Looking into 2012

Today, twelve months to the day since his appointment was announced, Rod Humble blogs on the future of Second Life and Linden Lab.

It’s an interesting read, which is bound to draw wide-ranging feedback, positive and negative. Leaving aside the look back over the Viewer, mesh (which I’ve already commented upon) and 2011 in general, here are some thoughts on Rodvik’s outline for 2012.

The tools developed in the creation of Linden Realms roll-out to the community

Linden Realms: game tools to roll-out in 2012

Undoubtedly a good move – there are a lot of content creators who have been fairly bouncing up and down at the thought of being able to use these tools, and their potential to revolutionise aspects of the SL experience in very dynamic ways is huge. Obviously, there are also certain risks that have to be managed as well – a auto-teleport feature and an auto-attaching HUD capability could easily be put to the wrong use if not properly safeguarded.

Tiggs Linden, one of the major brains behind Linden Realms was well aware of the issues even before Linden Realms was launched, and commented that he’d been working to lock-down the teleport aspect pretty tight. So Linden Lab certainly aren’t walking into this blind. Even so, its welcoming to hear Rodvik also raise this issue, as he states, “To prevent abuse of these tools, we will introduce a “creators” program in which verified members will be given access to these very powerful capabilities.” Precisely what form the program will take is unclear. Certainly, one expects it to be somewhat more robust than the mesh upload status process.

“Pathfinding” to be a major focus of 2012

“Mr Grimsdale!” – NPCs for SL

Keeping to the creativity front, Rodvik also confirmed that 2012 will se the roll-out of advanced tools that will incorporate the updated AI capabilities he spoke about earlier in the year. Again, some may see this as window-dressing, but the fact is, it is a capability that many in SL have been requesting for a very long time – so it could be said that the provision of such tools (some of which may be based on capabilities already within the SL software, as Tateru speculated a while back).

As a part of this process, Q1 has been earmarked from the roll-out of “pathfinding” tools  “That will allow objects to intelligently navigate around the world while avoiding obstacles,” as Rodvik describes them. Again, given the unfortunate situation that occurred earlier this year wherein automated vehicles started running amok across the Mainland, these capabilities are also likely to find beneficial use among creators and coders.

Server-side performance a priority

There is also the promise that server-side performance and bug-fixing will remain a high priority in Q1 of 2012. We’ve already seen massive effort to install critical OS updates across the grid, and moves to improve overall stability and performance. Some of these have, ironically, caused SL to get rather bumpity while work has been carried out, and caused angst and annoyance at times. However, if all goes according to plan, then as Rodvik says, things should be much improved as time goes on.

One hopes that the longer-term work into things like region crossings forms a part of the overall push on performance. As Ciaran Laval points out, this is a big task, but hopefully we’ll see more information appear in the blogs as progress is made.

No tier increases in 2012

Tucked away in the middle of the piece is this nugget, which is going to please many. Particularly as Rodvik outright refused to comment on tier at SLCC 2011, despite several questions on the subject being asked during his presentation, gave rise to concerns that increases may well be on the way.

The flipside to this of course is that many will argue that tier actually needs to be coming down. In the longer term, this may well prove to be the case. However, there is a fine balance to be struck, at least as far as Linden Lab is concerned simply because so much of their revenue is currently linked to tier. However, if the promised tools Rodvik mentions in passing do result in increase traffic flow to in-world stores and destinations, and landowners do in fact see an increase in their own revenues as a result, it’s entirely possible than the calls for a lowering of tier may actually be reduced.

New Premium features and content

This, like the comment on tools for landowners and store owners is a little nebulous, but it suggests that LL are possibly looking beyond the idea of periodic gifts for Premium members and towards something more substantial. Certainly the terms “features” and “content” are interesting. The provision of additional capabilities for Premium members that moves away from the concept of gifts and towards things that clearly and obviously enhance their  SL experience (and I’m not just talking sandboxes here) would be a welcome move and one that is liable to increase the overall value of Premium membership in a more positive and beneficial manner than is currently the case – and I’m speaking as a premium member. As such, I’m looking forward with interest as to what LL has planned in this area.

New products on the way

New products – mobile devices?

The final paragraph of the blog is the one that is liable to create some of the strongest reaction, good and bad.

That LL were to work on and launch new products beyond Second Life was first announced by Rodvik himself at SLCC-2011. I gave some speculation on this after the convention, which while not particularly deep, did draw comment back from Rodvik.

Details still aren’t clear on what the products will be – although there has been a lot of speculation as to what these might be, some of which met with some chortles coming out of Battery Street, as those who spend time on the SLU forums are aware!

Some are bound to see this as a good thing, others bad. Indeed, Hamlet Au has already gained a very mixed bag of feedback at the news. Like I did a few months back, Hamlet sees the development of these tools as helping offset LL’s reliance on tier for its revenue – although that’s not to say I agree with the rest of his analysis. As such, diversification could be very good for the company and for Second Life, provided things are properly ring-fenced within the company as a whole (i.e., so that SL doesn’t become a means of subsidising new revenue streams at the cost of its own growth).

Second Life isn’t a game!

Alongside the comments on new products hitting the market and users, the other aspect of Rodvik’s post that I can’t help feel will have some shivering in horror, is all the talk of gaming mechanisms, tools and even Rodvik’s comment that they, “Will make the polished creation of full MMORPG’s or people/animal simulators within Second Life easier and of high quality.”

In fact I can almost hear the oft-repeated cry of “But Second Life ISN’T a game!” from afar…

Well, true, Second life isn’t a game; it’s a platform that is capable of being put to a multitude of uses – one of which is gaming. As such, it is right and proper that LL should take the gaming environment into their consideration, particularly if it can be done in a way that a) doesn’t impact on the many other ways in which the platform is used; b) it drives more traffic into the platform, encourages growth and opens new in-world economic options. Indeed, in this respect, I find myself in agreement with much of Ciaran Laval’s thoughts on gaming opportunities.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t have to be one or the other – which is sometimes how I feel things are painted when I hear the “it isn’t a game” complaints. Second Life is a broad canvas. Linden Lab are right to use as many colours as they have on their palette with which to paint it.

All-in-all, the blog post makes interesting and overall positive reading. One would like to hear more on the practical details – but hopefully these will come in detailed blog posts as things like roll-out dates draw closer and ideas and more fully thrashed out at LL. Again, it leaves me feeling, on the whole, pretty positive towards the next twelve months. Obviously, there are still issues that go unmentioned I’d personally like to see addressed (such as more communications such as this blog post) – but for now I’ll leave it as Rodvik does, and wish him and everyone else at the Lab a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

2011: a Humble year

Second Life’s New Leader: Rod Humble Becomes CEO of Linden Lab

MMO and Gaming Industry Visionary to Bring New Life to Second Life

SAN FRANCISCO — December 23, 2010Linden Lab®, creator of 3D virtual world Second Life®, today announced that Rod Humble has become the company’s Chief Executive Officer. Humble joins Linden Lab from Electronic Arts, where he was Executive Vice President for its EA Play label.

Humble’s 20-year career in the game development industry has included work on more than 200 games. In his most recent position at Electronic Arts, Humble headed the EA Play label, which includes the best-selling PC game franchise of all time, The Sims. In 2009, he was ranked #2 on the annual list of the Hot 100 Game Developers from gaming publication Edge. Prior to his work at Electronic Arts, Humble served as Vice President of Product Development at Sony Online Entertainment for the massively multiplayer online game (MMOG), EverQuest.

LL CEO Rod Humble

Thus broke the news, on December 23rd 2010, that Linden Lab had a new CEO. Now, I’ll admit, and with all due respect to Mr. Humble – Rodvik, as we all now know him – but I’m not a games player (or wasn’t, until my retired father got himself a Wii, which has become the centrepiece of get-togethers at his place…but I digress). No, I had no more familiarity with The Sims than I had with George Clooney; sure, both were / are big names in their respective worlds, but the closest I’d been to either was passing a DVD box on a store shelf…

So the name “Rod Humble”, to me, meant little when the announcement was made, and I really had no idea how to respond to the news, so decided to wait. Some were a tad impatient for him to say something (although he wasn’t actually due to officially start at LL until mid-January), and some even commented that his silence didn’t bode well. I didn’t share this view and saw a number of reasons why Rod Humble was taking the right course in keeping quiet – as did Tateru Nino, in a thought-provoking piece.

When he did finally blog (just under a week after starting), his first post was a combination of the uplifting and the cautious – which again, I personally felt was the right way to go, and boded well for the future.

Since then, we’ve seen highs and we’ve seen lows – but I’ll nail my colours to the mast and say I believe the former outweigh the latter. On the whole, a lot of confidence has been restored in the user community – one only has to look at the overall favourable reaction to Rodvik’s appointment the more people heard him talk about SL, and to the reaction of SLCC attendees and those who watched the streams from the convention. Yes, there is still a long way to go, and cock-ups do happen, as we saw both with the code breakages around the middle of the year and the Marketplace mess-ups. But – the Viewer has been improved, mesh has arrived after years of waiting and hoping for many; we have Linden staff spending time in-world, re-discovering the complexities of the platform and developing new tool sets that will be released to the community, and so on.

It would be easy to nit-pick over the issues and downsides that remain, but I’m not going to that. One year ago today, it was announced that Rod Humble was appointed as CEO on Linden Lab, and since then, it’s been an interesting ride – and was we can see from his very appropriate post today, we’re in for more interesting times in 2012, which are bound to bring their own share of rewards and grumbles.

All I am going to say at this point – while aware that he didn’t officially occupy the hot seat at Battery Street until mid-January 2011 – is this: happy anniversary, Rodvik, and here’s to the next 12 months. Looking forward to further engagement between Lab and users, and experiencing the tools and pathfinding elements on which you blog…

…Just one question for you, if you please: at SLCC 2012. You said your goal for your first year at LL as being to be able to give every family member within Linden Lab a Second Life account, for them to be able to send the account to any “intelligent or above average intelligence computer user” for them to be able to use it to get into Second Life, use it and be grateful.

How has that worked out? Goal met? Very curious to know! :).

Walking through the past

The past is really almost as much a work of the imagination as the future.

– Jessamyn West

There are times when we all mourn for the past; it’s a place, to paraphrase another saying, we cannot revisit, no matter how much we desire.

Except in Second Life.

Much has been written over the last twelve months about what has been lost in SL, regions, builds, places that stirred memories – and it is true that much has gone. But it is also true that much has been preserved and still stands today as living reminders of what Second Life was, how it began and how far it has come. Visiting them can be a magical mystery tour of delight.

The SL Historical Museum

The SL Historical Museum

Contained in a modest build, itself a reminder, perhaps of simpler times in-world, the SL Historical Museum is a goldmine of information and images that offer a unique look back to the earliest years of Second Life. Here are logs from town hall meetings (remember those?). There is also an archive of release notes from the early days which reveal a lot about Second Life’s development. Take these extracts from the release of version 0.2.0, on December 16, 2002:

For best performance, close other applications before running Second Life in order to free up your computer’s memory.  If the computer runs out of memory, Second Life has a tendency to become unresponsive and you will move through the world in 10 second halting steps.

===Improved World Performance===
* Objects come in faster when you are flying.

===Avatar Enhancements===
* Avatar make-up can be applied during customization.
* Underwear automatically removed when you swap outfits so no more unsightly incidences of cotton briefs peeking out from beneath your clothes.
* More reliable sitting behaviors.
* When holding Alt key and moving camera, you can more easily zoom in on objects without losing focus on the object ? it?s magic!

Within the museum you can also discover the meaning behind hippos! and how they became a part of the SL subculture (and still are, just try CTRL-SHIFT-ALT-H!). There is also a gallery of images from the early days – and some of them are real eye-openers. Take the World Map, for example.

Second Life circa November 2002

In the museum you can also find out what it was like to be a Primitar – there is actually a Primitar avatar, complete with HUDs, available, and learn about SL’s original taxi service and why i came into existence (and I have to admit, that’s a part of SL lore that had passed me by!).

The museum is associated with the SL Wikia (not to be confused with the “official” wiki), which provides further and deeper insight into the entire history of Second Life, including the development of avatars, the Viewer, and so on. It was actually through the Wikia that I became aware of the in-world museum.

Orientation Station

Before there was an Orientation Island or Welcome Island or parrots squawking at you, there was the Orientation Station where newcomers could discover and how and what of using Second Life. Created by Yuniq Epoch (who was also behind the original Yamato project), this Japanese castles provided information boards notecards and practices routines (such as putting a beach ball on a table) to help people get to grips with the fundamentals.

The information is now well out-of-date, but you can visit the Orientation Station at Dore – if nothing else, some of the images stand testimony as to just how far SL avatars have come, appearance-wise!

Orientation Station circa 2003
Orientation Station circa 2003

Governor Linden’s Mansion

No trip into SL’s past would be complete without a visit to the home of SL’s mythical Governor. The mansion dates from 2002 and may well look utterly primitive by today’s standards, but back then it stood at the forefront of building techniques within SL.

Here there are no sculpties, no scripted doors (all doors that can be used stand conveniently ajar) and the textures are fairly basic. For those that worry about Land Impact and prim counts on houses today, the Mansion is an eye-opener, where every single step in a staircase is a prim, as is every single cross-member in a lattice roof. Windows are glass-less (although I have no idea as to whether this is because SL didn’t support transparent textures at the time, or simple to save on prims!) and the furniture simple in design.

In the basement are more pages from history – FAQ notecards from 2003, a time capsule stamped “Do not open till June 2004”. On the lawn in front of the mansion you can find a plinth naming some of the earliest Linden employees, including one “Hacker” Philip Linden, the much-missed Robin Linden and Cory Linden.

Governor Linden’s Mansion by Stellar Starshine

The Corn Field

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity.

So opened the TV series The Twilight Zone – at least in part. It is from an episode of that series – It’s a Good Life – that SL’s most mythical destination was born: the Corn Field, a place where those avatars who had been bad would be banished to contemplate their wrong-doing.

The star-lit field of corn, cut-off from the rest of Second Life original existed in the Northwest corner of Orientation Island 1. Today, it has been recreated across four sims, all spookily identical, which you can wander through and meet the poor, lost souls.

The Corn Field

Mocha Cathedral

Another example of early SL architecture – this one dating from 2004 – is Nephilaine Protagonist’s Mocha Cathedral. The simple, elegantly clean lines of the cathedral were of huge influence to other builders in 2004, especially those striving for a “real” look and feel to their work. Here you can wander through the cathedral, and if you are so-minded, light a prayer candle, naming it for whatever is in your heart.

Mocha Cathedral

There are several other examples of early SL to be found around the grid – Baffin Island, the Climbable Beanstalk, the Stillman Bears. Many may seem quaint by today’s standards, but as historical pieces, they help remind us just how dynamic Second Life is. If you have some time you’d like to spend exploring, why not take a dive into SL’s origins via the Destination Guide.

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