Is there a future for user-created content in Linden Lab’s new world?

The title of Ebbe Altberg’s talk at the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference on Monday was “The Future of VR is User-Created.” While Altberg did describe examples of well-known user-created content in the current Second Life virtual world, there were no specifics about how users will generate content in Linden Lab’s own virtual reality world of the future, the project currently known as Sansar.

Altberg made a number of vague statements in support of user-created content.

“We obviously want to democratize content to be something that anyone can use and create experiences,” he said. “In the future we will all be able to create spaces and experiences and invite people into those experiences… It’s not going to be something that necessarily someone created for you, just like we have our own homes and our way of dressing, the future in virtual reality is going to allow us to have that level of control over the environment and how we express ourselves.”

Altberg talked about many user-created objects and environments in Second Life although he showed remarkable few examples on his slides. Specifically mentioned were clubs, bars, music, dancing, role playing games like InSilico, Texas A&M chemistry classes, the US Army’s projects with PTSD, the training of nurses and oil refinery workers, Relay for Life, the TechSoup Nonprofit Commons’ project, the arts, fashion, and churches, and “one of my favorites,” Jo Yardley’s 1920’s Berlin.

1920s Berlin in Second Life. (Image courtesy Cammy Teardrop via Flckr.)

1920s Berlin in Second Life. (Image courtesy Cammy Teardrop via Flckr.)

Given that he was speaking at the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality conference, it made sense for Altberg to address the Occulus Rift. Last year the Lab worked to make the Occulus compatible with Second Life, though, as he pointed out, there are performance issues. The frame rates are too low. Altberg said this would be addressed in the next generation Linden Lab project. Additionally the Lab is working on how to “deal with sub-optimal” content.

“Users don’t necessarily know how to create extremely optimized content like a gaming studio would,” Altberg said.

Altberg went on to vaguely discuss project Sansar, the new product Linden Lab is currently building “in the spirit of Second Life.”

“It’s not just about shipping a lot of stuff, we’ve got to make sure we’ve got a lot of content,” he said. “We need to give the power to every user — to every person — to have the option of creating their own content and their own experiences.”

Surprisingly, he failed to mention anything specific about user-generated content in Sansar.

How will users create content on the new platform? Will all content in the new world be created with outside 3D programs like Maya and Blender? Will there be in-world content creation tools for users as there are in the current Second Life platform?

Unfortunately, Ebbe’s speech failed to address the question in the title of his talk. How, exactly, will content be generated in the virtual reality future he is creating with Sansar?

This issue is of particular concern to Second Life users who currently create content with in-world building tools and worry that they will be forced to learn 3D programs or give up content creation on the new platform.

Altberg announced that the Sansar project “will start alpha this summer for a few select users.”

His presentation in the video below starts at the 39 minutes mark.

Kathleen Watkins

Kathleen Watkins has been active in virtual worlds since 2006. In Second Life she is a supporter and presenter at the Nonprofit Commons. In OpenSim she leads weekly tours of the open source, hypergrid-enabled metaverse and teaches classes in 3D content creation with Blender software. Her background is in anthropology, nonprofit administration, and video production.

  • Reading this post, it sounds like you’re clear on the fact that Project Sansar will be a platform for user-created virtual experiences, and though you’re evidently disappointed that the talk didn’t get into the specifics of how users will create those experiences, I don’t think your “is there a future for user-created content [on the new platform]?” headline makes sense – it makes it sound like you’re questioning *whether* users will be able to create, rather than precisely how they will.

    Project Sansar is the platform for user-created social and interactive virtual experiences, and so yes, of course there is a future for user-created content on the new platform – that’s what it’s all about. Ebbe’s talk was intended to make the point that democratizing the creation and distribution of virtual experiences will be important to the future of VR as a medium, just as it has been important to many other media. Second Life’s history has repeatedly proven the value of user-created virtual experiences, and the new platform Linden Lab is developing, codenamed Project Sansar, will empower creators on a new level.

    • Peter —

      Does that mean it will have simple in-world content creation tools? Or does that mean that users will be able to import objects created in 3D modeling programs?

      Both are types of user-created content. But are extremely different from the standpoint of the average user.

      • Ultimately, both. The very first creators invited to the alpha will need to be skilled with creating in Maya, but we will broaden from there.

        • Koko B. Ware

          Pete, question regarding 2ndLife if you will..

          Koko has just retired from SL Sports going back to building on the mainland while noticing the inworld building tools really has changed very little in years. any plans for some kind of upgrade to the toolset in the next year or so.anything?

          I know you have not the time for Q&A but for its a concern for thousands of residents who cannot or will not use an external 3d modeling.

          Thanks
          -Koko

        • So we are talking about FBX import just like for highfidelity’s platform, right?

    • Serene Jewell

      Hi Pete. The issue really was about whether there will be in-world tools for users and how those might work. Sorry I wasn’t clear about that. I had assumed from the title of the talk that Ebbe would be telling us that there would be in-world tools, but after sitting through it live and watching the video, I still couldn’t tell. I’m sure you are aware of the fear among SL users that the only “user-generated” content will be that created with programs like Maya and Blender and imported into the world.

      • The title of this post is misleading, because it suggests there’s some question as to *whether* there will be user-created experiences on the new platform (for user-created virtual experiences), not some confusion about *how* experiences will be created. Again, Ebbe’s talk was intended to discuss the importance of user-created virtual experiences to VR as a medium, not an in-depth introduction to how Project Sansar will work, how experiences will be created, etc.

        To be clear, at its very first stages – e.g. this summer, when we invite the first non-Lindens to create on the platform – invited alpha creators will need to be skilled at creating with Maya. That’s just the start, and yes, the platform will eventually also allow for creating without use of third-party tools (as well as supporting a range of third-party tools). As Ebbe noted, we are aiming to democratize the creation (and distribution) of virtual experiences.

        • Serene Jewell

          Pete, your quote above was just the type of statement I was hoping for from Ebbe’s presentation: “…yes, the platform will eventually also allow for creating without use of third-party tools…” This is the first time I’ve seen this from anyone at LL and it’s an important detail to share. Honestly I don’t envy LL in the task of figuring out how to let all residents build and at the same time, try to keep objects as optimized as possible. But as you know, the ability for any resident to create objects has been a core part of SL culture – which is why the specter of allowing only professional creators is a source of concern among many residents. A little reassurance goes a long way.

          Oh, and I didn’t write the title. 🙂

    • Samantha Atkins

      Very important indeed as the majority of the richness in Second Life is from user created content, much of it for the pure joy of creation itself. It is one of the most important user experience aspects in Second Life for many creators and their efforts in turn enrich it for others.

  • Kathleen — Linden Lab just Tweeted back: @HypergridBiz Yes, of course there is. #ProjectSansar will be *the* platform for user-created, social & interactive virtual experiences.

    https://twitter.com/LindenLab/status/600692718021513216?cn=cmVwbHk%3D&refsrc=email

    • Susannah Avonside

      Seems to me that they are doing what politicians do, and answering a question that wasn’t asked. The question was directly about user-created content, but the answer was to a question about user-created, social and interactive experiences, which isn’t an answer to the question. Heck, you could call IRC a platform for user-created social and interactive virtual experiences, but it wouldn’t really answer the question that was asked, which was about virtual artifacts, i.e. things, not social interaction!

  • TribeGadgets

    To take from pete (grey) linden there the phrase ‘..the fact that Project Sansar will be a platform for user-created virtual experiences,..’ is not what we are asking here. Its how it is going to be put in to place. Tools and all that boring stuff. Guidelines. Restrictions. Enforcement aka ¨suboptimal’?
    I don’t mind, SL led me to smack my head against 3D tools and come out ever so slightly ahead so willing to give New Thing a spin.

    deSantis

  • By the time Linden Labs creates their new world they will have scared off all of their potential customers anyways.

  • talia rosher

    @Kathleen Watkins . . . You, my dear, have hit the nail right on the head! Unfortunately that’s exactly what I take from Ebbe’s speech too. That total obfuscation of the details, and a total unwillingness to be consistent in his answers. I dread that only pro builders who build what LL wants, will be allowed to create.

    • Why is that something to dread? It is not like you HAVE to be a Sansar user or customer? 🙂

      • Worst case scenario: The best creators, those who already work with mesh or can switch over, move to Sansar. LL stops investing in SL. Many users follow creators to Sansar but are disappointed by the more sterile, Disney-fied environment. Remaining SL users are disappointed by the lack of new content, falling usage rates. Both platforms die. Without a steady stream of emigrants — and without all the Wikis and other content SL generates — OpenSim dies. Then the sun goes nova, our solar system dies. The entire universe dies a cold, slow death. All memory of humankind is lost and there is no trace of us left in existence.

        • The one thing that is a given in your scenario is at some point in the future “All memory of humankind is lost and there is no trace of us left in existence.”. The rest is just conjecture, hehe.

          • i have to disagree with you there. We’ve got trillions of years ahead of us to figure out the underlying structure of reality and start tinkering with it.

            Plus, there’s the old universe-as-simulation hypothesis, where we’ve already figured out the underlying structure of reality and our whole existence here on Earth is virtual and we’re all just avatars. Well, I’m an avatar. You’re an avatar. Everyone else? Who knows how many of them are NPCs….

          • RL is where you end up when the matrix/viewer crash, yeah?

            If you believe in the principle of preservation of energy, we won’t exactly disappear and we come from somewhere 😉

          • Why would anyone, since Einstein, believe in the principle of preservation of energy? We’ve all seen that energy can be converted into matter and back again.

            And if you were to rephrase that as preservation of matter/energy, that still says nothing of the form that the matter or energy takes.

            For example, the total volume of water might be preserved when snow melts, but that snowman is gone for ever. The water retains no memory of its previous snowman existence, and we can’t reverse the arrow of time to bring the snowman back.

            But I DO think that there might be a reason why many major religions see our time on Earth as temporary, as a dream or illusion, as a test, as a play in which we’re merely players. If our natural state is more than this, if our earthly existence is a simulation, then it explains why bad things happen: given a choice between a game with sex and violence, and game without, plenty of people would pick the one that’s more dangerous — and more existing.

          • lmpierce

            I think you may have made an existential slip. You wrote, ‘and more existing’… did you mean ‘and more exciting’? Or am I slow to appreciate the subtlety of your word choice?

          • Thanks — that was a typo! lol

          • I believe that energy is the fundamental entity which can, as you say, be converted to matter and back again, or exist in a hybrid state like a human being is. When we die, a lot of that energy is released very fast, some takes a bit longer and the rest of the energy is released slowly – at times very slowly. Some of the release is obvious (body getting cold, decomposing) but much of the release is not.

            How exactly the transformation of, or preservation of that energy as I prefer to see it, manifest itself is up to so much up to debate and personal beliefs that we could debate forever. Fact is that nobody alive knows. – Which may be just as good.

          • My point is, saying that energy — or matter — is conserved has nothing to do with what happens to us, as human beings. It’s a misuse of the term “energy.”

            Energy powers computer programs, for example, but the principle of conservation of energy does not lead to any law of conservation of computer programs. You turn off the computer, or wipe the disk, and the programs are gone. You might have to spend some effort to get rid of all the traces of the data before the FBI breaks down your door, but once you do, you can’t get it back.

            If our minds are, in effect, computer programs, then once the energy stops flowing, and the cells decompose, we’re gone.

            Too often, the word “energy” is used to mean something spiritual, something beyond the actual matter/energy framework we know from physics. And we might extrapolate from one to the other — but there’s no particular reason to assume, based on current physics, that anything like that exists or that there’s a parallel set of laws for it.

            Just like a character in a game would have no way of knowing for sure that anything exists beyond the game. But you can make guesses. For example, if other characters around you are making decisions that seem illogical based on the information they have within the game — but turn out correct in the long run — you might assume that they have some fore-knowledge of what’s happening, say from having played the game before, or having a cheat sheet. Or if you find logical inconsistencies in the game. Or places where the creators cheated by recycling content.

          • All living DNA bases organisms do have a genetic memory coded into their DNA, which is different from a computer program that is stored as magnetic structures in memory or on disk.

            When we die, our DNA is not immediately destroyed under normal circumstances. If it did we would not be able to recover DNA from mammoths or faraos that died 1000s of years ago. So you simply cannot compare. This DNA can be sequenced and most likely revitalized even across such timespans. There may also be indications that DNA can be preserved in space and thus travel vast distance and time. I submit DNA cannot be active unless is also has energy present it can draw on.

            I don’t think our current understanding of physics is adequate to describe the transformation of energy that occurs when we die.

        • good point there…I don’t suppose bomb shelters will be of any help then…..

        • Susannah Avonside

          I think that it’s pretty much inevitable that SL will die once whatever Sansar becomes goes live as a ‘production’ grid. Talking to people, many are concerned about what happens to their present inventory; will they be able to take it with them. The short answer is going to be no, and they will be faced with the issue anyone restricting themselves to closed grids faces, namely that if you want that self same outfit that you have on SL in InWorldz ot Avination, then you will have to buy it. It doesn’t bode well that initially only content made in Maya will be uploadable to Sansar, totally ignoring Blender, which means that, once again, only those who use Windows/Mac platforms will have access.

          Less inevitable is that Opensimulator dies, as it is entirely separate from Second Life, even though it is obviously inspired, and technically similar. It is an entirely separate ecosystem, and if those of us who want to get away from the silliness of a lot of the immaturity and, let’s face it, the kind of cavalier attitude shown by OSGrid after the asset server disk crash, need to work together to create a decentralised metaverse that is welcoming to the future refugees from Second Life. Heck, I personally am none too sure that Sansar or High Fidelity will actually get off the ground. As it is, most people using Second Life can’t use it on ultra settings, let alone with full lighting effects, so Sansar and High Fidelity with their increased graphics hardware demands are going to be a bit of a stumbling block regarding take up. Sure, there could be some sort third party offering that allows browser access, but no doubt that will be a paid-for service, and whilst there will always be those who will pay for this kind of thing, (Mac owners spring to mind, as an example of those with more money than sense) for many paid access will be a deal breaker.

          There is also the prospect that as more and more of us get better internet connections, more people will be able to run their own simulators. Whilst it’s hardly a trivial matter for most people to run their own simulators, due to a general lack of confidence over technical matters, it’s perfectly feasible to teach people how, once you get rid of the geek mystique that surrounds the issue, and of course the usually terrible quality of most supposed tutorials on the subject. Once people become comfortable with the notion that they can run their very own Hypergrid enabled OpenSim region, and that it isn’t rocket science, and that as mere humans they can run their own home region, it might be that the Metaverse, (and I personally only regard Hypegrid enabled OpenSim grids and standalones to be the true Metaverse, as, by definition closed grids cannot be part of the Metaverse, though of course they are related) has a wonderful future ahead of it. There are a lot of things in favour of this being the case. There is a relatively low barrier to access, as people are already familiar with using the viewer to access Second Life.

          True, there is a bit more of a learning curve to running a home based region, but Second Life users are already half way there. Secondly, the issue of user created content simply isn’t an issue, it’s a given. The objection that OpenSim doesn’t have the advanced graphics of other platforms and as a result of which it will fail is so obviously a bit of a fallacy as is clearly demonstrated by the continued existence of Active Worlds, the grandmammy of them all, now celebrating it’s 20th birthday. The graphics there resemble Lego on a bad day, but it’s still there, and still has a very enthusiastic user base.

          Personally I don’t understand all the hoohaa about the quality of the graphics in Second Life/OpenSim. Surely it’s a case of there being different aesthetics. From what I can gather there is a tendency to shy further away from realism with platforms like IMVU etc, and from what I have seen of High Fidelity and from what Maria has mentioned above about Sansar, the more Disney aesthetic is going to be a deal breaker for many, including me – I loath anything Disney, for a whole host of reasons – cartoony I can live with, as anyone familiar with animated films made before the late 1950s will appreciate the level of work that went into creating the very rich environments in these films, as well as the sheer quality of the animation – go to the Internet Archive and take a look at the collection of animated short films there, including some of the earliest Superman epsiodes. I guess what I’m saying is that it needs to appeal to an adult user base, and I don’t think that a Disneyfied approach hits the mark there, or is indeed appropriate.

          • Susannah Avonside

            I forgot to add, maybe a concerted effort could be made on behalf of responsible users of OpenSim to approach Second Life creators about putting their old style content on the Kitely Market, even if only their old back catalogue stuff so that they are testing the water, so to speak. It would be a positive way of both getting half decent content, (I’m thinking clothes, and, especially, hair) and convincing creators that the Metaverse is a safe place to put their content, and that they are probably LESS likely to be ripped off there than on Second Life!

          • Content providers who want their products (and user base) to live on outside SL could give content amnesties that could be organized such that if a customer moved to an entity where the content provider was established, they could get previous purchased content for free or a nominal fee.

            The content provider would have to be reasonably sure the receiver was the same entity as the purchaser in SL, but that could possibly be verified along the same line as they verified L$ accounts against avination currency for instance.

            For this to work, the entire content would have to be created by one creator, or there must be agreements in place with say scripters, animators etc that had rights in parts of the product moved.

  • We know already, from previous keynotes, that all content will come from imported mesh and programming will be in C# or Javascript . This should mean that 99% of all existing SL users will ignore this world.

    • Samantha Atkins

      In world javascript editors replacing in world LSL now would be a fantastic improvement. Javascript is much much more powerful and made for such an event driven environment. There is no good reason why you could not edit javascript in the viewer itself.

      • Cinder Biscuits

        I’m sorry, but Javascript is a horrible language rushed through its 10-day development and forced into a use it was never intended for. I’d hate to see it foist onto yet another project suited much better for something else.

  • I think that some points must be totaly clear from the very start, and not hidden behind some “early development” haze or other circonlocutions:

    -anything we import or create remains our property

    -our IP rights remain our property for everything to the least pixel (with just fair use by LL, for advertising, demos, etc.)

    -there must be no way to create copyboters or other content/IP theft tools

    -the in-world prims building system which made the success of SL must be kept as much as possible

    -There must be a way to import and export our creations from SL or Open Sims worlds.

    -for high level building like meshes, they must use affordable 3D creation tools, and for this we must be able to import/export in a variety of format, including collada, VRML, etc.

    -We must be able to import/export professional 3D formats used in industry and films, like autocad, 3DS, etc.

    I am sorry to say, but Linden Lab has a long history of not heeding at people’s needs (hence the title of this article). Only you can change this. You have an unique opportunity to do so.

    • Added: As long as we are speaking of a better SL, we OBVIOUSLY need:

      -no more irrelevant social/aesthetical limitation (square “grid”, pollution-coloured distance haze, windlight settings chosen by the visitor, etc.)

      -a real bettering of body shapes (custom skeleton, controlled deformation of body mesh and clothes mesh deformations with movement, no imposed big arses or faceted boobs, etc.)

    • Cinder Biscuits

      Having no way to create copybot and other content theft tools conflicts with having the ability to import/export. (Despite the fact that stopping content theft is impossible. i.e the Analog Hole)

  • Worry Wort

    The new world will be another walled garden with no third party viewers. at the end of day everything done will be to maximize profits.
    They will not have any good building tools inworld for one reason only. it will compete with the business model of charging creators a 30% tax to offset the lower land costs.

  • Onward Forward Upgrades

    SecondLife is still a great environment, will more be done to update / convert SL to a more 2020s environment ?
    MANY people have invested a ton of time and money and relationships into SecondLife, and it would be great to see it grow and expand beyond into the 3D Virtual Reality head set world…