Sunday, February 26, 2012

Creative Fiction: Second Life’s TV Commercial

Originally written and published in Spring 2010 under Second Life Newspaper, this was my attempt at Second-Life inspired fiction. These were the days of M Linden. For those not familiar, he the second CEO of Linden Labs noted for his apparent disconnect from the wants of the residents of Second Life and a number of questionable moves on his watch. In this story, M Linden is interested in television advertising to pick up numbers, and an aide gives him two proposed commercials.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“So what do you have?”

“Well, Sir, our agency went through a number of commercial ideas, and selected two different ones to do commercials on. We decided to leave it up to you which of them to air, or perhaps both if both are to your liking.”

“Or we could ask you to start over.”

“Um, of course, Sir. Anyway, we heard there was a dispute between your staff about which direction to take in marketing your virtual world. Do you try to appeal to a select audience, saying Second Life is a special environment that is only for those looking for more creativity other places online offer? Or do you say Second Life is so big and so diverse, you have a little something for everyone with a computer?”

“I believe your job is to create commercials, not make decisions on issues limited to management.”

“Er, well, Sir, in any event, these two commercials each market a different point. I will go ahead and play them for you, and hopefully they will meet your approval.”

“We shall see.”

A TV screen in the room came on, and then appeared a caption, with a narrator speaking the line as well.

“You could join a Massive Multiplayer Online Game, with everyone.”

The scene then switched to an animated figure in medieval armor, sword and shield, fighting a ferocious looking beast. It’s a tough fight, and the health bar of the fighter is getting low. Finally the beast cries out and collapses. The scene then changes to the player, “Whew! That was close. ... Aw darn, only fifty experience points. Man, I hate grinding.”

Another scene comes of, of a dwarven figure picking at a rock with a pickaxe. After a few seconds, it changed again to a frustrated gamer, “C’mon, c’mon ... Finally! Just seven thousand one hundred, and twenty one more addimantium ores before I level up. Only a dozen more levels before I can finally mine unobtainium!”

The screen switches to the man talking into his computer, “Hey guys, who wants to make a dungeon run?” “Sorry dude, you’re too low level for me.” “I only go on Level 200 runs.” “Beat it, newb!”

The scene changes again, a man dresses in financial Medieval garb, going down a road. All of a sudden, a shadowy figure leaps out, there’s a flash of a blade, and the first figure collapses. The scene changes to a surprised player, “What the, one shot?” And from the computer there’s laughter, “LOL! I haxxor yur gamez. I pwned U, nub!!”

Another scene comes up, a team of players is gathered around the body of a dragon. The man behind the computer types, “Whew! It was tough going, but we did it. I’ll bet you guys never faced anything like this at the office.” But the comments get confused remarks, “Office? I’m in 8th grade.” “7th for me.” “Dude! You’re old!”

The screen goes dark again, and comes a caption, with the narrator speaking again, “Or you could go to Second Life.”

The scene changes to a handsome-looking, though plainly dressed female avatar walking through a door, and into a well detailed club, with bright lights, crystalline structures, and a few dozen avatars either dancing in the middle, or socializing closer to the new visitor, mostly human, but also a few nekos and a single furred, all well dressed. A few notice the new arrival, and wave at her, “Hi!” “Welcome.”

The screen then shows the woman outside a store, cutting to her inside and looking among a wide variety of dresses, on both mannequins and signs. Split second shots show her in a variety of fashions, from punkish, to high-class elegant, to ready for a night on the town. Her next stop, a scenic beach, which shows her at one point riding a jet ski, cutting to flying a hang glider alongside a flock of birds over a lush forrest, to surfing a big wave.

The scene cuts to a party, in which the lady is happily dancing at a club to some music. She stops, and walks to the wall, where there’s a sign saying “DJs wanted - will train.” The next scene then shows her in the DJ booth, operating the controls, and the audience emoting, “I love this tune - whoo-hoo!”, with her tip jar radiating dollar signs.

The next scene is after the party is over, it shows her making adjustments to the DJ table, slightly higher in places. Then she’s in a sandbox, building furniture. Following that is a store with her face on the sign, with “Grand Opening” underneath, and furniture inside. The next scene shows her on a stand, designing dresses. Following that is the store with several of her designs, a number of women looking and shopping. This is soon followed by a fashion show, with models going down the runway. Then comes a scene in front of an audience with her and another lady sitting on chairs on stage, with what look like TV cameras pointed at them, and a screen showing the two of them, “Tonight, we look at the woman recently voted by Metanomics as ‘Second Life’s Newcomer Entrepreneur of the Year ... “

The screen then goes black, and captions appear again, “You can go to an online game with everybody, and be a noob. Or, you can go to Second Life, a place where those whom are exceptional can go limited only by what they want to do.”

“Second Life: Not for everybody.”

The screen then faded, “And that’s our first commercial.”

“Hmmm. Not bad, though it seems instead of a broader audience, we would be appealing to a niche market.”

“Perhaps, Sir. It seems no matter what we do, numbers of people turn away. They’re confused by not being given clearly defined goals, or they confuse virtual worlds with games and don’t see a point if there’s nothing to kill. With that in mind, we did this commercial. That it focuses on a woman character was a deliberate decision. Although Second LIfe has no shortage of female users, forty percent compared to the twenty percent of World of Warcraft, there’s still room for improvement..”

“Hmmm. So, the second commercial is more about mass appeal?”

“Yes, Sir. The theme is ‘a little something for everyone,’ appealing to peoples’ varying tastes. We had a little fun with it at segments, appealing to humor. Perhaps low humor, but - “

“Can you please just play it?”

“Oh, pardon me Sir. Here you go.”

The screen was black, with the following caption appearing, with the narrator speaking the words, “People are different, and are interested in different things.”

Another caption appears, “The apartment-dwelling nature lover.”

The scene changes to a blonde lady in plain-looking clothes talking to the camera, “I’ve always loved walking around nature, but with my job I need to live in the city, and the park is so far away.”

The screen changes back to black, and up comes another caption, “The veteran.”

A middle-aged man wearing a POW shirt and with thinning hair is now the speaker, “I like getting in touch with my buddies from the Army, talk about Iraq and other old times. But we can meet up only so often, and while there’s chat rooms, I wish there was a way to see them.”

The screen goes black again, and the caption is now, “The science-fiction/fantasy fan.”

A dark-haired lady wearing glasses and dressed as if working in an office appears, “I’ve always had a love for sci-fi and fantasy, not just the adventure, but also seeing new worlds and peoples. Movies and books are great, but I wish there was something more.”

Once again, the screen goes black and comes a new caption, “The world traveler.”

The person now facing the camera is a man in a business suit, “I’ve always liked traveling about and seeing the world, the monuments, the different cities and cultures. But I have only so many vacation days a year, not to mention limited cash.”

Again, the screen blackens, and comes still another caption, “The average 18 year old male.”

The person shown is a young man with rumpled clothes and hair, and a few acne spots, “Boooooooooobs.”

The screen blackens again, with a new set of captions and narration, “Different people with different wants. Yet they all go to the first place to meet them.”

“Second Life.”

The scenery that appears is a blonde lady avatar walking around in a virtual forrest, the underbrush lush with flowers. The voice from the nature lover speaks, “Oh wow! It’s just like being there.” A scene change then shows her riding a horse. Then comes a scene of her hang-gliding over the treetops. This is followed by her underwater, swimming in a skin-diving suit with bubbles floating to the surface while looking at a coral reef, “So cool!”

The scene changes again, and a group of men and a few women are sitting in a circle, some in uniform, others in T-shirts & jeans or denim vests and jeans. Speaks the voice of the Veteran, “I’m really happy to be here with you guys.” The scene changes to the men reflecting in front of a solid black wall with names, and flowers and flags at the bottom: The Vietnam Wall, “Here, we can truly reflect better than in a chat room.”

The scene switches to an avatar much like that of the dark haired woman on a posing stand. It goes through a few changes. The first is just clothing, to skimpy fantasy armor. Then the avatar changes to a slender lady elven form in a silken dress, then an athletic-looking but still feminine orc fighter wearing just leather shorts and a top, then an anthro skunk in shorts and a short blouse. The woman’s voice is heard, “Hey, I can look like just about anything here!” The scene then changes to the skunkgirl wearing a jumpsuit and wielding a lightsaber, swinging it at a robot and cutting it to pieces. Then comes a scene in which a six inch catboy avatar is sitting on the skunkgirl’s shoulder, and the camera panning out a little shows her on the shoulder of a fifty-foot macro catgirl, “It’s just like walking into a book here.”

The scene changes to a well-dressed male avatar, walking in a city square with sizable and detailed fountains, “I don’t believe it. They got all this in a computer?” The scene changes to the man looking at the Statue of Liberty, then the Eiffel Tower, then the Mayan Pyramids, “This is great. I can just look around here until one day when I can afford to see it for real.”

Then comes a scene of a seedy looking girly bar, with rap music playing, and over a dozen male avatars ogling at a few scantily-clad females twisting and moving around dancepoles. The camera focuses on one punkish-looking male in the bunch, staring at one girl dancer as she moves and bends down to him, as if to give him a closer look of her front. Then comes the voice of the young man, “Boooooooooobs.”

The screen goes black, and comes a caption with the narrator speaking, “Second Life: Something for Everyone.”

“Well, there you are Sir. That part with the kid we debated whether to include or not, so we decided to run with it, and see what you thought. If you like this commercial, we could easily delete than part.”

“No, do not get rid of that. This is what we need.”

“Excellent Sir. I’ll contact the stations that expressed interest in airing an advertisement, and - “

“No, that’s not what I meant. Could you do a commercial focusing more on the 18 year olds and what they like?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Second Life really needs to tap into the young adult market, and so far we’ve been lagging behind. We need to make stronger appeals to them, and nothing sells to them quite like sex.”

“Um, Sir, haven’t we been trying to get away from the perception that Second Life is about little but sex and populated by mostly perverse men? We were just having a little fun with it, and including there was much more.”

“Yes, but for some time our numbers, both in revenue and users, have stagnated, even declined. We need a fresh approach to bring people in, and young adults are the key market.”

“Sir, you do realize that if what you’re proposing hurts our reputation, it will take quite some time, perhaps years, to undo the damage?”

“Don’t give me that! You do your job, and I’ll do mine! I’ve made my decision!”

“(sigh) Yes, Sir, I’ll have work done on a commercial focusing more on the, adult, side of Second Life.”

“Excellent. We’ll feature various places in Zinrda. Maybe work with the pornographic studios. I can just see the business world talking about our new numbers.”

“I just hope we don’t end up making boobs out of ourselves.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

M Linden was shown the door not long after this story first aired, so whatever ideas he had for TV advertising went away. But if you could, what TV commercial would you do for Second Life?

Source: Second Life Newspaper

Bixyl Shuftan

Friday, February 17, 2012

Spaceport Alpha/International Space Museum Sim Goes Offline, But Will Return

The Spaceport Alpha sim, noted for being home to the International Space Museum, was recently taken offline. According to Daniel Voyager, it and Spaceport Bravo vanished from the Grid sometime in mid-Janurary. These two sims, along with NASA CoLab which closed sometime in early February 2012, were part of the Sci-Lands region in Second Life, aimed at the promotion of astronomy and other sciences. The ISM wasn't owned by NASA, as some people thought, but run by a volunteer group.

Hamlet Au talked with Katherine Prawl, whom was involved with the ISM since the start in 2006. She and others involved could no longer get enough money together to pay the tier. With the discount for nonprofit sims gone, they tried a different tactic: going to the US Internal Revenue Service to get a nonprofit tax exemption. Not surprisingly, the IRS turned them down. They felt the museum was ineligible since it had no real life presence.

"After nearly six years, Spaceport Alpha, home of the International Spaceflight Museum, together with Spaceport Bravo (a year younger), disappeared from Second Life. These sims represented the completely volunteered efforts of over 100 talented and committed residents, as well as contributions from many more hundreds of supporters.

"What happened? How could such a highly-acclaimed and beloved destination just go black? It goes back a few years, to the decision to apply for US tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) corporation. After nearly a year and a half of work, incorporating, filling out forms, answering questions, and of course paying fees to the government as well as to Linden Lab, the IRS decided not to grant the tax-exemption because the museum only existed in the virtual world, without a "real life" physical presence. (This was in spite of our having a "real life" corporation!) Subsequently, Kat Lemieux (Kat Prawl IRL) resigned as president and was replaced by Paradox Olbers (SL name). Kat became Treasurer, but later resigned that position as well when she went back to grad school and didn't have time to do the job.

"Things went along pretty well for awhile; Paradox managed to find donors who funded the sims for over a year, but then he had some personal problems (N.B. - I don't feel comfortable explicating that without Paradox's permission, although he did tell me what was going on. It's serious), and the payments to Linden Lab lapsed for months. The first we knew about the problem was around Jan. 13th, when the sims went offline. I tried to log into the land-owning alt's account, but it was disabled for non-payment. At that time, the amount due was over US$1,000, far beyond the means of the now-defunct corporation or the willingness of any of the planning group to pay."

Daniel Voyager noted that the Sci-Lands region used to be quite large. In July 2010, it was almost 70 sims in size. Since then, a number of these science-based sims have dropped off the Grid. With the ISM being a draw, in a sense this represented the loss of one of its more valuable ones.

But there is some good news, at least for the near term. On Wednesday, Katherine Prawl announced that a donor made it possible for them to bring the ISM back on, "as soon as some payment issues are settled." Problem is, they'll need more funding for later. Katherine expressed confidence they should be able to for a while, mentioning "help from several quarters."

Both Daniel Voyager's Blog and the New World Notes articles had a number of comments. Someone called the loss of the ISM no real surprise, "We're not even flying our own astronauts to the International Space Station any more." OpenSim fans suggested exporting the ISM out of Second Life. Trouble was, the ISM group doesn't have permission to copy the various builds and move. And of course the problem of OpenSim having only a tiny fraction of the traffic Second Life has. It would be preserved, but few people would see it. In a sense it would go from a themed exhibit in a museum to placed in the archives. Katherine expressed interest in Hamlet Au's suggestion of a "Crowdfunder" style project, like the recent one that worked very well for Bryn Oh. Beyond that, the comment chatter went a few ways, including pointed fingers at Linden Lab for letting this and other good sims fade away.

So it looks like the ISM will be coming back, at least for now. While the problem of sims going dark still persists, at least this one will still be around.

Sources: Daniel Voyager, New World Notes

Top pic from Daniel Voyager

Bixyl Shuftan

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Return of Bay Club

Furry clubs in Second Life generally have the same theme: provide music everyone can dance to and goofing off after a hard day of work. Also "Tail Sales" come into play to raise money for the clubs, and offer you to "buy" that furry you always wanted.

Then came the Bondage and Yiff club, or Bay. The BDSM slant, which was almost lacking (except for Furr in Chains) came alive with Entangledwolf "Entangled" Snowpaw’s club and hard work to keep it up. I was put off a couple times as he was busy with something, but I did get a chance to interview him and here’s what he had to say.

When he first started, he had a mere ¼ sim when he got the idea from his buddy Red. Even by just messing around and positive word of mouth, 2 weeks later Entangled’s basic version of Bay became more popular than Furr in Chains the other furry BDSM club in existence. When Entangled got on his feet and decided he wanted to go further, he stepped forward and bought the sim from Red and created Bay.

I asked Entangled how his club became popular and rose above the rest. He answered, "Well I attribute this to a few things.... one better advertising and the funding needed to run a club. People rarely realize how much these places cost." Entangled said running a club his size costs 325-350 US dollars a month, "They build themselves a club then when they open, lack funding for contests, streams, or anything else."

He mentioned that he modeled his club after IYC based upon the layout and how well managed the club is. Based upon logistics and layout and the need for empty spaces, also that IYC is a large club to draw people to.

Bay indeed did become a popular draw for furries and a hot spot. Sadly Entangled had some health issues and had to close the club for a few months. Lots of people were sad when the old bay closed down. Amazingly however when word came around SL that Bay would reopen its doors, lots of furries jumped for joy hearing their fave hang out was being brought to life.

Entangled was saying the traffic isn’t quite as high as before. However there’s always new furries and humans coming into Second Life as fresh blood to hang out. Entangled also said that a major challenge is finding staff to maintain his club as sometimes older players of SL get bored and leave. I asked him what he’s hiring for. He answered escorts, bar staff, security and DJ's. I asked to make sure, and Entangled said humans are welcome just like the furry crowd. However to work at Bay you need a furry or neko avatar. Simple enough if a human wants to try out a bartending job.

So even if you’re not into BDSM, but you’re looking for a nice place to hang out, or even if you do like BDSM, stop by Bay and meet new friends furry and/or human.

I might be there to serve you a drink. Entangled rehired me when he reopened Bay. ^.^

Grease Coakes

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Personal Account: Finally Can See Mesh, But ...

Remember the Dranopia Quest Xymbers Slade wrote on? Well, some friends of mine insisted I head over them and join them in the fun. As the area is made up of lots of mesh objects, what I saw on my Singularity was essentially what the first picture shows.

Naturally, I felt a bit left out. So I told my friends I was going to get the latest Phoenix Viewer, Firestorm and the official viewers unable to run on my machine. Phoenix had been updated earlier to see Mesh, but was quite unstable. I crashed just after logging on with it. I did hear there was a further improvement to iron out a few bugs, but hadn't given it a try. So I logged off, downloaded the new Phoenix, and began logging on ...

And it worked!

It actually worked! I was finally able to see the mesh objects that I never could before, in all their detail.

But, there was a catch.

I found the viewer a bit awkward to use at times. It seemed to default to just behind my avatar's head in a position that made walking about difficult. It was like having to adjust to a stronger perscription of eyeglasses. It just seemed ... not quite right. It wasn't always easy to pan around to get a better look either.

And as it turned out, it was still a bit crashy. I would still crash on occasion after teleporting or even logging in. Mesh was now visible, but the result was an unstable viewer that could be hard to move around and focus with.

By this time, the old Singularity viewer I had had been starting to show it's age, some objects appearing as red even when they weren't. Downloading the latest version, I was no longer seeing red. But it wasn't long before I crashed. The viewer was less stable on my computer than the latest Phoenix.

So I now had a mesh-capable viewer that was hard to focus around and crashed occasionally, and a non-mesh capable viewer that crashed even more.

It might not be completely the viewers' fault. the computer I've been using is now five years old. Perhaps it's time to replace it soon, but as a working stiff, my finances have usually been a bit tight, and these days tighter than ever. To complicate matters, I've heard of computers upgraded to be more powerful, only to have Second Life run even slower.

Perhaps the best thing is to keep an eye out for a good buy. In the meantime, life on the Grid has become a bit crashy for me.

Bixyl Shuftan