Ciaran Laval

Oct 292014

Whilst I was on holiday an excellent article on High Fidelity appeared in MIT Technology Review : The Quest to Put More Reality in Virtual Reality. Ok first of all let’s get a couple of questionable parts of the article out of the way. Tom Simonite seems to talk of Second Life in the past sense, which will rub many a Second Life user up the wrong way as Second Life is still going pretty strong, despite reports to the contrary. Then there’s this claim :

Some of what his company is creating is much the same as Second Life. You download some software and then enter a virtual space where you can steer your avatar around and build stuff. This time, though, building is much easier, the lag mostly eliminated, and the graphics more impressive.

Anyone who has had a peek at High Fidelity will know that the building is not much easier and nor are the graphics more impressive at this stage in the development of the platform. High Fidelity is making some bloody impressive strides right now but it’s still very much an Alpha product.

Then there’s the stock photograph of Philip Rosedale that is used, we need a new modern Philip photo, I’ve seen that one umpteen times! However the above aside, it’s an excellent article that captures so very well the fantastic enthusiasm Philip Rosedale has for virtual worlds. Admittedly I’m an unashamed Philip Rosedale fanboi, despite not always agreeing with him, but the man has a long held dream and it’s one that captivates me. Whereas some may think of Philip Rosedale; “Dreamer, you’re nothing but a dreamer, well can you put your hands in your head, oh no!” the answer to that is that with the right peripherals, in High Fidelity you can put your virtual hands in your virtual head, oh yes!

The article explains how High Fidelity is taking a very different approach from Second Life in some areas and this is where I believe that High Fidelity is most definitely on the right track :

High Fidelity’s business model is less developed. Most of its software and platform will be open source, so anyone can use it or set up a virtual world using its technology. High Fidelity plans to make money by charging people to include their worlds in a kind of directory for the metaverse, similar to the domain name system for the Web.

I’ve said this before, more than once, but where I feel Second Life failed to adopt mass appeal is because it’s Second Life. Mass appeal may well come for a Linden Lab product running Linden Lab created technology, but I’m not convinced that mass appeal will come for any virtual world being a one stop shop. In terms of Second Life I’ve said that it needed to reach the stage where people weren’t thinking they were visiting Second Life, they were thinking of playing an elf on a platform running Second Life technology, or going to a concert, running Second Life technology. The technology being a discussion area for techie types and the experience itself being something people enjoy for the experience itself.

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Oct 282014

Episode 42 of The Drax Files Radio Hour sees confirmed staunch socialist Draxtor Despres and red under the bed, Jo Yardley, getting their teeth into a number of issues and getting the hump with the BBC, an organisation long accused of being lefties ….

Jo and Drax take umbrage with the beeb over an article in their technology section : Podrift: Is podcasting ripe for virtual reality? Podrift is a technology aimed at taking podcasting into a virtual world setting, however not everyone is convinced by the concept and in the article they quote Todd Cochrane, head of podcasting specialists RawVoice as saying :

adoption into Second Life may be more appropriate

That sounds fair enough but the author of the article, Dougal Shaw writes :

This is something of a damning comparison, as virtual world Second Life has become synonymous with virtual reality’s false dawn. After creating a huge buzz when it was launched in 2003, it has failed to live up to its potential. Other than a hardcore of loyal users, few are giving it a second chance.

Personally I think Dougal Shaw is missing the point by a country mile if he comes to that conclusion and I can understand why Jo and Drax take umbrage with that comment. Second Life is over eleven years old and still around. Second Life has hosted talk shows such as Tonight Live With Paisley Beebe in the past and is perfectly viable as a venue for a podcast already. However I’m not dismissing the potential behind Podrift here, I just find Dougal Shaw’s dismissive comment about Second Life odd.

The show is the usual mix of commentary, fascinating interviews, virtual reality discussion and via the website itself, some very interesting links and clips. The discussion between Jo and Drax about virtual reality gadgets is interesting because they discuss some of the challenges of these peripherals, such as the difficulty of using many different peripherals at the same time and how cumbersome that may become. This is an issue that will have to be tackled because people are not going to be comfortable wearing headsets, VR gloves, grabbing peripherals and trying to communicate. However there’s a long way to go with this sort of technology and how it all fits together will be improved over time.

The interview with Leap Motion CTO David Holz encountered a few technical glitches but Drax manages to salvage some very interesting points. David actually highlights some of the above issues and labels this stage as the first generation of VR. I’m sure there will be plenty of people who will disagree that this is the first generation of VR but his point is that there are currently a lot of peripherals around and at this early stage the current generation of VR is going to be a mixed bag whilst the technology is developed.

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Oct 272014
Blood Letters Promo Poster

Blood Letters

MadPea Games are well known in Second Life circles for their interactive games and hunts. However on November 1st they are taking a small step into unchartered waters as they unleash their first ever adult hunt in the shape and form of Blood Letters.

Blood Letters

This isn’t the first time MadPea Games have ventured into the world of noir, Mad City had a very noirish feel to it but this time they are stepping into a new dimension with some very adult themes. This is more than just a find the objects hunt, Blood Letters is billed as an erotic thriller.

Chinese Takeaway

Writing on the MadPea blog, Kess Crystal wrote :

Samantha “The Mantis” Mason, is an internationally infamous serial killer due to her particularly gruesome hobby. Seducing men and women alike, she lured them with the promise of fulfilling their lust, only to appease her own thirst for blood with these hapless pleasure-seekers.

Society breathed a collective sigh of relief when, after 8 brutal murders she was finally apprehended and brought to justice. However, a year after The Mantis was put behind bars murders have started occurring again, and the sadistic killer operates in a way that keeps everyone in fear.

The players will take on the role of a Private Detective and get prepared to solve a grisly series of shocking murders to test the boundaries where eroticism meets morality.

The game will take place on the very impressive and R3Volt sim. I’ll include the SLURL for that in the official press release below the cut.

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Oct 272014

Matanzas Dock

The recent Designing Worlds 250th edition grabbed headlines for Designing Worlds reaching such an impressive milestone and for an interview with Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg. However the carefully selected location of Matanzas has been somewhat overlooked, so I decided to visit the sim to see just why this impressive location was considered the ideal venue for the landmark edition of Designing Worlds.

Matanzas Cafe

The sim was chosen not just because of its undoubted beauty but also because in a very early edition of Designing Worlds they visited Skate Foss’ parcel on the sim and gave it a makeover. Skate Foss was so impressed with the location that over the years she became not just a parcel owner, but the owner of the whole island and it’s a very impressive sim indeed that exemplifies not only what can be achieved within Second Life but also how much you can pack into a sim without leaving visitors with the impression that they are treading in treacle.

Matanzas Lounge

Part of the challenge of most Second Life sims is to engage visitors and strengthen community. Matanzas manages to do both with a mixture of public and private areas. The private areas are for tenants of the sim and visitors are respectfully requested to avoid these areas but that’s not a problem because of the impressive amount of public areas on the sim and the impressive design that makes navigating the public areas such a pleasure. Amongst the early public areas are a public beach, Island dance floor and Cafe.

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Oct 122014

I’m taking some holiday time over the next fortnight so this blog is also going to take a holiday for a fortnight too. Fear not faithful readers, I shall return triumphant with tales of many drow, dwarf, wizard and human adventures upon my return.

Pirate Ship

I have been taking a look at a couple of sims which I intend to blog more about on my return. The first is Morgan Straits which is a pirate themed sim. Yarr! I like pirates. This is a well presented sim but obviously you need to tread carefully because of those pirates.

Pirate Houses

The other sim I’ve been taking a look at is the stunningly picturesque Matanzas.

Matanzas Dock

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Oct 112014

A few days ago I blogged about the delays people are experiencing in getting their accounts verified for account and tax information requests issued by Linden Lab. However new information has came to light which suggests that it’s not just an issue for account and tax information requests, it seems that the broader issue is that off payout requests full stop.

The tax and account information requests are often tied to payout requests, so this explains why there are delays there. The information was relayed to me via Pete Linden in a comment on my earlier blog post :

Due to a significant volume of payout request in recent weeks, payout requests may take longer to process than expected. We apologize for the delay, and we are working hard on clearing the backlog and process requests as quickly as possible. In the meantime, we advise residents to please address any specific questions through their Support cases. We appreciate the cooperation and patience from all residents, and hope to have payout request processing times back to normal soon.

I’m not sure why there is a significant volume of payout requests in recent weeks, some people have suggested it is related to the new skill gaming policy and there will be people who are putting payment information on file in order to engage with skill gaming regions.

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Oct 102014

Over at New World Notes Hamlet Au has decided to tackle the thorny subject of adult content in virtual worlds. In a blog post entitled : Half of Second Life’s 50 Most Popular Sims Now Adult-Rated: A Lesson for Second Life 2 Hamlet says :

As Linden Lab develops Second Life 2, there’s an important lesson to be learned here:

Forbid pornography and extremely violent content, at least in the first few years of launch before SL 2 achieves mass growth (assuming it does). It’s inevitable that Oculus Rift and other VR platforms will inspire pornographic content, and many of the games set for deployment in VR are already violent, and that’s fine for adults who want to immerse themselves in that kind of content. But virtual porn in particular has always been an impediment to Second Life going mainstream, hurting its brand, scaring away mainstream institutions, and just generally causing it to be a laughingstock for anyone who wasn’t familiar with how much more non-porn content the world contained. (That is to say, just about everybody.) The alternative facing Second Life 2 is what we see now: A niche MMO where roughly half the active users are mainly getting on to get off.

Now whether you agree with Hamlet or not you have to give him credit for having the balls (for want of a better phrase) to raise this subject. I disagree with him and I disagree with him because adult content is already very much a part of mainstream culture. Now before we take one step forward, let’s take a couple of steps back. Back in July Mona Eberhardt posted a blog post entitled : Time to stop bashing Second Life for its sexual side. Mona opens that post with a rather challenging gauntlet to bloggers :

I guess you haven’t really arrived as a Second Life blogger or commentator unless you’ve reached the point where you frown upon “pixel sex”, openly sexualised avatars, or the “skanky” nature of female avatars’ attire in SL. It seems to me that coming to view your in-world romantic and sexual escapades (if any) with feelings of shame actually gives you bonus points. And the sooner you’ve denounced your desire to explore your sexuality in-world, the more respect you’re going to garner. Apparently, your opinions can’t be taken seriously if you’re viewed by others as a sexual person.

The article is a good read and whether you agree with Mona or not, she deserves credit for tackling this subject. Now it’s clear that Hamlet and Mona are coming to this subject from different sides of the fence but it’s also important to remember that both Hamlet and Mona believe passionately in the concept of virtual worlds.

Now to me, banning adult content in Linden Lab’s brave new world is going to be a bad strategy. On the other hand I also think that promoting adult content in the brave new world is a bad strategy. The answer to me is all about sitting on the fence and ensuring that safeguards are in place to avoid some of the situations we have seen during the evolution of Second Life.

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Oct 102014

Inara Pey, on the ball as always, has posted an update for Linden Lab’s Patterns, namely that Linden Lab are discontinuing their development involvement. However, in a sign that someone at Linden Lab has grasped that software doesn’t need to be buried on a dusty old shelf when a company decides to stop updating it, Linden Lab have put the feelers out to see if anyone else is interested in taking Patters onboard.

The official press release from Linden Lab, entitled The Conclusion Of Patterns, states :

Recently, Linden Lab announced that we are working on an ambitious project to create the next-generation virtual world, while we continue to improve Second Life and grow Blocksworld. As we focus on these priorities, we have ceased development for Patterns, and we will be no longer offering the game for sale.

We at Linden Lab are extremely grateful for the adventurous early players who explored the Patterns genesis release. Those who purchased the Patterns genesis release will still be able to play their copies of the game, but features relying on server connections, such as world-sharing, will not be functional.

Patterns had early promise, and while Linden Lab focuses our efforts on our other offerings, we are still evaluating the future of the Patterns technology. Interested parties are welcome to contact us with proposals.

This is quite a brave and bold move by Linden Lab and shows that Linden Lab do seem to take notice of situations in the not too distant past, as Inara points out :

The most interesting point of note with the announcement, however, is that the Lab appear to have taken on-board the Versu situation, and rather than simply closing the door, have indicated they’d be willing to hear from third parties who might be interested in taking Patterns on – albeit with the caveat that the company is still evaluating the technology used in Patterns at this time.

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Oct 082014

If you want the full kit and caboodle on the Designing Worlds 250th episode, which features an interview with Linden Lab CEO, Ebbe Altberg, then head over to Inara Pey’s blog post on the subject. Whereas I will embed the video at the end of this post, Inara also has the transcript in text form. I’m not going to cover anywhere near all of the interview, so for  even more commentary, head over to Inara Pey’s commentary on the subject!

The interview itself was conducted by Elrik Merlin and Saffia Widdershins and was held on Mantanzas, a sim owned by Skate Foss. The interview has a lot of meat on its bones and covers a wide array of subjects, including, but not limited to, communities, group chat, Terms Of Service, The next generation virtual world, marketing and much much more.

Ebbe talks a lot and appears to be extremely enthusiastic about his work at Linden Lab. This makes for a largely positive interview although it does have some stumbling blocks for me on a personal level, the most glaring being the terms of service which briefly gets touched upon with Ebbe responding to a question from Saffia regarding the use of user groups to try and avoid issues such as the terms of service :

I don’t know if you could have avoided the Terms of Service – and there was quite a bit of engagement, and a lot of voices heard. I wasn’t here, but I think the way it was rolled-out created more complications than what the change actually was. But obviously, being in touch with the community, understanding the needs of the community is critical, and that is something we cannot do just by watching, But sometimes for us just looking at the metrics might be more efficient for us to get to answers rather than talking to individuals.

Later in the interview Ebbe says :

OK, but we’re trying to make it clear to people that the content is yours, and we just need to have sufficient protections to protect ourselves. But again, it’s obviously not in our interest to make a mess for content creators by ourselves stepping in and starting to be part of the problem, rather than the solution with regards to IP protection.

They really could have done the terms of service differently and the first step there would have been to actually recognise what the issue with the terms of service is and why it still exists today. Linden Lab have never ever made that move and it remains a very disappointing element of Ebbe Altberg’s reign. Ebbe’s words here also don’t encourage me that Linden Lab have much interest in addressing or understanding the terms of service issue from the other side of the fence.

However that aside, I found this to be a vibrant interview. Ebbe talks of opening the Jira back up, how he was quite shocked about the level of engagement between Linden Lab and their community when he arrived and how Linden Lab have made strides towards better community engagement. This has certainly been exemplified by Linden Lab taking a far more active role in their blog postings and therefore leading the conversation.

Ebbe recognises the importance of communities in Second Life and the importance of getting the new user experience right. Ebbe hints that the idea of community portals coming back to Second Life might be on the agenda in a part of the discussion regarding onboarding new users :

I don’t know exactly when we’ll have time to give it sufficient energy to really get it off the ground. We’re working on a number of other initiatives right now that are ahead of it … and it’s one of those things that’s near the top of priorities for Second Life to bring back the idea of the community portals or something like that, where it’s easy for experience creators to attract users directly into their experience from the outside world.

Because ultimately, there are too many experiences in something like Second Life that we can’t mass market to all of these niche experiences that exist. we don’t even understand them all or know that they even exist. Whereas the creators of that experience have a very clear idea of who they’re trying to be useful to and attract an audience. And so we need to give people the tools so they can attract their own audiences into their experiences.

This is positive to read because Ebbe is right, there are lots of experiences within Second Life. A one size fits all new user experience probably isn’t ideal and wider community engagement could be useful here but let’s wait and see what transpires.

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Oct 072014

Back in February Linden Lab blogged about tax and identity requirements for Second Life :

As we’ve blogged about in the posts linked below, US law requires that institutions like Linden Lab collect documentation from Second Life users that meet certain transaction thresholds.

This was an update to provide people with further information regarding why they were being asked to provide identifying information to continue to be able to use Second Life. The initial requests had caused great confusion and although confusion still reigns, Linden Lab have provided more insight as to what’s happening and why. There are two important FAQ’s :

Tax Documentation FAQ

Account Documentation FAQ

Linden Lab need to comply with these requirements to be able to allow financial transactions within Second Life to continue. Linden Lab can’t ignore these requirements, if they did nobody would be able to cash out from Second Life. Second Life would probably come crashing to its knees in those circumstances.

However a thread over at SLUniverse reveals that there are some new pains being created with these requirements, namely that the processing of these requests has slowed to a crawl and people are left scratching their heads regarding what’s going on. This thread is quite disappointing from a customer service point of view.

Second Life customers are complaining that there seems to be no movement in cases for over two weeks. Some people are reporting that after two or more weeks with no movement they then find that the only movement is that they are asked to send their ID in again because their scanned photo isn’t large enough.

One person reports that they submitted a ticket almost thirty days ago, a few days ago they received an apology for the delay, with high caseload being cited as a reason, but the case doesn’t seem to be any further forward.

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