An Artist Contemplates Second Life

Wagner James Au of the long-running blog New World Notes has highlighted the work of artist Erik Mondrian, who found himself so inspired by Second Life that it became his MFA thesis at the California Institute of the Arts:

Here, in Second Life, a vast virtual canvas where we create what cannot be, what could be, what was, and what might be again, I step inside the imaginations of people I have never met, and who I may never even have spoken to, understanding something of their inner worlds nonetheless.

— Erik Mondrian.

Here is the entire nine-minute video on YouTube from which this quote was taken:

It’s quite beautiful, and I would encourage you to take a few moments to watch and enjoy it. If you want to see more, there is a playlist of ten videos shot and narrated by Erik here.

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Pursuing the Holy Grail of Second Life in Virtual Reality: A New Solution Using Firestorm and SteamVR

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Obligatory image from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

I first heard the news from Wagner James Au of the long-running Second Life blog New World Notes: someone has come up with a new way to navigate SL in a VR headset!

OK this is pretty amazing: Someone named Peter Kappler quietly created code to run Second Life in VR via Firestorm and Steam VR, and then posted the source code online. “It’s not a fully working Firestorm,” he allows on his YouTube, “there is still a lot to do. The file I posted is a source file in C++ for coders that wish to maybe work on a VR version for Second Life.”

There have been at least two other attempts to create a VR port for Second Life, but performance has not been impressive — Linden Lab had an experimental client of its own, but discontinued supporting it due to lack of decent frame rate. The demo video…suggests Kappler has come up with a fairly decent port; better yet, by open sourcing his code, he’s encouraging other developers to improve it further.

Here’s the eight-minute demo video Wagner refers to (there’s no sound):

Now, there is no guarantee that this open-source solution (which relies on SteamVR and the Firestorm viewer code) will be able to attain the high framerates required to avoid VR sickness. But it does look somewhat promising!

Second Life was never intended for VR; the platform is simply too dated to support it. Any solution will be a kludge at best. But I do find it interesting that people keep pursuing the Holy Grail of SL in VR, anyways. I wouldn’t mind trying this out myself, just to see how well it works.

Thank you for the heads-up, Wagner!

Does the End of PocketGacha Mean That Second Life’s Economy Is In Trouble? No.

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Image by Mediamodifier on Pixabay

It never fails to amaze (and amuse) me how much I have been blogging about Second Life recently. As I have said before, I never intended to blog about SL at all! This blog was originally about Sansar and Sansar only, and then last January I broadened the scope to include all the newer social VR platforms (High Fidelity, VRChat, Sinespace, etc.). And then, I decided to start sharing my 11 years of accumulated knowledge of how to get the best steals, deals, and freebies in Second Life with you, my readers. And those posts generate a fair bit of traffic, too.

Lately, I have been covering other aspects of Second Life, such as the upcoming ability for Premium Second Life account holders to choose a new first and last name for their avatar. That one blogpost is now by far my most popular, with well over 2,500 views!

As you probably know, gachas are a big, big thing in Second Life. Which is why I was so surprised to hear that PocketGacha was shutting down, even though it had thousands of users and earned lots of money:

  1. Just over $300,000.00 (DOLLARS…not Linden!) were transacted via the two HUDs [PocketShop and PocketGacha] – generating real sales and real money for creators. This is demonstrative proof that those who feel SL is not “real life” are grossly mistaken. Small cottage industry brands (People!) benefit and, in many cases, PocketEvents proudly contributed to their lives and well-being. A number and fact we are very proud of.
  2. Over 30K unique users engaged the two HUD’s during this time. While we have no idea how this compares to other events we can say this: given an average of 30K users on SL at any one time it seems a healthy percentage of the grid at the very least tried and embraced the shopping HUD platform with us.

I used and enjoyed PocketGacha myself, and I loved the convenience of the service. So why are they shutting down? The PocketEvents team explains:

With that said the team has felt of late that now is the time to move on to new ventures. Those age-old words of “always leave a party when you are having fun” never rang so true.

It’s no secret that PocketShop never really resonated with shoppers like PocketGacha. Just like PocketGacha we worked to address the needs and wants that so many voiced. Creators wanted traffic driven to their mainstores. We did that. Shoppers wanted less lag and instant gratification at events without having to fight to TP. We did that too. HUD based delivery of Demos to try in private…check. Just like PocketGacha we looked to be more than an event but a solution to the most common wants. Yet, despite it all, shoppers were less than impressed with PocketShop.

We have spent two months trying to understand if this lack of engagement was a result of anything we did, a failure to properly market the idea, or perhaps a fault of the HUD design. Nothing made sense as those who did use the HUD found it just as easy as the popular PocketGacha HUD. What we surmised is that in the end shoppers better associated us with Gacha and their seeing beyond that was difficult.

There is no doubt as well that SL commerce is changing. The boom-boom days are long in the past. While perhaps the top 1% of brands might still be doing fine (though I’m certain not selling what they once were) the new and emerging brands are finding it harder and harder to connect with shoppers. The drastic drop in new users in SL and an inability to retain these avatars has led all of us to this juncture. In some ways we have reached the point where we are just selling sneakers to each other. Or, to better quote the old adage, “delivering pizzas to each other.” Because, really, how many sofas can one own after years in SL? The people at Linden Lab are smart. I am sure they know this as well and are working on solutions. Let’s all hope.

The finale to this perfect storm is that the world of events is becoming saturated to the point of being destructive to one another along with the brands that try to balance doing them. While the old-line events may thrive to a point (I think, again, not like they once did) new ones arise it seems each and every day and SL is starting to feel like a town of 50K people that has built 50 shopping malls. It’s just too much for the current market.

Wagner James Au calls it a sign of an SL recession, saying:

This closure comes despite Pocket Gacha and a related HUD being used by a reported 30,000 unique users transacting over $300,000.00 “DOLLARS…not Linden!” across the service.  What Pocket Gacha lead developer Oobleck Allagash tells me suggests a larger economic trend I’ve also noted elsewhere — less emphasis on virtual homemaking, and more on Second Life as a social media experience:

“That shopping is being affected, especially in the area of Home and Garden, due to a minimal amount of new users and a lessening interest in creating sim builds,” as he puts it. “After all, how many sofas does a 10-year old avatar need? Photography has been a saving grace to a point but at levels nowhere near what we saw a few years ago.”

In other words, as more and more of the Second Life experience is shifted to virtual fashion/lifestyle screenshots and video on Flickr and YouTube, there’s less need for virtual land, and less need for housewares to furnish that virtual land. All that remains is what’s core to the user — their avatar, and their avatar’s appearance (clothes, mesh bodies, poses, etc).

I’m not sure that I agree with Wagner that Second Life is undergoing a recession, and I also don’t agree with the PocketEvents team’s assertion that there’s simply too many stores chasing too few customers in Second Life. Stores and brands are always going to come and go, and some of the newer ones have been phenomenally successful (as anyone who tried to teleport into the Scandalize store this weekend will certainly attest).

I spent a good chunk of time signed into Second Life over this past weekend, visiting various stores, and I can assure you that there is certainly no shortage of shoppers. Now, mind you, I can only attest to the health of the avatar fashion market as I see it; Oobleck may indeed have a point that the level of SL home and garden shopping has gone down somewhat.

Although Linden Lab certainly has sales figures for the SL Marketplace (which of course they don’t share with us, other than giving an aggregate sales figure at events such as the 15th anniversary), they really have no way of knowing how well items are selling in stores that operate on the grid. All they (and we) have to go on is word of mouth, and the news can be contradictory at best. There has always been, and there will always be, good news and bad news. Some vendors are doing well, and others close down. It’s all cyclical, I believe. New vendors enter the marketplace as older vendors leave it (or, more likely, leave their goods to sit forever on the SL Marketplace; Linden Lab really needs to put a date filter on Marketplace search).

Second Life is constantly evolving and changing over time as it matures. This does not mean that it is in a serious decline. As the recently published academic book Living and Dying in a Virtual World: Digital Kinships, Nostalgia, and Mourning in Second Life states:

At fourteen years old, Second Life can no longer be perceived as the young, cutting-edge environment it once was, and yet it endures as a place of belonging, fun, role-play and social experimentation.  In this volume, the authors argue that far from facing an impending death, Second Life has undergone a transition to maturity and holds a new type of significance.

I do believe that Second Life will endure and that it does have a long and successful life ahead of it, although the overall number of users may continue a slow decline as more people make the move to Sansar and the other new social VR platforms and virtual worlds. Many will no doubt keep a foot in both Second Life and the newer worlds. I know I will!

So, don’t worry; the shuttering of one Gacha HUD does not mean the end of the world.

An Hour with Jaron Lanier in Sinespace

I got to the Delphi Talks event early, so I could grab a good seat near the front. I opted to stay in desktop mode rather use my VR headset, and use Sinespace’s built-in snapshot tool to take pictures, like the one below:

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Check out Sinespace employee Sun Tzu’s centaur warrior avatar (above image, right). The detail on his outfit is AMAZING. Sinespace has really improved their avatar appearance in the last few updates to the client software!

Jaron showed up a little late, due to real life traffic. His avatar is the octopus with the dreadlocks in the pictures below:

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Jaron Lanier in Sinespace 25 May 2018

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Among many other topics, Jaron talked about the artwork from the medieval era as a sort of precursor to today’s virtual reality. He was also rather disturbed by Facebook’s purchase of Oculus. He still hasn’t seen the movie Ready Player One, and he talked about bringing VR to Hollywood and giving demos back in the 1980s, when it was super expensive to recreate what we now have as relatively commonplace, consumer-level VR.

Here is a link to the livestream of the event.