Mar 162015

Login2Life is set for a St Patrick’s Day premiere in the USA at the Reelabilities Ny Disabilities film festival. The film by Daniel Moshel and with musical credits by Bernhard Drax (AKA Draxtor Despres) is described in the blurb as :

Elaborate digital platforms like Second Life and World of Warcraft offer novel opportunities for friendship, sex, employment, and aesthetic experience in virtual communities populated by cartoon-like avatars. Centered around people who have found communities online, Login 2 Life profiles people deeply immersed in virtual worlds, including individuals who are homebound because of their disabilities, and attempts to understand what these individuals get from their virtual lives.

The film is scheduled for two showings tomorrow :

  • 8:30 pm – JCC Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave @ 76th St New York, NY, 10023.
  • 12:00 pm – Pace University, 3 Spruce St, B Level, Angelo Bianco Room, New York, NY, 10038.

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Dec 312014

In this post I will review 2014 from a largely virtual world perspective for the months July to December. This is part 2 , part 1 is the post before this one. I’ll combine both posts into another post for easier future reference once they are both completed. These posts will miss lots of big and interesting stories because the nature of the beast demands some brevity. These post may well look longer than they actually are at first glance because of images and pictures. The aim of posts such as these are to give a brief overview of the year, rather than an in depth review. An in depth review is too long for a blog post, it may make for an interesting book.


New changes to Skill Gaming policies in Second Life were coming to the fore in July, the result would be a learning curve for Linden Lab, creators and region owners. This was not a smooth process. KR Engineering, creator of the very popular Greedy Greedy announced they would be releasing a free to play only version of the game to ensure they did not have to deal with the Skill Gaming Policy.

Experience keys were the flavour of the month as Linden Lab invited us to the Cornfield to experience the new experiences!

Linden Lab updated section 2.3 of their terms of service. The update wasn’t really convincing and remains problematic. CG Textures, who now forbid use of their textures in Linden Lab products remained unconvinced that any of their concerns had been addressed at all and told Jo Yardley :

I’m afraid this does not change the situation for us.

I’m not sure why it’s so difficult for Linden Lab to address this issue. 

Linden Lab announced upcoming improvements to Second Life, including experience keys beta, improving group chat, implementing the chrome embedded framework and more improvements for Mesh and texture loading.

UWE Education In Virtual Worlds MA

I covered the University Of The West Of England teaching an MA in Virtual Worlds within Second Life. This course was aimed at those who want to teach in virtual worlds but some of those taking the course were actually just interested in the subject matter.

Despite the slow down in the loss of private regions in Second Life, the overall amount was still dropping. Tyche Shepherd informed us that the number of private regions had slipped below 19,000 for the first time since 15th June 2008.

The new Skill Gaming policy in Second Life, which had initially been pencilled in to be enforced from August 1st had its deadline pushed back to September 1st.

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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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Sep 152014

World Of Warcraft will hit the impressive milestone of being ten years old on Friday November 21st. Blizzard, who are keen to incorporate party themes into their world will be launching events running all the way through to January 2015. The launch of the latest expansion pack, Warlords Of Draenor will be just prior to the birthday, on November 13th.

In a post on the blog Blizzard explain some of the planned events :

The 10- year anniversary celebration will begin in-game on Friday, November 21 and will last until Tuesday, January 6, 2015 at 10 a.m. PST. Everyone who logs in during this time period will receive the incredibly cuddly, feisty, and fiery new Molten Corgi to love, pet, and call their own. You’ll also be able to participate in a pair of special events to commemorate the occasion.

There will be dungeons, player versus player, achievements and probably a lot of fun. However for those of us in the UK, the birthday spirit has been somewhat tarnished by Blizzard Europe deciding to rise prices for new subscribers who pay in pound sterling. This will mostly be new or returning players based in the UK. Those who pay in other denominations will not get this slap in the face. On a post on their forum Blizzard explain the situation :

We regularly look at our pricing around the world and from time to time we make changes in light of local and regional market conditions. As such, we want to give everyone a heads-up that we will shortly be adjusting the pound sterling subscription price of World of Warcraft.

The new price for recurring subscriptions will be £9.99 for one month, £28.17 for three months (£9.39 per month), and £52.14 for six months (£8.69 per month). The suggested retail price of the 60-day prepaid time card will be £20.99.

As a thank you for current World of Warcraft subscribers, we guarantee that players with recurring (auto-renewing) subscriptions at the time of the price change will retain their current price for two years, as long as they remain in the same recurring subscription without interruption. This applies to anyone who is already in, or signs up for, a recurring subscription prior to the price change, which is scheduled to take place at the Warlords of Draenor release. We will reach out to relevant players approximately two months prior to the price change with a reminder.

Happy tenth birthday to you too Blizzard Europe!

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Aug 142014

Earlier this year Mitch Wagner had an article published in Information Week about High Fidelity : Second Life Founder Pursues Second Chance. The article talked of how Second Life had not reached mainstream appeal and pondered whether High Fidelity can. Mitch wasn’t convinced because of the time investment, but he did acknowledge that Second Life got a lot right. However for the real reason Second Life hasn’t reached mass appeal we need to go to the comments on the article and consider the issue of Orcs :

Second Life would have fared better if it had appealed to MMORPG fans, the primary proven market for such activities. Philip Rosedale, you need orcs.

This comment misses the point of Second Life somewhat and yet in doing so, highlights one of the issues for Second Life and any other virtual world. People see Second Life as a singular place, it’s not, but the architecture of the platform can make it appear so, which brings us to another comment on Orcs :

I think the Orcs comment is spot on. It’s one thing to fix the technological elements, but Second Life never appealed to me because it was so open and amorphous. Part of the fun of an immersive experience is having an objective and a set of limitations to work within (or against). An open world where you can do anything sounds great, but then you run up against the limits of your own imagination.

This comment hits the nail firmly on the head. Second Life needs to deliver experiences as well as offering open creativity, people want something to do. This also goes back to the points Mitch made about time investment, people want to pop into a virtual world, experience something and logout. They don’t want to build, they want to be guided. The problem here isn’t Second Life itself, it’s the way people view Second Life as .. well, Second Life. I’ve said something along these lines before, but for Second Life to reach mainstream appeal it requires people to stop talking about Second Life. This may sound somewhat odd but my point is that Second Life should be viewed as the technology. The experiences the places people visit, the places people learn at, the places people role-play, they should be at the forefront of the major discussion, Second Life should be consigned to the geeky conversation about technology.

Now of course virtual worlds offer a sandbox experience and the concept is absolutely brilliant. Virtual worlds such as Second Life, Kitely, Inworldz, OpenSim etc. offer authors, creators, designers the opportunity to build their very own stage and bring their own visions to life. This really is a fantastic opportunity for people who want to get creative, to do so. However there are many many people who want to be guided through an experience, they want to teleport right in to the end product. Virtual worlds do indeed offer great potential but to some, a blank canvas is very difficult to grapple with.

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Jul 032014

Over at the Institute For Ethics & Emerging Technologies Giulio Prisco has a thought provoking post : Virtually Sacred, by Robert Geraci – religion in World of Warcraft and Second Life. The post is inspired by a forthcoming book by Robert Geraci : Virtually Sacred: Myth and Meaning in World of Warcraft and Second Life. The book is pencilled in for an August 2014 release according to Amazon UK.

The book has a few chapters on Second Life and includes the virtual age old debate of Immersionists v Augmentationists. The basic difference is considered to be that immersionists see a virtual world such as Second Life as a place where they completely immerse a new self, one that is separate from their real life, a sort of parallel existence. Augmentationists are generally considered to be people who see Second Life as an extension of their real life, they will talk of their real life experiences, partners, job etc but will also embrace Second Life.

This used to be quite a hot topic in Second Life. Back in February 2008 New World Notes highlighted a brief discussion between the two camps with representations from Sophrosyne Stevenaag and Cyfish Traveler. Sophrosyne used to host some really interesting discussions on a Saturday evening back in the day too. Another name in these circles whom I haven’t seen or heard anything from for quite a while is Extropia DaSilva. I’d long forgotten about these sort of discussions until I read Giulio’s post today, they used to get quite heated to say the least.

Another subject at hand is that of Transhumanism, whereby people upload their brains to the machine. There are still plenty of discussions surrounding this today but not so much in Second Life as they once were. Giulio suggests a reason for this :

Transhumanists – techno-spiritual seekers who think that science and technology can and should carry humankind through its next phase of evolution – made a home in Second Life between 2006 and 2009, after which the pace of transhumanist events in Second Life slowed down due to the general Fall from media grace of Second Life.

I don’t quite agree with that theory, Second Life is still going well. I’d suggest that it may well have been that discussion groups have a hard time raising tier money, which is an age old problem for many communities in Second Life. The barriers are more financial.

Anyway back to the book, at its heart seems to be the theory that virtual spaces provide the means to build religious spaces in a fashion that 2D web pages simply can’t replicate. Furthermore they provide the means to provide spaces for new religions, as well as established ones. In his blog post Giulio explains this as :

One of Geraci’s central points is that shared virtual spaces provide a sense of place, direction, and orientation, which has profound implications for religious practice. Contrary to flat web pages, in virtual reality we can build holy places, cathedrals, and sacred objects, which act as a “physical” scaffolding to hold virtual religious communities together. While vision and hearing are powerfully engaged in consumer 3D virtual realities, the possibility to touch objects in virtual spaces “in which the brain regions associated with grasping can potentially respond as though to conventional reality,” isn’t available yet to most consumers, but this will change with new haptic interface devices. I am persuaded that next generation VR platforms, with support for haptics and full-immersion display devices like the Oculus Rift, will soon take virtually sacred spaces above critical mass.

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Jun 212014

It’s a comparison I’ve made many times before, Second Life and World Of Warcraft both sit proudly at the top of their respective classes. Despite technologically superior newcomers arriving, they have both fought them off, they both contain the social ingredient that has allowed them to thrive and enjoy greater longevity than many believed they could. I made the following point in a post at SLUniverse regarding the hurdles a new venture faces :

Second Life has a lot of similarities to World Of Warcraft, right place, right time, and they bagged those interested and despite falling numbers continue to have more than enough to make other ventures jealous beyond belief, despite others offering more modern options.

Along came Bagman Linden, AKA Jeff Petersen, Vice President of Engineering at Linden Lab who on his arrival at Linden Lab introduced himself via a blog post :

For me, the challenges and the opportunities at the Lab are a perfect fit for my background. I come to the Lab with over 20 years of experience as a game developer and engineering lead, primarily in the MMO area. Prior to joining Linden Lab, I spent 10 years working for Sony Online Entertainment doing MMO RPG development (with a focus on the networking, servers, and core technologies), along with PS3 and PSP development. Some of the titles that I worked on include: Everquest, Everquest II, Star Wars Galaxies, Planetside, Untold Legends PS3, Field Commander PSP, FreeRealms, and CloneWars Adventures.

Bagman disagreed slightly with my comparison of Second Life and World of Warcraft, Bagman feels that virtual worlds haven’t reached the World of Warcraft stage and that Second Life is more akin to Everquest, as he explained in a reply :

It’s interesting that you compare Second Life to World of Warcraft, as I have made similar comparisons myself, but come to different conclusions.

Before I joined Linden Lab a little over 3 years ago, I was at Sony Online Entertainment for over 10 years. I was part of the EverQuest development team for years, and at the time, EverQuest was the biggest MMO RPG on the market by far, and with the revenue it was generating, it was the envy of the industry.

For years EverQuest had similar user engagement and revenue to what Second Life has. I remember well at the time the common belief at Sony and in the rest of the industry was that EverQuest was a smashing success and people would be thrilled to match it.

Then Blizzard came along and created World of Warcraft, a product that was ultimately over 30 times more successful than EverQuest. We can speculate why that is, but I personally believe it came down to the quality and polish of their product. Fundamentally, the game was very similar.

The comparison that resonates with me is between Second Life and EverQuest. Both are similarly aging products with similarly sized user bases. Both at the top of their market segment. Both had countless people trying to bump them off with little success. We know how the story ends with EverQuest.

I believe the virtual worlds market is ripe for their own ‘World of Warcraft’ to come along and show us just how much bigger this market could be. And I don’t think you need to leave behind anything (concept wise) that made Second Life successful in order to see that growth. But you do need to raise the bar, and that is exactly what we intend to do.

Interesting stuff. I haven’t played Everquest, but I can see where Bagman is coming from here. He’s basically making the point that the virtual world market is ready for something really big to catch people and that what’s happened before is impressive, but possibly way below potential.

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Mar 312014

Earlier this evening when I logged into World Of Warcraft, there was a warning that things may be a tad slow. They were not. When I logged in later this evening, I saw the following message :

An image should be here

WoW Warning

A couple of my friends asked me if I was lagging, which is a question I sometimes get asked when I’m down the pub, but they were referring to lag and latency in the game. I was fine, they clearly were not as after not responding for a while both disconnected.

The issue it seems is due to a series of DDoS attacks on some European Online services, but certainly not all. The message from WoW indicated it’s not Blizzard under attack. Some Second Life users in Europe may have had a rough evening too.

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Mar 292014

I went back to World Of Warcraft recently, the road back has been a slow one but I’m now firmly back playing. One path on the road to return was the free to play option whereby you can play for free up to level 20, this was how I first returned to the fold. Getting to level 20 these days doesn’t take long and there are some other restrictions on the account, but it took me back to Azeroth and from there I was hooked enough to subscribe again.

The Elder Scrolls Online launches tomorrow, in what is called an early access stage. Those who have purchased the correct version of the game start five days ahead of the official launch. There are some who will start three days ahead of the official launch. The game comes with a 30 day subscription and then the monthly subscription costs are :

  • $14.99/30 days
  • €12.99/30 days
  •  £8.99/30 days

This is hardly extortionate but comes in an era when more and more titles offer a free to play option. The thing that oft gets forgotten with free to play options is that there are payment models included, some offer a monthly subscription with perks.

I started and subscribed to Age Of Conan, Star Trek Online and Star Wars, so I’m familiar with subscription models. However the times have changed and yet, World Of Warcraft is still going strong, with a largely subscription only model. This is the game that many cite as an example of how the subscription model works and they use it as an example of Zenimax making the right choice in going subscription only with The Elder Scrolls Online. However there are some gaping flaws in this theory.

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Mar 082014

GamesBeat have published a very intersting article : Comparing the virtual worlds of Warcraft, Second Life, and Eve Online to our own yields some surprising stats. The article itself links to a funky report by digital marketing agency Epiphany with a blurb of :

The online world is very different to our own, with new rules, new races, and new ways of living. There are, however, some similarities – take a look at our breakdown of the internet’s biggest virtual worlds to find out how they measure up against real life.

This isn’t the most detailed report in the world but the site does provide some interesting stats. Introducing Second Life they say:

Second Life is seen as an online marketplace as well as a game, and many players have been able to earn serious cash thanks to the easy way in-game currency can be sold for real-world money. More casual players use the game to build, customise and create, developing a literal second life in which their character can live out the player’s desires and fantasies – whether that’s a mansion and a helipad or the romance of a lifetime!

The website has a series of icons which lead to other little gems of information when clicked, I’m not going to cover them all but I’ll mention a few. In terms of Second Life they point out that English is the most popular language with 54% of users speaking that language, which compares to 18% in the real world.

In terms of user growth we’re told :

Between 2006 and 2011, global internet usage doubled in growth – in the same timeframe, Second Life saw a 4000% increase in users.

That’s rather impressive. Another interesting point is made with regards to financial institutions and economies, although I’m not sure things happened exactly as they seem to suggest :

In 2007, Second Life saw a huge financial incident which mirrored the bank crises we’ve seen in the real world since the start of the recession. When the developers announced that gambling in-game would be officially banned, thousands of users rushed to Ginko Financial, an in-game bank offering astronomical interest rates, to retrieve and sell the currency from their accounts. This caused a run on the bank which eventually resulted in a complete shut-down – wiping out around $750,000 (£457,736) in real world money. The incident has since been used by financial experts across the web as an example of what happens when banks fail to self-regulate.

The part where I disagree with them is regarding the rush of people to Ginko. I don’t remember that happening, I do remember the Ginko scandal but I don’t recall a rush due to the gambling ban. I can recall arguing with people that if real life banks faced a close down in the manner that Second Life banks did that there would be a rush on the banks that they wouldn’t be able to handle.

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