Home Metaverse Are There Greener Pastures Elsewhere? – Ryan Schultz

Are There Greener Pastures Elsewhere? – Ryan Schultz

People are often mystified as to why I continue to write about the now-twenty-year-old virtual world of Second Life, when there are so many other, newer metaverse platforms which I could discuss and dissect on my blog. I attempted to answer that question in 2019: Editorial: Why Second Life Is the Perfect Model of a Mature, Fully Evolved Virtual World for Newer Social VR Platforms to Emulate. There’s quite a lot to learn from Second Life’s rich history; ignore it at your peril!

In today’s SL lesson, we learn that there may, indeed, be greener pastures than venerable, long-running Second Life—even for those creators who got their start on the platform! And it would be wise for the newer metaverse platforms, too, to ponder the possibility that their current user base might depart for more lucrative opportunities in other virtual worlds, or even from some unexpected competition!

As usual, I am a little late to report the recent news that major women’s avatar apparel brand Blueberry has decided to, at the very least, hit the pause button, and quite possibly, leave Second Life altogether.

Nobody seems to know the future of Blueberry…

To make a real-world comparison, it would be as if Zara or H&M—or, here in Canada, the ubiquitous Reitmans—suddenly decided to go out of business. Blueberry has been a phenomenally successful store in Second Life, easily earning over a million dollars a year in revenue, according to this October 2022 business article from the Observer. Blueberry might well be the single biggest creator of womenswear in Second Life. In other words, this is major news.

In a mid-April Facebook post by Blueberry’s proprietor, Mishi (the text of which was also posted in an April 13th, 2024 notice to the Blueberry store group in SL):

Hi fam ❤
I’m very sorry to say that I will be taking a break from SL. Blueberry does not plan to release any new items for the foreseeable future. At some point, I will share an update. Right now I need this time to reflect.
I do consider all of you berries as my forever family and I am eternally grateful for your support and understanding. Thank you for all of your love.

The store group notice goes on to add:

Please send all questions regarding credit to blueberryxx in a notecard and any other questions to [a URL, which unfortunately which appears to have been cut off by the character limit in the message]

Somebody suggested that the URL shortner redirect might be to the contact page on the House of Blueberry website, which is here: https://www.houseofblueberry.com/contact.

Okay, first, let’s deal with the practical matters in the wake of this news. Then, I’m going to pull back for a bigger picture.

If you have ever been a customer, you should go to the Blueberry store, as soon as possible, and head for the Information Wall in the front entrance to the store (exact SLURL):

The Information wall at the Blueberry store in-world

First, if you have made any purchases from Blueberry in the past, hit the Redeliver sign, follow the website link, and get redeliveries of everything you’ve bought over the years (for some of you, it’s a lot!). If the store shuts down (as is indeed possible), you will want to have backups of your purchases in your inventory, since you won’t be able to get any redeliveries.

Secondly, Blueberry has always been very generous with gifts of store credit over the past dozen years (since its founding in 2012), particularly during shopping events such as the regularly-occurring Shop and Hops. Click on the blue Check Store Credit sign to see what your current level of unspent store credit is, and spend it now.

All right, now that that’s done, let’s dig a little deeper into what’s happening here. From the long and growing discussion thread on the topic on the Second Life Community forums, started by Persephone Emerald, I will share only a few quotes:

  • “It was repeatedly reinforced by the CSR’s [customer service reps] in group chat that the store would be closing, no idea when, but if you have any store credit you should use it pretty sharpish.”
  • “The Blueberry Discord [server] seems to have disappeared too.”
  • “I don’t think it’s also been mentioned here that the group moderators said in the group that they were basically laid off, but were continuing to support users as best they could for the sake of the Blueberry customers and group members.”
  • “The store is closing in SL. The CSR’s have announced that in group and her Discord group is gone as well.”
  • “They have no more CSRs, only recently laid off employees. Those people are saying they do not know whether the store will stay or go, but they know that for now, no new releases. No support provided, buy at your own risk. Whatever was said three days ago is vague, and it still remains a mystery on what is happening with this brand.”

In fact, there was so much speculation (some quite unfounded), that Mishi posted a second message to Facebook:

I want to stress once again that this is not a goodbye.

I need a minute to reflect on the changes I want to make to the future content I want to create.

Please allow me some time to think in peace. This isn’t just a business for me, it has been my passion. This platform specifically has been my passion. The people have been my passion.

So I ask of you, please, to take my word at face value here. I don’t want to make promises to anything because I don’t know what changes I want to make as yet.

So, aside from closing the Blueberry Discord server, and letting their customer service representatives and group moderators go, we really don’t know anything at this point. We’re just going to have to wait and see. (But don’t wait if you had your eye on something in the store, or if you have unspent store credits. Do it now!)

But I now want to focus on the bigger picture here, and speculate a bit about what’s possibly happening with Blueberry. Blueberry and its owner, Mishi McDuff, started off small, as the Observer noted in its 2022 article:

Mishi McDuff, founder of House of Blueberry, or Blueberry for short, attended a 2011 virtual concert in Second Life, an online gaming platform some call the first metaverse. She had wanted to see Sean Ryan, a Texas-based singer and songwriter, perform. McDuff joined the platform for the first time and attended the concert with her starter avatar. But alongside characters dressed as fairies, warriors and supermodels, she felt out of place. For her second virtual concert, she wore a polka dot dress she created in Photoshop, and concert attendees asked to buy her design for their own avatars. 

McDuff founded Blueberry knowing Second Life users were willing to spend money on their digital identities. Its first year, Blueberry recorded $60,000 in sales according to McDuff. By 2016, its yearly revenue hit $1 million with a team of three, designing virtual clothing for Second Life.

But, like many creators who got their start in SL, Mishi started looking at creating wearables for other platforms:

Last year [2021], McDuff decided to expand the team and scale the company as interest in the metaverse swelled. It has now entered the Roblox metaverse and sold more than 20 million virtual assets total. In addition to digital clothing, their portfolio includes accessories, hair styles, pets and pet clothing.

As one person commented in the previously-mentioned Second Life community forums thread:

“Roblox revenue last year was 2.2 billion dollars. And they’re moving to more realistic avatars.”

Take a scroll through the House of Blueberry website, and it’s very clear where the emphasis is! (There is precious little mention of Second Life at all on their website!)

As one commenter stated on the SL Community Forums:

We know that there’s a massive number of daily and monthly users on ROBLOX (70.2 million daily and over 216 million monthly active users)… but according to Zepeto’s numbers, they have around 300 million users worldwide.  Go ahead and look, I did so myself.

Compare those numbers to what the daily and monthly numbers are for SL, and you’ll understand why this was more or less a business decision.

House of Blueberry was also front and centre in a mixed-success initiative called the Metaverse Fashion Week (MVFW), and last year they received some $6 million in funding for digital fashion initiatives, according to a VentureBeat article dated January 16th, 2023. (I also wrote about Blueberry’s heavy involvement in the Metaverse Fashion week in a February 2022 blogpost on my blog.)

While blockchain metaverse platforms and NFT-based avatar wearables have largely crashed and burned since their heady heyday only a few short years ago, they are far from the only game in town. Non-blockchain platforms and apps, such as Roblox, Zepeto, and Snapchat, all have far larger markets for avatar customization, and they absolutely dwarf the user base of Second Life.

And the user base for Snapchat, Roblox, and Zepeto also skews significantly younger than Second Life’s, another important consideration to anybody looking at the metaverse marketplace. While it’s true that older users tend to have more discretionary money to spend, they also—sad to say—have a tendency to grow old and even die! Second Life’s user base keeps adding just enough new people to replace those who retire (or die), but not at a rate that makes it grow significantly (pandemic bumps notwithstanding).

Also, factor in that popular avatar clothing designers in Second Life have to deal with constant changes and additions to the various brands of mesh bodies which they are often asked to make apparel for. For example, take the recent decision by Maitreya to replace its ubiquitious Maitreya Lara 5.3 mesh body with the retweaked LaraX, which is just different enough to require some rerigging work (although things like shoes and rings should still work).

It takes a lot of work to rig clothing properly for a single brand of mesh body; multiply that work by the number of mesh bodies you are being asked to support by your customers. It quickly becomes obvious that the amount of work required (rigging an article of clothing for five or six or seven or eight of the most popular brands of male and female mesh bodies), to serve a user base which has stayed pretty much the same size for the past decade, poses a rather serious workload problem.

Some stores, such as Spoiled in this image, rig for as many as nineteen or twenty mesh body variations! This is INSANITY, and yet new mesh bodies and add-ons multiply in Second Life.

So, I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest that Mishi of the House of Blueberry, and whoever is on her team, have scouted out the field, done their research, checked their spreadsheets, and decided to cut their ties to Second Life, and focus on the much more lucrative opportunity to create avatar apparel for those games and apps that boast millions of users. It just makes economic sense.

The truly worrying thought is: how many other Second Life content creators are also looking at places where the grass is greener, and are willing to jump ship? (Go ahead, call the mixed metaphor police. I dare you. 😜 )

Blueberry just might be the most public case to date, but I somehow doubt that they will be the last. And the lesson here for all metaverse platforms is: be good to your content creators, or they might desert you for better profits elsewhere! What is your platform doing to attract and keep the talent that brings in new users?

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