Jul 162014
 

The big news of course is the change of the Second Life Terms of Service, particularly the section regarding user generated content in section 2.3 : Updates to Section 2.3 of the Terms of Service. However I already have plans for blog posts today so that’s going to have to wait!

Instead I’m going to take a look at a positive change Google+ have announced that users will now be able to use any name they like on the service .. as long as it’s a first name last name combination, isn’t full of profanity and isn’t an obvious attempt to impersonate someone else. The post states :

Over the years, as Google+ grew and its community became established, we steadily opened up this policy, from allowing +Page owners to use any name of their choosing to letting YouTube users bring their usernames into Google+. Today, we are taking the last step: there are no more restrictions on what name you can use.

This is a very sensible move, albeit a few years late but it also provides the creators of virtual worlds, such as Linden Lab, a platform on which they can advertise their wares and their users can engage with them, without fear of having their accounts deleted for running foul of a real name policy, such as Facebook have.

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Jul 152014
 

A recent Linden Lab blog post invited us to Check Out Experience Keys in… The Cornfield! which is tempting but before you go rushing in remember to download the Experience Keys Beta Viewer, otherwise you won’t benefit from the full experience, nor will you really experience experience keys! Once you’re armed with your beta viewer you need to head to portal park :

SLURL : http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/LR%20Portal%20Park1/127/122/24/

Portal park has been revamped and is the portal to lots of different Linden Lab games, however the one you’re looking for is of course, The Cornfield.

Cornfield Portal Park

Whilst walking down the path you may want to check out the Me menu in the beta viewer, this is where you will see one of the extremely important changes, the experiences link, but at this stage it’s going to be a pretty lonely link as you haven’t accepted any experiences yet.

Experiences Menu

Once you walk along the path and into a barn you will see a portal tempting you to walk into it, but just before you get there you will see a message on your screen asking if you want to participate in this experience. The message isn’t on screen for long but fear not, it just goes to the same place as your other notifications. In my screenshot below, if the message disappears I can get it back by clicking the notification icon, which has 2 notifications on it at this stage, one of those was from a group message.

The message is worth reading because it describes which experiences you are opting into. In this case the experience will

  • Act On Your Control Inputs
  • Animate Your Avatar
  • Attach To Your Avatar
  • Track Your Camera
  • Control Your Camera
  • Teleport You

Cornfield Experience Request

Cornfield in green writing is clickable and takes you to the profile of the experience. More on that later.

Now this is the beauty of experience keys. Generally you would be asked to grant the above permissions and the next time you went back to this place, you’d be asked all over again. Experience keys makes this is a one click choice, by clicking Yes all of the permissions for the above are granted and they will remain that way until I revoke those permissions.

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Jul 142014
 

Dead Pool

The town of DeadPool in Second Life has a creepy history, it’s your traditional tale of the circus coming to town and scaring the living daylights out of everyone. I mean there are clowns, there are zombies, there’s a rickety old roller coaster and there are haunting lights to provide you with many a nightmare.

Dead Pool Second Life

However the real horror comes from the tales of what happened to the children :

A traveling circus arrived at the town of Deadpool. When children started vanishing, the townspeople turned their gaze on the circus performers. They were horrified to discover sick and twisted marionettes and other unspeakable acts. It’s been said that people still hear the screams emanating from the abandoned carnival.

Whereas the abandoned carnival is eerily creepy, it feels anything but abandoned due to the shadows, the movement of light and yes, the clowns!

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Jul 112014
 

Around the 25th July 2007 parts of Second Life were rocked to their foundations when Robin Linden blogged - Wagering In Second Life: New Policy. This was pretty much the end of gambling in Second Life as we knew it, although skill games would still be allowed. The blog post stated :

While Linden Lab does not offer an online gambling service, Linden Lab and Second Life Residents must comply with state and federal laws applicable to regulated online gambling, even when both operators and players of the games reside outside of the US. And, because there are a variety of conflicting gambling regulations around the world we have chosen to restrict gambling in Second Life.

This ban did unleash some pain for Linden Lab themselves, but they took a business decision knowing that would happen. The issue for Linden Lab was user to user transactions, as explained in a blog post by Zee Linden entitled Second Life Economy Grows 15% from Q4 to Q1 :

User to User Transactions. Total user to user transactions, a measure of the gross domestic product in Second Life, grew from an annualized rate of $261 million in Q4 to just over $300 million in Q1. The economy has grown 33.6% since the low point after the gambling ban.

There’s a graph in that post that demonstrates how stark the drop was in user to user transactions. Happier times didn’t arrive until Q3 2008 when Zee again blogged, this time in a post entitled Q3 closed on a high note with an unusually strong September :

Resident-to-Resident Transactions Top $100 Million. Total Resident-to-Resident transactions, a measure of the gross domestic product in Second Life, grew 21% from the prior quarter to $102M – or just under $1.00 per user hour. The Q3 total translates to an annualized rate of $408 million. By breaking $100M for the first time since Q2 2007, the Second Life economy has now fully recovered from the restriction placed on games of chance in Second Life in mid-2007.

Personally I always felt that gambling money largely stayed in gambling circles, that’s why the rest of the Second Life economy didn’t experience great pain during this period. However Linden Lab would definitely have felt the pain. However the other issue with the gambling ban was in terms of people trying to circumvent the rules with cunning plans :

ok so u have a “free” casino, but to use the machines you have to put in special prims instead of L$, but to get these “special prims” you have to buy them, eg L$5 a peice then play with those, you either win/lose depending on the game, then if you win you can give these “special prims” to someone in exchange for some lindens - A sneaky way around the gambling ban

There were plenty of these sort of ideas around and none of them really worked because people wanted to gamble for Linden Dollars, not prims in an elaborate scheme that were likely to be deemed as against the wagering policy. The horse had bolted, although some horses kicked a lot more than others as they left.

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Jul 112014
 

Greedy Greedy has long been one of the most popular games in Second Life. One of the features of Greedy Greedy is a pay to play option whereby users can play for the combined pot. This feature had led to people asking whether the game would now run foul of Linden Lab’s new skill gaming policy.

The answer would be appear to be yes, as KR Engineering posted an update to their Facebook Page regarding the new policy. In their post they said :

GOOD NEWS HERE: So what does this mean for all of you? Surprisingly, not much! Before the end of the month, I will be issuing updates to all of my games that remove all money and payout functions from them. With no payout option on the game (no buy-ins and no betting), the games will no longer be subject to the Skilled Gaming Regions policy. You will be able to rez and play them wherever and whenever you like as usual. The new policy ONLY applies to games that have an option to pay the winner of the game a L$ prize. To be in compliance with the new policy, all you will need to do is update your games (which is FREE, as always) before the end of the month, or realistically, whenever you next pull them out. You won’t get in trouble for having them in your inventory, whether they’re in compliance or not.

On the further issue of whether there will ever be a pay to play version of the game in the future, the answer is a little less clear :

According to Gaming.SL, only 1.6% of games played to completion this year involved money of some kind. At the moment, I’m sorry if you’re in that 1.6%, but I will likely not be pursuing becoming a creator of approved gambling games, as it will cost me at least $2000 USD per year to do so, and that’s not counting the up-front costs of hiring an attorney, and paying the application fees and review fees.

So it looks as if KR Engineering will not be entering the skill game creator market, although they do leave that door open.

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Jul 102014
 

On another question, its also unfortunate that in some countries in the EU that gambling is allowed, but because our servers are all in the US these residents cannot gamble. This is something we can fix and we’re working on it. In the meantime, unfortunately no gambling. – Zee Linden 1st August 2008.

The above quote from the then CFO of Linden Lab, Zee Linden (AKA John Zdanowski) was actually in relation to a discussion about Linden Lab annoying the life out of us Europeans by introducing VAT to our bills. Eventually a lot of us realised Linden Lab were the wrong target and I still find the law silly as it applies to Second Life. There are good reasons for collecting VAT for electronic services, but Second Life isn’t a good example. The problem is that the EU regulation simply isn’t flexible enough. However I’m not here to talk about VAT today, I’m here to talk about governance and in particular governance in a virtual world.

The VAT discussion was an example of laws applying to one set of Second Life users based on where they live. However this was only an issue for European residents, it didn’t apply to Americans. The gambling ban on the other hand applied to all Second Life residents, even those who lived in countries where online gambling wasn’t illegal. I should point out here that even in those countries, gambling in Second Life would have been questionable as it was unregulated. However even a licensed gambling outlet would not have been allowed in Second Life because Linden Lab are based in San Francisco.

Now if we go back a bit further in time to the Second Life Community Convention of  August 2007 we can find an old Reuters interview with Philip Rosedale. This interview is interesting because it gives an insight into where Second Life was back then and what they were hoping for. However the section I want to highlight is this exchange :

Reuters: Is there a problem where German laws are more restrictive than American laws on ageplay? And likewise, American laws may be more restrictive than European laws on gambling. Are we moving to the lowest common denominator?

Philip Rosedale: No.

The lowest common denominator is just not what you want to do. It’s not going to happen on the Internet, and it’s not going to happen here. We’re doing what we can as a platform to try to make that the case.

If you want to apply a local jurisdictional law to people, we’re going to make it so you apply that to people who are individual avatars trying to go to one place. That’s what we’re doing with age verification. We’re making that a feature that’s tied to land and people, not a feature that’s tied to the whole system. When we’re confronted with a legal or regulatory matter where we need for legal reasons to enable a certain type of restriction on behavior, we do that as locally as possible and not have a lowest common denominator.

Reuters: So there may be code in the future where your avatar is tied to your real-life nationality and then based on that nationality certain restrictions may or may not come into play?

Philip Rosedale: Right.

If the local restrictions that countries for example are making on avatars, if those restrictions are well-published and transparent and in the public light, I think we’re going to get to a good overall set of choices. Countries will make the right choices about how they want to restrict people’s use in Second Life if they can see what other countries are doing rather than us being the sole decider of what’s right locally.

So we can see here that Linden Lab wanted to be able to restrict behaviour locally. However this is very challenging when Linden Lab are the only governor, more on that later but what fascinates me about this is that the new skill gaming policy is actually going to try and enforce this notion of restricting people’s access to areas and activities based on their local jurisdiction. This has been quite a long time coming.

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Jul 092014
 

Sometimes if you blink, you miss it. Now you could be forgiven for missing the precise date that Linden Lab decided to remove their gag and start talking but they are most certainly engaging with their community in a far more encouraging fashion these days. The return of the Jira to a meaningful communication platform was an early right step for the new regime. However things have progressed since then and seem to be accelerating.

Back in June CEO Ebbe Altberg (AKA Ebbe Linden) popped into the third party developers meeting inworld and mentioned that Linden Lab were building a new virtual world. The conversation went from there, to Twitter, to SLUniverse, to the official Second Life forums, Second Life bloggers and outside publications such as Gamasutra. The conversations continued, morphed, more inworld discussions were held, emails were sent. Ebbe, Oz Linden, Gray Of The Lab from San Francisco were all out and about talking.

There was anger, excitement, despair, hope and plenty of words. The thing was that this simple step of communicating had opened a much wider discussion. However this was all well and good on matters that Linden Lab wanted to talk about, but how do Linden Lab shape up when the conversation is a tad more uncomfortable? Well we have a recent example, the recent Marketplace word filter faux pas, which I blogged about. Stepping up to the plate this time was Community Linden, who commented on my post :

Hello,

I thought this would be some helpful information regarding the Marketplace listing issue you mention. This is a known issue that is being looking into.

There is a jira filed that can be seen here: https://jira.secondlife.com/browse/BUG-6608
A grid status blog here: http://status.secondlifegrid.net/2014/07/07/post2308/
And updates can be followed on the main grid status blog here: http://status.secondlifegrid.net

The grid status blog will update once the unscheduled maintenance is completed.

Thank you and best regards.

However this brings up that old chestnut of Linden Lab communicating in the wrong channels, twitter, blogs, emails. However in this case Linden Lab – Community Manager was also busy on the official Second Life forums, he/she popped into more than one post to share the information. This of course led to a vibrant Jira discussion as more people were made aware of that channel. Ultimately people like to just hear things are fixed. However Community Linden and his cohort/ alter ego Linden Lab – Community Manager were willing to inform people on where to look for progress, where to follow the Jira report. People may not have been happy, but they could hardly accuse Linden Lab of pretending the issue didn’t exist.

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Jul 092014
 

Cerise over at SLUniverse has noticed some new wiki pages being published by Linden Lab with regards to the thorny area of skill gaming in Second Life.  The wiki pages are official Linden Lab wiki pages, which means I’m not supposed to distribute or copy any content, which is a shame. However I can paraphrase and link. The pages are :

However hot on Cerise’s heels are Linden Lab, who have now blogged about the subject, which means I can officially quote them : Coming Soon: Skill Gaming in Second Life. I should have had a wager on how long after Cerise’s post Linden Lab would blog, of course that would not have been a game of skill and is therefore forbidden! Where was I? Oh yes, skill gaming coming soon to Second Life. The coming soon part is important and is also likely to be controversial because skill gaming exists in Second Life today. However things will change on August 1st.

There’s a lot of detail in the blog post and more importantly the wiki pages, but here are the key points to chew over :

  • Skill games that offer Linden Dollar payouts will be allowed in Skill Gaming Regions only.
  • Only operators approved by Linden Lab will be allowed to run skill games that offer Linden Dollar payouts on Skill Gaming Regions.
  • Creators of skill games that wish to make them available in Second Life may do so only through Skill Gaming Regions and only after the games have been approved by Linden Lab.
  • Access to Skill Gaming Regions will be restricted to Second Life users who are of sufficient age and are located in a jurisdiction that Linden Lab permits for this kind of online gaming activity.

The devil is in the detail so I suggest that anybody interested reads the details carefully. However there are some very interesting concepts being applied by Linden Lab here. For a start, to apply for a Skill Gaming License …. wait that’s too long, I’m going to rename this as a SGL, ok? Right, to apply for a SGL you will have to pay a non-refundable fee of US$100.00. Note this is just for the application and will be applied even if your application is rejected.

The above fee and licence applies not only to those wishing to run skill games on their skill gaming region, it also applies to those who want to create skill games in Second Life. On top of this the fact that the tier is getting even higher! Skill gaming regions will cost US$345.00 a month in tier, instead of US$295.00.

Other fees are mentioned, for both creators, owners and those who want to operate skill gaming venues, they are all required to pay a quarterly licence fee . I do not know how much this quarterly licence fee will be, it is being waived through to December 31st but it would be nice if Linden Lab gave people an indication of how much this fee will be.

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Jul 072014
 

Linden Lab’s word filter is currently purging “Lola” from The Second Life Marketplace. Don’t panic, “Lola’s” are fine! The issue was reported by Tamarsk on the official Second Life forums and the number of items listed are dropping rapidly. When I started this post 72,685 items were appearing for the search term, now it’s, 71,958. The issue appears to be related to including “Lola” in the feature part of a Marketplace listing rather than in the general description.

Quite why this is happening now remains a mystery but it does highlight yet again the problem of automatic word filters. I’ve pointed out the flaws with Linden Lab’s word filters before, particularly with their forums and Dick Van Dyke. At that time Dick Van Dyke came out as **bleep** Van **bleep**. For a while afterwards Dick Van Dyke was welcome on the message boards, but these days he’s only half welcome as the result is Dick Van **bleep**.

I suppose this saves us from dodgy cockney accents and dancing chimney sweeps. Heaven forbid that someone would want to to talk about the little boy who put his finger in a dyke. I suppose we should all change our spelling to dike.

I despair at issues such as this, well meaning but still largely with The Scunthorpe problem due to automation. These sort of issues aren’t new to Second Life, if we go back to May 2007 we see this exchange at Robin Linden’s office hour over banning the words Loli and Lolita :

Ryozu Kojima: “Gothic Lolita is a fashion style that has nothing to do with Ageplay and it has now been literally swept off the face of search.

Robin Linden: “Could you please just give it a different name then?

Well that would have been a workaround. Words in and of themselves are generally not inherently evil, unless the word is evil of course.

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Jul 052014
 

Rock, Paper, Shotgun is not a publication that devotes much time to Second Life. They are mostly a PC Gaming publication. They did interview Rod Humble, but that seemed to be more to do with his background with Electronic Arts and The Sims, more than it was to do with Second Life.

However this week they have taken an indirect look at Second Life, courtesy of Draxtor Despres and his video series; The Drax Files : World Makers. In an article entitled : The Drax Files Are Good Documentaries About Second Life, they take a look at The Drax Files : World Makers. The cover shot is a picture of Draxtor’s back looking at a screen with Rod Humble on it!

Author Graham Smith obviously has good taste because he enjoyed the episode about The Dwarfins! He also enjoyed the episodes about Elie Spot and Abramelin Wolfe. However he also points out that Second Life is flawed in some ways too :

Obviously every one of these episodes is putting a positive spin on Second Life, making it appear as if the virtual world is all about unfettered creativity and the magic of people and community. That’s lovely, but perhaps won’t be apparent when you first connect, struggle with its still-clunky interface and stumble into a blandly decorated building aggressively advertising sex toys and trashy clothing.

Quite, but the power of The Drax Files has been to go beyond the trashy clothing etc. and highlight the many positive use cases of Second Life that aren’t highlighted by the mainstream media. However as someone pointed out to me not long back, Linden Lab haven’t exactly given the mainstream media much to chew on over the years. The Drax Files changes that slightly.

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