Monday, May 14, 2012

Double Bind

Hamlet Au asks why we put up with the technical problems of Second Life, and says that our putting up with them (and thereby letting Linden Lab get away with not fixing them) will doom Second Life.

Technical problems here are exemplified by the poor performance of the current Linden Lab SL client on Hamlet's roughly year and a half old Alienware laptop that  he refuses to do anything to like installing the latest nVidia driver--after all, that's doing LL's work for them. (It's not clear whether he puts adjusting the SL client's preferences in that category, but "Why should I spend an hour or two tinkering on software when it should just WORK BY NOW?" sure sounds like it.)

And to an extent, he's right. A lot of people can't be bothered to maintain their computers, and hence are unlikely to either have a reasonable first experience with Second Life or want to bother to take any action to improve that experience.

On the other hand...
  • Linden Lab can't be blamed for inadequacies of the operating system (does Windows not nudge you when new graphics card drivers are available? Linux does) or of the computer user--and would you trust an application that tried to install system software, or changes your environment (maybe having Aero or Compiz turned on hurts SL performance because of the eye candy they offer), or like one that changes your SL client settings (maybe you have the graphics cranked for photography, or turned down for racing)?
  • There are a lot more problems with that first experience than the purely technical--to only mention one, there's the way that the newcomers get their initial training and then are dumped into welcome areas infested with, shall we say, people who are less than concerned with the quality of the new user's experience in SL.
  • Any boycott of SL has to be on a large scale; a few people going away won't make any difference. Indeed, the departure of much-loved sims in the past year or so doesn't seem to have made much difference. Vendors won't boycott alone--they'd be giving up income while their competitors do that much better in their absence.
  • What was the old line? "We don't care. We don't have to; we're the phone company." Linden Lab is in that position. Where else can people go to create as they will or remake themselves in a virtual world, and still be able to interact with the friends they've made in SL?
So it's true. We're in a double bind. Second Life is the only place the existing user base can get what it wants; possible competitors are likely to be scared off by the media's predominant mischaracterization of SL as, in the ignorant words of Chris Pirillo, all sex and gambling. There's no such thing as mass media for Second Life in the way there is in RL; trying to organize the residents is a lot like herding cats, and the last name clusterflop is good evidence that it won't matter anyway.... so LL can continue with the assumption that the existing user base will continue to put up with whatever they get.

Perhaps Second Life will manage to continue, with enough people willing to pay the outrageous tier fees to support an ongoing user base, though without new blood, eventually that user base will die off (barring the Singularity, but in that case nobody will care about SL save maybe as the moral equivalent of a "living history" site). Perhaps OpenSim will win out or at least allow an ongoing, if smaller, collection of users.

IMHO, to survive, a virtual world is going to have to use as much existing code as possible, preferably open source to avoid licensing issues such as have come up with kakadu, Vivox, and Havok, with "NIH" ("not invented here") verboten. Apologies for the repetition, but... how much better off would Second Life be if, rather than throwing together a homebrew scripting language, we'd had an existing language like Python or C# or Ruby from the beginning? We'd then have
  • far more documentation and tutorials than LL could generate on its own
  • far more work on optimization than LL could ever manage
  • already existing IDEs
  • an existing talent pool and source of help for newbies
  • a market for skill in said language outside of LL (seen any postings for IT jobs that have LSL experience as a requirement lately?)
For examples, take a look at the Lua Wiki's "Lua Uses" page. Let's see... SpringRTS, SimCity 4, World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, CryEngine2, FarCry, Supreme Commander, Garry's Mod, Psychonauts, Heroes of Might and Magic V, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, Impossible Creatures, Multi Theft Auto: San Andreas, Homeworld 2, and others... Oh, look! There!

1 comment:

Maggie Bluxome said...

"...that he refuses to do anything to like installing the latest nVidia driver--after all, that's doing LL's work for them."

I find Hamlet's refusal to update his software to be absurd.

I work at a company that develops their own in-house applications. The software that was written years ago is now going through an update process.

The code is not only being re-written for better performance but to take advantage of new technologies that didn't exist back then.

In addition, to fix bugs that may have occurred from using third-party software (like Python, for instance).

Updating your software not only fixes bugs but may streamline the performance of your system. LL probably wants to take advantage of that...but people like Hamlet are the problem.

I understand not everyone can afford the high-end systems. And setting your graphics to Low might be your only means to enjoy Second Life.

Perhaps I am mis-reading Hamlet's refusal to update software but I find it silly and against all progress to better an application.