A scrutiny of Rod Humble’s talk with Draxtor Despres – Part 1

As this month began, renowned machinimist Draxtor Despres aired the seventh instalment of his widely acclaimed series titled “The Drax Files”. In this episode, which was much discussed by many, Draxtor had a talk with Linden Lab CEO Rod Humble. The video, which was 5 minutes long, did not feature the entire discussion – the full transcript was published by Jo Yardley. As I wrote in my own coverage of that episode of “The Drax Files”, it was most interesting to see LL’s CEO to come forward and speak about Second Life, his vision for the virtual world’s future and its place in the IT universe.

Please note that I refer to what was featured in that episode of “The Drax Files” as a “talk” and a “discussion”, deviating even from how I described it in my related post, because, frankly, it’s not a piece of journalism or investigation. It wasn’t designed to be a reportage, it wasn’t conceived as such. Instead, it was more like a presentation – and it’s not like Draxtor himself (who is actually perfectly candid and honest about his work) asked the number or type of questions you’d expect from a journalist. So, for clarity’s sake, I opt now for the terms “conversation”, “discussion” and “talk”.

This means, of course, that several questions that a user of Second Life may have simply were not addressed at all. And some of the claims and figures that Mr. Humble presents us with only serve to raise more questions, even though I readily admit that, on many levels, he seems to have a far better grasp of what Second Life is all about than all previous LL CEOs combined. So, this time, I’m going to base my work on Jo Yardley’s transcript of the full discussion and I’m going to provide some of my own questions – not that I really expect answers, as Linden Lab has a rather peculiar perception of what an interview should be like (i.e. all questions are submitted for prior censorshipvetting and approval and the interviewer is not allowed to sneak a censoredrejected question back into the interview; perhaps LL should look to this particular policy for some of the reasons that the media treat it with such contempt). Like I said, I don’t expect Mr. Humble to answer my questions – but they’re worth asking in public anyway, if only for posterity’s sake.

So, without further ado, let’s cut to the chase…

Mr. Humble said on the current status of Second Life:

I think it’s an amazing thing that after 10 years we have a million people active every month, we have 400,000-odd people sign up every month.

Hmmm. The 400,000 or thereabouts new user sign-ups per month is a figure that would easily raise quite a few eyebrows, given the media’s indifference, if not outright contempt, towards Second Life and the Lab – it’s no longer the media’s darling and a series of debacles in which the Lab did get involved certainly aren’t doing SL any favours. So, I find it hard to believe that each month 400,000 unique persons sign up to Second Life for the first time, out of the blue. In fact, this statement by Mr. Humble raises one very serious question:

How many of these “new users” are really new users and not:

  • Throwaway accounts that are used by griefers
  • Bots that are used by store owners so that their shops won’t be empty
  • Alts (legitimate ones, i.e. ones that are not meant to be used maliciously) of existing users
  • “Spare” accounts that are created so that certain people (existing users) that behave in an abusive manner can maintain vast armies of alts and sockpuppets in order to harass others in-world, on the feeds and the forums?

To elaborate further on this question and expand it, how many of these “new users” are real, unique users who will participate in Second Life’s virtual economy by purchasing virtual goods, renting virtual land, producing virtual goods and selling them, getting employed or employing others, or uploading textures, meshes etc.? Let’s face it, no one will really bother to rent extra virtual land for their alt; some don’t even bother to dress them up, and many don’t even see their alts as manifestations of themselves at all [see what Honour McMillan and Exotix (Inara Pey) have to say on this]. And also, since Second Life is doing so well and gets so many new users each month, why is it that virtual land rentals (LL’s main source of income from Second Life) have been in a slow, agonising decline for quite some time now and with no sign of recovery in the horizon?

Mr. Humble also goes on to say that his experience in the world of computer games from which he hails has shown that such numbers of new user sign-ups are practically unheard of. Maybe this is because the world of computer games generally has stricter moderation and administration in-game and in its forums, thus making it harder for lower forms of online (and offline) life to pester others for long? Maybe this is also because, at least in the case of those games where one must acquire a licence (i.e. a copy of the game) in order to play, someone must pay for the game, whereas in Second Life it’s easy for every schmuck to sign up for free, rez a box, throw a few griefing scripts and cause mayhem without any accountability whatsoever?

On the subject of experiencing what it’s like to be in-world, Mr. Humble says that it’s different from what he has known from the gaming world (and from other internet communication platforms). He attributes it to:

…[knowing] I have this self expression which is my avatar and I know that I am in a space that I can move around and I know that it’s been made by somebody. And it is more engaging and the conversations become different in-world. I am a great believer that the tools and rules of any interactive experience govern the kinds of things that come out of it.

Speaking of tools, if we discount the changes to the physics a prim can have (for instance, convex hull) and the upcoming addition of materials processing, the build tools are pretty much stuck in 2008: we have too few prim shapes to choose from (no pentagons, hexagons, n-gons whatsoever – and I’m sure this has to do with the 8-faces-per-prim limit), we can’t drill a hole in an arbitrary point of a prim (it’s always bang in the centre), the hole cannot be drilled along an arbitrary axis (it is always along the Z-axis), the shape of the hole will change according to how we tweak the X and Y dimensions, and it can’t be a blind hole either. As for chamfering, extrusion and other goodies that users of parametric solid modelling (I erroneously said in an LL meeting that PTC’s Pro/ENGINEER CAD application – now marketed as Creo – was Constructive Solid Geometry when it’s not) enjoy, these are all entirely out of the question. Thus, for any sort of decently advanced content creation for SL, a creator needs to resort to external applications – and many of them come with a steep learning curve (and some are also quite expensive). Also, the three-decimal “precision” used by the official viewer’s “object” tab is completely pathetic – not to mention that a user cannot generate mesh or a sculpt map in-world. So, my question is:

Is LL planning to dedicate resources to enhancing the in-world content creation system with some decent capabilities or are we going to be saddled with this antiquated, primitive and rudimentary “build tools” floater for eternity?

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3 thoughts on “A scrutiny of Rod Humble’s talk with Draxtor Despres – Part 1

  1. I think the proper term for the Rod Humble episode of the Drax Files is “Fluff Piece”. It has no real merit, no answers, and is meant only to look like it’s important when it isn’t. Giving “interviews” to people who will let LL dictate what can be asked, and to people who have their lips firmly planted on their backsides. It’s less about journalism and mostly about patting themselves on the back and pretending to be important.

    1. Well, in all fairness, Draxtor never claimed to be a journalist – he’s just an enthusiastic machinimist and wants to showcase what he loves. And you really should have seen Rod’s “interview” with BOSL, which was a banal piece of tripe.

    2. Quite frankly, I despise the “I’ll tell you what you’re allowed to ask me” policy, but LL is hardly the only entity that does this. In most TV talk shows I know, when an anchorman “interviews” a politician, the questions and topics are prearranged and predetermined – the more corrupt the interviewee, the more likely this is to happen, actually.

      At any rate, LL had better ditch this policy, because it only makes them look like they have skeletons in their closet and things to hide. Personally, I think this policy has contributed to the way LL is treated by the media. Perhaps Mr. Humble needs to start uprooting certain bad pieces of corporate culture.

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