Rod Humble: Here’s how Second Life can rule the world

The transition to 3D immersive environments is inevitable. Just look at the video game market. When kids are deciding what game to spend their $50 bucks on, they’re more likely to pick an immersive, 3D game rather than a new take on, say, Tetris or a new text adventure game. Even though 2D games are more efficient than 3D games — it’s a lot faster to get somewhere in 2D — and text games are even more efficient still. Immersive, 3D games are more engaging. More fun. They make you feel that you’re actually there. And the relationships you form with other people in those games are closer, and more intense, than those in 2D or text-based platforms, because more of your senses are engaged.

The number of immersive 3D platforms is exploding. Not only for gaming and socializing, but for education and business as well. But while the other platforms are growing, Second Life is standing still.

Average monthly repeat logins are flat. Land sales are flat. Monthly economic participant numbers — also flat.

I, personally, want to see Second Life grow. That’s because I’m an avid user of OpenSim, and the OpenSim grids draw many of their users, content creators, and, of course, viewer software, from the Second Life universe.

Second Life is to the immersive 3D metaverse as AOL was to the Internet. AOL helped make the World Wide Web possible by giving people an easy on-ramp, and a supportive learning environment. My retired father still has his AOL account.

So in the spirit of helping Second Life flourish, here are my suggestions for turning things around:

Make it easy

Forget the first hour experience. That’s so five years ago, and you lost that battle. Think about the first five minutes instead. Can someone create an account and get in-world to an event within five minutes?

There’s some interesting work being done with immersive 3D environments  in a Web browser by VenueGen and Web.alive and 3DXplorer. Kataspaces — built on the Sirikata open source virtual world engine — runs just with HTML 5. If they can do it, and do it without cloud-based streaming, so can Second Life.

Web-based interfaces mean that we can embed a view of our region into our home pages, YouTube-style. You can set it up to have the viewer pre-load the scene while people are typing in their user name and password, or selecting their starting avatar if they don’t have one yet.  Let people pan their camera around with their mouse. Let people click on faces and screens to look at them more closely. If someone is sitting down and they start moving, have them stand up automatically — don’t make them hunt around for the “stand up” button. Some of the Web-based folks are doing really good jobs of making their platforms easy and usable. Start with what they’ve done and build from there.

Don’t forget that the “content” of Second Life, the stuff that draws folks in, isn’t pretty buildings and animated animals. Yeah, those things are nice to look at for about five minutes, but then they get old quick.

I do love the current viewers. I like the building tools, and the scripting engine. Let people continue to use them if they want.

But the real killer content is Second Life is interactions with other people. We listen to live music. Attend book readings. Attend classes and meetings. Socialize in bars and nightclubs. The “content creators” of these events are people who show up and play music, read from their books and answer questions, teach classes, moderate meetings, or blather on about politics over virtual beer.

Making things easier for content creators isn’t just about allowing them to bring in mesh models from Google Sketchup and Blender. It’s about making it easier for them to get in-world and start doing their thing. And bringing in their fans, their readers, their students, their colleagues, and their friends.

It is these folks who have the power to make Second Life go viral.

Make it cheap

There are discount OpenSim vendors renting entire regions for $10 a month, with no setup fee, and not skimpy 2,500-prim regions, but full 15,000-prim ones. And prices of around $40 or so are available from high-end vendors like SimHost if you’re able to buy several regions at once. These are high-quality, high-traffic, high-prim regions that don’t crash — plus users get region backups in the form of OAR files, inventory backups, megaregions, hypergrid connectivity, and responsive and personal support.

There’s a land rush on now in OpenSim. Content providers like teachers, corporate trainers, non-profit organizers, therapists and roleplayers are coming in droves. And when they come, they bring their students, colleagues, patients, fellow gamers and friends with them.

Those who have technical skills can even run their regions or grids for free, on their home, school or company computers.

Drop the $1,000-set up fee, Linden Lab. It’s a sky-high barrier to adoption. For that $1,000, a group can run an entire private grid in OpenSim for a year.

You don’t have to drop the $300 monthly region rent all the way down to $10, or even $50 — Second Life does offer significant advantages over OpenSim in its large user base and wide variety of in-world content. None of the OpenSim-based grids come even close. For some customers, that population base and content is worth the price tag. But the number of those customers is shrinking, not growing.

A virtual fitness center like Club One is a killer app for Second Life -- but can easily move to OpenSim since it relies on real-world marketing to bring in users.

Join the hypergrid

Add a new permission setting to objects — “single grid” or “multi grid” — and set it by default to “single grid” for all existing content. And change your server code so that only only “multi grid” goods can be given or sold to visitors from foreign grids. Then tear down the wall and let your users teleport to the other grids, and let the users of other grids teleport to Second Life.

Let them have their cheap $10 homestead regions, and come to Second Life for shopping, for parties, and for concerts.

Second Life has the potential to be the central meeting place for the entire metaverse.

Today, Second Life has a huge, huge head start over all the OpenSim grids. Merchants looking to put up stores, or concert venues needing locations, or organizations looking to promote their real-world products, services or activities come to Second Life first.

But if Second Life waits, and keeps the walls up, then eventually one of the up-start OpenSim grids will become the destination of choice for hypergrid travelers and shoppers.

Most importantly, make your standard viewer easier to use with OpenSim. And your Web viewer, once you get it up and running.

Today, the Second Life viewer can already be used to access OpenSim grids and to travel the hypergrid. But it’s difficult to use — users have to edit the path name on the viewer’s icon. As a result, OpenSim users prefer third-party viewers like Imprudence and Hippo, which make it easy to choose a different starting grid. By making the standard Second Life viewer OpenSim-friendly, it can continue to act as an marketing tool for Second Life events, Second Life shopping, and Second Life destinations no matter where on the hypergrid the users go.

Franchise the Linden dollar

Today, there is no universal currency on the OpenSim grids. Some grids create their own currencies. Others use G$ from CyberCoinBank, or the hypergrid-enabled OMC currency from VirWoX. Others stick with PayPal.

None of those currencies has the brand name recognition of the Linden dollar, and PayPal is expensive to use.

Create a Linden dollar module for OpenSim that uses a secure, encrypted channel to handle payments. Such modules already exist for PayPal and for the other currencies.

Allow merchants to move to OpenSim to take advantage of the lower land prices, or the fact that OpenSim is open source software and can be readily integrated with back-end databases or customized in any way a company wants. Then allow them to take Linden dollars for payment. You’ll be making money on each transaction no matter where it takes place. You can become the PayPal of the 3D metaverse.

The currency can also be integrated into the Second Life viewer, making it easy for users to spend their Linden dollars while out hypergridding, instead of using a local currency or the OCM.

But the window is closing fast. The OMC currency is already accepted on 22 different grids.

Make it stable

During my last dozen or so times in Second Life, I had to relog to get my microphone to work. This morning, my clothing refused to load. Every day, it seems, there’s always something.

But, honestly, I’d be willing to put up with the crashes and other problems if Second Life was easier, cheaper, and more open.

Maria Korolov