Thursday, July 30, 2015

Fun SL Machinima from MIT Game Lab Parodies Videogame Sexism & Gender Stereotypes Within Second Life

"FREE SPEACH" is a pretty entertaining (if a bit technically rudimentary) Second Life machinima parodying videogame sexism and gender attitudes through Mario, Princess Peach, Laura Croft, and other classic characters:

Anyone who's viewed Anita Sarkeesian's videos, especially this one on the "Damsel in Distress" trope, will get a lot of the jokes. The machinima was produced by Gabrielle Trépanier-Jobin, an Associate Professor at Concordia, who tells me it spins off her PhD thesis on the role of parodies in criticizing gender representation, and is connected to a survey on the topic which you can take here.

Professor Gabrielle Trépanier-Jobin created the machinima with the MIT Game Lab and six MIT undergraduate students. "Second Life seemed to be the only online world where I could mix all video game characters and buy them on the marketplace. Second Life was a little glitchy," she allows, "and we had many technical problems during the shooting, but it was overall a great experience." (Maybe MIT should ask SL machinima master Lainy Voom to give a tutorial.)

Curiously, the title, "Free Speach", evokes the "Freeze Peach" parody of Gamergate and other online misogynists, but Gabrielle says that wasn't intentional:

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How to Succeed as a Second Life Fashion Designer: Advice from NWN Partner Xme Xue of Ample Avi

Ample Avi Second Life Full Shapes

Ample Avi has been a popular Second Life avatar shape/fashion brand for many years, with a large presence on the SL Marketplace and in-world (map location here, Destination Guide listing here). And since Ample is also a proud sponsoring partner of New World Notes, I asked the founder and CEO, Xme Xue, to share some secrets to creating a successful avatar enhancement business.

Ms. Xue makes about 85% of her real life living through her Second Life creations. ("I have a part-time job," she adds, "which I do from my home, and I keep that job as my safety net.") She works hard for her Lindens, to be sure: "You can find me in Second Life a good 40-plus hours each week," she tells me, 'but the 'plus' part is often the rule, rather than the exception." And notably, in contrast to the popularity of mesh-based creation, with Ample avatar shapes, "Everything is done in-world, using SL-provided tools."

After the break, Xme's tips for SL fashion/avatar creators:

Continue reading "How to Succeed as a Second Life Fashion Designer: Advice from NWN Partner Xme Xue of Ample Avi"

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Will Temporary, Room-Based VR Spaces Work Better Than a Persistent Metaverse?

AltspaceVR VR Sansar

A virtual reality startup called AltspaceVR just raised a new $10 million round of funding "to build social spaces for virtual reality", and the CEO has an interesting way of distinguishing what they're creating from Linden Lab's Project Sansar:

Altspace isn’t alone with this approach: Linden Lab, maker of the popular virtual world Second Life, is currently developing a new platform optimized for virtual reality code-named Project Sansar. But whileProject Sansar is building upon many of Second Life’s core ideas, Altspace is trying to become a more transient social layer. “We are not looking to build a persistent world,” explained [Bruce] Wooden.

 I actually haven't seen any report that Project Sansar is going to be a persistent world -- have you? Then again, it's possible Wooden knows something we don't. In any case, it occurs to me that temporary, room-based spaces are the way to go, with VR -- they're easier to deploy, and most people seem to prefer using virtual reality in shorter bursts. (Indeed, AltSpace tells Variety that the average session lasts between 25 and 30 minutes.)

Another interesting tidbit from the Variety story:

Continue reading "Will Temporary, Room-Based VR Spaces Work Better Than a Persistent Metaverse?"

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Woman Stalked & Harrassed in Real Life By Men Who Did Reverse Image Search on Her Second Life Avatar

Second Life Stalking

I recently received a fairly urgent e-mail from a young woman I profiled nearly a decade ago, who told me the post I had wrote about her had inadvertently caused considerable stress -- for herself, and potentially, for people close to her. The post was a mixed reality profile, containing a screenshot of her Second Life avatar alongside a photo of her in real life, and therein was the problem:

"I've come across certain people on SL who used a reverse image search on the pictures in your blog to find out my RL information," she told me, "so when possible, I'd like to make that a bit harder for them." (Not the images above, by the way.)

Years after the fact, the woman I'd profiled has stalkers who started harassing her in Second Life, and have taken their obsession to the wider Internet. "I actually have been threatened by a guy halfway across the world via Second Life," she tells me, "who said that he would 'destroy my life' by sending pictures of my avatar to my (RL) partner."

They found out who she was in real life through a devious search of her Second Life avatar's name:

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Mesh in Second Life Hasn't Hurt SL's Creative Community - But Creative Elitism Has (Comment of the Day)

Second Life Animations Mesh

SL mesh and animation creator Kate Alderman (who makes cool animations like the one pictured here) makes some interesting points on the ongoing debate, has mesh detracted from Second Life as a creative platform? No, she argues, because creativity takes many forms - not just the prim-based building that Second Life was first famous for:

I think this represents a very narrow view of creation and creativity. Does one really have to rez a native prim to be creative? Torture the thing, texture the thing, link the thing, to be creative?

No.

There are hundreds, nay thousands, of very creative groups in SL. Roleplay and community building are creative in and of themselves. It takes vision and drive to bring people together to work toward a common goal, or even in a common theme.

Decorating, landscaping, terraforming: designing a comfortable vista, or space in which to relax - or get manic - is creation.

"Artiste" types may prefer to think of these things as design, and not art in its truest form, and they are entitled to their opinions. But I see it as art. I can make kick-ass textures, which some folks view as art (I don't, it's more of a science, just like building with native prims in-world). Design, art, whatever, is creative.

There are dozens if not hundreds or thousands of writers and poets who get together in SL and share ideas and use SL as part of their creative process. There's so much inspiration. There are amazing and thought-provoking builds, of course. And those appeal to folks who consider themselves Literary. However, great story-telling requires great characterization, and there are a lot of characters in SL. But better still, there is a lot of dialogue in voice, where a writer can learn how people from other regions and countries speak, and text, where it is often easier to learn how others think. And of course, a lot of the writers groups in SL engage regularly in round-robin story telling. They could do that anywhere, but the ones I know choose SL because they feel more of a connection.

Speaking of which, she points out that most (or at least many) SL creators tend to be solitary people, and on a related point, argues that creative elitism is hurting Second Life community growth as a whole:

Continue reading "Mesh in Second Life Hasn't Hurt SL's Creative Community - But Creative Elitism Has (Comment of the Day)"

Posted at 12:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Kinda Like Minecraft But Not Really" - How to Introduce Second Life to a New Generation Ready to Embrace It

Hey Linden Lab and SL enthusiasts, if you really want to grow Second Life's userbase, forget about Dr. Phil or any other old school media like that, and push to get more people making videos like this;

A fun if rambling "Let's Play" video from YouTube gaming personality "everythingdigital1" who recently discovered and fell in love with Second Life (his SL name is "Dtpk"), this is exactly the kind of video that really would grow Second Life's userbase, because it's aimed at the precise demographic who are ideally suited to embrace SL. Here's why:

Continue reading ""Kinda Like Minecraft But Not Really" - How to Introduce Second Life to a New Generation Ready to Embrace It"

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Take a Short Test to Discover Your Gaming Personality

Take this 5 minute survey to determine your gaming personality -- sort of a Myers-Briggs test for gamers. The survey is from Quantic Foundry, a game behavior analytics consultancy co-founded by my colleague Nick Yee, who's done some landmark academic research on MMO behavior, including in Second Life. And yes, philosophical debates aside, when you take the survey, Nick tells me, you can designate Second Life as a game and describe your play style within it: "The question was completely open-ended." He thinks we'll see some unique personalities emerge among SLers: "My intuition is that it should lean towards the Creativity/Immersion quadrant. And look something like this guy's profile." (That is to say: Calm, Analytical, Completionist, Independent, Deeply Immersed, and Creative.)

But go ahead and take the test, and report your findings in Comments. I did last night, and got these results:

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Bitcoin Exchanges Leaving Second Life in Recent Months?

Bitcoin Linden Dollar

While Bitcoin may be popular for use in extortion shake-downs, it seems to be waning as a unit of exchange for virtual currency: A few months ago (in a post I just noticed, so I'm playing preliminary catch-up here) Second Life blogger "Webspelunker" went looking for Bitcoin exchanges in Second Life and came up empty:

I went back to the Bitcoin exchanges I’d visited in my earlier Bitcoin story only to find them all closed. Further, any other references to Bitcoins that I could find just led to dead ends. Currency exchanges only traded in Lindens for RL currencies. Where are the bitcoins?  Maybe there’s another story here!

Maybe, or maybe not. I visited a Bitcoin dispensary in Second Life earlier this month, squirting out free samples of Bitcoin (in very small amounts) "for anyone wanting to educate themselves or experiemnt with Bitcoin" as the land owner told me, so there's still some access to Bitcoin in SL. Then again, if I'm reading it right, the Virtual World Exchange lists the last exchange of Bitcoin for Linden Dollars as being over 5 months ago. (Which means long before Linden Lab withdrew its support for third party Linden Dollar exchanges.) In any case, we seem far from the heady days of 2012 when Bitcoin owners were buying over USD$650K in Linden Dollars per month on a single exchange, and Palmer Luckey himself was going into SL to trade himself some Bitcoin.

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Creating Second Life Content Offline "Intrinsically Reduces One's Attachment" to Second Life (Comment of the Day)

Ordinal Malaprop

Last week's post on how mesh has changed the nature of Second Life as a creativity platform provoked some really interesting comments I want to highlight throughout this week -- today, starting from these thoughts from veteran Second Life scripter Ordinal Malaprop, who was creating seriously cool SL hacks back in 2007:

"I remember saying this when sculpties started to appear. Of course they weren't the first content item that required an external tool—skins and animations always have, and scripting might as well be an external tool for all the connection it has to anything else (I used to script in a text editor and paste the results into the script box in-world). But they all required that one interacted to see the results, observe those, make changes and round and round."

Ms. Malaprop argues that offline creation creates a psychological distance on the subjective level, and on the objective front, makes it more difficult to justify using SL versus another mesh-compatible platform:

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Bitcoin's Popularity as Ransom Currency Pretty Much Insures It'll Never Become Mass Market Currency

Bitcoin virtual currency

Last weekend the New York Times ran a very illuminating cover story on the popularity of Bitcoin as a currency demanded in criminal ransom exchanges:

In a modern day version of a mob shakedown, hackers around the world have seized files on millions of computers, taken down public websites and even, in a few cases, threatened physical harm. The victims — who have ranged from ordinary computer users to financial firms and police departments — are told that their only way out is through a Bitcoin payment that is sometimes more than $20,000.

One set of attackers, believed to be based in Russia and Ukraine, collected about $16.5 million in Bitcoins in a little over a month, primarily from victims in the United States, according to the security firm Sophos. Criminals like the virtual currency because it can be held in a digital wallet that does not have to be registered with any government or financial authority — and because it can be easily exchanged for real money. At the moment, a single Bitcoin can be sold online or on the street for around $290.

So in other words, Bitcoin's lack of regulation by government authorities, which Bitcoin enthusiasts usually tout as one of the virtual currency's chief virtues, is the very thing that makes it so popular as a currency for criminals. This is a sobering fact, especially when you line it up against another reality: Hardly anyone uses Bitcoin for purchasing goods and services. Taken together, you can pretty much be assured Bitcoin well never reach mass usage that its advocates hope:

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Scientist Reports Evidence of Self-Aware Robot as Hawking, Musk Etc. Urge Ban on Weaponized AI

There's too much future happening today. In this month's news of cyberpunk becoming reality, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and many other brilliant scientists/technologists are calling for a ban on AI-powered military robots, a topic Hawking is so concerned about he's even making a Reddit AMA appearance right now. This happens to be happening just as an experimental robot is showing signs of self-awareness:

Keep watching until the end of that video, because that's where the sign of self-awareness supposedly comes in:

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Top Seven Posts from New World Notes Last Week!

VR in beautiful real life
"F*** real life" by acidjazzed

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Why Media Coverage of Second Life Can't Grow SL Usage

Second Life Media Dr Phil

Second Life's appearance on the Dr. Phil show attracted a "a modest bump in new registrations on the day it aired", as Linden Lab told me, and Canary Beck has the hard numbers behind that bump: Just over 1000 more registrations than average. For comparison, SL already gets about 300,000-400,000 new registrations a month, so the "Phil bump" was modest indeed. Also, there's an important distinction to be making here:

A new Second Life registration is not at all the same as a new Second Life user. The latter is what happens when someone creates an account on the Second Life website, which leaves several more steps to actually "using" Second Life -- i.e. downloading the client, installing the client, logging in, going through the orientation process. And the trouble is, many or most people who register for an account don't even complete the download process. Based on past usage, something like 5% of registered Second Life accounts actually become regular users. So it wasn't surprising that there was little or no "Dr. Phil bump" relative to concurrent users.

Which takes me to the title of this post, and a recurring theme I've somewhat obsessed over for, well, the last 7 years. Countless instances of positive, mass market media coverage of Second Life in 2006-2008 did not lead to mass market usage, and any media coverage of SL now is even less likely to grow usage. Linden Lab needs to invest far more resources (both in marketing and in the product itself) to really see anything that resembles substantial growth. 

Here's why:

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RIP Melanie Kidd, Beloved Second Life User/Fashionista

Melanie Kidd portrait and avatar

According to Cajsa Lilliehook, the real life person behind longtime Second Life blogger and fashionista Melanie Kidd has died, after a short bout with cancer, and has an eloquent and moving tribute to her:

She died this week. Cancer, of course. This is the summer of cancer. Cancer has taken six friends since May and is haunting other friends and family. I do not want to exaggerate my loss. We were not close, intimate friends. We were friendly, a casual friendship like 90% of friendships. But still my heart breaks, for the world that has lost another of the good ones, for Gogo, Cake and Carson, her closest friends whose hearts must be shattered, and for her family who has been robbed of her joyful, sunny spirit. Maybe a little bit for myself, too, because I liked her, damn it. Lots of pixel ink has been used to debate whether Second Life® is a game or not. Is it a game if it breaks your heart?

Speaking of Gogo, she has thoughts too

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If Sansar is Like WordPress, Will It Be Open Source Too?

Ebbe Altberg Second Life Sansar UGC

Interesting Variety story on Sansar from fellow GigaOM alum Janko Roettgers, with a compelling metaphor for what Linden Lab intends:

Altberg compared Sansar’s role to WordPress, the popular blogging and web publishing platform that now powers a quarter of the world’s websites. Linden Lab’s goal was to turn Sansar into a WordPress for VR, allowing enthusiasts and big brands alike to build VR experiences without spending tons of money and man hours on custom programming, he explained.

More experienced publishers will be able to use Sansar in connection with popular 3D software; initially, Linden Labs wants to make it work with Maya, and eventually add support for Blender, Sketchup and other apps as well. 

WordPress, of course, is open source, and owes much of its massive growth to being open source. No word yet if Sansar will be open source -- or like Second Life, have aspects of the platform open sourced. Then again, if Sansar is supposed to be a single, shared, contiguous world, then open sourcing it too early would be disastrous -- in the same way open sourcing SL's viewer too early hurt new user growth, with the existing hardcore users not even sharing the same virtual reality on a fundamental UI/UX level as newbies.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Did Second Life's Dr. Phil Appearance Help User Growth?

Dr Phil Second Life ONline game addiction

UPDATE, 7/24: Linden Lab's Peter Gray tells me, "We saw a modest bump in new registrations on the day it aired."

Second Life was featured on a Dr. Phil episode on game addiction last Tuesday, so I was curious what kind of effect it's had on new user growth. After all, the show draws about 5 million viewers on broadcast TV alone, and likely some millions more online.

Looking at publicly available Second Life usage numbers, however, I'm not seeing any evidence of new growth. Reviewing the last two weeks of concurrent users in Second Life, for example, there's no noticeable spike in usage after the show. (See image above.) That's unlike other media appearances in the past. When Second Life was featured in an episode of CSI, for example, new user sign-ups went through the fricking roof. And as like the CSI case, Linden Lab worked hand-in-hand with the producers of the show to present Second Life in a positive, exciting light -- in this case, creating a Dr. Phil avatar and even getting Linden Lab consultant Bernhard Drax (Draxtor Depres) and others to assemble great footage and locations to feature in the show

To be sure, there might be some spurt in sign-ups I'm not seeing on these charts, and I've asked Linden Lab about this. Assuming this was a media opportunity miss, however, what happened? 

Continue reading "Did Second Life's Dr. Phil Appearance Help User Growth?"

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Second Life No Longer a Creation Platform, But an End-Point Display for Creativity (Comment of the Week)

Prims versus Mesh creativity in Second Life

Last year I noted that the greatest Second Life artists like AM Radio emerged during the prim-based, pre-mesh era, and reader Kon Loon just posted a thought-provoking comment riffing on that:

"The fascination of SL was 'to be in a wold and to create in a world' (80% in-world, 20% Photoshop while online to tweak and re-upload)... then sculpties came (30% in-world, 70% 3D software/Photoshop while offline)... then mesh arrived (5% in-world, 95% 3D software/Photoshop while offline).

"Therefore SL lost its purpose (as a creative tool) completely. SL became just the last 5% of the process (which is, for most, the 'selling'). SL is not the start of the creative process anymore as it used to be ('What can I do here?') It became the end where ideas from other 'worlds' are just imported (now as obj).

"Actually, already since the arrival of sculpties, the creative energy started to decline (since mesh it became obvious) as SL isn't the creation place anymore, just the display place. And therefore, became disconnected from the creative process (the fantasy vanished and the recreation of the real world became all-embracing)."

However, Kon Loom does believe there's a way Linden Lab and Second Life can recapture this creative magic:

Continue reading "Second Life No Longer a Creation Platform, But an End-Point Display for Creativity (Comment of the Week)"

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Second Life's 10th Anniversary Hair Fair: Watch How Epic Collaborative Charity Can Be

Shot by NWN alum Coley, here's a beautiful, atmospheric look at this year's Hair Fair:

Now in its 10th year, Second Life's Hair Fair is a massive annual event bringing together dozens of content creators selling virtual hair and accessories, with Linden Dollar proceeds converted to US dollars and then donated to Wigs for Kids, a non-profit providing hair pieces to kids undergoing chemotherapy and other medical issues. It's epic in scope and talent, and a case study in how powerful collaborative charity online can truly be.

Hair Fair runs until July 26: Go here for all the resources you need to join the fun.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Manyland: Like Second Life, But Non-Profit, Web-Based, 2D

Manyland user-created MMO

Manyland is an intriguing web-based MMO which I'm starting to play around with. Boing Boing has an extended write-up by one of the developers, and it almost reads like an attempt to make Second Life but for the web and in 2D:

From the outset, Manyland was created as a blank canvas: no predefined theme, story, or goals. No points to win, currency to be made, or awards. No ready-made creations. No external challenges or timers. Just a big dark sky waiting to be filled with people’s creations. A peaceful place that raises the question: what do you do if there were no monsters to fight, no resources to mine, or pets demanding to be fed? What do you do when you are not in a game, having to overcome game-like obstacles? What do you do if it’s as easy to create a green unicorn riding a UFO as it was to create a fantasy sword?

According to Similar Web, Manyland gets about 1 million monthly visits, which probably translates to around 30k-75K unique users. A non-profit, donation-driven MMO, it's already starting to see some really interesting user creations and communities:

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In the Future, Our Avatars Will Take Our Selfies for Us

A fun and breezy (and NSFW for literally a split second) machinima by Mr. Blaq Magik, an NWN favorite. Cuz like, look:

Continue reading "In the Future, Our Avatars Will Take Our Selfies for Us"

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The Sarkeesian Paradox, Explained: Why So Many Men Are So Angry at One Woman's Opinions About Games

This is an epic, multi-part video by gamer and vlogger Ian Danskin which is very much worth your time, because it definitively answers a question that's puzzled many of us for well over a year, especially in the wake of Gamergate: Why are so many young men (mainly straight white men) so fiercely, obsessively, violently (sometimes literally) angry at Anita Sarkeesian? Danskin is a young straight white male gamer himself, so unlike Sarkeesian, who's attempted to answer this question herself, he's even better positioned to resolve that paradox.

Very roughly summarized (and you should watch much or most of the actual series) the answer goes something like this:

Continue reading "The Sarkeesian Paradox, Explained: Why So Many Men Are So Angry at One Woman's Opinions About Games"

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tuesday Machinima: Surreal Avatars Visit Virtual Art Gallery

I've never really got the point of displaying 2D art in a 3D virtual art gallery that's actually displayed on a 2D screen, but when it leads to machinima as strange and surreal as this, I do:

(Possibly NSFW for some, as it contains a bit of arty nudity. Then again, if there are people at work looking over your shoulder might just be wondering WTF's the deal with the monkey.) The gallery itself is Berg by Nordan Art:

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Janine "Iris" Hawkins Recommends 8 Great Mobile Games to Take Traveling With You

80 Days (8)

I miss Janine "Iris" Hawkins on New World Notes, don't you? Not to worry, she's still online writing about gaming and virtual worlds, just for much bigger venues, just as she was always destined to do: On Paste, for instance, she just wrote up 10 great mobile games to play while traveling, a handy resource for  your Summer travel needs. As it happens, she first wrote about a couple of the games in the Paste post for New World Notes, where you can go deeper:

Though as it happens, some of her best writing online is on her Twitter account, sassy and snarky and still (she's Canadian after all) sweet:

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Watch This Impressive Demo of Motion-Captued Avatar Animations for an Upcoming Cross-Platform Virtual World

This is a seriously impressive tech demo for an upcoming cross-platform virtual world (web, download, mobile) which handles avatar animations in a very impressive way -- watch:

"[This] is from our gesture system," lead developer Adam Frisby tells me. Adam was known as Adam Zaius in Second Life, and a longtime innovator in avatar animations. "That's 100% un-edited in-world footage," he goes on. "Our gestures allow multiple players to get involved; they cover camera angles, props, etc. All on a timeline. Our company chairman is an ex-film industry guy, we built it to his demands; which means it's built for making cool narratives. So you can drop a anvil on someones head. And have it played out cinematically."

Adam had a lot of success selling animations in Second Life, which is what led directly to this new project:

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Monday, July 20, 2015

How Much Are SL Marketplace Rankings Being Gamed?

Second Life marketplace ratings gamed

A source recently contacted me with a bunch of screenshots taken from the Second Life Marketplace, suggesting that the site's "Best Selling Products" category is being gamed:

"Some merchants sell their products at a very low price for half an hour," my source told me, "let customers and alt accounts buy them to drive up their sales rank, then raise the price back up. And some merchants use alt accounts or ask friends to write fake reviews." The accompanying screenshots my source sent along definitely seemed to validate those assertions, at least in a few select cases.

This kind of "gaming" is actually pretty typical on other platforms, by the way -- for instance, on Apple's and Google's app stores, it's quite common for game developers to temporarily and drastically cut the cost of their game to get it to jump up in the rankings. Some will even resort to "bot farms" capable of downloading thousands of copies of the same game within hours, to get the game up in the top charts. So to me, the more noteworthy question is this:

How much is the SL Marketplace being gamed, and is it impacting the overall economy or hurting consumers? With a key follow-up being, should Linden Lab change its ranking system to curb gaming?

Continue reading "How Much Are SL Marketplace Rankings Being Gamed?"

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2nd Photo of Things to Come: Immersed in Virtual Reality While in Beautiful, Real Life Locations

VR in beautiful real life
"F*** real life" by acidjazzed

We're starting to see more and more photos of people using VR in public spaces, and I'm also beginning to notice another variation on that theme: People immersed in VR while in beautiful real world settings. Here's some in a Reddit VR thread, like this one above from a VR meet-up in Stockhom. A couple favorites were from my friend Blair, featuring a pal utterly jacked in while ignoring the Bay Bridge behind him, and (if like me, you think dogs are pretty damn beautiful) this one:

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Pixel Dungeon is an Excellent Nethack Successor for Mobile

Pixel Dungeon RPG roguelike

I basically started my career writing about and for games with this Salon.com story on the birth Nethack, the legendary "rogue-like" RPG created in the 90s, and after twenty-plus years of gaming, I'm still looking for worthy successors to that open source, collaboratively created classic. Pixel Dungeon is so far the best rogue-like I've ever played on mobile (available for both iOS and Android), and I've tried quite a lot. While not as quirky and eccentric as 100 Rogues, another favorite, Pixel Dungeon is perfectly designed for the mobile experience, with a user (and thumb)-friendly UI, and appealing, easy to understand graphics. It's perhaps a bit too difficult, and you are likely to die dozens of times before even getting past the first gooey boss monster, but the gameplay experience is so smooth, seamless, and speedy, it's still a pleasure to zip through numerous levels in a few minutes time before meeting your almost certain doom. Even more key, Pixel Rogue comes with the kind of infinite, constant, emergent possibilities that made Nethack so great:

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Top Five New World Notes Posts from Last Week

Anjelikka Kowalski Second Life PTSD

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Friday, July 17, 2015

1200+ Second Life Users Petition Linden Lab to Keep 3rd Party L$ Exchanges Open

Second Life third party exchanges Linden Dollar

Assuming little overlap, over 1200 Second Life users have signed two petitions calling for Linden Lab to keep third party Linden Dollar exchanges open, HyperGrid Business reports, and to reverse the company's stated plans to discontinue them this month -- about 300 signees on this petition (now closed), and over 900 on this German-language based petition (still open). The total was just over 1000 when HGB reported this a couple weeks ago, and it's since gone up to 1200+. The former petition is supported by DX Exchange, a proud sponsoring partner to this blog, which means I have a biased interest in this topic, so I'll refrain from editorializing any further. Instead, I'll just quote HyperGrid Business, which asked some SLers why they signed the petition:

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Posted at 01:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Two Beautiful Second Life Sims to Visit by This Month

Top Second Life Sims

Eddi Haskell, who runs an excellent Second Life blog that's somewhat hobbled by an annoying CMS system*, has the download on two gorgeous SL sims that are open to visit until the end of this month:

  • Neva Crystal's Baby's Ear Homestead (above), "one of the most attractive and imaginative homes I have ever seen in Second Life. The collection of interesting items both huge (a massive harvest combine among rows of wheat) and small (a magical child's bedroom corner with a miniature castle) are very eclectic but work incredibly well together."
  • Romy and Jac Mornington's Bella Pace: "Romy took inspiration from her childhood memories of Tuscany - a region in central Italy that is celebrated for its landscape, architecture, and artistic legacy - to come up with this magnificent virtualization of a perfect Italian country retreat."

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Amber Case: The Internet's Become Boring & Needs to Learn How to Be Fun Again from Minecraft

Minecraft machinima

"In a word," argues TED speaker/cyborg anthropologist Amber Case in a provocative Re/Code Essay, "the Internet has become boring." Here's why:

Some 20 years after its launch, the consumer Internet has reached a creativity plateau, with the same websites now being created by the thousands from the same content-management systems every day. At the same time, Facebook and other social networks have forced us into what I call “templated selves” — standardized units of user identity and user-generated content, confining free expression into a limited set of prefabricated molds.

The solution for bringing the fun back to the Internet, Amber argues, can be found in platforms like Minecraft:

Instead of defining the limits of their identity and expressiveness through social media, teens and pre-teens have already turned en masse to indie games like Minecraft (bought by Microsoft for $2.5 billion last year), a free-form, online sandbox world, with building tools that enable them to build everything from massive 3-D cities to working computers and continent-spanning roller coasters. NeoCities, a quasi-rebirth of GeoCities and a vanguard member of the independent Web movement, has seen enormous growth since launching in 2013, with nearly 50,000 websites created by its users.

Much more here. As it happens, I got to interview the creator of the most famous Minecraft roller coaster -- let's watch:

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Woman Uses Second Life Creativity to Recover from PTSD

In this powerful machinima, SLer Anjelikka Kowalski explains how using Second Life, admiring the creativity within it, and learning how to create herself, has helped her recover from post-traumatic stress disorder:

PTSD is usually associated with soldiers returning from war, but in Anjelikka's case, she was a secondary victim to war's tragic aftermath:

"It was due to a terrible incident that included my husband at the time," she explains to me. "He went to Iraq numerous times and every time he came back, he changed. Four years ago, he came back from Iraq on a two week vacation, and he got so violent and tried to kill me, I ended up with a broken nose.

"Needless to say I am lucky to be alive since this could have ended bad. But I suffered badly from PTSD because of fear he would return."

She tells me all this in a rush, and I ask if she's comfortable discussing such deeply personal real life details for a blog post.

"Feel free to do so," she says. "It took me all these years to finally being able to say I suffered through this. Second Life helped me in so many ways I was able to escape, make new friends, and create beautiful things. It was really therapy for me and I was able to find peace."

And if you check out her Second Life blog, you'll notice there's a twist to that point:

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Real Virtuality: VR Meets Motion Capture, Physical Spaces

This is Real Virtuality, and it's pretty damn cool, because it's "a multi-user immersive platform combining motion capture with VR headsets: the users can freely move within the physical space while virtually visiting the recreated interior of a pharaoh’s tomb and interacting with 3D objects or other users using the sense of touch". Let's watch:

Video via metaverse innovator Robert Thomas, who thinks technology like this could be a great way of easing people into the idea of virtual reality: "[R]elates to the location-specific VR 'shop' type thing which could be the Internet cafe/arcade where VR is easier to sample before people commit with their own setup." He also references it to this virtual tourism experience Robert helped develop in Second Life, for the Mexican Tourist Board. Yes, the Mexican Tourist Board had a Second Life presence at one point, watch:

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Linden Lab Quietly Removing Confederate Battle Flag Items from Second Life Marketplace?

Second Life Confederate Battle Flag

Linden Lab still hasn't officially responded to my questions about the sale of the racist Confederate Battle Flag being sold in the Second Life Marketplace, but evidently, seems to be taking action behind the scenes. In the last couple days, searches for "Confederate Battle Flag" in the Marketplace have returned a lot less results for items based on that flag, first popularized in the South to intimidate African-Americans. Some items still exist (see below), but as you can see above, most of the top results from the SL Marketplace search are not related to the battle flag. This is consistent from reports I've received via readers on Twitter, and what Ciaran Laval recently blogged, citing an SL content creator:

According to Linden my items have been removed for “Listings for harmful or disruptive content”. They are just outfits with a flag on the chest or the back. Nothing else. Some of them have been removed for “Post, display, or transmit Content that is obscene, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable”

So now there's a couple more mysteries: To start with, if Linden Lab is enforcing its Community Standards against the battle flag in Second Life, why haven't they officially and public confirmed this as policy? A chance to reaffirm the values Second Life was founded on seems like a serious missed opportunity on several fronts.

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Philip Rosedale Forecasts Slow VR User Adoption to Start

VR investment

Lots of venture funding firms have invested in virtual reality-based startups, but based on the chart above (and as reported by Re/code), investment is rather thin: "Out of 164 VCs who had invested in VR companies to date, 142 of them had done so only once." That suggests venture capitalists are seriously hedging their bets on VR, and not going all in. Philip Rosedale cautions VR enthusiasts accordingly:

“We will probably see lower adoption than everyone expects in the next year or so, but it will pick up,” Second Life founder Philip Rosedale told a group of founders. “My advice is, don’t overspend right now. Stock up for three or four years.” ... But he, like several others at the [VR company founder] event, prophesied with confidence that the nascent technology would be as transformative as the Internet or mobile phones. In the short term, he added, the winning companies will be those that leverage the new technology to “add more value for fewer people.”

Philip's first forecast on slow adoptions sounds right to me. Far as VR being as transformative as the Internet or mobile phones, that's something Philip discussed on this blog last year:

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Bethanye Blount Talks Life After Reddit -- And Reddit's Similarities to Second Life

Bethanye Blount Reddit Linden Lab Second Life

The tech industry's being rocked by news that Reddit's Chief Engineer Bethanye Blount has quit the company less than 2 months after joining it, and because Bethanye's a Linden Lab veteran (the company's engineering director between 2006 and 2009), we just got to talking about her plans after leaving the embattled content sharing site -- and how it's similar to Second Life during her time with Linden Lab:

"I'm looking forward to starting my own company again and this seemed like a good moment to make that change," Bethanye told me last night over Facebook. "I wish Steve et. al. every success." (Steve Huffman is the new CEO, replacing Ellen Pao in that role, after she was reportedly left to twist in the wind by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.) "To be clear," she continued, "my decision to leave wasn't tied to Ellen personally but rather to a general sense that I wanted to focus in a different direction than the company seems to be taking."

As a platform for user-generated content and pseudonymous users, Reddit shares a lot with Second Life. "It's been interesting as a Linden alum to compare and contrast the experiences of the Second Life community with what I saw were the frustrations of the Reddit community," Bethanye went on. "There were several similarities to things we were discussing with the residents back in 2007-2008." (In SL, she was known as "beez Linden".) In fact, she just got to make those comparisons with the former VP of Community for Second Life at the Reddit office:

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PC's Death Means Virtual Reality Must Be Mobile or Die Too

PC sales flat as tablet sales rise

Continuing trends I noted a couple years ago, PC sales keep declining while smartphone/tablet sales and usage keeps going up:

The death of the PC is no longer a new story, and there are always plenty of attempts to explain away the trend—to say why it’s different this time. Gartner noted that because of the imminent debut of Windows 10, businesses may have opted to wait to upgrade their PCs. And IDC points out the decline might look especially bad this time around because businesses were busy upgrading a year ago after Windows XP finally died. But whatever the specifics of any given quarter, the trend line is still clear: it’s going down. Which points to the same consistent truth: mobile devices have become the dominant computing platform. Why else would, for instance, Google upend how its search engine works to prioritize mobile-friendly sites? Google knows that to be useful, it needs to work best on the devices people are actually using. Meanwhile, PC-dependent incumbents like Intel—the primary supplier of microprocessors for less-than-mobile devices—has cited weakening demand from businesses for desktop computers and revised its revenue outlook down. These days, the big players—Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook—are putting their resources toward optimizing their businesses for mobile.

Add to this, sales of next gen consoles remain flat and are falling far short of the PlayStation 2's install base of 150 million+. Unfortunately, that leaves virtual reality products, which have heavy 3D graphics demands, with two choices for going mainstream:

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Dr. Phil Features Second Life in Show on Game Addiction

Dr. Phil is featuring Second Life and Linden Lab's Ebbe Altberg in an episode on gaming addiction, unsurprisingly titled, "Won’t Work, Won’t Go to School: 'My Son Just Wants to Game All Day'". Haven't seen the episode yet, but it's very valid to include Second Life within the topic of addiction, for at least a couple reasons:

I field a lot of media requests from reporters who want to discuss Second Life as an example of gaming addiction, so it's not surprising Dr. Phil's people approached Linden Lab on that front. As it happens, I was just thinking about this topic from another direction, when reading comments on last week's post explaining why Second Life is best understood as a game - like this one from George Karmand:

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Top Three Posts from New World Notes Last Week

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Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Yes, Second Life is a Game: The Final Word on a Confusing, Often Misunderstood Topic

Game definition Raph Koster“Second Life is not a game!” has been the most polarizing, most debated, most misunderstood --and most ridiculed! -- statement about Second Life throughout most of Second Life’s history. Unsurprisingly, it continues to attract much conversation, and frustration among SL users, when so many people still insist on calling Second Life as game. This misunderstanding has also caused the company that owns it, Linden Lab, to make some disastrous strategic mistakes, and ignore obvious opportunities. This post will resolve the controversy once and for all.

 

TL;DR, this is the correct answer:

 

Second Life is not a traditional MMORPG. Second Life is best described as an open-ended, user-created online social game.

 

Why and how is Second Life a game? Before answering that, the best place to start, of course, is by defining what a game is, and I think game designer Raph Koster has the best one:

 

Playing a game is the act of solving statistically varied challenge situations presented by an opponent who may or may not be algorithmic within a framework that is a defined systemic model. Some see this as a “fundamentalist” approach to the definition. But I use it precisely because it is inclusive. It admits of me turning a toy into a game by imposing my own challenge on it (such as a ball being a toy, but trying to catch it after bouncing it against the wall becoming a game with simple rules that I myself define).  

 

Defined that way, it becomes obvious how Second Life is a game in a most fundamental way:

 

Pretending that 3D graphics are a “world” and that fellow system users are fantastic “Avatars” within it is in itself a game.

 

On this view, the statistically varied challenges are baked into the entire Second Life experience. The first core statistically varied challenge is to accept 3D graphics as a “world” in some meaningful way, and to figure out how to navigate successfully within it. The second is to impose that challenge on your avatar (customizing, enhancing, and ultimately mastering it), and then on the avatars of others, pretending that they embody the fantastic, flying, god-like 3D representations they present to you. From that view, you could say that the game of Second Life is competing with others to accept Second Life as a second life -- and to demonstrate one’s mastery within it. Indeed, with no traditional MMORPG-type mechanics, Second Life users implicitly compete with each other by showing how well they’re able to use the UI and understand the system.

When I say all this, I’m mindful of my good friend Tom Boellstorff’s argument that “if you say Second Life is a ‘game’ then it's hard to not classify everything humans do as a ‘game’.” For instance, Tom might argue that on my logic, money is also a game -- it’s not really valuable, we just all pretend it is, and we often amass it as a way of keeping score. I believe Tom’s very legitimate point becomes shaky, however, when you consider a couple empirical points:

“Second Life is not a game” was first prominently promoted as part of a marketing campaign by Linden Lab in an attempt to encourage real world, non-game uses of Second Life.

Here's what happened:

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Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Rosedale Demoes Drone-Powered Cocktail Delivery Service

Taking time off from High Fidelity, here's Philip Rosedale rocking an electric blue swim suit, demonstrating a brand new Rosedale service just in time for Summer - drone-powered cocktail delivery:

Pretty impressive, and I can see this Rosedale service scaling to become massive.

Oh wait, I don't mean Philip Rosedale:

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Why Second Life Users & Linden Lab Need to Honestly & Openly Address SL's "Weird Sex" Branding Problem

Second Life Sex Branding Problem

Above is the top upvoted comment on that Reddit "Today I Learned" topic about Second Life I mentioned yesterday. It's yet another illustration of why I don't think it's realistic for either Second Life users or Linden Lab to pretend like SL doesn't have a "weird sex" branding problem. Reddit's /TodayILearned group has nearly 9 million subscribers, and a good percent of them (perhaps 10-20%) are reading this comment. And so, if those millions aren't already like this Redditor "kidamy", and they don't remember notorious, widely-covered "weird sex" incidents from Second Life's 12 year history, comments like his will be their first impression of Second Life. (But really, thanks to countless "weird sex in Second Life" memes like this one, any extremely active Internet user is going to have that brand association already.)

Which brings us to a very important realization about product branding:

Once a brand is associated with a divisive or deeply negative connotation, it's nearly impossible to remove that association from the general public perception.

Note that I say "divisive or deeply negative". Because many Second Life users will think, "But there's nothing wrong with weird virtual sex, you're just a prude if you think otherwise!" Even if that were true, however, the fact remains that many or most of the public does indeed believe weird virtual sex to be strange/offensive/etc., and that assumption isn't about to be changed any time soon.

In fact, there's generally just three ways to remove a bad branding association:

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Should New World Notes Explore No Man's Sky?

Virtual world? That's so 2000s. The next generation is a virtual fricking universe. Presenting No Man's Sky, the greatly anticipated quasi-MMO existing within an entirely procedurally-generated constellation --- here's an early look:

Coming soon(ish) for Windows and PS4. How many NWN readers are interested in exploring this game more, when it launches? Before you answer, here's two cerebellum-blowing facts about the game. First one from Iris

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Monday, July 06, 2015

SL Old Enough to Be Top "Today I Learned" Post on Reddit

Anshe Chung Reddit Second Life Millionaire

Now officially 12 years old, you know a virtual world is old when it's a top post in Reddit's extremely popular Today I Learned subreddit, which is usually reserved for stories from WWII and whatnot. (And Reddit being Reddit, the top upvoted comment is... about what you'd expect.)

Note to fellow Redditors, however: Anshe Chung never became an actual millionaire through her Second Life real estate holdings. As I explained at the time (2006) on GigaOM:

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High Fidelity Sponsors VR Education $5K Grant Contest Judged by Philip Rosedale & Other HF Founders

VR education contest High Fidelity

High Fidelity's STEM VR challenge is offering up to three $5,000 grants to developers who can create compelling High Fidelity/VR-based educational scenes appropriate to teens, are STEM-focused, and can be experienced by over three people at the same time.

"We're doing this because we think that education is going to be transformed by VR and we want to attract that user group to our product early," High Fidelity's Emily Donald tells me. "We also want good examples of great content that people can download and experiment with." Judging to be done by High Fidelity's founding team, led by Philip Rosedale and several other Linden alum:

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AR Meets Virtual Reality via Oculus/Leap Motion Hack

Valve will make it possible to move around the real world while in VR without bumping into furniture, and now a clever Oculus/Leap Motion hack makes it possible to work online without ever having leave VR too:

Created in an internal Leap Motion hackathon, someone from the motion tracking company is on Reddit answering questions about the setup, like, how do you get the hands in there, and is this coming to the market?

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Valve's Former Virtual Goods Economist at Heart of Greek/EU Economic Crisis (As is Bitcoin)

Valve economist

In today's actual international news intersecting with the metaverse, Greece’s former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, is at the heart of the current economic crisis which will determine the future of the Greek and EU economy:

Mr. Varoufakis, an academic with no political experience before he joined the leftist Tsipras government, had consistently argued that Greece desperately needed debt relief more than anything else. While that view was shared by many economists, he quickly became a lightning rod among Greece’s creditors for his aggressive negotiating style and heated language. Before the referendum vote, he had publicly accused the creditors of “terrorism” against his country.

... which is interesting, because just a few years ago, Mr. Varoufakis was at the heart of helping Valve determine the price of its virtual hats:

Via the common distribution platform of Steam, Valve players can trade in game items known as “hats” — used to differentiate player avatars from each other — for objects in other games, or even for downloaded games that have been purchased but not yet played. But it’s not always clear how to value items from different games, or what would happen if, say, Team Fortress hat-makers flood the market with an overabundance of supply.

Somewhat ironically, I'm told by an insider that Valve's relationship with Varoufakis was about as fractious as it was with the EU. In any case, the departure of a virtual goods economist happens as more and more Greeks flee to a virtual currency:

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Top Six Posts from New World Notes Last Week

Confederate Rebel Battle Flag Second Life

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Saturday, July 04, 2015

Happy Independence Day, Fellow American Second Lifers!

July 4th Second Life American Flag

... shot just now from a July 4th party in Stars Over Sparta (SLurl here) where Seth Regan is closing out a set with covers of "American Pie" and "Heart of Gold" by American treasure Neil Young, where the only American flag made to represent all Americans is flying.

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