Apr 24, 2012

Another Day In Paradise

Better virtual living through hardship


Recently on Twitter I asked a few questions pertaining to the concept of tying artificial scarcity to things such as teleportation, and the initial point of that context of venue (twitter) was to engage a bit with the community in conversation on the topic and see how it weighed out. I received a number of excellent responses in the stream, and arguably some great insights along the way.


One of the reasons I began wandering into that topic was the initial realization from the Matrix wherein Agent Smith had said that the original Matrix construct was built as a paradise but the inhabitants actually rejected it. Therein was the problem they had to face, in that the construct that actually remained stable was not a paradise but instead one filled with hardships and strife – modern day 20th Century (or in our case 21st Century).






Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this: the peak of your civilization.


This continued on with some philosophical thoughts on the nature of Heaven and Hell, and whether you believe in such things is not necessarily important to the topic. More in an abstract thought, however, we say that Heaven is a paradise without want, need, or sorrow… no strife and no hardships. Whereas Hell is the exact opposite and would (on the cursory glance) seem like the place to be avoided at all costs. But then we really think about the idea further and realize that the human spirit is geared toward overcoming hardship, aspirations, and striving to always be better to overcome the odds. In a very fundamental way, Hell is our preferred element simply for the challenge of overcoming it – we instead take satisfaction in the hardships and our ability to rise to the challenge (either individually or collectively).


This raises the profound question of whether Heaven really is a paradise or whether in some twisted logic it represents what we would actually consider Hell. Without the need to strive or overcome, without the satisfaction of rising to a challenge, and without the initial need to do anything, is this really a rewarding scenario for paradise?


I turn back to virtual worlds in this discussion and ask very similar questions.


As of this moment, we have a penchant for creating virtual environments modeled after the Heaven model of paradise. There really is no need associated with anything we do in them, other than idle boredom and creative outlet. This leads to a scenario I usually refer to as Groundhog Day Syndrome, wherein the virtual environment resident reaches a point of having the realization that they have experienced nearly all that the virtual world has to offer and thus become “burned out” on the experience. This, in turn, becomes an ever maddening cycle as ennui kicks in and you just look for reasons that are more and more extreme to pass your time. Of course, I’m referring to that famous movie with Bill Murray.



Groundhog Day - Toaster



This underlying reasoning, I’ve noticed, also seems to have extended into shows such as Caprica (the spin off from Battlestar Galactica) wherein the father was responsible for creating some futuristic and hyper-realistic virtual environment system (the Holo-band), and his intentions for the usage of it far differed from how it was popularly used in the “underground” community that would hack the system and create unsanctioned spaces.


As his daughter pointed out, those unsanctioned spaces represented pretty much a limited set of themes which on the whole covered a majority of how virtual environments were actually used in popular culture and what the users actually wanted.


I’m not entirely certain the specifics, but here was a scene where the daughter walked the father through the unsanctioned space and explained to him the different areas of the “building” and what they were for. Essentially it boiled down to themes we are familiar with in places like Second Life -


1. Partying

2. Sex

3. Killing/Combat/Roleplay

4. Socializing

5. Creating


  • An entire room set up for a non-stop party, with a stage. A crowd dancing into the night. This sounds familiar in Second Life, because a majority of places tend to be Nightclubs and Music Venues.


  • Sex is of course the no-brainer here. Invoking Rule 34 of Second Life is my favorite inside joke: “If it exists in Second Life, it’s XCITE! Compatible”, which is a play on Rule 34 of the Internet in general – “If it exists, there is porn of it.”


  • Killing and Combat scenarios. Again, this is no big surprise – there are plenty of combat sims and virtual armies in roleplaying scenarios in Second Life.


  • Socializing… well, this is also expected because virtual worlds are supposedly a social medium. But in context, does this essentially mean that virtual worlds are little more than elaborate chat rooms?


  • Creation is where we start to get interesting. Aside from the prior four points of Partying, Sex, Killing/Combat, and Socializing, what are we creating for?



Caprica Screenshot



The point from Caprica that I noticed was that those five uses seem to comprise a vast majority of reasons for actually using a virtual environment. I’m sure there are other reasons, but for the most part those five reasons are it. Even when we look into the different reasons outside of those five reasons, more often than not our reasons for creation in a virtual environment are in support of those prior four reasons.


Clothing stores, for example, are just a supplementary aspect to Socializing. Mostly because we’re pretty vain and self conscious in a virtual world. I’ll throw in shapes and skins as well, since it is to supplement the socialization aspect.


Through the Looking Glass


What we’re left with are a few realizations from all of this. I’m beginning to believe thoroughly that one of the major issues in virtual worlds is lack of scarcity, and a reason to strive. We’ve built a virtual paradise model which, in turn, actually seems to have been a virtual Hell. The obvious conclusion, therefore, is that we introduce methods of artificial scarcity into the virtual world construct in order to make it more enjoyable and something of higher value.


Which brings me back to the original thought concerning tying scarcity of resource to such things as teleportation.


I’m not suggesting that we return to the TeleHub days in Second Life, but that is a good start. I wouldn’t say that teleportation be banned outright except within the telehub key locations, because I do believe that teleportation is a viable means of crossing large distances. Therefore, unlike the fictional Metaverse model of Snow Crash where teleportation didn’t exist at all, I would instead suggest that teleportation comes with a caveat – in this case being a resource of scarcity which causes us to use such an ability sparingly.


As I noted on Twitter, when you eliminate teleportation entirely you have interesting consequences. First and foremost, the logical structuring of groups in proximity (such as building cities with a purpose), which in turn raises the need for transportation of a more mundane manner and the connecting roads and such that facilitate it. Suddenly we have a reason to build cities as a community, and just like that we also created a tangible sort of need for transportation methods such as vehicles. This leads to a domino effect wherein the contiguous space is appreciated as is the concept of actual distance in our travels.


In the simple act of limiting teleportation via a resource of scarcity, we have brought the virtual world community much closer together and given the population something to overcome. We also would have introduced into the virtual environment something of personal value: Energy.


Of course, this concept of energy also shoots off supporting things as well – such as the possibility that food is a method to replenish personal energy. We also introduce energy in the more abstract for of electricity to power the telehubs, and the act of using them would diminish the energy it has available for use.


Essentially, we’re talking about a different form of gameification into the virtual environment.


Now, I’m not suggesting there are achievements and badges to be won. Nor am I suggesting that we run around as The Sims. Those are fairly arbitrary goals and really have no natural value to the context. What I’m getting at is introducing artificial scarcity in proper context in order to facilitate the progression of true community and fuel productive creation and usage of virtual worlds.


I believe there is a balance to be had with all of this, but most importantly, whomever goes down this road will likely be the architects of something like the Matrix at the basic level. The initial goal not being to create a paradise of plenty, but instead a hell of scarcity in which the residents actually are happier for it. I’d cite something like E.V.E. Online for this model, but it’s a system that started under the premise of interstellar travel and so the very act of space travel isn’t appreciated. What I’m talking about is more profound… you start on a planet with only the basics and anything your virtual world society accomplishes it will do together as a society… even space travel.


It’s a paradox indeed.


We’re just happier in hell… as long as it’s not an impossible situation.






Apr 11, 2012

Friends with (Premium) Benefits

Are #SecondLife Premium Accounts Really Worth It?


Just finished reading the Eternal Sunshine of the Metaverse blog where she weighs in on whether or not a Second Life premium account is worth the money, and I have to say I’m a bit torn on this topic. For many, this is one of those things where you point to what you’re getting and proclaim “Yes! This is worth the money.” but I’m not entirely convinced. Let’s take a moment and really deconstruct what you’re getting for $72.00 US a year.



Premium Benefits




Your Own Private Home


I’ve seen the Linden Homes… and I’ve also noticed they are virtually unused en-mass by anyone who shortly realizes that far better options exist. I happen to live in a private home sitting on 1/4 + 1/8th of a sim, with an access list for friends to come visit. It’s about as private as it gets, really… but I’m a free user. The actual house I live in is far better than the ones that are pre-fab in Linden Homes, thanks to the creativity of entrepreneur residents on the grid and a little thing called Marketplace. The land is a rental, and it’s pretty stable… thanks to the pre-existing real-estate market in Second Life. I’m kinda missing the added value of the Linden Homes at this point, with the whole being crammed together on some mainland in no particular order with crappy houses and limited options thing.


I share the land with a couple of close friends – Jewlie Diesel, Sanylan Texan and Maschi… so right there, that’s more people than I’d expect to see in the entire area of Linden Homes in one spot. But is it private? Yeah… I mean, there is plenty of space and skyboxes on the land to retreat to for our privacy when needed, and to be honest, the house seems pretty empty most of the time when I’m in my room writing.



Friends with Premium Benefits_002

Do Linden Homes offer Giant Yarn Balls? We think not.


Virtual Currency Rewards


I should skip this one outright, because it assumes the P.T. Barnum line of thinking on the part of Linden Lab. It’s no different than just purchasing the L$ once a month and spending it like we normally do… so it’s not really a bonus or a reward because that assumes you’re getting more than what you are paying for. 1200L isn’t a bonus… working at a club for a few days (or if you’re really good an hour) will net you that in tips alone if you do a good job – or if you’re like me, pull about 10,000L at random, which should be the equivalent of about a year’s worth of “allowance” from Linden Lab under a premium account.


The point with this one is that it only works under the assumption that Second Life isn’t a pre-existing community with the built in ability to work, create, sell and make money from the start, or at the very least that you cannot buy L$ as a free member. So, really… this just boggles me as a reason why Premium Membership is worth it.



Friends with Premium Benefits 7




Exclusive Virtual Goods


The novelty of this wore off almost immediately the moment we came to our senses and realized that yes, indeed, Marketplace still exists and so does countless in-world stores. There also exists the concept of Freebies… which there is no shortage of, and even if the majority of freebies are crap, there are plenty of high quality freebies on offer from existing vendors without the need for paying a premium membership to receive.


This is an added value that simply assumes that there isn’t a Marketplace, existing free-market system of trade and sales, or ten thousand alternatives available to whatever it is Linden Lab thinks is a premium worthy “exclusive virtual good”.


It also assumes that “exclusive” has any meaning by comparison.



Friends with Premium Benefits_004



I have exclusive items too, and mine are way better than what I’d get from a Premium Account in Second Life. Doubly so if Linden Lab had enough sense to utilize their own marketplace, in-world content creators, and strike deals with branded IP to create truly exclusive premium items… like this TRON Arcade cabinet… See, this is what in-world marketing looks like for brand names and it happens to be exclusive at the same time. 



Exclusive Premium Only Areas


I’d just like to say at this point that the majority of the Linden Lab strategy for Premium Memberships seems to be focused entirely on the premise that the entirety of Second Life doesn’t already exist, and each “benefit” is pretty much a rehash of things people already have in abundance and many times better for free or through existing channels elsewhere for acceptable pricing. There is so much content in Second Life that is accessible, that the statistical odds that I’ll ever see it all are slim to none in my lifetime. Exclusive Premium Only Areas in Second Life are not something I’m interested in shelling out a ticket to see on top of that, especially since each and every time somebody writes about those areas, it comes across like they are a pale comparison to what the residents on Second Life have already created on their own and open to the public.


However, the biggest example I can think of off hand is Bryn Oh! who pretty much creates artistic and well thought out immersive masterpieces on a consistent basis. Comparatively to say, Linden Realms… it’s like trying to win the Indy 500 with a tricycle and Bryn Oh is showing up with a Ferrari.



Friends with Premium Benefits_005

Anna’s Many Murders – Bryn Oh! | Click for SLURL 






Friends with Premium Benefits_006

Immersiva – Bryn Oh! | Click for SLURL 



Now, if we’re talking about Premium Sandboxes, then forget it. I’ve already covered this in the prior “Private Home” section, which coincidentally doubles as an excellent private sandbox for building things.


Option to Get Land in Popular Mainland Areas


Seems like a sweet deal… wait, never mind. I just remembered that “Popular Mainland Areas” are synonymous with “Lagged to hell”. Come to think of it… I don’t think I’ve really stepped foot on the mainland in months for this very reason. But that’s just me, really… I’m sure there’s a benefit in this somewhere.


The only way I could see that mainland areas would be a benefit over the islands of simulators and existing third party rental market is if Second Life search didn’t exist nor the ability to teleport… where we’d actually have no choice but to charter a boat to sail across the seas to get to those other islands outside of the mainland; which would actually be pretty cool, come to think of it.


But since teleportation exists, and so does Second Life Search, the contiguous space of the grid is destroyed in the process, making the contiguous space of Mainland areas not a big deal. Of course, now we know why teleportation didn’t exist in the Metaverse of Snow Crash… for this very reason.



What else is there?


 “Because your membership is almost for free” – I’m not really buying that line from the Eternal Sunshine blog. If you pay yearly, it boils down to about $6.00 US a month, but what exactly are you getting for that money? Well, Customer Support… which you’d think would be obvious with or without a premium membership. It’s in the best interest of a company to help the users of their system without making customer service a premium service in itself, at least in the context of Second Life. Think about it – the users are single handedly creating a vast majority of the content, supporting the free-market transactions, buying L$, and essentially making the entire virtual world what it is… and you want to charge them for customer service? That’s just asinine.


For a lot of the additional features, there is already an equivalent option through existing channels for free users, and many times these options are better than what you get for the premium membership.


I can think of actual added value things that should go with Premium Accounts that would make perfect sense while not intruding on existing methodologies and prosumer practices in the virtual world, but I’m not interested in offering freebies to a company that charges for customer service, while padding the rest with fluff.  So far, Linden Lab hasn’t shown me a single reason why their idea of added value actually means anything with a Premium Account… other than the following:


I can rent land from Linden Lab instead of rent it from somebody else… and my transaction limits are raised.


Oh, and I can get customer support as a priority.


Somebody… anybody… please offer me some compelling reasons in the comments below. Because from what I can see so far… Premium Accounts are a waste of money, and I’d really like to see it differently. I’m not saying they aren’t worth it… I’m just saying that I’m not seeing a reason why they are, based on what the stated benefits are, versus what I already have access to as a free user. So please, somebody enlighten me.

Apr 6, 2012

A Few Good Men…

In which Kevin Simkins & myself are promoted


IEEE Promotion_001



I'm happy to announce that Kevin Simkins and I have been recently promoted to the position of Vice Chair for the IEEE Virtual World Standard Working Group (P1828) by the appointment of Tom Starai, our group chair. Formerly holding the positions of Ontology/Taxonomy and Object Interoperability Lead (respectively), Mr. Simkins and I will continue in our roles while adding our expertise to a higher involvement within the standard group. We look forward to serving the virtual world community with our involvement and will strive to work our hardest to bring about positive change for all.

For more information concerning the IEEE virtual World Standard Working Group, please see our wiki at