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Oct 03, 2006

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1.

Many of the 90 comments on the We Need Community Managers thread made over this past week ended up centered on Second Life.

One of the things I personally enjoy about TerraNova is its collaborative nature, and the emergent effects we see when twenty odd VW luminaries gather in one place and post that which interests them. I don't take it as any sort of slight against Second Life (or any indication that the TN authors are out of touch with the VW mainstream) that there hasn't been a topic started with a focus on Second Life in three whole weeks. (FWIW, we've gone far longer without touching on other topics -- when was the last time we checked in on A Tale in the Desert, for instance?)

So let me turn the question around: besides being covered by other organizations, why should we be talking about Second Life? How does discussing Second Life inform or develop our collective view of virtual worlds?

2.

Good points and good question, Samantha -- I can go with that. :-)

3.

Because it's unique?

4.

Every virtual world is unique in some ways and derivative in others, csven.

(I commented on this article on my blog, and I apologize but am reposting it here, but the post was initially intended as a comment here.)

There's an article over on Terranova this morning talking about whether Second Life should be discussed more on Terranova or not. The article's author, Greg Lastowka, points out numerous bits of pseudo-mainstream press coverage like the Economist and Wired, wondering whether the media coverage alone warrants more discussion of Second Life. Leaving aside the fact that Linden Labs is presumably paying their PR firm - Flashpoint - to help generate, and to place, these stories in the media, my answer is no. Media coverage doesn't mean something is actually worth talking about. Just turn on American TV news to see what I mean.

Personally, I think Second Life gets media attention because mash-ups are accessible: Harvard course in a game! Fashion in a virtual world! These are easy-to-grasp stories for the media to pitch and actually have a kernel of potential interest to your non-virtual-world-using public, for whom a story on the motivations behind WoW moving from 40 to 25 man raids would be pretty inaccessible.

Purely anecdotally, the only time we've gotten nationwide TV coverage was when we put Gleam (addictive drug) into Achaea, allowing reporters to title stories, "DRUGS IN A GAME!" Gleam is not a very interesting part of our games, as far as I'm concerned, but that parallel to something that everyone understands in the physical world made it a powerful media hook.

I guess I don't see a reason to focus on something just because the media is focusing on it. World of Warcraft, or Runescape, or Habbo Hotel, or Cyworld, etc all have far bigger impacts on the world both in terms of the consumer and in terms of influencing the creators of new virtual worlds. They are what matter in the virtual world space in terms of impact. Second Life remains a relatively small virtual world that has little impact on the virtual world space as a whole, I think.

That's not to say SL isn't doing some interesting things, but almost every story in the media about SL runs the same way, "Brick&Mortar institution jumps on the PR bandwagon and sticks something in Second Life." What we don't seem to get a chance to see is how impactful that actually is beyond generating an initial press release for Linden and the Brick&Mortar institution. Susanne Vega's much-touted in-world performance, for instance, was reportedly seen by only a few dozen people. Wells Fargo decided to move its experiment to ActiveWorlds, etc. All we tend to hear is an initial flash of hype, and then little else.

So in summary, I believe that (and I mean no disrespect to Linden), is that Second Life generates media attention not because it's having much of an impact, but because its genre-less world makes it easy to generate endless PR opportunities touting "Thing from physical world in Second Life." Better yet, those PR opportunities seem to require no follow-up. The investment needed to generate it is so small, relatively speaking, that it doesn't matter if it actually has an impact. The press release is the main intended impact, or so it typically seems to me.

--matt

5.

I'm very much an outsider to Terra Nova and virtual worlds research in general, but I'll say that Harvard is interested because of the mostly unique combination that people can (1) join for free (2) create things freely (3) intertwingle real and virtual world easily. We couldn't trivially do the real world->in world video/audio streaming we do anywhere else that I know of, and that was pretty crucial to us. I'd think that combination of issues, and understanding why they are or are not compelling, is a pretty interesting one for Terra Nova. [For example, Matt seems to assume that #3 is not interesting, when it clearly is interesting to a lot of people- I'd love to see Terra Nova discuss that.]

6.

[I forgot to mention that I used to work at the Berkman Center; that's why I mention Harvard in particular.]

7.

Second Life has captured the imagination of many people such as those Greg lists above -- almost all of whom are speaking to or writing for audiences generally unfamiliar with virtual worlds and who are unlikely to be captivated by the prospect of playing an undead warlock or cow-man shaman.

So why doesn't it get more respect around here? First, I think it does get a fair amount of respect and discussion (some have said that SL and WoW are almost all we talk about, and as Samantha notes often SL is the topic within the topic). To have built what they have represents a tremendous and noteworthy effort, no doubt about it. SL breaks the mold of otherwise game-like virtual worlds.

That said, nagging issues remain that dampen the enthusiasm of many who follow virtual worlds closely:

- SL's PR pumps up its popularity (much as anyone wants to, whether you're pitching a restaurant, movie, or MMOG), but as we've discussed several times, they seem to play fast and loose with their reported numbers -- or at least, their numbers are apples to other virtual worlds' oranges. This doesn't bother some people; for others it leaves a whiff of skepticism, or even cynicism (with a touch of sour grapes, maybe) about SL's ostensible popularity.

- Other than porn and slavery fantasies, there's not much to do there for most people. I know, I know, the aficionados will take umbrage at that and point at the small Harvard or musical gatherings or the like. But from the POV of the average, typical, new user, what I hear from 'civilians' trying it out is just that: they went in, couldn't find many people, and couldn't find anything to do next (and/or, "and then I teleported into this really strange place..."). Even if there are 100K active users (by some definition) in SL, that means that about 0.1% of them are able to participate in the special events, and 99.9% are left with whatever else they can find.

- It remains unproven technically and as a business. This may be hard to imagine given its apparent success thus far, but there are still, from an outsider's POV, important scaling and security issues that SL hasn't fully addressed; and they are AFAIK still not close to profitable. They have the benefit of a very long runway and lots of venture capital, but it remains to be seen whether an all-user-created-content world can fly on its own.

- Finally, SL attracts 'true believers,' just not gamer true believers. Those who promote and defend SL do so with terrific zeal, but they are often those not overly familiar with other online worlds. There's a lot to be said for attracting a non-game audience (any way we broaden the potential user base is a good idea from my POV), but nevertheless this means that MMOG fanatics and SL residents will often speak past each other, neither seeing their own religious zeal (it's a common sort of rift: vi and emacs, Mac and PC, Ginger and Mary Anne). This zeal feeds the PR engine of course, pumping up the true believers while obscuring important issues and attracting those who have only read about this 'online world' thing in an article someplace. The problem is the other issues that remain unresolved while some are left to wonder why SL doesn't get more respect. Ultimately, despite all Linden Labs' accomplishments, it seems sometimes that SL could be a victim of its own PR -- that it could be in danger of becoming that worst sort of celebrity, one 'famous for being well-known.'

8.

My job has changed massively in the past few month due to Second Life being what it is. I am now a metaverse evangalist and go around showing people how they can be much more effective in interacting with one another.
Second Life has the unique quality of not being a game. Thats great for people in business. It also allows us to do the techie thing and access things outside of its world.
So we have collaboration in a richer environment, content creation and content from outside and on top of all that we have commerce.
This is where the web is going. Second Life is a very very good example that lets us actually do all the things we would normally just talk about.

9.

Mike: all very fair points, particularly the 'nothing to do there' one. I think that is a very real problem for SL, and is why I haven't entered SL since I left Berkman.

[Tangentially, and probably not Terra Nova appropriate, if they fix the scaling issues, SL has the possibility to be the underlying virtual worlds OS. You could build WoW on top of what SL wants to be; you can't build SL on top of WoW or anything WoW (at least publicly) is aspiring to be. From my seat as someone interested in the business of online worlds, this is quite interesting. But again, probably not really a Terra Nova-ish issue.]

[Though I suppose if someone became the Windows of virtual worlds- and SL and maybe Google seem to be the only people who even realize this is a possibility- the issues of monopoly and governance would be quite of interest to Terra Novans.]

10.

Luis>"Tangentially, and probably not Terra Nova appropriate, if they fix the scaling issues, SL has the possibility to be the underlying virtual worlds OS. You could build WoW on top of what SL wants to be; you can't build SL on top of WoW or anything WoW (at least publicly) is aspiring to be."

Presumably, that is the lofty goal of the team over at Multiverse. http://www.multiverse.net/

"The Multiverse Client works in a similar fashion. It's not browser-based at all, but like a browser, it's a single application that's installed on a consumer's computer. And it can connect to any virtual world that's built on the Multiverse platform. Whatever makes that virtual world different from any other is streamed dynamically to the Multiverse Client. With the Multiverse Client, the player is always only one click away from any world built on the Multiverse platform. And each game can look and play radically differently from any other game on the platform."

11.

> You could build WoW on top of what SL wants to be;

I'm going to have to call b*llsh*t on that. That's the Kool-Aid talking.

I've heard no evidence that Linden plans on building the incredibly more complex stuff into SL that would enable them to do anything like a real MMORPG. SL is a great creation all on its own, but let's not fall into the zealots' trap of believing that it can be all things to all people.

12.

I'm most certainly not a zealot; as I pointed out I haven't used it in months. But they are creating a world that is virtually completely scriptable- it is hard for me to imagine what can't be done in it. The biggest real question is whether or not they can scale that up. I have serious doubts. But the pieces are all already there to do fairly complex game interactions for anyone who wants to.

[By the way, you'd be more credible in your name calling if you gave examples of what couldn't be done.]

13.

But CAN WoW be built atop second life? It's a nice thing to say, and we've all seen some rather creative things in SL, but I'm not convinced.

- There are some basic environment characteristics that SL doesn't allow you to alter. Some of them are... well, rather unrefined. It takes a forgiving eye to accept that, on some occasions, my avatar decides to extend his right foot at a 90 degree angle from his body... or a right arm in awkward bonebreaking poses. Moving fixes that, but it still requires a degree of tolerance that you wouldn't find in the WoW crowd.

- BANDWIDTH: I have a rather fast DSL connection. My time in SL is usually entering an area... waiting... seeing big blocky things appear... waiting some more... getting detail... waiting some more... finally I get a breathtaking view.

Then I move and repeat.

Commercial MMO's cache huge volumes of art assets locally to aviod these disjointed experiences. I assume that SL acts like a browser cache after downloading on demand, but ALOT of work needs done to make this operate to a level needed for an MMO.

SCALING:
We've all mentioned it- but there are many different aspects here:

-Geographically: In games, distribute too many people across too much real estate, and it seems rather single-player. As content material is added, will the population be too diluted.

-Operationally: The number of people in a visible area increases bandwidth demands exponentially.

It may seem like the first issue would resolve the second, if it were not for clustering. What will happen with the first slashdotting of a Second Life business?

PURPOSE
Ok, it's cool that you can see a SL phone booth, access it, and Skype a real world number. How is this functionally better than me going straight to the application. Yes, you could model a virtual barnes and noble store to browse through- is that more or less functional than BN.com's current interface.

----
The metaverse client is a bit different. It is a common engine, but assets are managed much like a commercial MMO- downloaded packs prior to the experience, combined with realtime updates. The client is designed to offer NOTHING by itself, but can accept any environment- as opposed to building an environment on top of the SL environment.

14.

I'd say there's nothing wrong with talking about Second Life. Thus, if there's something to talk about, we can talk about it. No reason to go looking for news.

15.

I suspect the main culprit is the growing sense that Second Life is no longer an online world, but a 3D Web. That it's no longer an enclosed world with its own discrete rules that can be analyzed as a microcosm, but instead, primarily an interface for real world commerce and marketing. In NPR's "On the Media" segment on SL, Ed said something about how he's become less interested in Second Life's internal economy as it's become more connected to the real world economy. This impression is strongly put forward by most mainstream coverage of SL, which emphasizes the money making opportunities almost exclusively-- especially those brought in by the entrance of real world companies-- usually to the exclusion of everything else.

To the extent that this is a factor, I have to say, it's a false impression. It's true there's a storm of interest from outside companies who want to put Duran Duran, Toyota, etc. into the SL, and that's cool, but on the ground, experientially, Second Life is still most of the time a microcosm and an enclosed, immersive world where all kinds of socioeconomic issues emerge that are worthy of Terra Nova's attention. The challenge of course is reporting on them, and I've recently become concerned that my own blog has gotten skewed more and more toward "real world comes to SL" stories, away from talking about the emergent social behavior that's most fascinating to me about Second Life.

16.

What part of 'you could build WoW on top of what SL wants to be' was not clear? Of course you can't build it on top of what SL is now. Duh. Please stop wasting our time arguing with a strawman claim that I didn't make.

What could be an interesting discussion, I think, is what happens if SL (or someone like SL- perhaps the metaverse.net folks, or Google) does becomes a defacto standard and/or dominant host for a variety of virtual world/game spaces. I think that has interesting legal, social, and economic implications for virtual spaces, which surely is completely on-topic for That was the question that was asked and that I was trying to answer.

17.

Luis:

Is that an interesting question? For something to be a defacto platform standard, doesn't it have to be basically faceless middleware? Doesn't it then become like discussing the Unreal engine, for instance - interesting mainly only on a technical level? I mean, when discussing Virtual Laguna Beach, what's more interesting to a social science Terranova crowd? There's technology or what was done with it?

Not sure on the answer myself, as I'm unsure if there is something fundamentally different about a platform for virtual worlds that makes it more interesting than talking about linux (the platform that many MMOs run on now, for example).

--matt

18.

On topic for Terra Nova, I meant.

19.

Hrm. Possibly right, Matt; not sure. Certainly a better discussion to have, either way :)

I do tend to personally find monopolists/quasi-monopolists interesting from a business/economics point of view, but as I originally said, I'm not sure that is interesting for most of Terra Nova.

Perhaps of more relevance is that not all platforms are faceless; Microsoft has a much more aggressive and dominant relationship to many people who use their platform than Unreal does. As Lessig says, code is law- if Second Life (or Google) becomes the defacto platform everything runs on, and (for example) makes anonymity hard, or makes anonymity very easy, just as an example, there are definitely implications there. But that may be way too far abstract for TN. Dunno- just a reader, not a writer/regular poster here :)

Wagner: I do think that if you want to exclude all the real-world/second-world overlap, there isn't a heck of a lot that is particularly unique/interesting about SL. But I'm willing to be convinced on that point :)

20.

Luis:

I think there is a lot of fairly interesting things about SL beyond the real-world cross-overs. As an example, I think the way SL empowers the furry community is pretty darn cool, and it's WAY more impactful than something like Suzanne Vega "singing" in SL, but given the prevalence of sexual themes in furry-dom, it may not be something Linden wants to talk about.

--matt

21.

I guess maybe that particular empowerment seems obvious and non-interesting to me- give people a communications forum, and they communicate about non-mainstream sex acts over it. That is a story as old as time :) [You can also replace 'non-mainstream sex' with 'non-mainstream anything', probably, or maybe I've just been smoking too much from the Long Tail pipe of late.] But I guess if there are new wrinkles to it in SL, that would certainly be of interest.

22.

Luis:

Well, granted, it depends on what you define as interesting. But one can pitch the real-world crossover elements in exactly the sameway. It seems obvious to me that people will integrate elements of reality with each other (virtual worlds being part of a larger reality). That is a story as old as time as well.

--matt

23.

Epredator potato: My job has changed massively in the past few month due to Second Life being what it is. I am now a metaverse evangalist and go around showing people how they can be much more effective in interacting with one another.

In usability, community, and similar fields, it's often difficult to come up with specific points of increased utility and ROI. Given that and your comment above, I'm very interested in hearing specifics of how Second Life (or any other VW) enables people to be "much more effective in interacting with one another." More effective measured how? And do you mean as compared to face-to-face? Phone? Text forum or textual virtual world? What are the specific benefits you, as an evangelist, see?

I am, I admit, a skeptic about the "metaverse" or the "3D web" especially any time it's imagined to be contained within a single overarching platform or technology. SL is not TCP/IP or HTTP, much less the Windows for the online world. Nor has LL begun to address the enormous issues surrounding a truly shared metaverse running on distributed, separately controlled, possibly separately hacked, machines (against which the self-replicating object issues currently plaguing SL are a walk in the park). Maybe they will resolve these difficult issues soon, but they haven't done so yet. As such talk of the singular 3D metaverse seems to me to be a misapprehension along the lines of imagining that after completing a terrerstrial railroad that we'd be building a railway to the moon (as I said in another item here). The same goes for imagining a game like WoW being built on top of SL -- the two are fundamentally different deep in their architecture, and "scripting everywhere" doesn't make it possible to make any game you like.

24.

Random comments:

Media - WoW and SL are both virtual worlds. WoW is a game. ALL games are designed for children. Children don't read the Economist, Wired, etc. Therefore, pound-for-pound, WoW is less interesting than SL. (WoW is still weighty, so it gets covered in the Economist, etc. anyway, but SL disproportionately more so.)

WoW and SL being the only virtual worlds talked about in TerraNova - Besides the fact that WoW dominates the market, 80%-90% of virtual worlds are basically the same as WoW. The next largest "genres" would probably be represented SL and Eve Online. (Note: genre != setting. Eve = world-like, WoW = Diku game-like, SL = builder/socializer)

25.

I'm with Samantha on this; our discussions are probably a better index of our interests than TN OP titles would suggest.

I find Second Life fascinating (if theoretically more than practically atm; but, then, I'm just a gamer :-) ), and have begun to publish work that draws upon my research at Linden (see here). But my interests are a bit orthogonal to the general tenor of the media coverage of SL (no doubt to a certain degree shaped by Linden Lab's marketing team -- I certainly don't hold that against them).

For me, what gets lost amid this interest in breaking down the "RL-VW barrier" through SL examples is not only what is emergent and unique to SL's community, as Hamlet noted, but more broadly the specificity of SL as an artifact created by LL, incorporating within it a distinctive set of assumptions about human beings (that are linkable to game development, software development, certain political ideas, management ideas, etc). These do not determine SL by any means, but they interact with those emergent phenomena in interesting ways. Code is law in an important way in SL, but while we may be ready to explore the ramifications of that here (and I see the writing I've been doing this year as part of an effort to do some conceptual brush-clearing to make room for that conversation), we shouldn't be surprised if quasi-mainstream media has a ways to go before it's ready for that.

26.

Greg > We've got what seems to be a slight lack of enthusiasm about Second Life (at least lately) here on Terra Nova.

Glad you brought this up. IMO it's kinda true, it's kinda long-running, and it's kinda weird lol. But I'm a user-created, media-rich, web-connected virtual world guy first and foremost, so I notice biases in the other direction as much as I enjoy biases pointed in my own. I'm interested, as a vision, in the 3D web that we can use as an extension of everything great about the 2D web, and SL feeds that beast. Terra Nova raised me (I'm crazy enough to have read every post and almost every comment since it started :), and I know my straight-up MMOs and history (thanks largely to everyone here), but I'm more of a 3pointD-style guy because of the lack of enthusiasm you mention. That energy is elsewhere. I think this issue of SL within the Terra Nova community is maybe another more beardy level of the video game/virtual world culture clash that Raph's been writing about. Does that sound right?

SL, as an archetype (along with Multiverse, Google Earth, Microsoft XNA, anything coming up that you and an open developer community can build things for without getting permission from the boss or being Richie Rich, and that accordingly offer straight-up consumers wonderful things they'd never get otherwise), represents a coming shift in virtual worlds. Johnny Haxx0r, Joe L337-3D-Sk1llz-but-Stupid-EA-Won't-Use-My-Coolest-Ideas-:(, Tim Web 2.0, and Mr. Big Media/Computer Company are all scoping their new creative, product, and job opportunities at once, which is incredibly exciting! Call it the early metaverse, Web 3D, 3pointD, user-created VW platforms, "Web 2.0 + video games", or however you want to try and say it in one bite. In all this SL is important because it's like a seed, and it, and even more importantly the wider read-write web-connected VW idea, is growing. You don't just turn that on with a PR machine (as Matt brought up), and you certainly can't turn it off once it's started. Our ideas are being led there. As I've said with a wink about SL, the future is here, it's just a little laggy and hard to search at present ;).

Humor me, but to quickly and clumsily step on top of all this and why it's important, a very ragged recent history of a popular web that feels like it was here forever but wasn't:
2004 was the year of the blog
2005 was the year of the mash-up
2006 belongs to MySpace and YouTube
I think one of the next few years could bring something like 'the year of the avatar', and if so it's going to come from customizable, web-connected virtual spaces where people can do really cool bloggy, start-uppy, mash-uppy, myspacey (add me! lol), youtubey, at times *hypey*, reallifey and secondlifey things.

Just my two-cents as a forward-looking Terra Nova liker, who's done his homework, shows up early for class and teaches in the evenings, is very much on the active front lines, staggering both the web and MMO worlds, and stuffed full to bursting with the dog food.

Mike Sellers > - SL's PR pumps up its popularity (much as anyone wants to, whether you're pitching a restaurant, movie, or MMOG), but as we've discussed several times, they seem to play fast and loose with their reported numbers -- or at least, their numbers are apples to other virtual worlds' oranges.

Mike, check this out. They just added more, including logins broken down by time period. Good on you, SL, wherever your road finally leads.

27.

My, my aren't you all terribly sophisticated and jaded, and aren't we the yahoos and "true believer" Kool-Aid drinkers!

I really think that yes, Terra Nova should get an island. Or, if that's too expensive, just get a 4096 on the mainland off the auction -- or I would be happy to rent you one : )

Like Jerry Paffendorf said gosh, a year ago, "Everybody's getting an island in Second Life"...and where are YOU???

I dare you to convene regularly in world. I dare you!

Of course SL is still a microcosm with its own wierd synthetic economy. That's why I am repeatedly perplexed as to why Edward Castranova keeps bypassing it and ignoring it and refusing to study it. It's some wierd little thing going on, I don't know the background to it, but I guess it is some kind of pissing match with Cory Ondrejka or something? How else to understand it?

The kinds of things that the Terra Nova eggheads should be studying up close and personal, instead of pontificating about here in a superior vacuum, or in ever diminishing puddles of former glorious games, would include:

o is the virtual world creating a new cultural explosion -- machinima, 3-d art, etc. that will be defining the new for this decade?

o alternative lifestyles like Gor and BDSM -- are they proliferating, will they influence real life, are they becoming more sinister -- and creating more backlash?

o griefing behaviour -- how does it start, how does it escalate, why does it happen, can it be controlled

o how to groups get formed, how do they stay together, what makes them fall apart?

o can you have democracy with a game company in charge?

o is the meat-world concept of law rooted in private property a hopeless fantasy to try to replicate in a virtual world where property can be rendered meaningless but where value may reside in content or events rather than land?

o can you create and sustain e-governance projects within the synthetic world and overlap them to real life?

o are all these awareness-raising things for cancer, poverty, Katrina etc terrible illusions, faking people out into thinking they're doing something, or sustainable for real-life action?

These topics are all about virtuality and synthetic worlds, and are frankly more interesting and more useful than topics like "Gender Swapping in MMORPGS: When Ken Becomes Barbie" or figuring out whether the linguistic patterns of NPCs in MMORPGs are like those of Aland islanders...or whatever you're writing your dissertations on atm.

In other words, I think all these professors who have been dining out for years as game-god hangers-on (and funded by game companies!) have to wake up and see the handwriting on the wall that Raph has been talking about -- the games are dinosaurs, they're dying. The new things are going to be synthetic worlds. You could all revamp and recast yourselves as experts on these new thingies but you can't tarry to long leveling up in WOW -- you need to figure out the SL tier system, get your golf game on with the right FIC and Lindens, and start your Second Lives.

28.

Hey, SNOOPYB, you know full well that I call dibs on using that term "year of the avatar" FIRST

Acknowledge, please.

http://secondthoughts.typepad.com/second_thoughts/2005/12/2006_the_year_o.html

29.

Jerry, thanks for pointing me to SL's posted login numbers (NB: you have to sign up for a free account to log in and see these). I assume they're counting unique logins, not all logins, though the site doesn't say. Nor does it differentiate between the apples of free accounts and the oranges of paid accounts. Nevertheless, the numbers are interesting and show SL's long tail with a lower frequency of login than online game worlds.

Residents Logged-In During Last 7 Days 112,918
Residents Logged-In During Last 14 Days 150,554
Residents Logged-In During Last 30 Days 235,311
Residents Logged-In During Last 60 Days 351,206

There are also economic numbers posted there, but as one blog poster points out there, they may not be communicating quite what LL intended about ecommerce in SL:

Simplest terms: Out of 100 residents during a 30-period, only 4 will turn a profit. Out of those 4 there will be 2 earning less than US10, 1 who will earn between US$10 and US$50, and 1 that will earn more than US$50.
The official blog posts notes that these numbers undercount somewhat the economic activity, and of course there's no way to interpret these to get to average revenue per user per month for LL (the ever-elusive holy grail that no one is going to publish ;-) ). Still, interesting info.

30.

> Hey, SNOOPYB, you know full well that I call dibs on using that term "year of the avatar" FIRST

Not quite, dear leader. Please see top-left corner of slide number four in this blog post dated November 14, 2005, compared to your n00bish reference on December 11, 2005: Prokofy PWND!! lol

Please footnote all future references to 'year of the avatar' or any derivative wordings relating the same basic concept with http://slfuturesalon.blogs.com/second_life_future_salon/2005/09/brave_new_virtu.html

Sincerely,

The Management

;)

31.

SNOOPYB, that is the LAMEST fake PWNED I have *ever* seen. ROLLS EYES!

Contrast and compare your reference, regardless of date, my BLOG -- with its high visibility! -- and also I'd invite you to type the phrase "year of the avatar" into Google, and see what comes up FIRST (my blog, not slide no. 4 (!) of your Powerpoint (!).

Your slide no. 4 (erm...that's like...something visible????) says "year of the avatar 200?"

It has a *question mark* duh. That's not predicting any year of the avatar. That's just putting a 200?

!!!111

Whereas in the year 2005 (!) I had the foresight and imagination to predict 2006 as THE year of the avatar. OK, there's still 3 months or so to go, it's not too late. Heck, it IS the year of the avatar ALREADY.

So, no, I'm first, and again, I direct everyone to source MY first usage of a PRECISE year for the "year of the avatar", not this lame thing in tiny print on slide no. 4 of a powerpoint buried on a blog by Jerry-the-question-mark Paffendorf.

http://secondthoughts.typepad.com/second_thoughts/2005/12/2006_the_year_o.html

After all, a written sentence on a blog counts as an actual written source that can be referenced; the title in tiny print you need a magnifying glass for on a Powerpoint slide (no. 4!) doesn't count!

Sheesh.

Prokofy Neva
CEO
Ravenglass Rentals
Sutherland Dam
Second Life
The Metaverse

32.

Prokofy Neva wrote:

Like Jerry Paffendorf said gosh, a year ago, "Everybody's getting an island in Second Life"...and where are YOU???

I dare you to convene regularly in world. I dare you!

Right, because convening inside a laggy 3d environment is conducive to what exactly? Having virtual sex, perhaps, but certainly not to getting something done more efficiently.

Incidentally, everybody is certainly not in Second Life. They're in Runescape and World of Warcraft.


the games are dinosaurs, they're dying.

Either Raph is wrong or, more likely, you're misinterpreting what he said, because it's pretty darn hard to take current trends and say "They're dying." In fact, they're thriving, and that doesn't look likely to change. Whether they will continue to absolutely dwarf the Second Lifes and There.coms of the world is another question, but one general type of virtual world being bigger or smaller doesn't have much impact on the health or longevity of the other, as they serve different needs.

Game worlds aren't going to die off any more than YouTube is going to kill Hollywood.

--matt

33.

That's not predicting any year of the avatar.

You really don't read what people say, do you?

Though I love how you denounce Google as an authority one month and hold it up as an example and a proof the next...

I dare you to convene regularly in world. I dare you!

To echo Matt, why? It's much less stupid to irregularly convene asynchronously on this forum. For the same reason, I wouldn't regularly convene in WoW or EQ or whatever. Richard and Aaron can do as many classes as they want in-world, but those are devoted sessions.

Maybe you should start First Lifers Anonymous. "Hi, in my past life, I was a homeless person in Canada, but now I build dream homes in SL."

Oh, and everybody's on MySpace. Where are YOU?

Granted, by responding, I've naturally set myself up for massive overgeneralizing, but I can probably live with that.

Terranova eggheads

Question. Why do you beg for attention from people you regularly insult?

Michael Chui
Standard sized Real Person, with one Yahoo! Avatar.

P.S. Greg: Henry Jenkins almost never talks about Second Life on his blog, though in his responses to Bogost, he admits he should have put it into his book. Considering he's on two of the bullet points, I think it's okay that Terra Nova isn't giving daily updates on the State of Second Life. But if something important happens, of course we want to flame each other over, er-- discuss it genially in the comments.

34.

Matt Mihaly spake:

Right, because convening inside a laggy 3d environment is conducive to what exactly? Having virtual sex, perhaps, but certainly not to getting something done more efficiently.

If your hardware doesn't suck, and you give a region and people time to stream in, the environment's not particularly laggy. Maybe you should buy a better computer and network connection, and stop running between sims when you're supposed to be having a meeting.

Yes, some people have sex in SL. It's the first system ever that's better than mere chat for cybersex. That's not a horrible thing that makes it unstudyable. That should be the giant neon sign that tells you that this is fundamentally different and interesting. Ultimately, sex is one of the primary human motivations, and one of the primary drivers of interesting new technology. Being a sexless drone is not something to aspire to.

What SL does that nothing else even comes close to, is that it allows you to perceive other peoples' body language, both conscious and unconscious. A psychological study recently found that people in SL maintain the same kinds of physical distance and positioning they do in RL, even when there's no in-world reason to do so. Anyone who spends any time in-world and fiddles with their gestures soon realizes just how effective this system is.

IBM, especially the Hursley lab, has been doing meetings in SL, because it's far more psychologically effective than mere text chat, and far more convenient than gathering people for a physical meeting.

The thing some people are missing is the Snow Crash effect: "condensing fact from the vapour of nuance". Some people are autistic, and for them a text MUD or heavily abstracted and rigidly-delineated MMOG will suit them better, allow them to totally avoid anything resembling human contact.

For the other 99.99% of humanity, SL's likely to be a far more comfortable environment for interacting with others on the Net. The general complaints real people have with SL right now are that the interface is a little cumbersome, and their hardware isn't sufficient to see what's out there. Once they have decent computers and a volunteer helps them through the interface, they stay pretty much forever.

As for the topic: if TerraNova doesn't study the most advanced virtual world available, it's made itself irrelevant. Keep studying 26-year-old MUD designs (with or without 3D GUIs on top of them), and you won't learn anything new. The academics who studied and worked on hypertext systems before the WWW also decried the Web: it didn't have 2-way links, it had an ungainly protocol, it didn't have conversational state... They all became irrelevant and lost their jobs, because they refused to study this thing that did what they wanted but not the way they wanted. You're the same way, and you're going down the same route to irrelevance.


35.

Kami wrote:

If your hardware doesn't suck, and you give a region and people time to stream in, the environment's not particularly laggy. Maybe you should buy a better computer and network connection, and stop running between sims when you're supposed to be having a meeting.

Yes, blame me for the experience. For the record, my computer is reasonably powerful and my connection is speedy. ;)


Yes, some people have sex in SL. It's the first system ever that's better than mere chat for cybersex.

Haven't used a lot of virtual worlds then, I assume?


That should be the giant neon sign that tells you that this is fundamentally different and interesting.

That it has the potential for better sexual interaction than some virtual worlds, and more restricted potential than others, does not make it fundamentally different. It just makes it different, like every world out there (all of which are different in some way or another from each other).


IBM, especially the Hursley lab, has been doing meetings in SL, because it's far more psychologically effective than mere text chat, and far more convenient than gathering people for a physical meeting.

Let's be clear here: You mean that an extremely small subset of people at IBM use it for meetings. That's not to diminish its usefulness to those people, but saying that a few people at IBM use it for meetings is not really saying anything in particular.


For the other 99.99% of humanity, SL's likely to be a far more comfortable environment for interacting with others on the Net.

99.99% huh? I'll be pedantic and point out that WoW alone has .1% of the world's population using it already, putting lie to that claim. ;)


The general complaints real people have with SL right now are that the interface is a little cumbersome, and their hardware isn't sufficient to see what's out there. Once they have decent computers and a volunteer helps them through the interface, they stay pretty much forever.

I would guess that most people would have no complaints with SL because one generally doesn't try a product/service until it might fulfill a need. I know what the value proposition of World of Warcraft is for a wide audience: entertainment. I can't see a value proposition for Second Life in terms of a wider audience, but then, maybe I'm just blind. The fact that it doesn't have one after years of operation says it's probably not going to though. If it was 10% as useful/good as the SL boosters claim, a good portion the internet would be using it already due to viral spread (like MySpace or really, any free-to-use site/service that provides value to a wide range of people).

--matt


36.

@Kami: Um, I must have missed something. Terra Novans don't study SL?

37.

[shrugs]
[dumps twenty-four months of fieldnotes, interviews, and writing out the window]

(Apologies for the split post.)

38.

Aren't Runescape and MySpace games for kids? I guess I'm just not into them. And while many of you are "into" World of Warcraft I mean, seriously, what are the really meaty intellectual, cutting-edge issues coming out of WoW? The lives of Chinese gold-farmers? The fate of a would-be gay guild? There's all that and more in SL.

Eggheads isn't a term of insult, it's a normal, jocular term.

Thomas Malaby, with all due respect, shrug if you must, but I don't see Terra Nova qua Terra Nova studying and really grappling with SL and recreating the Blog-in-the-Round that is possible in SL. We've all just said that -- you never discuss SL here. And that's because as a collective, you don't go there and engage with it. It's too "laggy," you say. Or there's something you just don't like. The bling? Well, you can turn off shiny.

As for your own research, well, we've never seen it posted much here? Or? Am I misinformed? You've never held an inworld meeting..or have you? Or maybe it was in private? Or maybe unlike Tom Bukowski who actually seeks input and holds regular public meetings, you're pursuing your research more quietly? I just don't know. You're not seen there; your work isn't visible. But...it's a big world. Maybe I missed the group notice.

I'd pretty much have to endorse what Kami said.

What's to study in WoW? You get together and chat and bond, go kill monsters, chat some more about what it was like to bang on those monsters. THIS is study???

39.

Back to something Samantha said earlier:

So let me turn the question around: besides being covered by other organizations, why should we be talking about Second Life? How does discussing Second Life inform or develop our collective view of virtual worlds?
There have been several inflated claims made above (and elsewhere) about the uses people are finding for SL. I'm skeptical to say the least. Is there anyone who can cut through the religious fervor and substantiate them?

How, specifically, can "people ... be much more effective in interacting with one another" in Second Life as opposed to other virtual worlds, as claimed by "epredator potato" earlier?

Is SL really a platform for ecommerce? Their own numbers seem to indicate that fewer than 2% make more than $10 per month. Is this accurate? Are the claims overblown or is there something more hidden here?

Is SL a significant economy in its own right, or a backwater when compared to other virtual worlds? What pecentage of SL users create content there? What percentage of that is used? What evidence is there of significant economic exchange?

Is SL a viable business? That is, can it support the claims of being the new OS for the metaverse as a profitable business? This is neither a cynical or irrelevant question: if SL cannot become profitable, the many hopes pinned to it for an enduring virtual world (much less a metaverse) go up in smoke.

How has LL addressed the serious security issues surrounding an all-user-created-content world to provide a stable experience? If a world can easily be brought down by replicating party hats and the like, can it create a stable long-term presence and community?

Is SL really accessible to a broad audience? As Second Lifer Kami Harbinger (who posted above) said on her blog, "You can't even be in SL unless you have a pretty awesome computer, a high-speed Internet connection, are neophilic enough to try something like this out, and are smart enough to understand what's happening and find something interesting to do there.

That's a pretty narrow set. Pare it down even more by those who are interested in creating content, don't mind having little to do there, and/or aren't bothered by hypersexualized content, and it seems to be a pretty small set. Is this the basis for the metaverse?

Does SL allow people to "perceive other peoples' body language, both conscious and unconscious"? That's a big and important claim -- what's the evidence for this? I'm extremely interested in the perceptions of body language (notions of 'personal space' are only the grossest form, and are found in almost any graphical world), and don't readily see how SL lends itself to this.

To what degree are people (e.g., "IBM, especially the Hursley lab" as claimed by Kami) actually using SL for real-world meetings? Is this experimental or just a matter of course? What are the perceived benefits by the participants? Is there any sort of data on these benefits? Or is this all just a novelty?

Many claims like these are being slung around here and elsewhere -- see the original set of mainstream publications in the original post above -- for the benefits of Second Life. Are they real or are they illusory? Is this all hype perpetuated by the true believers, or is there something more there? Is there anything really worth discussing when you peel back the obfuscating rhetoric? Is this the gateway to the metaverse, or just the offspring of Activeworlds, a solution still, ten years on, looking for a problem?

Making more claims or just making the same ones louder doesn't help the case for seriously looking at SL. Beginning to answer some of these questions might.

Touch not the kool-aid.

40.

I do discuss SL here, Prokofy, often in the course of comments but also in OP's. I haven't done in-world meetings--I'd be happy to if people are interested (and I've never complained of SL's lag, at least that I can recall). If you haven't found my stuff, Prokofy, it isn't for my lack of crowing about it here from time to time, lol. Here's a run-down of recent activities, since you asked ;-). (Although this kind of self-serving presentation makes me a little uncomfortable, so I want company! Other academics here should also link their recent SL-related work; that would be a helpful thing for many here, I think.)

In general, I guess I devote a fair amount of energy to reaching/connecting with audiences not already involved with/aware of VWs, so that may account for my seeming less visible to you. Tom and I are doing a panel at the national anthropology meetings, trying to get anthropologists to be a little less techno-phobic and embrace research on virtual worlds, whether on the resident-side (what Tom is doing) or the creation-side (like my Linden stuff). It looks like there are prospects for a special journal issue out of that. This week's Infinite Mind (their regular broadcast) includes an interview they did with me about Second Life, if anyone's interested (I talk a bit about the relationship of SL to games, which is connected to a substantial piece of the book about LL/SL that I'm writing). The conference I co-organized with Sandra Braman at UWM, now appearing in First Monday as a special issue co-edited by us, was very much the result, on my end, of trying to get VW scholars talking beyond their own circle (and includes my most "empirical" writing on LL/SL so far -- that link should go live in the next week or so). Other writing pertaining directly to SL was the Games & Culture piece that appeared this March. I guess I just find myself more interested in devoting energy to the out-group than the in-group (as it were) at the moment, TN aside. That could change of course.

Beyond me, Ren and others also post/talk about SL frequently here, which is why I agreed with Samantha's assessment that began the comments. The strength of TN, as I see it, is the interest in broader questions that transcend particular VWs, which is why the comments range pretty freely across examples.

41.

There are a couple of unique aspects to Second Life that differentiate it from other MMOG's. One question is, can you make money at it? A friend of mine recently discovered SL and is in the process of building a casino. His step-father directed a couple of the Mondo movies back in the 1960's and is looking into building "Mondo Hollywood" on an island as a way to promote his movies.

I'm thinking of recreating a mah jong parlor I liked to play at when I lived in Japan, down to the complimentary tea and food menu. If you can't travel in real life, is a simulation in SL something worth trying? If anyone's interested I'll post the location once it's up.

42.

For the record, Bonnie Ruberg is a TN author. For those who don't remember her, this is her introduction, and her inauguratory post, BDSM in a World without Pain.

Aren't Runescape and MySpace games for kids?

No. And what do you have against kids? How does being "for kids" invalidate something as a worthwhile subject of study?

What's to study in WoW?

Anyone who reads Terra Nova on a regular basis should be able to answer that question. Here, I'll even link you. Click me! How many pseudo-military organizations exist in SL? Compare with the number of guilds in WoW. Explain why, and correlate this disparity to the development of the warrior class in post-agrarian societies, as well as historical trends of militaries and martial art schools in developed countries, against the comparatively superficial designer profession, in particular that of the architect. Yes, I just made that up on the spot, but whoever is welcome to tackle it with whatever variant they like. =)

Anything can be studied. Anything can be examined. Welcome to reality. Take a course on research methods.

Try not to do things like invading a country to liberate them through the imposition of democracy. It has bad precedent.

Terra Nova is not about Second Life. It shouldn't be. Talk less; listen more.

43.

Prokofy Neva>We've all just said that -- you never discuss SL here.

In part, the reason may be that some of the TN authors are high-ups in SL and they try to avoid writing about it because of a seeming conflict of interest. Futhermore, if they do want to say something in particular about SL, then they run the risk that their words are taken apart thread by thread and analysed by the SL community for signs of partisanship.

When any of the rest of us write anything about SL, it's in the knowledge that there are others here more expert on the subject than we are, so we're unlikely to say anything controversial.

I do recall from TN's early days, though, that there was a concern that we might be getting too many authors from SL and exhibiting a SL bias. How times change, eh?

Richard

44.

I made this point in another comment somewhere in one of the other TN talks about what talks should be talked about- I see quite a few articles that have used SL as the location *for* study, not so much with SL as the location *of* study. Bonnie's articles are a good example- there's nothing particular to SL or the specific possibilities of its direction and/or potential in the ones I recall, just that it's the most convenient 3d avatar based virtual space where people roleplay sex.

Using SL is quite a lot like trying to access the web in '93 over some throttled university connection on a grimy old sun terminal running mosaic. It's slow *now*, it's laggy *now*, scripting can't recreate the level of depth of "gameplay" of WoW *now*. What about in five or ten years time? I doubt it would be a huge stretch to provide pre-generated "game" content as a download/disc for a specific use of SL as a background platform for World of Whatever, rather than relying on the grid as it is now, for example. If not SL, then something else down that branch of the family tree, for sure. I don't see much potential in WoW etc, except for more WoW etc. I see a potential in SL for something else- even if SL itself doesn't survive.

Anyway, I don't read TN to read about SL- I don't expect to see much of interest about SL here, and it doesn't cause me sleepless nights to think there's an academic blogsite that isn't talking about my favourite internet pastime. There are other places to read interesting discussions about SL and its potentials, one of the best ones being SL itself if you find a good spot.

45.

>When any of the rest of us write anything about SL, it's in the knowledge that there are others here more expert on the subject than we are, so we're unlikely to say anything controversial

I think that's all the more reason to become more knowledgeable just by dipping your toe in more than once a year : )

You yourself are fortunate to have even your own RL name in SL! Think of the fun you could have!

And I don't think anyone should fear these higher-ups and game-gods here -- they shouldn't put a chill on discussion.

>Some of the TN authors are high-ups in SL and they try to avoid writing about it because of a seeming conflict of interest

Basically, I don't think this situation is a very good thing for free and unfettered scholarly inquiry.

I see the executives/designers of other games like There and others feeling far more free to come here and discuss even their own worlds/jobs.

I think this should be examined.

46.

Thomas, it wasn't me who started the discussion about "why don't we talk more about SL here". It was Greg L.

And it's a good question to ask. SL is talked about enough; sure, you've all posted when it crops up. But a statistical analysis would probably find more posts about WoW and other MMORPGs, It's a blog with a MMORPG rather than a virtual world tilt -- perhaps that's ok, but it is limited then -- and possibly growing rapidly outdated as a field or sub-field.

Re: >In general, I guess I devote a fair amount of energy to reaching/connecting with audiences not already involved with/aware of VWs, so that may account for my seeming less visible to you. Tom and I are doing a panel at the national anthropology meetings, trying to get anthropologists to be a little less techno-phobic and embrace research on virtual worlds, whether on the resident-side (what Tom is doing) or the creation-side (like my Linden stuff). It looks like there are prospects for a special journal issue out of that. This week's Infinite Mind (their regular broadcast) includes an interview they did with me about Second Life, if anyone's interested (I talk a bit about the relationship of SL to games, which is connected to a substantial piece of the book about LL/SL that I'm writing). The conference I co-organized with Sandra Braman at UWM, now appearing in First Monday as a special issue co-edited by us, was very much the result, on my end, of trying to get VW scholars talking beyond their own circle (and includes my most "empirical" writing on LL/SL so far -- that link should go live in the next week or so). Other writing pertaining directly to SL was the Games & Culture piece that appeared this March. I guess I just find myself more interested in devoting energy to the out-group than the in-group (as it were) at the moment, TN aside. That could change of course.

These are great to know, and you shouldn't feel shy about posting such things -- gosh, everybody else on here seems to!

And I could add that they are all recent and fresh things. I don't know if you've ever been on Infinite Mind before this on SL; I think not.

Yes, I think you should hold a Terra Nova meeting inworld. It's not laggy, that's a red herring.

47.

>Making more claims or just making the same ones louder doesn't help the case for seriously looking at SL. Beginning to answer some of these questions might.

Touch not the kool-aid.

Mike, all the questions you raise in your post, and the subjects of study like body-language in virtuality and the efficacy of virtual-world meetings as a replacement for real-world travel and conferences face-toface, are all topics for study -- they should be studied inworld.

I think there's enough articles out there, beyond the obvious planted and hype-type articles, that you can see that it is worthy of study. So it just seems easy enough to come in and study it.

One way of doing that would be to have open meetings in SL on a schedule, open to the residents. Or if that seems to scary, create a group with invited members and have meetings set to that group entry.

48.

Prokofy> Thomas, it wasn't me who started the discussion about "why don't we talk more about SL here". It was Greg L.

Yep, and I was actually hoping that it would go where it has gone, with some folks (e.g. Matt & Mike) explaining why a lack of focus on SL is warranted while others (e.g. Prokofy, Jerry, Luis) are taking us to task for not being more interested. Given SL's current publicity level, I thought that needed to be discussed here. And of course, Thomas is right, some of us are very interested and very involved (e.g. Cory & Thomas & Betsy), which gives credence to what Richard says, that those of us (e.g. me) who aren't "experts" on Second Life are more inclined to reticence.

Because of my lack of expertise, I'm not really inclined to "shepherd" this thread along in any particular direction, but I want to say that this discussion has been really helpful to me in understanding what people see as important or unimportant about Second Life as opposed to other virtual worlds. Also, I guess it goes to show (once again) that the heart of this blog is in the comments.

49.

> Yes, I think you should hold a Terra Nova meeting inworld.

The Kuurian Expedition group built around Ted's Synthetic Worlds Initiative already meets inworld regularly. Here's the blog with events. Coincidentally I just this morning received the invite and will be speaking on the Metaverse Roadmap next Tuesday. w00t on that.

It's funny, I've been doing the future salon meetings in SL for like a year and a 1/2 now, and our first presenter waaay back in April of 2005 was Jim Purbrick AKA Babbage Linden who had just hopped from Terra Nova because of his new job at Linden Lab :). Big wheel a keep on turnin'. Ye olde historic archive.

Mike, I'll try and do a little write-up of my experience using SL as a meeting and presentation space. I done seen it all from the good to the bad.

50.

Ahem. There would be a different interest for Betsy, as it were. ;-)

51.

Yes, Betsy has a diverse portfolio, but I would say she's got a handle on Second Life.

52.

No question about that!

53.

>> "So what's our problem catching the Second Life wave? Is this something like MUD-Dev syndrome ('We've already covered that back in 2003!")? Are we still afraid of promoting Cory's pet project? Is it time to set up a Terra Nova island?"

Why is this even a question? Ya'all spend all your time raving about World of Warcraft, which never attempts to be more than a multiplayer game. But every article I read in Terra Nova about SL seems to be wrought with caution, cynicism, and disbelief. Wake up and smell the Web 3.0!

I love WoW too, but seriously, you're going to find a lot more real-world relavent information analysing the economics of Second Life than you will figuring out why people don't bind in Darnassus. The answer's simple: Darn is in the middle of freaking nowhere! Move on! :)

54.

For something about which there is supposedly a lack of enthusiasm, your post on Second Life generated more feedback than I have time to read! I'm one of those non-gamers who is unfamiliar with other VWs. I found out about SL through a newspaper article. I've been using it for more than two months now, and I haven't yet lost enthusiasm. In fact, I really have to watch my time.

I agree that there's too much emphasis in the articles I've read on the commercial aspects of SL. Even though my character does buy too many clothes, that's not really the point. For me, the point is the extensive social interaction that my character has, which I love.

I won't say that SL is the greatest thing since radial tires or get all evangelical about it. Some people love it; many find it boring. But one thing it has shown me is that I have far more untapped imagination in my head than I had thought previously, and to me that's both interesting and valuable. Another thing is that it has allowed me to engage in particular kinds of role-playing personal exploration that I could not do in real life. No doubt I could do those things in other VWs. I'm doing them in SL, and loving it. That's just me.

55.

Can't not post this Linden World 2001 video (YouTube version, though it wasn't giving me sound just now) that shows a prototype SL 5 years ago, with voice-over director's cut, when it was totally empty and still a crazy idea that anyone would do anything at all in there. "You mean *people* will build out the world? Oh no, no, no, my friend, if you are a friend. I know people. *I'm* a people. And people just don't do things like that. Oh no, no, no. Drink not the kool-aid! You should be doing something where you can sue your users if they try and make the world their own. Or casual games. That's the future. It's turtles and casual games and suing your users all the way down. Law suits for losers and casual games for casual people, that's what I say [penguin noise, wipes monocle]." /end internal monologue with outrageous hybrid oldbie stereotype, not meant to caricature anyone here, hehe But seriously, as mentioned, over time SL is making a run at evolving into a 3D Web framework, open sourced, host your own, program in other languages, yadda yadda, you know the dream, and it's interesting to look back on its origins and how far it's come. It's a thing in motion, so if you checked it out a while back, it's changed since then, and will change more, faster (unless the whole rocket blows up, but then people will just jump ship). A big part of the divide here is between those who recognize and/or value that and those who don't. If you recognize that, you can't just hold SL up next to any other non-platform, non-evolving world and say, look, all worlds are different and have their own schtick, and SL is the same as ATITD in that regard. No it ain't! Just sticking SL in the social/builder world genre is a category mistake.

Now go shoot some ators! (see vid :)

Reflecting here, from the gut, I think the reason I'm feeling wrangled inside about this discussion is because if you don't believe in the Second Life archetype, the sweep of what it sets out to accomplish and enable, not even SL in its specifics (the technology, the company, the specific user experience of today), then I don't think you really believe in the future of virtual worlds, you just want to squeeze what already exists until it bursts and then roll around in the puddle. At least not the future of virtual worlds that I want anything to do with (more monthly subscribers! more quests! more copywritten gamegod-enforced magic cirlces that *really* force you to live a second life! more, more, more of the same!). I believe that if SL doesn't work in its principle of free access, user-creation and ownership, if it's not interesting, if it's not important, if the projects and experiments of its residents are meaningless, if it's all hype, then *nothing* works and the whole field is lame. Multiverse won't work, independents won't be making worlds, Google Earth is a Faberge egg you can stick on your mantle to gawk at the few shortbus-riders making junky SketchUp models, but nothin' doin'. Game over. Nice try, but virtual worlds are for Geeks and professor-worshipping grad students to haggle over minutiae or say, you know, work is like play, and life is a game! Leason learned. A few years well spent. Now carry on.

Michael Chui > Terra Nova is not about Second Life.

Just want to conclude that flip-side dance by agreeing with this! :) The web's a big place, and the metaverse will be too. TN can't be all things to all people either, but good discussion here.

56.

Jerry said: A big part of the divide here is between those who recognize and/or value [SL as a run at an evolving 3D web framework] and those who don't.

Or perhaps it's a divide between those who have heard this sort of vision (often as nothing more than empty hype) for more than a decade (Habitat, WorldsChat, The Palace, ActiveWorlds, VRML, EnterTV, Blaxxun, Atmosphere, etc.); have delved into the same issues now facing SL; have seen other really smart people try and fail to work through them; and who are somewhat less than impressed by the gushing and grand if unsubstantiated visions of "a 3D Web framework, open sourced, host your own, program in other languages" etc. -- especially when this vision is often promoted by those without a deep understanding of the issues involved (e.g., people whose vision of the online experience is based on a 1992 science fiction novel, or who find SL by reading Wired).

Sure, maybe it's different this time. Maybe the confluence of broadband, CPU speeds, 3D technology, and cultural familiarity with online worlds will make all the difference. But as long as SL is tripping over issues like laggy performance on high-end machines, easy database hacks, easy URL hacks, and the dangers of self-replicating party hats, what this tells me is they haven't even begun to resolve the much gnarlier problems associated with open-sourced, distributed-host, persistent shared 3D environments.

This is no way indicative of a lack of belief in the future of virtual worlds as something much more than centralized men-in-tights games. Not at all. My criticisms here of SL could be taken as a form of loyal opposition, or perhaps as just trying to help people retain clarity on the enormity of the issues involved. I hope SL succeeds. But it has not done so yet. And yet its boosters continue to wrap it layers and layers of obscurative hype and hope. Someone needs to remain focused on the grand vision and not become sullied by the inconvenient realities of the day, it's true. I just don't believe that attitude is helpful to substantive discussion here on Terra Nova.

57.

Jerry -- totally off-topic, but you really have a unique way of punctuating things. At first it was a little off-putting, but now I'm starting to enjoy the Paffendorfian mode of comment discourse. :-)

I know I said above that I know little about SL, but I do read what others write about it. Cory often reminds me that this is no substitute and that's right. But here's why I wanted to ask the question in the OP about why we're not all posting on SL.

First: I think Ted is right. SL is, essentially, a 3D version of the Web (Web 3.0 or whatever), a type of language, a set of tools -- albeit as others have noted, not a set of tools quite as robust or as easy to use as, say HTML, PERL, C++, what have you.

But it also happens to be an *owned space* (Linden sells and controls virtual land. Hosting service on the Web is distributed--a much different thing). Second Life also holds itself out as the simulation of real space. Hence, it fits squarely in the VW category. WoW and SL are not entirely separate things.

Now personally, I find Web 2.0 and distributed creativity and amateur production incredibly interesting. I even write lengthy law review articles about such things and speak to assorted libertarians about where all this is going. (Dan Hunter being my frequent partner in crime in such endeavors.)

But I'm also fascinated by the game-like MMORPGs. I write about them a bit too. So, all things considered, that should mean I should be really interested in Second Life, especially at the time like this when it seems to be all over the media.

What seems to be the case, though, at least for me, is that Second Life falls in an interest valley between my interests in mass amateurization and massively multiplayer gaming. The things I find most compelling about A2A (or peer production as Benkler calls it, or mass amateurisation as Tom Coates calls it, or whatever Clay Shirky wants to call it) is how it challenges traditional business models of intellectual property and entertainment. OTOH, what I find really compelling (intellectually) about MMORPGs is the role designers play in crafting seperate rule sets, values, and simulated spaces -- how they architect code to create very different forms of public space. It's the *art* of MMOs that grabs me, and the way the community seems to live within that art, at times in tension with it.

So SL falls somewhere in between -- the art is distributed, which means it is hard to grapple with a real "genius" of Second Life beyond technical architecture and matters of governance. On the A2A side, Second Life is certainly an example of peer production, but I find myself drawn to the 2D and less proprietary side of that (MySpace, YouTube, wikis, blogs, and other things that have been scaling more rapidly than SL). And the news reporting that Matt mentions up there doesn't help things much: e.g. "Virtual Cow Provides Virtual Milk and People Buy It!"

I'm probably coming off now as a Second Life cynic (esp. with that last bit), so I'll end by saying that I'm finally caving on Second Life: the bear will go over the mountain and see what it can see. This will probably lead to some more educated SL posts from me, I hope, but no promises. :-)

58.

This is without a doubt the most entertaining thread I've read on TN in forever. I imagine this conversation played out at a conference (or a wrestling ring!), and can't help but wonder if we can make that happen. It's a basic question, the current relevance and future of SL versus WoW (or MMORPGs in general) but God does it bring out the best of topics and the worst in us! A roundtable on something like this in a future conference would be fascinating, as long as there was a no-filibuster rule set out.

59.

Academic Wrestling, Round 23.

SL is, essentially, a 3D version of the Web (Web 3.0 or whatever)

I've been keeping that differentiated in my head. My opinion is that Second Life is something like Web 2.75 or so, but trying to become Web 3.0. What is Web 3.0? I couldn't tell you. Well, I could guess, but it's just a logical conclusion that doesn't pay attention to cultural shifts, which it should.

I think that Second Life, if SL wants to be an OS, wants to be an Internet, then it needs to take a lesson from the web. Add another tier to the purchasing mechanism: purchase official URLs. Then let people set up their own little SL on their own servers, just like the Internet, with the ability to link back and forth using teleportation bookmarks or whatever. Teleporting is already a zone change in the sense that you have to load up a la The Matrix. (I always get the sensation that I'm falling in, but that's probably because I obsess about being able to fly.)

But all this is stuff I've suggested before, though for game worlds in an attempt to figure out how to do a P2P world successfully. Because the "all clients connect to one server" paradigm has a tendency to break things horribly, as has been seen over and over again.

60.

Hi, Mike.

See the blog of the IBM Hursley developers (http://eightbar.co.uk/) and the Register article about it (http://www.regdeveloper.co.uk/2006/09/21/ibm_secret/), and Nick Yee's research on interpersonal distance and gaze avoidance in SL (http://www.nickyee.com/).

Note also that the economics statistics page does not include land deals. Land (aka "server space for hosting content") is the largest part of the economy.

Anyone interested in SL should at least be reading the official Linden blog (http://blog.secondlife.com/), New World Notes (http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/), and probably World of SL (http://planet.worldofsl.com/), just to keep up with current events and research. I have about 80 SL-related blogs in bloglines. Everything I mention has been talked about repeatedly elsewhere for weeks... TerraNova's been silent and apparently ignorant of what's going on. Some TN individuals are involved, but not posting anything here about these things, which doesn't do anything for it as a journal.

Oh, and Matt? I've been playing in multi-user VWs since 1983, and was very involved in some of the early raycasting and VRML world-building experiments of the early '90s--I got out of developing 3D stuff and got into Gopher and then the Web, but never stopped playing almost every one that came out. Someone with manners would avoid questioning people's experience, even if they disagree.

61.

Greg > Jerry -- totally off-topic, but you really have a unique way of punctuating things. At first it was a little off-putting, but now I'm starting to enjoy the Paffendorfian mode of comment discourse. :-)

Haha, thanks, Greg! You know how we roll on the 2D web, dude, surfing around teh tubes transmogrifying complex thoughts into chicken scratch that we dump into little boxes for time-delayed scrutinization by our peers and total recall from Google. If you don't mix it up in service to your point sometimes you gots no soul.

Mike Sellers > Someone needs to remain focused on the grand vision and not become sullied by the inconvenient realities of the day, it's true.

Check out this little video of Ken Kasey from edge.org talking about the role of writers, which I like to mentally replace with "game and VW deveopers" or "metverse developers" (warning for those at work, he does use the F word a few times). They'll probably be a few people it resonates with. I watch it every few months as needed :).

Mike Sellers > Or perhaps it's a divide between those who have heard this sort of vision (often as nothing more than empty hype) for more than a decade (Habitat, WorldsChat, The Palace, ActiveWorlds, VRML, EnterTV, Blaxxun, Atmosphere, etc.)... and who are somewhat less than impressed by the gushing and grand if unsubstantiated visions of "a 3D Web framework"...
Mike Sellers > I just don't believe that [explicitly visionary] attitude is helpful to substantive discussion here on Terra Nova.

I don't have much faith in a generally jaded MMO industry, as you describe it here and I'm forced to agree with, to make the 3D Web. Mavericks will pop out, of course, and other people will take what's been done and do it to the next level. (What kind of secret visions are the experienced cooking up then BTW? Are they mosty "safer" middle-of-the-road things like 2D flavatars? Casual games? Something grander we're not hearing about? I know Multiverse is occupying some people's attention, mine too, which is awesome.) And you're right, TN isn't about all that. I guess, personal feelings here, since I've learned so much from it and respect all the people I'd just like it to be more of that. It's like you climb up a ladder, and you think you see just a little more from the top, and you want to take the ladder with you, but it doesn't always want to move, and it doesn't always have to. It's a fine ladder indeed.

> My criticisms here of SL could be taken as a form of loyal opposition, or perhaps as just trying to help people retain clarity on the enormity of the issues involved.

While I totally respect your grounded, square-shouldered, loyalist opposition stance, there's plenty of loyal and disloyal opposition alike already out there :). Why not put forward some possible solutions, or frame the problems more positively, more tractably, as you're obviously muy skilled (congrats on the decade since M59 BTW)!

Check out what Avi Bar-Zeev is doing with his new 3D Web investigations. He's a great example of an experienced VR technologist (immersive rides for Disney, Keyhole which became Google Earth, the SL 3D rendering engine) trying to punch through hype and get the new lay of the land so he can start building for it intelligently. He's got interviews with Tony Parisi who co-created VRML and has come back around with Media Machines and X3D, Vladimir Vukicevic of Mozilla and Firefox, me, and some other features on there so far. It's exactly along the lines of what we're trying to pull together with the Metaverse Roadmap Project, which I wish I had more hours in the day to compile at the moment, but more from that soon, too. Research, an inventory of divegent viewpoints, and a public Metaverse Roadmap Summit in 2007 that will draw from a much rider realm than just MMOs.

I'm essentially a kid here, so I don't have the jaded scars from the first "3D Web" go-around, wasn't even online then (there are advantages and disadvantages to that) but I think of someone Big and Powerful I once spoke with who emphasized that he *loved* that the 3D Web was attempted, failed, and was coming back as a mission. "That's a great sign. The best ideas don't go away. People want them early, they tank, and then they get them on the follow-up." Rebound and dunk :).

Victor Pineiro > A roundtable on something like this in a future conference would be fascinating, as long as there was a no-filibuster rule set out.

Victor, I will see you at the Metaverse Roadmap Summit in 2007 then! /conjures Jim Brewer leaving his job at the record store in Half Baked: Who's coming with me, man? lol And don't pretend you scholars haven't seen it ;).

You might like the podcast of the future of virtual worlds panel we did at the Austin Game Conference. It was me moderating with Cory Ondrejka from Second Life, Corey Bridges from Multiverse, Raph Koster from Raph Koster ;), and Mark Wallace from 3pointD.

Greg, I really want to riff with you some more on your last comment, but must surrender to the daily grind for a bit. I'm almost level 60 in email! Speaking of which, if people haven't seen it, watch Justin Hall explaining his concept of passively multi-player online gaming. It's linked on his PMOG site. The research opportunities, as they say, abound.

62.

Jerry Paffendorf wrote:

"...but I think of someone Big and Powerful I once spoke with who emphasized that he *loved* that the 3D Web was attempted, failed, and was coming back as a mission. "That's a great sign. The best ideas don't go away. People want them early, they tank, and then they get them on the follow-up." Rebound and dunk :)."

I think the issue is that while I'd bet money that something like Second Life is going to be very, very important in the future there's no guarantee that Second Life will actually still be around by that time. By coincidence I signed up for an account a week ago. My first impressions? It's awfully empty, awfully laggy, (my machine runs the latest games comfortably at 1920x1200 while the SL client just locks up at that resolution), and the interface is horrible. Combine all those factors with a steep learning curve and I wouldn't surprised if most newbies log out after five minutes and uninstall.

63.

As someone very involved in Second Life, but also pragmatic about its current limitations, I've enjoyed this thread immensely. I think some of the criticisms of what you can do there (or rather cannot do there) are off base, but I'm not surprised to hear them since it remains hard to figure out 1. what to do, 2. who to meet, 3. where to go.

Journalists like covering famous names, big brands, how-to-make-money, and titillating stories. Some of it is hype but there is increasing substance behind that hype. The Wall St. Journal interestingly enough did not cover big business in SL but rather the entrepreneurial activity (and drama) of a growing virtual fashion industry. That's real folks, and to anyone interested in studying the dynamics of entrepreneurialism, fascinating.

Second Life is a huge place and being used in a LOT of different ways, from the frivolous and fun to business experimentation to military simulation. It belies categorization. We shall see if Linden Lab is the company to pull it off, but an open-ended metaverse is on its way. Frankly arguing over whether WoW will eventually be built in SL is a waste of time since we shall have multiple platforms and multiple attempts at this brass ring for a LONG time to come. One size rarely fits all in technology.

A few notes of clarification:
I'm not sure about the claim that land is the biggest part of the economy - certainly from a transactional point of view. In the old days, Linden Lab used to publish types of commerce activity. Looking back a year ago, if I convert into US$ using the exchange rate at the time:

Week Starting 11/27/2005
Total In-world Sales (US$) 501,394
Land Sales 73,026 15%
Object Sales 60,685 12%
Payments 164,434 33%
Gifts 203,224 41%
Land Pass 25 0%
Exchange Rate 263


The second thing I wanted to note that asking Linden Lab for paying versus non-paying customers is increasingly meaningless. A large number of consumers come to SL and rent land or buy goods from other residents without paying LL a dime (or maybe a tiny fraction on the Lindex currency exchange). For example, Anshe Chung may be a single paying avatar but she stands in for a *ton* of paying individuals.

64.

Jerry Paffendorf wrote "over time SL is making a run at evolving into a 3D Web framework, open sourced, host your own, program in other languages, yadda yadda, you know the dream"

Can you please point us at the announcement or publication from Linden Lab that says this?

65.

Giff Constable> "The second thing I wanted to note that asking Linden Lab for paying versus non-paying customers is increasingly meaningless. A large number of consumers come to SL and rent land or buy goods from other residents without paying LL a dime (or maybe a tiny fraction on the Lindex currency exchange). For example, Anshe Chung may be a single paying avatar but she stands in for a *ton* of paying individuals."

From a solvency point of view, paying vs non-paying accounts is entirely meaningful.

A few high-paying users likely doesn't help keep LL's rent paid in the same way that many smaller users would, given their leveraged tier payment system. Each individual account is a drain on resources including bandwidth, database storage, etc. These accounts contribute less than nothing to their bottom line. The question then becomes, is the revenue generated by a few big fish sufficient in the long term to counterbalance the many thousands of accounts that do nothing but syphon away resources?

66.

Michael> "I've been keeping that differentiated in my head. My opinion is that Second Life is something like Web 2.75 or so, but trying to become Web 3.0. What is Web 3.0? I couldn't tell you. Well, I could guess, but it's just a logical conclusion that doesn't pay attention to cultural shifts, which it should."

I think Web 3.0 will have a lot to do with 3D, but the core evolution of the web has always been to ease the limitations of space and time. SL does some of that, but adds a lot of limitations that aren't necessary to (and may get in the way of) common web functions and new business models. What I think it has the most to offer short-term is the content model. I'm not convinced anyone needs to have cyberspace literally depicted as a space to be able to navigate. It's a bit too complex for that these days.

I'm glad Jerry plugged my series of articles. But my take FWIW (see this article in the series) is that Web 3.0 is a much more gradual easing of 3D content into the web sphere, in the way that Google Earth often doesn't seem 3D to many people until they touch the "tilt" slider and see what else they can do.

SL has a lot to offer as a testbed for new ideas. So it's always worthy of discussion. But as others have said, to be ubiquitous, Linden needs to figure out how to move their businessmodel to an open protocol (which they almost do now, at least tacitly), open clients (which they may do), and open servers (which I don't know if they want to do). What's left, IMO, is being the paid broker of trust. But that's more Web 4.0 than 3.0, I think.

67.

A slight aside, for I don't know how to recommend topics for the great writers of TN to look at/comment on... can some of you take a look at Ryzom Ring from Nevrax? I want to hear some of your takes on this and whether you think it'll work or tank.

68.

>The Kuurian Expedition group built around Ted's Synthetic Worlds Initiative already meets inworld regularly. Here's the blog with events. Coincidentally I just this morning received the invite and will be speaking on the Metaverse Roadmap next Tuesday. w00t on that.

Well, yeah, I went to one of these meetings, but they were just avatars perched on a stadium watching Intellagirl's PowerPoint. To try to liven up that dull scene, she had a generic avatar package she wanted us all to try on to explore um...was it our opposite gender experiences or something? Ho hum, been there, erm...done that LOL. I don't mean that kind of stuff -- that is little distinguishable from first life, and sort of a hokey use of SL that people often fall into -- i.e. let's have a groovy meeting about the technology *itself*, play Sir Lagalot, and stay in IMs because it takes so long to hear the lecturer type.

That's not what I mean, I guess, by "meeting inworld". I mean meeting in world not in that sort of presentationy-way they do with one talking head, but meeting like Thinkers do, or Doers do (my group as an antidote to Thinkers). Brainstorming and jamming in the rolling and scrolling group IM or chat and then also flying around, exploring, interviewing but getting into all the meta issues and immersion issues too as I've outlined.

The last time I had a Kuurian leader come to a meeting I had, he spent time fussing about the TOS and whether it was a violation to post chat logs of group meetings even just for the group, or was that something you needed consent for, so the next time I went to their meeting, he had a fussy scripted device with a drop-down blue screen asking me permission to chat-log my chat. I'll bet that made for a totally hilarious "transcript" of the public meeting -- a class announced on the events calendar for God's sake! -- if some people said "no" or were AFK and failed to press yes. I commented, um, "better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission." I feel there isn't the intellectual excitement I seek here.

69.

In re: complaints about SL performance even on high-powered machines. I am bemused. I'm running a crappy Dell Dimension 3000 that I augmented by adding a recommended ATI Radeon 9250 graphics card. I'm on a DSL, none too close to the CO. I have a flat panel screen at 1280 x 1024. Sure, there's lag sometimes. Sure, I get packet loss sometimes. But bad enough to drive me away? Not a chance. No idea why this marginal setup would give me a decent experience while others with better setups seem to have problems. I don't think my expectations are THAT low.

In other news... I'm noticing that a lot of this thread isn't really about SL. Much is sort of around it but not about it. Again, maybe I'm just a naive user -- not naive about computers but about VWs and RPGs -- and maybe many of you are light years past me, but I'm not sure of the point of many of the messages. SL is what it is, and it ain't what it ain't. If you don't like what it is, why should you care?

I joined SL. I hung around in the newbie area for a while to wait for the graphics board to arrive. I depended upon the kindness of strangers, which was abundant. When I hit the mainland, more kindness of strangers. I learned a lot in a short time by various and sundry means, much of through personal interaction. I wasn't put off by things I didn't know. I find it an enhancement to my real life, which is why I continue. Your mileage may vary.

On the actual topic of SL, in case anyone is interested, I'm wondering how long it can remain a single world. There's a basic philosophical divide that is mostly not spoken about: those who role play and those who play variants on themselves. The more we have things like lectures and courses and business demos, the more the latter will come to dominate. As a member of the former group, the role players, I'm afraid we will eventually be squeezed out or marginalized. There are no rules. People are free to play themselves. But given the opportunity for a virtual second life, I can't imagine why I'd just be myself. I'm happy with myself in RL. I'm fascinatined by the opportunity to explore a truly alternate self, despite the limitations. I know there are people in-world who would know what I'm talking about.

70.

As many others have said, this is an interesting discussion and my first impression, coming from Dragonrealms but also City of Heroes (which I feel has a tiny bit of SL's creative side via its avatar customization and frequent costume contests), definitely comes down on the side of the skeptics.

I tried out Second Life for the first time based on reading Terra Nova, and never really got beyond the newbie zone. I didn't know where to go or what to do. I like flying and super jumping in City of Heroes has always been a big thrill to me, but I guess my experiences didn't flow the first time. That was about a year ago.

Then I tried it again with a friend and checked out a movie theater and some other nifty things, but they didn't seem to be very interactive. We used it as an elaborate form of aim to hash out design ideas unrelated to SL. I'd like to learn the language that can make all these things, but I don't really know where to start. So with all the enthusiasm for SL, I've decided to try again, and focus on learning how to use the creation tools and experiencing what is new to SL since my last visit.

Postscript: I can't get Second Life to run at all on my machine, even though its a decent computer. It crashes immediately every time I run the program.

71.

Tom> These accounts contribute less than nothing to their bottom line.

Given that you have no clue what Linden Lab's financial situation is, or what kind of margins they are running, other than being aware that they have a volume discount on pricing, any conclusions that you can make are entirely imaginative.

To pick one example out of the hat on how their margin situation is probably not black and white, yes LL might see less tier revenue if it comes from renters going through a land aggregator, but at the same time they save a ton of money on customer support costs. Just ask Prok how much time and effort that takes! Then add into the equation how rental services like Prok's or others actually help LL's retention rate.

Bringing this back to MMO study, my understanding is that many MMORPGs tried to handle customer support initially through volunteers and then ended up getting in trouble because it was unpaid labor... so they do things like outsource in world support to India. LL's approach is to enable entrepreneurs to take up that burden as small businesses.

I'm curious if the readers/writers here, who know the history of this space better than I, can think of another virtual world where the creators have been more open to entrepreneurship and value creation on top of their platform.

72.

I am not an expert in virtual worlds. I've chatted on IRC, played FFXI and EQOA, but above all I am a player not a pundit on the deep ideas behind these things.

I think instead of talking to the big companies moving into SL, metaversal pundits, musiciians, etc. It might be more useful to talk to the users of SL.

The majority of SL citizens are not content creators but content consumers. That's why only 4% of citizens make a profit. And among those citizens a good portion spends less than 500L a month on in world goods.

So if they're not buying lots of stuff (which is what the companies moving into SL want) what are they doing. Thats the question that needs answers.

SL is a strange place, it's customs are more akin to the real world, but there are real world ideas that are not being used in SL. Theres all sorts of interesting places to see that new folk don't know about. (For my sake I didn't know Kasteel Valoren existed until a couple of weeks ago) In a normal MMORPG there's quests and whatnot to get you acclimatized and to integrate you into the world. "Go here get this, do this, get this benefit." But people are dumped in SL with zip. If they're comfortable doing so they might ask questions and get directed to the usual newbie places, but if they're not I bet they get overwhelmed.

I was overwhelmed: "what is this "skin" eveyone talks about and what makes "prim hair" different from the hair I have" "Is there anyway to make money in game, besides creating content? Are there jobs not involving the sex industry?"

I'm still overwhelmed in certain ways, I have not even begun to explore the merest fraction of zones. I still have not been able to get the "save a movie" function to work

Linden Labs should do less evangelizing the RL business community and more work dealing with the influx of new "players" and getting them integrated into SL society.

SL needs more structure, it could use some formalized zoning. IMHO every citizen, paid or not should have a free residential plot, to help bind them socially to the world. The content creators, land owners and the Lindens ought to start hiring people to perform services. Why not pay people to lead people on sightseeing or orientation tours. Why not hire customer service representatives for in-world businesses Why not hire an actual police force.

Linden Labs also needs to deal with the serious client/hardware issues. SL is exactly the sort of virtual world thing to appeal to those who don't have state of the art hardware. And even if one does have that sort of hardware there's still issues. I run SL on a Gateway 400SP laptop, 2.2 GHz Mobile Celeron, 512MB RAM, i852/855 integrated graphics. It runs, but the framerate is so sloooooow, between 2-10 fps and the CPU utilization is through the roof. They ought optimize the client for lower end machines But even users of high end machines have problems, crashes when saving a screenshot, crashes when making a new inventory folder, crashes when etc.

But for all my complaints, I think an SL type environment will the the "big thing" sometime in the future. I like SL, it's the only Windows "game" I play I'm a console gamer and actually hope for PS3 SL client someday

73.

Noel B. wrote:

"In re: complaints about SL performance even on high-powered machines. I am bemused. I'm running a crappy Dell Dimension 3000 that I augmented by adding a recommended ATI Radeon 9250 graphics card. I'm on a DSL, none too close to the CO. I have a flat panel screen at 1280 x 1024. Sure, there's lag sometimes. Sure, I get packet loss sometimes. But bad enough to drive me away? Not a chance. No idea why this marginal setup would give me a decent experience while others with better setups seem to have problems. I don't think my expectations are THAT low."

To clarify, my machine can run SL comfortable at lower resolutions. The problem is I have a 24 inch monitor and I like to play games at that monitor's native resolution--1920x1200. SL's client bogs down and dies at that setting, something which I found bemusing since I run Half-Life 2 and numerous other FPS's smoothly at that resolution. Either the graphical code still needs a ton of optimization or the basic architecture behind the game--all that player created content which has to be piped over the internet to my pc--is inhibiting performance.

My main gripe about the interface is how clunky it is and how offputting. SL could, in my opinion, pick up a few tips from WoW or almost any other MMOG out there. No one wants to have to wade through menus to accomplish something. And while WoW makes a special attempt to allow newbies to simply drop in and play my guess is that the steep learning curve behind SL's interface is probably turning away a good number of people.

74.

Prokofy Neva>I think that's all the more reason to become more knowledgeable just by dipping your toe in more than once a year : )

The thing about virtual worlds is that you need to play one extensively - like 2-3 hours a day for a month - in order to be able to talk about it. Reviews of virtual worlds in computer game magazines are hopeless for this reason: they can talk about the graphics and the newbie experience, but that's it. You can do it from a design perspective, if you've done the "attune to game design" quest (ie. you've designed one), but if you want to know what goes on and to keep your finger on the pulse, you have to put in quite an effort.

Some TNers have indeed put in that effort, and those of us who haven't are happy to defer to them when it comes to the intricacies of what goes on in SL. I haven't put in the effort, so although I can talk about overall design issues with some confidence, I can't talk about the politics or the culture a great deal.

The reason I haven't put in the effort, by the way, is because in my few attempts to do so I've only encountered unresponsive, newbie-unfriendly cliques and theatres of the bizarre. In a single-instanced world of any maturity, newbies always find it hard to gain any kind of social foothold; in a social world, this is doubly so. Unfortunately, you can't really solo them - they're dead but for social activity.

>You yourself are fortunate to have even your own RL name in SL! Think of the fun you could have!

I would if I could log in under it. After the password disappearance fiasco I tried twice to get a new password but got no response. I think the account is maybe set up in someone else's name. Whatever, when I created a new account it didn't try to charge me money for already having an old one.

>And I don't think anyone should fear these higher-ups and game-gods here -- they shouldn't put a chill on discussion.

That's not what I'm suggesting. It's they who have to be careful what they say, not the players. No-one at Linden is going to monitor what people say and take measures if they disagree - they won't introduce any paranoia into the discussion. The worry is that what they say is going to be pounced on by SL analysts and picked apart for possible meaning that isn't there. They can't make the kind of unguarded comments that would arise from any passionate argument, therefore they can't make the passionate arguments (well, not in public anyway).

>Basically, I don't think this situation is a very good thing for free and unfettered scholarly inquiry.

TN isn't an academic journal, and Linden isn't a public body. It's quite possible that stock prices could change if something were said here by a company officer and it were picked up in the wider media. For all we know, the employment contracts for Linden Labs might include clauses to prevent the discussion of, say, individual examples of player behaviour.

>I see the executives/designers of other games like There and others feeling far more free to come here and discuss even their own worlds/jobs.

And yet others make no appearance whatsoever. We should be grateful that Cory and crew take time to post at all; it's not as if we have anyone from Blizzard writing for us.

Richard

75.

I did a bit of analysis on Terra Nova posting trends, and posted it my site.

Basically, I fuond a decreasing bu large number of SL posts, and increasing and huge number of WoW references, and some interesting trends in individual posters' use of each.

Just posting this here since trackbacks from me to here don't seem to work...

76.

"fuond a decreasing bu"

Oh, for an edit button.

77.

Giff Constable>"Given that you have no clue what Linden Lab's financial situation is, or what kind of margins they are running, other than being aware that they have a volume discount on pricing, any conclusions that you can make are entirely imaginative."

Hence, my very next sentence, "The question then becomes, is the revenue generated by a few big fish sufficient in the long term to counterbalance the many thousands of accounts that do nothing but syphon away resources?"

Giff Constable>"LL might see less tier revenue if it comes from renters going through a land aggregator, but at the same time they save a ton of money on customer support costs. Just ask Prok how much time and effort that takes! Then add into the equation how rental services like Prok's or others actually help LL's retention rate."

I don't think it's a stretch to write down the relation that if the existence of an account consumes resources and if that account does not pay anything to Linden, then retention is moot if it doesn't result in a revenue-generating conversion to add to their bottom line.

At any rate, I'm not convinced their retention rate is anything to write home about, Prok's efforts notwithstanding. Linden's own recently-released numbers demonstrate that, of the accounts that existed prior to a month ago, only 5% have logged in over the past 30 days. The number is almost identical for the 60-day time bin. This suggests a bimodal population consisting of a smallish core of entrenched users and a large volume of 'passers-by' who cycle through in a month or two.

78.

Tom> I don't think it's a stretch to write down the relation that if the existence of an account consumes resources and if that account does not pay anything to Linden, then retention is moot if it doesn't result in a revenue-generating conversion to add to their bottom line.

I agree with you to a point. Two counter points are the long-term benefits one gets from gaining critical mass in a social world (but I don't want to get bogged down in a Web 1.0 bubble argument), and the fact that not all non-payers are freeloaders but rather some contribute content/services to the world making it a richer place. This is especially relevant in a user-generated-content place like SL. Of course a lot of junk gets made too...

But actually I was really talking about people who *do* pay Linden Lab, but through a third party. There are probably enough of them that counting the number of individuals paying LL directly, and comparing it to other worlds/games, is misleading.

79.

SL's power is the simple power of a good idea: give users tools and let them go. That's the real reason SL continues to fascinate me and everyone else. Cory and crew deserve credit for sticking with that basic good idea.

But Mike and lewy are right that there are technical realities that keep it from becoming the uber-zeitgeisty MySpace of 2007. Bottom line: It's still too hard for my mom to use. My mom could pick up WoW is she wanted to, but not SL.

Also, it doesn't interoperate with other parts of the web very well. Make it super-easy for newbies, but robust enough for the early adopters here, and then it can go mainstream and take over the whole damn world. (Personally, I cheer for going open source) Until then, it's niche.

For the record, I'd be happy to lose my bet with Cory, but I still don't think I will unless SL suddenly gets dummy-proof.

Errata:
1) Why study WoW rather than SL? For starters, it's hard to do both as I'm only one person. So why WoW? Well, WoW has a lot of people playing it. That matters. And because it has a lot of people, I think it touches on RL social issues of broader civic significance that matter to me (third places, unmet desire for community). Still, SL is deeply cool and is also worthy of study. It's the future--it's just not there yet for the average bear.

2) Footnote: I've been in some of those IBM meetings in SL. I find them less effective than a standard phone meeting, which is in turn less effective than face to face. They are worth doing, but the substance does not match the hype.

3) As much as I like Ted's work, economic issues aren't what drives people to actually participate in VWs. Journalists love to cover that angle because of its man-bites-dog appeal, but it isn't the fuel that drives worlds. So let's stop fixating on RMT as proof that VWs matter. The fuels are compelling stories and actions, but mostly people and relationships. Those things occur in both WoW and SL. It's just that WoW currently has more desirable fuel for the average citizen.

-Dmitri, who, BTW is proselytizing about SL live in a Ph.D. class today

80.

I think it's reasonable to state that SL is not a game and therefore attracts a different audience to the one games attract. I think it's also fair to say that the audience it does attract is much smaller than that attracted to many games.

I also think it's fair to say that SL's rabid fanbois are just as bloody annoying as anything else's. Yes Prokofy, that means you.

Preach the great joyousness of SL all you want. I won't listen any more than i would to any other zealot.

81.

Is it just me, or is this thread unravelling?

I think the idea of having a TN get together in SL is interesting. But, then, do we also need to have a TN guild on WoW? And a clan(?) on EVE? And a MySpace page (except that MySpace isn't a VW, and I'll keep repeating that until they pry my mouse from my cold, dead, virtual, avatar hand).

TN is a blog. We come here to discuss. I enjoy a discussion salon with some friends where we talk about politics, art and religion; we would not convene that discussion in the state house, church or museum. It would be inappropriate. The only reason it kinda works as a suggestion for SL is because SL and TN share some blog-like, social, conversational functionality.

It occurred to me the other day while ranting (live and in person) with another friend about MySpace not being a virtual world, that, if it is, why isn't eBay? Which begs the question... should we include eBay in our discussions of virtual worlds here? Much RMT happens there, so it is attached to games, and people create personnae, and they socialize and have groups. And they attain ranks and scores. All through the use of a computer-aided interface.

Should TN have an eBay store?

Is it just me, or is this comment unravelling?

82.

Jerry Pappendorf wrote:

Multiverse won't work, independents won't be making worlds,

The former may or may not be true. Time will tell.

The latter is simply outrageously false. There are more worlds out there made by independents than made by the big boys, and that's not going to change.

--matt

83.

When did LL stop being an independent?

84.

> When did LL stop being an independent?

A few million US$ and a few hundred international press stories ago. :)

85.

Andy Havens>Is it just me, or is this thread unravelling?

So, you're unravelling are you?

Richard

86.

Whenever you discuss second life, you make me think of Tad Williams' Otherland books. I know that's not at all accurate, but the idea of people meeting in SL and watching a powerpoint presentation just brings that VR net to mind.

87.

Reed > Jerry Paffendorf wrote "over time SL is making a run at evolving into a 3D Web framework, open sourced, host your own, program in other languages, yadda yadda, you know the dream"
Can you please point us at the announcement or publication from Linden Lab that says this?

Sure thing. A few hits from a quick Googling:

*Check out this answers.com page which has some good stuff:

"The plan is to eventually move everything to open standards and standardize the Second Life protocol. Cory Ondrejka, Vice President of Product Development, has stated that a while after everything has been standardized, both the client and the server will be released as open source [11]."

*Tony Walsh on "Second Life To Go Open Source...Eventually" with some quotes from Cory O.

*Jim Purbrick AKA Babbage Linden on "Open Source and Second Life" in preperation for his talk at the European Open Source Convention.

*Also check out the active open source libsecondlife project, which has received Linden Lab's endorsement. "libsecondlife is a software library that can be used in a third party application to communicate with the servers that control the virtual world of Second Life."

Noel B > In other news... I'm noticing that a lot of this thread isn't really about SL.

Right. A lot of it's gone in the wider direction of what Dmitri mentions: "SL's power is the simple power of a good idea: give users tools and let them go." It's just an artifact of their origins and business models that we don't have more things like this happening in gamespace. It's bigger than SL, but SL is one of those who has the ball and is running with it! And the cool part is that while they're running a lot of their residents are feeling ownership and blocking for them, helping them move down the field as part of the same team, and they expect to be tossed a lateral as tackelers close in.

I should point out that there are already some teams outside of Linden Lab working on how to solve basic, painful usability questions of SL, like Where do I go to see cool things? How do I meet interesting people? What's with the circa 1850 interface? ;) Those are the three biggies for a lot of people and they're far from unsolvable if irritatingly not in place today.

Endie > I did a bit of analysis on Terra Nova posting trends, and posted it my site.

That's really cool. Thanks, Endie! When Richard Bartle came into SL for a future salon last year I compiled all of the posts he'd made to TN. That was a fascinating excercise in looking back over thought trends here, with flurries of uncertainty over many posts reaching thresholds and shifting. I remember two things jumped out at me in doing that, very informal observations. One story was RMT (real money trade) and secondary markets for virtual stuff evolving from more of a question of "will we do this?" to a more basic acceptance of "*how* will we do this?" (BTW caught this bit on Slashdot yesterday about powerleveling gamerscores on the Xbox--can't stop the shining! :)) Another was the rise of Second Life from a standard "social world" with "only X" number of users to the start of something more, which brings us where we are today with this thread :).

Matt Mihaly > The latter is simply outrageously false. There are more worlds out there made by independents than made by the big boys, and that's not going to change.

That's an outrageously good sign then, isn't it?

Richard Bartle @Andy Havens > "Is it just me, or is this thread unravelling?" So, you're unravelling are you?

lol That's cute :).

I copied this passage from Ray Kurzweil's The Age of Spiritual Machines on cycles of technological change from a Stanford Learning Lab site (lest I hear Kurzweilian prognostication screams, remember he's a sick, sick proven inventor). So is SL the pretender technology here? Or was that VRML? Active Worlds? So, smart people, where the heck in time are we?:

"THE LIFE CYCLE OF A TECHNOLOGY

From Chapter 1 - The Law Of Time And Chaos: A (Very Brief) History of the Universe:Time Slowing Down by Ray Kurzweil,

Technologies fight for survival, evolve, and undergo their own characteristic life cycle. We can identify seven distinct stages. During the precursor stage, the prerequisites of a technology exist, and dreamers may contemplate these elements coming together. We do not, however, regard dreaming to be the same as inventing, even if the dreams are written down. Leonardo da Vinci drew convincing pictures of airplanes and automobiles, but he is not considered to have invented either.

The next stage, one highly celebrated in our culture, is invention, a very brief stage, not dissimilar in some respects to the process of birth after an extended period of labor. Here the inventor blends curiosity, scientific skills, determination, an usually a measure of showmanship to combine methods in a new way to bring a new technology to life.

The next stage is development, during which the invention is protected and supported by doting guardians (which may include the original inventor). Often this stage is more crucial than invention and may involve additional creation that can have greate significance than the original invention. Many tinkerers had constructed finely hand-tuned horseless carriages, but it was Henry Ford's innovation of mass production that enabled the automobile to take root and flourish.

The fourth stage is maturity. Although continuing to evolve, the technology now has a life of its own and has become an independent and established part of the community. It may become so interwoven in the fabric of life that it appears to many observe rs that it will last forever. This creates an interesting drama when the next stage arrives, which I call the stage of the pretenders. Here an upstart threatens to eclipse the older technology. Its enthusiasts prematurely predict victory. While providing some distinct benefits, the newer technology is found on reflection to be missing some key element of functionality or quality. When it indeed fails to dislodge the established order, the technology conservatives take this as evidence that the original a pproach will indeed live forever.

This is usually a short-lived victory for the aging technology. Shortly thereafter another new technology typically does succeed in rendering the original technology into the stage of obsolescence. In this part of the life cycle, the technology lives out its senior years in gradual decline, its original purpose and functionality now subsumed by a more spry competitor. This stage, which may comprise 5 to 10 percent of the life cycle, finally yields to antiquity (examples today: the horse and buggy, the harpsichord, the manual typewriter, and the electromechanical calculator).

To illustrate this, consider the phonograph record. In the mid-nineteenth century, there were several precursors, including Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville's phonautograph, a device that recorded sound vibrations as a printed pattern. It was Thomas Edison, however, who in 1877 brought all of the elements together and invented the first device that could record and reproduce sound. Further refinements were necessary for the phonograph to become commercially viable. It became a fully mature technology in 1948 when Columbia introduced the 33 revolutions-per-minute (rpm) long-playing record (LP) and RCA Victor introduced the 45-rpm small disc. The pretender was the cassette tape, introduced in the 1960s and popularized during the 1970s. Early enthusiasts predicted that its small size and ability to be rerecorded would make the relatively bulky and scratchable record obsolete.

Despite these obvious benefits, cassettes lack random access (the ability to play selections in a desired order) and are prone to their own forms of distortion and lack of fidelity. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the digital compact disc (CD) did deliver the mortal blow. With the CD providing both random access and a level of quality close to the limits of human auditory system, the phonograph record entered the stage of obsolescence in the first half of the 1990s. Although still produced in small quantities, the technology that Edison gave birth to more than a century ago is now approaching antiquity.

Another example is the print book, a rather mature technology today. It is now in the stage of the pretenders, with the software-based "virtual" book as the pretender. Lacking the resolution, contrast, lack of flicker, and other visual qualities of paper and ink, the current generation of virtual book does not have the capability of displacing paper-based publications. Yet this victory of the paper-based book will be short-lived as future generations of computer displays succeed in providing a fully satisfactory alternative to paper."

88.

Sun Micro To Hold Press Conference in SL

via 3pointD: "Sun Microsystems will apparently hold a press conference in the virtual world of Second Life next Tuesday, according to an item on Red Herring. “The networked computer vendor will become the first Fortune 500 company to hold a press conference in Second Life Tuesday when Chief Researcher Jon Gage and Chief Gaming Officer Chris Melissinos will open an in-game pavilion and talk about other ways Sun plans to work within the game. Philip Rosedale, chief executive of Linden Labs, the game’s developer, will also appear,” the article says."

lol I love it.

89.

Jerry Paffendorf>"Sun Microsystems will apparently hold a press conference in the virtual world of Second Life next Tuesday, according to an item on Red Herring"

In related news, be on the watch for a spike in new accounts registered next Tuesday, without a corresponding increase in the unique login number after about a week...

The point of this comment is that, although Linden is receiving a lot of publicity from gimmicky moves like this, their own "unique login" numbers demonstrate that it has done little to encourage people to stick around.

90.

Jerry Pappendorf wrote:

Multiverse won't work, independents won't be making worlds,

I responded:

The latter is simply outrageously false. There are more worlds out there made by independents than made by the big boys, and that's not going to change.

Jerry quipped:

That's an outrageously good sign then, isn't it?

So, first you blithely claim that independents cannot make worlds, despite the fact that this is a patently false statement that even casual knowledge of the VW space gives lie to, and then, when confronted with that, you turn around and claim that what you just said wasn't possible is, in fact, a good sign?

This is why I can't actually take your fanboism too seriously. You lack all context for what you're talking about. It's not an outrageously good sign that independents outnumber the majors because it's just the norm. It's always been that way and there is about zero chance that that's going to change anytime soon. It's like saying, "In MY opinion, it's a good sign that you need pasta to make spaghetti."

--matt

91.

Matt Mihaly > So, first you blithely claim that independents cannot make worlds, despite the fact that this is a patently false statement that even casual knowledge of the VW space gives lie to, and then, when confronted with that, you turn around and claim that what you just said wasn't possible is, in fact, a good sign?

Ah! Sorry. Misunderstanding likely caused by the sometimes colorful Paffendorfian mode of discourse here that Greg noted :) (and it is Paffendorf with two f's, not d's). When I said independent games won't work, I thought I was clearly off on a sarcastic tangent. I was kind of throwing my hands up and saying that if something like SL won't work, then nothing will work, and then said 'indies won't make games' and the future of VWs is over. Forgive my passion. FWIW, based on misinterpreting what you said back to that ("outrageous") based on misinterpreting what I meant (I'll take fault) I was thinking for the moment that I can not take you seriously (in this specific case) either. Don't you love the internet? :). Sorry if I came off blithe, I do take you seriously. On "fanboi", dang man, I'll have to bite my knuckle, suffer the slings, and content myself with knowledge of what I do and where I'm going. It's all good in the hood. Being called a fanboi by Matt Mihaly is the kind of thing I like to post on my wall for inspiration in dark times!

Now back on topic...

92.

Jerry wrote:

When I said independent games won't work, I thought I was clearly off on a sarcastic tangent. I was kind of throwing my hands up and saying that if something like SL won't work, then nothing will work, and then said 'indies won't make games' and the future of VWs is over.

Ahh, my apologies for the misunderstanding then.

I will say though that whether Second Life will work is absolutely irrelevant to independent virtual worlds, almost none of which are particularly influenced by or in the model of SL.
--matt

93.

Andy Havens > "TN is a blog. We come here to discuss. I enjoy a discussion salon with some friends where we talk about politics, art and religion; we would not convene that discussion in the state house, church or museum. It would be inappropriate. The only reason it kinda works as a suggestion for SL is because SL and TN share some blog-like, social, conversational functionality."

I'm not so sure it'd be inappropriate, just difficult logistically, which is the beauty of SL -- it allows for people from various locations around the world to at least convene their avatars and chat or look at media together.

And no, I'd think that TN doesn't need to convene in WoW, as it's not specifically for those type meetings. Neither is SL totally, but in none of the other VW's would you be able to add your own 2d, 3d, and video content to the discussions as easily...therefore, SL seems more than just a good suggestion, it seems apropos.

94.

Seeing those stages of technology you mentioned, Jerry, reminds me of an old joke my father used to tell me about the development cycle at Xerox Corp. when he worked there as an engineer:

1. Fantasy
2. Ecstasy
3. Reality
4. Search for the Guilty Parties
5. Reward the Uninvolved

95.

Prokofy > Seeing those stages of technology you mentioned, Jerry, reminds me of an old joke my father used to tell me about the development cycle at Xerox Corp. when he worked there as an engineer:

Hehe. Check out the Gartner 5-stage hype cycle too. Always a helpful guide lest you fall into the Trough of Disillusionment on your merry way to the Plateau of Productivity. What adventure! ;)

Matt Mihaly > Ahh, my apologies for the misunderstanding then.

No worries whatsoever, and glad we're back on the same page. Matt, here's an idea I noodled on a while ago, and it just came up again with this Second Life Herald article about a table-top Dungeons & Dragons system in SL: Scripted Dice Roll Themselves.

Why not try porting a text-based VW into SL? You can go full-screen with text in SL, and having the 3D world with the other avatars present would be like a soft back channel for the experience and might help in building community. A text-based game in SL has the potential to get pretty popular and would offer some other creative and communication opportunities. I'm interested to know how that idea strikes you. I've been skimming stuff on your Iron Realms site, and from my POV as a non-MUDer (but former elementary and middle school dungeon master, and a dang good one, with novela-length adventures and obsessively detailed maps all drawn out I'll have you know ;) a scenario like this sounds pretty cool:

Log into a graphical world. Go to an area themed to match the MUD. Customize your graphical avatar to match the setting. Pull up a common text environment and start MUDing. Connect the MUD to the grahical environment not at all or in ways that add to the experience. May be a way to help update MUDs and mix in some ARG/alternate-reality gaming action.

Just an idea.

96.

During my morning surfing it occurred to me that those here who only see the big press articles about SL might like the World of SL aggregator blog that pulls from a number of resident blogs (and the BlogHUD that allows people to post to the web from inworld). It paints a clearer picture of life on the ground, all in one place.

97.

Is it just me, or is this thread the most handsome and talented on the planet?

98.

Jerry wrote:

Why not try porting a text-based VW into SL? You can go full-screen with text in SL, and having the 3D world with the other avatars present would be like a soft back channel for the experience and might help in building community. A text-based game in SL has the potential to get pretty popular and would offer some other creative and communication opportunities.

[snip]

Pull up a common text environment and start MUDing. Connect the MUD to the grahical environment not at all or in ways that add to the experience. May be a way to help update MUDs and mix in some ARG/alternate-reality gaming action.

It's kind of hard for me to see how this adds any value to the MUD experience. It mainly sounds like just adding an extra step for people - forcing them to log into a third party VW before logging into the VW they are actually looking to log into.

Backchannels are always good, but it's just hard for me to see why text MUDers would hang out in Second Life in order to play a text MUD.

--matt

99.

@Jerry and Matt:

I'm with Matt on this one. The particular charm of text adventures is very similar to the core charms of reading and writing themselves; specifically, that you don't need to elaborate or specify as much of what is going on, and that many things are (nicely) left to the imagination of the players.

When I write, "A sinister presence looms behind you, sending a cold chill up your spine. As you turn, you barely make out a set of stark features, ice-grey eyes, and a slight smile that may be inviting... or possible cruel." Well... that's descriptive, sure. But not really specific visually. It gives a "sense." A directional presence. Which is much different than a really nice, 3D avatar.

Not that one's better than the other; just different.

100.

I would say the potential is more in making existing MUDs available to play through something like SL as an alternative, rather than forcing anything. In the quiet moments when I resign myself to the way reality is encroaching into SL, I think maybe it would be cool to look at websites in a way that's like MST3K with your avatar and your friends all throwing popcorn from the bottom of the screen- it makes browsing the news a shared experience or whatever.

In a similar way, you could play MUDs that way, like the way when home computers were novel and cool, you could get the family to sit round the ZX Spectrum and even mum would be piping up "Why can the trolls say 'yer' but you can't?" when playing The Hobbit. It adds something to the experience, potentially. Not many online gamers' actual 'real' families and friends are physically present much or even interested in this stuff it seems, so having a gang of your virtual friends looking over your virtual shoulder while you RP with even more virtual friends in a text MUD has a certain giggly appeal.

Of course, there's an implication that this somehow demotes MUDs to another pastime in a graphical virtual space, and I can imagine some latent hostility to that idea. If they get the "web on a prim" then we'll be able to do this anyway I expect (with some web based MUD) and it could be a cool new optional way to play MUDs. Like pulling that whole 'living room gaming' vibe through the screen.

You know, when I was at university, computer science labs were full of noisy guys shouting at each other for killing the wrong smurfs or something. I didn't see any reason for them not to just sit round a table with funny shaped dice, rather than forcing them to log into SUN terminals to play. It's kind of hard for me to see how this added to the roleplaying experience. ;)

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