Games and MUVES– VLENZ Update, No 182, April 22, 2011

Future Forecasts for Games and Virtual Worlds

Is Rod Humble going to take

 SL back to the desert?

 Seriath sees days of Bohemians and pirates reborn…

 The new CEO of Linden Labs CEO Rod Humble just might have something in common with OpenSim blogger and builder, free content distributor and Hypergrid explorer, Vanish Seriath.

Humble, although talking about gaming specifically, commented recently  ‘let’s go back to the desert’ — because we were better off then”.

Earlier at UC Santa Cruz’s Inventing the Future of Games symposium, according to Christian Nutt in “Gamasutra – the art and business of making games”, he had said that video games developers had made it to the “Promised Land”, as video gaming as an artform was spreading across the Globe.

Rod Humble

Seriath, for his part, in his TGIB blog – published within a similar time frame to that of Gamasutra – quoted Neuromancer (1984) author William Gibson, in his only appearance in Second Life in 2007,  as saying the virtual worlds “I cooked up were always in the backroom of something else, like, in my novel Idoru, there are virtual worlds that kids had broken into abandoned corporate or virtual websites and, in the basements, in the back rooms, they created whole universes of stuff, so they don’t have to pay for it. And that’s a much more appealing fantasy (than SL) to me…”

William Gibson

 Seriath said, “I think … it’s already clear which technology fits Gibson’s description today. We don’t even need to break into abandoned networks, we can run  (OpenSim) in our own basements, backrooms, anywhere. And really, it’s not going to be the corporations, the commercial grids, that will define the culture of this our metaverse, but rather the vibrant and living subculture of bohemians, of pirates, of artists, musicians, coders, builders and explorers, who are running this (a MUVE) on their own machines, out of love, and for the thrill of being there.”

In Seriath’s view – and obviously that of Gibson – the future might not belong to Second Life (TM), although if Humble is able to take the bull by horns and  “return (Second Life) to the desert” it might once more become as exciting as it ever was – and home to  Seriath’s real bleeding edge bohemians,  pirates, artists, musicians, coders, builders and explorers.

‘Hard to keep track of’

 “This is the time I’m least certain about the future of games that I’ve ever been in my entire life,” said  Humble at the Santa Cruz conference, as reported  by Gamasutra. “The way our art form is spreading across the Globe, I find it hard to keep track of.”

However, Humble who has created a number of   successful games, including The Marriage, and is well-known from his time working on The Sims series at EA, believes “games can change human behavior”.

Those who rate games, he said, “treat our medium more seriously than we do. I think we in the game industry have this clown nose on, clown nose off attitude.” We want to be recognized as art, but when criticized, we say “but it’s just a game!”

This may, in fact, be disingenuous, he implied, according to Gamsutra. “I think we can do both at the same time … and take responsibility for it.

 “I believe that the structure of the game has a meaning and a message that gets through, and seeps into the player’s subconscious, and gets delivered. And whether it can change human behavior or not? I say it does. I believe games can change human behavior.”

 That is not to say that it’s as blatant as some critics suggest. “I’ve played D&D and war games and shooters all my life and I am not violent,” he said. “But I have played games that have entirely changed my outlook, and how I live my life.”

 That said, “I think it’s extremely important to look at it and say how can we take responsibility as game creators. What games should we ethically build? If you are going to be influencing those [players] you have an enormous weight on your shoulders.”

Vanish Seriath

In Humble’s view, game developers should “follow the tact of art forms before. The most noble art to make is one that celebrates nature and human nature.”

And that is just where Humble and Seriath and Gibson might disagree. And so might the Bohemians and pirates and those on the bleeding edge of the virtual world technology and dare I say it, in the virtual world of pornography, where many  MUVE developments are taking place today.

Lost cool edge

In many ways Second Life is being destroyed by the same popularity that  The Saturday Evening Post was in its heyday. Even though not really mainstream Second Life  has lost its cool edge – as Face Book  is now doing through becoming peopled with wrinklies –  and more and more the  dread hand of  corporate Big Brother  appears to want to make Second Life into an homogeneous world that’s is safe, gentle and very  little  different from real life – a safe place for the kids, or suburban Moms and Dads to play in. Like the Saturday Evening Post,  which died through becoming too popular with its circulation mainly among the  small town folk, typified by Norman Rockwell,  the nostalgic, the retired, the unemployed and the  boring, and “widows” and “orphans” who didn’t have the spending power to attract corporate advertisers,  Second Life is no longer at the cutting edge of virtual technology. It appears to have become mundane.

Its  corporate walled garden sometimes seems sanitized and sterile, even though the reality is rather different.

But there is a place where one can do what one likes in one’s own world as well as visiting other worlds in basements around the Globe. That is the OpenSim environment where there really are countries without borders.

Seriath’s bohemians and pirates, albeit in small but growing numbers, are in this OpenSim universe, hypergating or hypergridding between worlds, even though the OpenSim universe is not as good in a software sense as Second life.

As Seriath says, “I’m excited about the metaverse to come, and I love the company I keep. Let’s make some really cool shit in our basements.”
But read the full stories in Gamasutra and TGIB from the links above. 

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OpenSim Grids Growing apace – VLENZ Update, No 180, January 24, 2011

Is SL fading?

The ‘Top 40’ OpenSim grids

gain 529 regions in month

Latest figures from Hypergrid Business

OS builds are now as good as if not better in some cases than SL builds ... Rommena at Rom20 at julpet.ath.cx:9020 (local http://slurl.com/secondlife/Rom20/183/212)/30 (HG 1.0) built over 16 sims by Nick Lassard is a case in point.


The top 40 OpenSim grids gained 529 regions since mid-December, to reach a new high of 15,623 regions on January 15 of this month, according to  Maria Korolov  in her latest article in  Hypergrid Business.

The full Korolov article is a must read for those involved in virtual worlds.

Maria Korolov, editor, Hypergrid Business

The burgeoning growth rate of the OpenSim movement  follows the Second Life Linden Labs’ decision to end discounting of education sims. Other reasons for the growth, in my opinion are that the builds on some OpenSim grids (See pictures) are now as good and as interesting as the best builds in Second Life with build numbers, content creators and residents now reaching a tipping point which will see the OpenSim movement grow even faster.

Although the monthly growth rate, 3.5 percent, was down, possibly for seasonal reasons, Korolov noted that the total downloads of the popular Diva Distribution of OpenSim grew by 18 percent over the previous month to a  new high of  3,707 downloads. The Diva Distro is popular but it is only one of a number of OpenSim distribution channels. The others do not provide statistics.

Borgo Antico ... another example of an OpenSim builder's skill and a great place to visit. (HG 1.5)

Korolov said that  OSGrid, which currently has more regions than all other top-40 grids,  gained almost 500 regions to a new total of 9,009 regions.

In second place in terms of growth was the new role-playing grid Avination, which gained 172 regions in just one month, for a new total of 324 regions.

MyOpenGrid was in third place, gaining 63 regions, giving it a new total of 200 regions. InWorldz came in fourth in growth, gaining 47 regions for a new total of 766 regions, in the Hypergrid Business statistics.

Korolov said, “At Hypergrid Business, we expect to see both closed and open grids continue to grow through 2011. However, new hypergrid security features are currently in development which will allow content creators to lock down content so that it can not be moved off-grid. As these features are rolled out, we expect more grids to turn on hypergrid and allow their users to freely travel around to other grids for events, meetings, shopping, and exploring. She noted also that as the OpenSim world has burgeoned  Second Life, according to data from Grid Survey, continued to hemorrhage regions during the month losing 132 regions, for a new total of 31,413 regions.

The Titanic memorial in OpenSim … the ship, built to scale, covers three sims and is as detailed inside as the famed Bill Stirling-built SS Galaxy of Second Life. (HG 1.5)

... and part of the historically accurate Titanic interior.

‘Full Perms?’ – VLENZ Update, No 178, January 18, 2011

p

Arcadia Asylum's Mission ... "free" to do anything with except sell.

Virtual World Commerce and transport

Second Life: where you can

pay through the nose  but

never ‘own’ your skin …

I have never had a real problem with individual creatives who protect the intellectual property in their product: Just with  those who want to regionalise the real world and the virtual worlds so  they can force me to buy things twice or pay through the nose for it a second time in another place.

In the real world this goes for software developers,  record and book publishers, and film producers who have “regionalised” the world and licensed different markets even though with the internet there are no actual trade boundaries any more  … or at least there shouldnt be. I should be able to buy a product (Film, CD.  recording, e.book) anywhere and use it anywhere, without the problem of “regionalised”  playback technologyor other manmade hindrances.  In fact I feel the world’s consumers should boycott anything that prevents  free use creative products  once purchased … but,  by that, I don’t mean illegal “replication” for sale.

I know it is a hobby-horse of mine, but as a writer and a journalist of almost 40 years, I’ve written/worked  so that people will read my work – and hopefully appreciate it  – rather than to make money.  I don’t mind even if  others  use parts of it as their own – in fact,  I would consider it a compliment, in much the same way  16th and 17th Cenutry artists, writers and musicians did.  For me immitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If someone can further an idea I have they  should go for it.  The same goes for my builds in Second Life and other virtual worlds, as meagre as they are. They are free to anyone who asks for them, but they cannot be sold. If I had wanted to be a scam artist selling the same thing over and over again to the same person I could have become a banker.

A number of Second Life residents include in their profiles a parody of the Credit Card ( which shall be nameless) “Priceless” promotion. It goes something like this: Your membership  of Second Life ,  Free;  Your avatar skin and shape, $L5000; Your hair, $L1200; Your shoes, $L1000;  Your avatar’s clothes, houses, boats, planes, animations etc, $L50,000;  Linden Labs and Second Life own all your assets – you own nothing, Priceless!

Yes  that’s right, even though you make use of the pixels in your assets, and have bought and paid for them, you cannot legally take them out of Second Life or do what you like with them, even if they are labelled “full permissions”. You cannot even back them up on your own computer, so you won’t lose them  if Second Life closes down or there are glitches in the Second Life software… and there are plenty of those.

There have been those in Second Life who have fought against  the Linden Terms of Service strictures over the years but most of them have come off second best or worse.

Arcadia Asylum’s credo

The first I knew of was Arcadia Asylum, a clever builder,  now possibly dead in real life, whose works are remembered, adored and used and altered throughout Second Life and a myriad of OpenSim virtual worlds. The have possibly been exported/transported illegally – in the eyes of the Lindens – from Second Life via the reviled SL Copybot or viewers which at one time  allowed export of legally bought full permissions assets. The Lindens have since made sure they have closed these loopholes.

In everything she created  Arcadia Asylum included the note card (see picture above): “All Objects created by me (Arcadia Asylum) are FREE and opensource. you can coppy(sic) and modify and pass around to anyone anywhere, the ONLY stipulation is:  *YOU CAN NOT RESELL ANYTHING WITH MY NAME ON IT FOR EVEN ONE LINDEN DOLLAR* That sed (sic), you may distribute in any way you like, you may use the things anywhere and even blow them to bits if thats your thing. I only don’t want the stuff sold.  As FREEBIES theres no warentees (sic) or product suport (sic).  Thats it, KIS (Keep It Simple) :D

Her  credo lives on in many virtual worlds. In Osgrid for instance Fred Huffhines, of   wardrobe, wardrobe (131, 60, 48), has an enviable collection of Arcadia Asylum works among  his magnificent.multi-storey Freebie Collection. His is  one of the best Arcadia Asylum collections I’ve seen in any virtual world. Others in Osgrid who follow the  Arcadia Asyulum credo, sometimes less, sometimes more, are  those who distribute their wares at Wright Freebie Plaza under Creative Commons license, something I think all virtual world builders should use. There are too many of them to name here.

Klarabella Karamell’s notice at Freebie-Heaven in Dorena’s World

Another who follows the Arcadia Asylum credo is Klarabella Karamell, of Freebie-Heaven, on Dorena’s World (OS vers 7, HG 1.5), who is putting together  what is a burgeoning collection of “orginal” freebies for all virtual world users (picture of sign left) and seeking “original contributions from virtual world builders.

There are others in Second Life today  who  stick  with the Arcadia Asylum credo,  like skin designer Eloh Elliott, who allowed her “$L6 million” products to be “uplifted” via LoL-Iota Heavy Industries, GmbH from the SL online shopping mall and used in any virtual world.  The Lindens, however, have now curbed this activity – the “samples” are no longer freely available for evaluation – and made the task of  distributing full perms freebies  increasingly difficult. I have no doubt they will continue to do so as they attempt to close off their world from competition, particularly now  Blue  Mars looks to be going down the gurgler, and OpenSim activities are surging.

The latest to recognise the inevitably of a myriad of virtual worlds needing transportable creative products that an avatar doesn’t want to buy twice is  longtime, period piece and whimsical  furniture builder and texture creator, Aamiene Despres (she is in the process of setting up websites, http://www.Purplepixiedesigns.com/ for  SL stuff; and http://www. blackcatsgraphics.com/ for her freelance/contract graphic work) of Purple Pixie Designs (formerly known as XoticKreationS).

Aamiene Despres … her textures will travel.

Recognising a “buy once” credo she recently adjusted her Terms of Use for her textures to allow them to be used “in any world or platform you choose … this includes any virtual world and the real world.” She, however, wisely retained her restriction on reselling or giving away or distributing the textures as is, either packaged or separated in any virtual world or platform or in the real world. “They are only to be used in your creations and not sold, given away or distributed in any full perm form as textures,” she said.

My hope is that one day it will be normal  to transport one’s assets between Grids. As I’ve said before I don’t mind paying once. I do mind paying twice or three times for the same item.

OpenSim Worlds– VLENZ Update, No 177, January 09, 2011

OpenSim Grid worlds are spreading

But do you want to pay

‘twice’ for your skin?

… and  everything else just because you

want to ‘travel’ the worlds

The Hypergate …one simple way of “jaunting”* around a myriad of Virtual Worlds.

Well it’s the New Year and everything is well in Virtual Worlds? Or is it?

Anyway before I start griping. Happy New Year to everyone, in every world and every universe.

And sorry for the four-month hiatus between blogs. It’s not that I havent been looking at virtual worlds or even living in them – its just that doing things in those worlds and “jaunting*” by any method – hypergridding or hypergating (www.thehypergates.com) – has taken precedence over writing.

There is no doubt that the OpenSource Universe/s is/are rapidly expanding, propelled not only by the Linden Labs’ withdrawal of its discounts  for educational institutions operating within Second Life and its “closed shop” mentality,  but also by the fact, that according to some women I know in Second Life, the male sex idiots seem to have taken over many regions, despite adult activities being limited to specific zones. One only has to look at the Welcome Areas, particularly Ahern, to watch and listen to males behaving like teenage, test0sterone-driven, predatory lunatics, in voice and text.  The Linden’s should take note that for most women and for many men these sort of crass advances outside “adult” zones -and often even in adult zones – are totally unwelcome, and probably result in a large portion of the estimated 80 percent plus female noobie drop-out rate. Once they are lost they wont come back.

Those aspects aside Second Life is still the virtual world of choice – even beyond the great graphics and effects of Blue Mars, the quest and teambuilding addictiveness  of World of Warcraft and the advantages of Playstation Home or Kinect Xbox 360 ( Microsoft has plans to make the system avaiable on PCs) –   along with the Opensource OpenSim lookalike worlds which are burgeoning and  fast catching up to Second Life, especially with the Havoc physics engine reportedly becoming freely available to educational insitutions.

Second Life still has the people!  That’s the fact, however.  It’s people who matter in the long run. And its a wonderful place to relax or  virtually network.

But the OpenSim growth (Especially OpenSim Version 7 and HG 1.5 and V6.9  with HG 1.0),  alongside the development of Hypergating has created new excitement for virtual world tourists akin to the early days of Second life. This  has led me to the conclusion that if Linden Labs don’t allow “jaunting”* – hypergating or hypergridding – from Second Life into other similar, compatible worlds  in the not-too-distant future  the Linden Grid is going to stagnate and then eventually fade if not die.

And then the mainstream users will start to leave as many of the first adopters already have.

Arrival point in Avination - all you need at at a cost ... for the second time.

The Lindens have rightly been concerned about guaranteeing intellectual property creator rights and Second Life’s place in the sun (Let’s lock in the users to a closed world by not letting them take their purchases/creations elsewhere), but it is possible that “legal” Linden Lab-approved  inter-world “jaunting” with the right safeguards is the only way for Linden Labs to prevent an exodus of core-recreational users, through allowing people  to move  freely between virtual worlds with all their legally-purchased assets and inventory, with all the permissions/limitations intact.

This is the only way to keep Second Life as the core – the home world, the New York, the Rome – of the burgeoning Second Life-style OpenSource environment – a  world which one visits, no matter where one lives virtually, to buy products, to exchange ideas, and to meet  avatars from the next suburb or the world.

I’m a roleplayer in all worlds, and I  am not happy when I have to purchase the same skins, clothes, equipment I  have bought and live with in one world, when I visit another world, be it a Linden World or an OpenSim World. I feel the same travelling in the real world. I don’t wish to buy new clothes, hair, spectacles, toothbrush, deodorant, every time  I visit a new real-world city. The same goes for the things I build. Over the years I’ve paid $US10s for the assets in my Second Life inventory. I wish to carry them with me or  at least be able to access them freely when I travel virtually.

This was brought to mind recently on a visit to  www.avination.com at the invitation of  Jayalli Hawthorn, a consumate  Second Life roleplayer, builder and writer, who is now moving her operations to this world.
On arrival one is given a default  avatar, which in some ways harks backs to the bad old days of SL noobs (one cannot change the size of the hair or move it on one’s skull,  if one wants to alter the shape of one’s head) and is immediately confronted by a Redgrave store selling that  group’s excellent skins  for the local currency ($L999) which one can exchange one’s Lindens to obtain. This is not a world where there are any real freebies except for the default avatar which is limited in both appearance and assets.

Klarabella Karamell's notice at Freebie Heaven, in Dorena's World - a must visit for Virtual World travellers.

I’m not criticising the Redgrave attempt to make money from people who have never bought a Redgrave skin before but I was peeved by the fact that  I have three or four Redgrave skins, among the 60,000 items in my inventories in Second Life , which I will never be able to use in this world.  As a result I wont buy Redgave in Avination  or in any other world for that matter. The same goes for any other vendor who tries to rip me off twice for the same item.

In other OpenSim worlds ( currently excluding OsGrid because of a software glitch) one can step through a hypergate between world’s with one’s avatar and inventory intact. In fact, I can step from my own virtual world on my own home computer through a Hypergate to a MUVE virtually anywhere in the world, and possibly on  a distant friend’s home computer, wearing my skin, my hair, my shape, my AO  and with all my assets in my inventory.

Despite  my experience with avination  I have found through “jaunting”  that there are now a number of competent builders operating in OpenSource MUVEs  who are both selling their products courtesy the Virtex  money exchange system and others, particularly Klarabella Karamel, of Freebie Heaven, on Dorena’s World (HG 1.5), and Eppilonia (HG 1.0), who are giving things away which they are constructing themselves  and guaranteeing that they are the orginators.

And there  are already great virtual world avatar skins in the wild – and on lots of  OpenSim grids – based on Eloh Elliot’s splendid OpenSource, Creative Commons, freebie  works of art as well as many other items which have been created by OpenSource builders like the much venerated but late Arcadia Asylum, of Second life, who was renowned for her run-ins with the Lindens over the OpenSource issue.

The popularity of “jaunting” can be gauged from  the growth  in membership of John (Pathfinder) Lester’s (formerly Pathfinder Linden and education guru for Second Life) Hypergrid Adventurers’ Club based on Pathlandia, in the blossoming http://www.jokaydia.com/, which is attached to http://reactiongrid.com/.

He runs twice -weekly tours (http://becunningandfulloftricks.com/) which are drawing more and more  Second Life refugees who crave the bleeding edge excitement of the early days of Second Life. Check him out. It’s well worth taking one of his tours.

* Jaunting – The method of  travel/teleportation discovered by Charles Fort Jaunte, in Alfred Bester’s 1956 sci-fi novel, Tiger!Tiger!, later published as, The Stars my Destination.

Pathfinder Lester's HGAC members are briefed for a hypergrid tour.

SLENZ Update, No 150, November 17, 2009

The potential: “Daddy, Miss America wont share her toys.”

Obama vision could be crippled

by rich, greedy US institutions

… and commercial interests who want an arm  and two legs.

Birthunitdemo131109_0021. Sharing knowledge – The Gronstedt Group begins tour  of the SLENZ birthing unit.

The more time I spend in Second Life and  other virtual worlds the more I become convinced  that  SLENZ  joint leader Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust) is right: Collaboration and sharing is the key to success in  world education in virtual worlds.

But its not just collaboration within the United States, or New Zealand. It’s collaboration around the world.

The rich, big universities of North America and Europe might be able to afford to go  it alone, but for the smaller and the often poorer tertiary institutions of  the United States,  countries like  New Zealand, and Third World countries – if they even have reliable, affordable Broadband services – don’t have the luxury of NOT collaborating and sharing,  both at an institutional level and at an academic level.

The creation of complex builds, huds, animations and all the other paraphernalia of teaching successfully in a virtual  world, as well as aquiring the skills/knowhow to use them  can cost megabucks: to not share them under OpenSource and Creative Commons license with institutions and academics around the world would seem to be me to be both profligate and selfish. It also could regarded by some , particularly when sold at a high price or with an exorbitant  license fee attached, as both  neo-colonialist and  greedy capitalism of the kind that brought about the most recent crash of world markets.

Second Life behind the firewall

The collaboration thoughts, although first ennunciated  for me by  Dr  Atkins, were brought to mind more recently by  five things: the move by the Lindens, admitted an avowedly commercial organisation,  to  promote Second Life behind the firewall, previously Nebraska, to  commercial, Government and educational institutions at US$55,000 a pop, a princely sum for many cash-strapped institutions around the world;  President Obama’s Cairo vision, proclaimed in June;  a visit by the KiwiEd group to the University of Western Australia, Second  Life site; a Train for Success Gronstedt Group  35-avatar tour of the SLENZ Project’s virtual birthing unit on the Second Life island of Kowhai; and  finally, but not least,  the one-hour keynote address on copyright  by  Harvard University  Professor of Law Lawrence Lessig to  EDUCAUSE09 in Denver earlier this month.

Lessig-certificate-of-entitlement-700x524

2. Sharing the knowledge: Lessig’s certificate of entitlement.

Obama told  the world,  “We will match promising Muslim students with internships in America and create a new online network … ” something  which  Second Life arguably has been  doing for sometime with  the collaboration already  occurring between individual academics and many smaller institutions creating an “online network, facilitating collaboration across geographic and cultural boundaries.”

The problem with his vision is that  US commercial – and often Government –  interests  have almost always  worked against  facilitating collaboration and sharing across geographic  and cultural boundaries. Look at Microsoft software. Look at Apple and ITunes licensing. Look at software regionalisation. Look at the record industry. Look at the book industry, where rich English language publishers in the UK and the US split the world into at least two markets.  Look at the way copyright law has moved into  education – and science.

But its not a new phenomenon. Look at banana republics, created out of Boston,  as a rather ironical and destructive facilitation of collaboration across geographic and cultural boundaries.

Triumphs of reason

On the other hand there are triumphs of reason over idiocy. Look at the rise of the ubiquitous PC, compared to the Apple computer, even though using a proprietary Operating System  the rise from the “underground” of  Moodle, compared to say Blackboard; the slow advance of bilateral free trade agreements, even if not the much desired mutilateral  free trade agreements, instead of the trade siege mentality,  which  affected most of the world in the 1930s (and still threatens); the growing popularity of Linux compared to proprietary Operating Systems; and finally the astounding growth of  Wikipedia compared to Encarta or Britannia.

Despite my misgivings I have been heartened over the years by the surprising degree of co-operation and collaboration that has been happening in virtual worlds. That is despite the actions of  those  few Scrooge McDuck-like educational institutions which have purely commercial interests at heart and appear to run closed shop operations, sharing with none.

I was even more cheered recently by a visit to the University of Western Australia when I found that  university, which is in the forefront  of Australian virtual world education, was entering into bi-lateral  virtual “free trade” and/or “free exchange”  agreements with  the likes of Stanford University and others. This mirrors the agreements put in place  by  Scott Diener (SL: Professor Noarlunga) at the University of Auckland with the University of Boise; and Judy Cockeram (SL: Judy-Arx Scribe) and  her work with architects around the world;  and those “handshake”   agreements  or informal sharing arrangements put in place by a myriad of other relatively smaller institutions who have already recognised the benefits of world-wide collaboration.

3.Sharing the knowledge – KiwiEd group tours University of Wester Australia site.

And then there is the SLENZ Project, which 18 months ago adopted as its ruling credo,  complete transparency, with OpenSource under Creative Commons license for all its virtual educational products, developments and knowledge in the hope that others would be able to build on the team’s work. Even though the adoption of this credo was probably due more to the persistence and bloody-mindedness of a then non-Second Life “immersed” and relatively sceptical SLENZ Learning Designer Leigh Blackall than anything else, it has worked and is working.

One has to  agree now that Blackall was right, even though  there is obviously a place for fair payment to commercial (virtual world creators, builders, developers etc) interests, something Linden Labs has recognised  with its protection of its own virtual world product lines (and  unfortunately those created and developed by its residents, even if Creative Commons, full permissions and OpenSource) behind  the walls of Second Life.

Linden Labs is not alone, however, in usurping user/creator rights.  The way  they have covered the issue in their rather draconian and very American Terms of Service is little different from other major US on-line social networking services: if you put it up on their service, they own it.

Virtual World Free Trade/Exchange Pact?

This is despite, or perhaps in spite of “renegades” like the  onetime Arcadia Asylum, making all her magnificent “builds” available to “anyone to use anywhere,  how they like, even blowing it up.”

Like  the tyrants behind the old Iron Curtain the Lindens realise that keeping  control of their residents’ creations inside  their world (and keeping them there), guarantees that they will have to stay there unless they want to pour their creativity, time and work down the drain and start a new virtual life elsewhere.

This leads  me to the thought that President Obama, although paying lip service to “collaboration across geographic and cultural boundaries,” needs to put his Government’s money  where his mouth is and promote a world-wide free trade/exchange agreement for  virtual world education if not for virtual worlds themselves, guaranteeing rights of both personal ownership of  individual products when created or bought in a real world sense,  but also opening up US educational institution virtual knowledge and creativity for the rest of the world to freely add to, and build on.

The President  has the vision  for a better on-line world – which could lead to greater understanding between peoples through education.

If he does nothing except talk. Nothing will happen.

And, I believe, we will find the major educational institutions moving more behind their Ivy Walls – if they are not already there – and American educational institutions (and others in UK, Germany, Brazil etc) adopting  a siege mentality   even though  virtual worlds (all virtual worlds, whether emanating out of the US or China or anywhere else) will only fulfill their true potential of levelling the playing field for all educationally if they are free and open to all.

That is something America can do for the world – all worlds.

SLENZ Update, No 136, September 17, 2009

CAN NEW ZEALAND USE THIS LESSON?

Texas shows the way forward in

virtual world education …

UTSLcampus

John Lester (SL: Pathfinder Linden) and Leslie Jarmon (SL: Bluewave Ogee)
meet in front of the virtual version of Johnson Claudia Taylor Hall
at the University of Texas System.(Picture: Pathfinder Linden)

The New Zealand tertiary education system  should probably be looking at  following the virtual lead of the University of Texas, although perhaps not on  a such a grand scale.

After four years of research and “toe-dabbling” the University of Texas has  launched its State-wide 16-campus system into Second Life  as part of a year-long project that will bring students, faculty, researchers and administrators into Second Life to explore the use of virtual worlds as “an innovative, low-cost approach to undergraduate instruction.”
At the same time the New Zealand  tertiary education system remains at the stage of “toe-dabbling” with the arguably  successful SLENZ Project slated to finish at the end of the year  and the OpenSim ONGENS New Zealand National Grid Project simmering – one might unkindly say bumbling – along in Alpha mode with inadequate funding and resources despite a small band of hard-working devotees doing their best to create a homegrown virtual world and build support across the whole New Zealand university spectrum.

That the Texas lesson, created by the UT System Transforming Undergraduate Education Program initiative, is being taken to heart, however, can be gauged from the fact that 0ne of the main ONGENS “builders” and virtual world enthusiast,  University of Auckland academic Dr Scott Diener (SL: Professor Noarlunga), describes it as “an astonishing development … in scale and concept.”

But despite some tardiness here all is not lost. The UT research into virtual world education  is to be made freely available to educators/researchers around the world and there will be opportunities for collaboration with the UT campuses, something New Zealand educators should look into.

Biggest challenge

The University of Texas’ Dr  Leslie Jarmon (pictured right), Faculty Development Specialist and Senior Lecturer in the Division of Instructional Innovation & Assessment (CIE/DIIA), at the University of Texas, at Austin,   co-founder of the Educators Coop in SL, and the primary investigator for this statewide  initiative, told Linden Labs’ John Lester that the  the biggest challenge to gaining approval for the  initial  one-year, 50-plus-SL region launch of the project  had been  finding the most effective language and concrete Second Life examples  to craft a proposal that would be heard by key administrators. JarmonLeslie

In a lesson for  New Zealand educators seeking virtual world education funding, she said, “When an opportunity arose, a real time demo of Second Life using Voice with real educators and Linden Lab officials answering the Chancellors’ questions right there on the spot was more effective than 100 pages of textual description. Very pragmatic, concrete, visionary ­ at the same time.”

Another key challenge, she said, had been rigorously ensuring that the provision of the virtual infrastructure for 15 campuses (9 academic campuses; 6 medical health science center campuses)  and information and training support would  not dictate which direction each campus would take as they discovered and created their own unique learning and research journeys.

“We’re meeting this challenge with the overriding mission of creating together a virtual learning community,” she told John Lester. ” Virtual worlds are a new human dimension for educational activity, and we¹re constantly exploring and learning alongside one another.”

“Step-by-step in this evolving system-wide virtual learning community, all of these players — and especially our undergraduates — will be seen as learners with expanded roles: learners as scientists, learners as designers, learners as researchers, learners as communicators, and learners as collaborators. We see endless possibilities on the virtual learning horizon.”

UTmeeting

UT campus Leads meet Second Life officials in Austin Texas to lay the foundation
for the Virtual Learning Community Initiative (VLCI). (Picture VLCI)

SLENZ Update, No 133, September 01, 2009

CARTOON  OR SUPER-REALISM

Do the graphics really matter

in virtual worlds?

… and is Blue Mars really the third generation?

Blue Mars 2050 … does super-realism matter?

I have always wondered just how much the graphics matter in virtual worlds: I know my personal preference falls into the super-realism category when it comes to graphics but I’m well over the age of 30 and even as a youngster never had much time for cartoons or comics.

I ‘ve been enamored with World of Warcraft for years as well as the latest Grand Theft Auto offering. The CryENGINE (R)2 graphics,  when proposed for Entropia  Universe, really turned me on. I’m also intrigued  with the possibilities of Lenova elounge, by Nortel, and the  latest offering from  the MellaniuM stable,  the Furnace, and love  today’s graphics in Second Life, especially when seen through some of the better viewers on a high-end computer. I also felt  the failure of Google’s Lively to get any traction with any age group was due to the cartoony style of its graphics.

However, the digital generation, unlike the digital migrants or my generation, the digital dinosaurs, seem to have no problem with cartoon characters or environments: Look at Habbo Hotel (135,000 m users). Although accurate figures are notoriously hard to come by the best estimates from the industry-leader in understanding the marketing dynamics relating to virtual worlds, British-based Kzero, suggest that 57 percent of the estimated 579 million people who are registered users of MUVEs around the world, are children.

Virtual Worlds ‘not a passing fad’

As Victor Keegan reported in the UK Guardian almost  all of the 39 percent growth in MUVE usage reported by Kzero for the second quarter this year came from children.

“Girls used to grow up with their dolls; now they are growing up with their avatars,” he said. In this largely unreported cartoony VW  flood poptropica.com – aimed at five- to 10-year-olds – had 76 million registered users; among 10- to 15-year-olds, Habbo (135 million), Neopets (54 million), Star Dolls (34 million) and Club Penguin (28 million). The numbers start tailing off among 15- to 25-year-olds – apart from Poptropica (35 million), underlining the likelihood that as youngsters get older they will be looking for more sophisticated outlets and for ways to link existing social networks such as Facebook or MySpace to more immersive virtual worlds, he  said, arguing that virtual worlds “are not a passing fad”.

Do those digital generation figures mean, however, that Second Life,  described by  Larry Johnson, CEO New Media Consortium, as “the most currently evolved of the virtual world platforms … the seminal first instance of what the 3D web might look like”,   could  be beaten to a pulp in the marketplace, either by  virtual world  offerings which have even more realistic  graphics  or  over the long term, as the current generation of teens and tweens become adults,   by cartoon worlds like Habbo Hotel.

But, although, we’ve also seen the growth of  the Second Life software-based, opensource OpenSimulator environments, such as OpenLife, OsGrid and ONGENS among others, the arrival of behind-the-firewall applications such as Nebraska and offerings from other stables such as OLIVE Forterra, Twinity, Wonderland, Kaneva and peer-to-peer offerings such as Vastpark , Second Life at the moment, like Microsoft before it, seems to have the critical mass, the content  and the graphics to carry the game among adult MUVE users for at least the next five years.

That doesn’t mean to say that Second Life  wont have competitors in the  short or the long run.  It currently  seems to be moving  to ensure that it can beat this competition by  again emphasising  real life applications;  in some ways it is moving away from its core  user-base, of mainly nerdy, older (as compared to the popular teen and  tween worlds)  fantasists, first movers, former lounge potatoes, weather-bound, shut-ins  and others who delight in interacting with each other around the world, but at a distance.

Mainstreaming Second Life

Although apprehensive about some of the future plans the Lindens have for Second Life, which I feel will, in many ways, destroy the things which contribute to its attractive game/play/art/on-the-edge  feel,  I think the Linden move  to promote training and education uses of virtual worlds and its expressed goal of mainstreaming  through “extending the value of Second Life beyond the virtual world (through) helping Residents more closely integrate Second Life with their daily lives” are  correct moves in  an economic sense.

As Larry Johnson, summing up the growing momentum of Second Life and virtual learning, said in April this year, “I think it’s safe to say now that nearly every college and university has some sort of project in Second Life.”

For many users, however, that is probably the “boring’ direction. And it probably means that many  early Second Life adopters are already moving or will move on to other more edgy worlds taking their creativity – if not their content – with them.

One of those worlds just might be Blue Mars 2150 which  is scheduled to launch into its open Beta phase tomorrow, September 2. Or, of course, it too might join the virtual world scrap heap which is already littered with virtual worlds which have been created, promoted, and sometimes marketed,  and then faded away over the last few years. Remember Outback?

From the preview above – and remember it is a promotional video –  Blue Mars’ graphics are stunning, as are its partners.  It to obviously wants to cash in on the fact that the average social website user today spends $US148 each year, a figure that can only rise.

Blue Mars 2150, which  describes itself as the third generation of virtual worlds (also here) and like Linden Labs is based in San Francisco,  has already secured joint ventures with numerous leading academic institutions around the world, including the National Association of College Stores, with its 30,000 plus members, TERC, the National Geographic Society Alan Watts, NOVA and Smithsonian Institution.

It remains to be seen just how successful  Blue Mars 2150 will be. My belief is that unless someone comes up with something like “interactive, shared, controllable, lucid dreaming”  the Lindens are going to be very difficult to knock off their perch.