Saturday, May 26, 2012

Molly Montale Talks About The Suburb Sims : Blumfield,West Haven & The Shermervilles

By Luc Fray

Saturday, May 26th 2012

"History is but the nail on which the picture hangs"
- Alexandre Dumas, Catherine Howard

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to talk to one of Second Life™ 's longest playing residents, Molly Montale.

Molly Montale

Montale had joined the game since 2005 after seeing an article about it in New York Times™. Though not as active now as she was before,mostly because of health problems, Montale still granted me the time of the day when she had agreed to talk regarding one of Second Life's biggest issue back when the game first started standing up on wobbly legs.

Montale confessed that, although she had played Sims 2™, she had not really had a great deal of knowledge regarding virtual worlds. Her curiosity was peaked, however, when she watched a Second Life trailer regarding solitary individual snowmobiling. She decided to give SL™ a try and created an account on the 1st of November of 2005.
Back then, she narrated, every new resident arrives at Ahern Welcome Area after leaving Orientation Island. After popping up in the middle of a dozen chatting avatars, she found it highly unexpected and quite surprising. She felt lost and a little more than out of place in the sea of strangers, and by the time she logged out of the game, she was unsure if Second Life really was for her.

She did continue to log in-game over the next few weeks just listening to people talk at the welcome area.Though she'd come and join events that could be found from searching in the game's built-in search bar, Montale was beginning to think that Second Life was something not for her. Her hopes rose though when she read on the blog about this new sim called Blumfield.
It was laid out like a small suburban community with streets and eighty 512 square meter lots with prefab houses.
Montale soon learned that Second Life began to be a "free-to-play" game a couple of months before she had joined. Before that, Linden Labs charged a monthly fee to access Second Life. The total number of residents that had SL accounts were about 33,000 when she had gotten into the virtual world, and around two to three thousand avatars would login-world at any given time.
"I had arrived in SL as part of the first big wave of growth for SL. The grid was around 1,000 sims and nearly all were the Linden owned mainland," Montale shared.

Picture of the BLUMFIELD sim

Montale also added that the mainland at that time seemed to be "a sprawl of haphazardly placed casinos,strip clubs and big box malls and dance clubs. Blumfield stood in stark contrast to what I had been seeing."
After that, Montale received an email from Lauren Linden inviting her to claim a house and lot in Blumfield.
The Lindens were a trying out an experiment to lure new residents to become premium even if the game was free to play.
Blumfield had something different from other sims that only comes with becoming a paying resident. However, owning a spot in the area was by invitation only. Grabbing that chance, Montale went premium on the 21st of November. She was excited about having her own little house and claiming her 512 lot, and it made a 180-degree turn of her original idea of leaving the game.
For the next couple of weeks, about 60 other residents claimed their lots in Blumfield. Each of them were new and had joined SL around the same time. They were trying to learn about this new experience with much enthusiasm, figuring out what to do with only 117 available prims. Patch Lamington, one of the new residents, began a Blumfield group and a small community quickly formed among themselves.

A month after that event, West Haven appeared. It was a copy of Blumfield and operated the same way the first sim did. Randomly selected residents were offered lots there if they become premium residents. "A friend of mine lost her waterfront view when West Haven suddenly appeared. Terraforming was turned off on these suburban sims.
Our only other restriction was that we could not list our new parcel for sale for four months.
We met with Pathfinder Linden a couple of times to see if our two new sims could have a covenant like Brown and Boardman had. We wanted to protect the residential quality of the two sims."

Picture of WEST HAVEN sim

During that time, there was no point-to-point teleporting. Each sim had a little Linden telehub that they can use to go to other places. Theirs was located in Fuchsia to their southeast. Games 1 was on their eastern borders.
Linden Lab™held contests to develop games for Second Life. The prize for winning was that the winning group would have Games1 sim for one year.Montale's parcel was immediately next to Games1. Accordingly, Max Case 's tower was just across the line from her place. It was said to be the tallest structure in the virtual world that time.
Also in the Games1 sim was The Black Library that sponsored a literary group. "Max built a wall complete with barbed wire along the sim border to keep the 'mundane, noob suburbanites' out of the rest of the mainland." The place was patrolled by teddy bear guards.

Montale went on to say that she had met Philip Linden one evening while she was standing inside her little house. He had went to come see the sim and, while in the process of doing that, asked her a few questions about the Blumfield promotional experiment.
Montale verbalized to him that she thought Blumfield promotion was a success and that she was very happy with West Haven and Blumfield.
He thanked her and disappeared.

Not long after that, a month later,Shermerville was announced.
"Nine sims patterned after Blumfield were to arrive off of the mainland. Perhaps the idea was to offer some privacy. One sim would have a central park complete with a sandbox area.
The Shermerville promotion would be slightly different.The invited noobs could claim a free 512 lot and house. They would have four weeks to decide if they enjoyed having a house before they would need to go premium in order to keep their lot. The nine sims quickly filled up."
However, the Shermerville promotions didn't have the same welcome from the residents as the Blumfield and West Haven ones. Most people did not become premium to keep their parcels.The sims become very empty. The remaining residents folded into the central park and one other of the Shermerville sims. The other seven sims vanished.
Violet took the place next door to the east whenGames1 was closed. The Shermerville sims moved off of the mainland and next to Blumfield and West Haven, and Violet and Fuchsia were moved.
It was then that Michael Linden built the bridge connecting Shermerville with Nova Albion.



In early February 2006, a mysterious sim named Blumfield2 suddenly appeared off of the mainland. It was another copy of Blumfield. No announcement was ever made of it, and the sim also dropped out of sight after about one week.

The first few months in the sim,according to Montale, were very fun. It wasn't difficult and surprising to have a tight knit community quickly formed. Ahern was just nearby and still the only arrival point for new residents. Visitors coming into the sim were nothing surprising.

"In July of 2006, 14 of us from West Haven and Blumfield decided to buy our own private sim. The community moved off of the mainland. Only three of us from that group of 14 still have our original lots in Blumfield.
Blumfield and West Haven haven't been the same since then. They are now just a sleepy,bedroom community across from Nova Albion," Montale commented.

Up to the present, Linden Labs is still experimenting with ways to attract and retain new residents and to develop communities. The four "city" sims of Nova Albion had been built prior to Blumfield. Since Blumfield and the other three suburban sims, Linden Lab has developed Bay City, Nautilus, and the Linden Homes sims.

Initially, there had been a lot of heated debates on the forum, in blogs, and in-world about whether or not Linden Labs unfairly competed with residents in content creation and land with the emergence of this issue. Some felt it was contrary to the idea of Your World. Your Imagination. You be the judge of it.
But as part of Second Life's history, let us remember Thomas Jefferson's wise words "I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past."

TY for reading my article and a special thanks to Molly Montale for her time and words that made this article possible. My name is Luc Fray, reporting for OI Magazine.