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SGS 2006: "You Can (Not) Be Serious!"

[As noted, I'll be blogging as many of the sessions as I can at the Serious Games Summit and the Game Developers Conference this week. This is the first.]

You Can (Not) Be Serious!
Philip Rosedale, CEO, Linden Lab (makers of Second Life)

"Life is a game. Money is how we keep score." -- Ted Turner

Games are constrained situations with goals that happen within worlds. We don't create games; we create the world in which games can exist.

As people, we can imagine the world to be much better than it is. This is what inspires Second Life: the idea that we as people can imagine things and want to do and play with things that we in our waking lives can't achieve, or can only achieve with enormous risk or labor or effort.

Objects in Second Life are small Constructive Solid Geometry (CSG) objects that can be glued together and given behaviors, We've created a scripting language that lets users create behaviors and assign them to objects. Second Life is 100 percent user-created.

For the last 18 months, we've had the core technology available to build a working kite (particle system-based string, blows in the wind), but we didn't think of doing it. A couple of weeks ago, we saw the first kite appear.

Some Second Life statistics:

  • 32,000 acres, which is larger than Boston
  • $5 million per month in goods and services transactions
  • 10 million objects. 15 terabytes of user-created data
  • 2 teraflops CPU simulation
  • More than 500 events per day
  • 230,000 different things sold or traded monthly
Scene from Second Life: A little girl holding a sign saying, "Family Killed By Ninjas. Need $$ For Kung Fu Lessons".

Users are making cars, jewelry, guns, services, anything you can think of. There are people working full-time and making a living at it in Second Life. One woman designs and makes clothing. Another is a real estate developer.

The Second Life user base is (based on self-identification) 43 percent female, but women tend to stay on Second Life longer than men: the percentage of new sign-ups is less than 43 percent female. The median age is 32. 25 percent are international. The age curve looks a lot like the US population as a whole.

New media are always used for entertainment first. One of things I think we'll be remembered for is this intuition, to make Second Life look more like a game at first, because that's how new media start.

Can you tell me about the files in your directories? Can you tell me about the last few Websites you've visited, in order? Probably not. Can you tell me about the stuff in your kitchen? Yes, in great detail. Second Life is a "memory palace", providing unique contexts that make it easier to remember things.

It has been said that virtual worlds make it possible for people to run away from their identities. That's not true. It makes it easier for people to truly express themselves. You can more easily make choices about what you wear, where you live, whom you associate with, that say profound things about you, than you can in the real world.

Some examples of what people do with the system:

  • Logistics simulations
  • Live performances (sometimes fusing real world and Second Life)
  • Movie making (obviously much cheaper than in the real world)
  • Education (17 classes this semester)
  • Therapeutic use
  • Charity and giving (extremely successful on a per-capita basis)


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Second Life is interesting. I checked it out for work when a coworker found the following story:


I created a free account, an avatar, and went to work in a "sandbox" creating objects. I was mostly interested in the object behavior and scripting. The scripting language, LLS, is pretty interesting.

My first project was to create a "pet" which I could talk to. I got it to the point of answering me and jumping to a certain height on command.

Then I realized that objects can only exist on your own personal property or on someone else's land you have permission to be on.(I think).

This really deflated my enthusiasm.

In any event, the model for Second Life is interesting. It sort of takes the idea of virtual property exchanged in in-game as well as RL currency to the next level.

You know how you can buy a lv. 60 WoW player on eBay? Well, the MMORPG companies don't condone that, but that's what Second Life is about. There's an exchange rate between dollars and the SL currency, the name of which escapes me.

Anyway, very interesting.

I haven't yet tried out Second Life, but it's becoming clear to me that I need to.

I thought of a couple of questions during his talk. The first I answered myself, which was this: why is Second Life succeeding when There flamed out so spectacularly? From my outsider's vantage point on both, the answer seems to be that There was a carefully controlled world, whereas in Second Life it's all user-created, and nearly anything goes. To me, it's the AOL-versus-the-Internet, centralized-versus-distributed, command-and-control-versus-swarms argument in yet another medium -- and as far as I can tell, distributed, decentralized swarms always win.

I wasn't able to ask my other question because we ran out of time, and then Rosedale was busy afterwards, and it was this: since Second Life is the closest thing we have today to Snow Crash, from their vantage point, what did Neal Stephenson get particularly right, and what did he get particularly wrong?

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