Changes ahoy!

Yesterday saw what marks a major set of announcements – and linked comments – from Linden Lab. During her appearance on Metanomics to promote the Beta launch of Viewer 2.0, Amanda Linden admitted that LL’s track record in communications with to and with users has been pretty appalling over the last few years, and she made mention that things were going to be changing.

Later, Amanda popped up in the Forums (nothing unusual there) and proceeded to actually respond to critiques and concerns voiced by users (which, given the general preference for senior LL executives to cherry-pick comments in the forum and sway towards answering those more given to praise than critique, was a little unusual). Now we get the “start” of a process of “Coming Soon” announcements designed to highlight upcoming changes  / implementations, etc.

This in itself isn’t new per se. We’ve had similar “programmes” in the past, taking a variety of forms from website announcements all the way back to special town hall events. Few have stuck over the years once the heady thrill of the first few posts / sessions has faded. The cynic in my says this effort also won’t last: the timing of its arrival suggests it is an attempt to show the “new influx” of users that SL is an alive and vibrant place, and LL are working hard to keep it so.

Nevertheless, kudos for the effort, and well done on presenting what is for the most part, very exciting news. Long may it continue.

While I’m not overly fussed about Viewer 2.1 (I’m still bouncing between Emerald and KirstenLee’s S20 viewer); it will hopefully bring some kind of decent stability that will enable TPV developers really sink their teeth into it via Snowglobe, and generate some really first class Viewers.

Similarly, I can’t get excited about the new Second Life Marketplace that is entering beta. This looks like it will be superseding XStreet in the future, and goes some way to explaining why Pink Linden has been conspicuous in her silence. I’m finding it hard to get excited by this new venture, for a couple of reasons. OK… more than a couple.

First off, Pink appears to be in charge. Sorry, but she is someone I have very little respect for and has proven herself less concerned about user’s views and legitimate concerns on matters than she is in pushing through policy and earning (one assumes) corporate brownie points. Beyond that, this new market environment looks like it’ll be the place where some of the more unpopular commerce policies will be enforced, and given Pink’s attitude at OH meetings, the control is liable to be draconian.

Most of all, however, there is the fact that however it is dressed up, this seems to be geared towards pushing shoppers into buying on-line, rather than in-world thus generating revenue for LL. As Pink herself states: The portion of Second Life Residents using XStreetSL has gone from 8% to 20%, with 2/3 of Residents telling us they shop on Xstreet before checking inworld. Now, I’ve no idea where or when the surveys and meetings relating to the gathering of these figures were held – I didn’t see or hear anything, and I’ve been an SLx / XSL merchant for well over 2 years, but the upward trend is something LL are very keen to see continue. XSL itself already enjoys many advantages over in-world shopping. For a start, Viewer 2.0 search can make finding what you are seeking unnecessarily complex at times – but more than that, XSL gets pumped straight to the user’s desktop “dashboard”, and faces no real competition from the forums…because there is currently no real classifieds forum (although we are being told that “will change”). Indeed, many policies and actions on the part of the commerce team have been directly geared toward pushing buyers to Xstreet, rather than towards in-world stores. Therefore, one cannot help but worry that this direction is going to be more aggressively pursued when the Marketplace is formally launched.

As it stands, given the information provided in the Merchant’s Wiki, those advertising on XSL will have their work cut-out in the coming weeks to gain “compliance” with the new standards for the SLMP.

Of a much brighter note are the announcements of forthcoming technical changes. First among these is the new that LL have listened to the complaints about Search and are putting effort into fixing it, particularly where Land and Events are concerned. Good!

We finally have official confirmation that Havoc 7.0 and full Mesh imports are coming down the line, with Havoc 7.0 due to arrive in the summer, and Mesh going to the beta grid around the same time, for public testing ready for a hoped-for end-of year launch.

Hopefully, the lessons of Havoc 4.0 are ingrained on a wall somewhere at LL, and the update to 7.0 will progress smoothly and effectively. Again, it has been on public test on the Beta grid, and those I’ve spoken to about it say it seems more than OK. If all goes according to plan, Havoc 7.0 will roll-out with Server 1.40.

Mesh is something a lot of people have been calling for a long while now, and it could possibly be the thing to revolutionise SL in terms of content. Demo videos on the subject have been around for ages, but assuming the implementation is well-handled, and allowing for the learning curve many content creators will face, mesh presents a lot of new opportunities for established 3D modellers.

That said, mesh will bring a substantial can of worms with it, and there are important aspects that need to be addressed:

  • Impact on the economy. Two things here: not everyone is going to be able to get to grips with mesh and the creation import of objects…thus the sudden influx of seemingly high-quality items could well put a lot of content creators out of business; also the sheer “wow” factor of mesh object might lead to their prices being massively over-inflated, creating an unexpected (and possibly damaging) spike in economic returns
  • Performance. Again, so far as I can tell from my cursory reading, two things: first off will be the risk of those of us (me included) who are far from experts in 3D modelling creating complex models withtens of  thousands of polygons that…grind a sim to a standstill when rezzed in-world. Also, with the masses of 3D content (legal and ripped) floating around the web, the risk of the grid suddenly getting overloaded with a gazillion uploads
  • Related to the above: IP rights, use of copyrighted material, etc., etc. Some form of safeguard needs to be implemented or SL /LL risks becoming home to even more copyrighted material & open to accusations of violations of the same.

Speaking in the discussion thread following the announcement, T Linden indicates these things are “front and centre” of LL’s thinking, and rightly so. But these aren’t the only concerns. There is potential here for LL to completely overhaul the commerce environment and mandate strict controls (I could say “licences”, as this seems to be the Linden Word of the Quarter) governing who can and cannot upload creations to SL and define the fees they pay in order to do so. As I’ve said elsewhere, eyes at Battery Street are probably looking over the fence at Blue Mars to see how well commerce and content creation runs there….

The feedback to the announcement has been largely positive – and rightly so. The concerns raised by some have been valid, and it again appears as if concerns are being taken on board. SL needs to stay abreast of developments elsewhere if it is to properly expand, and much of what is mapped out in this announcement will help in that regard. Nevertheless, as a couple of commentators in the discussion thread have pointed out, it would be good to see other “coming soon” features finally implemented – such as smooth sim crossings, something that has been “coming soon” since I returned to SL back at the end of 2006…!

P.S. I’ve ignored the comments around Avatars United simply because I don’t use it nowadays (never did really), and I don’t see anything there to attract me.

4 thoughts on “Changes ahoy!

  1. I agree, Inara — the new SL Marketplace is both a bliss and a nightmare. 😦 I shall miss in-world shopping, no matter how good the new SL Marketplace interface is going to be. Then again, even the currently broken search system on XStreetSL is better than the in-world one: the best you get in-world is a shop location, but you still have to patiently wait long minutes to get everything to rez until the item you wish finally appears.

    There is really a lot to be said about in-world vs. web-based shopping. If we could have try-before-you-buy tools for clothing (e.g. not only for prim-based attachments), I could believe that in-world shopping would always have an edge. Some things, like houses and furniture, being purely 3D, are better experienced in-world — if the shop has the items rezzed. If they just have a picture, it’s not different from web-based shopping.

    Turning SL Marketplace into a too successful venue is also bad for LL: content creators will simply abandon their shops, stop paying tier, and go to the web. I speak for myself: since the dawn of SL Exchange, over 99% of my sales happened on the web, and not in-world. Imagine now that the huge, multi-sim venues all shut down their sims and just sell over the Web: there goes LL’s revenue with a shrinking landmass. Web shopping also doesn’t create lag, which is another incentive. What do you lose? All the social interaction (specially these days of the L$50 Friday sales!), which is what makes the online 3D world so special. So, well, I have mixed feelings about this too. We’ll have to see what happens.

    As for your concerns about meshes, you’re right. But the good news is that LL has nothing less than two clever tricks up their sleeves to deal with them. One will practically prevent anyone to use pirated meshed content in-world, and the mechanism is quite clever and quite unlike what people are expecting (no, no nasty DRM system, or merchant’s directory, or anything of the kind; it’s much simpler, much more elegant, and way more effective. You’ll see when it’s announced!). The other thing is, obviously, lag induced from meshes. Here LL has another trick. Without breaking my sacred vows of utter silence, I think I can safely reveal that meshes will not lag more than prims (or sculpties), but not because LL is doing some magic or ultra-sophisticated mesh-rendering algorithm, but because they are using an old-and-proven method to limit the amount of meshes in the scene. You’ll see how it will work out, and I believe it is, again, the simplest, most effective, and most elegant solution.

    Then there is the economic impact of having yet another gap between the super-top professional 3D modellers vs. the eager amateurs that learned modelling in SL a few years ago. As time goes by, the notion that amateurs can compete successfully with super-professionals is a myth, a resident-created myth, which has long since faded into oblivion. Meshes will just make the gap be more visible, not change things dramatically. But yes, I also agree that some people will inflate their prices insanely for the first user-created meshes; however, don’t expect them to be magically better (in all senses of the word: more detailed, using less resources, lagging less) than the equivalent object created with prims and sculpties. They will just be different, in the sense that you won’t need to “create” them with the viewer’s tools. But after all the same is already happening with sculpties (which will be discontinued sooner or later anyway), mocap animations, textures, sound effects, and so forth…

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