fun, and makes a few whimsical things. Someone says "O hai, by Ceiling Cat, this is great! You ought to be in show business!" And you knock out a wall of your cottage and put a couple of vendors up. Or sans chateau, there is always Xstreet. And a few Lindens roll in (the money sort, not the Torley/Robin sort). And it's terrific! Yay! No more are you paying tier. When your RL spouse leans over your shoulder and wonders at that Victorian dress you're buying, you simply say "Pfft, paid for it myself, do toddle off and play kill-the-orcs on your own computer, m'kay?"

And then disillusionment sets in, when all the other slings and arrows of outrageous customer service rear their ugly heads. You're tempted to put them all out as freebies, but I'm here to say that freebies take as much time to deal with as anything else, if not more so. After all, freebies are beloved by new people, who are the first not to understand how to use a vehicle or even adjust a skirt. Mind you, 99% of them are fun to chat with, but it's still time consuming. You start noticing things like you haven't changed your outfit in over a week. Um, your avatar's outfit, that is.

So, like Ilsa, many look at the ledger and find it wanting. On one side is the SL income, which is rarely all that much. On the other side are all those things that one might rather be doing in SL-- exploring, playing games, going to virtual balls, or just socializing without being interrupted by an IM every five minutes. The thought occurs that if one has a job, one can afford the thirty or so USD for a hobby. And you'll be able to continue to build, perhaps even more freely sans an eye to what will be popular.

But then there's those of us who continue to build and sell things here. And why is that? Well, I won't be disingenuous here. For one, I do fairly well in Second Life. My silly horses are quite popular, and while my income isn't on par with the better known designers, I'm still paying for art school with it. Still, there are other things I could be doing. I recently got my first freelance RL 3D design job, and discovered that the going rate was...let us say on par with more than a few horses.

So, it has to be something more than the money. And this is going to sound silly-goofy, but really, it's all of you. This weekend, after talking about The Incident with Ilsa, I thought to myself about all the customers who've written me about how much fun with their toys (for that is what I really am, a virtual toy maker). People I don't know have smiled, perhaps even laughed (hopefully with glee) at my humble efforts.

How many of you are out there? Rough guess puts my horse sales at several thousand, and that's not including all the outfits and vehicles-- much less the freebies and demos. I've managed to make thousands happy, if only for a few minutes. That's worth a lot, isn't it? How many people get to say that?

I'm not going to encourage people to try to change Ilsa's mind about quitting her business. She has solid reasons for reapportioning her time. But I would like to ask those of you who've played with her creations and liked them to take a moment and tell her that you had fun. Because in the end, that's really what we're here for, isn't it?