Sep 132014
 

Joe Miller (AKA Joe Linden) passed away on July 27th after a battle with cancer. Joe was Linden Lab’s VP of Platform and Technology Development between 2006 and 2010. The sad news was reported yesterday by Linden Lab in a blog post : Remembering Joe Miller and a further blog post by Hamlet Au over at New World Notes : RIP Joe Miller, Linden Lab’s Beloved Former Platform VP. Hamlet’s post contains a link to a memorial page about Joe.

Joe joined Linden Lab in 2006 and in a press release from Linden Lab he said :

I’m thrilled to join the team responsible for Second Life, the most interesting interactive platform in existence today. By drawing upon my background in product design and user experience, I look forward to helping make Second Life even more accessible to residents worldwide.

Joe was interviewed by Catherine Smith (AKA Catherine Linden) back in January 2008 regarding the work Linden Lab were doing in Second Life. The interview was part of a podcast series called Inside The Lab and can be listened to here. In the podcast Joe talks about how the Lab were moving away from their downtime procedure. Older residents will remember that the grid used to be taken down for several hours whilst updates were rolled out to the grid. Joe also talked about :

  • Sim stability – with the launch of Havok 4.6
  • Sim performance – with the introduction of Mono for script compiling
  • Viewer stability – by introducing a new crash reporter and graphics card drivers
  • Viewer performance – via Windlight and the new Dazzle UI

Whereas this podcast is more than six years old and many improvements have been made during that time, it still makes for interesting listening because it talks of the challenges of a user generated content virtual world and those challenges are still very relevant today.

Joe also worked on one of the large changes to Second Life, the introduction of voice :

For me, Second Life has always been more about human communication, collaboration, and spirit than about technology. When I talk to Residents about their experiences, one of the recurring themes is improving our communication methods. For so many, Second Life is a place to make and meet new friends and collaborate with others, whether that’s in a business, educational or purely social context.

That’s why today I’m pleased to announce our intention to bring integrated voice capabilities to the Grid. This will enable all Residents to speak with each other if they wish, in addition to the existing Instant Messaging and group chat functions.

Many of you know that voice has always been part of the long-term plan for the Grid, and we truly believe voice can be a transformative technology that will lend more immediacy and dynamism to the way Residents communicate.

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Sep 092014
 

Other Side Of Main Landing

This is all a bit outside of my comfort zone, it involves fashion and shopping in Second Life. These are two activities I’m not that enamoured with. Now if there were Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, fashion and shopping, then I’d be more interested in events such as The 24 Squared.

However for some reason this event, which has been running since September 5th and runs until September 13th, caught my eye. According to a blog post from Siren Productions the event features :

  • 1 Week…
  • 98 Designers…
  • Menswear!
  • Womenswear!
  • Accessories!
  • Skins!
  • Hair!
  • Make-up!
  • Oh My…

Unfortunately there don’t appear to be lions or tigers or bears. However there are models around.

Another Female Model

Now even if this really isn’t your sort of event it’s worth a visit because this seems to be a well designed location, low lag, plenty of wide spaces, but also making good use of scenery to prevent your graphics card trying to eat every texture on the sim too quickly.

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Sep 052014
 

Second Life Image - Friends

I am not quite sure how long Linden Lab have been pointing people to a Flickr pool for promotional snapshots, but I will say it’s a bloody good idea and I’m going to dip into it! Discover Magazine had the same idea as me for the above picture too … wait wait I’m getting confused, I saw it there first! Anyway, Discover Magazine have an article up regarding skin colour in Second Life : Skin Color Still Matters in Video Games . The headline is a little misleading, I’ll get to that shortly.

The article is based on research by Jong-Eun Roselyn Lee : Does virtual diversity matter?: Effects of avatar-based diversity representation on willingness to express offline racial identity and avatar customization. I haven’t read the research paper, only the brief information on that linked page but Discover Magazine delves into it a bit deeper and explains how the study worked :

Lee gathered 56 study participants — half identifying as white and half identifying as black. She then had them read a fabricated magazine story titled “Meet the Coolest ‘Second Life’ Residents.” The eight “Second Life” avatars profiled in the story were either all white, in the low-diversity scenario, or an equal mix of white, black, Hispanic and Asian, in the high-diversity scenario.

She then had them perform two tasks: Create and customize their own virtual avatars, and rate their willingness to reveal their real racial identity through the appearance of their virtual avatar.

She found that black participants reported less willingness in the low-diversity scenario, and that they also created whiter avatars, as judged by objective raters. By comparison, white study participants were largely unaffected by either the high-diversity or low-diversity scenarios.

So this is a small study and doesn’t involved enough people for it to be the sort of vibrant study many would like to see. Another interesting fact is that the 56 people did not actually engage with Second Life in a social sense. They weren’t left to wander around and report their findings.

However the problem with a study such as this is the environment. There are quite a few issues with skins in Second Life. I’ve often seen people bemoaning the lack of choice of darker skins. There are several reasons for this but the main ones seem to centre around darker skins being far harder to give life to in a world like Second Life. The textures don’t stand out as much and therefore fewer content creators want to make them and fewer customers find them appealing. This may explain why the black participants created whiter avatars, those avatars may have just looked more appealing on the screen due to the design challenges of darker skins.

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Sep 042014
 

The Fort Worth Weekly isn’t a publication I generally read. This is no disrespect to the publication, it’s just that it’s not on my radar. However this week’s edition has caught my eye because it has a feature about Matthew Broyles, a singer songwriter who performs in Second Life : Second Life’s a Stage. The tag line is also eye catching : Real-world performers are making real-world money in virtual reality.

The article makes one or two faux pas’ in the eyes of some parts of the Second Life community, the first is with calling Second Life a game :

Broyles and the virtual concertgoers are part of an elaborate computer game. In Second Life, their avatars are human-looking, and they interact across detailed replicas of real-world places like New York City and Chicago. Unlike most computer games, which emphasize fantasy universes and defeating opponents, Second Life is for folks seeking to re-create everyday experiences via virtual reality, including music concerts.

Personally I think people take the “Second Life is not a game” meme a bit too literally and it’s really not worth getting your knickers in a twist over, but hey that’s me. The more important part of that quote is pointing out that Second Life allows people to re-create everyday experiences via virtual reality, including music concerts. That’s the beauty of a user created virtual world.

The second part where the article rubs people up the wrong way is actually based on a quote from Matthew Broyles and again I don’t think this is worth getting your knickers in a twist over :

Broyles, who also performs in the hillbilly hip-hop outfit Shotgun Friday, said most of his friends dismiss his virtual pursuit as frivolous, but he’s quick to remind them that behind every “pixel person” is a real person.

“A lot of them are shut-ins, disabled, or otherwise unable to leave the house and see gigs,” Broyles said. “So I’m performing for people who aren’t ordinarily able to see shows. I find they are more appreciative than some bar crowds who are there to drink and make out.”

Really, all we’re seeing there is that Matthew points out there is a real person behind the avatar and that some people who enjoy the virtual world experience would struggle to see gigs outside of a virtual world due to personal circumstances. Again this is one of the beauties of virtual worlds. One use case cited for the more immersive future is the ability to see music concerts from remote locations. Obviously the idea is for the attendance to be far larger than Second Life can manage, but Second Life is already delivering this use case.

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Sep 022014
 

VHA Building

Episode 22 of The Drax Files World Makers – Virtual Health Adventures, has caught me somewhat by surprise as I thought the final edit was being published today, with the actual episode going live tomorrow. This is all my own fault as we can see from the blog post from Linden Lab, sponsors of the series and from the excellent review of the episode from Inara Pey, others understood that the final edit meant it would be published today! I’ll embed the video at the end of the post.

This episode deals with usage of virtual worlds, why their immersive nature can be far more productive than a traditional website and it even exemplifies people using The Oculus Rift for even greater immersion. Pay careful attention to that because you’ll see how that issue of where the keyboard is, is a very real issue when you’re using The Oculus Rift. However also pay attention to how important the immersive environment is to this episode and of course The Oculus Rift can help to make an environment even more immersive. The main theme however is one that people probably don’t associate with a virtual world such as Second Life, that theme is working with amputees to assist them to overcome emotional trauma.

Sandra L. Winkler, assistant professor at NOVA University in Florida, who teaches occupational therapy says :

“Second Life is the perfect place for amputees to overcome emotional trauma by sharing stories and realizing they are not alone!” 

Dr Winkler, who unlike her namesake Henry, hasn’t yet jumped the shark, is working on a three year study funded by the United States Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. That study is roughly halfway through its three years and whereas Dr Winkler admits that at this stage it’s too early to draw any definitive conclusions from their current work, she does feel that the virtual world environment combined with new technology is a significant next step in tele-healthcare.

Dr Winkler’s research is aided in Second Life by the development work in virtual worlds of Virtual Ability Inc. who have long had a presence in Second Life.

Admiring Scenery

In the episode we see amputees embracing the virtual world and going through exercises as well as putting a virtual wheelchair into a virtual car. There is scientific evidence that this sort of process does indeed help people to be able to transfer these skills to the real world and this was something we also saw in The Drax Files: World Makers Episode 13: Creations for Parkinson’s.

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Sep 022014
 

The new Skill Gaming Policy officially arrived in Second Life yesterday. However it arrived with an apparent late twist to who is authorised to participate. The last blog post on the subject stated :

If you live in a jurisdiction where skill gaming is permitted and you plan on playing these games in Skill Gaming Regions in Second Life, you should not need to do anything differently. However, adding payment information on file now is a good way to help ensure you’re able to play as soon as Skill Gaming Regions are live.

However it seems that there had either been an omission or Linden Lab decided they needed to be a bit more careful regarding who can participate. On August 29th, after some venues had been approved, a change appears to have been made to the FAQ. The change to the FAQ is a sensible one and one that really should have been mentioned before. The change to the FAQ points out that to participate you must have current payment info on file and you must be 19 years of age or older. On top of this you can’t be connecting from a prohibited state or be a resident of a prohibited state.

The change to requiring current payment info on file is likely to throw those who wanted to go play on their alts, although those who are determined to do so know what needs to be done to allow them to access Skill Gaming Regions.

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Aug 302014
 

The movie Mary Poppins turned 50 this week, which is an impressive milestone. A less impressive milestone is Linden Lab’s refusal to allow people to mention Dick Van Dyke in all his glory on the Second Life forum. I’ve mentioned him in his full name here in this blog post, I haven’t been struck by lightning, I haven’t been stampeded by a rampaging mob! Well not yet anyway. Come on guys, apply some common sense with those word filters and ditch the Dick Van **Bleep** silliness.

However one area where Linden Lab are doing a superb job is with their excellent promotion of The Destination Guide. The Lab have been regularly promoting the destination guide and this month is no exception as they blog : Highlights from the Second Life Destination Guide 8/27/2014. I’ll ignore the arse about face date format, I still don’t get the reason for that in a numerical sense.

One of the really nifty features of the Destination Guide is the ad widgets :


Hot Bay City Nights

Now in its third year, Hot Bay City Nights has hot roads and cool cars. Come see established vintage automobile designers in the Bay City Fairgrounds from August 23-30 as they present the best in vintage and retro vehicles for all avatars. Additional events provide plenty for all to do, including the crowning of 2014’s Miss Bay City and a number of charity car washes. The event will raise funds for Child’s Play, a charity that provides toys and games for children in hospitals around the world.

Visit in Second Life

It’s a shame these widgets can’t be used for promoting events. However the destination guide, now that Linden Lab pay it plenty of care and attention, is an excellent resource and Linden Lab are to be commended for promoting, updating and utilising it.

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Aug 282014
 

I’ve recently suggested that Second Life Should Cut The Facebook Cord due to the fact that Facebook is not Second Life avatar friendly. Back in July I suggested that Linden Lab Should Embrace Google+. This was based on the fact that Google + had changed their naming policy to one where people can now use any name they like. Prior to that Google + required you to use a name you were known as, which did allow Second Life avatars to have a presence of sorts, but was still a grey area. There’s no real grey area with Facebook, they want people to use their real name only for accounts.

A good way for Linden Lab to encourage people to embrace the better fit of Google + would be for them to include their Google + page in their connect with us or follow us sections on their website. The Google + page isn’t as popular as the official Facebook page but has had over 4 million views, which is none too shabby.

However like Second Life in virtual world terms, Facebook is where it’s at in terms of social networking. Personally I’m not a fan, I mean I’m really really not a fan. However I do have a Facebook Page. Why do I have a Facebook page? Well because it’s not a breach of Facebook’s terms of service to do so, whereas using my Second Life name as a Facebook account is a breach of the Facebook TOS.

Many Second Life users have tried to use Facebook under their Second Life name and many have found themselves having their accounts deleted, due to that TOS breach. So if you absolutely must use Facebook with your Second Life name, then create a Facebook page for your avatar.

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Aug 272014
 

Linden Lab have issued a reminder : New Skill Gaming Policy in Effect September 1, 2014. The blog post also contains a warning that the new policy will be enforced. Skill Gaming in Second Life is basically defined as :

  • A game where the outcome is determined by skill, rather than by chance.
  • Has the option for payment to participate in Linden Dollars.
  • Pays out in Linden Dollars.
  • Is legal according to United States and international law.

That’s pretty much the gist of it, so if the game allows you to pay in with the option of paying out if your skill allows you to win, then it’s a skill game. Now if those criteria aren’t met, say for example you can pay in but there’s a random chance of the game paying out, such as a traditional fruit machine style game, then that’s gambling and is strictly forbidden.

Now if you haven’t been paying attention then you may be wondering how on earth Linden Lab know if the game you play or create meets this criteria. Well that’s what the Skill Gaming Policy is for. Games of skill will only be allowed to be played on approved sims. Only approved games, created by approved creators are permitted and they can only be operated by approved operators. This means that if your game meets the skill gaming definition, you will still be breaching the rules of the new policy if the game, the land or the person operating the game have not been approved.

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Aug 222014
 

On August 13th I blogged about the problems both Linden Lab and Skill Gaming applicants had experienced with the application process : Skill Gaming Applications Appear To Be A Skill Game In Their Own Right. In that post I highlighted the moving goalposts of the application process and how they were proving challenging to applicants.

Linden Lab had initially set a deadline of August 1st for this policy, that was later pushed back to September 1st. In my post I felt that September 1st was looking a little problematic, indeed I said :

I’m firmly in the camp that believes that this deadline will need to be pushed back again, but that in itself is no bad thing because we can see that this is a learning curve for Linden Lab and applicants. The important thing to do is to get this right.

Days passed and my opinion did not change, there were no signs on the public wiki of any approved games or operators. However it seems that I was wrong, something I’m not afraid to admit, because approved operators, regions and games have started to rear their heads, as we can see if we look at the public wiki page : Linden Lab Official:Second Life Skill Gaming Approved Participants.

Whereas there are a number of listed Skill Gaming Operators, I’m not sure they are all different people, here’s a current list :

  • MooTownGames SLSGO
  • SushantDiesel SLSGO
  • SushantYing SLSGO
  • SushantLecker SLSGO
  • EchoBlaylock SLSGO
  • PokaMachines SLSGO
  • PIGamesResident SLSGO

At this stage I’m not sure if all Skill Gaming operators will have SLSGO after their name or whether this is indicative of this only really being one applicant. The same applicant certainly appears to have more than one operator licence because the contact email addresses are the same in some cases, or extremely similar in others.

There are a number of listed regions associated with each operator, but again we see some regions listed next to more than one operator.

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