Jul 152015

Vortex Alleyway

Eric Johnson over at Re/Code has reported : At Investor Event, VR Startups Brace for Slow Growth. The article centres around venture capitalists who seem a tad reluctant to buy into the Virtual Reality hype cycle at this moment in time.

UploadVR co-founder Nick Ochoa told the venture capitalists that they looked nervous and a report being prepared by his site backs this claim up. 164 venture capitalists have invested in VR companies until now, but 142 of them have done so only once.

Caution does seem to be the order of the day, Eric quotes High Fidelity’s Philip Rosedale as saying :

We will probably see lower adoption than everyone expects in the next year or so, but it will pick up,……My advice is, don’t overspend right now. Stock up for three or four years.

This seems to be a very sensible stance to take. VR has a lot of potential and a lot of exciting scope, but it has not yet delivered.

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Apr 022015

Back in 2012 some researchers decided that they wanted to conduct a survey on virtual worlds. Now, over two years on, the results of that survey have been revealed and the results are rather fascinating : Virtual Worlds Survey Report – A Trans-World Study Of Non-Game Virtual Worlds –Demographics, Attitudes, And Preferences.

The survey has been published by :

  • Celia Pearce – Game designer, author, researcher and teacher.
  • Bobby R. Blackburn – Independent game designer and research consultant.
  • Carl Symborski – Chief Engineer at Leidos Inc.

The survey doesn’t just focus on Second Life as a virtual world, its scope goes beyond that. However I’m going to focus on some Second Life aspects. The first one that strikes me as very interesting is that the survey results suggest that Second Life residents roleplay more than people who play MMORPG’s. The reason for this, the report suggests, is that people who play games focus on content, whereas Second Life residents focus more on creative and social aspects, such as roleplaying and dancing. Dancing as it turns out is very popular in Second Life.

Another point from the survey results of those who responded from Second Life is that the average age was 37. This isn’t that much higher than the average age I’ve seen reported from surveys about gamers.

Another point about Second Life is more about how the publishers sought responses. They didn’t just go to the official Second Life forum. They advertised on SLUniverse and New World Notes. This suggests that they had a bit of a clue about how virtual communities can utilise websites and forums away from the official sites.

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Mar 162015

Iris Ophelia has received a reply from Twitch regarding whether streaming of Second Life via their service is allowed : Update: Twitch Responds With Their Stance on Streaming Second Life. The long and short of it is, that Second Life streaming is indeed prohibited :

Second Life is not permitted for streaming and those accounts reported for doing so will be suspended. Content in this game is unrated and often sexually explicity, which is content we do not allow on our services. We also do not permit Adults-Only rated games and games where nudity is the core focus, feature, or goal.

Please read our Rules of Conduct regarding sexually explicit acts or content for more information:


I could write a long rambling post about this, or point out that Grand Theft Auto, an 18 rated game, is happily streamed. However I’d rather just point people in the direction of The Drax Files : World Makers on YouTube, which is certainly not a series that exemplifies nudity being the core focus, feature or goal.

Another virtual world event that doesn’t have nudity as the core focus, feature or goal is Virtual Worlds Best Practices In Education, which starts on Wednesday of this week and it’s a far more important topic. This is the 8th annual event and here’s a brief explanation of what it’s all about :

Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education is a global grass-roots community event focusing on education in immersive virtual environments. This open conference is organized by educators, for educators, to provide an opportunity to showcase the learning that takes place in this community of practice. All educators are encouraged to present, attend and take part in this discussion of collaborative deeper learning and co-presence in virtual worlds and games.

The Opening Keynote speech will be from Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg in Second Life, however this conference does go beyond Second Life, other featured speakers include :

Pam Broviak – Manages the Public Works Group, an online resource offering information related to public works, government, and social media.

Gord Holden – Recipient of the Virtual Education Journal’s Reader’s Choice Award as the Edovator of 2014.

Jeroen Frans – One of the three Founders of the Vesuvius Group, LLC, and functions as Executive Director and Virtual World Technology Specialist.

Sensuous Maximus – Co-founder of the renowned Builders Brewery within Second Life.

Susan Toth-Cohen – Professor and director of the post-professional clinical doctorate in occupational therapy at Thomas Jefferson University.

John Fillwalk – Serves as the senior director of the Hybrid Design Technologies initiative [HDT] and as the director of the Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts [IDIA Lab} at Ball State University.

Jay Jay Jegathesan – Holds a Bachelor of Commerce (Hons) from the University of Western Australia (UWA), majoring in management and marketing.

For more detailed biographies about these speakers go here : http://vwbpe.org/conference/vwbpe-2015-keynotes-and-featured-speakers

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Feb 262015

In a blog post entitled This One Goes To Eleven, High Fidelity reveal that they have raised a further $11m in funding from Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital :

We are happy to announce today that we have raised an additional $11M in funding, in a new round led by Vulcan Capital and with participation from other new and existing investors. This is certainly great news for us, but also great news for the overall VR ecosystem as we continue to see more and more validation from the investing community that VR presents enormous opportunities.

The point about validation is very important. At the moment I see a lot of hype and technologies emerging with regards to virtual reality but the proof of the pudding really lies in investment. Whilst investment is still rolling in, it suggests that many people really do believe that something concrete will emerge.

High Fidelity itself is still progressing at a nice pace. I’ve been impressed by the fact that they haven’t tried to rush into producing a product that isn’t ready for prime time. An article over at TechCrunch regarding the new funding exemplifies the point about High Fidelity’s progress :

The main idea driving High Fidelity forward is the ability to quickly generate a virtual space to meet in and interact with. While the interface is far from final, it’s already at the point where you can pick a template, choose a name, and instantly have a space accessible by others. Each space is essentially a small video game world, filled in with the same 3D models you’d build for a game built with Unity.

Creating your own world in High Fidelity is a lot easier than it once was, you can be up and running fairly quickly these days with some starter content already included. However High Fidelity is still very much Alpha and that should be taken into account if you see or visit a High Fidelity world. The TechCrunch article is well worth a read if you’re interested in High Fidelity. However back to the High Fidelity blog post :

Our next big milestone will be an open alpha version of our system which will allow everyone to start deploying interconnected shared VR spaces.

Although the blog post doesn’t inform us just how far away open Alpha is, it is encouraging to see the High Fidelity team mention this.

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Nov 192014

Philip Rosedale was interviewed by Signe Brewster at Gigaom Roadmap 2014 yesterday and Gigaom have posted the interview in an article entitled : The gap between virtual reality and sci-fi is shortening. Philip talks about virtual worlds, including Second Life and not surprisingly, High Fidelity.

The video is interesting because Philip talks about the past and future of virtual worlds as well as discussing how science fiction is a good influence for him. The interview runs for about half an hour and that includes a Q&A session.

There’s a really interesting part of this interview where Philip talks about body language. New devices allow virtual worlds to capture the body language of the person behind an avatar and reproduce that body language inside a virtual world. High Fidelity staff conducted an experiment where they were each interviewed in High Fidelity using the same avatar and then those videos were later played back to all of the staff without sound. The staff members quickly realised that they could recognise who was who based on the face gestures and body movements of each avatar.

When asked about what he has learnt from Second Life Philip talks about economies, virtual communities and how people will self organise. This may explain why High Fidelity is more of an open source venture than Second Life was. Philip has witnessed that people will self organise and presumably he also feels they are capable of self governance. Philip does point out that technology has changed since Second Life was created, for example there was no cloud computing back then and he does state that they tried to make Second Life as open as they could. This is a comment that has a lot of merit. Whereas Second Life isn’t open in the way High Fidelity will be, it remains very open in the concept of user generated content.

Philip talks of how reading science fiction is almost an instruction manual for building virtual worlds and his big influence in this area is, not surprisingly, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.

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Nov 062014

An interesting post on The Verge : The Big Future: Can we build a virtual world? The question may initially seem odd to those who have experienced virtual worlds such as Second Life, Kitely, OpenSim and are keeping their eyes on future virtual worlds such as High Fidelity and Linden Lab’s next generation platform. However the question is one that goes beyond the current generation of virtual worlds :

The web is fine, but how do we get the internet we always wanted — a “real” space you can walk around in, like the Metaverse from Snow Crash? It’s not a new question, but it’s one that’s being taken a little more seriously now that a huge company like Facebook is putting its weight (and its money) behind virtual reality. In this week’s Big Future, we look at what it takes to build a convincing virtual world, why we’re not there yet, and what we might do if we got one.

The Metaverse that exists in Snow Crash has long been the inspiration and dream of many a virtual world enthusiast, but will we ever get there? Indeed do we really want to get there? That level of immersion may well read well in a novel but can it ever really be a place that will happily co-exist with the physical world?

There will be no real answers to this until we have an answer to the question “Are we there yet?” As The Verge article states, it’s easy to trick the eyes, it’s a lot more difficult to trick our other senses and natural motion. For example The Verge talks about walking in a virtual world and how that’s far more of a challenge than tricking our eyes. I remain sceptical because of the sheer number of peripherals required at the moment to achieve greater immersion. However over time those peripherals will become less intrusive and more intuitive.

Obviously the full on immersion that some crave may not be the route to go. Whereas I fully expect greater immersion to open many a great door, I do feel that some doors may be better if they remain locked. The Verge article does mention the current virtual world scene :

We already have examples of “virtual worlds” like Second Life, and they’ll only get cooler with immersion. But some of the most exciting possibilities involve blending the physical world with VR. Sharing experiences will become more intense, and online research takes on a whole new meaning.

However one area that The Verge article doesn’t touch upon is who will be running the bold new worlds.

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Nov 042014

If EndgagetExpand doesn’t tickle your fancy then there’s another conference taking place this weekend that is well worth keeping an eye on, it’s the OpenSimulator Community Conference, which takes place on November 8th-9th. Unfortunately inworld tickets are already sold out for the conference but you can register for a free streaming ticket.

The basics of the conference can be found on the about page of the conference website, but I’ll give you a brief snippet :

The OpenSimulator Community Conference is an annual conference that focuses on the developer and user community creating the OpenSimulator software. Organized as a joint production by the Overte Foundation and AvaCon, Inc., the conference features two days of presentations, workshops, keynote sessions, and social events across diverse sectors of the OpenSimulator user base.

The OpenSimulator Community Conference 2014 features four themed tracks and a Learning Lab for hands on hackerspaces, speedbuilds, and more:

  • Business & Enterprise
  • Content & Community
  • Developers & Open Source
  • Research & Education
  • Learning Lab

This conference features a lot of speakers whom followers of Second Life and virtual worlds will be familiar with. They include :

  • Philip Rosedale – High Fidelity
  • Nara Malone – Greyville Writer’s Colony
  • Steve LaValle – Oculus VR
  • John “Pathfinder” Lester – Reaction Grid
  • Maria Korolov – Hypergrid Business
  • Ilan Tochner – Kitely
  • Caledonia Skytower – Seanchai Library
  • Tranquillity Dexler – Inworldz
  • Latif Khalifa – Radegast, Singularity
  • Jessica Lyon – Phoenix Firestorm
  • Kim Anubis – The Magicians

There are many more speakers whom some of you will be familiar with, it’s a jam packed schedule full of interesting looking discussions.

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Oct 072014

Episode 39 of The Drax Files Radio Hour is another packed affair with the star attraction being Argyle Alligator. However as usual there’s much more than that and they touch upon Facebook’s real name policy with Jo Yardley and Drax both seeming far from impressed about Facebook’s policy. However I really can’t see room for Second Life’s profile feed to fill much of a gap here. Jo does however make good points about the features of social networking sites to promote events which brings me back to an old point of mine, web pages for groups.

This is something that could be added to the Second Life profile feed and the advantage of a web based group page advertising events is that it means you don’t have to send landmarks, notecards, textures, etc. All you would need to do is send a link to the event on the group web page.

Moving on, they give a shoutout to the 250th edition of Designing Worlds which was broadcast on October 6th and has already been covered in her usual magnificent manner by Inara Pey.

However the main feature is an interview with in game reporter Argyle Alligator who talks about his interviews, which are at times amusing. Argyle Alligator isn’t only an in game reporter for Second Life, he also interviews people in Garry’s Mod and Rust but this interview is largely about his Second Life experiences.

Argyle also shares the new user experience of Second Life and highlights some issues he found, how he had to work out the teleport system for himself, how he had difficulties finding locations that supported voice. This is important for Argyle’s work as he conducts his interviews with voice.

Argyle also offers up some good suggestions about starter zones including having verified residents of Second Life easily identifiable to help new participants. Drax also asks him about the UI. Drax has commented often that the Second Life UI isn’t complicated. I disagree, not because I find it difficult myself but because when so many people keep raising this point then it does suggest there’s an issue. I’m ok with the Blender UI too but I’ve seem many complaints about that as well. There is an issue, but it’s difficult to put your finger on exactly what it is but Argyle Alligator offers some insight on this.

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Jul 182014

Episode 13 of The Drax Files Radio Hour featured an excellent interview with Richard A. Goldberg. I covered it here : Second Life TOS – Why Bergs Should Collide. I’m not going to go over it all again but Richard made some excellent points on why the TOS was problematic, why Linden Lab should not need all the terms they require, why there should be limitations and he did all this in a very calm and rational manner. Ebbe Altberg should at least listen to what Richard A. Goldberg had to say and then he may understand more of what the issue is.

The Linden Lab blog post on the updated terms of service states :

As part of an update to our Terms of Service today, we have made a modification to further clarify Section 2.3. The updated section still provides Linden Lab with the rights that we need in order to operate and promote Second Life, so you will see that we have retained much of the language as the previous version. However, the updated section now also includes limits that better match our intended meaning, and we hope will assuage some of the concerns we heard about the previous version.

Now the problem arises with the words that have been left in. First of all let’s rewind a little and give Linden Lab some credit for the change they did make, but also let’s rewind further and see what the controversial section said before the changes of last August, a time when it wasn’t remotely controversial :

You agree that by uploading, publishing, or submitting any Content to or through the Servers, Websites, or other areas of the Service, you hereby automatically grant Linden Lab a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, sublicenseable, and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content solely for the purposes of providing and promoting the Service.

I’m struggling to understand why that is no longer suitable, it’s clear, it’s to the point and there’s no ambiguity as to whether it refers to the Second Life service or not. However let’s move on to the controversial TOS and break this down, again, first of all this part :

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)

Now that’s better than before because of the part about being with respect to Second Life, inworld or otherwise. That’s the big plus point from the change, the problem is with the next part of the TOS, which makes absolutely no reference to this limitation.

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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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