Jul 172014
 

I’ve mentioned before how much I like the art of storytelling, I’ve also mentioned before how I’m surprised there’s not more storytelling in Second Life and how a virtual world is an environment that could allow for a feature rich interactive storytelling experience.

I haven’t changed my mind on any of the above but this evening I read an interesting post regarding storytelling in different virtual worlds : Why Kitely? What about Second Life? The post is from the Seanchai Library website.

First things first, Seanchai Library have been bringing stories to Second Life for over six years now, they are very much supporters of Second Life and aim to continue in Second Life. The post isn’t a bash Second Life post, it makes an interesting comparison between what can be done in Second Life v what can be done in Kitely and points out the cold, hard, financial realities.

The post talks about the possibilities of immersive storytelling and why Kitely may be a more attractive proposition for that sort of storytelling :

As we continue to explore creating increasingly immersive story experiences – an opportunity in what we do that several of us are very interested in – we run into immediate limits in Second Life. Those restrictions are, to be blunt, money and prims. A build like last year’s Dickens’ Project takes nearly 3800 prims (incomplete, by the way) and the space to manage them, none of which comes cheap in SL.

This is a reality that many a venture in Second Life has to face, be it storytelling, art, roleplaying, money and prims quickly become an issue. When you’re looking to tell an immersive story, it becomes more of a challenge. The room to expand and contract, to rebuild, to have space to manage the operation. Kitely offers a cheaper alternative. However that doesn’t always make Kitely the better option, it’s going to depend upon what you want to do.

The post compares the way different storytelling styles can work in both platforms :

Most of what we now produce in SL is fairly presentational: people sit in rows of seats inside of an environment and we stand (or sit) before them and present the literature. That is certainly one way of bringing stories to life, and one that we have been very successful with. But could there be another means of becoming transported into the story without shifting completely over to role play? Imagine you were wandering through the different environments visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past and Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol while listening to the original text, presented live. Imagine exploring an ancient Irish tower house while listening to Gaelic folk tales. Imagine poking around 221B Baker Street while listening to a Sherlock Holmes adventure. As long as the environment engages you within voice range of the speaker, you can wander, explore, sit and experience the literature just as you do in a more traditional audience-performer setting.

The potential to get more immersive leans towards Kitely due to its lower costs, but traditional sit around the storyteller style storytelling can happily thrive in Second Life. Both are decent ways of telling stories.

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Jul 172014
 

Yesterday’s Linden Lab blog post about the new TOS has unsurprisingly generated a fair amount of discussion. I’ve looked again to see if I feel any different about the changes in the cold light of day and the answer is no. I still feel the TOS goes too far and asks for too much.

Over at Insert Funny Name Here, Second Life user and real life attorney Vaki Zenovka posts on the issue and summarises :

They moved “sell, re-sell, or sublicense (through multiple levels)” from the beginning of the list to the end of the list. And then they added a totally unclear parenthetical: “(with respect to Second Life, Inworld or otherwise on the Service as permitted by you through your interactions with the Service)”.

That is all.

Vaki also pokes Linden Lab about their use of parenthesis in the new terms of service and points out that it’s unclear whether “(with respect to Second Life, Inworld or otherwise on the Service as permitted by you through your interactions with the Service)” applies to sublicense, re-sell and sublicense or everything before the phrase “(with respect to Second Life, Inworld or otherwise on the Service as permitted by you through your interactions with the Service)

In their blog post Linden Lab state :

First, the modified version limits our rights with respect to user-created content in Second Life by restricting our use “inworld or otherwise on the Service.” Additionally, it limits our right to “sell, re-sell or sublicense (through multiple levels)” your Second Life creations by requiring some affirmative action on your part in order for us to do so. This language mirrors the corresponding User Content License currently in Section 2.4, which has been part of the Terms of Service for years.  

This is all still very muddy. However have the changes convinced the likes of CG Textures to reconsider their decision to forbid new uploads of their content to Second Life or any other Linden Lab product? Jo Yardley asked CG Textures whether their stance had changed in light of the new TOS and the answer was still a no :

I’m afraid this does not change the situation for us. The new ToS still contains the words:

.. and otherwise exploit in any manner whatsoever, all or any portion of your User Content (and derivative works thereof), for any purpose whatsoever in all formats, on or through any media, software, formula, or medium now known or hereafter developed, and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed, and to advertise, market, and promote the same. ..

I can’t say I’m surprised about this as CG Textures are an outside of Second Life venture and therefore not as tied to the platform as many Second Life content creators.

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Jul 162014
 

Linden Lab today blogged : Updates to Section 2.3 of the Terms of Service. I’ll come to the changes shortly. The terms of service also include changes to section 3.3 of the terms of service. Previously this dealt with age verification for adult and mature content. They’ve now merged Skill Gaming terms in there too, which is sensible to be fair.

However I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure what has changed with regards to section 2.3 in reality. I can see some words have changed and there’s mention of Second Life but when it’s read as a whole it still looks very unfriendly to content creators.

Old TOS

Except as otherwise described in any Additional Terms (such as a contest’s official rules) which will govern the submission of your User Content, you hereby grant to Linden Lab, and you agree to grant to Linden Lab, the non-exclusive, unrestricted, unconditional, unlimited, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, and cost-free right and license to use, copy, record, distribute, reproduce, disclose, sell, re-sell, sublicense (through multiple levels), modify, display, publicly perform, transmit, publish, broadcast, translate, make derivative works of, and otherwise exploit in any manner whatsoever, all or any portion of your User Content (and derivative works thereof), for any purpose whatsoever in all formats, on or through any media, software, formula, or medium now known or hereafter developed, and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed, and to advertise, market, and promote the same. You agree that the license includes the right to copy, analyze and use any of your Content as Linden Lab may deem necessary or desirable for purposes of debugging, testing, or providing support or development services in connection with the Service and future improvements to the Service. The license granted in this Section 2.3 is referred to as the “Service Content License.”

New TOS

Except as otherwise described in any Additional Terms (such as a contest’s official rules) which will govern the submission of your User Content, you hereby grant to Linden Lab, and you agree to grant to Linden Lab, the non-exclusive, unrestricted, unconditional, unlimited, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, and cost-free right and license to use, copy, record, distribute, reproduce, disclose, modify, display, publicly perform, transmit, publish, broadcast, translate, make derivative works of, and sell, re-sell or sublicense (through multiple levels)(with respect to Second Life, Inworld or otherwise on the Service as permitted by you through your interactions with the Service), and otherwise exploit in any manner whatsoever, all or any portion of your User Content (and derivative works thereof), for any purpose whatsoever in all formats, on or through any media, software, formula, or medium now known or hereafter developed, and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed, and to advertise, market, and promote the same. You agree that the license includes the right to copy, analyze and use any of your Content as Linden Lab may deem necessary or desirable for purposes of debugging, testing, or providing support or development services in connection with the Service and future improvements to the Service. The license granted in this Section 2.3 is referred to as the “Service Content License.”

The part I’ve bolded under the new TOS is the change, that appears to be it. This also only seems to apply to the terms prior to the statement about this being with respect to Second Life. The part after that still seems to give Linden Lab permission to do anything they like with user generated content and seems to contradict the limitation.

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Jul 162014
 

Cornfield In Second Life

I took a look at the new experience tools for Second Life in a recent blog post, there I explained some changes and how they make some experiences far more seamless. In this post I’m going to look at the game these tools are being demonstrated in. Now before I go any further I should point people to the blog post about experience keys by Linden Lab and highlight that to fully appreciate this game you will need to download and install the experience keys project viewer. The game will work in other viewers, but you won’t get a full appreciate of the new experience keys.

The game features The Return Of The Cornfield to Second Life, a place with a history of being a resting place for some of the more naughty virtual world residents. Created by Linden Lab and their trusty sidekicks, The Moles, it’s a hack and slash collection game where corn bucks mean prizes. I’ll let the creators set the scene :

The Cornfield:

For many years, the Cornfield was a region of mythological status, where once naughty avatars were sent to think about what they had done. Rumor had it that “The Cornfield” was a vast star-lit field of corn and was cut off from communication with the rest of the world. Over the years, rumors spread across the grid of this infamous region that everyone at one time had heard about, but hardly anyone had ever seen. It was thought to be nothing but a tale…that is until now…
Present day

A group of young explorers set out one day to explore. They teleported to the farthest reaches of the grid, when suddenly their screens went blank and their shoes went where they should never humanly ever go. All of a sudden, their screens flashed bright, and they found themselves dazed and confused inside an old creepy barn.

The barn seemed abandoned. Creaks and strange noises startled them. They could not find a way out back to humanity. They saw some baskets laying on the floor, so they picked them up, and dared to venture outside. The air was thick, and everything to be seen was enveloped in a strange, eerie mist. A huge cornfield spread out wide in front of them. The corn rustled as if something was out there…something not quite human.

As darkness approached, the strange noises grew louder, and the rustling increased. They looked at each other, faces pale in the moonlight. One of them grabbed a plank for she knew something bad was about to happen. They looked at each other once more, knowing what had to be done, and one by one, they entered the Cornfield…

Cornfield Start Here

The starting location is a barn, you will find yourself armed with a wooden plank and carrying a basket, which is for the collection of corn. This corn can be found, not surprisingly, in the cornfield outside the barn however beware The Griefers because they will send you packing, rather quickly.

Cornfield Griefers

 

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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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