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Jan 05, 2006



The section on Artistic Freedom resonates with me so deeply I had to say so. =)


I don't understand. Why would the BBC talk about SL in their segment on MMOs? What's the big deal about SL? There are plenty of other MMOs that seem like a better choice than SL. Something like SWG or Lord of the Rings Online that people who don't play MMOs would recognize, or something like WoW that so many play. But SL? I just don't get it. Why is it these days that this is always the one mentioned when people talk about MMOs? I mean, I know that you can make your own stuff in SL, but I tried it out and it seemed empty and kind of boring. It'd be one thing if SL had more people in it than all the fantasy games put together, but they don't.

So am I missing something, or does SL just have really good PR?


Conch>I don't understand. Why would the BBC talk about SL in their segment on MMOs? What's the big deal about SL? There are plenty of other MMOs that seem like a better choice than SL.<

Looking at the BBC clip, seems like they made a good choice to me. The point they were trying to make was that VWs are in the process of becoming an everyday part of our culture. It’s a lot easier to make a convincing case of that to people who haven’t tried them if you minimize the gap. Show avatars doing everyday things like shopping, visiting clubs, planning for disasters, or presenting news shows. Focussing on killing Troggs would be more likely to consign it to “kids fringe game” I think. The Fantasy/Sci-Fi stuff might be more exciting to the initiated, but for the target audience the focus on SL was likely a good choice.


And also, love it or hate it, what Linden are doing with SL raises a lot of fascinating questions about what it is to live in a world where we interact in a wide range of ways in both physical and virtual spaces. For example, if we discuss things like freedom of speech there is an ‘out’ with respect to MMOs as they are games and one needs restriction of certain freedoms for there to be a game, Second Life (and the text based worlds that came before it) does not have this ‘out’. And here I am not talking about how Linden may choose to argue something but about how SL fits with respect to the classic argument over notions of liberty etc.

A good example is that of SWG nerfing the game vs SL changing to point-to-point teleporting. There is just a wider range of argument that one can have with respect to SL. This is not to trivialise traditional MMOs, these are differently important, as games and sites of social practice and creation there are many hard issues that we have to cover there.

Lastly, as noted above, when one is addressing the general pubic the sorts of images and practices one chooses it vital for people even to listen to the arguments you are presenting. In a brand lead, MP3 world it’s not to hard for the average westerner to grock virtual shopping as there is little context they need to take on board.

This is why I thought the program was important it was a significant step to the popular understanding, rather than hysterical reaction to, a sub-culture that need wider public debate if we are to understand where and how the virtual will and should fit in every life and liberty.


Conch, it's interesting, I say exactly the same thing but I put in [W0W|EQ|Etc] where you put in SL.

Given the large number of intellectual heavyweights on this blog, I really struggle to understand why it is that they talk about anything other than SL.

SL is everything we've been thinking and discussion and dreaming about since before the 80s. It's the web - interactive and virtual.

The infinite potential should rise to infinite discussions, and it does everywhere, except on Terra Nova.

It's an important question to me because sometimes I scratch my head and wonder why I'm not repeat mouseclicking alongside Castronova and Dan Hunter and all the other Terra Nova illuminaries here in some MMORPG like World of Warcraft or EQ2.

But, after five minutes of play on those games I quickly realise that watching Seinfeild is more stimulating and I return to SecondLife and I really can only assume that some kind of bizarre groupthink has over taken this blog.

Or, maybe, this blog is just about people playing games and not so much about virtual world.

I wish I knew!


Blaze > Given the large number of intellectual heavyweights on this blog, I really struggle to understand why it is that they talk about anything other than SL.

A number of reasons, here are two:
1/ just because there is opera, discussion of pop is not invalidated, what’s more, more people listen to pop.
2/ just because there is war and famine somewhere does not mean we cannot have ethically and intellectually valid discussions about other things.

Given that there must be over 20 million people in virtual worlds and the history of them, we would be remiss not to cover other ones. I agree we could talk about SL more for all the reasons I noted above, but heck, verity is fun, and here are a good number of papers that get forensic about the issues that we touch on here.

Where, in my view, SL is lacking is two fold:

a/ We don’t have that much coverage of social / teen worlds. To date Habbo has had almost 40 million character creations (who know’s how many actual individuals), that’s big and important. We really only have Betsy on that beat and we all have day jobs.

b/ We don’t cover text worlds anywhere near enough. This is vital and pertinent to you point, as a lot of the issues that SL is going through have already been seen in places like LambaMOO.


I'm glad they talked mainly to SL. I would have expected an entirely different attitude to have emerged from the report had they focused on WoW.

What disappointed me was that they didn't mention (probably because they didn't know) that virtual worlds are, as with the WWW, ultimately a UK invention. OK, so we may be absolutely useless at making money from our ideas, but at least we have the ideas!

I was lucky my wife had the TV on or I'd have missed the report. Like other people who spend more time playing games than watching TV, I was playing a game rather than watching TV...



Another feather in SL's cap (relative to other games noted in these comments) is that it is closer to real life in the value of labor and IP rights for participants (notably that players can create, own the IP they created, sell and profit from their work and live what you could call a fully functional life in SL- in that one could make enough real world money to support themselves). Also, they can take what they've made in SL and transfer that brand, product, or service into a real world business and repurpose, license, or distribute their creations on other platforms or mediums. I think it is more of a true *virtual world* than the other MMOGs which seem to be simply multiplayer games, or in the case of Habbo Hotel, chat rooms with games available (not unlike how MSN Zone games are available to people who chat via MSN Messenger). To me, it isn't much of a world if one can't make a living by their labor. Even in the example of the leveling sweat shops for MMOGs, a person would have to be "criminals" in the world to make that living so I don't think that holds a candle to the real financial opportunity in Second Life.

However, there is a strong bias in SL's design to favor creative and outgoing people. Introverted and shy people will have a hard time being dropped in a MMOG with no easy out to socializing (having to group to advance in the game is helpful to those who have a hard time connecting with others spontaneously, etc.). And the creative population of SL is such because only creative types consider "building" to be fun. Many people (perhaps a majority) prefer consuming to creating (makes sense in cultures like the US especially). And SL is not set up with a proper marketplace and media yet to make consuming the wonders of SL easy and fun for non-creative types of people. Many friends of mine went in SL and were immediatley bored or didn't "get it" whereas I went in and couldn't wait to try my hand at scripting and building things. Until the consumer culture in SL has more proper media outlets in-world (and I see this as inevitable), the world will be more attractive to creators than consumers, delaying a true mass market migration (only for a while).


In any case, both SL and the gamut of traditional MMOGs are both considered "synthetic worlds", until someone says otherwise, which isn't likely. (And even then, it'll be a few years while the dispute sorts itself out, and a few decades before it becomes standard, by the time which things will be different.) Thus, there's an equal level of validity to coverage on all these... worlds.

You cover what you like. As Ted's latest post demonstrated, you can find all sorts of issues in even the most game-y of synthetic worlds; whether or not it's an issue worth pursuit is a personal choice. Unless you're willing to defend your reasons either way, I'd recommend letting live others' personal interests. =)


Blaze> I really struggle to understand why it is that they talk about anything other than SL.<

I'd argue that WoW and EQ contain stylized versions of a popular game in everyday life. The Consumer Game of leveling up to get better stuff, so you can level up and get yet better stuff. That familiarity explains some of their success. Same familiar game, but with a different style of grind from the everyday one at the office. I’d expect the acquisition game in future to underlie as big chunk of WV activity as it does in the physical world. As Kelly says, builder games are probably a minority interest.

Someone grinding at the office for a better SUV is even less ready to hear "don't take it so seriously, its only a game" than someone grinding for a better breastplate in EQ. So I doubt I'll see such a comparison on a popular news program any time soon. I do see such a discussion as having a place here though. It the ability of VWs to reflect everyday life in new ways that make them such an attractive topic. SL is one type of reflection, EQ and WoW another.


I guess my problem is more practical. I would like to be involved in something that has a future.

I don't wish to sound opinionated here, really, I just have a hard time seeing a future for something like WoW.

But SL -

I see virtual classes and education. I see students in internet cafes in impoverished countries hanging out with other students in other countries, learning and working on group projects in a shared, social, virtual space.

I see a group teaching people all over the world how to speak english by running them through real life westernized scenarios in virtual hotels and on the virtual street.

I see eCommerce stores selling knowledge products, where sales people are avatars that can come up to you and give you personalized (and hyper efficient) help.

I see trade shows where one minute you could be discussing your product line from a virtual trade show booth with the head of education for the FBI (this happened in SL) and the next minute you could be bouncing your baby daughter on your knee.

I see running into Ray Kurzweil or Pierre Odimyar or Cory Doctorow or professors teaching law and education and philosophy - in world.

I see so many productive, real life relevant things - but I see none of this in WoW or EQ2. The only thing I see in there is great texture art and apriori optimized polygon meshes.

I see inifinite possibility limited only by one thing - your imagination.


Whups, clicked away there.

Again, though, don't mistake this as an attempt to say that everyone here is wrong for talking about what's popular rather than what is relevant.

I guess I am just hoping someone here might help me understand why, in the scheme of the world at large, the virtual worlds of WoW are important and worth discussing.

Perhaps in the context of it all being the step we have to take to get to the end of the road, I could see how they are relevant, but I don't often see the conversations couched in this manner: "How does WoW get us to where we want to go?"


Blaze > I don't wish to sound opinionated here, really, I just have a hard time seeing a future for something like WoW. <

I’d put it rather that you are having a hard time seeing the present in something like WoW. In my view, most of the resources in our culture are devoted to giving people wider possibilities in their lives, whether it’s a better house, an engaging movie, an educational class, or the possibility of killing virtual dragons. Only a tiny fraction of effort and resources goes to basic survival, at least in the rich western countries. While you are being “productive” at your trade show, virtual or physical, what are you producing? Mostly new experiences for people, directly or indirectly. The fantasy worlds of WoW and its companions are part of that.

Having said all that, I’m a bigger fan of the more producer oriented worlds like SL and ATiTD, than I am of the consumer oriented ones like WoW. And I can see SL type worlds being of more help to less developed countries through education and communication, than the virtual sweatshops of WoW. But WoW is very “relevant” to where we are. Whether it is where we want to go is another debate. I’m more producer than consumer oriented myself. Even WoW I take as more an opportunity to create something, a story for my character, than a pure consumption game.


blaze>I just have a hard time seeing a future for something like WoW.

How about writing? Obviously it has great applications for education and storing/transferring information, but what about novels? Do you think they have a future?



Blaze - what's more popular - watching television or amateur dramatics? The lowest common denominator is going to win. I enjoy WOW well enough and it gives me everything Second Life has THAT I WANT. I have no interest PAYING for special content nor do I have any interest in scripting for fun and profit.

In fact if you look at one of the reasons WOW has become so popular it's because it's a game with a goal and it's a relatively easy one. The hardcore grind games epitomized by EQ thought they knew what they were doing until Blizzard entered the market.

And I'm not arguing one way or the other just pointing out the absurdity of writing off WOW when SL is a niche game with a nasty business model.


"Mostly new experiences for people, directly or indirectly. The fantasy worlds of WoW and its companions are part of that."

Agreed, but I guess I would rather talk about a system that empowered you to deliver the full broad spectrum of experiences rather than one particular group of people who are delivering one particular fantasy oriented experience.


"I guess I am just hoping someone here might help me understand why, in the scheme of the world at large, the virtual worlds of WoW are important and worth discussing."

From a game design stand point I don't think that WoW is very interesting. It's basically EQ done right--Blizzard picking up a concept that was developed by somebody else and polishing it until it shined.

Where WoW is important however is in the amount of money that it's made. Not only has it bought in more paying customers to the MMOG marketplace but its also raised the awareness of the genre in the minds of the general public. Additionally WoW's success will inevitably mean imitation in the MMOG marketplace as competitors attempt to cash in on Blizzard's success.

The question which has me genuinely curious is what comes after WoW. Does anyone want to issue any predictions about whether any game in the next batch of MMOG's will be anywhere near as successful?


While I get that you think "weightier issues" can be attributed to the SL topic, popular games are important too.

Someone famous once said "Tell me what a man does with his free time and Ill tell you where he'll be in 10 years." Well there are a lot more people playing WoW than SL. So populartity for its own sake is a great milemarker. The trends of a larger group of people are worth noting more than the smaller.

To me, the key to change and advancement in virtual worlds depends on tools of interaction. SL definitely has a lead on this. Until the actual environments get much more interactive and reactive (my wife plays a ton of Nancy Drew, Myst type games) like single-player games all these games will be is a virtual chat system.

Sure there need to be hardware advances, but so much more could be done with what we've got.


Alfred > "Tell me what a man does with his free time and Ill tell you where he'll be in 10 years."

Your saying is apt, but its lesson isn't that, in ten years, even more people will be playing WoW than do now: It's that, in ten years, the people who play WoW will have killed lots of dragons. (Boy, they will be _so_ level 60.) The people in SL, by contrast, will have created a portfolio's worth of things and learned a new way to make money. For starters.

There are many people playing WoW (and for good reason - it's beautiful and well-balanced), but that doesn't mean it's where the interesting things are happening.

SL is; because, however clunky it may be, it allows people to do things they can't elsewhere. OK, many people aren't interested in making virtual objects and owning virtual land; they'd rather be a part of someone else's story (richly painted and painstakingly written). It reminds me of how many people in the real world aren't interested in voting: nevertheless the ones who are have more autonomy. I don't mean to compare a MMORPG writer to a tyrant; rather, the experience of an MMORPG player is like that of someone who can't vote.

SL changes this dynamic, regardless of whether Paul Linden is a demagogue or the pricing structure is obnoxious. Even though Blizzard has all but cornered the market -- maybe they'll be there for another 20 years (or 5?) -- let's talk about the two games on their merits, not the tautology of their successes.

Richard Bartle wryly compares WoW to writing, in that they're both fun, and so of course both have a future. I would sooner compare WoW to reading - and reading DragonLance novels at that. Fun stuff! But SL is more like writing. Maybe it's just ink on vellum now, and you have to make your own vellum (get some sheep). And you have to write in fraktur (aiiie). But it still has more potential to be empowering (like, any).


... I don't know who "Paul Linden" is ... I meant -- Mr. Second Life? Well, never mind -- the rest is still okay.


I can't leave a blank piece of paper as it is. I have this burning need to put something on it. A doodle, notes, even a few random dots.

I see Second Life as a piece of paper. It NEEDS to be drawn on. The first time I loaded it, I also didn't see anything that really excited me. However, it started that little, niggling tickle in the back of my head and when I went back, it was obvious that whatever I thought was missing was my own responsibility to create. It was MY fault that whatever I wanted didn't exist and only I had the power to make it.

Some people aren't creators, they don't wish to take an active part in creating, and that's not a bad thing necessarily. Those who visit SL in its early incarnations and are bored by the lack of stuff to do may come back in a year and be unable to decide where to go first. As more creators create, more consumers will come for those creations.

If you were around in the early days of the web, 1994 or 1995ish, it was very similar. There was this huge universe that was fairly empty. However, only by the fact that people in there MADE things to visit did there get to be enough "stuff" that people not interested in creating anything still wanted to visit.

As for Paul Linden, I'll take the centeren squaren for the win.

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