Jul 302014
 

Staff and students have both left glowing testimonials regarding the University Of The West Of England’s MA Education in Virtual Worlds postgraduate course, which is taught entirely within Second Life. The course is produced via the Education Innovation Centre.

Liz Falconer, Professor of Technology Enhanced Learning at the UWE gave a little bit more background information regarding the University, explaining that the University has had its own charter since 1992 and covers a wide range of subjects. The University is also home to the world renowned Bristol Robotics Lab. The professor also elaborated a little more about the University’s use of virtual worlds, stating :

We use virtual environments to ready our students for practice in the real world, from law to forensics.

Senior Lecturer in Virtual Worlds, Dr Mari Carmen Gil Ortega said :

The quality of the students in the MA Education in Virtual Worlds, run by the University of the West of England, is unquestionable. I am impressed by the creativity of their work, their analytical skills and their insight and intuition. This shows in their work and assessments results which are outstanding. They also form a real community of practice and have lots of amazing skills to share with the real and the virtual world population. I consider myself privileged and fortunate to work with these talented people and observe their progress as they move through the programme.

I’ll have more from Dr Mari Carmen Gil Ortega later in this post, including a YouTube interview she recently gave. However the positive feedback came not just from staff members, students also joined in :

I am a PhD student having just completed 4 modules in this MA Programme as part of my degree requirements. My research is based on using the virtual world to enhance the learning of Computer Science at the HE level…….

I was privileged to have the opportunity to benefit from the wide range of skills, support and dedication of the academic staff on this programme, who built and advanced my expertise in employing this emerging technology in Higher Education, and well-prepared me to successfully achieve my PhD. – Beslam

Another student on the course to leave positive feedback was Aaron Griffiths. Aaron is Lecturer: Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology – Multiuser Virtual Environments and is also Director of the very interesting F/Xual Education Services. Aaron said of the course  :

Its relevancy for educational practice goes far beyond virtual environments but obviously, given its focus, it does apply much of its theoretical knowledge towards the development of best practice in virtual worlds.

Aaron also explained that he has first hand knowledge of the course, having already completed the eight compulsory modules he is now into the final extended project.

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Jul 292014
 

In better late than never news, Linden Lab have announced that the new skill gaming policy will not now go into effect until September 1st. Linden Lab had originally announced on the 9th July that the policy would come into effect on August 1st, which didn’t give sim owners a lot of wiggle room on a monthly billing cycle.

The new blog post states :

Since our original announcement, we’ve received many applications from Second Life users who want to become approved skill game creators and operators. By moving the date back, we’ll be able to process a larger number of applications and also offer creators more time to make necessary changes to their games.

However at this point, just a few days away from the original August 1st deadline, there are no approved operators or games on the public wiki. This deadline provides all parties, operators, game makers and Linden Lab, some breathing space to ensure the skill gaming policy is smoothly launched.

The policy itself aims to bring some responsibility and legislation to skill gaming in Second Life, with the following broad aims :

  • 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.
  • In summary, skill games that offer Linden Dollar payouts will be allowed in Second Life, but each game, its creator, its operator, and the region on which it is operated must be approved by Linden Lab.

Skill gaming regions are more expensive to run than regular regions, with a monthly tier bill before VAT or any other applicable taxes of US$345.00 a month as well as a US$100.00 conversion fee. I must admit I did not notice the conversion fee cost before and I don’t quite understand why that is required as there’s already a fee for applying for this as well as a license fee so this conversion fee seems to be a tad over the top.

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Jul 292014
 

SLBA In Second Life

Inara Pey reported last week that there would be an In-world legal presentation on the recent updates to the Lab’s Terms of Service. I’m not breaking any new ground here, this post is about exactly the same thing.

The extremely contentious and ultimately for many of us, disappointing, changes to section 2.3 of the terms of service will be discussed as well as the new skill gaming policy. However as the deadline for that has been put back to September 1st it may not be such a hot topic. Alternatively putting the deadline back to September 1st may make for a healthier and less frenzied discussion.

The SLBA discussion is scheduled for 10:am SLT on August 2nd and will be hosted by Agenda Faromet.

The discussion will take place in the SLBA court room, SLURL  : http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Justitia/88/125/951

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Jul 282014
 

Tyche Shepherd reported yesterday that private regions have dropped below the 19,000 mark for the first time since June 15th 2008. There are currently 18,988 private regions on the grid. However it should be pointed out that the rate of loss has slowed down and that is particularly apparent for this year, although the last couple of weeks have accelerated the fall to below the 19,000 mark.

This comes around 53 weeks after private regions dropped below the 20,000 mark. Then the private region count stood at 19,997. However by the end of 2013 there had been a further net loss of 724 private regions, leaving the score on the door of 19,273. At that point a fall below 19,000 looked likely to come in the first couple of months of 2014, but private regions have fought a brave fight against that until the last fortnight. Two weeks ago there were net losses of 39 private regions and this week a net loss of 26 private regions. That means that 65 of this year’s net loss of 285 regions have came in the last fortnight, or to put it another way, 22.8% of this year’s losses have came in the last fortnight.

There’s no rational explanation as to why private region net losses have risen like this, at around this time last year, give or take a week because Tyche went on holiday, there was a net loss of 29 private regions during a fortnightly period. Back in 2012 at around this time of the year there was a fortnightly net loss of 154 private regions. Actually, a fun with numbers quirk from that fortnightly net loss shows that in the first week private regions dropped by 59 and a week later those numbers flipped around with a weekly loss of 95 regions ….. ok it’s just me who finds that interesting isn’t it?

If we go back to the heady days of 15th June 2008, Tyche reported things a little differently, so I don’t know what the net change was but 593 regions were added to the grid that week. Yes that’s right, 593 new regions came online. This was also at a time when Linden Lab could auction new mainland regions and in another, fun facts incident Tyche reported :

Only one new mainland sim was added this week , or more to the point a mainland region has returned to the Grid “The Corn Field” is back since last Monday.

Play spooky music now!

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Jul 262014
 

Outside Daden Campus

I found myself at The Daden Virtual Campus in Unity Web Player thanks to a mail to a mailing list asking whether virtual reality is too real. This was my first visit to a virtual world in Unity, more on that later. However the reason I was there in the first place was due to the Daden July 2014 newsletter (PDF link), which talks about virtual reality. The news letter talks about the Daden Virtual Reality campus at the top but at the bottom moves on to virtual reality.

Virtual reality seems to be back in vogue, to some of us, it never really went away whereas to others, they are still waiting for the great leap forward when it arrives. However the Oculus Rift development, largely led by Facebook’s purchase of Oculus has made virtual reality a topic of discussion again. Whereas I still have very grave misgivings about Facebook’s purchase of Oculus, you can’t help but admire the way that Facebook’s name has helped to make virtual reality a newsworthy item once again.

So back to the mailing list, Dr Michael Vallance ponders :

One of the frustrations I constantly come up against at university conferences is the use of the term “virtual”. I have been involved developing and researching virtual worlds for the past 6 years so to me “virtual worlds” seem the most appropriate “meme”. It seems that the term virtual “reality” has baggage from previous attempts of similar technology. The older academics associate “Virtual” with “virtual reality” and consequently they deem that anything ‘virtual’ is an attempt to replicate “reality” complete with real-world physics such as gravity and form. To some computer science academics, if a development of a virtual space does not have real world replication then it is not virtual. They call it “artificial” which, to me, is incorrect. I argue that a virtual world can be a simulation and it can also be fantasy. It is not necessarily virtual “reality”.

The first thing I thought of when I read this was Gene Roddenberry Jr’s visit to Second Life back in the summer of 2009. Good grief was it really that long ago? As well as describing Second Life as a “cool cool area” and being impressed that there were furries present, he was also impressed by the physics defying fact that he could fly in Second Life. This is something I’ve seen mentioned before regarding virtual worlds, that the laws of physics do not apply, that they are indeed, very different from reality and how cool that is.

However here I realised that all of my thoughts are indeed about virtual worlds, the discussion is rarely about virtual reality, so I think Dr Vallance is onto something when he says that virtual worlds seems the more appropriate choice of words. This may seem a little pedantic but I definitely do think of these spaces as virtual worlds rather than virtual reality.

In many ways it’s a waste of opportunity to stick to the laws of real life physics in any virtual space, be it virtual worlds or virtual reality. This is part of the beauty of going virtual.

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Jul 242014
 

UWE Education In Virtual Worlds MA

The Education Innovation Centre at The University Of The West Of England are teaching a MA Education in Virtual Worlds with the course taking place in Second Life. Learners will have the opportunity to :

  • Explore the application of teaching, learning and research theories in a virtual environment,
  • Develop potential learning activities of their own and test them out
  • Explore the use of non-player characters and bots powered by forms of “artificial intelligence”
  • Design and develop curricula specifically for delivery in virtual worlds
  • Research education in virtual worlds

…and more

The MAEVW is a flexible programme of study, which is taught entirely in the virtual world Second Life. It is supported by online technologies that include virtual learning environments, collaborative tools and video conferencing. This flexibility enables the course to be studied anywhere in the world (with some requirements regarding time zones).

The whole course is a two year programme, although you can choose to take the modules individually if you want. The full programme structure can be read here. There are a number of modules, some are compulsory and some are optional. The compulsory modules are :

  • Orientation in Virtual Worlds
  • Designing Curricula in Virtual Worlds
  • Simulations and Role Play
  • Scripting and Building Learning Environments
  • Research Methods in Virtual Worlds
  • Sociology of the Metaverse
  • Artificial Intelligence, Bots and Non-Player Characters
  • The Philosophy of Education in Virtual Worlds

The programme structure page goes into a lot more detail about the course and all the details.

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Jul 222014
 

Oz Linden’s recent blog post on Tips for Reducing Viewer Crashes urged people to upgrade their operating systems :

Upgrade your Operating System

There is a very clear pattern in our statistics – the more up to date your operating system is, the less likely your Viewer is to crash. This applies on both Windows and Macintosh (Linux is a little harder to judge, since “up to date” has a more fluid meaning there, and the sample sizes are small). Some examples:

  • Windows 8.1 reports crashes only half as often as Windows 8.0

Those of you who stuck with Windows 7 (roughly 40% of users of our Viewer right now) rather than upgrade to 8.0 made a good choice at the time; version 7 still has a much better crash rate than 8.0, but not quite as good as 8.1 (now about 15% of users), so waiting is no longer the best approach.

  • Mac OSX 10.9.3 reports crashes a third less than 10.7.5

OSX rates do not have as much variation as Windows versions do, but newer is still better, and there are other non-crash reasons to be on the up to date version, including rendering improvements.

Upgrading will probably also better protect you from security problems, so it’s a good idea even aside from allowing you to spend more time in Second Life.

However there’s a massive elephant in the room here and it’s the cost of upgrading Windows. OSX is a different kettle of fish and the recent Mavericks OS was even free. Microsoft Windows is different and this highlights an issue for developers as well as end users.

Here in the UK, Windows 8 upgrade for Vista and XP users is £99.99. The upgrade to Windows 8.1 after that is free.

Windows 8.1 itself, which is the path Windows 7 users will likely want to tread, is also £99.99.  These are hefty fees in all reality and a lot of people would rather wait until their computer reaches the end of its life before upgrading.

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Jul 212014
 

Book Island Landing Zone

Book Island isn’t new to Second Life, it has been around since 2007 and claims to be the oldest dedicated literary sim in Second Life. They’ve recently welcomed back a renter by the name of V.L. Dreyer who is the author of The Survivors series of books.

The sim exemplifies what virtual worlds do well, community, it’s clear that there’s community work here with events advertised for a 500 word writing challenge, Open Mic where you or one of the regulars can read in voice, live literature where one of Second Life’s regular live performers reads.

Then there are events aimed at writers, such as an Improv writers challenge and writers chat. There’s also something called Promptly Erotic, which you will have to ask Freda Frostbite about!

I’ve seen communities such as this inside and outside of Second Life. Earlier in the year I took a trip to Opensim to look at the Hypergrid Stories Project. Indeed this community were so nice that even though Second Life isn’t part of the Hypergrid, it was included in the Hypergrid stories project!

One of the reasons for that is of course related to Second Life having an audience that it worth engaging with. This point arose recently in my blog post about Seanchai’s discussion of Second Life and Kitely. The discussion in the comments is quite interesting as we see that authors in particular are not happy with Linden Lab’s TOS but they still want to engage with Second Life.

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Jul 192014
 

There’s an odd forum announcement over on the Inworldz forums :

Over the course of the last couple of months or so, it has become apparent that Linden Labs has been tightening the cash outs, or taking longer, etc., thus forcing people to make accounts over here to attempt to cash their L’s out.

For clarification: InWorldz economy stands on it’s own, we are not tied to Linden Lab, nor any other grid for that matter. When you attempt to cash out against our merchants and residents who are growing this economy, while not being a part of it, we will remove the cashout.

From a business standpoint, we are not about to start absorbing a loss for Linden Lab and their cash outs. This would be very foolhardy on our part to even try to absorb those. If you wish to cash out in our world, then you need to be a part of it, otherwise expect us to put a hold on those monies and not cash them out (as this also sets off my fraud flags when I look over the accounts).

If you are encouraging people to bring their cash outs over here, please stop. This is not helpful to our merchants or residents who do normal business daily in our grid. If you know someone who is encouraging others to do this, please let them know to stop or send them to this thread :)

Thanks everyone!

The odd part about this is that I’m not sure how anyone is exchanging money from Second Life to Inworldz or vice versa, as far I was aware this sort of exchange ended long ago. In their TOS update thread, an October 2012 announcement stated :

Unfortunately, at this time, our losses due to Fraud have become too high to sustain and we are effectively shutting down any ATM business. Owners that we are aware of have been notified, and we will no longer allow intergrid currency exchanging.

Furthermore the InworldZ TOS states :

InWorldz, LLC further establishes that any service designed to transfer I’z into or out of it’s service may result in account termination. This includes, but not limited to: ATM machines designed to transfer I’z out of InWorldz into other currency, people or accounts created to transfer I’z out of InWorldz into other currency, or any other system deemed by InWorldz staff to be accommodating such transfers.

So I am somewhat bemused as to how anyone is using Inworldz for cashing out, rather than cashing out via Second Life.

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Jul 182014
 

Best Old Person?

You don’t need to be a premium member of Second Life to enter a best old person competition. However if you do go as a Dwarf beware that old people sometimes don’t have 20/20 vision, to this end you may be labelled a Gnome! A Gnome! Oh my, the shame of it! Gnomes don’t have beards like this! Anyway, on with the show.

After somewhat berating Linden Lab over the terms of service wiggle they performed, it’s only fair to point out some of the positives coming out of the hard work of the Linden Lab team, including their ongoing improved communications. To this end I will take a look at their blog posts detailing Limited Time Offer: Save 50% on Premium Membership and Get the New Premium Gift Airship! and Upcoming Improvements to Second Life. Yes this blog post comes complete with a two for one offer.

Let’s start with the premium membership offer, it’s the traditional 50% off a quarterly membership, it’s always a quarterly membership for these offers, I’m not quite sure why that is. Here is the important part :

*TERMS & CONDITIONS FOR 50% DISCOUNT
This limited-time discount offer is available only for memberships on the Quarterly billing plan. Discount will be applied to the first quarterly billing cycle only, and all future charges will be at the regular Premium price. To qualify, Second Life members must have an active Basic account or create a new Second Life account. Discount offer begins on Friday the 18th of July at 8:00 am Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) and expires on Monday the 4th of August 2014 at 08:00 am Pacific Daylight Time (PDT).

The one thing that disappoints me slightly, hey I have to be disappointed in all my posts, even slightly, where was I? Oh yes the one slight disappointment is that the blog post states :

As a Premium member, you’ll enjoy rewards like exclusive Resident-created gifts, access to special Premium Sandboxes, as well as Live Chat support. Plus, you’ll get your own inworld home, a L$1000 sign-up bonus, and weekly L$ rewards to spend on whatever you like. You can read more details about Premium benefits here.

Now where this disappoints me (slightly) is that it sells Linden Homes, as in you can get a home, but makes no mention of the fact that you can forego a Linden Home and buy a 512M parcel of mainland instead. I mean I appreciate that a Linden Home is easier to obtain, but it would be nice in many ways if LL tried to point out the alternative option, this is not a big gripe!

The question that comes up often about premium membership is, is it worth it? The answer is, it depends. Premium Membership is ok if you want mainland or a Linden Home, you don’t need to be a Premium Member to own a private region, but of course a private region costs more in one month than a Premium Membership does for a year. The weekly stipend comes in handy and if you think you’re going to stay in Second Life, can actually go a long way to offsetting your premium membership costs.

On the other hand, if you’re not looking for mainland or a Linden Home and don’t care about the stipend, it’s not a feature rich solution, you do get better support. I’ve long said Linden Lab should get more creative with Premium Memberships and offer alternative options, but they seem to work in their current form for Linden Lab. One thing to note is that Premium Members get gifts, the blog post informs us about the new one :

jump behind the helm of your new interactive pirate airship, the Linden Marauder. Enjoy fast-action, high flying fun-near-the-sun, or menace the airways with your armament of cannons.

They had me at pirate! Yarr!

The improvements to Second Life blog post builds upon the discussion with Oz Linden and Gray Of The Lab from San Francisco at the Firestorm Q&A about the future of Second Life.

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