Calls for 2019 Creepy Crawl venues & Halloween treats

Pendle Hill; Inara Pey, October 2018, on FlickrPendle Hill, October 2018 – blog post

Halloween is approaching once again, and so too is the annual Second Life Creepy Crawl, a time when those from the Lab, together with residents, go hopping around the grid in an avatar answer to trick-or-treating.

This year the event will take place on Thursday, October 31st, starting at 10:00 SLT. As with previous years, it will feature locations suitably Halloweeny in décor suggested by Second Life users, as the community blog post on the event explains:

Some may argue that the winter holidays are the most wonderful time of the year, but in Second Life, we know how to celebrate year-round. Halloween is easily among the most popular holidays amongst the SL community, and we are so ready to have some screaming good times as the Creepy Crawl is back in all its creepiest and crawliest glory. We are looking for venues to host us as we hop from spooky spot to spooky spot for some conversation, dancing, and fun. 

If you’d like to host a stop along the Creepy Crawl, own a spot that will be decked out for the holiday, and don’t mind if a parade of Residents and Lindens come through, then you might be just what the witch doctor ordered. We’re looking for spots that have entertainment (we like to dance around in our costumes!), are appropriate for general and moderate audiences, and can handle a crowd.

If the event is run along the same lines as previous years, selected venues will likely be visited for around 30 minutes at a time (although this is subject to confirmation), and people will be welcome to join the entire Creepy Crawl, or drop in and out of it as they wish.

Here’s how to submit your venue for consideration:

The Haunted Halloween Tour is back, see below

In addition, the Lab recently blogged about a month of events and activities running up to Halloween, highlights of which include:

  • The Halloween Swaginator Hunt: four exclusive Halloween decorations have been scattered across the Bellisseria continent – can you find them all? To get started, look for the special haunted edition of the Swaginator gift-giving station to grab your free HUD.
  • The Halloween Haunted Tour: has once again opened. Hop in a coffin and take a ride through the halls and rooms – and tunnels beneath – a haunted house. This year sees a number of Glytches have invaded the house as well, so if you are a Glytch hunter (see Of Glytches and gems: the Lab’s grid-wide Second Life game), make sure your Glytch capturing equipment tools are at the ready as you take the tour. The Haunted Tour can be reached via Portal Park 1 or Portal Park 2.
  • For Premium members who enjoy them, a Premium gift of Halloween decorations, available via the Premium Gift Collection kiosks.

So, get ready for Halloween.

Advertisements

Thoughts on Horizon, Facebook’s upcoming “social VR platform”

Facebook Horizon, via Facebook / OC6

I’ve intentionally held off wiring about Facebook Horizon, the social media giant’s new “social VR platform” that will be launching in a closed beta in 2020, as I wanted to absorb the news and hopefully avoid the initial blast of hype from pushing me too far into the realm of cynical response.

The announcement of Facebook’s latest attempt to get a handle on VR social experiences came at the Oculus Connect 6 (OC6) event, that took place in San Jose, California on September 25th and 26th. It was greeted with a degree of breathlessness in some quarters, with comments comparing it to Ready Player One’s OASIS and to Second Life.

Those looking at the Horizon promotional video will likely to scoff at such comparisons. Clearly, Horizon as presented isn’t OASIS – but that doesn’t mean that, along with Sansar and other similar platforms, it cannot be a foundational block upon which an OASIS like environment might in time be built upon (if one accepts it will happen, which is absolutely not a given). As such, we shouldn’t read too much into the use of such hyperbole and see it as a means to just dismiss Facebook’s new platform.

When it comes to Second Life, the comparison is perhaps closer (although Horizon as announced has no internal economic system) – but it perhaps tempting to still be dismissive simple because of the avatar appearance, which is clearly inferior and – lacking, shall we say – when compared to SL.

However, Horizon isn’t necessarily aimed at virtual world veterans who might be bothered about whether or not avatars have legs or who see customisation as a “must have”; it’s more likely (initially, at least) going to be directed towards Facebook’s own somewhat captive market, people who may well regard avatar fidelity / customisation as less important than aspects like ease of access to the things they want to do. In this, and while acknowledging it was a beast of a slightly different colour, it’s worth pointing out that the lack of real customisation (and legs and arms) with Wii avatars never stopped Nintendo selling over 100 million units.

More to the point, its also worth noting that the Horizon avatars may still be a far from done deal, as Oculus’s Chief Technology Officer, John Carmack, almost alluded when speaking at OC6:

Our avatars have continuously mutated from little floating heads through three different versions. We do not have this well-sorted out at this point.

– Oculus CTO John Carmack, OC6 (via Venturebeat)

Facebook Horizon will include a central social – dare I say – nexus – with connected worlds for entertainment and games. Credit; Facebook

My own reservations about Facebook Horizon to push social VR into the mainstream are far more fundamental, coming down as they do to things like audience, potential growth, market, and the like.

It’s undeniable that Facebook has a massive captive audience. Even with their recent upsets over data privacy, etc., the company still has an estimated 1.6 billion people using its services daily. That is a huge wellspring to tap into with a new product. But a stumbling block here is that many in that audience use Facebook whilst on the go via mobile devices and unhampered by the need to carry / use additional hardware. They also have what they see as their needs for engagement, entertainment, etc., pretty well met by the various services already at their fingertips.

Horizon is VR headset driven so, even among its own captive audience, Facebook needs to persuade people that “something they are already doing”, now requires them to go out and buy a lump of hardware (Oculus Quest) at  US$399/$499 (£399/£499) a pop to “do the same thing”. Yes, I know a social VR experience isn’t the same as social networking, but you still have to get people over that hump of understanding – and that’s potentially a hard sell.

Facebook Horizon avatar, as seen in the initial promotional video. Credit: Facebook

And that leads into market and growth. At the start of 2019, Nvidia’s co-founder & CEO Jensen Huang stated the company’s belief that around 4 million PC VR systems have been sold worldwide; even with Oculus claiming around 50% of the high-end PC VR market, that’s not a terribly exciting figure. True, we now have the standalone Oculus Quest, but that is only projected to hit sales of 1 to 1.3 million by the end of the year. So, even with Facebook saying they will be extending Horizon’s reach to other VR hardware in time, the overall VR market remains pretty small – and despite all the projections, it is taking time to grow (even Zuckerberg has stated the market is still “five to ten years” from where Facebook would like it to be).

In this, making Horizon “VR only” tends to feel a little as if Facebook is getting into a position of chasing its own tail: VR needs a platform like Horizon that needs VR that needs a platform like Horizon – and so on. Say what you sill about Linden Lab’s Sansar – at least those with an adequate PC can access it as well as those with VR hardware.

Which is not to say I think Horizon cannot succeed; certainly, Oculus have been down this road a few times with other products so as to have been able to learn a few lessons they can put before Facebook. Although even that is a bit of a double-edged sword; Oculus’ own attempts to leverage social VR haven’t been massively successful,, and they are now going to wind down Spaces and Rooms (both of which have been available to Oculus Go and Gear VR as well as the more recent Quest) due to declining use.

On the social side, looking back, it’s kinda embarrassing at all the stages that we’ve gone through at Oculus. Way back in the early days, I did the social API so people could co-watch Twitch and things. And then we had Spaces and Rooms on Gear and Go. Now we have Horizon.

– Oculus CTO John Carmack, OC6, via Venturebeat

Of course, Horizon will offer a lot more than either Spaces or Rooms, but even so; far from being the “arrival” of social VR, it’s hard not to look on Horizon as more of another step along the way to trying to prove the need for social VR over the more general means of electronic social interaction. And even if the VR market does take 5-10 years to mature – that’s a long time for Facebook to iterate and improve Horizon, and it’s not like they’ll be short of revenue in order to do so.

There are other questions surrounding Horizon. For example, will it have any form of transaction system? If so, what kind? Facebook’s nascent Libra blockchain (assuming it comes to fruition and retains its idealism – see Andreas Antonopoulos’ take on this)? How will people react to Horizon using Facebook’s existing “real identity” and blocking tools and all the baggage of data gathering and use that goes with them? And so on.

But these kinds of questions can only be answered over time and as Horizon progresses; for now, I admit to being curious about Horizon and its potential impact (or otherwise). However, it’s not a platform I’ll be exploring. For one thing, I don’t see the point of investing in VR hardware yet (although that time will likely come). More particularly, even if I had a headset, my personal preference is to keep as far away from Facebook as possible.

2019 Web User Group week #40: Name Changes and new Premium option

© and ™ Linden Lab

The following notes are taken from my recording of the Web User Group (WUG) meeting, held on Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019. These meetings are held monthly. Dates and details of the meetings can be obtained through the Web User Group wiki page.

When reading these notes, please keep in mind:

  • The topics below are ordered in their likely interest to users / depth of discussion at the meeting, with some comments drawn together from different points in the meeting. This is not intended as a chronological set of meeting notes.
  • Audio extracts are taken from my recording of the meeting, but have again been grouped by topic. In addition, the audio relating to Premium and “Elite” subscriptions may sound fractured tin tone, as it is a grouping of verbal replies to questions asked in local chat at the meeting.

Summary

The TL;DR summary (items expanded upon in the sections below):

  • On Monday, September 30th, the Lab issued a blog post update on the web team’s work, and this was referenced during the meeting (see also my coverage of the blog post – Lab blogs on the SL Web Team’s work, including “last names”). Similar blog posts will likely be released ahead of each monthly WUG meeting, to both remind users of the meeting and to act as an informal agenda.
  • Web services have been a major focus of transitioning Second Life services to the cloud.
  • Name Changes: are getting closer to release but are not imminent. The feature will be Premium only, fees have not been finalised.
  • Premium options: work is progressing with the new “super Premium” option, but this will not be ready until after Name Changes have been deployed. The new level is – at present – likely to be called “Elite”. It will cost more than the current Premium subscriptions.
  • Search is being worked on across all of the SL web properties, including the Marketplace – but no time frames as to when improvements might be deployed.

Cloud Transition

  • As noted in the Monday Sept. 30th blog post, many of the Lab’s web services have been transitioned to running on Amazon AWS cloud services.
  • Other services previously operated on a third-party basis have (and are) being moved in-house or decoupled to standalone status, in readiness to be transitioned to the cloud where possible.
  • All of this work has been achieved without any significant disruption to services or – more particularly – without users actually being aware the services had been moved.
  • Specific benefits of the moves made to date are:
    • Future changes, updates and responses to issues can be handled a lot faster.
    • Due to the nature of AWS services, LL have been able to achieve almost 100% up time in running those services that have been transitioned.

Name Changes

  • As previously noted, Name Changes involve users being able to select any first name, and a last name via a list.
  • The capability will be Premium only.
  • Name changes will be subject to fee (still TBA) per change.
    • The fee charged will be less for “Elite” accounts than for Premium (see below for more on “Elite” and Premium).
  • The rough window for deployment is between 1 and 3 months, with a margin of error of around two months.
    • There is still more work to be done on the back-end systems.
    • The actual viewer UI in which name changes are made has yet to be implemented.
  • As an aside (not mentioned in the meeting, but indicated elsewhere): new users signing-up to Second Life will still be given the default name of “Resident” – they will be able to change names should they upgrade to Premium, as with all Basic account users.

New Premium Subscription

  • The idea of having additional levels of Premium subscription was first publicly mentioned in detail in 2018. See:
  • Since that time, it has been decided to just have a single additional Premium level, sitting “above” the current Premium level.
    • However, the new system is being structured such that if there is a need / opportunity for further subscription levels, they can be added in the future.
  • Currently the proposed name for the new subscription level is “Elite” – but this may still change.
    • There will be clear differentiators between Premium and “Elite”, including, as noted above, a lower fee applied to “Elite” users when changing their name.
    • There will be no requirement for merchants to have to upgrade to “Elite”, although some of the benefits of “Elite” might apply to Merchants.
  • Subscription rates:
    • Premium subscription rates will not change.
    • “Elite” upgrades will be offered on a monthly / annual basis.
    • As per my article Lab opts to temporarily continue Quarterly Premium plan for new sign-ups, relating to the Premium subscription fee changes announced earlier in 2019:
      • Quarterly subscriptions will be discontinued for those upgrading to Premium / Elite when the latter is launched.
      • However, quarterly payments will continue to be honoured for users already on the Premium quarterly payment plan.
    • Fees for “Elite” to be revealed when launched, but obviously, they will be higher than the current Premium rates.
    • Premium members upgrading to “Elite” will pay the difference between their current Premium fee and the “Elite” fee to which they decide to upgrade, and there may be a prorate option for qualifying users when upgrading.
  • “Elite” subscriptions will not be ready for introduction until at least a month after the deployment of Name Changes.

Profile Changes

  • The discontinuing of web profiles was first publicly raised in February 2019 (see: 2019 SL User Groups 7/3: TPV Developer Meeting), when it was indicated profile information would be moving back into the viewer.
  • One of the reasons for this change appears to be related to the transitioning services to the cloud as much as with the pain of provisioning the web-based profiles.
  • An initial Legacy Profile project viewer appeared in June (see: SL Legacy Profiles project viewer).
  • The Legacy Profile viewer will be updated over time, with one of the updates to come being a new tab to profile feeds, allowing users to see people’s feed updates through the viewer.
    • TPVs will still be able to use the option to point to profile feeds on the web, if they prefer.
  • It is hoped that the Legacy Profiles viewer will move to release candidate status Soon™ and promoted to release status “really soon after that”.
The new Legacy Profiles Project viewer replaces the current web-based profile panel (left), with an “old-style” profile floater panel (right)

In Brief

Web Services Release Notes

  • The web team is working “really hard” to implement formal release notes for updates to the various SL web services.
  • These will likely be in a similar format to the revamped server and viewer release notes, which can be reached via the recently implemented web-based Release Notes home page.
  • There is currently no date as to when this will be surfaced, but there are “a couple” web engineers working on this (when not working on more user-facing projects).

Marketplace, Search, Events

  • In-world purchase notifications for store owners:
    • As per my article on this, this system will be opt-in, initially on an entire store basis. It might be extended to individual items in the future, if feasible / if there is a demand for this.
    • The notification will provide details on item purchased, amount received and who made the purchase.
When released, the in-world purchase notifications option will appear in a re-named settings page (e-mail notifications)
  • Work is proceeding on Marketplace improvements beyond those mentioned, but LL is not yet in a position to state what the next updates for deployment might be.
  • Search is being worked on right across the SL web properties. This is liable to see improved filtering of searches and (particularly useful for Marketplace searches) the use of exclusions.
  • Work is proceeding with the overhaul of the events system. This comprises short-term updates that are being carried out alongside a much larger, long-term project to completely overhaul the events system.

Related Links