Think Less about land impact #SL

When Linden lab reduced the amount of prim allocation for what became the ‘Homestead’ regions that was a clear indication that prim count made a difference to sim performance. But that was then and this is now, the Mesh revolution in second life.

When incorporating mesh Linden Lab have thought hard and are still tweeking occasionally the way Mesh is counted on region performance and how best to calculate for us. It wasn’t a simple task of comparing with prims, alot had changed since the creation of the prim and sculpted prims kinda added a false sense of performance that may have got out of hand.

I myself became obsessed with creating complex sculpt  objects that only cost one prim against a region and not realising the increased cost that sculpty put on the viewer and servers. Soon everyone has been creating awesome looking avatars, Objects and buildings with sculpty prims. It has allowed people to have very detailed objects at a fraction of the prim count, but has inflated rendering costs which may have created more lag grid wide.

With the introduction of Mesh Linden Lab added the ‘More Info’ pop up to help us gage a sense of rendering costs alongside land impact and it’s an extremely important tool. Now when creating or placing an object we have a better indication of what that object will cost the region we are on. But what is more important? the Land impact or the Display cost?

Most people are still in the mind set of thinking about Land Impact first, and most don’t even know about ‘Display Costs’ but eventually we might all get in a habit of searching for trees with the least display cost rather than least land impact.

 

So heres my latest comparison. Old Sculpty Prim/Classic Prim combo Water Wheel VS New Mesh Water Wheel

Mesh wheel on the left, Old Sculpty on the right

 

Once you get used to the creating in blender, you will find you have so much more freedom to create more detailed objects compared to building inside SL. You have alot more control over things like the effects of LOD and texturing.  Here are the ‘More Info’ stats showing the difference in display costs between the old and new waterwheels.

The Mesh water wheel is far more detailed model wise and texture wise, yet is half the cost to display by the viewer and takes half the time to download. But the mesh water wheel is 1 land impact more than the Sculpty wheel. In the end i can only assume that the sculpt wheel has a less accurate land impact since it costs so much more to display and Linden Lab can’t  change the costs of Sculpty prims across the grid to be a more accurate representation of region costs, that would just upset EVERYONE.

So what’s the better water wheel? the one thats more detailed yet costs the viewer less to download and display, or the waterwheel that costs one less land impact? SL Users perhaps need to start changing how they think about rezzing objects inworld.

Answering Rodviks question #SL

I was saying to some of my friends a few days ago, ‘we aint heard much from the Rodvik of late’, low and behold he surfaces briefly in the SL Universe forums with a very interesting question.

“Actually I do have a question for folks here. Assuming SL improved performance enormously, from region crossings to lag to render times. (big assumption I know but roll with me here) What would you do to insure new users “stuck”?

Right now after performance our biggest issue is not getting new signups or even people to experience SL for a bit, its turning them into long term users.

Any thoughts on what you would do? We have some ideas but before pulling the trigger I would be curious what folks thoughts are here. The more varied the better.

Thanks!”

 

Well every longterm SL resident has their own ideas on how SL could be better, it’s like you can’t call yourself a hard core SL user unless you have your own improvement strategy.

So what would improve long term retention for SL?

Most users would shout REDUCE THE FREAKIN PRICE! and i used to think that to. But after reading a blog post or two and my own experience with running a shop while owning a private region i’m fully aware now that reducing the price won’t make a difference. For example the high price makes you think hard about getting an island filtering out people who might think its great the first month then decide to not come back the month after for what ever reasons. Im not saying the price isn’t too high, I’m just saying i think reducing the price won’t have much of an effect on getting new users to stay. I’d love it if after two years of owning an island LL would give private region owners a free openspace sim for being so nice and loyal (HINT!).

Other users have said things like viewer improvements, re-instating orientation island etc. I have my own ideas of course so i guess i should just present them.

 

I have made a list of questions that the Newb must answer.

For the majority of Newbs I’ve briefly met, their answers to these questions are as follows

Ask a long term resident the same questions and their answers more than likely have changed to something resembling this…

 

We are the lucky ones, we somehow discovered or created groups/communities that we could join and be part of. We some how realised the scale of SL and it’s possibilities and thats why we stay.  But how did we do that?

As a Newb its never really clear about community or groups. The Focus is on making friends, meeting people and exploring places which is fine until you arrive at a place  figure out how to use controls and see just one other person and you wonder what you should be doing.

It actually freaks me out that i get about 30 newbs a day arriving first thing on my island and they have no idea what to do there. My group of Goonies know what to do there, they run around fighting goblins, telling stories and chat about the films they saw at the cinema before organising to go explore a new region for an adventure. This is why they stay. this is what the newbs need to learn, but how?

 

If only there was a way to encourage Newbs to engage in connecting with others as a kind of springboard in to the wider diverse community. 

We’ve all seen the ‘recommendations’ in SL feed, an attempt to get users to meet new people. How well does that actually work? Anyway i don’t think meeting random people based on 2 words in common is very comfortable. if your interests recommended groups that were listed with those interests, perhaps that would work better. Think of Groups as Guilds. Meeting a variety of people who all have common interests improves your chances of finding things you might want to become involved with.

The destination guide could be more of a game. Give newbs a reason to explore more by collecting destinations that they like and rate on their SLprofile , a sort of digital passport. Then depending on what places they’ve rated highest in their collection recommend other places and groups that fit similar interests.

For Gods sake Improve the Groups functionality in SL. make it easier for the newb to see group notifications and better organise notifications for easy finding (suggest nicking OSX Mountain Lions Notification centre). Allow Group owners and moderators more features to engage with their members and encourage activities. Have SLfeed profiles for groups allowing event calendars and members to have posts containing specific group hashtags to appear in the groups Feed.

All these suggestions are off the top of my head but the crux of the matter is that the Community features in SL that i and my friends use to stay in touch, keep informed and help us feel connected, and in turn keep us logged in together are not clearly visible quickly enough to the new user.

The result is, they came, they saw, they learned there is nothing to do, and they left.

 

Extra thoughts: Just a note. I joined Star Wars: The Old Republic and played it for a month. I love start wars, and the game looked great, so why did i not continue playing it? I did not make any friends or join a guild so all i was left with was the single player story which i completed or got bored with. There is no single player mode in SL

Games in #SL don’t have to be Games – It could be emotional

New Features in Facebook arrive so suddenly that the first you’ll probably hear about it is from Tech Blogs such as Techcrunch or Mashable where they report the fury from users who have their contacts sucked out of their address books. Linden Lab on the other hand announce new features years in advance.

Last year Linden Lab announced new gaming tools coming to Second Life. This year they renamed them Experience Tools and i have just recently been told they are now called ‘CreatorTools’ what ever they are called does not matter, but what they will bring to Second Life regions does.

I have my island, and i have my MESH Goblins and secret underground tunnels of discovery, but there are functions that i am waiting patiently for with the release of the Creator Tools. Pathfinding will allow my monsters to come alive and run about freely instead of just heading to the nearest target. My monsters will be able to damage you and even kill you and instead of sending you home they will auto teleport you to a respawn point on the island. Auto attaching HUDS can appear on your display to help guide you to hidden treasure or monitor your health as you are attacked by goblins. Unlocking secret doors and entering them will be able to auto teleport to the desired destination instead of having to click anything.

So yeh we get to make SL more like a game

But what makes a game a game?

It will be inevitable that creators who first get hands on these new experience tools will emulate current gaming paradigms in order to get to grips with what can be done. Current creators who have already done their best to create combat gaming communities in SL will get a massive boost in interactivity. Eventually however i think we could see creators start to experiment with what a game is.

Im a fan of Peter Molyneux and while i’ve never actually played Black & White or Fable for which he is honoured for, It’s his ideas about games that connect emotionally with people that has caught my imagination. In 2010 Peter demoed a test for ‘Milo‘ a virtual boy who could interact and make an emotional connection with the player. At first i could not grasp how this would work in a game and the media blew it all out of context. Then at TED Peter showed a more visible idea of applied gameplay to Milo and i was blown away.

The main focus with Milo seems to be the Tech, the Ai that allows Milo to interact and change with the player but for me the Tech was simply a device to allow an empathic connection between the player and the game and THIS was what really caught my attention.

Empathy is a defining thing. We judge a films mercilessly by how much we care for the characters being knocked off by alien monsters, yet in a game this is rarely applied. In Second life i have seen countless examples of people empathising with each other. We recognise that we are all individuals with real people and character behind the unique avatars. This is the true power of the Avatar in Virtual Space.

Imagine how awesome it would be if while playing a mainstream MMORPG for a couple of months you discover one of your guild members who you see as a great friend turned out to be a major plot device to the biggest in game story. This happened in Second Life during a steampunk role-play in New Babbage. A group became friends with another player who joined them and became friends, then three months later they discovered that their new friend was actually the key to stopping the entire city from being burnt to the ground. The emotional mind game left the group in shock as they tried to work out what just happened. It was truly a totally new gaming experience to be emotionally torn apart by a game.

The ‘Milo’ game never came to be in the end as Molyneux said in an interview ‘”I just don’t think that this industry is ready for something as emotionally connecting as something like Milo.” and “The real problem with Milo, and this is a problem we had lots of meetings over, was where it would be on the shelves next to all the computer games. It was just the wrong thing. It was the wrong concept for what this industry currently is. Maybe this industry one day won’t be like that, but at this particular time, having a game that celebrates the joy of inspiring something and you feel this connection, this bond; it was the wrong time for that.”

In Second Life the majority of people already have this connection and bond. In New Babbage i created a city wide role-play game and the majority of New Babbage residents got involved as a community. They were emotionally attached to the story and the cities history. But i also tried to bring in outsiders to enjoy the game but they could not experience the same emotional connection to the story.

So who will i be making games for? Everyone and not be able to connect them emotionally, or for a small group who will be so emotionally attached to the experiences as to be unable to sleep due to whats happening to their digital self?

 

“When all the stimulus [of combat and puzzles] drops away something fills that space and it’s usually the player thinking about stuff, reflecting on stuff. these quiet patches can give a massive boost to the type of emotional complexity that a game can [create].” – Dan Pinchbeck Director of Dear Esther

The gaming industry is changing as more and more experiment with defined rules of what makes a game, and if you are like me looking forward to the possibilities the new tools will open, check out this article on EDGE. With the new Creator Tools Linden Lab have an opportunity to grow Second Life with this area of games experimentation. In a sense Second Life can only grow when the tools allow it.

I wait patiently.