25 June 2014

The End Of the World As We Know It?

My doomsday outfit!

The news about LL working on a successor to Second Life are now a few days old and yes, they caused quite the waves in the community, like in the SL forum.

I admit I was a bit upset too. This feel of impending Armageddon - Antony caught it pretty well btw. - isn't a too nice thing really. But now, since I did reflect a little over the issue, I see it quite relaxed. And I will tell you why:

Firstly I think LL just had what they often have - bad timing. Likely somebody did leak the news and the LL CEO Ebbe Altberg had to jump in and confirm the rumour before it gets a unhealthy dynamic on its own.
So they were unprepared to announce it at such a soon date. And that didn't made communicating easier. In fact it stirred quite the fears of many SL-user about losing their inventories, their lands and all the money and effort they put into it over the time.
Well, according to Ebbe's posts (starting here) "SL2" will not be totally backwards compatible and hence they don't guarantee that everything will be transferable.
I think thats a realistic approach. SL's technology is still widely based on the standards of 2003 (and lets be frank: it looked already back then rather poor for its time), so its unlikely that everything what works in SL will work in SL2. It would mean to carry over a lot of the dated technology SL is based on.
However "everything" doen't means "anything". I actually think they will try to get a lot transferred. Simply because its 1) technical doable and 2) people losing large amounts of the virtual property are unlikely to invest in it again. Once bitten, twice shy.

What do we can expect to be transferable? Of course I am not a LL developer, so I don't know their agenda. But I will try to do my best to give you an educated guess of the technical possibilities by a experienced SL user and content creator:

  • Static meshes, sounds, notecards and textures are the most likely to be easy transferable. There is nothing specific to SL with them which prevents conversion to another platform. 
  • Prims will be a bit trickier, but since you can - thanks to the Singularity viewer - export them already now to collada-files (*.dae, one of the standard file types 3D-build programs like Blender or Lightwave use), and convert them pretty easily into meshes, I don't really see a reason why there can't be an automatic  prim-to-mesh converter which does this job for you.
  • Same applies for sculpts - at least on paper. I don't expect them to be in SL2 though, since they are simply hellish unefficient. But technically it is possible to convert them to meshes just like prims.
  • Rigged meshes (or to make it simple: most mesh clothes) are going to be difficult though. Rigging means that you link the mesh to the avatar's bones, so that they move and bend with at the avatar's knees, elbows etc. like real clothes do. I strongly assume that LL will make new avatar models with a much higher level of detail and more skeletal bones. So the "old" way of rigging won't work there. Perhaps they can be converted too. That depends though. For example if LL uses again one standard skeleton for all avs or if content creators will be able to make their own custom skeletons  but thats sheer speculation now. I won't hold my breath, but there can be always a surprise.
  • Animations/poses will likely have the same issues as mesh clothing, since they also use the avatar's skeletal bones.
  • Avatar shapes and skins are going to be tricky too. Especially since we don't know if LL will use a standard avatar at all. I think IF there is going to be a standard av, there should be a way to convert the values of the Av-shape from the SL to the SL2 model. Skins though are likely not to be compatible, due to the different texture mapping.
  • Scripts are also a tricky thing. If they are going to be usable in SL2, or if they can be converted depends on several factors: If LL will use the old scripting language or making a completely new one, or using an existing one. If we assume that LL will get rid of the shortcomings of the current LSL and abandon it, the old scripts wont work of course. Hard to say though if its going to be possible to convert the scripts to the new language. As you see there are a lot of "if"s. We just don't have enough information yet to give a definite answer.
  • Cloth-layers and alphas also seem to me to be almost impossible to convert. Like skins they rely on the texture-mapping of the standard-avatar and its doubtful it will be the same. Also since mesh-clothes are now quite the standard for avatar-apparel, I don't see LL being willing to spend too many ressources in an outdated technology. I also have hopes that there will be ways to replace the manual attaching of alpha-layers to hide your feet (or other bodyparts which would peek through your clothes) with a more efficient, less bothersome way. Fingers crossed.

But apart from these technological issues are the legal implications too: Do content creators need to give their agreement if LL wants to convert their content to the new platform? If so - how will the procedure look like? The infamous TOS-changes certainly appear in a different light now.
Also what about the products which don't work in SL2 anymore? I'm sure many content creators who migrate will offer a free updated SL2-compatible version sooner or later. Others might speculate on their customers buying things twice.

If you are in SL for a few years like I am, It is like a nicely worn pair of shoes. You slip in and its just right. We became used to the way it works and also used to things which don't work (lets be honest: SL has huge technical shortcomings). And now becoming aware that this little digital universe we spend quite some time in has a limited lifespan, leaves an odd feeling.
Of course we know all things come to an end, but knowing and realising are two different things. Changing to SL2 means leaving your comfort-zone and start over again. Thinking rational we knew this would sooner or later happen. But it always comes too soon, doesn't it?

Right now I can understand the feeling some friends of me did express about their possessions in SL and their land holdings becoming "worthless". Many people put a lot of passion into SL. What you see day-by-day is after all not a LL product. They just offer the framework, the blank canvas. Countless people filled it with incredible creativity and energy. No surprise they are afraid it might all disappear.

I think though the change won't be as bad as people fear after all. As long LL provides a still stable economy (with a stable L$ of course) and makes the accounts and as many inventory items as possible transferable. After all we rely on their promise that this virtual world will be around next time we login since we registered our accounts, made inworld-friends and spent the first money there.

This doesn't means however that we should give LL a "carte blanche". We are all investors in their virtual worlds, if its SL or SL2, or whatever its going to be called. Without us SL is just a bunch of servers creating no profits for their hosts. What LL needs to do as soon as possible is to give a clear statement about user-created and user-owned content: A whitelist of categories of items which will make it to SL2 and further specifications of their new world.

I hope my words were of some use for you. I tried my best to put events and my thoughts on them into order. I'm not a friend of panicing. LL has some homework to do now to calm the waves. I think in the end their instinct of self-preservation will prevail.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your take on this. It does help.