Thursday, August 20, 2009

On Money for Nerdiness

Last week Lette Ponnier and Lotus Ceriano most-or-less simultaneously posted items about money and the Second Life trivia community—you can see Lette's post at VirtualTrivia and Lotus's at Lotus-Pocus…Lotus has also since followed up with an item on non-monetary motivations for playing SL trivia. Active participants in the Second Life trivia community have offered their perspectives in the posts' comments, and if you're curious about trivia in Second Life you could do worse than seeing what some of the best and brightest have to say about it.

I kept meaning to add my two-cents' worth, but now the moment of opportunity has kinda passed, so…I'm just writing my own thing here. I realize this post will bore the non-trivia-people out there…and even the trivia people. But boring people to snoozery is kinda the leitmotif of my virtual life, and I have my reputation to consider!

Where Lou's Coming From

Unlike most people, I got into Second Life for the trivia—my other interests developed later. As I noted early in this blog, I play pub quiz in real life, but got oh-so-very-tired-and-or-frustrated with it: cheaters are a problem, but mainly the novelty wore off, the smell of bar grease never washed out of my clothes, and I just didn't enjoy the scene anymore. A real-life friend suggested there were a handful of quality trivia games in Second Life, and since signing up was free, I decided to give it a whirl.

When I started SL, I only had a vague notion the Linden Dollar was connected to real-world money. When I found my first trivia game—I think it might have been at the Chili Pot?—I won $85 Linden and I was completely stunned. I immediately offered to take an SL friend on a shopping spree…and got my first rude awakening about the Second Life economy: $85L equated to about a quarter dollar (Canadian), and wouldn't buy much.

I started attending trivia events like Lebn & Preston's Barefoot game on Sundays (which I have always adored for its atmosphere and "intellectual" bent), Double Standards, Chadd & Shale's Zoo La La games, and I eventually made some acquaintances in the SL trivia community. But my Second Life trivia world was kinda turned upside down when Thornton Writer clued me in to Marine Park—and held my hand through a few games there. Marine Park was the Second Life trivia game with the highest per-question payouts—I suppose it still is—and operates in its own island universe isolated from the Second Life trivia scene. Marine Park was my second rude awakening to the Second Life economy. I remember the first time I played there my hands were shaking: it seemed all those Internet rumours about being able to make free money in Second Life were true! I quickly worked out that if a good player were reasonably diligent about Marine Park, pocketing $50 a week (Canadian) or more wasn't out of the question.

I continued to attend other trivia games regularly, but for a while I was a bit hooked on Marine Park: the high payouts attract serious competition, and I was thrilled to be winning vaguely real money. But I just have a "basic" Second Life account, and I haven't hooked it up to PayPal or a bank account or a credit card, so I can't convert money out of Second Life and use it in the real world. I put a little Marine Park money towards my virtual wardrobe, but I don't seem to have a knack or taste for virtual fashion (I didn't play Barbies as a kid, either!) and I find the Second Life shopping experience deeply frustrating. I don't own or rent virtual land and my other expenses are low, so Lindens began piling up. I felt guilty about the money I was winning, and routinely tipped back half or more of what I won, and donated most of the rest to in-world charities like the American Cancer Society. And, sincerely, that last part felt wonderful.

I probably could have continued in that vein for a while—pushing money to charities helped me tolerate the Marine Park régime—but I was banned about six months ago. That forced me to re-evaluate why I was in Second Life—as Chaddington Boomhauer put it, "now you've got two hours to do something fun." So I did. I still did trivia, but since I play music in real life I began checking out some of Second Life's live music scene—and was pleased to discover some talented performers in SL. I did more exploring and found some great builds. I helped out more at infohubs and hopefully got a few people started in SL. I got less lackadaisical about griefers. And—this was probably the biggest change—I took on some clients in Second Life, doing bits of scripting and Web development for SL businesses and organizations, for which I get paid in Lindens.

This last point is important, because it means I'm no longer dependent on trivia winnings to fund my "Second Lifestyle." My SL expenses are still low, so I still push Lindens to charities, although the income also lets me run my own trivia game at [MonoChrome], which—though a bit stressful, is a tremendous amount of fun and (I hope!) contributes something positive back to the trivia community and Second Life in general. But it does mean I have projects and deadlines and clients now, which sometimes makes Second Life is a little less like fun and a little more like work. It also means I have less free time in Second Life, so I'm more selective about what I do and what events I attend.

I haven't done any math to back this up, but my sense right now is that I break about even in day-to-day Second Life trivia: sometimes I pay more Lindens than I win, sometimes I walk away with some Lindens. I don't intend to worry about it much unless I get a sense something has changed significantly one way or the other.

Where Lou's At

So, with all that long-winded context about my Second Life trivia life, I'm doing to bring this back around to points brought up in Lette's and Lotus's blog posts, and along with some observations of my own.

The Nature of SL Trivia

Second Life is many things, but I feel it's a kinda crappy platform for trivia games. As other players have lamented, most open chat Second Life trivia games—mine included, sadly—are little more than speed contests, with winnings going to the fastest typist—or the least lagged, anyway.

This doesn't mean open chat games aren't enjoyable, but it does mean I mainly attend to have fun rather than compete. Speed isn't my thing, and I don't want to get all bunged-up over a couple of pennies. The only game I where I try to light up is the monthly Buccaneer Bowl—and with the high level of competition there, I barely register on the radar. If I somehow find myself dominating a game, I'll typically sit on my hands for a while, particularly if there are "civilians" playing—I don't need an ego boost (I have a blog for that, after all!), and it's more important that other people had fun at trivia than it is for me win. So says the girl who helped coin "plinking." Sigh.

Some SL trivia games try to work around the speed problem: some award prizes for the first two or three answers—Thornton has an interesting twist called the "caboose" where he offers a prize for the last correct answer that beats a buzzer—and some use a random selection mechanism where only one person can answer at a time. Like open chat trivia, all these game formats have their advantages and drawbacks. I'd love to see a competitive, accessible game format that gets around the speed-contest problem, but I know that if all the creative folks in SL haven't come up with anything better than open chat, the odds of my pulling a solution out of my tiny pixellated butt are kinda slim.


As a player: Initially, I was funding my Second Life activities based solely on trivia winnings, so I preferred games with higher prize amounts and multiple prizes per question. These days, I pick events solely on the basis of how much I enjoy being there—sometimes that's the regular crowd or vibe, sometimes that's quality of the questions; ideally, it's both. As a player, I eventually realized prize amounts are more than a way to attract a crowd: they engage players and introduce some tension. If players are at an event just to hang out, $10L or $5L or $1L will do the job; if players are there to compete, higher prizes serve to draw good players and raise the level of competition—but those players only come back if the game is both intelligent and fair. I most enjoy well-written, engaging trivia with smart people, and that tends to mean I still gravitate to the higher-payout events, even though I can't keep up with top players.

I prefer games that handle prizes on a per-question basis or (perhaps) over a short series of questions, because I often can't attend entire events. Right now the only exception I'll make is for the Buccaneer Bowl. For regular games, I think it's important players be able to come and go without penalty.

Non-monetary prizes: Some hosts and events have special awards—some take the form of items or gift certificates from sponsors, others are kind of like "achievements," such as Lotus's challenge T-shirts or the monthly Buccaneer Bowl championship. I freely admit I'd someday like to wear a Buccaneer Bowl champ tag or run a category at Lebn's game, but they aren't motivators for me. To the extent these are neat ideas for bringing people into games and maybe make things more interesting for some players, I say "Bravo!" However, it's a fine line between creating community and putting out an exclusionary vibe, and I'd be wary of anything that makes SL trivia seem more cliquish.

As a host: I've deliberately set the prizes for my own trivia game a bit above the $20–25L paid at a typical open-chat live-host trivia game. My main motivation there is the "focus factor" a reasonable prize adds to the game, but, let's face it: as a host I only have three things going for me—a smart mouth, hopefully decent questions, and Lindens. I don't dance, I'm not a fashionplate, I don't DJ, I don't have any cool cred in Second Life. I'm hoping the prize Lindens help make up for my deficiencies. However, the prize money at my game is far overshadowed by prize amounts at other well-attended games on the same day. I've also set my prizes kinda high to help distinguish my game from Skygirl Kline's established $7L(?)-per-question event at Envy's Pub, with which my game regretably conflicts. (Sadly, my event timing has everything to do with my RL logistics, rather than any intention to interfere with Skygirl's event. I just couldn't find another workable time.)


Tipping hosts: I don't believe my tipping practices are typical, and would not hold them out as a model for other players to emulate. If I'm at an event for a while, I typically tip $100L or half of what I've won, whichever is greater. If I wasn't at an event very long, usually tip back anything I won. I preferentially tip hosts directly via any formal tip box they have set up: sometimes that goes to a venue owner, and I have to assume the hosts are OK with that. Sometimes I screw up and don't tip enough; sometimes I tip substantially more. I am fraught with inconsistency.

New players often ask me about tipping etiquette; I usually tell them it's polite to tip back a portion of anything they've won, but no one is going to get on their case about it. If pressed, I'll recommend folks consider tipping back 15–20% of their winnings.

Tipping venues: With trivia, I generally don't tip venues directly, although I realize they sometimes have event-related costs like music streams or prize balls in addition to rent/tier. I will tip if I feel they've gone out of their way or done something extraordinary. In some cases I'll split my typical tip amount 50/50 between a host and a venue.

Tipping DJs: I'm pretty sure SL DJs at trivia events hate me. I often access SL from locations where music would disturb other people and where headphones/earbuds are impractical, so I usually don't have any audio running on my computer. More significantly, I don't enjoy music in the background: if I have music on, as a real-life musician I'm almost certainly giving it a lot of attention. So I usually don't tip DJs, or even realize they're at an event. That's not to say I never tap into a stream: sometimes I can, sometimes I do, and sometimes it's fun. If I tune in for more than a few seconds, I will tip. I have, however, left events because of annoying music streams.

I tip generously at live music events I enjoy.

Tipping "staff:" I used to tip the innumerable Marine Park staff, even though I had no sense what they were doing most of the time. However, in general I don't tip a venue's "staff" unless they do something exceptional, although I'll consider tipping the venue. I'm very unlikely to attend events that attempt to combine trivia with, say, strippers or "dancers" working for tips. Not interested.

As a host: I set out a tip box at my games, but it's low-key and I deliberately avoid mentioning it. I run my game out of my own pocket as a way to give something back to the SL trivia community; it's not a money-making endeavor.

Hosting Trivia

I only have a few months' experience as a trivia host, and don't own or operate my own venue, so I can't offer much perspective on why landowners and others host trivia events. However, I think I can say hosting trivia does not create a direct revenue stream for venues. Some venues may derive some indirect revenue from avatar traffic—and, which, in turn, may boost the venue's rankings in Second Life's search feature or bring customers and renters to stores and parcels. However, it seems more common that venues host trivia events simply because they think it's fun thing to do. Some places hold a game or two and never do it again, so I suppose it's not everyone's cup of tea.

Similarly, I don't think most trivia hosts are in it for the money. I understand some venues put up some Lindens to fund trivia prizes and pay hosts, but I doubt anybody is getting rich hosting trivia. If they are…great! More power to 'em!

Where does all the money come from? To an extent, I think the few dozen "trivia regulars" kind of swap around the same money: Lindens I win at one game turn into my tip at the next one…lather, rinse, repeat. Some of the money in the Second Life trivia universe unquestionably trickles down from the high-payout games at Marine Park and (to a lesser extent) the numerous other hosts who fund their games with their own money. I think much of the rest comes from the same people who pay money to own land in Second Life: after all, to be a landowner requires a premium account which runs about $11/month Canadian. Once you're paying $11 to Linden Lab every month (plus more if you own more than 512m² of land), buying another $10 worth of Lindens doesn't seem like a very big expense—that's about $2,200L, or basically enough to fund my game for two weeks. I don't think twice about giving $10 to one of my friends in RL to buy lunch or whatever; I wouldn't think twice about spending it to have a bunch of friends over for a trivia game either.

OK, That's Enough

Bah. Sorry to have prattled on so long.


  1. That's a very thoughtful post Lou. I must be one of many people who has thought hard about trying to remove the speed typing element from most SL trivia, and has found the solutions unsatisfactory for one reason or another. For me most of the alternatives founder on the rock of Google, and if you give people time to answer, someone's likely to Google it.

    Oh, and whenever I go to events, I know the presence of certain people means the competition is going to be tough. Everyone knows you are one of the best trivia players in SL, Lou.

  2. Thanks for the deep thoughts, Lou. I've not even finished reading the whole thing (I promise to, 'tho!)

    And Lotus is correct: you're good at trivia, and seem to have interesting experiences in SL to be discussing.

    I somewhat enjoyed the format at one now-defunct venue [old-timer's disease means I cannot remember the game, nor the venue, nor the host!] After asking a question, the only speed aspect required was clicking on a box at the venue. The host selected a respondent at random amongst those clicking. A correct answer wins, an incorrect answer means another respondent is selected. This avoids the speed-typing. It does NOT avoid the Google/Yahoo problem (although putting on some time limits/buzzer may mean that only the second respondent can get to it.)

  3. Lotus: I still have hopes of doing something about the speed problem without running a Googling for Lindens event. Haven't put enough brain-cycles towards it yet.

    Nia: I think the game you're referring to was (is?) run at a newbie-friendly place called The Shelter? I stumbled across the game once when I was very new—you're exactly right; if the first person didn't get it right, the second had had more than enough time to Google. Plus, the game drags for anyone who didn't buzz in, or who isn't lucky enough to be chosen.

    I might be good at trivia, but you're both smarter, more well-rounded, and nicer than me. :)


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