Thursday, November 19, 2015

Dutch Boy Running Out of Fingers at Linden Lab

Location: Back at VWER Roundtable

How odd it feels to be blogging again, ever so briefly, about Second Life. I have returned to the virtual world for a couple of VWER meetings and am even considering updating Iggy's avatar shape and skin. His relatively new dreadlocks demand it!

Yet following a post I spotted in New World Notes, about Linden Lab's deciding to lower set-up fees for sims, I thought my two cents might contribute to the debate.

Second Life continues to lose sims at a stately pace. I wonder, as many SLers do, if the entire world is no more than a cash-cow for the Lab to milk until Project Sansar launches. Purportedly, it will:
"democratize virtual reality as a creative medium. It will empower people to easily create, share, and monetize their own multi-user, interactive virtual experiences, without requiring engineering resources. The platform will enable professional-level quality and performance with exceptional visual fidelity, 3D audio, and physics simulation."
These promises are at odds. If Sansar lets us "easily" create such 3D content using our Occulus Rift headsets, it would require tools far simpler than Blender or Maya.  Those high-end tools then put Sansar out of reach of many educators I know.  Motion-sickness issues for the Rift may be easier to resolve than those about the tools needed for content creation. I reserve judgement on the "native building options" the Lab mentions. Perhaps in-world creation for ordinary mortals and student teams will endure, freed from the cumbersome permissions system that hamstrings SL team-builds.

Meanwhile, the Lab's original virtual world chugs along shedding 20-30 sims per week of landmass, rather like an iceberg drifting with the Gulf Stream. The Lindens do no, and probably can not, do the one thing that would democratize Second Life again: cut monthly tiers deeply for ordinary users.
Image of trends for private estates, from

At $25 per month for a homestead and $50 for a full sim, I'd rent server space to make a roleplaying game from my twisted imagination. I could then take advantage of SL's rich marketplace, finely designed mesh avatars and other content. Linden Lab launched its Experience Keys program precisely for content like what I envision. Unlike 3D creations at Turbosquid, the SL marketplace offers content for pennies or just a few dollars. I could build the rest.

I've no faith that the Lindens would do what it takes to get tiers lower, such as moving to a low-rent neighborhood far from San Francisco's posh restaurants and boutiques. I've no faith they'd focus more staff time on finding out what ordinary SLers, and not just their land-barons, need.

It will be interesting to see what happens as Sansar launches. I fear that some SLers are so immersed in the world that they do not see the dyke cracking and the Dutch Boy trying every finger and toe he has to plug the leaks. Then, one day, comes the deluge.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I understand that Project Sansar won’t use the open terrain model of Second Life, but will take place in a number of enclosed spaces – like huge skyboxes.

Those of us who came to SL from Utherverse’s virtual worlds (the largest of those being “Red Light Center”) probably have a good idea of what that’ll feel like. Since Red Light Center is the other virtual world selected to develop an experience for Oculus Rift, it’s probable Project Sansar started converging with Red Light Center’s Oculus Rift version early.

It doesn’t bode well for those us who make the move to the current Second Life to Project Sansar.

Second Life empowers creative individuals at many levels. Becoming a builder in Second Life starts very democratically, making prims in the Create Tool of the SL interface and learning LSL scripting language. That’s all either free or not very expensive at the basic levels. Learning how to make sculpted prims takes more time and involves getting and learning at least some software apart from the Second Life interface and viewer. Making mesh requires expensive software and a huge investment in time and effort learning the craft, but produces stellar results. The process is pretty democratic already.

By contrast, becoming a Mason in real life is easier than becoming a builder in Utherverse if you’d like to do anything more than make simple prims and hang complex textures on them.

A scatterplot of SL gaming experiences clusters around aviation, sailing, role play of various sorts, sex, dance and stylized violence.. Utherverse is more of a theme park for those who are obsessed with sex, dancing and various text-based role play games (like D&D with breaks for heavy breathing in bed or on the nearest scripted flat surface).

Utherverse pixel sex has a price of admission of US$20/month and is restricted to the same animations, moves, and toys all over that world. SL doesn’t make you pay to have pixel sex, and true to its boast of being the largest user-created virtual world, lets its members make the animations, script the sex, and so on. Role play beyond animated sex and dancing is animated in SL, text-based, largely D&D-type adventures in Red Light Center.

To make the Sansar business model work, Linden Labs and Zuckerberg need more than Oculus Rift goggles - they'd require a worldwide economic recovery and a long pause in the War on Terror to allow the current SL player base to afford the current heavy tiers AND all the new hardware they'll need. I don't think even they're that good.