Saturday, February 2, 2008

Rezzable Productions: The slippery slope of turning art into a revenue stream

I don't envy RightasRain Rimbaud and his team of swashbuckling buccaneers as they seek to marry art with retail and promotion amidst Second Life's cynical winds. Still, with 30+ sims on the grid and many of the best VW content creators on its payroll, no one stands a better chance of turning art into a revenue stream than Rezzable, the largest art funding group in Second Life.

Since it exploded onto the Second Life scene at the beginning of August 2006 with the introduction of Greenies - surely the best-loved sim on the grid - Rezzables' branding has struck me as ranging from brilliant to quirky to even mildly annoying at times.

Recently though, it has had more moments of goodness than not. I must say, I'm relieved. Rather than allow themselves to be categorized and nudged into a corner everyone knows and understands (a mall, a gallery, a store, an entertainment center...), Rezzable has floated a bit, testing many different waters, thereby giving itself a broader canvas to draw on. New developments hint at a growing understanding of the motivations behind virtual consumption and, if this is true, we all stand to win in good measure. The bottom line... thanks to this company, a lot of the best things about Second Life exist... and even thrive.

Rezzable Sandboxes

While they have nothing to do with retail, Rezzables' sandboxes are venues where some of the most entertaining horseplay in my own Second Life has taken place. Friends build there and even non-Rezzable top tier content creators with access to these by-invitation-only sims simply show up to relax and hang out. For admission to this alone - and as a non-builder - I'd be willing to pay a monthly fee. *covers head with arms in anticipation of the swipes I'm gonna get for that one comment* Okay, okay... at least set out a tip jar, guys!

Some moments in Second Life are extraordinary and this was definitely one of them. A few weeks ago, Jurin Juran and I were hanging out at a Rezzable sandbox, and then Sabine Stonebender - with TXGorilla Falcone - and Betlog Hax showed up. Soon after, Flea Bussy, Madcow Cosmos and Douglas Story joined us. The rest is history... one helluva avatarathon!

Flea Bussy, who is not a Rezzable creator but had dropped in for a rare break, tells me that "this is what happens when I have a spare hour." That's an average-sized tree to one side there, to give you some idea of the scale of this thing.

... and there's the wee Flea if you look close in on that same avatar!

Rezzable Creators

Becoming a Rezzable creator shoots you up to, at the very least, minor celebrity status in Second Life. Then again, several of the builders who work for Rezzable, such as Light Waves, Pavig Lok and LittleToe Bartlett, have heavily contributed to the caché it enjoys. One thing that RightasRain Rimbaud has done especially right as Rezzable's steward is that he doesn't stifle creativity; both young and seasoned content creators appear to be given the freedom to experiment and explore new ideas.

This photo taken at the Black Swan sim by ColeMarie Soleil

I will never forget the moment I was first teleported into what Rezzable now calls Black Swan (teleport directly from here). This sim marked the official return to Second Life of Starax Statosky (now known as Light Waves), and was unquestionably one of the highlights of 2007. To Rezzable's credit, Light Waves - who could have worked with just about any company in Second Life, or enjoyed much success by coming out on his own - elected to release his creations under their label.

Pavig and LittleToe's kitchen plus Light Waves' Greenies and ballerina and birdcage instantly put Rezzable on the map...

Rezzable Promotions

So what else is Rezzable doing right that's actually going to turn a buck or two?

I thought the ginormous sculptie handbag Pavig Lok crafted for the L'Oreal promotion at Greenies Home Rezzable (teleport directly from here) was stupendous. Not only did I revisit Greenies expressly to see it, but the experience jogged my memory of a L'Oreal lipstick shade I favor. Consequence: I purchased that lipstick and also ended up buying several other L'Oreal cosmetics while at the store, including the mineral-based make-up featured in the promo.

Rezzable Collectors' Gallery - Saleable Art

Another example of how Rezzable is marching to the beat of a different drummer is the way it showcases and sells art. As far as gallery spaces go for saleable treasures, its just-opened Collectors' Gallery is the new gold standard. Tasked with creating a retail showplace for not just any art - the opening show features Light Waves' sculptures and fanciful creations for both the Greenies and Black Swan sims - Miki Gymnast designed two sweeping, undulating, exuberant spaces.

You know something special awaits you from the moment you arrive at the base.

You then teleport from here...

... to an organic form sheathed in raspberry pink glass panels, and cradled in an enormous, curvaceous aquamarine bowl. Inside, works of such beauty or whimsy: Light Waves' sculptie ballerina, the gigantic evil-eyed cat, the Lovers' Rock, the Man Angel... even Dreaming and the birdcage, which I hope to own someday. Teleport directly from here.

Rezzable Community Relations + Retail

In sharp contrast, and yet another indicator that Rezzable is becoming better attuned to what people hope to find in Second Life, is the opening of a new sim called simply The Dump. Built primarily by Paulo Cassell, with contributions by Beatrix Newt and Foolish Frost, this slightly apocalyptic, dusty industrial environment is a site where you'll find free or dirt cheap, well-made junk strewn about for the taking. It's stuff like this that breeds loyalty and prompts folks to get behind a brand.

You'll notice that the quality of the photography has suddenly soared. I turned to Second Life's exceptional photojournalist Stephen Venkman for this and the next five images. Thank you, Stephen!

In addition to junk quests, sewer jet ski races, and an industrial dance club, The Dump also offers a gladiator fighting arena. Teleport directly from here, and then touch the sword for a local teleport.

This photo by Stephen Venkman

The arena for gladiator challenges awaits you up in the sky.

This photo by Stephen Venkman

Get dressed to kill by purchasing a detailed gladiator outfit designed by rob Balder ...

This photo by Stephen Venkman

... and prepare to battle in the arena, surrounded by a fire pit.

This photo by Stephen Venkman

Call me a purist, but one thing I do object to is the use of an image of the Aztec calendar for the floor of an arena that seems otherwise Roman. It just doesn't fit, ya know?

This photo by Stephen Venkman

Rezzable Fashions

Rezzable has discovered that one way of taking a satisfying bite into the lucrative end of Second Life's marketplace is to play off of its unique sims by turning them into catwalks for fashions, accessories and avatars to match.

Just this week I attended Pits of Hell... an intimate, yet dramatic preview produced by Emee Flanagan of Timeless Modeling Agency featuring Rezzable's fashions for Crimson Shadow (teleport directly from here), and Carnival of Doom (teleport directly from here). One designer whose work I cannot get enough of is Moxie Polano. I was also happy to see that Rezzable is moving away from ultra premium pricing.

Moxie's wedding dress is a royal gown and cape, accessorized with a top hat (there are several colors and designs to choose from). I'm told she is working on a new store line, under the label Haute Style & Co, and while she does not have a store, she does work under her own label TAILOR MADE for custom designs. It's PIRL but it works.

These extraordinary sculptie wings - called Shattered Seraph - are available in five different styles, spread wide while flying and also feature blood particle effects and bits and pieces of Gothic prose when touched. They are by Kaeli Candour, and Kaeli's own shop is called Fractured Psyche. The little red and white number - called Blood Bigtop Tutu and Lingerie is by Allegory Malaprop, and I want it NOW. Allegory's own shop is called Schadenfreud.

Rezzable Productions has had its missteps and generated head scratching moments along the way. Some creators have been more than irked by its requirement that their creations be handed over with full perms, but this is understandable when you consider the sheer number of people involved in the process of bringing those items to market. Others have shared that they were offended by the pay they were offered for what turns out to be many hours of hard and experienced work, and this raises other questions that are best dealt with in another blogpost, but can be summarized by simply pointing to other exceptionally talented creators, such as Aley Arai, who flatly refuse to accept payment for anything they do, and set many if not most of their creations to full perm. It's a mixed bag out there and the waters are muddy, indeed.

Making a brand a lasting and prosperous success is no mean feat, but building loyalty is even harder, and in this area, Rezzable appears to have already won the game.


dyerbrookME said...

Not surprisingly, I disagree with much of what you're saying here.

I don't see that Rezzable -- despite all the ballyhoo -- has found some bright new way of monetarizing "art" online.

In real life, art is sold because of three factors: a) uniqueness, original, not copied, or made in limited edition b) talent, as defined by art critics and the buyers and to some extent the general public; c) legends created around artists by art dealers and the media.

This entire blog is all about c), trying to make it seem as if there is a certain "cachet" about even being able to enter the Rezzable sims and rub shoulders with those in the Rezzable stable.

But in real life, the Bohemia neighbourhoods that artists create succeed to the extent that they can remain open, not closed, and admit non-artists, in the form of critics, journalists, professionals from other walks of life. Artists' schools can be exclusive in identifying like-minded members, but they don't live in walled gardens, socializing in closed cafes, etc. SL gated communities like this on private islands are the opposite of what RL creativity generates.

a) is hard to create in SL, a world where basically anything you can see can be copied, if no other way then by a screenshot, and unfortunately experience has shown us that even expensive lawsuits generate something like $500 for the plaintiff.

And b) is really not there yet, as there isn't a credible and independent art press or even general press, it is all pretty much corporate-controlled.

SL is a brutal task master. There are 2 ways of making money off a sim: rentals/land sales and content sales.

Charging admission, hoping for tip-jars to cover it -- these just don't work in a world where people fly in, and if they find red bars or a payment to make, fly out.

Product placement is not going to work on a scale large enough, and measurable enough, to monetarize a sim. People don't want branding pushed in their faces.

So I fail to see how this is going to work. I understand a relatively small investment has been made (in the scheme of corporate investments in SL) and that the yield might be rendered in various intangibles, but at the end of the day, this latter-day Medici has to find a way to pay the builds. Unless they plan corporate retreats or events that cost money to sign up for on closed sims, I can't fathom what else they can do -- except hope that a lot of expensive Starax sculptures sold could at least pay tier. Starax himself might begin to wonder why he couldn't sell them himself.

Prokofy Neva

Bettina Tizzy said...

Dear Ms. Neva:

What a sad little world Second Life would be... What a sad little world Real Life would be, if what you have said here were true, and all were reduced to a purely mercantile vision along the lines of Walmart. If this were so, then how can you explain away the likes of Venice, Italy?

Eidur said...

Very interesting post and comment as well. I think that the truth lies somewhere in the middle... Anyway, slightly off topic... Venice, Italy is not the best example because the beautyness of the place is a *direct* effect of what we can call an "enlightened" (yet pure) mercantile vision...

"...Situated on the Adriatic Sea, Venice traded with the Byzantine Empire and the Muslim world extensively. During the late thirteenth century, Venice was the most prosperous city in all of Europe. At the peak of its power and wealth, it had 36,000 sailors operating 3,300 ships, dominating Mediterranean commerce. During this time, Venice's leading families vied with each other to build the grandest palaces and support the work of the greatest and most talented artists..."

you can read the entire story here...

Bettina Tizzy said...

Ah, no Eidur, that's not what I meant. The fact is, Rezzable is creating Venices on the grid now. There's no vieing amongst families on the Rezzable sims.

Venice, Italy was made possible because of the spice trade. All of those ships and merchandise made some families very wealthy and they, in turn became art patrons, and all of this coincided with the birth of the Renaissance, when arts and culture flourished after the Middle Ages.

As a counter, you might have pointed to the fact that despite its beauty and importance as a cultural center that draws tourism, its success at drawing huge numbers of people might crush it in the end, as was reviewed in a recent TED document:

dyerbrookME said...

Bettina, it's *Mr.* Neva. And don't be silly. Who said anything about Wal-Mart? I guess this is just the usual knee-jerk reaction, "Oh, an American disagrees with me, so I have to pin Wal-Mart on them?!*

Constating the hard economic facts of SL isn't the same thing as somehow endorsing "a sad little world" with only mass taste (a sad *big* world, perhaps*.

But a real sad little world is one in which artists are not paid their worth. Try to think of where support comes from. From the government, foundations, donors, corporations -- you may not like some of these sources, but they *are* what supports the arts. If commerce itself doesn't, then patrons must be found, and these patrons make their money somehow. That might be distasteful to you, all that evil enterprise, but it's what sustains the arts.

Sure, some people work for free, give for free, but it doesn't get the bills paid. Your friend RightasRain is not going to be here forever just giving his money away. He has to find some way to get return on investment, he is not a philanthropist. Nor are you.

Venice, or any beautiful place of Italy or Renaissance could come about because of *gasp* the Church serving as a patron of the arts (imagine! contrary to your beliefs utterly!) or *gasp* a mercantile family fully engaged in trade and having wealth to give away as the patron of the arts, like the Medicis.

Mercantilism precedes the flowering of the arts you point to -- you cannot have one without the other.


Eidur said...

Being italian, and passionate about the history of my country (not so difficult seeing how much we should learn from our better past-times), I can only agree with *Mr* Neva about "Venice or any beautiful place of Italy...".
And yes, everyone knows (or hopes) that Rezzable has a plan (that's not necessarily a bad thing) somewhere to make its investment worthwile.
Rezzable guys are pioneers of a new may to do marketing maybe, but it's always ermmm "marketing" at the end of the day.
It's just how life (markets) goes, there's nothing wrong about that.

Anonymous said...

yes. venice was port city. that meant commerce.

art, paid for by a patron-medicis is fine but hard to find.

products, paid for by customers are reality.

people pay for a value. be it virtual or real objects....

and as for "art" vs "product" thats only a matter of intent by the creator, and value level assigned by the other.

Anonymous said...

I think Prokofy is quite right with his ABC. Sometimes you can even substitute "In real life, art is sold because of three factors" with "In real life, art is defined by three factors" ;) which i can validate concerning the Duesseldorf art scene. It is all about the buddy bizz- which is not a bad thing by definition. But indeed Prok´s wordings are sometimes a bit offending but nevertheless true- depending on which perspective the reader has been adopted. The NPIRL driven hype concerning Rezzable can actually be a bit annoying and by all means bring up associativities from the animal kingdom. Sorry for that. (And sorry for bad english just in case)

Michael, rezzable fan

Prokofy said...

Bettina should revisit this post and think about how absurd it all was for her to make the giddy claims she did.

One thing in particular stands out here: "One thing that RightasRain Rimbaud has done especially right as Rezzable's steward is that he doesn't stifle creativity;"

Huh? As if there are stewards that stifle creativity?! I've never seen that, in a world where with a free account, you can freely create on free sandboxes if you are too cheap to buy your own land or mooch off a friend. No stifling whatsoever, geez.