Webspace with avatars and inventory – Humble talks dio and Versu

Update, February 19th, 2014: Creatorvers and dio were discontinued by Linden Lab on February 19th, 2014. Links to their websites, etc.,  have therefore been removed from this article.

Details of a kind are starting to slip out about LL’s new product stream. We’re now already very familiar with Patterns and Creatorverse, the latter of which reached the Android platform at the start of the week, coming to it via the Kindle range of tablets.

Creatorverse: iPad, Kindle and Android so far

An article in Techcrunch provides some more insight into the remaining two products of which we’re already aware, Dio and Versu.

The article starts off with a positive comment on Second Life itself:

Linden Lab, the company that created Second Life and grew that online community into one of the most colorful, varied online social networks in the world, is doing some very different things for the first time in many, many years.

Admittedly, this quickly slides into the murkier waters regarding declining user numbers, observing rather interestingly that “passive viewing becoming the dominant interaction method”, before bringing up that beloved subject of many a journo reporting on SL, that of its “sordid past”.

I’m not entirely sure what is meant by “passive viewing”, but I suspect that relates to many of the more populous venues in SL being clubs (of every sort) whereby avatars are dancing but most of the conversation is going on in IM, giving the illusion that everyone is sitting in silence watching avatars gyrate twist and turn individually or in groups, or twirl gracefully around the dance floor like pairs of professional ballroom dancers. While the image is true, I’m not entirely sure how representative of SL it is as a whole.

But I digress.

In the article, Rod Humble confirms the upcoming order of the remaining two initial product releases from the Lab, with Dio coming up next, followed by Versu.

“The next project is a web experience called Dio that’s really hard to explain, which I like. It’s sort of like Second Life without the graphics, or Facebook but trying to be more of a creative space,” Humble is quoted as saying in the Techcrunch article. He goes on, “So it’s a web experience and you create your space, but within the spaces, everyone has their own avatar and avatars carry inventory. The way you navigate from space to space is via doors, and you can make things like a MUSH [multi-user shared hack] or hobby space very easily.”

Dio: “webspace with avatars” (image from an early version of the Dio website, and not necessarily representative of how the finished product will appear)


This in itself sound curious, especially when added to previous hints on the product, with Humble describing Dio as a, “Room creator, in which players can do everything from construct a choose-your-own adventure to develop an interactive wedding album,” during an interview with Giant Bomb in October which I covered here, or simply as “A website that lets people create rooms out of their personal images and videos, connects them to other people’s rooms and lets people share the space,” as he did when talking to Kotaku.

Given the mass of “shared webspaces” which already exist out there which combine various elements of social interaction, photo / image sharing and so on, I have to admit Humble’s description of Dio to Kotaku in particular left me wondering exactly what Dio would offer as a reasonable USP that would help it stand out from the crowd sufficiently to drawn attention and, one would assume, m-o-n-e-y.

Having now read his latest comments, the idea of “Second Life without the graphics” in which everyone has an “avatar” leaves me with impressions of Arthur Dent, toothbrushes and pocket fluff (and if you don’t get the reference, Don’t Panic!). I’m absolutely positive that Dio will not be anything of the sort, but I can’t shift the image from my brain since reading the quotes – so, thank you, Rod, for that! :).

More seriously,the description given to Techcrunch for Dio does again have me curious and intrigued as to what it is we’ll actually see when the product launches in the near future.

Turning to Versu, the article quotes Humble once more, “It’s procedural interactive storytelling. Basically you set the motives and the behaviors of the individual characters and the plot gets generated as you go, and each time it’s different.”

This doesn’t actually add a lot to what we know about Versu per se, Humble’s words pretty much echo what he said to Giant Bomb in October. However, what is interesting – to a point – is the way that the Techcrunch article apparently links the development of Versu to that of Dio. Following Humble’s description of Dio, Techcrunch immediately states:

The end result is a collaborative product called Versu created by former The Sims 3 co-worker Richard Evans and interactive storyteller Emily Shaw. 

While this could be a misunderstanding on the reporter’s part, the juxtaposition of the comment, and the wording do seem to imply that Versu actually grew out Dio. If this is reflective of how the two were developed (previous interviews with Humble seemed to point to the two products having a separate genesis / development), it’ll be interesting to see what exists by way of commonality between them. Will Dio, for example, provide a basic set of character generation tools for the “build and adventure” aspect of the product, which are then greatly expanded upon in Versu?

In terms of Versu itself, Techcrunch also comments:

The idea here is to tap into collaborative storytelling, something that’s been gaining in popularity in online spheres, as evidenced by the traction social writing startup Wattpad has seen. But with Versu, Linden Lab adds a gaming element to interactive storytelling that essentially allows players to create their own characters which then write themselves. It seems like a smart way to capitalize on the observer tendency that’s turned Second Life players into story watchers.

While this again doesn’t add much to what we already know about Versu – and I’ll leave the fact that I don’t necessarily agree with the comment on SL users being passive observers – when combined with Humble’s description of the product, it does tend to increase one’s curiosity. As it is, I’m actually far more intrigued by both the concept and the potential for Versu than perhaps I have been by both Patterns and Creatorverse (and I’ve warmed tremendously towards the latter after initially feeling very cold towards it).

Humble and LL: threading the needle (image: The Guardian UK)

The most striking thing about Creatorverse, Patterns, Dio and Versu – with the possible caveat on the last two in that they may share something of a common heritage if Techcrunch has it right – is that while they all explore the concept of “shared creative spaces”, they all do so very differently. This leads Techcrunch to wonder if people will find this perhaps too confusing. I’m not convinced they will. If Humble and those at LL have got things right, and are indeed threading the needle between innovation and fun, I think it is entirely possible that down the line, LL could well establish a reputation for being a company which does just that: provides innovation applications and games which are fun. If so, that will obviously be all to the good for the company. What it means for Second Life in the long-term, should this prove to be the case, remains to be seen.

Related Links

With thanks to the pointer from Ciaran Laval.

13 thoughts on “Webspace with avatars and inventory – Humble talks dio and Versu

  1. I have to admit that I got quickly bored with Pinterest and the zillion clones that appeared shortly afterwards (I was even beta-tester for one or two!). But they apparently grow like crazy, even though, for me, they add little more than Flickr and/or Picasa and/or any other “previous generation” image sharing tools. Dio, as such, would carry little interest for people like me, but I can imagine that the zillions using Pinterest every day will love it. My issue is how they will charge money for it! After all, all those zillion sites are free, since they come with enough venture capital to burn for a few years until they figure out a business model (which most won’t, and, undoubtedly, will close down). LL, on the other hand, will have to put a price tag to Dio since day one, so I wonder how it’ll work.

    Versu is even more baffling, but, then again, at some point in time, people would be baffled by paying for hosting blogs, too 🙂

    Seriously, I think that my own skepticism runs against me. While I see immediate interest in Patterns — and a little less in Creatorverse, but it’s the kind of thing I’d buy if I had any hardware that runs it, just to spend some idle time while waiting for someone to appear (currently I just play Angry Birds during those rare periods — so I understand the appeal of having relatively simple physics-based games) — Dio and Versu seem to be targeting a specific niche market. Patterns and Creatorverse are more “mainstream”. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with niche markets: SL is a niche market too. But one worth 700 million US$ annually 🙂 There is good money in niche markets, and if that’s what Rod is tapping into, he might be striking gold. Or at least silver — which should be enough for LL’s ongoing steady growth.


    1. Dio leaves me somewhat baffled as to where it can generate revenue given it is web-based, for much the same reasons as you (something I ruminated on in covering the Giant Bomb interview).

      Versu, I think, is a different kettle of fish. The Techcrunch piece kind-of indicates it will be web-based (at least it seems to, by linking it back to Dio) – but is this actually the case? I’m still leaning towards Versu being in the same space as Patterns / Creatorverse – more an app / game supplied within its own wrapper you download according to the platform on which you wish to use it. I actually imagine it to perhaps being akin to the Professor Layton adventures for the Nintindo DS, but more involved in terms of the procedural nature and character generation capabilities, and aimed across multiple platforms.

      But then, I’ve been wrong before – and quite frequently so. Pundit I’m not :).

      I’m also not sure that Versu is perhaps niche any more than Creatorverse or Patterns for the same reasons. Cretorverse and Patterns are items I’ve tried out simply because they are LL’s products and I’m curious. Versu, potentially, is the kind of thing I’d go download anyway (assuming my thoughts above are right as to how it’ll be presented), simply because the concept and the approach are both things that appeal to me (I admit to having a couple of “solve the mystery” games on my Galaxy S2 already…).

      I guess at this point the only thing we can be sure of with Dio and Versu, is we’ll very shortly be finding out where they are leaning and what LL sees as the opportunities to (and I’m going to use a word I loathe) monetize them very soon :).


  2. The thing is that a MUSH was one of several text-only precursors to Second Life. One of the longest-lasting is FurryMUCK, and my accounts there are old enough to vote. Now, I’m hazy on the differences between a MUCK and a MUSH and a MUD and several others, because they had different features built into the server. Some were more devoted to combat. In FurryMUCK you can create rooms, with descriptions and links to other rooms, and objects, and there is a scripting language, and sometimes there are people enjoying wild sexual activities. It’s not so unlike Second Life. So, unless Rod Humble is indulging in a backronym, it’s a very suggestive term to use.

    (There was an intermediate stage of more graphic games, which gave you a sort of top-down isometric view. before Second Life became possible.)


    1. “Backronym” – that’s a new one on me, and I rather like it :).

      I’ve honestly no idea with regards to MUSH, MUCK, MUD and so on, other than when used in relation to meteorological conditions, so I haven’t a clue as to what he’s alluding to. But let’s face it, if it has avatars involved and linked via its creators to SL, sex is inevitably going to get mentioned at some point in reviews, even tangentially (points to the Techcrunch reference to “sordid past”).

      More seriously, I tend to think Rod Humble was perhaps using “MUSH” as a convenient peg – backronym as you suggest – by which to hang Dio on the wall of people’s minds perhaps without broader consideration of the “darker” nature of some of the elements of the concept.

      I’m finding it hard to work up enthusiasm for Dio the same way I did for Patterns or have for Versu. Then again, it took time for the concept of Creatorverse to grow on me. It will, however be interesting to see what capabilities are incorporated into the product, and how it can bring new relevance to an idea which, fromr his and your comments, appears to be as old as the hills and overtaken by more recent developments. Not to mention the revenue aspect (again).


      1. It’s not so much a “darker concept” as that you don’t need graphics for sexual play. It started as soon as the communication channels were there. They didn’t even have to be particularly private. The “Room” in one of these text games was no different to an IRC channel in that.
        It’s technology of all sorts that had to change before Second Life was possible. With tablets and mobility, we may be in the sort of lower-bandwidth world where text is the smart option. I played FurryMUCK in the days when all we had was dial-up modems, a few thousand bits per second.
        And that could be Rod Humble is trying to connect to, rather than the details of what people started doing with the tech.


        1. Allusions to naughtiness aside, MUSH/MUCK is really not a bad image to use, though it may not mean much to many people. One of the notable aspects of the text-based “MMOs” is that you can conjure up *anything* just be describing it. With a little sleigh-of-hand and some minimal scripting, the illusion is perfect. No glitchy animations, no 3D modeling skill required. The medium has some appeal there, and it allows you (and LL) to focus on (and test) some other core values.


  3. Im still interested to se what LL do. I liked Patterns, but im struggling to find any time to play it, but thats just me. I toyed with creatorverse for 10 minutes and decided i needed more time to sit down and really figure it out, which i haven’t done yet because like i said im struggling to find the time :-p. Maybe Dio or Versu will be more suited to my lack of time. Why do i not have much time to play these new toys? i’m busy building stuff for Second Life. XD


    1. I’m finding time an issue now where Patterns is concerned. Creatorverse is a combination of time (it’s easier to fiddle with as I can fiddle for ten minutes here and there due to it being on my phone) and the screen size (I’m still finding using it on my Galaxy S2 screen a little hard on the eyes). Good luck with the building!


  4. I took the reference to “passively observing” as being about a general trend in entertainment, which works against SL’s style of engagement and creation, and thus is (part of) the explanation why “SL is shedding users”.
    I am not entirely sure if that explanation is correct, or just another variant of grown-ups grumbling about how youth was much better in *their* time, but it is an interesting angle nevertheless.
    If this *is* a wind of change, and LL is setting sails in that wind, banking on emergent behavior as the profitable intersection between creation and observation (with Versu leading the way), I’ll happily cheerlead that. I’ve always found that a deeply fascinating subject, and lately we’ve seen many interesting projects just on the edge between art and games, often pioneered by downloadable indie “games”.


    1. You raise an interesting point; and one that certainly fits the (more visible, if not actually “expanded”, per se) world of art in SL. The other has been around for a long time, but does seem to be enjoying a much more visible presence, particularly with more people apparently mainstream blogging and twitting about it.

      If the likes of Versu are a success – I do wonder how this might loop back into LL’s thinking around their development of SL…


      1. Also, as for any connection between Dio and Versu:
        Rod knows gaming history. It is certainly no random accident that he used the word MUSH. MUSH and MUCKs are the original persistent multiuser games; MMOs done in the style of the old text adventure games, but with the – for SL residents well-known – feature that they are programmable by the users themselves, letting you create the world in text.

        If Versu is the AI engine for motivationally driven behavior, it makes perfect sense to have a “simple” environment to run it in initially, as AI characters in a text-adventure-style world, where you don’t need all the graphics and animation assets to make something work.

        In the big picture, LL is creating a suite of creation tools for people on many different levels, in many different areas, and can experiment with the individual components without turning it into a single, do-or-die monolith. And I see a lot of potential for ultimately crossing over, whether that is an SL-style graphical interface to a Dio/Versu world, or Versu being plugged into SL as an AI engine.


        1. Wolf pointed out the MUSH/MUCK element in a comment. I admit my ignorance, as I’m not that much of a “gamer”. Dio does intrigue if if the Techcrunch article is right in the implication that it was potentially the birthpalce for Versu. However, even then, I focus on Versu simply because that does seem to appeal to me far more; but then I like complex puzzle-solving, and it seems to fit that environment very well.

          Agree on your last comment – and why Techcrunch’s reference to threading the needle resonates with me; LL are very much doing so – on several levels.

          Interesting times!


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