Archive for the Virtual Worlds Category

Is Amazon Destined to Replace Marketplace and Buy SL?

Posted in Op/Ed, Real Life, RL, SecondLife®, SL® Business, Virtual Worlds with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2013 by Valiant Westland

For years I’ve been predicting that the next wave of Virtual World development would be driven by the inevitable competition of e-commerce, marketing and gaming heavyweights like Google, Amazon & Microsoft.  All of these players have a huge vested interest in capturing the annuity income produced by the rapidly expanding world of Virtual Products and services.

SL Now On AmazonSo imagine my “surprise” when I saw the Second Life Community announcement, about Linden Lab offering Start-up and Enhancement Kits on Amazon!   I believe this is a first step towards the eventual disbanding of the Standalone SL Marketplace, in favor of an Amazon-powered alternative.  If I’m right, SL itself could be an acquisition target for Amazon in the not too distant future.

The early failure of Google’s Lively Virtual 3D World and the lackluster performance of Sony’s PlayStation Home Virtual World offering, should not be used to throw out this line of speculation.  These earlier efforts have one thing in common that Amazon and even SL doesn’t, a lack of profitability.

In addition to an Alpha-level user interface, no realistic profit potential is the main reason Google pulled the plug on Lively.  Interestingly enough, Sony, in response to Microsoft’s hugely successful webstore, has used this years CES show to announce it is bringing its own SEN (Sony Entertainment Network) store to the US and integrate it with the PlayStation Home experience.

Amazon Web ServicesSo why would Linden Lab give up running its own primary revenue source (Marketplace)?  Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and a potential increase in Net Revenues by outsourcing e-commerce to an organization like Amazon.  Amazon has arguably the most cost-effective and efficient e-commerce platform in the world.  They also have something Linden Lab does not, more than “164 Million paying customers!”  This is a huge potential untapped market for Second Life, that would be almost impossible to reach, without this type of partnership.

Many people, not directly involved with Second Life’s back-end development, might be surprised to learn that since 2006 “Linden Lab has used Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to store elements used in the Second Life world and to distribute the Second Life Viewer to end users.”  In fact, Amazon has featured Linden Lab in a Case Study, from which this quote was taken.

Every company reaches a point where one or more things happen.  They either fail, diversify with new products & markets to sustain growth, go public, acquire additional private capital or are acquired.  Linden Lab has thus far failed to expand its market.  Their attempts to diversify their product via their Enterprise product was, as reported by Hypergrid Business, “a costly mistake.”  Their more recent Time to Sell!Patterns and Creatorverse products seem unlikely to generate the type of revenue or market expansion required to have a measurable impact on their overall business.  Going public is an unlikely option and it is doubtful any more private capital would flow into a stagnant business model.  The only remaining choice for the original investors to cash out, sell Second Life!

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has proven he is a fierce competitor who is willing to take risks and sacrifice margin to dominate an industry.  In fact, a Jan 8th, 2013 Bloomberg Businessweek story on Amazon was summarized like this: “As long as consumers are consuming and shareholders are buying what Bezos is selling, Amazon looks fairly unbeatable.”

Hang on to your virtual hats ladies and gentlemen, I think 2013 could shape up to be an interesting year.  My advice.  Buy Amazon (AMZN) stock and look forward to a Virtual e-Commerce SL Marketplace experience powered by Amazon in the near future!


Second Life ‘s “Cloudy” Future

Posted in Op/Ed, Real Life, RL, SecondLife®, SL® Advertising, SL® Business, SL® Education, SL® Fashion, Virtual Worlds with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2013 by Valiant Westland

2012 – The SL Future That Wasn’t

Before we look forward to what I believe is/should be SL’s “Cloudy” future, we might want to glance back at what 2012 brought us.  As we entered 2012, Linden Lab CEO Rodvik Humble told us we could look forward to:

  • A New Path-finding SystemMesh Avatar
  • Server side performance upgrades and bug fixes
  • More Premium benefits/features and content
  • New tools, like those used to develop Linden Realms
  • Stable tier pricing
  • Additional advanced features (Mesh!?)

Two of the most anticipated upgrades of 2012, Mesh and the new Path-finding System, are still not fully deployed.  I and many others have begun upgrading our inventory with Mesh creations, but the lack of a completed Mesh Deformer as part of the release viewer continues to generate wailing and gnashing of teeth for those with other than model-“perfect” forms.

Redgrave, one of Second Life’s most respected and innovative brands has refused to wait and introduced their own “Liquid Mesh (TM)” solution, that automatically adjusts their Liquid Mesh clothing designs to most avatar shapes.  It remains to be seen whether this bold move will result in a net gain in market share or cause confusion and ultimately frustration, when the lab finally releases built-in deformer technology.

Path-finding is another “almost here,” enhancement that can’t seem to make it to prime time.  The promise of enhanced path-finding is vehicles, BOTs and other objects being able to move more smoothly, including over sim boundaries, with less lag.  The reality for most users, who know nothing of these enhancements, is a strange new symbol and accompanying message appearing in their viewer.

Second Life URL Bar with Pending Changes Icon

Navmesh has pending changes The region has pending changes that have not yet been baked into the navmesh.

My primary SL property is a mainland region that is bisected by a Linden Road.  I have yet to see any path-finding benefits.  The same vintage automated 2005 vehicles continue to bounce and bumble up and down the road, in the same herky jerky manner, typically stalling, sinking sideways or even sling-shotting violently over the SIM border crossing near my home.

Why “Clouds” Matter

Disclaimer:  For those who are not aware, I make my RL living as a Consultant, helping companies develop and implement Technology and Online-media Marketing Plans that align with their strategic business goals.  I always urge my clients to be unabashedly “market-driven” and “surf” the technology waves whenever possible, rather than trying to fight them or create their own.  In 2013, I’ll be publishing a book on “Technology Planning In/For The Cloud.”

Cloud PartyWhile Linden Lab was busy trying to roll out in-world enhancements like Mesh, obviously designed to boost its revenues, through upgrade and new item sales revenues, the greater (Real) and virtual worlds continued their headlong flight to cloud-based computing.  In the Virtual World space, two cloud computing-based offerings, Kitely and Cloud Party saw significant user growth.  Many SL developers are eagerly porting content, in the hopes of establishing themselves as brand/solution leaders on these new cloud-based platforms.

Meanwhile the Google Apps cloud-based office productivity suite and Google Drive continue to steal market share from Microsoft’s venerable Office solution offerings, despite Microsoft offering their own cloud-based Office 365 solution.  There has been an explosion of Smart Phone and Tablet use.  In fact, tablets are now out-seLumiya Viewerlling laptops!  Unfortunately, with the exception of a couple of txt-only clients and one limited graphical viewer for Android devices called Lumiya, there is no way to access Second Life or even, from a Linden Lab official Smart Phone or Tablet client.

Although Linden Lab dabbled with a browser-based client over a year ago, there is no official timeline for the release of a full-featured cloud-based offering that I’m aware of.  Worse still, the primary user experiences in SL are still tied to antiquated 1960’s-era plain text NoteCards and graphics formats that 99% of the world doesn’t use!

Now Is NOT Time To Listen To Your Mother!
(Translation:  Get Your Head In The Clouds!)

If Second Life is going to survive, I believe they must aggressively move towards cloud-based offerings.  The longer the Lab waits to make their move to the cloud, the more regions, developers and regular users they will see opting for other platforms.

A 2013 Wish List For LL/SL

What follows is my personal 2013 wish list of SL enhancements, that I believe would go a long way towards slowing or even reversing SL’s slow downward spiral into irrelevance and make a majority of SL users happier and more productive! (Listed in no particular order)

  1. Deploy SL in a current-content-compatible cloud-based platform, similar to Kitely’s, with a pay-as-you-go option.
  2. Give us TRUE, persistent, Universal Status Indicator, that appears next to each persons name.  Allow status to be set prior to login!
  3. Consolidate login, account maintenance and inventory among “Alt”ernate accounts.
  4. Bring back user selectable Last Names!
  5. Provide automatic synchronization & watermarking of Pictures/Textures with users choice of Picasa, Flickr, etc.
  6. Replace the antiquated NoteCard system with integrated Google Docs / Drive functionality
  7. Upgrade My so that it’s mobile friendly and supports bi-directional web<>in-world messaging!
    Better yet, how about replacing the messaging engine with Google Chat!
  8. Deploy a C# application development/scripting environment and enhanced APIs for bi-directional object/data manipulation

Last but not least…   Please consider creating a true Reseller/Partner Network for the next generation of Second Life.  I continue to believe there are thousands of small businesses, franchises and vertical markets that could benefit from Virtual World solutions.  This market can ONLY be effectively tapped, if resellers have a S.M.A.R.T. annuity revenue incentive, support structure and marketing that originates with Linden Lab!

To all my Virtual Friends, Business Associates and Clients, whether still in SL or not, I wish you a healthy and prosperous New Year!

Speak Now, or Forever Hold Your..

Posted in Op/Ed, SecondLife®, Virtual Worlds with tags , , , on January 30, 2010 by Prad

I was once criticised by irrelevant individuals for “sitting” on the story of VirtualGet which appeared to be a phishing scam, in that it asked for credit card details in return for a subscription to unlimited goods from SL merchants.

However, on first appearance, the website appeared to be an elaborate marketplace for copybotted content. Upon asking the merchants whom’s products I recognised, it became clear that they hadn’t consented to this, so emails were dispatched to the website owners as well as informing Linden Lab themselves.

The irrelevant critics felt I should have come out publicly with the story and let everyone know about the huge marketplace of copybotted content.

The reason I didn’t was pretty simple – if a website like that is getting no coverage whatsoever, then it can be dealt with quietly and cleanly by the relevant parties. In broadcasting to everyone who reads an SL blog, you are basically holding up a big sign saying “STOLEN STUFF HERE!”. And that big sign is visible to both the concerned and the unethical.

Certain Second Life blogs cover copybot on a regular basis, and will often mention the names of these copybots. I am unable to fathom how this is helping anyone’s cause, as a simple Google search for the said copybot client will allow any person to download it and use it to rip SL content.

There have been a few occasions where the name of a website distributing copybotted builds in XML files have been passed to me (presumably to blog) which instead I’ve passed onto the relevant parties (including the ripped creators) for it to be quietly removed. Observing the traffic, these sites disappear swiftly and quietly, and the content creator’s work doesn’t get mass-distributed, which in my opinion works out better for them.

So I can’t understand the logic in causing a mass-hysteria when stolen content is found in isolated incidences – surely it’d be better to deal with it quietly, rather than letting the would-be thieves know that it’s out there for them to find?

Telstra Thumbs Nose @ SL Community

Posted in Real Life, RL, SecondLife®, Virtual Worlds with tags , , , , , on November 17, 2009 by Valiant Westland

BigPond LogoI was sitting in my home office this evening, enjoying the luxury of listening to my favorite Pandora streaming radio station and chatting with friends in SL and on Plurk when the news alert popped up;  “Big Pond pulls plug on Second Life.”  I believe Telstra‘s decision to pull the plug on BigPond has everything to do with bandwidth costs and little or nothing to do with the success of Second Life as a business platform.  This, despite the implication of a PhD student at the Queensland University named Ms. MacKenzie, who despite her prior defense of Second Life stated  “…companies such as BigPond were deserting the platform…”.

Telco MafiaThe “Bandwidth Wars” are definitely starting to heat up.  I’ve predicted access to bandwidth and fresh water will be the next decade’s most important determiners of individual, community and national prosperity.  In the case of bandwidth, tech writer Dana Blankenhorn said:

“Like freeway lanes, like sea and airports, the quality and price of your Internet bandwidth determines how much it costs to do intellectual business with you.”
Dana Blankenhorn – ZDNet

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation has done a good job Explaining International Broadband Leadership.  Countries that help make ubiquitous, cost-effective,  high-speed broadband available to the greatest number of their citizens, will enjoy significant competitive economic advantages.  Those that favor the selfish interests of Telecom giants and allow them to throttle Internet access to services they don’t control, like Second Life, are doomed to fall further behind in an increasingly wired and “always-on” world economy.

Cracked Desert PondSo, the “Pond” is being drained for about 2,000 regular Australian users of Second Life.  My guess is that as many of these users as can find an alternative unlimited bandwidth option, will dump Telstra in return.  For those who are disabled, running home-based businesses or pursing educational endeavors in SL and don’t have other ISP options, it’s a black day indeed.

I encourage those interested in “Saving The Internet” and “Net Neutrality” to check out the following links for more information:

Suggested Links

Second Life’s Voice To Be Heard On Facebook

Posted in SecondLife®, Virtual Worlds with tags , , on September 15, 2009 by Valiant Westland

vivox_logoThe announcement that Vivox, the current voice services provider of Second Life, will be supported on Facebook is interesting.  Although, I don’t think it’s going to be a game changer (pun intended).  Those of us who’ve been using Second Life for the past year and a half are very familiar with the Vivox application.  It’s a great way to communicate with people in-world… when it’s working.
Many Second Life users use Skype for conference calls or even person-to-person communication, because the Skype platform, at least up to this point, has simply been more reliable.  Skype also offers the benefits of file transfer and video conferencing, two features NOT provided by either Second Life or Vivox.

It will be interesting to see what any potential interest by 3rd party game developers will yield.  I already mute 98% of the “games” on Facebook.  Frankly, if I’m going to play a game, it’s not going to be some lame 2D SPAM-generating Facebook application.  Adding voice to Facebook games will probably boost my block rate to 99.9%.

Although the potential of voice interoperability between social media platforms, like Facebook and Second Life, may hold some allure, we should be wary of a single monolithic solution, owned by a single provider.  History has taught us that the communication needs of consumers are best served by open APIs, standards and competition.

Blue Mars – User Experience Now

Posted in Blue Mars, Guides, How To, Virtual Worlds on September 5, 2009 by luth brodie

The download:
While there are only a few places to visit, you have to download them all prior to starting the program. The first day of open beta that amount is 1.3G. Mildly frustrating now as I download just to take updated screen shots for this post and check out the new UI, its going to get even worse as time goes on.

This is a trade off and I’m not certain what they will do in the future about it. One of the many reasons why SL is more lag invested than your standard MMO is that normally all the assets are optimized and on your computer already. It takes a while to load once you port in; you have to dl the assets of every person around and continue to do so as more people port in. And as we all know after spending enough time in SL and porting around, you have to clear all that information out.

So your download is going to be long, and will only get longer each content update but the trade off is more detailed areas with less lag. The annoying part is in the future when you need hard drive space for cities you don’t like and never want to go to. Another downside of this is that it means it’ll take until the next update for new content to be added, which is unheard of when we are used to the immediate update of SL. Does this mean only cities and not user created content items? Only time will tell.

The Zones:

When you log in you get to the above screen. You click on a floating picture to choose a city. While this isn’t so bad with so few places to go, it’ll get frustrating quickly as more are added.

So, right now you have 5 different cities/zones/whatever you want to call them to explore. 2 of them are games and rather fun for a short time. The other 3 are empty cities, pretty but empty.

Graphics / Avatar / Camera:

The graphics are stunning. The shadows, textures, water, and the way the clothes and hair move are amazing.

You can not change your avatars shape other than the face. Hands down this is probably one of the things I’ve heard about the most. From what I’ve seen from scouring the wiki, there is a high probability that people will be able to make and skin a skeleton in a 3d program and sell it as a package. There is so much more you could do with that way beyond the sliders we have in SL.

So other than all looking like Ruth except for the face (ok the standard av does look better), current hair and clothing options are seriously limited. However you do have some immediate make-up tweaking that isn’t exactly simple. Changing from the horrid purple eye shadow to a more neutral black wasn’t too difficult to figure out.

cosmetics editor

The camera (like general MMOs) is locked to the avatar. Those of us who spend most of our time in SL alt-zooming around will find it extremely tedious to walk everywhere. Who knows if this will be changed in the future?

Shopping / Inventory Awesomeness:

I’m going to kind of gush here for a few mins so just bear with me. Bloody hell this is what has been missing from SL. No more shopping for 3d clothes/shoes/whatever on a 2d box. They are fully rezzed on mannequins where you can actually walk around them to see it all. Since there is only 1 shop that I could find, I’m not certain if this is standard or if the city dev set it up this way – though the shoe shop that is no longer also worked like this.
clothes display

If that isn’t enough for you, you can click on it to bring up a browser of sorts where moving the mouse will rotate it:

No longer do we have to remember the names of items in our inventories. A picture is right there for you:

Sadly though, there just isn’t much to play with due to the complete lack of content.

BM has a built in animation overrider where you can change the walk, idle stance, emotes, dances, and everything else found in the animation menu:
built in ao

Granted the animation editor hasn’t been released so I haven’t been able to play around with much of this yet. The idle stances currently are very annoying and twitchy short loops that are on a much longer timer than SL’s 5 stances. Depending on lots of factors, this is better or worse. For instance, if animating a sway works better in BM and we are able to upload longer anims that aren’t constantly moving we can do some interesting things with this.

Another annoyance is activating an animation or dance as you have to go into the animation menu. Plus the ability to expand the list is non-existent at the current time. Though they do have a scripting language so content fixing this may be in the future.

One thing to note, you can easily shake hands with someone by clicking on them.

Apartment Living:
New to the open beta is the model apartment and being able to play around with moving furniture bits around. It’s pretty simple: just right click to bring up a menu, choose “move”, move your mouse and a highlighted version of it moves, left click to place. To rotate it, you have rotation arrows that you click on. Here is my sound free demo:

In The End:
Like I keep saying, there isn’t much to do right now unless you are a registered dev. Unless you really like walking around empty cities. There are people (sometimes) to chat with, and it’s better now that there is a chat box instead of just the chat bubbles.

The next post will be about content creation. I have it partly typed out, but it’ll be at least a week until I have time to finish it.


Blue Mars – Not Ready For Prime Time

Posted in Blue Mars, Op/Ed, Virtual Worlds on September 2, 2009 by luth brodie

Unlike a lot of mumblings I’ve read, Blue Mars does have loads of potential. Problem is is that very few people look past what is and look at what will/could be. They log in, go oooo pretty, get bored, log out, and then publicly complain somewhere.

I’ve been a registered dev since early June and have had a lot of time to play around, read the dev wiki, and troll the forums. This will be a series of posts as public beta goes along and depending on how I feel continue on through release.

First up, it is not going to be a “SL killer” for the simple reason of: some people really do like the Wild West Sandbox. Some like creating for the sake of creating without learning some seriously intensive and rather daunting 3d programs. Some like the feeling you get finding something completely awesome that you never thought possible. We like the freedom it gives us to do pretty much anything we want… well almost.

Having basic tools that everyone can use is great, but we do have to admit we loose a lot of new users because of this. Sturgeon’s Law has never been proven better than in SL and many people would rather play in a prettier sandbox instead of spending loads of time to find something interesting. There really are enough people in the world (the real one that is) that both SL and BM can happily co-exist.

BM is not SL. It’s something different. More advanced. No matter what LL tries to force SL to be, it is and will forever be “your world, your imagination.” It’s a sandbox. You can make it into anything you want. However, there are some serious limitations that LL will never be able to fix like lots of people in one spot, effective advertising and proper IP rights. Whereas BM sits more in the middle of being able to create whatever you want to and a perfect ideal world imagined by a group of professional 3d artists (ie video games). Sort of more like: people who can afford a city’s world you can play in, can bounce around to different worlds and also buy some stuff.

BM is for those of us who’d rather have more power to create things without having to overcompensate for SL’s quirks. It’s for indie video game developers to make a game people don’t have to find and dl off of Steam. Or for fully immersed RP communities to have full control over their piece of the world, including the type of content you can bring in.

Granted they are touching on things that SL has tried to be or we’ve tried to make it, but many of those things SL just doesn’t do very well. However, the structure of BM and how it works makes it more viable for those types of things. Like crowds, RPG Sims, and much more detailed worlds.

And if I read another “SL does X so BM should do it too” I swear I’m going to punch someone in the face. For instance, having the ability for anyone to create without using those daunting 3d programs and then edit on the fly means there is very much a performance hit in SL because of it. I’d rather see what they do differently (better) instead of having a SL 2.0 – that’s what all the opensims are for.

SL is this crazy messed up place where anything can happen, and your options are almost limitless as long as you are clever enough to find the work arounds. Whereas Blue Mars is a bit more controlled and you have ability to make a bit higher level of quality along with many more functions available. If I sound at all more positive of BM, it’s really only because I already know my limitations in SL where I don’t yet in BM.

As It Stands Now:
That took a long time to get here…

Yes I know it’s a beta, but it’s not even ready for a public open beta. I’ve been in a lot of betas and will usually be the first to scream “its beta.” I think it was great letting devs start playing with the tools as early as possible. I would have even played around with the item editor more if I could texture decently and had more time. However, I have never seen anything go to open beta this unready.

The amount of things to do in it right now, if you aren’t a registered dev, you can see in a matter of hours. If you are a registered dev, the documentation will leave you spending another couple of hours banging your head against a wall until you give up. That is unless you have previous 3d experience and like to figure things out. And even then, it’s so buggy and finicky people are getting extremely frustrated.

Any MMO with this level of not much really to do for a user would fail as a private beta, let alone a public open beta. But it’s not really an MMO. SL you could torture prims or fly around and watch other people torture prims in beta. But it’s not really like SL. However, I’m guessing that a high percentage of those signed up for beta are from SL and they will be looking for something to do.

For a public beta test to work – as in thoroughly test the technology and get people interested in the game/platform – you need to have enough content for them to play around with. No loads of users for a couple of hours – maybe days in this case – and then most bugger off out of absolute boredom. This was the point of having registered devs in a private beta, or so I would think. They are seriously jumping the gun here since we haven’t actually had time or the ability to at least partially fill up the current empty cities. The only thing (content wise) that’s been added since I first got in beta in early June was a new empty city.

Part of the problem is that the developer tools aren’t ready. As a content creator there is no way to create and upload animations, skins, hair, shapes, accessories, or script anything. They may be included in the city developer SDK, but that’s under a different NDA so I don’t know. But the fact of the matter is, is that the few things that you could buy have been sitting there since my first walk around.

What they really should have done, in my opinion, is to first finish the content creation tools enough so we could put some things in all those empty shops in Beach City and/or New Venice. I know some would scream favouritism, but we are talking user retention here. Which would be better: 2 shops with a few things in it surrounded by empty ones or all the shops with at least something in it?

Right now it seems to be more of a “look at the potential of this platform” directed at developers instead of what a public beta generally means: something for the users. If that’s the case, then why not open the dev beta to everyone who signed up first?

Why would anyone take as much time as it does to develop for BM when the place will be empty of users due to lack of anything compelling to do? BM might be infinitely better to look at, have loads more capabilities but SL has the users. Why would a dev choose an empty BM over an overflowing SL?

Does AR have on their road map the time it’s going to take for someone to develop actual compelling content without the promise of users in order to bring them in?