MUVE Platform 2: Second Life

Who it is developed by

Released in June 2003, Second Life was developed by Linden Lab. The road to the launch started in 1999 when Philip Rosen pioneered the concept of computer hardware known as The Rig. This allowed people (residents) aged 16+ to participate ‘virtually’ in a three-dimensional online environment known as Second Life using their avatar. Avatar forms can be either created by the user, or bought pre-made. Now this multiplayer online platform entertains millions around the globe with an expansive online community, a unique virtual currency and a robust marketplace.

What functionality it provides

Second Life has a stated goal of encouraging widespread group participation and creativity. It achieves this by enabling people to build interactive objects using a scripting language designed to be simple enough for those with no previous programming experience. However, although the graphics used may resemble those of some games, Second Life is not a game in which residents win prizes etc. However, I did come across a virtual ‘treasure hunt’ which I wrote a blog post about for this assignment. [link]

As the name suggests, Second Life mirrors many of the activities of real life such as going to social gatherings, concerts, shopping, participate in individual and group activities, and create and trade virtual services, good and property with one another.Virtual goods include buildings, vehicles, devices, animations, clothing, and even works of art. Services include business management, entertainment and custom content creation.

Avatars can communicate via local chat, group chat, global instant messaging (known as IM), and voice. Chatting is used for localized public conversations between two or more avatars, and is visible to any avatar within a given distance. IMs are used for private conversations, either between two avatars, or among the members of a group, or even between objects and avatars. Unlike chatting, IM communication does not depend on the participants being within a certain distance of each other. Second Life has also increased in popularity as a platform for education by many institutions.

A virtual classroom within second life [source]

I feel like a huge draw of Second Life for users is that you can do things that are not possible in reality, such as flying or instantly teleporting to different locations. Some residents design short programs, called scripts, which give avatars or objects new abilities, including special animations or the ability to generate copies of other objects.

How well it runs

When I opened Second Life on the first lesson of MUV601, I received an error message telling me that the software was unable to start due to my graphics card being incompatible! After trying several different viewers and contacting the TALOS team, they told me my computer had to be replaced. After a lengthy transition to a new computer, Second Life ran very well and I have not experienced many difficulties with it to date.

The main downside for me is that it uses up a lot of bandwidth (not a problem when I am at college but would be an issue if I  used up all our home allowance!) Perhaps this will become less of a problem in the future when we update the broadband systems in NZ as that might lead to larger allowances without the associated large costs? I remember Clare saying in class that Second Life’s graphics can sometimes look quite basic compared to other virtual worlds (mainly games), which is a deliberate feature in order to keep bandwidth usage as low as possible.

Sometimes graphic detail in Second Life can seem low compared to other virtual worlds

Linden Labs use open standards technologies, and also free and open source software including Apache, MySQL, Squid and Linux. Every item in the Second Life universe is referred to as an asset and is referenced with a universally unique identifier. Assets are stored on Isilon Systems storage clusters.

Second life is compatible with Windows, Mac OSX and Linux though does have some limitations. Second Life is not compatible with dial-up internet, satellite internet, and some wireless internet services and  may not run on certain graphics cards (see systems requirements) [link]

How it is used

As mentioned in the ‘functionality’ category above, Second Life allows people to interact with others by means of their avatar. A single resident account may have only one avatar at a time, although the appearance of this avatar can change – it can look like the person themselves, or be completely different and sometimes not a human form at all!  However, a person can have multiple accounts and therefore appear to be multiple residents, referred to as alts, i.e. alternative characters).

Along with creating their avatar, users can help to creating buildings, objects, animations etc for their world. This content is known as user-generated content. Currently over 50 million user hours a month and over $500 million user transactions are generated each year.

Attempting to build in Second Life using Firestorm. Second Life relies on user-generated content.

Attempting to build in Second Life using Firestorm. Second Life relies on user-generated content.

There is no charge for creating a Second Life account or for making use of the world for any period of time however “owning” or “renting” virtual property so you can establish a more extended presence involves a monthly fee.

Paid membership gives you access to an increased level of technical support, and also pays an automatic stipend of L$300/week (Linden dollars) into the member’s avatar account. Within the system you can buy and sell using “Linden Dollars” which have a variable exchange rate with real US dollars.

How it compares to others

Both Second Life and Kitely allow people to create virtual worlds using open source technology and both have areas that are for ‘adults only’ so that people who do not want to be part of this cannot do so accidentally. However the age range varies slightly as Kitely is available to those over 13 whereas Second Life is for those over 16.

Second Life has a much larger user base than Kitely meaning it is easier to be more social and meet new people with similar interests plus it is easier to navigate to different destinations within Second Life. Kitely also does not currently have many of the social features of Second Life such as welcome areas, no common plazas, parks but these these may develop in the future.

The main differences though seem to be the commercial opportunities offered. Kitely allows people to have a ‘free island’ but this has to be paid for in Second Life and currently Kitely does not really seem to give people the opportunity to buy many virtual goods and services whereas Second Life offers a very wide range.

Most commercial Open Sim grids run their regions 24-7, meaning that as new regions are added, the grid owners have to provision additional servers and connect them, resulting in higher costs. Kitely runs its regions in the Amazon EC2 cloud, and only boots them up when people access them so keeps costs lower.

What your impressions of it are

Second Life offers the most extensive of the virtual worlds and there is so much to see and learn about that I feel I have not even scratched the surface. What I have seen so far really interests me but I feel very much the visitor, not really a member yet.

I am not really much of a gaming person so am more interested in finding out how I can use it to help me achieve some of my real life ambitions e.g. I want to learn more about being an entertainer in the virtual world. I am also interested in connecting with people from other parts of the world and this seems to offer a useful way of doing it. I think I will learn a lot from this once I become more familiar with the way the systems and people within it operate.

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