Thursday, May 31, 2012

Magic of the Marketplace

A post by Tali here sent us both off on a frenzy of speculation about Marketplace and stuff....

I've mentioned, before, the apparent effect the Marketplace is having on SL as merchants increasingly rely upon it and downgrade their inworld presence.  (Found another instance of this only two days ago, actually, when I popped over to the Alruneia Sentry sim to browse their interesting selection of SF/fantasy gear, only to find nothing but an empty stretch of grassland with a rental notice on it.  Store appears to be Marketplace only, now....) 

It's hard to disagree with Tali's conclusion, that the Marketplace just offers too many advantages over an inworld store for a merchant not to prefer it.  (I am not a serious merchant, so I have no Marketplace presence... and I have near as dammit no sales, and those facts are not unrelated.)  Also, many of the pro-inworld arguments sort of fall to pieces when you look at them.  It's all very well saying that you can't see what an item actually looks like inworld from Marketplace, but most often, you can't do that inworld either - no clothing designer maintains dozens of models to wear and display outfits, and furniture or gadget makers who spend hundreds of Land Impact to show off stock are the exception, not the rule.

So, everyone should just hightail it for Marketplace, yeah?  But you have to consider the implications of that for SL as a whole.... as I've discussed before, changes in land usage, and a contraction in the size of the Grid, are already apparent as this trend starts to take hold.  And fewer sims being rented means less income for LL, and I have voiced my concerns over whether their cut of increased Marketplace revenues will make up for the shortfall.

Besides, there is going to be a knock-on effect - indeed, has already been a knock-on effect - on people whose business models are predicated on serving inworld stores.  When Direct Delivery came in, it effectively destroyed the revenue stream for people who rent out space for other people's Magic Boxes - you can easily think of other SL businesses that are going to be hit by a general retreat of business from inworld.  Some of them, I grant you, I won't miss - no one will be greatly upset by a decline in the number of traffic-gaming or advertising bots clogging up sims.  Others will be a sad loss - promotional things like Shep Korvin's Lucky Chairs and similar won't be much good if there aren't stores to put them in, even though Shep has managed to build a sort of SL subculture all his own around his product line (I am a Lucky Tribe member myself, and have delicious toffee to prove it).  I would miss Lucky Tribe if it went.  For that matter, there is that other well-known promotional tool, the hunt, that you might remember I do a bit of (Silk Road 3 starts tomorrow, eep eep eep!).  It's going to be bloomin' hard to hunt if there are no hunting grounds... and another SL subculture comes under threat....

Mention of subcultures, though, leads me to another point... Shopping is a social activity, after all (note to gentlemen readers, if any: it is, seriously, even if you don't get it), and some of the big stores have their own communities which have grown up around them... and this sort of thing can keep a main store going, even when the bulk of the catalogue has moved over to Marketplace.  However, this is an advantage for the big stores that already have a strong, established following... there is no chance of me developing anything like that.  For the small-scale beginning merchant, the rational choice has clearly got to be to go with Marketplace from the outset - and it may even prove to be a rational choice from LL's viewpoint, too, as the "long tail" of low-level transactions generates an overall profit for them.  (Admittedly, LL's commerce team have been actively dismissive of the whole "long tail" concept in the past, preferring to concentrate on a smaller core of "prestige" merchants... well, it would not be the first time LL have been clueless, would it?)

But, well, I don't do SL for economically rational reasons....

So, it occurs to me, is there some way to promote the inworld side of things and keep the efficiency advantages of Marketplace?  At this point, the techy side of me comes to the fore, and I happily lose myself in an orgy of unbridled speculation.

First off, each Marketplace page can contain - if the merchant has an inworld store - a "see item inworld" link, a SLURL that will get you to the inworld location of your item.  Suppose, to climb up on one of my hobby-horses, we had a better integrated version of that - an in-browser viewer that took you directly to the store, instead of doing all that fairly tedious SLURL-ing type stuff (I apologize if I'm getting too technical here, all that jargon, you know how it is)?  Back when I was yapping about the proper uses of Basic Mode, I mentioned the idea of using it as an in-browser viewer... now, you would need inventory options, which Basic Mode didn't have, to shop this way... but LL are already working on their Simple Inventory project; would it be beyond their abilities to merge the two?

However, there are no immediate signs of a browser-based viewer coming up... But there are new developments in the pipeline that could be used inworld, namely the Experience Tools coming soon to a beta-release channel near you.  If you want to see how something looks inworld, the temporary attachments feature - as Tali pointed out - offers an excellent opportunity to try before you buy.  And you could envisage some sort of shop-catalogue HUD, too, which would help you to find stuff in the first place.  (In fact, I can think of at least one shop that already offers a HUD for in-store navigation...)  Couple this with a general beefing-up of the inworld search function - which still leaves me staring at a blank black panel one time in every three - and you might have some inworld functionality which approaches Marketplace's ease of use.  Maybe.

Now, the techy side of me looks at the Experience Tools and makes loud squeeing "ooh shiny!" noises, but my more cynical side thinks of the possibilities of these things for abuse, especially in a commercial context, and hears a faint grinding and grating sound, as of several cans of worms being opened in the not too distant future.

But, of course, this is SL, and new cans of worms are opened every day.  Still, it seems increasingly clear that a seismic shift in usage is taking place as a result of Marketplace... and we need to think about how it will play out, and what technical factors might influence it.  This has been an awfully long blog post already, and yet I have a feeling I've hardly scratched the surface of this subject, yet!  Does the readership-at-very-small have any ideas?


  1. My status as a gentleman is uncertain, however, I am male and do appreciate the comment on shopping being a social activity. TYVM

    1. Hee, I must put my hands up to gender stereotyping, there, I'm afraid!