#1. My virtual world requirements – The basics

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As I’ve reported here, I’ve played a lot with Second Life in the last six months, mostly in the areas of land, landscaping and construction. With my team, I’m currently starting the planning for a work-related project of a much larger magnitude than I’ve attempted before. I’ll describe that more when it gets underway.

I haven’t and probably won’t talk as much about World of Warcraft which makes no pretense about just being a game. This is just for fun, but I certainly look at how they do things and the visible technical choices that they’ve made. In general, I’m quite interested in the technology behind virtual worlds, both where it was and where it is going. For that reason I try to play with at least one new world a week, though some of them send me to the Quit command a lot faster than others. While my son plays Runescape, I personally have not looked much at children-oriented VWs such as Club Penguin.

There is a reason why Second Life and WoW are as popular as they are. They are both damn good at what they do.

They, particularly SL, will continue to get better in ways that WoW won’t. While WoW might improve some of the technology here and there, it is the quality of the gameplay that will drive new and continued subscriptions. That is, new quests, new locations, new powers, new races, and so forth. The excitement comes from accomplishing tasks, attaining new levels, discovering new locations, beating new opponents, as well as the social aspect of working with others. SL shares some but not all of these.

A very important difference between SL and WoW is how SL is dynamic in its world makeup but WoW is much more static. That is, if you visit me in SL an hour from now, I might have built an entirely new house on my land that wasn’t there an hour ago. With WoW, that house you see was likely there yesterday, last week, or last month, and will probably be there next year as well. Blizzard does patch WoW with extensions and bug fixes, but these are few and far between. In any case, I as a WoW player am not building any houses. My character evolves, but my character does not evolve the landscape in which it exists.

This allows some real difference in optimizations. WoW can pre-store textures, 3D models, and a lot of information on each player’s computer. SL has to constantly download new data as you move around or teleport to new regions. This delay is obvious to even the newest SL “resident” and can be rather maddening at times. Little improvements here go a long way.

Another difference between the worlds is that everyone who is officially in SL is on the same “grid.” That is, I can IM with or teleport to anyone who is in the world at the same time as I am. WoW and many other multiplayer games have the notion of “realms.” Think of these as duplicate worlds that all exist at the same time. You build a character (think avatar) and that can only live in one realm. With a lot of trouble, you could move it to another realm, but this isn’t encouraged.

The rules of engagement are not exactly the same in all the realms, but there are just a few classes of what they are like. If they get a flood of new players, they can easily add a few new realms that are mostly focused on skill building and quests versus player vs. player competition. You can’t chat between realms and you certainly can’t teleport among them. This is an optimization since the realms are independent and Blizzard can control the population of each WoW so they don’t get too crowded or too laggy.

Lag occurs for several reasons, but it is generally a slowdown caused by delays in transmitting information between client and servers, slow clients or servers, or just too much information to process on either end. A major current restriction and complaint about SL is that you just can’t have that many avatars together in one place without the system slowing down tremendously, or worse. You can improve the way you handle all these people, or you can just not allow that many people to get together. The latter is a problem if you are trying to host a conference, a large class, a concert, or a town hall meeting in SL.

As I think about my virtual world requirements, I’m really thinking mostly along the ideas of “if Second Life were perfect (ok, better) for me, what would it look like?”. So this means borrowing a few ideas from other VWs, making up new ones, maybe changing a few things, and possibly dropping some things all together. I’m going to examine my evolving thinking about these topics within this series of blog entries.

Here in simple list form are some of the things I have in mind. I’ll extend this list and expand the discussion around each in future entries. Many of these are related to each other.

  1. A pure offline mode where I could build objects and then bring them inworld. This should be as close to the inworld environment as possible, but clearly without the features (such as other residents) that a live Internet connection would bring.
  2. A peer-to-peer model where I could link my private local world to someone else’s, and that would constitute our entire universe. Now generalize, and allow multiple simultaneous links. Finally, also allow me to link my local world into the master grid.
  3. A model of many planets, solar systems, and universes that could be grouped in any way people want to do so. These could be by function, by affinity, or by whimsy.
  4. Much better zoning and separation on non-private islands. In the above model, this might mean that pornography or other things could be grouped into their own worlds and systems and I could stay far away from them if I choose.

    True story: several weeks ago I was seriously considering selling my current land and purchasing some other land that had just come online within the last few days. This new land was nicely priced and had a nice hill in the middle of it. I was thinking that it might be worth moving up to the next land tier to get this and I had all sorts of ideas on what to do with the land. As I was getting close to doing the deal, I traveled back to the land to look around. There, right next door, someone had put up three very large and very explicit sexually-oriented images. I could have bought the land, I could have blocked the images, or I could have gone the private island route. I walked away. No sale, no purchase.

    There are important non-trivial, controversial, and legal issues around this sort of thing and even what constitutes being offensive. That said, things that people want separated should be able to be separated.

  5. Inworld secure chat. By this I mean IM or voice that is encrypted so I know that it’s not being listened to by unintended people. Now I know there are no ironclad guarantees on this, but I’m just not going to have confidential discussions unless there is more than property settings and distances to keep the discussions private.

I’m sure I’ll add more things, but what’s on your list?

Next: “#2. My virtual world requirements – Good AI”


7 Comments

  1. That’s a really good list.

    Isn’t the problem you had in #4 handled somewhat by the the PG designated regions?

  2. To a limited degree. I should add that Linden has added “mature” ratings within M zones as well. PG land is relatively scarce and I don’t believe the resale value is as high as M land.

    Think of it this was: in real life we have “adult communities” that are just mature people who don’t want to live near screaming children. That doesn’t mean they want or would allow large pornographic signs in front yards.

    I think is what is actually needed is X rated land and that is physically separated from the mainland. I don’t want to be just over the sim boundary and still be able to see it, if I choose not too. Of course, if I buy land in an X region, then I get what I get. There is a range of what I call “mature” and just because something is M doesn’t mean it should have random visible naughty bits that show up over night.

    All this said, SL is a bit of the wild wild west and there is not much in the way of resident governance beyond the owners of private islands. I sometimes think that most of the future of SL is on the private islands and the mainland will just be rough-and-tumble, come-what-may land for those who can’t or won’t afford island living.

  3. I’d like to see complete control of physics across your own realms, avatars and applications. If I buy land and I want to reverse, diminish or affect gravity in some way, I should be able to do this. If I want my avatar to slouch, I should be able to do this in a non-kludgey way. If I want to build an application which takes over the camera view of anyone who chooses to run it, then I should be able to do this as well. Second Life is too limited in too many ways for my taste. I’m waiting for Croquet development to take off, so that we can leave SL behind us.

  4. What do you think it will take to see Croquet take off? Have you experimented with Multiverse?

  5. As you know, there are technical reasons why the offline building and uploading doesn’t work, but there are likely social engineering reasons, too. If you sit offline building, you might as well just have open the Sims 2.0. If all you then want to do is share your builds, you could just exchange Sims 2.0 family albums at The Sims website. The point of Second Life is to have the avatar and his experience part of the building experience, and the involvement of neighbours and friends in the experience.

    Social engineering chafes after awhile, that’s for sure. And most builders want to get offline to get away from annoyances like IMs and lag and flying newbies invading them or even shooting them. It’s probably something that will be added soon enough, but it will make the world even more solipsistic than it is already in many places.

    As for your experience of neighbours, there’s another whole set of ways to resolve these kinds of problems of offensive builds nearby. Sims could even be softly zoned when sold on the auction, i.e. not make beautiful mountains and waterfronts turn into clubs, call them “residential” and do some soft steering at least, even if convenanting isn’t yet a possibility. The constant devaluation of land is a total struggle on the mainland, and yet, it’s not without its huge benefits when you can get neighbours on sims cooperating.

    The Lindens have remained hugely ideologically resistance to zoning the mainland. But they will be creating this “mature” check-off for explicit adult material that will require adult verificiation–and watch a lot of it winnow out of SL as a result.

    I don’t see that creating universes or galaxies in some non-contiguous way is necessarily progress for civilization. It means that niches, and deeply held affinitives that are insular and smug only get to be more so. I find that a troubling concept, all these people bridging over and whiting out and muting those that they find “offensive” for all kinds of reasons.

    Inworld secure chat has to start with the biggest problem: the Lindens themselves. To thrive, if this world is to remain in their hands, even as more lightly-holding stewards of coordination of “host your own” sims on their licenses, there needs to be ways to create secure channels that they cannot get in. It’s just that simple.

  6. “As you know, there are technical reasons why the offline building and uploading doesn’t work,..”

    Not true PN or at least you aren’t presenting the restrictions. Offline building and uploading works fine and the existence proofs are the Blaxxun worlds. I’m not sure what you are getting at there but perhaps these are technical limitations of the Linden Labs object model. Otherwise I generally agree but I would like to see the list of technical limitations to determine if that is an implementation/object model issue. So far, the X3D systems don’t have that limitation.

    Now, is that collaboration in the nude, meaning exposed to all other members of a local server farm system? No. Some really do want to build in a more private area and for that, the ability to privately host a server system is critical. Big data server farms with mixed client implementations is the larger issue here (multiSpeak).

    Virtual worlds are really not a new web. That’s fine for marketing on CNet and it brings the suckers to the booths, but it is the same web with the same infrastructure for services, authentication, authorization, validation, registration and so on. It is the same customers who were late adopters for web pages. It is a different client type because it is a different media type. What follows follows from the implementation of that medium, the services offered by that implementation and the conditions for use of a service. The changes in service types are affected by the medium (eg, use of spatial-temporal conditions in world to modify queries both at will and automatically – proximate or topic vector queries).

  7. To weigh in on Bob’s question of what it will take for Croquet to take off – a company to host a permanent Croquet space that others could join. If Google did that, development on Croquet would quickly outpace that of Second Life. Would also benefit Google to experiment with the metaverse and integrate AdSense. Maybe AdSense can do the same thing it did for bloggers, but in the metaverse.

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