SL’s pioneering RL millionaire gets personal!
In January, we delved into the business mind of this magnetic man who was the second person ever to make a million dollars (USD) from his Second Life sales. In this second half of our interview with Stroker Serpentine, creator of the SexGen sex pose ball and sex bed system, we take a look way back into his start, learn a little more about his thoughts on business and SL – then, we get to dive more into the personal side that lives behind the monitor. Love him or hate him, he is a huge footnote in the history of this exciting platform we call Virtual Reality or … Second Life.
NVM: What was the first thing you did or discovered the first time you came into Second Life (SL) all those years ago?
STROKER: The Matrix franchise was very popular back then and everybody had a black leather duster, Neo shades and wings … wings were cool! SL was the only platform I was ever able to fly in so we flew everywhere. Actually, it was the popularity of Matrix that helped me launch my first business in SL – sunglasses.
NVM: Wow, that’s a very different start than I would have expected, so tell us Stroker, how did you get from sunglasses to sex toys and what brought up the idea for the toys?
STROKER: It all started with a hunt for a plot of land. We all liked this one sim that was administered by Linden Labs (LL) and at the time, was the only full damage sim. I bought this small plot of land right next to a sex club run by Big J. John. He had posters on the wall of naked avatars in various stages of sex and I was curious as to how he did it. He shared with me this scripted cube that went opaque when you sat upon it, freezing your avatar in a static pose provided by LL at the time. At that point, he told me, the avatars became mannequins and he’d move them into position for the photograph. It’s important to remember that, back then, animations did not exist in Second Life (SL).
I remember thinking to myself that this was reminiscent of the adult platform, Seducity that we’d migrated from. They had pose “hearts” with 4 or 5 sexual positions that you kept in your pocket (a.k.a. inventory) to rezz when the time was right. It wasn’t as “exciting” as it was in SL though as this world was 2D, which meant you could only look at it from the one angle … there was no such thing as panning or zooming to see all the interesting angles.
I got the idea that we needed to combine Big John’s static cube with something similar to what we had in Seducity. I discussed it with a friend of mine, Psych Phaeton, a programmer in RL who had migrated with us to SL from Seducity. Together, we came up with the idea for a pose “ball” that would go transparent and loop the static animations so that it “looked like” the avatar was moving. Back and forth avies would automatically switch from 2 static animations like “standing” and “motorcycle sit” to simulate sex.
I look back at it all now, compared to some of the motion capture animations we use today and I just can’t help but laugh. Imagine visually in your mind’s eye, going from a static standing pose to a motorcycle sitting pose and switching back and forth repeatedly. What was worse was the lag they created. They were horrible lag monsters because they were constantly switching between these animations with only a millisecond between them. Within a few months, SL was positively littered with these things and LL realized that we just couldn’t have them – the system couldn’t handle it.
By then – sometime mid 2004 – we’d gotten the idea to include them in (or on) beds. These things looked like they had the measles with all those balls over them. For those who weren’t around then, when you were done with one pose, you and your partner(s) would switch to another set of balls.
NVM: I remember those, you could go from the head of the bed on the left and sail all the way to the right side at the foot of the bed … very good for the mental picture huh? It makes me laugh to think about it in comparison to now but I suppose … when in Rome …
STROKER: Yes! Actually, these beds were my first experience with intellectual property conflict in SL. I’d showed my concepts to a friend who thought they were fabulous and wanted to sell them for me. I was fine with that so I learned how to wrangle prims to make something that resembled a bed; not very easy back then. Just as we were about to launch them, I got word that someone else had also developed the idea to put pose balls in a bed. When I messaged this person, I was told, “oh yeah, we’ve been working on this for months.” Originally I thought this was all just a coincidence, yet when I teleported over, low and behold, here were all these beds with the pose ball measles and designs just like the one’s I’d shown to my friend. This didn’t stop me though, I continued with my designs and intent to sell in the LL sponsored stores that existed on the mainland at the time – basically like Walmart managed by LL where you could stick your creations on a shelf and sell.
One day, I got an IM from this guy that I did not know. He sent me a picture of himself (well supposedly of himself), in military fatigues holding an AR15 or an M16; then he says to me, “if you sell sex beds in SL I’m coming to your house and to prove I can find you, here is your computer’s ID.” It wasn’t difficult to find out he was the partner of this competitor. But what truly astounded me was that he could capture my internet ID. Eventually we had it out in SL. It was actually amusing, a lot like an O.K. Corral showdown with two groups of people screaming and cursing out the other. And that, was the launch of the SexGen Bed business.
Just to cap that story off, several years later at the second SLCC, I approached the creator of those competing beds and told her I wanted to clean my side of the street (so to speak), that I had never intended to be competition and I hoped there weren’t any hard feelings. By this time the sex beds were selling well and I was making a few hundred dollars a week in Real Life (RL) – I was happy enough with that. She says to me, “oh don’t worry about it honey, that was my X-husband, he’s an alcoholic and we’re divorced now.” To this day, we are very good friends. Lesson #1 learned from this experience – always remember … you can pick your own level of stress in SL!
NVM: Stroker, you really were an incredible inspiration to so many people. Turning what you did into that much annual income was amazing. It created the desire in others to aspire to do the same. I think, and I wonder how you feel about this, that it also helped improve things such as customer service and product quality. In conjunction with that, I’m curious as to what you feel the keys to your amazing success were.
STROKER: #1 – easy, customer service! There may be 10’s of thousands of people who log into SL every day and yet, it is still a very small place and word of mouth is still the most effective marketing tool. It’s important to remember that SL is first and foremost, a social network. When you have an inferior product and lackluster customer service, where people can never reach you if there are problems, they tell all their friends, “oh don’t buy from them because it’ll break, you can’t get any help from them and you’ve just wasted your lindens.”
You see, I come from a family of entrepreneurs – I’ve always understood the necessity for positive promotion. So, I stayed online all the time! That was actually a throw back to our Seducity days. We had to be online 24/7 with someone in the shop, to have a business in that platform. and have someone It was the only way you could be contacted as offlines did not exist back then. So when I started a business in SL, I carried that business model over.
On top of that, whenever someone made a purchase, I would take the time to thank them. Eventually we did automate that process, but still gave customers contact information, for support and handled customer support the same as we ever did. I think that is the cornerstone of my success and a good business model to emulate because all you have to do is anger a handful of people, make just a few disgruntled customers, and they multiply exponentially.
We made sure we had real people in the shop. Today we see so many bots and automated group inviters and A.I. customer service reps – it’s just so impersonal. It’s important to remember that SL is a personal platform. Granted, as creators we have a lot of solitude, but when people log in to SL (creator or otherwise), it’s still to connect with other people. It’s very easy to spread that kind of defamation across a network of thousands and before you know it, you’re a pariah.
NVM: Well this is fabulous insight Stroker, and makes me curious about something. You said originally it was all about the personal touch, the customer service, the thank you for your business stuff, and then eventually you automated it. You also commented on the proliferation of bots of today. I’m curious if you saw a difference in response and sales between the personal touch to automation when you made the change … and now between that and the bots we have these days.
STROKER: Absolutely! The personal touch is the way to go but, the bigger SL got, the bigger my company got, the more staff it required to handle the multitude of issues because LL was always breaking “this or that.” Then there were the newbies who’d been told about sex in SL which led to the avatar make-over process so they could get laid, “ok now you have the avatar, let’s go hump some pixels.” We actually created a line of about 6 avatars that residents could drag on easily, at the time a huge improvement over “Ruth.” They spread across SL quickly. It was nice to see our prepackaged avatars all over the grid. But these weren’t unique concepts to us. We borrowed the ideas from other merchants and from RL businesses, applying them to our customers’ needs. It was effective, but it got to where I had to keep 8 to 10 people around in the shop at all times to support the customers.
Then, as a business in SL you begin to realize how your “staff” doesn’t treat your business as a real job because to them, it’s a game. They didn’t show up when they were supposed to, didn’t stay as long as they were scheduled, and often didn’t even do the job they were there to do. Eventually I had to really back off of how much time and effort I was putting into customer service although, I still always answered every single IM!
Much to the chagrin of my partner though, I would never use busy mode. I still don’t believe in it although I am sure that people are forced to use it in order to marshal their time effectively. I just feel that busy mode leaves a bad connotation for the customer as you never really can tell if they’re actually there and using it to ignore, or if they really did step away.
I learned early on that there is no way you can do what I did or anything of any scaled magnitude in SL without help! If you’re a single designer, you’re losing time that you could dedicate to marketing, networking or learning new tools. To this day I surround myself with creative-idea people that inspire and motivate me and I always return the favor. To me, that’s what it’s all about.
NVM: Alright, let’s get to something really interesting. Tell us about the real Stroker Serpentine, the man behind the monitor … what is he like?
STROKER: I am a very simple man. I like simple pleasures. I have an amazing family of creative children and a supportive wife who has been through the ringer with my exploits. They are my priority these days.
I am a pilot, I enjoy aerobatics and boating. We spend as much time as we can on the water or on the beach. Florida is perfect for that. I am, for lack of a better term, “Kevin the Plumber.” I’ve had a very sordid past, dabbling in a multitude of entrepreneurial pursuits but this is the one I have a passion for. It’s the old adage, do what you love and the money will follow, and it always has.
I worked construction most of my life, had a successful contracting company and would dabble in virtual worlds at night, often to the detriment of my health, staying up till 2 or 3 in the morning and getting up at 5. But I had a passion for creating content that didn’t exist prior to its invention. Then, when I found out I could actually make money doing it, it became a full-on hobby and it’s been off to the races ever since.
I try to find that balance between my online enterprise and my family and it’s taken me many years get here. I used to spend 12 hours a day and now maybe 8 to 10 and because I’m home I am able to be present in my family’s lives. I’m a “Mr. Mom,” doing all of the rehearsal shuttling, birthday parties, grocery shopping, the laundry and the cooking – and I love it! I love to cook. I am not a chef, but I enjoy exploring new recipes and this works for us!
My wife works full time for a property management company so we’re as middle class as they come. We definitely do not live an extravagant lifestyle. Our children are our focus so we don’t spend a lot of money on ourselves; it all goes toward their education and their development.
I’m very happy with where I am in my life today and I take SL in doses. I know how addictive it can be and how easy it would be to spend 15 to 20 hours a day in SL. But after 10 years, I’ve finally learned that there are no emergencies in SL! It’ll all be there waiting for me the next time I log on.
NVM: Do your kids know exactly what it is you do to earn your living through SL and how do you handle that?
STROKER: They know that my primary focus is animation and modeling and they’ve been featured in several of the documentaries I’ve been showcased in or been a part of. I focus on the fact that I do animations and scripting, I don’t get into a lot of the details of what it is those animations and scripts actually do. Although, it’s interesting to me that most of their friends think that SL is a bunch of old perv’s.
My kids love to create in Mindcraft, they’re both artisans, they both have creative talent, one is 14 and the other 17. Both are gamers and we’re very cognoscente of their online activities and how much time they spend online. They’re only allowed to spend 2 hours each evening during the school week online unless they’re doing research for homework.
They’re just such great kids. We’ve been so blessed with our children, both honor roll students, both musicians and artists. One is likely going to be a writer and the other something in musical academics and both already have the entrepreneurial spirit. The thing that astounds me though is how they could care less about fashion “labels” favoring jeans and t-shirts to brand names … but they do love technology – my son can reconfigure our home network and build his own computers.
So yes, they are aware of what it is I do, but it is no big deal for them. They know what the web encompasses … most children today know what it’s all about at 11 or 12 years old anyway and my children are VERY well grounded when it comes to promiscuity. Actually, my son just recently, at 16, had his first kiss and was embarrassed to talk about it.
As a matter of fact, my wife and I did a morning show together where we sat on a panel with a writer who’d written a book about online addiction, and another gal who was a child psychologist. They asked us “some people would say this is not a great example to be setting for your children” and oh boy did my wife go off telling them, “My son is in the advanced placement curriculum, with a 4.9 GPA. He’s a pianist, plays a saxophone in the marching band and is in the jazz band. If we’re doing something wrong, please tell me what it is because I don’t want to change it!”
Those same ladies also asked her “how do you feel about your husband having online affairs,” to which my wife replied, “he could do that just as easily in the real world with his secretary or his accountant. What he does online is a creative outlet for him that he finds stimulating, and I can tell you right now that it has positively changed our love life considerably!” Then she just smiled and a loud “awwwww” came from the audience. She’s a great, amazing woman. She’s been in 3 of the documentaries about me and has always been 100% supportive even when I decided recently to return to SL.
NVM: Through the years Stroker, you have been celebrated as one of SL’s biggest playboys and as I understand it you find that ironic. Additionally, you just got married in SL. We’re interested in why it’s ironic to you and … how the heck is SL-married life treating you, especially being that perceived playboy?
STROKER: I have had only two SL partners in all the years I’ve been here and been partnered for almost the entire time I’ve been on the platform. We have always been very family oriented which has gotten me in trouble actually. With my first partner, who I was with for 7 years, I had 2 SL daughters who were both adults in RL. We knew very intimate details of their lives and we cherished them and their privacy. But, because when you refer to someone as your son, daughter or sister, people who are sexually active adults, society tends to correlate those SL relationship titles to their RL equivalents and labels them as incestuous. In reality, those labels in SL really have nothing to do with RL interpretation because it’s merely a social dynamic in SL. It infers a specific type of closeness or intimacy in that these are the people you cherish, that you find most appealing and that you want to be with as much as possible.
My first SL partner and I had an open relationship but we learned very early on that humping pixels with everyone in SL just adds to the drama. You can be the biggest porn star, the biggest player, the biggest slut, but all it does is complicate your SL because you become nothing more than an object. Anytime one of your sex partners logs on they hit you right up expecting you to drop everything and come running to have sex after which, they just log off. It is at that point you begin to realize, you’ve become nothing more than a sex toy. There are a lot of avatars that enjoy that classification but it is a distraction which makes it very difficult, as a content creator, to focus.
My relationship with Mami today is strictly monogamous. Even though we are both in the adult industry, we choose not to bring those complications into our relationship. We focus primarily on what it is that we want to do in SL and the time we want to spend together. We have date nights, we explore sims, we go shopping together. It is, for all intents and purposes a marriage if you want to use the biological definition.
So, the playboy image, while it was probably deserved in some aspects, it was never really based in reality or even “SLality” as it were.
Well, there you have it. An intimate look behind the veil of the monitor, into the life and times of Stroker Serpentine, a businessman, a lover, a friend and a creative soul who believes in live and let live while finding your niche in what you love to do, so that you never have to work a day in your life!
Thank you Stroker for sharing such amazing tips and tricks and letting us have this rare look into the personal side of your life! Don’t miss out on all the exciting things planned on Stroker’s sim!