Gaming Islands: introducing users to Skill Games in Second Life

The new Gaming Islands - designed to introduce Second life users to Skill Gaming
The new Gaming Islands – designed to introduce Second life users to Skill Gaming

In a blog post on August 2nd, 2016, the Lab introduced their new Gaming Islands: regions designed to help Second Life users – particularly (but not exclusively), I would assume, new users – understand Skill Games in the platform, how they can play them (and why they may not be able to play them), together with a means to find them.

I’m not sure when these regions  – there appear to be two at present – opened, so whether the blog post has been timed to coincide with their launch or whether, like much that is in the blog post, they’ve been around a while but simply not promoted, is hard to tell. However, on reading about them, I jumped over to take a look – but before I get into the details, a quick bit of background.

Incoming new users can find their way to the Gaming Islands via a dedicated teleport portal on the Social Islands
The Social Islands provide a dedicated teleport portal  to the Gaming Islands for new users; established users can reach them via the Portal Parks

Gambling laws in the USA and around the world can be complicated beasts. What some might consider to be gambling to others might be viewed a game of skill, and vice-versa. This makes determining what is and isn’t allowed and by whom a difficult practice, particularly where the Internet is concerned.

Because of all this complexity, the Lab banned gambling in Second Life, whilst allowing games of skill to remain. Then, in 2014, the Lab sought to further refine the kinds of skill games involving money and payouts which are permissible in SL through a complete overhaul of their Skill Gaming Policy, together with the introduction of new Skill Gaming regions where such games can be played.

The new Gaming Islands are designed to help SL residents understand what Skill Games are, where they can be played, the kinds of games they might encounter, how they can get to play them – and why, in some instances, they may not be allowed to access the regions where they can be played, and finally to offer a means to reach Skill Gaming regions.

One of the example games in the Gaming Islands
Gaming Islands: one of the example games

To achieve this, the new Gaming Islands are split into four areas: the arrival point, a game play area; a Learn area which explains more about Skill Games in SL and how to access Skill Gaming Regions; and an Explore area which provides direct teleport portals to Skill Gaming regions provided by various in-world Skill Gaming Operators.

The game play area offers what appear to be “skill-based slot machine” games (yes, there are  such beasts in the physical world) with L$ pay-outs – although I have to admit, even after reading the instructions, I was unable to determine where the “skill” factor came into effect over and above the “chance” element (the requirement for Skill Games in SL is that their outcome “is determined by skill and is not contingent, in whole or in material part, upon chance”).

This is not to say that I think the games are not skill-based, but simply that – as a non-gambler / player of skill games, I simply didn’t get where skill enters into them, even after reading the instruction tabs. Perhaps this might indicate more practical explanations are required, or maybe it just indicates I just don’t get Skill Games. I’m also a little mystified as to why, more than an hour after I left one of the islands, the GamingIsland Operator made a small payment to my account – but hey-ho (addendum: apparently pay-outs are made at regular periods after play).

Gaming Islands Learn area - discover more about Skill Gaming and how to access Skill Gaming regions in SL
Gaming Islands: Learn area – discover more about Skill Gaming and how to access Skill Gaming regions in SL

The Learn area, designed to get people up-to-speed with Skill Gaming in SL, how they can ensure they are eligible to access Skill Gaming regions and why, even if they meet the SL criteria, they may still be unable to do so, is a little more straightforward.

To one side of the are a series of information boards designed to help people ensure they can access Skill Gaming region; on the other are explanations of what Lab’s define a Skill Game (lifted from the Second Life Skill Gaming FAQ), together with information on why, legally, some SL users may not be able to access Skill Gaming regions even if they meet the SL criteria for doing so. The split path perhaps isn’t the best approach here, given it might encourage some to simply go around one side and then up the stairs to the final section, but the use of teleport boards in the final section makes this a minor quibble.

The Learn section of the Gaming Islands provide information on what is required to enter Skill Gaming regions (together with step-by-step instructions on ensuring the criteria is correct), and why, even if the SL criteria are met, some users may still not be allowed to access the regions
Gaming Islands: a more detailed look at a couple of the Learn area info boards, which explain what is required to enter Skill Gaming regions (step-by-step instructions to meet the requirements are provided on the other side of the  area), and why, even if the SL criteria are met, some users may still not be allowed to access the regions

This final section, entitled Explore, offers teleport portal directly to a number of Skill Gaming regions provided by different Skill Gaming Operators. Should anyone find they cannot use the teleport portal, boards between the portals will teleport them to the Learn section of the island where they can double-check they meet the SL / legal (in the case of US residents) requirements for accessing Skill Gaming regions.

The Explore section of the Gaming Islands, with teleport portals
Gaming Islands: the Explore section with teleport portals

Skill Gaming isn’t to everyone’s interest, to be sure. However, providing information on what it is and how to find it is, I would suggest, a good idea, as is joining the dots for new users to be able to find their way to such regions, which give the opportunity to play for Linden Dollars. As it is, Skill Gaming operators pay a premium for their regions, and so providing a means by which they can obtain traffic on the same footing as other types of activity in SL is only fair.

In terms of the Gaming Islands layout, and my own problems in “getting” the games aside, the design is straightforward and does pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. Which is all one can ask, really.

Lab blogs on recent Second Life updates

secondlifeOn Tuesday, August 2nd, the Lab blogged about recent and forthcoming updates to Second Life. It’s a curious post, offering a potpourri of news, some of which is liable to be familiar to many, some of which might be new / surprising / interesting, even for those of us covering Second Life to the best of our abilities.

First up on the post is Project Bento – the project to greatly enhance the avatar skeleton for use with mesh bodies and bits (human and non-human). I have, and am, covering this project through my Bento updates, so please excuse me if I refer you to those reports for specifics, if you’re unfamiliar with the project and want to know more. If you’re completely new to Bento, you might want to start your reading here.

Bento is still very much a beta project – the viewer-side code has yet to make it to Release Candidate status, with the project viewer still being worked on by the Lab. However, Bento is an interesting project, not only because of what it can bring to mesh-based avatars, but also because of the way in which it has been very much a collaborative project between the Lab and content creators and animators.

Aki Shichiroji demonstrates a wearable wyvern utilising Bento bones for animation. Inset: the model under development at a Bento meeting.
Aki Shichiroji demonstrates a wearable wyvern utilising Bento bones for animation. Inset: the model under development at a Bento meeting.

The Visual Outfits Browser (VOB) is next to get a mention. Again, this has a way to go to make it into a release viewer, but was issued as a Release Candidate on August 1st (version 4.0.7.318263). Simply put, this viewer allows you to use the Appearance floater to capture / upload / select images of your outfits and save them against the outfits in a new Outfit Gallery tab within the floater.

Also getting a mention is the QuickTime for Windows replacement viewer, also known as the VLC plug-in viewer, which sees the QuickTime media plugin for the Windows viewer replaced with a plug-in based on LibVLC. At some point in the future, LibVLC will also be used to replace QuickTime in the Mac version of the official viewer. I’ve previously covered both the VOB and VLC viewers in these pages., so feel free to follow the link to read more.

The Visual Outfits Browser viewer is another of the forthcoming updates mentioned in the official blog post, and you can read my overview as well
The Visual Outfits Browser (VOB) viewer is another of the forthcoming updates mentioned in the official blog post, and you can read my overview of the project viewer version of VOB

Other updates which are mentioned comprise the use of Experience Keys in the new user Social Islands, which I blogged about in April; the recent TLS 1.2 update, which affects using the viewer’s built-in web browsers for web cashier interaction – see my post here on the subject; the improvements to group bans to eliminate the problem of people banned / removed from a group still being able to use an active chat session; of the ongoing work with Marketplace search, the recent core HTTP updates, viewer and server bug-fixes and the ongoing work to improve server robustness.

The new Social Island, which I covered in April, also get a mention in the official blog post
The new Social Islands, which I covered in April, also get a mention in the official blog post

However, the two items most likely to be of interest are the new e-mail verification (all new users must new verify their e-mail address with the Lab in order to receive updates, etc), and the new Gaming Islands.

The latter are designed to introduce users to Skill Gaming in Second Life by providing demonstration games to play, information on Skill Gaming – what it is, who can play, who cannot play and why, how to get your account set to play Skill Games – and finally, a set of portal providing access to regions providing Skill Games in SL, which will be the subject of an upcoming article.

The new Gaming Islands - designed to introduce Second life users to Skill Gaming
The new Gaming Islands – designed to introduce Second life users to Skill Gaming

Hide and Seek in Second Life

Hide & Seek; Inara Pey, August 2016, on Flickr Hide & Seek – click any image for full size

It affects us all at one time or another, that feeling of wanting to get away from things for a bit and find somewhere serene where we can wander with our thoughts. Somewhere away from the bricks and mortar, where tracks allow our feet to make decisions for us, and where there are opportunities to just sit or lie down and watch the clouds drift by overhead or the waves wash over soft sands, either on our own or in the company of someone close.

Hide and Seek offers us the chance to do just that in Second Life. This homestead region, the work of Seth Theodore Delwood-Reign (SethCohen Nirvana), is open to the public “for a limited time”, and offers a tranquil simplicity which invites exploration.

Hide & Seek; Inara Pey, August 2016, on Flickr Hide & Seek

From the landing point in the north-west corner of the region, visitors have a choice of a walk around the beaches to the west and south, or to head directly south-east through the island’s woodlands.

The beaches, separated one from another by grassy dunes, offer plenty of opportunities to sit and relax, either indoors or outside, under the sun or in the shade of broad parasols. Wooden beach houses vie with a little motel for visitors’ attention. The former offer seaside holiday charm, the latter the promise of air-conditioned rooms, cable TV and wi-fi, together with sitting cuddle poses. Nearby sits a partially completed building possibly destined to become a doughnut concession, a dirt track meandering by on its way to the grassy plateau occupying the south-east corner of the region.

Hide & Seek; Inara Pey, August 2016, on Flickr Hide & Seek

This plateau is the home of a small holding – but whether it still operates as a farm or is now a holiday home is perhaps open to debate. While there is an run-down barn outside with a tractor parked beside it, the presence of a barbecue and the general decor of the house suggest it is perhaps used more for vacations than anything else.

A track rolls down the side of this little massif, winding its way into the woods below to become the same path as leads the way under the trees from the landing point. Follow this, and you’ll find other tracks branching left and right: one leading back to the beach, another offering a short walk to a little camp site in the shade of the trees, and still another providing access to a cosy drive-in style movie theatre, again with opportunities to sit and / or cuddle. Elsewhere, hanging chairs sit below tree boughs and clearings beckon wanderers. There’s even a chalkboard on the southern side of the woods, hidden from the rest of the beachy sands by bushes, where folk can write and draw to their heart’s content.

Hide & Seek; Inara Pey, August 2016, on Flickr Hide & Seek

All-in-all, Hide & Seek offers the opportunity for a relaxing visit, complete with a gentle ambient sound scape, and an ideal destination for that getaway wander. Or if you prefer, you can grab a bicycle from the landing point and pedal your way over the tracks and sand. Should you visit, do keep in mind the house sitting on the small island in the north-est corner of the region is a private home; otherwise the island is free to roam.

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