Is A Little Progress A Dangerous Thing?

The Lab is shifting some cost burden from Land to other things of value in Second Life, increasing some fees, encouraging Premium subscriptions, etc.

One thing often mentioned is the increased capacity of land to hold builds: More land impact available per square meter means a landowner shouldn't need to own as much land, so should need to pay less tier for the same build complexity. This, in addition to the (typically) more efficient mesh compared to old prim builds means that land should be a somewhat less important cost in using Second Life, even before land fees were directly reduced (as they were in 2019, but I'm focusing on earlier land CAPACITY effects here).

Does enhanced land capacity really reduce the cost of land for typical SL use cases?

In the familiar case of residential housing, this seems to work. People who already own land won't immediately benefit from it, but new land buyers need to buy less land to hold the same amount of content. There's SOME intrinsic value to a parcel's SIZE independent of its capacity to hold content, but for housing, content capacity seems to be the main factor driving expansion, and so increased object capacity should reduce housing land cost.

In contrast, another familiar use case, the social club venue, doesn't benefit so directly. That's because land size for a club doesn't so much limit content capacity as it reflects practical avatar capacity. Many clubs need a full region just to comfortably hold their peak avatar count without needing to turn too many away.

The progress in CONTENT capacity just hasn't carried over to improved AVATAR capacity.

We've always heard that it's difficult to scale up avatar capacity. I'd understood this to be a problem for hosting thousands of avatars for a concert or other big event. What I hadn't appreciated before is that it also gets in the way of shifting away from Land the costs of using SL for such a common and important use as club ownership.

There's certainly pressure now to make avatars less demanding, and with Project ARCTAN to improve estimates of how demanding they really are. But even if by magic avatars were to be only half as laggy, it wouldn't really save land costs for clubs because it still wouldn't be practical to pack clubs any tighter on sims; at the same time, clubs are absorbing some of the increased costs, such as event listings, to which the reduced land costs shift.

This isn't to claim that SL social clubs are endangered by this shift; I have no information about that, and any effect may be dwarfed by renewed overall SL activity. Rather, I'm merely marvelling at the complex economics of shifting costs away from land, how it interacts with avatar capacity, and how that may affect the specific uses that have become important to Second Life.

Now, considering the subtlety of these gradual changes in SL, imagine the effects across entirely different platforms. One wonders which seemingly insignificant factors might make SL the "Goldilocks" virtual world.
Reporter Qie Niangao

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