Tag Archives: Second Life

Decentraland and the Fusion of Trends

I had to get in the car for a short drive last night, so I flipped on the radio to listen to along the way.  It was set to our local PBS station, KQED, and since it was between 9 and 10pm, the BBC News Service feed was playing.

I wasn’t really listening to what was being said until I was out of the driveway and headed down the street.  Then some very familiar words started flowing through my brain in charming English accents with precise BBC pronunciation.  It was something about a virtual world and selling virtual plots of land and maybe businesses setting up shop and people visiting friends and having a virtual cup of tea and all the nonsense that was being passed around about virtual worlds more than a decade back.

My first thought was that they were playing an old track, some sort of “Remember when this was a thing?” segment featuring Second Life and how people were buying into that.  I mean Reuters and CNN had “offices” there and people who got rich on speculation were making it to the covers of magazines.

But the whole thing sounded more recent.  They were talking about the funding by selling plots in the Genesis content section of this world.  We’ve certainly seen virtual real estate sold before.  Then there was mention of the in game currency, called MANA, which you had to buy in order to get any of the plots.  But we’ve been down that path before.

And then the surprising-yet-unsurprising twist hit, MANA was a cryptocurrency and used blockchain technology and I said aloud, “Nailed it!”

But it isn’t just the currency that uses blockchain, it is the whole world and all your virtual land deeds and whatever.  I was back in the driveway before I was the story was through… honestly, I was only driving out to get a PokeStop because it was day seven of my streak and I wanted the big payout… so I sat in the driveway until they finally said the name of the place.  Just to hit on the block chain theme in a big way it is called Decentraland.

Buzz words sell things

So I went back in the house and started looking the whole thing up.

It doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry yet, which I am sad to say is my current method of assessing notability.  If you aren’t there yet how can you make any claim to fame?  But it does have its own web site and blog with an introduction to things and a FAQ.

Naturally, because it is 2018 and this is how things are, even though the developers are selling plots of land via their cryptocurrency, you cannot log in and visit your purchase yet, so add crowdfunding to the list of trends it is riding on.

Not that there isn’t a lot going on with Decentraland.  Browsing through their site and reading articles about non-fungible tokens and what not indicates that much thought is going into the technology being used.  However, technology isn’t a product and I didn’t see a thing that made me think that they had anything beyond the most basic ideas as to what people would eventually do with the place.

That is likely my native skepticism kicking in I am sure.  As I said, I’ve heard a lot of their pitch before, and the fact that blockchain technology is part of the equation doesn’t sell me.  But we shall see.  I mostly wanted to write this to mark the point in time so I would come back and visit it again in a year and in five years and so on to see what develops.

Are you interested in some blockchain secured virtual real estate?

MMOs on the List of Most Important PC Games

Earlier this week, over at PC Gamer, which I think still actually has a print magazine version, publishes a list of what they felt were The 50 most important PC games of all time.

PCGamerLogo

And, if you know me, you know I love a good list like that.  Those are discussion starters without equal, and I bring them up pretty much whenever I find them.  I’ve even written about a PC Gamer list in the past, when they were writing about the 100 Greatest Games of All Time, (they do that article every year, here is the 2015 version) that being a distinct and separate category from the 50 most important.

The most important games are the ones we could not imagine not having existed in the genre, that inspired people, or that changed the market.

Wisely, PC Gamer decided to not stack rank the lot of them, choosing to list them out chronologically, kicking off with Space War! from 1962, the first thing that actually looks like what we think of when we say “video game.” (I even wrote a bit about Space War! at one point.)

Of course, this being me, I went storming into the article shouting, “Where are the MMOs?  Show me that online massively multiplayer goodness!”

And I was not disappointed.  MMO titles that made the cut were:

  • Ultima Online 1997
  • EverQuest 1999
  • EVE Online 2003
  • Second Life 2003
  • World of Warcraft 2004

Yes, I am admitting Second Life to the fraternity of MMOs I recognize, and not just to pad the list.  It was a thing in its day, even if Massively totally over-covered it for a bit.  I have even played it a few times.

So that is five MMOs on the list… by which I mean persistent world online games in the mold we all know and grudgingly tolerate while complaining about incessantly… or 10% of the list.  Not bad for a genre.

I suppose it says something the “important MMO” era is pretty much 1997-2004.  Has everything after that been simply refinements and derivatives of what has gone before?

Of course, limiting themselves to 50 games meant that anybody is going to find omissions that they feel are important.  Even the editors had to make an Honorable Mentions list because there was no doubt a large number of titles that were so close.

On the MMO front, I am a little disappointed that MUD1 or anything from the 1980s online era was neglected.  Maybe MegaWars III wasn’t that influential, but what about Air WarriorBut the list does feel a little heavy on the more recent end of things, probably a result of the relative youth of some of the contributors and the general feeling we tend to have that nothing is more important than right now.

Still, there are some good games whose presence on the list surprised me, like Starsiege: TribesFor a fleeting moment of time that was the best online shooter ever.  I played the hell out of that

Ultima IV is on the list, which is interesting because I think you have to have at least ONE Lord British game on the list, but which one?  I suppose Ultima IV was a turning point in the series, but I was always a big fan of Ultima III.  I’m shallow like that.  Also, I had that Ultima III editor, so made my own version of the game.

I find it somewhat odd that DotA is on the list by itself as opposed to being paired up with Warcraft III, since then you could have gotten in a side mention about how much Warcraft III influenced WoW.  Ah well.

And, of course, a lot of the list includes the games you would expect… probably demand… should be included; Wizardry, Pinball Construction Set, Civilization, League of Legends, Quake, Tomb Raider, Diablo, Half-Life, SimCity, The Sims, Minecraft, they are all there.

Yes, of course Doom is on the list...

Yes, of course Doom is on the list…

But I still look back at that list of five MMOs and wonder, is that the legacy of the genre?

Landmark and a Dire Vision of Things to Come…

Rowan Blaze over at I Have Touched the Sky has managed to sum up in one picture what I expect eventually to happen everywhere in SOE’s Landmark.

Freedom's just another name for...

Freedom’s just another name for…

I cropped his screen shot down to the essential message.   Free Donuts.

And therein lies the seeds of destruction.

Not that I object to the sign.  It is just a cute example of what one can do in a sandbox like Landmark.  Innocent fun.  And I am sure if the person with the adjacent claim was trying to build something with a different theme that contrasted with the idea of free donuts… maybe a place where donuts were currency, or perhaps some fantasy setting where donuts aren’t really a thing… Rowan would take down his sign.  Heck, his sign… and his claim… might disappear on their own at this point in development.  But even if it remained, I am sure he wouldn’t prop it up next to his neighbors medieval castle or whatever.

Landmark is in alpha after all, and a pay-to-play alpha at that.  Everybody who is playing in the alpha really wants to be there and, judging from what I have seen, are very quick to let you know you can get a full, no-questions-ask refund the moment you complain about anything in Landmark.

That is pretty common with pre-release communities.  They tend to be the most invested in the game and are always the ones to moan about how the community for a given game went down hill after release.  How often have we heard, “The game/The community/People were much better/nicer in beta?”

So Landmark is in that happy, like-minded, orthodoxy enforced, pre-release community state where everything is new and people seem to care more about the game and the idea of the game than the current state of the game.  If you worry about the current state of the game… well… you can get a full, no-questions-ask refund.  It is a happy time of newness and excitement.

But the game will not remain in alpha… or beta… or pre-release… forever.  The happy pre-release community that cares about the game will, if things go to plan, eventually be dwarfed by the a larger community that will not, in general, hold exactly the same values when it comes to Landmark.

Landmark will be an amusement, a distraction, a toy, a way to pass the time, and a way to express themselves.

One way that people have shown they enjoy expressing themselves in the past is through griefing their fellow players.  And the more freedom you give people the greater the of griefing that will occur and the hard it ends up being to stop it.

Basically, the proposition I am putting forward is that the more sandbox-like an online game is, the more there will be griefing.  And, with that in mind, I made a little chart.

Continuum_450That is my “pulled straight from my posterior end” assessment of the sandbox nature of some online games that came to mind given a few minutes thought.  Feel free to object or suggest a re-ordering or inject where other games may sit on the continuum of sandboxiness.  I am already reconsidering my placements, but I am too lazy to edit the picture.

At one end is Webkinz, in which your ability to do anything is pretty well constrained and interactions with other players is severely  limited.  This is a game for small children and their mothers.  Your ability to touch the game is limited to decorating your own house, which only a select few individuals… if anybody at all… will ever see.  Arrange your furniture in a swastika or penis shape and nobody will likely know or care.

I put League of Legends down the line towards Club Penguin because, despite its reputation, it seems to me that your freedom of action is pretty limited, and saying bad words in either game will get you banned eventually.

I put EVE Online in the middle, trending a bit towards the pure sandbox end of things.  The thing is, for all of its sandbox reputation, it really isn’t all as much of a sandbox as you might think.  The game is quite constrained by its mechanics.  What gives it the air of sandbox is more about the lack of central narrative… there is so little “game” in the game… the range of potential career paths, and the tolerance by CCP for what one might consider griefing in another game.  A sandbox attitude in a universe constrained by some occasionally strange mechanics.

I compare this to Wurm Online, about which I only know by what Stargrace has written.  She had a number of tales of people clear cutting her trees or stealing her livestock, or making pests of themselves, or just general drama.  That all sounded much more sandbox-like and much more grief prone… at least relative to the rules of the respective games… than EVE.

At the sandbox end of my little list I put Second Life.  This is the bugbear, the thing that should scare you about sandbox freedom, as things sometimes end up looking like this.

Second Soviet Life

Second Soviet Life

I actually find that picture amusing.  But then, I don’t have to look at it every day.

That picture is from a tale of an ongoing attempt to grief a player in Second Life, which including buying up adjacent properties and filling them with things meant to annoy the player.  The tale of that is over at Broken Toys, from where I swiped the screen shot.  So there is that, flying penises, and… well… you have to visit the place to see the range of things.  Griefing… like porn… isn’t everywhere in Second Life, but it can be brought to a level of art that would surprise you.

Just down the line from Second Life I put Landmark.  Again, my own gut call, and you can argue where it really belongs on the line.  But given the sandbox claims and Rowan’s sign, I have to think that it is far closer Second Life than any traditional MMO.

And while I do not think SOE is going to allow anywhere close to the amount of freedom to do… whatever… that Second Life has allowed, there is going to be a line somewhere.  The sign that says “Free Donuts” might be okay, but what if it gets changed to “Free Penises?”  What if Rowan builds a tower that happens to look like a penis?  What if he reconstructs St. Basil’s Cathedral, only with the onion-shaped domes looking suspiciously penis-like?  What is with Rowan and his obsession with phallic imagery?  (Do I need to say “just kidding” here?  I will, just in case.)

What happens when we get this?

Happy FarmVille Memories

Happy FarmVille Memories

At some point SOE is going to draw a line, and then there will be a group of people who will push right up to that line and dare SOE to do something about it.  And people will complain about those within the letter but perhaps not the spirit of the rules and there will be arguments and rage and rule lawyering and all the fun stuff we expect from online games, only magnified by the freedom allowed by Landmark.  Is it any wonder that SOE canned that other sandbox title before launch?  They were not ready for it then and I am not sure they are ready for it now.

Sure, SOE might believe they can police the internet.  But will they be able to handle the conflicting visions and personalities that will eventually flock to Landmark?  Has SOE articulated a plan for this?  Is my vision too dire, or not dire enough?  And how much enforcement can they impose and still keep things happy and sandboxy?

Anyway, I’m still waiting for EverQuest Next, which may or may not be as sandbox-ish in nature, but about which SOE has been very quiet.

NSA Unable to Tie Your Guild to Al-Qaeda

So many C.I.A., F.B.I. and Pentagon spies were hunting around in Second Life that a “deconfliction” group was needed to avoid collisions.

ProPublica Article, Word of Spycraft

One of the stories floating around at the moment is a report from ProPublica, The Guardian, and the New York Times about the various security agencies in the US and the UK conducting surveillance and collecting data on players inside games like World of Warcraft and Second Life.  You can read the ProPublica story here.  It has links out to the other two sites.

That the various alphabet soup of agencies were interested in online games as a potential communications channel for terrorists has been known for a while now.  (At least I remember this coming up a few years back. Oh yeah, this.)  But now, with the documents stolen from the NSA by Edward Snowden, we are getting a sense of how much effort went into this and what sort of returns were achieved.

Cutting to the chase: A lot and not very much at all.

The Hellscream Dream

Garrosh Hellscream would have gotten results

There is that quote at the top of this post for starters.  The article goes on to talk about ongoing efforts to infiltrate groups, recruit informers, and steal data to allow the various agencies to discover the real life identities of players.  The government even went to the private sector to fund studies of online games, which eagerly jumped to get on the government funding teat, and yielded up such gems as the fact that “players under age 18 often used all capital letters both in chat messages and in their avatar names.”

Meanwhile, the results seem rather modest.  The agencies discovered that a wide swath of the population plays online games, including people who might be potentially be recruited by various parties.  But while there were plenty of “We’re in!” sorts of memos about getting data, documents showing that intelligence collected lead to terrorists, or any plots thereof, seem to be missing… or were never there in the first place.

Our government(s) in action.

I do find it interesting that Second Life seemed to get such focus.  The tales seem to spin around World of Warcraft, Xbox Live, and Second Life, at least two of which were/are very popular.  The security agencies seemed to believe the media hype of a few years back that Second Life was the future and that we would be doing business, conducting conferences, and attending concerts in a virtual world.  Remember those days?  Somebody at the CIA must have read Snow Crash as well.

On the flip side, there was no mention of EVE Online.  Of course, Glenn Beck showed us that EVE is controlled by the CIA through Goonswarm, so they may be diverting attention from that, right?

Second Life Among Technology Fails?

Over at The Register, they have a post up about Ten Technology Fails.

Those sorts of articles are always good fun.  They get to poke at some obvious targets, like Microsoft BOB.

Forever a punchline…

Enough fun cannot be made of that.

There are some others I am very familiar with, such as push technologies like PointCast.  I had friends who went to work for them, and my own company worked on a hardware device that let you use push services via a pager service. (Remember getting headlines on your pager? Yeah, me neither.)

Named “News Catcher,” it was eventually dubbed “Dust Catcher” because 99% of the units produced ended up collecting dust in a warehouse somewhere.  They may very well still be there today.

News Catcher

That was just recent enough in internet years for Google to find a picture of it for me, though it is a .gif image.  Makes me want to write a post about Baudman next.

Anyway, good stuff that.

Then there are some entries that might be considered controversial.  Did PDAs, for example, fail to meet the vision set out for them, or has all of that just been slurped up into smart phones?

And then on page four of the article, Second Life makes a showing.

Certainly, Second Life has provided its fair share of… entertainment… to people outside of the game.  Scott Jennings has a deep set of posts on the subject, complete with lively comment threads, which attracted some attention.  They are worth reading if the subject interests you. (As are these, since why not have TWO categories for Second Life posts.)

Likewise, Second Life certainly never lived up to the Snow Crash-like metaverse vision of the future.  Companies like Reuters who bought virtual space and embedded offices in that world have mostly packed up and gone home by now.  The visions of a virtual future where people can meet, work, make a living, or even get rich have faded somewhat.

And there has certainly been no shortage of criticism of Second Life itself, spawning a page on Wikipedia devoted to just that.

But has it really been a failure?

The article itself says that items on the list  represent “Tech that might have revolutionised your life but you have now completely forgotten.”

I have spent very little time in Second Life.  It did not really interest me, being too much social sandbox to my view.  But I certainly remember it.

But did it fail?  Has it been effectively forgotten?

And did The MMO Report stop doing their “WTF!?! Second Life” segment before they faded as well?

Playboy Themed MMO… erm… MCOG?

Because Second Life is getting paranoid on the subject?

From The Register:

Always wondered what Hugh Hefner’s life’s like? You could soon find out, because a Playboy-themed “Massively Casual Online Game” (MCOG) is in development.

Although it’s unlikely to displace World of Warcraft, EVE or Ultima, Playboy Manager will see you play a crack talent agent who must manage the career of some of Playboy’s hottest up-and-coming models.

You’ll compete against other players to help guide your chosen model’s career toward her ultimate goal – becoming a world-renowned Playmate with a permanent room in the Playboy Mansion.

Said to combine “the best elements of trading card and turn-based gaming”, Playboy Manager will also feature exclusive Playboy content, such as steamy videos and photos.

Will there be other features for the ‘I read it for the articles’ brigade, we wonder?

You may want to think twice about where you play the MCOG though, because the game’s publisher, Jolt, has suggested you “play it during a lecture, on your phone or even in the office”.

Playboy Manager will be launched globally this summer and you can register online to take part. ®

I think you can assume that link is NSFW regardless of what the publisher has to say.

And MCOG?  Did we need another acronym for massive titles?

Anyway, commence jokes regarding the character creation tool.