On Sunday 14th August, as a part of SLCC 2011, members of Linden Lab gave a presentation “The Future of Second Life” as a part of four keynote addresses at the convention.
The panel itself comprised John Laurence (Durian Linden), who has only recently joined Linden Lab, but has worked previously with both Rod Humble and Jeff Peterson (Bagman Linden); Sarah Kuehnle (Esbee Linden), who recently made a popular return to Linden Lab (and who brought a prim with her to the presentation!); and Michael Gesner (Gez Linden).
After introductions, Esbee recapped on some of LL’s recent user-facing activities over the last six months, including:
- The arrival of new avatar selections as a part of the sign-up process, stating more are to be added
- The new log-in screen for Viewer 2 (/3), which will be further iterated in the future
- The new Search, described as being faster and with better relevance
She also made mention of the Basic mode of the Viewer, the new region & estate settings, dynamic shadows & deferred rendering … and mesh.
The core of the presentation revolved around demonstrating a new game developed within Second Life by Lab employees as a learning experience because, Durian Linden explained:
“As Rod was a newbie and certainly I was new to Second Life as well, one of the first things we wanted to do was to make something in the world…We wanted to try and challenge ourselves as Lindens, to use our toolset to make an experience…basically for new users to be able to have fun using the Basic Viewer without a lot of the advanced functions and with just a very simple style of UI.
“So we gave ourselves about two weeks to pull this together, working with a team of in-world builders. We wanted to see really first-hand what the limitations are and then how we can try to overcome those limitations.”
The game uses the Basic Viewer’s point-and-click approach (although it may be re-visited to make use of click-and-drag as well) to guide an avatar through a setting, collecting and placing various objects, which avoiding hazards and traps. It is specifically designed to see what can be achieved within Second Life while avoiding the need to have to navigate inventory or gain familiarity with both the concept and use of things like HUDs – or indeed without having to rely on on-screen pop-ups or delivered notecards for assistance.
During the process of building the game, the team encountered a number of problems not found in “traditional” game development: their monsters would chase them through the sim while they were building, and guns sitting on build platforms overhead waiting to be placed within the game would also open fire on those below!
Gez viewed the development and construction of the experience as being valuable to understanding the power of Second Life as well as some of the limitations and issues. He also, later in the presentation, emphasised that the game is not intended to replace the new user experience – or even be released in its current state; it is a prototype for learning within Linden Lab. However, he did acknowledge the wider potential value such an approach may have for users:
“I do think that there is some value in creating an experience which is simpler, it’s more guided, it gives you prompts, it gives you almost quests or achievements, things that tell you what you need to do next to learn how to use Second Life, but I will completely agree with the fact that Second Life itself is not a game. However, you can make some great games inside of Second Life, and you can use game mechanics, and game tutorials, and game systems to help people become more engaged and comfortable in Second Life.”
Following the presentation, Durian expended on the role of the product team, stating things had been broadly divided into two main areas:
- Usability, designed to answer such questions as is SL the kind of product a reasonably-intelligent person can come along and start to use; can they operate an avatar or the camera, can they use the basic functions in order to meet others, have fun, etc. As a part of addressing this the team have been, and are, looking at:
- Avatar rezzing time and rezzing priorities (i.e. giving avatars a higher rezzing priority)
- Improved access to the Viewer’s avatar customisation tools
- Basic / advanced Viewer integration to bring together tools from both and ease the transition for new users from the basic tools to the more advanced tools (interestingly, as a part of this, the team are looking at the issue of what to do with the Sidebar in terms of improving / changing it)
- Developing Direct Delivery from the Marketplace (due to go live in a couple of months)
- Improving overall inventory management, especially for making inventory easier to understand from a new user perspective
- Engagement, defined as answering the question of how do people find the things they want to do & how can LL provide better tools to content creators, both of which are aimed at keeping users engaged with SL. As parts of this element he pointed to:
- The new Viewer 2 log-in screen with the destination guide options
- Mesh as a means of encouraging new content and content developers
- Prims themselves, as a “directed experience” and means of getting people engaged with building within Second Life and the collaborative aspects of content creation, both for pleasure and for profit
- Scripted non-player characters that can be used to populate areas and enhance the experience of visiting such areas
As the focal point for all development, working with the rest of Linden Lab, the product team has divided itself into specific Subject Matter Experts in order to fully understand various aspects of SL use:
- Durian – art
- Gez – gaming and breedables
- Esbee – role-play
- Charlar Linden- Adult
- Geo Linden – Education
- Nya Linden – Music
- Cassandra Linden – Fashion
These roles will not replace the normal community relations channels, but will accept input from the user community. Hamlet Au suggests means of contacting the team.