LL looking to launch Blocksworld in July?

LL logoBack at the start of 2013, Linden Lab acquired Boldai AB, a team of three programmers who jokingly refer to themselves as being, “From the country that gave you Minecraft and the country next to the country that invented Lego”.

Together, the Boldai AB team had created Blocksworld, which they described as “the ultimate building game – only it isn’t really a game, but you build stuff”, in their very creative initial marketing trailer. Early reviews of the app referred to it as a “perfect mix of Lego and Minecraft.”

Since the acquisition, the former Boldai AB team have been a little quiet (other than the odd Tweet on things), and their website has carried little more than news of their acquisition and a link to the Lab’s Beta Product sign-up page, together with a new promotional video. The latter may well demonstrate the app – including the ability to share your Blocksworld creations, a common theme within LL’s new products -, but it lacks the shine and fun of Boldai’s own efforts; such is the price, perhaps, of putting on a corporate jacket.

Well, now we have confirmation – albeit confirmation easily missed – that Blocksworld may well launch in July, appearing on the platform for which it was originally developed – the iPad.

There are no official details of any launch as yet, other than the (almost throwaway) comment which forms a part of an introductory piece for an interview with Rod Humble by All Things D, including whether, as Boldai originally intimated prior to their acquisition, whether Blocksworld will also be made available for other platforms following the initial iPad release. It’s also not clear whether this initial release will be a “full” release of the product or an initial “beta” of some description. Time will tell on these latter points.

In the meantime, if you wish to try to keep abreast of LL’s new products, and have not already done so, you might want to consider signing-up to the Beta Product page, and I’ll leave you with Boldai’s original and imaginative trailer video.

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Rod Humble on living the Second Life

Rod Humble is very much a Q&A man, something I can personally attest to, and which was shown back in June with his Q&A session with Best of Second Life magazine. There are pros and cons to this approach.

On the one hand, and particularly when working across large distances and different time zones, it means that neither side is tied to trying to commit to a day / time (at possibly an ungodly hour) in order to try to hook-up either in-world or by ‘phone or via Skype.

The downside to this is that it prevents a spontaneous conversation from developing, which stifles rapport, perhaps of greater impact from the reporting side of things, it gives the Lab the freedom to dictate the direction of questions / cherry-pick which questions they are willing to answer.

Rod Humble: master of the Q&A session
Rod Humble: master of the Q&A session

Much has been made of this second point, although from my own experience I can say LL are not the first to “vet” or pick questions to answer within an interview, and I doubt they’ll be the last.

However, perhaps what frustrates me more about the whole Q&A style approach is that can isolate questions from their broader context (unless submitted with reams of explanatory text), which can further dissuade the Lab from responding, when a more face-to-face contact might enable the aforementioned rapport to be established, resulting in a more relaxed exchange in which some answers might be a little more forthcoming.

I’ve no idea how much time Eric Johnson of All Things D got with Rod Humble recently, or how many questions were vetoed ahead of the fifteen that were answered. However, while the resultant interview, which appeared on July 5th, may initially appear to be much the usual mix of things we’ve been hearing about in interviews with the Lab’s CEO in general of late, it is a worthwhile read.

For those eager for Oculus Rift, for example, we find that the Lab is potentially looking at a “late summer” public debut for their support of the headset, and that Humble himself has been able to experience the capabilities.

I’m not actually that intrigued by the arrival of Oculus Rift in SL – although I can fully see the potential in integrating it into SL and the opportunities it may well open for the platform across a range of uses, and am thus fully supportive of the work being done. However, what does intrigue me is how the Lab are going to integrate Oculus Rift with the UI. Are we perhaps going to see the iteration of an entirely new form of viewer to cater for it?

Oculus Rift and Second Life: a "late summer" public release?
Oculus Rift and Second Life: a “late summer” public release?

More interesting from my perspective are Humble’s comments around new users. I recently had the opportunity to fire my own questions at Mr. Humble in June, and the issue of new user retention was on my list.

Sadly, it was something he sidestepped somewhat (which is perhaps as much down to the way I asked certain questions as anything else); so it was interesting to read in the All Things D article that of the approximate 400,000 sign-ups a month SL receives, some 80,000 are still logging-in to the platform after about a month (some 20%). As Humble himself notes, that’s a massive drop-off; however it might also be said to be sufficient to ensure the churn is enough to stop the platform hemorrhaging users in quite the way some of the more dour commentators like to present.

We also get to see more of Humble’s thinking behind the direction in which he’s taking the company:

Game makers are always trying to stay one step ahead of content creation, so you get these bigger and bigger budgets, trying to make more and more polished content. Second Life and YouTube are both rewarding their users for what they create. I believe there will be a day when you’ll log in to your social network and see, “Oh, I got five bucks because I posted my silly cat picture.” What I’m trying to do is position our company to take advantage of that and facilitate people being rewarded for the time they put in.

Whether this positioning involves SL in the longer term, particularly as the company does appear to be involved in both investing in new virtual environments (such as High Fidelity, wherever that leads) and perhaps creating a direct successor to Second Life itself, remains to be seen.

For those curious as to why the Lab hasn’t itself pushed SL to the mobile / tablet environment, Humble also provides food for thought, both pointing to TPV work in the area and why the Lab has tended to avoid getting too involved.

Overall, this is another Q&A session which can easily be lambasted for being one-sided and only talking about the things the Lab wants to talk about; however, that’s actually what PR is about – promoting the things you want to promote and generating the interest you want to generate. While the All Things D does at times cover ground ploughed in earlier interviews, it also covers some fresh territory and provides further insight into some of the thinking at the Lab, and that alone makes it worth the time taken to hop over and take a gander for yourself.

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SL10BCC: Now the party is over – a personal look back

So the celebrations of SL’s 10th have come and gone and once again it’s time to cast a final personal look back at the event, as is my habit. Well, actually, it’s an overdue look back, considering I had intended to get this piece out a week ago; but as the famous saying goes, In proving foresight may be vain: The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ Peys Gang aft agley, or so Robbie Burns wrote. Honest.

SL birthday events tend to be a fair mix of the good, the bad and – it has to be said, I’m afraid – the downright ugly. The builds are many and varied, the entertainment generally rich and diverse, the regions expansive and seemingly never-ending, the crowds numerous and, as a result and despite the best efforts of the Lab and the organising team, the lag ever-present and waiting to mug you at almost every turn.

The SLB Express, a popular feature from SL9B, made an appearance at SL10BCC, linking the present with the past
The SLB Express, a popular feature from SL9B, made an appearance at SL10BCC, linking the present to the past in a very evocative way

All of this is to be expected enjoyed and, in the case of lag, countered. In this latter regard, kudos to the organisers for not only providing people with clear and concise instructions on limiting the impact of lag on their experience, but also for provide a set of “low-lag” and retrospective freebie avatars to adopt if one wished. Ah, Ruthie and friends, how we’ve missed you! I admit, I didn’t use any of the supplied avatars although I did wander around as a Primitar for the part of one visit.

There was much to be admired and enjoyed this year; so much so, that my own reports only really scratched the surface of things as I explored the regions. If your own piece didn’t appear in my updates, my apologies. It doesn’t necessarily mean I didn’t like it – rather that time was frequently against me and I didn’t actually get to see everything.

This year’s celebration installations were especially good. I’ve already waxed lyrical in these pages about Flea and Today’s magnificent A’stra main / live stage, and will resist the temptation to do so again because, quite frankly, all of the stages were magnificent. I loved the echoes of SL9B’s lake stage within Kazuhiro Aridian’s mesh lake stage, which was simply awesome and brought something of a new meaning to getting high on magic mushrooms, with people dancing up in the air and over the water on the huge mushroom cups…

The Lake Stage by
The Lake Stage by Kazuhiro Aridian

Marianne McCann’s History Walk was simply stunning, offering many of us who have been involved in SL for a good while a trip down memory lane, and was another part of the celebrations I found myself returning to on a number of occasions.

The theme for this year’s event was Looking forward, looking back, the idea being for people to look back at the last 10 years of SL’s history, or to look ahead to what the future might bring – or both. One of my personal criteria in exploring the regions was to seek out exhibits which reflected all or some of the theme and presented it in a unique or fun or immersive or personal way. I also kept an eye out for exhibits which, while not obviously reflecting the theme, offered an eye-catching, fresh and clever insight into Second Life or the community / persons behind the exhibit.

The Isle of Dee exhibit presented an immersive, attractive and engaging insight into this role-play community
The Isle of Dee exhibit presented an immersive, attractive and engaging insight into this role-play community

And it is here that I had my first feelings of disappointment. Walking through the SL10BCC regions I found myself coming across exhibits which I’d more-or-less seen before at SL9B and / or at SL8B and in several cases even as far back as SL7B. Some made little attempt at redressing themselves. Others had a thin veil of “retrospective” painted across them which, for me, did little to hide the fact that they were retreads.

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