Monday, 7 July 2014

Who will build the first billion user Virtual World?

Just recently we have learned from Ebbe Altberg, CEO of Linden Lab, that they has been quietly working on a new, more advanced Second Life. But the announcement comes not only after the much hyped High Fidelity already in development by former Lab CEO and SL inventor, Philip Rosedale, but also not so long after Facebook bought up Oculus Rift for 2 $billion as well. And so we now get the ground shattering news that Facebook's Oculus developers are part of FB's aim to build the first billion user virtual world!




Interesting that Ebbe has been saying something similar stating that Second Life Two (or SL2 for want of a name) will be aimed at a mass audience with the clear intention of breaking out of the niche corner it's been in for the past 11 years and try to get on the mainstream social network bandwagon. He is on record saying it's going to be "Multi-device from day one (including phones). "We're building the next-generation platform for hundreds of millions of people; not for millions of people." he said in an interview. So it probably is no coincidence either that Oculus CEO, Brendan Iribe mentioned the "Metaverse" specifically while speaking about Facebook's Oculus acquisition at the Techcrunch Disrupt conference. He said his team were very surprised to learn exactly what Facebook's aims were which amount to nothing less than a massive Facebook virtual world with its own cities, entertainment venues, businesses including a currency and full commerce - not unlike the current Second Life model basically but more advanced and fully supporting aspects of virtual reality such as the Oculus Rift goggles of course.

So it's clear the race is on and, arguably, Linden Lab has the experience and a good head start to launch the first of the next generation of virtual worlds where cartoonish avatars are replaced by life-like virtual representations of real people. The graphics will be stunning for sure and lag will be a thing of the past. The new avatars will work, play, shop and socialize online like never before. Imagine buying real world goods in a virtual Amazon store where you get to see demonstrations exactly what a product will do. Imagine too, dressing your avatar in beautifully crafted top brand clothes that are available for real by mail order. So long as you create an avatar that is an honest clone of your real self then you'll be able see how the latest fashions look on you as you strut your stuff in your Oculus goggles. Moreover, the next generation of virtual worlds will almost certainly be seen on a web page rather than downloading a viewer for, if you recall, Cloud Party, which made use of WebGL to render their world in a browser, was bought up by Yahoo very recently too. Firefox and Google Chrome are both planning to add special features in order to allow virtual reality support in their browsers which will advance this much further (see here). What we are seeing now is that all the right peices are coming together and the big players are gearing up to take advantage of a true virtual reality revolution in the making.

gears of war 2 ipad wallpaper via: idesignnetwork.com

You can expect the learning curve to be much lower too and it is probable that new ways to interact with the world like using head sensors that detect brain wave paterns (see Emotiv Insight) so the user can literally think what they want to do or even use facial expressions to direct actions - no hands needed! Possibly there wont even be any building tools in the browser version either because it will be aimed at a mass consumer audience and the creative people and those who want to make money will be offered separate developer software at a high price no doubt thus ensuring the big players with the money to invest enjoy something like an exclusive developers club. In any event you can bet your bottom dollar all the big online stores will want a very prominent and focused presence and that will mean huge sums of money being invested in desgin and presentation not to mention the fees to the VW platform owners.
Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of virtual world and MMO fashion
cutesy of New World Notes
Identity and privacy are big issues for the current VW users and Facebook's refusal to allow pseudonyms could turn out to be its Achilles heal when it comes to trying to rule the Metaverse. Linden Lab policy is firmly rooted in respecting their residents use of pseudonyms and it's hard to see how that can change while, for Facebook users, they have been conditioned (some would say brain washed) to reveal all to the world so FB can exploit it for the benefit of the advertisers. It could happen though that if SL2 is to go mainstream as Ebbe hopes then the Lab policy might change on identity too. However, the Facebook virtual world even with it's real names policy is going to be a lot different from the current experience of checking FB 15-20 times a day to see what real world friends and relatives are doing but I doubt anyone really knows just how much of a difference it will be. People prance around in front of their Wii now to get fit and do sports so will they prance about wearing Oculus goggles doing similar things with their friends and relatives in a virtual space in stead? Will people be floating along in the new FB/Yahoo/Linden Metaverse while actually on some kind of tread mill? Mores the point will everyone want to look like super models because they can? And you can bet your life the Adult industry will wade in with every which way to enjoy virtual sex. I mean, think of Haptic technology that provides physical sensations where "acoustic radiation" stimulates a sense of touch on the skin without the need for cumbersome gloves and body suits. There are so many questions one could ask about a Facebook virtual world but it's coming and I don't think Linden investors want to miss out this time round.

Now, we know that there is a lot of disquiet amongst Second Life residents on whether the Second Life they know and love will close after the new platform is launched and also whether or not the residents can take their names and inventory with them. Ebbe gave some
Picture Credit: Emotiv Insight
rather mixed messages on this saying on the one hand you will probably be able to take your stuff but on the other hand he says they are not interested in backward compatibility. Linden Lab is a business after all so it’s not really surprising that the Lindens are saying they have no plans to close SL1 because it would be financial suicide to say otherwise. Ebbe Altberg just hasn't been choosing his words very well but there is enough in what he has said to suspect they are keeping the "antique" SL1 afloat while its high pricing model continues to finance the development of SL2 and their other products.


Picture Credit: Sinful Robot
So, the Lindens are saying they wont close SL1 but they are not saying too much about SL2 other than it will be a lot better but really a lot of this is all corporate double speak and the Lindens have a pretty poor record when it comes to dealing with their residents. The directors seem to care nothing for the fact Second Life is a social entity and huge passions are stirred up when changes are made. To the directors it's a business in which business decisions are made with all regard to what will maintain and improve the profitability of the company. Don't be surprised to be told SL1 is closing once SL2 is firmly on the road. It will just be a business decision that has probably already been taken but, for now, they have to keep the golden goose alive. Linden executives have their price like any other business the world over so don't be too surprised either if SL2 ends up another Facebook acquisition in its drive to become the ruler of the Metaverse.






Monday, 23 June 2014

Linden Lab CEO Promises a Brave New Second Life - Don't Panic!

So, Linden Lab CEO, Ebbe confirms the Lab is working on a new virtual world platform that may eventually replace Second Life but he proceeded to avoid giving detailed answers to questions about it on SLU. Well, I guess it's good PR if nothing else for a reigning Linden Overlord to even take the time to brave the SLU hoards to answer anything at all but, in the Lab's time honored capacity for doublespeak, he managed the Q&A rather well I thought even in the face of off-topic TOS questions thrown at him by Karl Karl Stiefvater, the former Lab employee known as Qarl Linden. Of course, Ebbe was just avoiding answering him and barely acknowledged his posts. In fact Ebbe's answers to most questions about the new platform were remarkably brief. The essence of what he had for answers was; it's too early to say what it will be or, in an actual answer to another question on SLU; "What can you tell us about the graphic engine? Home made, third party or mix?" Ebbe replied bluntly, "Secret for now..."

The Sorcerer tricks Aladdin and offers "new lamps for old lamps".
Robida Aladin (1848-1926) illustration from page4


One SLU member was moved to post, "I've seen chatbots that are better at engaging in conversations than Ebbe has been in this thread." So I think this Q&A is not going to tell us much but from what I gather, and going by what the last CEO, Rod Humble said in the past the Lab has been working on their new creative spaces - as Humble liked to call virtual worlds after he reckons to have finally got the idea of what Second Life is - which included Patterns and all the other video games released under his tenure. So, while Ebbe admitted the project has been in development for some time the best he can say is that it will be better than Second Life. Presumably that means it is going to be very similar to SL but built on a new server engine and platform code base that was confirmed in a roundabout way when Ebbe said, in answer to another question, that it was too difficult to upgrade the current SL platform saying "Too difficult and too time consuming." So it will be completely new and yet probably little different in business model and that is how I understood his reply to another question; "but we're thinking of it to be similar to SL in that way...but better."


One wonders how much is this about changing the business model and how much about innovation. Too early to tell but Ebbe does seem to be more forthcoming on the business plan for SL2 and not a lot said otherwise about the platform.

He did say, however, that, "We're early in our discussions about business models but I'm thinking lower land tax and higher sales tax and ultimately aim to make things up with volume...(charge less to many rather than a lot to a few). This is possible with better tech and making something more people want to be part of." So now I'm getting the platform will be better coded, new engine, and a new business model as well. The new revenue model Ebbe says he would like is probably what they are planning anyway and given that Rod Humble already bought up the video gaming site, Desura I kind of have an idea what might be on the cards. Well, it all goes back to the TOS issue really for the Lab has already given themselves the rights to take all that content the residents created and use it in anyway they want. Now think of how Steam profits from user content and my guess is something similar is going to happen with SL2. No, I don't think the Lab will sell our stuff but in the new system they will control the market much more than they can do now in SL1 and I suspect it will cost the traders a lot more to do business. Moreover, I doubt prim objects will have a place in the new system and the avatars will be a totally new model as well. Therefore the system will, I'm sure, only be compatible for Mesh uploads and probably voxels rather than prim's. Bottom line is the residents will need a new wardrobe and houses and furniture. Well, Ebbe said it would cost more for the many and less for the few. I can't see anyway that can happen if those who currently enjoy free entertainments and lots of freebies and low cost quality products aren't forced out or made to pay something towards the upkeep of the platform.


Is there a connection?
Desura From Wikipedia: Linden Lab, the makers of shared creative spaces including Second Life, Patterns, Creatorverse, on July 10, 2013 announced that Linden Lab acquired Desura. The service would continue uninterrupted for current customers and the team and technology become a part of Linden Lab. After acquiring Desura, Linden Lab changed their Terms of Service to include the wording that they have future rights to use and adapt content from their virtual citizens. Speculation exists as to whether the acquisition of Desura is tied to this change in TOS.

Some might see it as a good thing but, personally, I reserve judgement until learn more about SL2. Right now it's all pretty vague but I'm pretty sure some panic will set in especially among the Land Barons. I mean, if it will cost the few less then the people that have been paying the most in SL1 the land owners and renters are looking at lower tier and with low tier and possibly a lower setup fee will almost certainly mean more of the renters will become land owners. The Land Barons might still get a deal but are they likely to get favorable enough reductions in setup fees in SL2? Considering they still hold expensive land in SL1 so what will become of that investment? Maybe the Lab will try to encourage take up with special deals from the start until the thing gains critical mass and then, yeah, you bet they will hike the tier anyway as they did in SL1 so, ultimately, the few will probably pay not much less and the content creators will pay a whole lot more. All the rest will still likely get a free lunch but they might have to pay a membership fee next time round. I really think the Lab should be wary of the Land Barons though. They could start sending powerful shots across their bows by dropping a lot of their most expensive none-grandfathered sims as they did after the Lab offered low cost setup's to residents one weekend a couple of years ago. The land model as it stands benefits the Barons and any threat to that could have damaging consequences.


One SLU comment said, "I am glad the cat is out of the bag, we would have invested in a bunch of new sims soon. Of course all new projects have been cancelled now." To which a reply came, saying, "Or, you might want to milk the current land model for all you can while it's there. Ebbe mentioned earlier that he'd like to see the new thing's fee structure less dependent on land. It's quite possible that land barons will find themselves in a drastically different business, if there is a place for them at all."

How will this affect Opensim?

Actually, I rather think Opensim grids will do alright out of it because if SL1 doesn't get much more development or new features because it is now left with just a caretaker team then this will give Opensim chance to overtake SL1 in terms of quality and innovation. In fact I think there is scope here to advance Opensim in new ways like adding new building tools and even voxels perhaps - especially if only to replace
terrain hightmap  since voxels have the  ability to represent overhangs, caves, arches, and other 3D terrain features. I think the avatar might be improved too while the Lab has decided that SL1 is too much of a problem to change. There may not be an open source viewer for SL2 either so all the more reason for the TPV developers and Opensim developers to work closer together to bring on new features that benefit Opensim while not available to SL1. We have seen in the latest releases of Opensim substantial improvements and now with new physics and variable size regions it is already ploughing ahead anyway. And, as I already said, I seriously doubt it will be possible to upload old prim content to SL2 either. Ebbe said they didn't want to be constrained by backwards compatibility although Siana Gearz, commenting on Hypergrid Business insisted Ebbe said at the meeting that he's quite certain porting content over from Second Life into new platform by original creators will be possible, even though we know that the technical architecture of the content will be different. She then stated, "I was there for the whole duration of his visit, I know what he was asked and what he said. The content porting question came up multiple times and he finally said "I think it should be possible." However, given the vagueness of the Ebbe's answers to most questions I really think you have to take what he is saying at best with a large pinch of salt.

I seriously doubt SL2, which is still a long way off, poses any near term threat to Opensim anyway and, if anything does, I rather suspect it will be High Fidelity since Philip Rosedale has stated it will be open source and embrace the Hypergrid concept as well as private ownership of the servers. But, of course, High Fidelity is a way off too and yet I see Kitely Virtual is already a contributor to the code base which indicates to me they are hedging their bets and that gives me reason to believe High Fidelity is the one to watch, not SL2. However, I still think Opensim has a lot going for it and the uncertainties and house moving pains the SL residents will have to go through in the next few years will just add to the appeal of the free Metaverse.


SLU

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Introducing Replex Viewer for Opensim & Second Life

Maintained and packaged by Latif Khalifa, the viewer developer also responsible for the Radegast lightweight text client, the viewer is based on Singularity code with many new features including object Import/Export enhancements supporting Materials (specular and normal maps), Object Physics and Light Image. There is code merged from CtrlAltStudio Viewer to support the Xbox 360 controller as well as added support for Controller Keys, A = Alt, B = Shift, X = Ctrl, Y = Escape,   Back = Toggle Flycam mode (fun!), Start = Toggle Cursor mode, Right Stick Click = Toggle Mouselook, Left Stick Click = Jump/Fly - all of which gives this V1 viewer added support for Oculus Rift and virtual reality. There is a lot more including options to change the buttons on the UI and a handy option to enable an emergency teleport when you are AFK during a region restart.


Image courtesy of Replex



There is no formal release date yet but you can download the dev versions to test drive from the Replex site.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Walking With Avatars in Virtual Reality

Recently I posted a topic about virtual reality headsets and glasses to Opensim Virtual, the Google Plus community pages for sharing information about the free Metaverse and said I would certainly prefer these rather more stylish glasses illustrated on the cover of Clyde DeSouza book, MAYA  than the
present Oculus Rift head set, and wouldn't it be nice, I added, if it was equipped to read the wearer 's brain wave patterns to enable hands free keyboard and mouse functions? Well, it so happens that brain wave readers, or Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) have been around as long as those old cumbersome head sets used from the 1980's onward to explore virtual reality. Even back then great big expensive embedded electroencephalograph (EEG) readers were used in the laboratory to send neurofeedback to equally expensive mainframe computers for analysis. But now there are relatively cheap head sensors and software that could be adapted to work with the Oculus Rift and the other new headsets in development.

Emotiv Insight, developed by Vietnamese emigre, Tan Lee and funded by a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign raising $1,643,117 recently, is a "sleek, multi-channel, wireless headset that monitors your brain activity and translates EEG into meaningful data you can understand" according to the makers. It is expected to start shipping in early 2014 and will be compatible with Android, iOS, Mac, Linux and Windows Platforms. The company will also be supplying an API and SDK for developers and researchers.

Picture Credit: Emotiv Insight
Basically, the Emotiv Insight can do exactly what I thought would solve the problem of hands free control while experiencing virtual reality. You just train the Emotiv Insight by thinking and making facial movements. The makers say, "the brainwear can understand and decipher basic mental commands. It can detect commands such as push, pull, levitate, rotate and even commands that are harder to visualize such as disappear. It also detects facial expressions such as blinks, winks, frown, surprise, clench and smile."

Couple all this with advanced haptic devices such as Fundawear, the high-tech vibrating underwear developed by the Condom manufacturer Durex which stimulates intimate parts of the body at the touch of a button, and you have all that is needed to engage in long-distance relationships over the Internet in a shared virtual setting.

In the novel mentioned above, MAYA, the author refers to Dirrogates, or Mesh-clad digital surrogates inhabiting a virtual space. They are not really the same as the characters from Neuromancer by William Gibson who where cybernetically enhanced humans that could "jack in" to cyberspace and when you consider some of the technology I am discussing here you can't escape the cross over between what is real and what is virtual. I mean, some of the headsets do actually allow one to mix realities in that the real world is overlayed on the virtual to whatever degree the wearer chooses and we, as 
Movie: Neuromancer. Credit: Interplay
users of the technology, will be closer to Molly Millions of Neuromancer fame than the Dirrogates of MAYA. We are perhaps more familiar with the term "avatar" though which we use to represents ourselves when we don a Rift and an Insight sensor to experience virtual reality. Whether we are able or disabled we would now be able to interact on equal terms with anyone, anywhere in the world. We could work, live and play and even experience sexual pleasures with the aid of devices like Fundawear and, to some degree, a certain level of danger and shock horror too. With mind control, advanced visuals and haptic devices we can indeed sit back and inhabit the Matrix.

This all holds out exciting possibilities for virtual worlds like Open Simulator or the many others. Opensim is, in my view, well placed and already feature rich enough to take full advantage of the virtual reality equipment that is fast becoming available and, moreover, anyone can pick it up and start to use it in anyway they want. No doubt, the online sex industry will take a lead and why not? Second Life was built on Adult themes. Educationalist that have flocked to Opensim since Linden Lab canceled the discounts they enjoyed may not approve of adult entertainment in Opensim grids but they lived with it in Second Life for years and had no control at all. At least with Opensim they can exercise a level of control unheard of in Second Life so they can isolate themselves much easier from it.

The future looks exciting!

The march of technological advancement is relentless and, judging by the truly amazing stuff in development mentioned above it remains only for me to list some of the headsets starting with the one's I think hold out the most promise...

Former Valve engineers Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson have launched a KICKSTARTER campaign to fund development of the castAR, a 3D augmented and virtual reality headset. The castAR system bridges the gap between the physical world and the virtual world. The final retail glasses are expected to weigh less than 100 grams, which is only slightly heavier than a pair of 
Credit: Technical Illusions

sunglasses, and requires no calibration or adjustment. If you wear prescription glasses, castAR is designed to sit easily on the outside of them. The aim of the designers is to make castAR the most versatile head-mounted display available. They also offer an attachment that transforms castAR into a true virtual reality system as well as a true augmented reality system. Whichever reality you prefer, there is now a single system capable of taking you there, they claim. The company, Technical Illusions, launched the KICKSTARTER campaign to raise $400,000 and it has already gained 1,086 backers pledging $260,821 with 30 days still to go at the time of writing this.

The castAR system has been quietly in development for the past 18 months while Oculus Rift has enjoyed the limelight. However, castAR looks more sophisticated and, together with other headsets about to come onto the market in the new year the Oculus Rift team might be hard pushed to maintain their present lead. In any event I should watch this space because Linden Lab, owners of the Second Life virtual world, are keen to support Oculus Rift according to CEO Rod Humble and maybe are looking for a project to buy up themselves. Linden Lab has been busy diversify their product range in the past few years since Humble took over and has released a number of video games as well as adding video game development features to Second Life. They have also bought up Desura, the game distribution site and my guess is they would surely like a virtual reality headset to add to their product range as well.


Not to be out done a bunch of students have demonstrated yet another virtual reality system which uses Oculus Rift together with PlayStation Move for positional tracking and Razer Hydra for in-game control. However, the weight load is high as demonstrated by Richard Mitchell at IndieCade 2013. "All the components are self-contained with a backpack and a helmet," he said,
Credit: Richard Mitchell
posting to joystiq, "meaning there are no wires to trip you up, allowing you to actually 'walk' inside of virtual space. I took Project Holodeck for a spin," he went on, "trying my hand at some virtual zombie slaying, and the experience was certainly unique." So, the system needs a backpack, a helmet with huge post device on top which I'm sure dirty minds out there will find amusing, and finally Oculus Rift to provide the viewer experience.

However, as I said, there are more headsets in the running now and Maria Korolov, writing in Hypergrid Business, has listed a number including Durovis Dive, which offers 3D Virtual Reality Gaming on a Smartphone, Eyedak vrAse who also ran a KICKSTARTER campaign to raise $55,000 back in August.

 
Avegant which, they say, "your eyes no longer have to focus for themselves the gadget does it all for you." According to Avegant CEO Ed Tang, this effectively mitigates the problem of eye strain, and makes the device easier to wear for extended periods of time.
Credit: VUZIX

Finally, Maria lists three others which are aesthetically more pleasing but appear to lack the functionality that makes a true virtual reality headset. These include Sony HMZ-T3 Personal Viewer, Vuzix Wrap 1200AR, and the Zeiss Cinemizer OLED.


 





If the free Metaverse takes your interest then find out more at Google Plus Opensim Virtual

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Who the hell owns Second Life anyway?

In light of yet another Second Life TOS change which gives Linden Lab absolute rights to take content uploaded by their resident/customers and do with as they please for ever, it comes as no surprise to me that there has been a shock wave of protest working it's way across the Metaverse. I reported recently on Opensim Virtual that, CGTextures, which used to allow their free textures to be used in Second Life has now withdrawn license to do so and now Renderosity, another free textures site, has issued the same ban (read here). The Second Life forums are buzzing with complaint and the protesters are calling for content creators to turn their regions pitch dark!


    Renderosity follows CG Textures and bans 
uploads of their textures and models to Second Life

Shava Nerad, a well known Second Life content creator posted a topic to Google plus "Dear Linden Lab -- it's been a nice eight years but you just broke the social contract with me as a creator in Second Life. BG TIME." The full text and many comments expressing disgust at the Lab's TOS change can be read here but Shava Nerad ends the topic with...


"What in the world are you thinking, taking my stuff like this?

We should be dumping tea in your harbor.

No, never, mind.  We should just pick up our toys, and leave.  It's not worth it any more.  So sad.

FIX IT OR BE DONE. 

Oddfellow Studios has gone pitch dark, with nothing but a notecard giver with this essay on it.

I encourage other creators to turn their sims dark too, nothing but black and a notecard giver explaining the new TOS and why we have left nothing behind but a protest.

You really blew it."


Tuna Oddfellow has announced his studio will open a sim at Inworldz grid and urges other content creators to do the same. On New World Notes a hot debate rages too and other SL residents are declaring their intention to leave. It has to be said though there are die hard's fighting off the discontented rants with apologetic comments of their own in support of Linden Lab while making outright attacks on Opensim. However, the fact remains that Opensim grids, which are of course free of Linden Lab TOS and more tuned to Creative Commons licensing, are not being included in the ban imposed by CGTextures and Renderosity.

Will Burns writing on his blog, ANDROMEDA Media Group has also joined the protest and laid into Rodvik Humble - CEO of Linden Lab - and puts the blame squarely on him, calling him Gaming Jesus as he rants, "Ever since Gaming Jesus took the wheel at Linden Lab, it’s been insult after mockery to everything that Second Life actually is and the community that literally helped create it. Every step of the way proclaiming he 'gets it' when in reality he doesn't have the single foggiest idea what the hell it is that Second Life represents or how to work within that ecosystem."

Whether Humble actually cares about Second Life or was brought in to get the community under control - given his reputation at EA - and re-focus LL as a video games company is not easy to say for sure but it dose look like the Second Life community that created just about everything but the platform itself is just being dictated to by the changes in TOS. Certainly, I think there is a method in all this madness and I think Will Burns nails it somewhat when he mentions that Humble sees "a mountain of content, services and millions of years of man-hours put into the creation of a virtual environment that would have taken arguably billions of dollars had an in-house design team been charged to create it all." So, with that in mind, what was Linden Lab's latest acquisition?

Yes, they recently bought up their own indie distribution site Desura to rival Steam from Valve whom they initially flirted with. It was thought to be an odd pairing considering mod-friendly Desura which brought mods developed with player-created content and turned them into commercial video games such as Guncraft, but maybe not. "We're looking forward to growing both Desura's global community of gamers and its fantastic portfolio of thousands of games, mods, and other content," said Rod Humble in Linden Lab’s press release at the time. 





One might be forgiven for thinking Linden Lab is genuinely trying to improve the lot of residents in Second Life and get the economy growing again with new opportunities related to their expansion into video gaming but, really, I suspect it is just about the Lab's own bottom line at the end of the day because, despite the controversy, they say they are happy with the TOS changes and have not said anything to clarify what the intentions might be regarding the Desura acquisition and how it might affect Second Life. I mean, why would they change the TOS now right after acquiring Desura and give themselves total rights over the community's property for ever? Why did they feel the need to do that or was it just something the Lab planners did without any regard for the that troublesome community who really owns the content?

So who really owns Second Life anyway?

That is not easy to answer actually but anyway, Linden Lab owns the platform, the infrastructure and all web sites and applications software, and name undoubtedly. They own the company of course but the resident/customers made the bulk of the content, built the environment and gave it all the entertainment if offers. They own license, so we thought, to all the textures they uploaded, the mesh models and all the scripts they wrote to make things work. And the third party suppliers like CGTextures, Renderosity and a host of others all own copyrights on stuff being uploaded to Second Life so you could say the internal fabric itself is not owned by Linden Lab and the whole thing should be looked upon as a partnership between the resident community and the Linden Lab corporation and yet that is not the way the Lab or Mr Humble appears to see it. Granted, they have confirmed in one of their "no name" posts that the residents own their copyrights and are licensed to distribute their creations on the Second Life grid but they then changed the TOS without a by your leave and now we find Linden Lab has taken the right to use all that content in what ever way they choose for ever without having to pay the creators anything at all. And, presumably, they can sell all these rights with the company if they want to.

You, the creators of Second Life are not the owners. Get use to it! Morally, you might be but you agreed to the TOS when the Lab said they can change it any time they wish and in any way they wish so you see, you had to sell out just to get onto the platform. End of story.

Well, not quite the end of the story. There are always alternatives and the obvious one that is compatible with Second Life is Open Simulator or Opensim.

So who owns Opensim then?

The Opensim virtual worlds are almost clones of Second Life, the similarities are that close. Most of what works in Second Life works in Opensim grids and looks pretty much the same. But there are notable differences too like the fact Opensim grids are designed to connect with each other via the Hypergrid protocol which permits teleport's from one server instance to another thus forming a Metaverse of privately owned worlds all freely associating with one another in a global community unlike Second Life which is a monopoly owned by Linden Lab. Something else that is notably different and of special interest to us here is that the TOS - which the grid owners have to write for themselves. They are not subject to the Second Life TOS and the platform software is free to use under very liberal license terms granted by the Overte Foundation which is a non-profit organization that manages contribution agreements for the Open Simulator project. The Opensim license grants permission to use the platform code to create both private or commercial worlds and allows one to change the code without any obligation to contribute your code back. Thus, anyone can take the code and build their own simulator. Educators effectively had Opensim forced on them when, in another policy change, Linden Lab withdrew discounts to education and none-profits and what they discovered was that they can protect students better than trusting LL and the US army likes the security the platform offers too. And for Merchants the new export perm will allow them to control where their products end up as well. There are lots of reasons to use Opensim and the low price point is just the obvious one.

I think one can safely say that the free Metaverse is owned by its community right from the foundation code up. Individuals and companies might build on it but no one company can claim rights over everything as Linden Lab has done with Second Life. Yes, a company can keep code secret and build a community behind closed borders based on the Second Life model but no one grid in the Metaverse has managed to grow bigger than the connected grids as a whole. So, having said all that, I would finally say the community really dose own Opensim.
 

Friday, 30 August 2013

Extreme Adult Virtual Reality, Oculus Rift & Opensim

It would appear that Oculus Rift has attracted the adult sex industry, which could be taken as a sign that this new technology is definitely going to become big. Sex sells and without it Second Life would probably not have done so well as it did. In fact, the adult section of SL still does appear to be the grid's main growth area while it steadily loses regions otherwise. On the other hand the free Metaverse is not attracting much in the way of adult grids yet but maybe Oculus Rift will help change all that in the near future as Opensim develops further and wily entrepreneurs realize the low cost and other advantages of Opensim to bring immersive virtual sex games to the adult market online.


Sinful Robot, which has become Wicked Paradise for Oculus Rift is one such game and is set in a world where all erotic fantasies are lived in the virtual at a much deeper physiological level due to the highly immersive nature of the technology. Opensim has features which, if properly exploited, could serve the adult trade in a variety of useful ways. Opensim has NPC (none-player characters) for example which are actually proving to be very effective with scripted AI giving them a life of their own. They are cloned from existing avatars so are indistinguishable from other avatars in the scene and, as sexual partners in an erotic fantasy,  NPC's could be adapted for erotic purposes with very little extra work. In deed, NPC avatars might actually be more appealing to guys who worry over the true gender of the online partner they just met in a virtual world. They know, at least, the NPC words and actions are just pre-coded responses to what the user is saying and doing.



Oculus Rift is funded by a very successful KickStarter campaign
to the tune of $2,437,429 when the original
goal was just $250,000.

Van den Bosch, the man behind Wicked Paradise has said Storyline is very important. he told Oculus-Rift blog "We want to generate erotic tension between the player and the virtual characters. You need a solid storyline in order to achieve that. It will be a modern day setting, I think the best way to describe is like an adult version of Heavy Rain but completely designed for virtual reality." Van den Bosch let it be known he has wanted to bring an adult game to the market for a long time "but in the past playing strip poker with Japanese robots was as good as it got." he said. He noticed that there is a lot of fantastically crafted shooters so why not a well-designed adult video game? he thought, and it was when he got to test a very early prototype of the Oculus Rift which, he told OculusRift blog, "blew me away. I immediately realized that Virtual Reality is the perfect medium for a highly immersive adult videogame."

Linden Lab let it be known earlier this year they want to support the Rift and enable the technology in their viewer which might happen later but CtrlAltStudio’s David Rowe, an independent virtual worlds developer, has already released a forked version of Firestorm viewer for owners of the per-release development Kits to experience Second Life and Opensim worlds. However, Rowe told Hypergrid Business blog there are presently some limitations to overcome. "because users are wearing a headset," he said, "they can’t see their keyboard. Asking them to use arrow keys to move around is simple enough, but if they need to type, or enter keyboard shortcuts, it can be hard to do blind." Touching objects is also an issue and, because the viewer uses arrow keys to move, this presents some slight difficulty with the Rift which uses mouselook to change the viewing direction.



Whether the adult use of Rift will find serious use in Opensim worlds is impossible to say at this stage but a lot also hangs on the quality of scripted objects in Opensim like sex beds and toys, and also personal wearables like slave collars, leashes and cuffs which form such a huge part of adult activity in Second Life. Up until recently scripted sex objects in Opensim were still troublesome and lacking the polish found on the Linden grid but there has been a lot or improvements in Opensim in the last year or so and the LSL functions are pretty much complete while Opensim also has it's own scripting functions in the form, OSSL scripting and more specialized functions for NPC's in the form OSSLNPC. In fact, Opensim NPC's are arguably more advanced than anything that Second Life has and users are making considerable headway with AI and ALICE bot to give the NPC'very life-like responses. I have bot's that dance on request and will hold a limited conversation and even recognize your avatar's gender provided you wear a simple HUD which the NPC can communicate with to obtain basic information. It will even remember you and your name if you tell it to the bot. It will also recognize some or your actions provided you use the "/me" function to describe them. I have one bot serving at a bar and another at a table who can actually activate a table function so a drink of choice - the drink you asked for -  will appear. When the drink appears it can be touched and a copy is delivered to your inventory so you can wear it on the hand to simulate drinking, thus completing the picture. It doesn't take a big leap of the imagination to envisage much more sexual activity or even something like a casino croupier dealing the cards and taking bets.


Wicked Paradise will be heavily influenced
by the erotic nature of the
Mass Effect videogame series.
Van den Bosch is developing an adult video game which has predefined aims and goals to arrive at some form of sexual gratification for the user and undoubtedly Opensim NPC bot's could do all that and look good too with mesh skins and clothes but Opensim, like Second Life, is much closer to social media than a video game. Generally, there are no predefined goals in virtual worlds and most things happen on the fly. People meet, socialize, possibly role play, then might engage in cyber sexual activity for which the Rift can add a deeper, more immersive experience. Presumably, some individuals can get close to a pretty NPC bot too. However, to date, attempts to get adult grids going in the Opensim worlds has not been greatly successful. Some have come and gone and most recently at least one Gay community opened Virtual Gay Kingdom and a femdom community, Avalonia Estate Grid where strong women dominate willing male slaves. There is also the moderately successful, Littlefield Grid  which started out in OSgrid and the owner, Walter Balazic still has portal regions there. Littlefield is a BDSM community and stands as an example of development by getting involved with the wider Metaverse community. This is how you get more traffic and, while Second Life can and does provide a steady trickle of the curious which helps to swell the numbers, it would probably help a new adult grid to spend money on serious advertising on the net with targeted Google adds and advertising on the forums and social media that virtual worlds users tend to frequent.


Opensim is open source and so it is completely free to use but traffic will not come to your grid without you expend considerable effort in promotion and expense in advertising. But there are clear advantages in using Opensim and not just it's low cost. It is free from Linden Lab's Terms & Conditions which rule Second Life and has become increasingly restrictive. You set your own Terms or TOS and if you enable Hypergrid access the latest Opensim server code ensures avatars can travel from one grid to another with their full appearance. You will gain visitors and you don't even need to force everyone to registers. In fact, controlling registration while having open borders has special advantages in helping stop griefers.Sex sells! That is well known and it probably drives about 60% of Internet traffic. Oculus Rift looks like adding an exciting new dimension to virtual worlds and video game companies are getting seriously interested. Virtual worlds are well placed to take advantage too and the cost is not that great. It is still early days and the final production model is scheduled to go on sale in the spring of 2014 so plenty of time to set up a grid and adapt features suited to the use of the Rift, especially in the area of adult entertainment.



Into The Free Metaverse...

If you are planning or contemplating setting up your own small world or full grid then look in on the Google Plus community, Opensim Virtual. There you can learn more about the free Metaverse and promote your grid free of charge. Opensim Virtual is a large community of Opensim users from across many grids and  standalone worlds. They are a friendly bunch and very helpful to new comers. I set up Opensim Virtual at the end of 2012 in order to learn more about the Metaverse community and discover it's true extent. I must say, to my delight, Opensim Virtual has been very successful and presently the largest Opensim community on Google plus. Many grid owners promote their grids and tell us about events and role play they support. There is plenty of News to keep up on Merchants too tell us about their virtual wares. Some grid owners have their own G+ communities as well so we are developing across many grids which is in keeping with the whole idea of Hypergrid and a free Metaverse. Come join us. You'll be welcomed!

See my top links for more pages of free textures, resources and vendors with both free and sale items on offer. Check out the Metaverse link to and search for grids and worlds of interest.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Second Life Region Count Falls But Not the Price!

As predicted by Metaverse pundits Second Life, the beleaguered virtual world operated by Linden Lab lost another 9 regions in the past week according to Tyche Shepherd's GridSurvey which took it below the magic 20,000 mark to 19.997. This mark has become a kind of psychological barrier no one really thought would be approached let alone crossed. This portion of the grid is where Linden Lab earns the bulk of it's income from hosting the region simulators but Second Life has actually been in slow decline for several years and is down 4,797 regions since its peak in June, 2010. Regions cost up to $295 a month but just getting a region up is expensive too with an initial charge of $1000 so it's clear the Lab is loosing a lot of their cash flow.



Surprisingly, Linden Lab doesn't appear particularly disturbed by this trend and are even rather upbeat about releasing totally unrelated products to their flagship money spinner and what advances they have made in the platform seem largely ignored, faltering or simply not understood by a lot of the resident population. Certainly, it is doubtful if it would make much difference to the average resident if Linden Lab had never bothered to implement a lot of the updates at all because it should be noted over 80,000 residents had either not bothered or had left it to the very last minute to get the viewer updates we are told are mandatory with the roll out of server side baking. In fact, there has only ever been two basic complaints that mean a whole lot to the majority. Fix the many existing bugs and lag, and reduce the excessive tier pricing for virtual land within the grid.

Linden Lab have a reputation for ignoring the SL resident complaints anyway and their customer service has never been that good but they do seem to think up ways to antagonize their customers on a regular basis
like closing the bug reporting Jira system while imposing what, apparently, the majority don't appear to want or care about. Moreover, it has meant disruptive server updates every week which has been going on for several years and has left all kinds of breakage from scripting faults to inventory losses and periods of unexplained and excessive lag. Most annoying for residents is that all this disruption has been going on while the Lab still expected high tier payments.

Unsurprisingly, since 2009 Second Life has seen a steady decline. In that time a full third of the work force has also been sacked, the former CEO, Mark Kingdom resigned, education and none-profit discounts have been scrapped and the Teen grid closed while allowing children onto the, essentially, adult grid. More recently, with a new CEO at the helm, the focus of the company has gone from virtual worlds to investment in the development of video games. Unfortunately, the resident population of Second Life are a rather conservative bunch. They accept change if it clearly benefits them but the kind of change Linden Lab tries to impose dose often actually challenge people who are very set in their ways. But, all of the general complaints aside, the one thing that nearly everyone agrees is an abuse is the excessive charges for land.



When Linden Lab were on a roll around 2006 and the media couldn't get enough stories about Second Life the executives of the company decided to hike prices, increasing the tier on a full (15k prim's) region by a third to $295 and the setup fee to $1000. Later they scraped the significantly cheaper Openspace product and introduced Homesteads with 3750 prim's at around 60% increase in tier making them much more expensive. A lot of people that could not afford the full region pricing had taken an Openspace so they could build their dream home or set up a small store, club or RPG only to see the rent raised by almost two thirds. What happened next was the beginning of the end for Linden Lab's reputation amongst it's long term customers but it would be a long road with many more blunders yet before the grid fell to the magic number of 20,000 paid for regions.

To all intents and purposes Second Life is a social-economic soap opera. There are no end goals like video games have. SL is not a game, pure and simple. It's an adult playground if anything where grown-up's play out all kinds of fantasies and express themselves in many ways. It's a virtual world of endless possibilities that grow out of the collective imagination of the residents. It appears doubtful if Linden Lab executives understands this or if they do at all it might only find expression in contemptuous statements like, "broken people living a rural life". The fact that virtual worlds like Second Life lend themselves to so much creative expression and education seems lost on the company. No, for the bosses it's all about money and how much they can make out of it. They own the product of course and can do what they please but the product is nothing without the residents who spend money. In fact, the residents who interactive with each other breathe life into the product and become an essential part of it. That is the part the company dose not own. That is where the partnership comes in and Linden Labs have never looked upon their residents as partners - just paying customers.


Courtesy of Tyche Shepherd's Grid Survey

To be fair to Linden Lab bosses one can sympathize with the difficulties they face over Land charges. It is not as easy as it sounds to just drop prices given that the whole economic model could be irreversibly damaged by a wrong move. Last Year the Lab held a Weekend give away Special on buying land when they offered a free setup. It worked to some extent and the Lab made sales but the buyers almost certainly had been renting from Land Barons and this, in turn, had a negative effect on the Baron's thinking. The Barons own a huge amount of the land and find themselves swallowing increasing losses on empty sims they can't find tenants for. Offering discounts that appear to damage the Barons is not something to do lightly because its like this; Linden Lab is rather like the Overlord or King who owns all the land and makes grants to his most loyal subjects, the Barons. Privileges in the form of discounts on tier is what they get granted to them. The rest of the population are basically citizens and shop keepers that always pay the top rates albeit in relatively small sums compared to what the Barons are committed to. So the shop keepers make stuff to help off-set tier costs and because those costs are quite high they have to make and try to sell a lot of stuff. The citizens, or consumers, want free places to hangout and perhaps role play but they will buy what the shop keepers sell - some will actually spend quite a lot! The shop keepers and those running venues as clubs, RPGs, sailing and other arts & entertainments generally will more often than not be renting from Barons and so they have to keep working to off-set those costs and try to turn a profit too. They rent from Barons to avoid setup fees and know they are no more committed than the next rent day. So the money moves round the economy.

Now, if the Lab drops tier and maybe makes it possible to buy just one sim then this might upset the balance of the economy for dropping prices too much and too quickly will greatly reduce financial pressure on the shop keepers and venue organizers. Thus, if they don't have to off-set tier costs to the same extent that they were doing this could lead to a drop in the economy and possibly lead to less people bothering to make and sell stuff. In deed, more stuff might be given away free which would create downward pressure on the economy too. Some would take the opportunity to profit of course but if prices are falling eventually the incentive is lost anyway.

Now consider what might happen if more people can buy and own land in Second Life. In Opensim grids land is cheap and people often own vast estates which ends up pretty much empty land since there is not enough traffic to fill it. Second Life is not exactly bursting with traffic these days but if land became very much cheaper it would result in a lot more empty regions and, like Opensim grids, the Lab would find that this becomes a criticism of the platform - lack of users!. Not just that but game organizers and venues all want a slice of the traffic and lowering the entry costs and making it easier for people to set up games and venues just adds to the glut of entertainment for a limited population. Some of the best would probably give up. By contrast, we don't see the same problem in Opensim grids. There is not enough traffic anyway to make many businesses viable yet. What we do see, however, is new grids starting up where selling and renting land is the primary business product. They want content makers and businesses to join them too but, generally, these start-up's focus on an activity like role playing in a particular theme while Second Life plays host to hundreds of themes which all want a slice of the traffic. Opensim traffic is almost invisible, not because there is none, but because it is spread across the Metaverse on so many grids. Apart from the apparent invisibility, there is not a lot of difference between people teleporting  about on the Linden grid or people teleporting between the many Opensim grids that enable Hypergrid travel. The difference is that in Second Life it is easier to setup business but more expensive while a small Opensim grid is cheaper to set up but technically more challenging and not for everyone. But we do see great effort and advances grids like Inworldz, Avination, Kitely and Aurora Sim, developers working away to improve their worlds. Often the developers are in partnership with each other and residents too in ways you wont see between Linden Lab and their residents. And, of course, many grid owners are developers and contribute to the Opensim core. Yes, there are rivalries and competition between Opensim grids. There are shifting loyalties too but still there is a strong spirit of shared destiny and partnership often comes out of that. In fact there is a lot of partnership in Opensim worlds but you wont find a great deal of partnership in Second Life between the Lab and it's residents. The residents are first and foremost merely consumers in Linden thinking. Where the Lab might consider partnership it usually is a one way street where LL gains from the ideas and talents of it's residents but hardly ever puts much money into projects that can truly be called a partnership.

I might be wrong, probably am, but Linden Labs must be struggling with the land pricing decision. They may already be feeling like they are in a Catch 22 situation too for, if they don't drop prices no one is going to buy more land and if they do drop prices then the balance of the economy might be irreversibly damaged so perhaps the answer is to lower tier gradually in steps by maybe 10% percent every six months until it is approximately a third lower than it is today. This should start now and continue into 2014 and perhaps a final drop by the summer. It should drop across the board too and not just for one section of the community so there is no disparity or it will just drive more people away and throw the economy into more confusion and uncertainty.

Another thing the Lab could do is get rid of Linden Homes. In fact, I never did understand why they ever set out to take business away from the land Barons in the first place. It didn't strike me as a smart move making free homes available - most of which are hardly used I might add. I think most residents would have been more interested in an increase in stipend if anything and if it fell to me to decide I would increase the stipend by at least 100 L$ as both an incentive to attract more premium accounts and a way to help stimulate the economy. Yes, the increase would be hard to maintain but it would feed a lot of new money into the economy at a time when budgets are tight in the real world. Hell, the bank rates are the lowest they have ever been so why isn't Linden Lab lowering the costs this way if not on Land pricing?