Rodvik shares – and so do I

So here we are in October, and we have the news that the simulator software is undergoing some kind of “critical software upgrade” that is affecting all channels and could see a higher than usual number of restarts over the course of the next week. At least updates on this are being pushed out via Twitter and the Grid Status pages (rather than it being one or the other in a lot of instances of late).

As I’ve been away for the last few days sunning myself and enjoying Swiss hospitality, I’ve no idea as to whether LL have finally recommenced in-world announcements where they know that restarts, etc., are going to impact object rezzing, transactions and so on. If they haven’t, it’s really about time they did.

LL CEO Rod Humble

We also have Rodvik sharing a post as a follow-on from comments relating to the platform made earlier this year, and which is intended to “Update you on each area and share with you our plans for the remainder of the year”.

Certainly, there were some tidbits – but I couldn’t help reading some elements of the post with a sense of disappointment at what was left unsaid.

Let’s take the items Rodvik discusses in order:

Viewer Usability

The two modes (Basic and Advanced) to be merged “soon” allowing changes made to the Basic mode to be integrated into the Advanced mode. Precise details are scant, but Rodvik specifically mentions avatar and camera movement. Ergo, expect to see the Basic mode “click to move” and perhaps the “goto” movement options appearing in the Advanced mode.

One would hope, as well, that the HOW TO button finds its way into the Advanced mode – and has potentially been extended to cover other important functionality, a point I’ve touched on in the past.

How To: cue-card style help in Basic mode: soon to be seen in advanced? One hopes so

At SLCC 2011, Rodvik indicated that the Sidebar’s days were numbered – and it would probably be a better than even guess that this is what he is referring to when he states, “After these modes are merged and deployed, you can expect us to release an improved UI into the Viewer”. I’ve little doubt the improved UI will see other nips and tucks made – but  anyone interpreting this as meaning the V2.x/3.x UI is “going away” or going to receive anything approaching a major revamp … is most likely going to be disappointed.


This was the real eye-opener statement in the most negative sense. “Thankfully this massive feature got deployed on time”. Hardly the best opening line to describe what is supposedly one of the biggest changes to SL’s capabilities. Rather than championing a new and exciting medium, this reads almost as if Rodvik is saying, “Thank God that’s over!”

It is certainly an odd statement to make given LL went to some lengths to avoid being tied-down to any precise dates. Even the May “mesh roadmap” was so full of caveats and warnings one fully expected mesh to slip beyond the broad deadline of “the end of August” for full deployment.

Yet now it would appear that – as I’ve commented upon in the past where LL is concerned – dates were the driving factor in the deployment, not matters of usability. How else can one explain deploying a mesh upload dialogue which was, by LL’s ownadmission at the time, as much a cause for confusion as anything else when it comes to trying to optimise mesh for SL use?

Beyond this, there is the fact that we know from Charlar that mesh in SL is due at least one more “non trivial” update – possibly before the end of the year. Whither then, is the pointer towards this in Rodvik’s comments?

True, in the context of this post, he’s not directly talked about the future of mesh in the past, but that doesn’t mean he cannot give at least a hint that LL are striving to overcome shortfalls and issues. Even something like, “We are working on a series of updates to improve how mesh objects are uploaded to SL, and how you can better understand their resource impact, and we’ll be blogging about that soon,” would be better received than what amounts to something of a brush-off – especially for those suffering under LL’s refusal to respond to the likes of JIRA SH-2374.

Improved Service

This was more honest: improvements have been made, but more investment is needed and will be given. This is good news all around. Of greatest interest to me was the comment relating to revised policies. At SLCC 2011, Rodvik hinted that things could soon get particularly unpleasant for griefers in-world. At the time, I got the impression he wasn’t just talking about deploying tools estate owners could use to handle griefers directly. Are we about to see a revised ToS that also makes the consequences of anti-social behaviour in-world a lot clearer to all?

Better Customer Value

This came across as a very self-congratulatory pat on the back. Frankly, I’m not sure it is due. It is good to see LL moving to make Premium accounts more relevant and attractive – but much more needs to be done in this area before LL can really start to feel good about things. This is particularly true with regards to re-engaging with people like myself; those who were Premium members but who “downgraded” to free accounts.

Rodvik, stipends here don’t cut it – I don’t particularly care if I get “most” of my subscription back in stipends (assuming I pay annually, that is) – I’d still be spending $24 (incl VAT, thank you) a year to enjoy what I already have. Nor does anything else currently on offer present anything approaching a “must have” factor for me – and I’m not alone in this. You need to give more thought to making Premium attractive to your established user base.

Shiny New Things

This section offered perhaps the most interest. At SLCC 2011 (again), Rodvik made mention of the introduction of NPCs – Non-player characters with whom it would be possible to interact with to a degree, and which can be set to perform specific tasks.

While bots, etc., have been possible within SL, they’ve tended to rely on a mis-match of enabling technologies: external data servers in some cases, or heavy reliance on server-side scripting resources (such as with many breedables) that draw down the anger of those impacted by such entities.

NPCs: New opportunities

Second Life itself actually had the capabilities to manage artificial life at one time – specifically plants and animals. Whether or not this capability is being revamped and re-introduced into the platform or not is really beside the point (although if it is there and is robust enough, making use of it would seem to make sense).

What is important is the fact that a massive capability is going to be added to the platform that could have a huge range of potential applications in-world. NPCs alone – human, alien, animal – have a wide range of applications in the likes of role-play and so on. As Rodvik states in his post: imagine a town filled with NPCs going about their “business”, allowing for a certain degree of interaction and so on, generating enormous depth to any gameplay or role-play environment.

Nor does it end there – assuming it can be done robustly and intelligently – the opportunities for using such “artificial life” capabilities has implications well beyond those of gameplay, many of which fall into the realms of education and practical research. Self-navigating agents? The avenues for schools and educational institutions to engage in things like robotics are simply mind-boggling.

Native AI in SL: potential educational / research / modelling benefits beyond RPG

According to Rodvik, we can expect some of these new capabilities to commence testing in December of this year, although (wisely) no roll-out data has yet to be pinned to the wall. Given the impact and benefit such capabilities could bring to Second Life, I really hope that LL strive for two things:

  1. Make sure the capability is properly developed and implemented – sorry, but at the end of the day, mesh came across as a half-arsed implementation to many, and I’d suggest further that it is a practical demonstration why (again) the push, test, polish, test, polish approach can actually do SL as much harm as it can potentially do good.
  2. They openly engage with a wide range of potential “beta testers” from within and without the SL community to ensure as wide as possible spread of potential use cases are identified and catered for and are the determining factors as to when the functionality is rolled out. Let’s not have the calendar again dictating what can and cannot get done in the “first release”, because many using SL already equate “first release” with, “That’s all LL are prepared to do”.