Is the Virtual World Dream Dying?


One of the things I have on my website is a list of 3D Virtual Worlds that I try to maintain.  Although I don’t play them much anymore, I have a few reliable sources I go to keep me up to date.

It has been about two years since I added a new program, and that program was Cloud Party.  This week I removed it, as well as Free Realms, and MooveCloud Party got bought out by Yahoo!, and Yahoo! has decided not to keep it open.  Free Realms, a MMORPG designed for kids that also included virtual world elements like personal houses, is closing its doors too due to lack of growth.  I’m dropping Moove because no one seems to be using it anymore, and no one is supporting it. The web site hasn’t changed in 2 years.

A fair number of others are on their way out.  Information on Kaneva is sketchy, no twitter updates in months.  The virtual world side of Blue Mars seems to be already dead population wise, though the app side is alive and kicking. Playstation 3 Home is declining since the “Home”less Playstation 4 was released.

Some of the major ones are still doing well.  Second Life is still popular. still has an active community and still making a profit. IMVU is not advertising like they used to but still pulling in big numbers of users (just pulled up my client to check, 115,000 users online). My contacts inside Nuvera Online say its doing well, too. I am also still seeing continuing interest in Twinity.

In business, this is called a consolidation phase. The 3D Virtual World industry as a whole is declining, but the ones that are well established are growing as the less well established ones close their doors.

Why the decline?  Two reasons: 1.  Almost all 3D Virtual Worlds are designed for keyboard and mouse play on PCs. With the rise of tablets and phone computing, interest in Virtual Worlds is declining, as these worlds are not designed for those devices.  3D Virtual World Apps do exist, but they are not doing enough business to stop the decline.

2. The rise of Free MMORPGs, which I have talked about before.  MMORPGs have basically adopted every aspect of 3D Virtual World play except user created content.  Maybe that is why Second Life, There, IMVU, Nuvera, and Twinity are the survivors — they are the ones with user created content.  If that is not important to you,  if all you want to do is meet and play and chat with other people online, the MMORPG’s now cater to those interests.

I used to think that 3D Virtual Worlds would eventually lead to a 3D internet.  I still think a 3D internet is possible in the future, but I don’t see it happening any time soon.  I expect more closures in the short term.

Meanwhile, there is hope of new things around the corner.  High Fidelity is going into alpha mode.  A Yahoo! based virtual world could be coming using the Cloud Party tech they just acquired.  Also a wild card in this is VR hardware like Oculus Rift, which will no doubt renew interest in all things 3D.

3D Virtual Worlds vs. MMORPGs

I have spent 9 years exploring 3D Virtual Worlds, and 8 years playing MMORPGs.  For the longest time they felt like two different experiences.  3D Virtual Worlds are a creative outlet, while MMORPGs are a mostly cooperative gaming experience.  It seems that recently they have been merging.

I have not been adding many new virtual worlds to my master list lately.  While I am probably missing some, the main reason I have not been adding new ones is because there haven’t been any.  This is probably due to good old capitalism.  The potential market just isn’t as big as people thought, and the market that is there is covered really well by Second Life, IMVU, and OpenSim.

In the last couple of years, the growth in 3D gaming has been in free to play MMORPGs.  Not only do they attract a crowd with new gaming experiences, they have co-opted the social model of the 3D Virtual Worlds, creating central meeting places, and free “bases” you can decorate and host private gatherings.  They also have special interest groups you can join in game to meet like minded people.

Basically, everything that makes 3D Virtual Worlds popular, can now be found in MMORPGs too, except user created content.

This is why I now believe that if a complex “Metaverse” like OASIS in Ready Player One is  ever built, it is more likely to be in the form of an MMORPG rather than a 3D Virtual World.

We then must ask the question: How important is “user created content”?  Well, I learned early on during my 9 years of exploring that “content” is vitally important, in fact it is THE most important factor in the success of a 3D Virtual World, and in truth it is also one of the most important factor in MMORPGs, too (“playability” slightly trumps it however).  Allowing user created content is the fastest way to get content, but it is a two edged sword, because the vast majority of user created content is junk.  That user created content has to be loaded on the fly via asset servers which slows down and weakens the user experience.  So if a 3DVW or MMORPG can provide enough “content” without resorting to the user created variety, it is a better experience for the player.

On the other hand, creating the “user created content” is in and of itself the thing that attracts many to 3D Virtual Worlds in the first place.  It is one of the things I have enjoyed most about Second Life and

The truth is that content creators are seriously outnumbered by both socializers (especially since most content creators are also socializers), and gamers.  Now that MMORPGs are working to appeal to both of the latter groups, it is only the content creators who feel that 3DVWs are the better way to go.  For everyone else, there is simply more things to do in an MMORPG.

As far as “content” goes, competition between MMORPGs is fierce enough that the newest ones are constantly raising the bar on the amount (and quality) of the content they offer.  The thing that triggered this post is my exploration of “Lions Arch” in Guild Wars 2.  I have posted a lot of reviews of 3D builds, but I would say without question that the new “Lions Arch” is the most beautiful 3D build I have ever seen in any game I have ever played, regardless of genre.  It is a true masterpiece of the art form.

As I stated in a previous post, 3D Virtual Worlds are in a slow decline.  It is the competition with free to play MMORPGs that is doing it.  The MMOs are incorporating the stuff that makes 3DVWs popular.  If they are to survive, the 3DVWs need to start incorporating what makes MMOs popular.  They are just starting to do that.  The merging of the two genres seems inevitable.  I for one am looking forward to that, because it is only going to get more awesome.

Book Review: “Ready Player One”

ready player1So far I have only done one book review on this blog.  I read more than that of course, I just stick to talking about books that echo the themes of this blog.  The novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline does just that.

Ready Player One is one of the latest young adult dystopian books, though not as sick and twisted as the highly overrated Hunger Games.  It is set in the 2040’s when gas is so scarce that everyone abandons the suburbs for the big cities, but the cities don’t have room.  Oklahoma City comes up with the idea to build high rise trailer parks.  The books protagonist 17 year old Wade lives in the laundry room of a double wide, occupied by his aunt, her latest boyfriend, and two other families.

But Wade spends most of his time hiding in an abandoned van in a junk yard which he powers with a bicycle powered generator.  He jacks into a 3D Virtual World called OASIS, which thanks to technology allowing thousands of players to play in an area lag free, OASIS has become the 3D internet.  Wade attends a virtual high school, getting a better education than he would in an overcrowded school he lives in.

You can probably understand why I like this book so much.  The world is very similar to Snow Crash in that there are two worlds, a dystopian stink hole called the real world, and a utopian paradise everyone prefers to live in.  Ready Player One has a distinct advantage over Snow Crash, however, 20 years of hindsight.  Many of the conceptual ideas of the “Metaverse” in Snow Crash seem rather dumb with today’s technology.  OASIS, on the other hand, seems plausible if you take today’s technology and project it forward three decades.

A major theme of the book is the difference between the online world and the real world.  Our avatar personification vs. who we really are; Living in a fantasy world vs. dealing with the real world.  I have delved deeper than the novel has on these topics, but the novel does a good job dealing with them.

The central plot involves the creator of OASIS, a game designer turned multibillionaire  who upon his death wills nearly the entirety of his estate, including control of OASIS to whoever can solve the hidden puzzle he left behind hidden somewhere in the OASIS world.

With such a huge prize everyone goes out looking for it, but the puzzle is so well hidden, that 5 years go by before anyone manages to discover the beginning of the puzzle (which has 6 parts, 3 keys and 3 gates).  The person who discovers it is Wade.

I have mentioned a couple of times how different the world will get once energy starts to get scarce, and how gaming will become a welcome escape from that reality.  Here is a book that echoes that theme in a very entertaining way.

There is another interesting part I have yet to mention.  It seems that the mad gaming designer grew up during the 1980’s, and is obsessed with the books, games, comics, music and movies of that decade.  Solving the central puzzle requires expert knowledge of this material, and the players dedicated to solving the puzzle have to become experts on the 1980’s pop culture.  Lots of this novel is filled with references to  the ’80s.  Being someone who grew up in the 80’s as well, I got all the references and knew all the songs referenced in the novel.

This unfortunately may be the biggest negative of the book, there is too much 80’s references which are likely to get lost on kids who grew up in later decades.  Since this is a “young adult” novel aimed at teen audiences, I’m not sure how well it will go over with the target audience.  But it did go over well with me.  Ernest Cline created an “official soundtrack” here if you want to hear many of the songs referenced in the novel.  You might also want to familiarize yourself with the movies WarGames, Ladyhawke, Blade Runner, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail if you don’t already know them (If you don’t then shame on you, they are classics).  There are major references to the games Pac Man, Tempest, Joust, Adventure, Black Tiger, Dungeons of Daggorath and Zork, too.

Since this book seems like it was written specifically for me, I ran through it in a few days time.  General audiences may not be as well versed in these subjects as I am, though the author does spend a lot of time explaining things for the general reader’s benefit (mostly unnecessary in my case).

The book is currently available hard copy and e-book via links at the Official Site, paperback and cheaper e-books coming in June.

Reality Is Broken: A Book Review

I have never actually done a book review before on this blog, but my previous two blogs I did them all the time.  After reading Reality is Broken, I felt compelled to write a full formal review, as its contents are perfect fodder for this blog.  In fact there is enough here to fill a good half a dozen blog posts, but then why would you need to read the book?  So for now here is a brief introduction to the themes and ideas contained.

Reality is Broken is a new book by first time author Jane McGonigal, a professional game designer.   She starts off quoting economist Edward Castronova, who said “We’re witnessing what amounts to no less than a mass exodus to virtual worlds and online game environments.”, then goes on to quote some amazing stats like, the total amount time spent in World of Warcraft by all players adds up to 5.8 million years, and 500 million people spend at least an hour a day in online games for a total of 3 billion hours a week, and the average child will spend over 10,000 hours playing video games before the age of 21, the same amount of time they spend in school from 5th grade to 12th grade.

While many people react negatively to such huge numbers, considering it a waste of time.  McGonigal insists that it is not enough, that we should have more people playing online gaming.  She believes the world is better off with more gamers.  Being a fan of ideas that defy conventional wisdom (as my last two essays demonstrate), I had to find out more.  I have a hard time figuring out if Reality is Broken is a book about games disguised as a book about social issues, or a book about social issues disguised as a book about games.  I guess if you are librarian trying to figure out where to put the book, this would matter, but for us average readers it does not.

There are basically three themes to this book.  The first is the one that resonates the most for me:  Games make us happy.

The emotional impact of games is something game designers are very interested in, and spend a lot of money researching, so it is no surprise that many modern video games are designed with making players happy.  Consider what I wrote about last week in regards to “finding a purpose” to our lives. The four types of purposes that bring us meaning and lasting happiness:

  • We crave “satisfying work” or being immersed in clearly defined, demanding activities that allow us to see the direct impact of our efforts.
  • We crave the “hope of success”, which is more powerful than the actual success.  We want to be optimistic about our chances for success in our endeavors, and even if we fail, we at least want to improve over time.
  • We crave social connections, share experiences and build bonds with others.  We most often accomplish this by doing things that matter together.
  • We crave meaning, or the chance to be part of something larger than ourselves.  We want to feel curious, awe, and wonder about things that unfold on epic scales.

Now consider these four categories of “purpose” in the context of playing video games.  Almost all games can hit 2 or 3 of those, and the MMORPG can hit all four categories.  From a positive psychologists stand point, gamers are some of the happiest people on the planet.

I know what some of you are thinking.  Is the happiness you get playing in virtual worlds just virtual happiness? frivolous, fleeting and temporary?  No, not according positive psychologists.  Dan Gilbert himself (see Happiness 101) says there is no discernible difference between synthesized happiness and real happiness.

Which leads to the second theme of the book: Gamers are escaping from a broken reality.  McGonigal list 14 ways that gaming worlds are superior to real worlds.  She is not talking specifically about online video games at this point, but many different kinds of games that help us deal with reality.  The majority of the book is about these 14 “Reality Fixes”, and as she goes through each one she discusses two or three different games or gaming systems that encourage these reality fixes.  She discusses dozens of different games, some I am familiar with, some I’d love to play, and some I do not.

Anyone looking into game design should read the book if nothing else than for the various ideas that are likely to come to mind while reading.  I came up with an idea myself while reading, and have gone as far as researching some special programming I would need to do to get it to work.  More on that later, maybe.

And finally the third theme: Games can save the world, and gamers are our best resource to do just that.

Games can, and have been designed to help us focus on real world issues.  McGonigal is a game designer who works primarily on a category of games know as Alternate Reality Games, or ARGs, which are designed to form communities and tackle problems, primarily problems created by the game authors, but they can also tackle real world problems like “peak oil” which I discussed 2 posts ago.   In 2007, McGonigal was part of a design team for an experimental ARG called World Without Oil.  The original 1,900 players from all walks of life did not find any solutions, but came away mostly optimistic that people can come together in a crisis and adjust their lifestyles to fit new realities.  Since then McGonigal has been part of other socially conscious ARGs, and is confident that games like this can one day change the world.  But in order to make these world changing games to work, we need gifted people to play them.  Enter the “gamers”.

She discusses the fact that more than half of the students today spend 10,000 hours playing games before they turn 21.  That by definition, that makes them “virtuosos” at gaming.  The biggest question is what are all these “virtuosos” capable of?  She breaks down 4 qualities that long time gamers possess: 1. Blissful productivity — the understanding that happiness comes from hard work and not from passive activities like watching TV.  2. Urgent optimism — the desire to tackle an obstacle combined with the belief that there is a reasonable hope of success, or desiring the “epic win”.  3. Social fabric — the ability to form tight communities built on trust, like guilds.   4. Epic meaning — the desire to be part of something bigger than themselves, even if that bigger thing may just be fictional.  Notice that these four qualities correspond to the four “categories of purpose” listed above.

McGongal’s goal is to find a way to focus the talents inherent in gamers to tackle the problems the world face today and “fix reality”.

If you are interested in these ideas, but not up to spending $14 on the e-book, you can get a 20 minute summary from her speech at, or there is also a website you can read, or sign up to find out about the latest world changing ARG games.

Is it true?

I have not decided how true the thesis is.   Being a gamer, an amateur game designer, and a participant in ARGs, I at least understand the thesis.  I want to believe the thesis is true, but understanding the worlds problems and finding solutions is unfortunately a fraction of the problem.  Experience is that all new ideas that diverge from the “business as usual” tends to face overwhelming political opposition no matter how good or true they are.  The corporate powers that be seem to think that video games are a form of soma to pacify the masses into complacency, and I am not sure that they are wrong.

At the very least I accept the first theme: Games do make us happy, and I mostly accept the second theme: Games are an escape from reality.  I constantly hear complaints from politicians that video games are too violent and inspire more violence.  The evidence is not there to back that up.  As games have gotten more popular, violent crime has gone down, not up.  Places where sex games are common, like Japan, have actually seen a reduction of sex related crimes.  Maybe sex games should be more popular everywhere.  In these respects games have already changed the world for the better.

But there is another way that games can change the world and it is outlined in my last three blog posts.  From The Energy Situation, I pointed out that we are quickly running out of resources needed to grow the economy.  From Happiness 102 I pointed out that materialism, the driving force behind the running out of resources, does not really bring us happiness anyways.  And finally with Reality is Broken we learn one activity, gaming, can be a real source of happiness.  While gaming is not always a carbon neutral activity, it can be.  Thus gaming is a way to reduce our need for diminishing resources while still making life livable. Oddly, I previously posted this idea before.

But it is important to keep all of this in balance.  McGonigal concludes her book:

Reality is too easy. Reality is depressing. It is unproductive, and hopeless. It is disconnected, and trivial. It’s hard to get into. It’s pointless, unrewarding, lonely, and isolating. It’s hard to swallow. It’s unsustainable. it’s disorganized and divided. It’s stuck in the present.

Reality is all of these things. But in  at least one crucially important way, reality is also better. Reality is our destiny. This is why our single most urgent mission in life is to engage with reality, as fully and as deeply as we can.

That does not mean we can’t play games. It simply means that we have to stop thinking of games as only escapist entertainment.

Good games can play an important role in improving our real quality of life. They support social cooperation and civic participation at very big scales. And they help us lead more sustainable lives and become a more resilient species.

Games don’t distract us from our real lives. they fill our real lives: with positive emotions, positive activity, positive experiences, and positive strengths.

Games aren’t leading us to the downfall of human civilization. They are leading us to its reinvention.

Favorite There Moments

So I need to make one last post just to say goodbye.  The pic above is the first screenshot I took in There.  Most of the people in the screenshot, especially Twiddler, Marykins, and Emilia are people I knew in The Sims Online, and they encouraged me to sign up for beta.

Our primary activity in The Sims Online was making gnome statues to the point we were getting pretty sick of it.  The first item I submitted (and got approved) was a shirt with a gnome on it.  (Don’t tell anyone, I stole the gnome image from the TSO load files)

I never became a big developer in There, I sold enough stuff to get by. I lucked out and got a funzone (Ebony Rock) and made enough money to pay the rent on the thing. I left the funzone open for anyone to schedule events, because I was mad that There sold them off and left it up to the owners to decide who gets to use the funzones.  There was much more fun when they were all open and anyone could schedule an event.  So I was able to buy one that I could save and leave open.  Eventually, I stopped playing There and was running short of therebucks needed to keep up the rent so I sold it via auction. The thing sold for T$300,000 (about $150 US), and never had to buy Therebux again.  I think I still had around T$220,000 left when There closed.  When all the gains and losses are added up, I basically played for free, so Makena can keep my left over Therebucks if they want.

A community as large as There is going to attract some troublemakers, and no one was as notorious as Jopy. He got into There in early beta and took to heart the beta mantra of testing everything.  In the early days before port-a-zones, we could drop stuff anywhere we wanted, Jopy purposely ruined every scenic location in There with gigantic signs and lots of other crap.  He was well hated, but after a while many of us just started laughing at his exploits. A ton of improvements were made thanks to Jopy.  Anyways, one day I found Jopy left his custom buggy out for me to steal, and I hid it in the last place he would ever look… the egyptian sarcophagus.  It was very Jopy of me.

My first day in there, I got a “try it” hoverboard and liked it so much, I bought a jet black advanced hoverboard and rode that thing everywhere.  From day 1 until my very last day in There, I was on that board wandering around the countryside.  Somehow I never achieved “Legendary” status on that thing, but came damn close. I never achieved legendary status in any activity, but ended up as “renowned” in most of them.  Hoverboarding was my favorite activity…

… with underwear parties coming in a close second. 🙂

One of the There newspapers had a contest for a There version of a famous painting and I submitted a There version of “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper.  I came in second if I remember.

One of the bigger There independent developers Kittenkat came up with a way to change all the graphic files in There and turn There into a winter wonderland.  The idea of a wintery landscape eventually was added to the game in the form of “frosty” island.

Nudity was not allowed in There of course, but there were plenty of ways to fake it.  All you had to do was replace one of the shirt files with a skin tone file.

In the early days of There, I created a “nude patch” replacing the lame reward shirts with female bare chest shirts.  The reward shirt for hoverboarding “Ride” was the female bare chest for caramel skin, the most popular skin tone.  Eventually, they replaced the reward shirts with better prizes.  Months later hoverboarding “Ride” shirts became rare and were selling for ridiculously high prices.  The culprit was my nude patch which somehow became an underground sensation, especially at dance clubs.  If you had carmel skin, and wore a “ride” shirt, everyone with my nude patch would see you topless.

I preferred the Latte skin color which used the much less expensive “Host” shirt.

That is not all that I was famous for. I created the first ever “picture quest”.  Quests that tell stories were all the rage, but one of the things you could do with the quest kits was link to a web page.  So I took screen shots of me at 10 nearby locations, and in each quest clue I would give you a general direction to follow and a link to one of the screenshots.  The next clue would be located wherever I was standing in the shot.

I only did one, but the concept was popular enough that dozens of other picture quests appeared around There. The most popular variation on the theme, however, was the cross country buggy races. I loved those events, and won at least twice.

I mentioned before that the first ever official live concert in a virtual world by a signed band was held in There by British band Steadman.  You can listen to the concert here.  After the concert I was caught ass grabbing one of the band members 🙂

So many memories, but it is now over 😦  One last pic to post.

Wish I was too!

I Have Seen the Future, and it is Open Sim!

There is a lot to say about the Open Sim paradigm, and I’ll be covering it in future posts. For now, I’ll just say it is very early and there is a lot of work still to be done. Right now all it is is a poor substitute for Second Life, but I think it has huge future potential as long as they diverge from the SL model at the right point and go their own way.

I just felt the need to introduce the topic in a clever way, because it will be an important topic for the future.

Links to stuff mentioned in the comic:
Second Inventory
NuAthens archive by Lordfly Digeridoo

Previous Related Posts:
Dark Times for 3DVWs Part 3: Second Life’s Fatal Design Flaw
SL Open Source Update!

Memo to 3DVW Devs: "It’s the AVATARS Stupid!"

I’m following up my 3 part problems with 3D Virtual Worlds (3DVWs) with a series of at least three observations on what REALLY makes a good 3DVW. There is a surprising amount of myths in this regard. It seems most builders of 3DVWs do not understand their own potential audience.

Lets start with something that most all players understand, but as far as I can tell most game developers do not: “It’s the AVATARS Stupid!”

I have listed on my website something like 25 active 3D virtual worlds. Of these 25, how many have really great avatars?

The answer is zero.   I counted … twice.

I’ll tell you what a really great avatar is. Its an avatar that looks like PS3 Home’s avatars, behave like’s avatars, and is as versatile and adaptable as Second Life’s avatars. Not one 3D Virtual world fits all 3 bills, especially Home, There, and SL.

People define who they are in virtual worlds by their avatar.  It is important for most players to have the means to create an avatar that is unique and at the same time beautiful.

Most 3DVW devs don’t get this. They are more focused on building a world to explore, or building the tools to let players build a world to explore. This is also important, no doubt, but no matter how nice your world is or how great the tools you develop, people will not stay very long if the avatars suck. I’ve seen it happen, heck I have done it myself.

Now I could spend the rest of this post trashing all the bad avatars, but that would not be helpful. Instead I am going to go over the almost good 3DVW avatars that are out there and tell you whats good about them and what needs to be in any future 3DVWs, if you want any chance to be successful.

Playstation 3 Home Avatars

I do not own a Playstation 3, so I am not an expert, but there are enough videos online to get the gist of the program. Basically the avatars in Home are realistic looking humans like any of the modern video games out there. They use morphing to make realistic looking joints and motion (failure of SL and There), high resolution textures and bump maps, clothing that actually has a thickness and folds and does not look painted on (another failure of others), lighting shading and highlights that looks more like real skin, real hair, real cloth, etc.

The primary negatives of the PS3 Home avatars is the quality and variety skin textures. Not just skin textures, everything. The lack of user customization means that everything about the avatars seems generic. They are also not very expressive, seems like a zombie world in PS3 Home.

Now I know what some of you are going to say. Why is realism so important? Many popular virtual worlds. both 2D and 3D have succeeded with unrealistic, almost cartoon looking avatars. I have even pointed out that there is such a thing as avatars that look too real. But, that’s not the case with any 3DVW I have seen. The truth is players prefer realism. In games that have custom texture markets (a subject for another memo post) the best sellers are almost always the most realistic ones. This is true in Second Life where realism is standard, and There and IMVU where avatars usually start with a cartoon look. Realism is an aesthetic people like in an avatar regardless of the environment. avatars

There has been around for six years now and is started to become dated. Despite this, there are aspects of There that are way ahead of their time. One is the behavior of the There avatars. First, the built in animations are first rate, better than Home even. They walk, run, sit, and stand very naturally. Their stances are constantly changing the way a real person standing for a long time would change.

Secondly, There avatars are great in the art of conversation. If you are using voice, the avatars look like they are lip syncing, and even gesture as they talk. If you are using text, it takes clues from the text to express mood. Use words like “happy”, “joy”, “fun”, etc, the avatar starts smiling. “sad”, “bad”, “bored”, and they start frowning. LOL or ROFL or ROFLMAO get increasingly expressive laughter. Thirdly, the There avatars seem aware of their environment. If someone is talking, or doing some kind of action, they turn and look at that person, and nod or maybe even smile with approval.  They act differently around dogs, and with most vehicles they act like they are really interacting with them. If they are standing alone, they start to look bored even annoyed after a while. Yes, I am aware that this type of reaction is typical in single player video games since the 80’s, but surprisingly still uncommon in multiplayer games.

No other game comes close to this type of world interaction. IMVU can mirror some of it, but that is because Will Harvey is behind both programs. He is one of the few that gets it. Another one would be the short lived Google Lively, also created by a former There programmer. Lively handled two person interactions (handshake, hi-five, hug, kiss, synchronized dance, etc) far better than even There or IMVU.

Scripting in Second Life can mirror some of this action and interaction, but controlling facial expression via scripts in SL is very difficult, and turning a head to look at a speaker is damn near impossible. These simple actions make an avatar feel much more alive.

Second Life Avatars

It has been a complaint of Second Life since it opened almost six years ago that the default avatars are, well ugly. They look funny, they walk funny, the hands and face are damn near impossible to control. Those of us who came from There to Second life had to adjust to the lack of AI in these avatars. Suffice it to say that the strengths of Home and There avatars are precisely the weakness of Second Life avatars.

The one area where SL avatars are strong, which almost makes up for their weaknesses, is their customization. A good skin texture and shape makes them look a lot better, a script triggering animations makes them behave better. The “Appearance” options in SL has over 100 slide bars for customization, clothing and hair options number in the millions. Top and bottom halves of the avatar have 3 levels of clothing textures each, not including the base skin texture. You can attach objects to every part of the body, meaning if you want to look like another creature or “furry” you can. Attached objects can be scripted as well, so you can use particle effects to turn yourself into a human torch if you want. Customization is great for “role play”, easily the most popular activity in any 3D virtual world or MMORPG.

If you can imagine it, it can be done with SL avatars. No other 3DVW can even come close to this level of avatar customization.

Which leads to…

The ideal avatar is a combination of all three of the above, with the addition of the two person interactions like Google Lively had. I know the average Virtual World developer would balk at all the work it would take to pull off this much detail in looks, behavior, and customization, but it would make your world unique.

We have enough environments and building tools already, and these things can be upgraded as you go anyways. Avatars cannot be easily upgraded, especially if you allow future customization. If for example, Second Life fixed their avatars the way they should be fixed, all current clothing and prim attachments would basically become useless. The ensuing “restart” might ultimately be a good thing, but the aggrivation it would cause would be rather intense. It ain’t gonna happen.