Rod Humble reveals some of his thinking behind LL’s new products

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.

A relaxed Humble with a memory of the past…

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.”

Rod Humble: Creatorverse and Patterns – opening doors to greater user creativity

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.

The Garden – a subtle use of Teleport Agent, an element of the advanced creation capabilities in SL, which is used ion the puzzle HUD

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.

13 thoughts on “Rod Humble reveals some of his thinking behind LL’s new products

  1. I believe that many of us who remain in Second Life after all these years do so more for social reasons than creative. I know I do. For us, the interest in Patterns or Creatorverse will depend on the development of the cloud community where we share our creations. But even there, our avatar will not have the home and daiy life we treasure in Second Life.

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    1. I’m not sure how clear-cut the social / creative divide really is. Much of the creative effort which has gone into SL is directed at social interaction across a wide range of fronts: direct social engagement (clubs of every description; learning; role-play; art (immersive and performance); etc). It’s also true that while many do come to SL for social engagement, many equally come here for the creative uniqueness SL holds, and many (myself included) who came into SL from a social perspective have gone on to (sometimes quickly) embrace the creative. As it is, I today get as much pleasure from building for myself and friends as I do through socialising with those friends.

      As to how Creatorverse / Patterns may help encourage people into SL – that’s really, really debatable. However, it has to be said that even without the ability to share one another’s creativity, Patterns is building a strong following among non-SL users, many of who are expressing a desire to see Patterns develop capabilities which already exist within Second Life. Obviously, there’s still a way for them to go from wanting the tools and capabilities in Patterns and being willing to step into SL – but given that Patterns is sourced via Steam and SL will also shortly be offering a gateway in-world via Steam, I am curious as to what may happen…

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  2. Im bucking Bay Sweetwater’s proposed trend by being more creative than ever in Second Life. ive been in Second Life since 2005 and only in the past year have i become somewhat competent in scripting, along with 3D model making. Im excited and somewhat impatient by what Linden Lab is working on. Every new thing opens more doors to new things and i love it.

    It’s been almost a year though since we heard Humbles plan to add new gaming tools to SL…. i’m still waiting. Luckily im swamped with projects and the reason for that is because i have a whole heap of friends who love seeing what i do, without them to charge my creative batteries i dunno if id have hanged around as long as i have.

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    1. Lokieliot, as I read your post let me just draw the line I see. You start with the new creativity you have found in SL in the last year and then you state you have a whole heap of friends that keep your creative batteries charged.

      I am not being negative here but just pointing out the relationship of creativity brought on by friends or friends based on creativity. It seems you and Bay as well as I see the close tie of social and creative side of SL. I don’t think you’re bucking Bay’s trend.

      I would not create unless I had friends to share it with.

      Chicken and the egg whose first 🙂

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  3. There’s room in Second Life for open ended gameplay and structured gameplay, The Garden is an example of a structured world whereas many roleplaying sims have a light hand of moderation to stay in theme but generally allow characters to develop how they want.

    As exemplified by lokielio above, Second Life has many creative avenues and it’s extremely delightful to achieve your own goals and achivements at your own pace, without the need for an achievement board.

    That’s the beauty of Second Life. What I want to see from Second Life is more tools for creators to make things easier, and I’m not talking about basic building here but things like http enabled objects that utilise dns to make inworld object communication easier.

    MySql database hosting inside the Second Life grid to negate the need to go outside and rely on other services being up.

    I’m glad to see Rod recognises that people being able to grasp Second Life more quickly is a key to retention, but let’s not forget the ones who have already been retained.

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  4. The Lindens have to work smarter than they do. Too often, they seem overwhelmed by the new shiny and, from what we see, don’t think through what the effects will be. Before Mesh, and before Pathfinding, I don’t recall the vehicle problems over Havok upgrades. We have some tools that were used in Linden Realms, were promised to the rest of us, and turned out to break Security.
    They have to learn how to think (and i know I can sound like Mentor of Arisia on that topic).
    |For instance, the New User problem, the steep learning curve: have they never thought of hiring a teacher? I’ve seen my share of badly-written user manuals, but it is possible to find the people to write good ones. And, in all these buzzword-filled programming paradigms, do they know who the customer really is?

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    1. There’s always room for improvement, certainly.

      The Havok situation is interesting, and highlights the risk in throwing so much weight behind using a commercial package outside of its original parameters (assuming Oskar’s recent comments on the matter were a fair reflaction of the situation, and there’s no reason not to) – and stand as a potential warning to other ventures throwing their weight behind tools intended for standalone gaming use, should any opt to go that route.

      The advanced creation tools siotuation is frustrating. As mentioned in the article, the tools are in fact there, and can be used; what is lacking is the updated permissions system. Given we’re now some four months past the release date for the tools side of the equation with no sign of the permissions system being updated and no word on the matter (a question was raised at a Simulator User Group meeting recently and received what amounted to a blank look reply), one can only assume that a problem has been found with the system (whether the same as the beta roll-out griefing issue or something discovered as a result of that situation), one can only speculate – but it does tend to act as a bucket of cold water over people’s enthusiasm when exciting shiny is promised, then only half delivered – even if the half which is delivered is usable.

      The new user problem is tough – and with respect to LL they’ve come at it from a wide variety of angles. Even among the community, established users cannot agree as to what is / isn’t required; for every person who says “better documentation”, there is someone who will say, “That’s not the answer”. For every person who points to technical answers (better tool presentation in the viewer, etc.), someone will say, “It’s not the tools, it’s getting people to areas where others can help”, and so on. The encouraging thing is that LL are at least trying to explore avenues and poke at things, rather than simply saying, “We’ve tried X, Y and Z, nowt works, it’s up to you.”

      I’d also hazard a guess that users of the platform don’t always know who the potential user of SL is; we’re at times too entrenched in our view of what the world “should” be, that we’re often unwilling to accept it for others, it can be something entirely different. This is somewhat exemplified by the mantra that “SL is not a game!” – which can get used as a hammer to beat at ideas of things like the introduction of game-like processes into the platform. Yet the fact is, while we may not regard regard SL as a “game” in and of itself, it nevertheless fosters a wide range of game-like play which has pre-existed the new tools or the Linden zombie fixation by a large number of years and which actually has been responsible for bringing sections of the community into SL = and often for keeping people engaged in the platform while they may have initially started using it for other reasons.

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  5. Worlds made by artists are bad enough.
    Worlds where artists think they are special are worse.
    Pep (for “artist”, read image focused, rather than word wranglers)

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  6. Dear Ms Pey, the KillScreen link at the start has the same issue you reported on my blog regarding our domains getting included for some odd reason in the link.

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    1. I think it might be something in the WordPress code. Have you updated recently with anything from them?

      I’ve had several instances in the last week where the same has happened to me, and I’ve only noticed when previewing a post prior to Pressing.

      It doesn’t seem to happen all the time, and when it does, only seems to occur when pasting external links rather than using the inbuilt “own links” option.

      And I didn’t catch the failure with the first link as I confess to not having clicked it :).

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      1. Yes I’ve updated recently, I’m so used to links working well in WordPress that I have gotten out of the habit of checking them and yes you’re correct, it’s not all links.I’ll have to look more closely but I wonder if some links are trying to be funky when you copy them from the address bar.

        It should only use the domain name of our sites if it thinks the link is relative to our site.

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        1. Yup.

          The one thing that’s good about this is that it shows I’m not going bonkers – which given some of my other recent issues, PC-wise, I was actually beginning to think…!

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