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 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 012014

Meshworx Store

Episode 23 of The Drax Files : World Makers brings to the table a fascinating interview with Second Life content creator Loz Hyde, the owner of the Meshworx brand. Loz has a day job of building 3D models so you may feel that he’s just extending his day job inside Second Life. However his day job includes making models for film and commercials. Amongst his credits are Terminator Salvation, 2012 and Guardians Of The Galaxy.

Loz expains how part of the beauty of a virtual world such as Second Life is that it gives him the power to create a world in his own vision. That world can then be explored by other people via their avatars, they can become immersed in it, they can interact with it.

Cracked Mirror

Loz also points out how as a content creator he can transfer the profits from his sales to Paypal and then to his bank account. There’s money in them there builds. Whereas it’s definitely not easy money, those with the talent to create and market their wares can indeed make real money out of their Second Life experience. Loz also points out one of the big plus points of virtual world items, their durability. A virtual sofa will not erode with age, you won’t get tears and rips in it. Well I guess someone could build a model that does erode, but generally they don’t erode. They will become dated over time of course and whereas Loz doesn’t mention this in his interview, the advent of Mesh in Second Life has made some older prim based items dated. However those old prim based items haven’t eroded!

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Sep 302014

Linden Lab have announced in a blog post that some improvements are heading the way of Second Life. The improvements aren’t exactly what you’d call sexy but they do have the potential to be rather impressive, if all goes to plan.

The first change mentioned is with relation to how graphic settings are detected. Linden Lab are doing away with the old graphics table and using a new benchmark to detect your graphics card instead. On first glance this seems to be more accurate, you may see something like this :

An Image Should Be Here

New Graphics Card Detection

The point of this is described in the blog post from Linden Lab :

Maybe this has happened to you: you got an awesome new graphics card, fired up SL… only to discover your graphics settings are set to Low, and can’t be changed? No more! This Viewer does away with the old GPU table and instead uses a quick benchmark measurement to detect your GPU to assign appropriate default graphics settings on startup. The settings on shiny powerful hardware should really let that hardware shine.

My graphics settings stayed exactly where I expected them to but yes, the new tool did produce more accurate results regarding my graphics card. However if you want to test out this new feature, you will need to download a project viewer, which you can get here : http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Release_Notes/Second_Life_Project_Benchmark/ There’s a Jira issue linked to this entitled Death To The Gpu table but that’s not viewable.

The next change discussed is to do with the login screen, which has been covered brilliantly by Inara Pey already. I recommend reading Inara’s blog post about this because those using the Second Life viewer will see these changes in the near future and Inara’s post has plenty of details on those changes.

The changes currently in the works for the login screen include the addition of a my favourite places dropdown to allow you to login to, well, your favourite places directly from the login screen. This is on top of still having the last location and region option that are already there, but really, read Inara for more information.

The final part of the blog post covers two projects that compliment each other and should bring improvements to the Second Life experience.

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Sep 262014

Admiring The Bookshelves

Linden Lab continue to impress with their Destination Guide promotion and their latest blog post highlighting the destination guide contains some real gems. One that particularly caught my eye was The Chamber Library and so I popped along for a deeper look and was fortunate enough to bump into the creator and owner Storm Septimus.

The Chamber Library officially opened just a few days ago on September 21st and is already being expanded, with Storm hoping to have a new chamber open by September 29th. Storm has been working tirelessly on this build, filling the bookshelves with notecards for books on subject matters such as Poetics, Dream & Short Stories, Demonology & Horror and Superstition. The works of famous authors such as The Brothers Grimm, TS Eliot, William Shakespear, TS Eliot, Arthur Conan Doyle, Voltaire, HG Wells and Oscar Wilde are featured. There’s also a section for budding Second Life authors, more on that later.

Looking at work of SL residents

The build brings together two of Storm’s greatest loves, literature and art. Storm explained to me some of the inspiration and work that has gone into the build :

The library was built on the advice of someone who told me …. in SL everything has been done to death , so give them something that they have never seen before. So I have tried. Another chamber should be completed by September 29th, I am almost there on one chamber and there are two more empty but I have a good idea what I will place in them so it should come together quickly.

I commented to Storm that the build was wonderfully atmospheric and it appears that Storm has been getting good feedback about the build, although she also told me that the work she has put in so far has been exhausting.

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Sep 252014

USMP In Second Life

When Linden Lab ditched the education discount a few years back a few people felt that education in Second Life was dead. However it wasn’t and has been given a boost in the not too distant past by the return of the education discount and Linden Lab showing a more proactive role in promoting education within Second Life.

This is exemplified by Linden Lab’s blog post : Introduction to Second Life for Educators – a Course in Spanish 2nd Edition.

The course is from the University of San Martin de Porres Perú and is aimed at Spanish speaking educators who want to learn how to use Second Life for education purposes. The blog describes the course as :

The Virtual Worlds Project of The University of San Martin de Porres from Perú starts this September 29th the second edition of the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) entitled “Introduction to Second Life for Educators 2nd. Ed.”. The course is free and is designed to train Spanish speaking educators on the use of the virtual world Second Life, and to provide knowledge that allows educators to benefit from its potential, especially in the education field.

The course starts in a few days time on September 29th.

Inside the building

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Sep 242014

Hamlet Au over at New World Notes has a blog post about Blizzard’s decision to cancel Titan. Titan was a planned new MMO from Blizzard, a long rumoured new MMO, indeed seven years long and it never seemed to see the light of day but it was supposed to be the next big thing.

Hamlet’s article has a link to a Polygon post on the same issue : Blizzard cancels its next-gen MMO Titan after seven years. That article has some great quotes from Blizzard’s co-founder and CEO Mike Morhaime and Blizzard’s senior vice president of story and franchise development, Chris Metzen. Linden Lab should pay careful attention here to what is being said and what has happened. Mike Morhaime is quoted as saying :

We had created World of Warcraft, and we felt really confident that we knew how to make MMOs, So we set out to make the most ambitious thing that you could possibly imagine. And it didn’t come together.

Linden Lab have created Second Life and I’m pretty sure that they feel really confident on how to make virtual worlds. They have now set out to make the most ambitious virtual world that one could possibly imagine, but will it actually come together?

Chris Metzen is quoted as saying :

We were losing perspective and getting lost in the weeds a little. We had to allow ourselves to take that step back and reassess why the hell we were doing that thing in the first place.

Linden Lab need to ensure that they don’t find themselves in this position with their future virtual world, that they don’t find themselves making something that isn’t fun, that isn’t really progressing how they would like it to and that might not be worth their time at the end of the day.

Then there’s the World Of Warcraft factor. World Of Warcraft may be in decline but it’s still quite healthy. The same can be said of Second Life. Chris Metzen confirmed that Blizzard will continue to support World Of Warcraft, indeed he goes further and says :

My hope personally is that we’ll support it forever

Linden Lab have said that they will continue to support Second Life, I’m sure there are people at the lab who hope they will support Second Life forever.

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