Thursday September 27th will see a special series of events take place across the USA and Canada – and in Second Life.
They are to both mark the premiere of Michael J. Fox’s new TV series and to raise funds for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
The Second Life event, which kicks-off at 15:00 SLT is the only one of its kind to be taking place in a virtual worlds, and is a co-production between Creations for Parkinsons and Team Fox SL, and organised by Team Fox SL coordinator Solas (solasnagealai).
And there is still time to be a part of the magic!
Tickets are L$1,000 (and limited to 100), with all proceeds going directly to the Foundation via Team Fox, its official grass-roots fundraising arm. The party will run through until 18:00 SLT and will take place in the elegance of the Rose Theatre Ballroom at Angel Manor.
Back in June 2013, I had the opportunity to interview Rod Humble for Prim Perfect magazine. As explained in the piece, things didn’t entirely go according to plan, and I have to admit to being a little disappointed with the end result. Due to various reasons, the piece didn’t see the light of day until Issue 49 of Prim Perfect, which appeared in September 2013, and which is available on-line and in-world. What follows here is the article in full, reprinted with permission.
2013 marks the 10th Anniversary of Second Life as a publicly accessible platform. In that time, Linden Lab has seen it grow from a small venture into a product which, whilst still niche, generates revenues in the region of $75 million a year, and keeps people from around the globe logging-in to it as a part of their daily routine.
In that time four men have helmed the Lab through highs and lows: Philip Rosedale, the man responsible for starting it all, Mark Kingdon, Bob Komin, who also served as the Lab’s CFO, and Rod Humble, known to us all as Rodvik Linden.
Humble, a veteran of Virgin Interactive, Sony Online and EA Games, brought considerable games industry experience with him when he joined the Lab at the start of 2011. Since then, he’s been the driving force behind a huge amount of work on Second Life, and in trying to expand the company’s product portfolio with a growing range of apps and games.
As part of Second Life’s anniversary celebrations, he spent a lot of time being interviewed in many venues and through a variety of media platforms. Our request to be included generated a warm and positive response, but was then derailed somewhat by scheduling issues on all sides.
Originally, the idea had been to converse via Skype, but as the scheduling conflicts bit, we were forced to use e-mail as the medium of exchange. While not ideal, it at least gave me the opportunity to gain a small window into the mind of the man in charge of the virtual world we feel so very passionate about.
I started out by turning the clock back and asking him what initially drew him to accepting the CEO position at the Lab, specifically what was it about the company, as well as the platform, that attracted him.
I immediately saw and fell in love with SL when I was approached. I was delighted and amazed at the creativity within the world.
As a platform, Second Life puts an incredible amount of power in the users’ hands, which is obvious from the range and complexity of things people have created in-world. Beyond the platform itself, I think a key strength of Second Life is the model of allowing users to monetize their creations. That sets up a situation where everyone wins – users are rewarded for being creative, and the virtual world continually gets fresh and interesting content and experiences for everyone, beyond what would be possible if Linden Lab had to create everything.
His tenure at the Lab has not only been marked by the introduction of new capabilities to the platform – the most notable perhaps being mesh and pathfinding – but by a strong push to improve usability, and performance. Not long after he arrived, the viewer was given a major overhaul and underwent extensive user testing. More recently, we’ve seen a 12-month effort under the umbrella title of “Project Shining” aimed at massively improving SL’s performance and stability. Given this emphasis, I asked him if he saw matters of performance and so on as potential threats to the viability of the platform when he first joined the company.
Any active user of Second Life can tell you that performance is a big issue. It’s a hard one for us to solve as well, because of the inherent complexity of the platform and the huge number of variables involved – like differences in broadband speeds, hardware specs, etc. But, it’s an area that I’m proud to say we’re making great strides in with efforts like Project Sunshine. Users should see bigger performance improvements from that project as the server-side changes roll-out.
But there were also other usability issues – like the complexity of Magic Boxes for Marketplace deliveries and the confusing number of communications tools – that we’ve worked to improve.
Two long-term issues for the platform have been user sign-ups and user retention. When it came to sign-ups, Humble again quickly made his presence felt, overseeing a top-to-toe redesign of the account creation process. This resulted in a significant increase in the number of daily sign-ups, one which still sees some 400,000 new accounts created monthly. However user retention has remained elusive; only around 20% of new accounts are still active a month after signing-up.
By Humble’s own admission, this is not a an exciting figure, and he’s set himself and the Lab the goal of improving it, going so far as to say his ambition is to get all those who said “Meh” to SL “back”. As a part of this, the Lab has resumed its examinations of the “new user experience”, testing new “Social Islands” and “Learning Islands” alongside the existing “Destination Islands” in an attempt to find out what does and doesn’t work.
This renewed interest on the Lab’s part led me to wonder if it might mean we’ll be seeing something in the way of directed experiences, so that “modellers get to aeroplanes rather than a nightclub”, to paraphrase a remark he famously made in the SL Universe forums in 2012.
Linden Lab has just launched a new promo-style video, together with a blog post, which highlights recent changes and improvements to the platform.
Playing a little on SL’s birthday, the 57-second long piece is a typical sample of recent Second Life video promotions: plenty of fast cuts and beat-laden music. However, the text inserts included with it tend to suggest the target audience is perhaps those who may have tried SL and since wandered away, rather than those who have never tried it at all.
If this is the intended focus of the video, it shouldn’t come as any surprise. Around the time of the 10th Anniversary celebrations, Rod Humble made it clear in a number of interviews with the press, some of which I covered in these pages, that one of his aims has been to try to “win back” those 30+ million people who have tried SL only to walk away; and that it is something that has been on his mind for a good while. It’ll be interesting to see, therefore, if this is a one-off, or the first step in part of a much wider campaign.
I don’t tend to cover SL destinations which are BDSM focused. Not because of any prudeness on my part, but because I’m aware that things like BDSM and D/s are not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s also fair to say that – and without wishing to appear unkind – I’ve tended to find that a lot of BDSM themed regions in SL aren’t really that captivating to the eye (no pun intended) or genuinely attractive.
However, there are always exceptions to any kind of generalisation like the one above. Such is the case with The Cyprian Garden, developed by the Obscura Land Group under the leadership of Dorian Meredith. If I had to use a single word to describe it, I think that word would be “stunning”.
The garden, which I think I’m right in saying has only recently opened, is a genuine tour de force in design and layout. Everything has been artfully considered, the landscape carefully crafted and the flora, etc., chosen with an eye towards presenting an environment which is both open and welcoming to visitor, inviting them to linger and explore, while also providing seclusion and privacy for those wanting to enjoy one another’s company, be it in friendly conversation or something more intimate. Paths wend their way around the shoreline and through trees, over hills and through valleys. Tall trees provide shade, flowers bloom everywhere, and water drops from tall falls, meanders through streams and pools in ponds and lakes. Even the surrounding mountains both add to the beauty of the region and to the sense of seclusion and intimacy it generates, while the soundscape of birdsong in the trees further enriches the immervise feel of the garden.
There are places here for people to meet socially, with armchairs and stools laid out in the shade of trees or under vine-hung trellises; there are also places for couples to sit together and watch the world go by. Given that the garden is BDSMfocused, there are some accoutrements on display: a large, cushion-floored cage hanging from a tree here, another ornate cage there, and so on. But for the most part, those areas devoted to more intimate play tend to be secluded (one being underground). Please do note that I say “for the most part”; this is an adult-themed region after all, and that does need to be kept in mind when exploring.
For those who do enjoy the added spice of consensual adult activities, the play areas are such that the overall design and layout of the gardens means that people aren’t necessarily going to be tripping over one another. There are also skyboxes overhead; whether these are residential or for more private assignations (or both) I’m not sure. There is a rental station hovering over the region, so I assume at least the former, but to be honest I didn’t spend time looking at what was overhead; I was simply enjoying the beauty of the gardens.
Seasoned SL travellers will recognise much of the flora and builds used in the garden, which includes many of Alex Bader’s ever-popular pieces, as well as items by Kriss Lehmann, Mandingo Quan, Aki Shichiroji, Wendy Xeno, Lilith Heart and others – all of which blend perfectly together and give considerable depth and feel to the region.
For the SL photographer there is a lot on offer here, allowing for people’s activities in the gardens and respecting others’ privacy. So much so that a photo contest is currently under way, although the closing time and date of 12:00am on the 27th September is looming fast!
Those wishing to enter are invited to submit up to two colour images of 1024×768 resolution, taken within the Cyprian Garden (the actual theme of the image(s) are left to the entrant’s discretion). Some post-processing is allowed, but submitted pieces must not include text. On offer is L$5,000 in prizes, with L$3,000 going to the first place winner, as decided by the contest voting system. Anyone interested in participating can find further details on the competition, including an entry form, at the information boards within the garden itself.
If you do set out to explore the garden, do be aware that the region is shared with The Domaine Imperium. For the most part, the two blend together seamlessly, and the east side of the region, under the auspices of the Domaine, is as open to the public as the rest of the garden, with one exception. That is the private residence located on a small island down toward the south-east corner of the island. This can only be reached via a gated wooden bridge – and the gate should serve as warning enough. However, a security system is also in operation to deter trespassers as well.
For my part, I enjoyed my visit and explorations, wandering along the paths and tracks, snapping as I went. The region is fairly quiet right now. While there were a fair few comings and goings in and out of the region, these appeared to be taking place up among the skyboxes and were none of my business and certainly didn’t interrupt my wanderings.
If you’re happy exploring adult environments and love natural spaces and gardens in SL, or a looking for a more refined venue for consensual adult activities, then you may well want to add The Cyprian Gardens to your list of places to visit.