Tag Archives: Second Life

The Rift and the hype

Ever since LL announced they were actively working on integrating Oculus Rift into Second Life, there has been a lot of upbeat blogging and speculation as to what it will do / mean for the platform. Reading some of the more enthusiastic posts on the subject, it’s hard not to escape the feeling that we’re apparently standing on the edge of a new age in virtual worlds interaction, and that Oculus Rift is going to bring new depth, new meaning (and new users) to Second Life.

Not all agree with the upbeat messages surrounding the headset and SL. Coinciding with the appearance of a photo showing the Lab’s CEO trying-out the headset, Mona Eberhardt and Will Burns each blogged on the Oculus Rift and some of the factors which could limit its wider use with SL. Both of them raise some valid points, and while I don’t agree with all their arguments, they do present food for thought.

Rod Humble tries out Oculus Rift in a photo released on July 18th

Rod Humble tries out Oculus Rift in a photo released on July 18th, 2013

Oculus Rift is a first-person experience, and this could immediately limit its appeal. The problem here is not so much interacting with the UI or in-world objects – the UI can be updated to handle such shortfalls; some TPVs already allow far greater access to the UI view and to in-world objects than the official viewer when using the first-person (aka Mouselook). Firestorm, for example, presents users with the toolbar buttons in Mouselook which can then be used to display and interact with various UI elements, and it also allows right-click/menu interactions with in-world objects. Ergo, it’s not exactly that hard to re-work things to make them more accessible when using something like Oculus Rift. Similarly, the  upcoming updated / new experience tools could also provide the means for better interactions with  in-world objects such as teleport portals.

Rather, the problem is that most people seem to intrinsically prefer the third-person view, with the greater freedom (e.g. camera movement, etc.) it presents for the vast majority of their in-world interactions and experiences. Coupled with the price tag for the headset (something I’ll return to in a moment), this could possibly count against the Oculus Rift in terms of general use.

Then, as Mona and Will point out, there is the problem that the headset isolates the wearer from the primary means they have of interacting with other people: the keyboard. While the conversations floater can easily be displayed (CTRL-H), it still leaves the problem of actually being able to see the keyboard in order to type accurately. This leaves those wanting to use Oculus Rift either needing to become very proficient touch-typists, or they’re going to have to settle for using voice.

SL is inherently keyboard-focused for the vast majority of users

SL is inherently keyboard-focused for the vast majority of users (image courtesy of Prad Prathivi)

Will Burns points to issues of headsets and open microphones as being a problem when it comes to voice. but I tend to disagree with him. For one thing, it’s not as if a headset / microphone combination can’t be worn with the Oculus Rift. More particularly, and from the in-world meetings held in voice I routinely attend, people actually do leave their microphones open, as the barking dogs, ringing ‘phones  and the clicks of lighters being flicked in the background tend to demonstrate. No, the problem is actually more basic than that.

It’s this: since its introduction in 2007, voice tends to have been avoided by what seems to be the vast majority of SL users. Many simply will not use it, period. So if voice is seen as the means for person/person interactions when using Oculus Rift, then it is quite likely to further marginalize take-up with the headset, no matter what the promise of Exciting New Things it might bring.

In his piece, Will also points to the limitation of the headset when trying to perform tasks such as building. Such critiques might appear to be unjustly harsh and leave people saying, “Well yes, but Oculus Rift isn’t designed to be used for everything!“. However, while such a reply is true, it actually underlines Will’s central point: that the headset is liable have niche applications in Second Life which could further limit its appeal among the wider user base.

Continue reading

Mesh deformer: moving ahead in InWorldz, but will it affect LL?

At the weekend, Tranquility Dexler, the CTO of InWorldz,  Tweeted about the work Qarl Fizz (Karl Stiefvater) has been undertaking in order to implement the deformer for InWorldz, and the fact that Qarl has a patch which should enable TPVs to integrate the”fast deformer” into their code.

Tranquility Dexler's Tweet from July 6th

Tranquility Dexler’s Tweet from July 6th

The link in the Tweet leads to a post on Qarl’s blog which gives further information on the project:

The team over at InWorldz recently asked if i could help them integrate the clothing deformer into their new mesh viewer. which is nice, I think, because people really want to fit their clothing. and so far they can’t.

But the InWorldz guys took it a step further – they asked if there was anything I could do to improve the code. and I said yes, it could be made faster. and they put-up a bit of money to make it happen.

Attached is a patch to the deformer code which (by my quick estimates) makes the deformation process 21 times faster. many thanks to David and McCabe for making this possible.

Qarl: working ti integrate the deformer code into the InWorldz viewer

Qarl: working ti integrate the deformer code into the InWorldz viewer

This has led to some speculation as to what impact the patch might have on the Lab’s work with the deformer.

I would hazard a guess and say, “Initially, not a lot.”

I say this not to denigrate LL or to suggest that LL have no interest in implementing the deformer.

Rather, I say it simply because the Lab will likely proceed at their own pace as and when the resources are available to focus on the work they have – as a result of the many and varied robust discussions held on STORM-1716  – determined as needing to be carried out before they move the deformer to a released status.

This does, however, leave TPVs with a dilemma. Do they push ahead and adopt the code, and risk issues down the road when LL start to update the deformer themselves while opting to ignore Qarl’s latest work? Or do they play safe and wait to see what the Lab opts to do?

There is some speculation that were TPVs to incorporate the code into alpha / experimental versions of their viewers, it might tip the balance towards the Lab renewing work on the deformer (and / or adopting them code) sooner rather than later. However, there is a question mark over this.

While TPVs can produce “experimental” viewers utilising code which “breaks” the “shared experience”, it has always been intimated by the Lab that they can do so only as long as such viewers don’t enter into widespread use. While it isn’t easy to determine how LL would police this in practice (block a given viewer string? Issue a warning notice? Something else?), it might deter some TPVs with larger communities from making the code available except under very controlled conditions. If so, this might serve to dramatically reduce the visibility of a “working” deformer and possibly leave the Lab free to sail its own course.

Another option for TPVs – at least those who support OpenSim – is to integrate the code into their OpenSim versions. If nothing else, adoption of the code into OpenSim versions of various viewers might in turn see a more widespread use of mesh clothing on OpenSim, something entirely in keep with the initial goals of the project.

Posting on STORM-1716, Henri Beauchamp has already indicated he’ll be taking both routes: all three branches of his Cool VL viewer will incorporate the new code but only the experimental branch will use it when connected to SL; his legacy and stable branches of the viewer will only use the code when connected to OpenSim.

In the meantime – and again, absolutely no slight towards Linden Lab – kudos to the folk over at InWorldz for moving to adopt the deformer.

Related Links

My thanks to Tranquility Dexler for the Tweet, which alerted me to the work, and to Shug Maitland, for poking me to blog about it.

The Linden Dollar: token or currency? The US Treasury ponders …

secondlifeA recent set of interpretive guidelines (PDF) issued by the US Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement network (FinCEN) is starting to see questions asked as to the possible future status of the Linden Dollar.

In short, since April 30th, 2010 the Linden Dollar has, under the Lab’s Terms of Service (ToS), been classified as a “token” rather than (as was previously the case, a “currency”). Section 5 of the ToS states:

5.1 Each Linden dollar is a virtual token representing contractual permission from Linden Lab to access features of the Service. Linden dollars are available for Purchase or distribution at Linden Lab’s discretion, and are not redeemable for monetary value from Linden Lab.

However, under the guidelines issued by FinCEN, the Linden Dollar actually meets criteria specified for being recognised as a virtual currency in that: it operates through an “official” exchange, the Lindex (as well as some third-party exchanges); Linden Lab falls under FinCEN’s view that they are both “an administrator and an exchanger of virtual currency”; and Linden Dollars effectively have a real world exchange rate (around L$260 to the USD).

US Treasury's FinCEN: examining virtual currencies

US Treasury’s FinCEN: examining virtual currencies

Alex Kadochnikov, who has been looking into virtual currencies and the FinCEN guidelines as they might affect them, has blogged on the possible ramifications for the Lab should FinCEN’s view move beyond guidelines. He notes that while the guidelines should not have any significant impact on casual SL users (i.e. you and me), the situation may not be the same for LL:

Linden Lab does not want to consider the Linden Dollar as a virtual currency. Second LIfe’s terms of service refer to Linden Dollar as a transferable license. Also according to Linden Lab, when a player “sells” the Linden Dollar, that player transfers a license, not currency. However, Linden Lab terms of service will play no role in FinCEN’s decision to classify Linden Dollar as virtual currency.

FinCEN goes by the approach “If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it is a duck.” And Linden Dollar sure does “quack” like one. Linden dollar is a virtual currency because it has value in real currency.

As such, should the guidelines result in a more regulatory stance being taken by the US Treasury towards virtual currencies, then it is unlikely the Linden Dollar (and Linden Lab) will be entirely unaffected. Again, Alex Kadochnikov comments:

It matters for Linden Lab because they are now both an administrator and an exchanger of virtual currency.  Both of these are a Money Services Business (“MSB”) under the treasury regulation. An MSB must register with the Treasury Department and make Anti-Money Laundering and periodic reports. These reports are not little one page chores a trained monkey can do. There is a reason corporate compliance departments are stacked with lawyers and accountants. As you can imagine both of these items cost a lot of money.

This has led some commentators to the opinion that it’ll set the Lab back a pretty penny, while others speculate it is the reason behind “rumours” of a possible sell-out to Amazon.

Money laundering - a significant threat to Second Life?

Money laundering – a significant regulatory threat to Second Life?

But there would appear to be questions as to how justified concerns over compliance (and the cost thereto faced by the Lab) actually are.

When it comes to money laundering in particular, Linden Lab already has a number of safeguards in place. Whether these are compliant with any requirements specified by the US Treasury is open to debate; I’m certainly not conversant with the details and therefore not in a position to comment reliably. However, it would seem unlikely that such safeguards would be without reference to any legal / regulatory compliance, even  if they only meet the bare minimum required.

As such, the potential impact on the Lab may not be as great as imagined. There are also arguments to suggest that despite the apparent size of the SL economy, the safeguards the Lab have already put in place make the platform unsuitable for “serious” money-laundering operations.

There is another aspect to these guidelines as well, which hasn’t been really touched upon – the flip side of the coin, if you will pardon the expression – and which is perhaps more positive.

Were the Linden Dollar to become a recognised digital currency, it could encourage further transparency in terms of how the Lab manages the SL economy, and make it and the Linden Dollar more trustworthy. In turn, both of these factors could in turn make SL a more viable proposition for potential investors and / or those wishing to utilise the platform as a business enabler.

However one looks at the FinCEN document, it is evident that virtual currencies are very much in the US Treasury’s sights, possibly more so now due to the meteoric rise of Bitcoin over the last few years. Doubtless, they are also going to be the subject of more detailed thinking on the part of the EU and others. As such, this isn’t a matter which is liable to go away. Whether this is a good or bad thing for Second Life is still very open to debate.

Related Links

With thanks to Mona Eberhardt and Trinity Dejavu

The Machinima effect take two and adding some Steam to the mix

In launching The Drax Files recently, Draxtor Despres has caused some bloggers to re-open the question of promoting of Second Life through the use of machinima, with Ciaran Laval in particular asking could LL follow Draxtor’s lead and can resident-made machinima be used to promote Second Life?

These questions were actually the focus of some thought on my part back in 2011, when – having been prompted by a tweet from Crap Mariner, I mused on advertising SL: the machinima effect, and it seems worthwhile both revisiting those thoughts and updating them with a few further ideas and thoughts.

The video that prompted my original post on the subject may not be focused on Second Life, but it is ample proof of how machinima can be used to promote a product. What’s more it is fun.

Back in 2011, it prompted Crap to tweet: Linden Lab needs to make some ads like this for Second Life – something which caused me to reply: Or #LL should work with the machinima folk for suitable ads: say a competition; top 3 promoted on YT, SL.com, etc., which inturn prompted my original post on this idea,

Today, as Ciaran points out, and as I’ve covered for the last few years in this blog (albeit haphazardly), the University of Western Australia holds an annual MachinimUWA Challenge, which this year sees a prize pool of L$1.1 million for machinima makers submitting entries on the theme of “Reflections”.

MachinimUWA VI: showing the potential for machinima as a promotional tool

What makes MachinimUWA particularly relevant to this discussion is that not only does it showcase machinima as an art form, it actually promotes the University of Western Australia. The promotion may actually be very low-key, and a somewhat secondary consideration in terms of storytelling for those entering the competition, but it is there. This year, for example, entrants are required to film in “At least one of the 3 major spaces of Reflection at UWA … (The Reflection Pond, The Sunken Gardens, The Somerville Auditorium).” With the rules going on to note that entrants “may choose to film in any other area of the campus …  or … include all 3 locations.” Thus, the UWA’s in-world facilities form the nucleus of the competition in terms of providing the backdrop for whatever stories entrants opt to tell.

Continue reading