Kill Screen carries an interesting article on Second Life and Linden Lab’s direction under the leadership of Rod Humble. Provocatively entitled, Can Rod Humble resurrect Second Life? the piece examines Humble’s role as LL’s CEO and in particular his strategy in driving the company towards diversification.
The latter has tended to divide people engaged in or observing SL, with some seeing it as a sign that LL have somehow “given up” on Second Life or are using it simply as a financial lever with which to churn out new products, and others taking a more moderate view of things. I’ve argued myself on a couple of occasions that diversification could actually be both beneficial towards SL in the longer term, and really doesn’t measure up in any way to LL having “given up” on SL. However, Humble’s view adds an interesting dimension to the discussion, as it is clear his thoughts possibly reach far beyond matters of “direct” user retention. The article notes in particular that:
One initial challenge, however, is its own core product. Building an object in Second Life isn’t easy. There are tutorials and message boards, but for someone who wants to pop in and simply make something quickly, Second Life is intimidating. In fact, that was part of the barrier to the community’s growth. Despite all its fanfare and media coverage, actually getting started was a hindrance to casual users. “Second Life is a highly complex 3D space. It’s a high learning curve,” Humble notes. “A steep climb but rewarding and deep.”
As we’re aware, bridging that gap is hard. There have been numerous attempts to help new users across it, from in-depth solutions such as the old Orientation, Discovery and Help Islands, through to the infamous “first hour” experience of Mark Kingdon’s day (which grew to encompass the “first five hours” when it wasn’t working out as planned) to the highly minimalistic (and questionable) Destination Islands seen more recently. Efforts have also included privately run welcome areas through to experimental orientation areas to something of a return to the more traditional approach.
Part of the problem here is that everyone tends to have an opinion on how it should be done. Many focus on the technical aspects, some on the social aspects, and well may have common foundations, then often build out in various different directions. This makes drawing a consensus as to what works actually quite difficult – as the Lab has learned.
However, in launching the new apps – particularly Creatorverse and Patterns – Humble sees things differently; that by breaking down the creative process into easily understandable concepts and ideas that allow the user to develop a more intuitive understanding of the creative process – and perhaps then move on to more involved creative environments. As the Kill Screen article also comments:
The Linden apps strategy hopes to bridge the gap between the tactile joys of painting and the more guided pleasures of digital makers. More importantly, Humble’s ultimate goal is digital literacy. As he struggled as an amateur, he found that his appreciation of the masters was heightened. The jazzy rhythms of Kandinsky took on new life as he was able to speak the painter’s language. Humble hopes that games like Creatorverse will foster a greater appreciation of the creative process behind designing digital goods. “The hope is that the more people make things, the more they have a richer language to express criticism.”
Whether this will lead people from the likes of Creatorverse to Second Life is questionable; but where Patterns is concerned, there is something of a path where this may happen; both it and Second Life are somewhat grounded in similar concepts, something a number of commentators – myself included – have noted. Obviously for it to be effective, there needs to be some pointing of the finger towards the doorway from either Patterns to Second Life, which is currently far from being evidenced; but then Patterns is also a long way from prime-time as well.
Perhaps more telling from an SL standpoint is a direct quote from Humble:
“I like rebelling against the tyranny of structured forms,” Humble says. Sims creator Will Wright’s approach to “software as toys” was an inspiration to Humble while the latter was at EA. The constraints that game designers typically place on their players are anathema to the more open-ended creative process that Humble sees as the future of play. “Instead of being told you need to do these tasks to proceed to the next air lock of fun, why not open those doors and give you the ability to fly around?”
This not only encapsulates the broader aims of the likes of Creatorverse and Patterns in reaching new audiences and (maybe) enticing them towards Second Life, it more particularly seems to point to why Linden Lab has, on the one hand, been pushing out new tools and capabilities on their users while on the other, seeming to step back from “direct” involvement within SL. That is, the company is simply trying to present users new and old with as wide a palette of tools and capabilities as possible (mesh, pathfinding, the still-to-be-completed advanced creation tools, the upcoming materials processing capabilities, etc.) they can use create and explore the 3D spaces offered by SL without feeling constrained by the constant presence of the company looking over their shoulder.
Doubtless there will be disagreements with this view and with Humble’s comments in general; however they do make interesting reading. For me, and despite all the problems which are looming on the horizon where SL is concerned, I can’t help but come away from it with a feeling that (again) neither Humble nor LL have given up on their core platform.
With thanks to Daniel Voyager for the Twitter pointer.