Tuesday, January 20, 2009

More than skin deep?

Although I do not make my living in SL as a skin designer I found myself having a guttural reaction while reading Nexeus Fatale’s post “Frustrations of an Ethnic Avatar in Second Life”. It was the same type of reaction I had over a year ago when I read parts of Mean Girls Orchard’s post “SL Racism”. In her post she states that, “…content creation isn't about creativity at all - its about money. Content creators don't make things that make them happy .. they make things that the droning masses will buy. Sally Skinmaker doesn't care what color you WANT to be…” dragging skin makers in to her arguments about SL Racism and disappointment in skin options in general. 

While Nexeus does not claim racism specifically he does claim ignorance in general and believes that “…designers need to re-evaluate what they have and work on creating more items and content that is more diverse and of equal quality or don’t do it at all…” To me that feels pretty harsh considering how much work goes into a single skin. 

The biggest issue with skins and skin makers are the economies of scale. SL gives skin designers a single layer in order to all of their work. In the case of a men’s skin offering 4 facial hair and 4 skull hair styles making 16 variations for a single shade skin. If you doubled the number of facial and skull hair styles suddenly you are at 64 skin variations to be uploaded, photographed, and packaged and rezzed out, for one shade of skin. It’s the same issue women have finding a skin with makeup options they like. Until the lindens give us multiple skin layers this issue stays. Then there is the issue of vertical markets. What are you going to go after in SL? Nekos? Furries? Elfs? Demons? Vampires? Zombies? Cybogs? The SL rainbow does not begin and end with earthly humans and no designer can do it all. So choices are made limiting the options offered. 

Now are skin designers missing out on untapped vertical markets out there like targeting more specific human races and even combinations of these races? There is much talk about how glutted the SL skin marketplace is. There may be a huge market advantage to a skin designer to come up with very specific racial skins. Not just to cater to that specific race wanting to look like themselves in SL, but to cater to those that would like to Role Play as that race. 

So what is the solution here? I’m not going to suggest that anyone that can’t find what they want needs to just “make it themselves”.  Try and work with skin makers rather than just be frustrated with them. Many designers are having a hard time of it with the global recession and may be open to detailed and specific suggestions, rather than just a short list of actors, of how they can make designs to more specific tastes. Let them know that there is a market out there that is clamoring for more than what is available and show them that it will be worth the effort to go in a direction they may have never considered. 

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