Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Home Is Where Your Trivia Is

So, in case anyone was wondering what's happened with Lou's Clues, I've decided its new "permanent" home will be my own little flying island. It's not a big place, but we seem to be able to pack in the avatars, and—despite being mainland—lag has not been a serious impediment.

Lou's Clues at the flying island (Image by Cygnoir Blanc)

With the closing of [MonoChrome], my Lou's Clues trivia game faced a bit of a crisis. Do I continue doing the game? If so, do I shop around for a new place to host the game, or take things into my own hands and…open up my own trivia venue? Or maybe some other path would be better?

When Sinnamon Sands and Jez Oh formally announced [MonoChrome]'s pending closure, something extremely flattering happened: virtually all the major "trivia venues" in Second Life contacted me, offering their locations as a home for Lou's Clues if I needed it. Sure, there's a tiny bit of self-interest in offers like that—those venues would get "traffic" from anyone attending Lou's Clues, exposure and promotion for their venue and other events, and probably small amount of tip income from players to support the venue. However, those offers are more a reflection of the supportive nature of the trivia community in Second Life: we might not all get along all the time, but the consistent bottom line is that we always try to support each other where and when we can, and I was extremely touched by the support everyone offered me.

[MonoChrome]'s closure brought home to me the weakness of running an event at someone else's venue: it can literally disappear out from under your feet. Although Jez & Sinn handled MoChro's closure with class and plenty of warning, a number of Second Life trivia venues have come and gone—some with more warning than others. Places like Lilly's Pub and Trivy Isle (née Double Standards) used to be centers of my SL trivia universe; places like EyeQ came and went rather quickly, and I've watched hosts shift their games between a number of venues as opportunities and sponsors appear and dry up: one of my favorite games is, I think, on its fourth or fifth location. Even the venerable Marine Park is no more—and I'm sure its disappearance of its high payouts has had a trickle-down effect on the rest of the SL trivia community.

Thinking about possible futures for Lou's Clues, I bounced around a few ideas: maybe it would make sense to keep Lou's Clues "homeless" and move it between different venues every month or so? I pitched the idea around as "residencies," where I would run games at a venue until the monthly Buccaneer Bowl team-based trivia game happened, then use that "off week" to transition to a new location. However, talking with folks, it became clear the idea of a traveling game basically amounted to a complicated effort so I could avoid having to say "no" to anyone. Constantly coordinating moves to new venues (including negotiating SL's ever-more complicated group, rezzing, and event-posting permissions) would consume even more of my time and be complicated for venue operators—they would basically have to go to the same effort to support Lou's Clues as they would for a regular standing game, for a tiny fraction of the benefit. Plus, a traveling game would be problematic for players, who are used to particular games being at particular locations: many arrive at game by way of fixed landmarks that point to a particular location in SL's virtual landscape, not to a particular event. Plus, a moving game is far more likely to be scuttled by a snafu: can't get group permissions sorted out? A simple missed checkbox in a parcel or group settings would mean I couldn't rez the LouTron, post an event, or (in a worst-case scenario) even get to the venue!

So, I decided to emulate Lebn Bucyk's approach with Barefoot trivia—which is, probably not coincidentally, one of the longest-running trivia games in Second Life. Lebn & Preston have always hosted their own game on their own land. Barefoot hasn't always been on their park in Jeongam (lag drove them to a garden at their "home" in another sim for a while), but the principle is the same: they don't run a "venue"—they just invite friends over to their place to play trivia. As a result, they control their own destiny: no one is going to pull the pixels out from under their feet because…well, Lebn & Preston control the pixels.

I decided a similar approach made sense for Lou's Clues, and would have the added benefit of being simpler for me than working with a trivia venue. I wouldn't have to concern myself with coordinating schedules around other hosts or events, nor would I have to promote other events or deal with shifting designs, layouts, and decor. Doing things myself also meant I would have full control of things like music streams, nearby scripted objects, and…well, ambiance. And I hesitate to bring up aesthetics at all because I happen to like all the trivia venues where I currently play, and my own ability virtually decorate is pretty limited. But, at least, if other people find a location isn't to their taste, it falls on me.

So, for the last few weeks I've been holding Lou's Clues at my "home," a small 1024m² parcel on the mainland's northern continent. Since it's mainland, I was concerned lag would be a serious issue, but we've since packed a couple dozen people on the parcel with minimal lag, so I'm optimistic continuing to host there will be practical. And, honestly, it feels right to host Lou's Clue on my own parcel. I've been there over a year now! Although my homebrew flying island hasn't exactly been a secret, darn it, it's about time to invite people over!

Since some people have asked: yes, I briefly considered putting an end to Lou's Clues. Although it's common knowledge amongst trivia hosts, writing a decent trivia game takes quite a lot of time and effort, and these days we all fund them out of pocket: nobody is getting rich as a trivia host. It might only take me a leisurely hour and a half to roll through a couple dozen questions during a game, but those typically represent three to sometimes eight hours of work. (Sometimes it's easy to come up with good questions, but sometimes it's like wringing blood from a stone.) Plus there's time to post event notices, produce material for picture questions or any other special elements (I'm crap with graphics, so this takes me much longer than it ought), plus coordinate any extras or announcements that might go along with a particular game—maybe a game is themed, promoting a particular event or charity, or needs special props or tools.

However, Lou's Clues has always been my way to give something back to the Second Life trivia community. Although I build and script, go to music shows, and still do a bit of exploring and simple hanging out, it's no exaggeration to say that probably half my time in SL is focused on trivia and the friends I've made through playing and hosting. As long as I'm still playing, I'll keep hosting.

So. I hope you'll turn up at the flying island one weekend. Check events for "Lou's Clues."

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