January 15, 2010

The many faces of Peter Stindberg across the grids

Beauty is only skin deep - and nowhere this saying is more true than in virtual worlds. The appearance of our digital identity - the avatar - consists of a handful of sliders for the shape and the skin that is pulled across it.

I recently spent more time again on OpenSim based grids, and you will likely see more posts about that topic in the future. A year ago I took my first glimpse into opensim grids - and was quickly sobered due to the quickness and bad performance of those alternatives. But things have changed over the past year. Stability has become much better. Newer viewers offer features addressing the issue of accessing various grids. And so exploring new frontiers outside of SL becomes a less frustrating and more exciting endeavour.

Over the three years I have spent in SL, I have subtly tweaked my avatar many times. I am quite happy with the (preliminary) end result. Peter Stindberg is a male, without doubt, but not one of the stereotype males featuring a barrel chest, no neck and ridiculous proportions that more remind of the incredible hulk than a human being. I am rather short for a guy (still transformed to atomic world sizes my avatar is 2.15m tall), slender with a hint of adrogynity. Above all, my avatar is proportioned, with legs and arms and torso in the right lengths and widths. The slight unshaven look, the curious eyes and the not-too-toned look comes from Hart Larssons wonderful PXL Jude skin. And my signature haircut is Luth from ETD - an older style but I like the messy look.

It's only natural that I want to take this appearance with me into other grids. Of those I tested only Reaction Grid gives you a halfway decent avatar (with halfway decent prim hair and AO) to start with - the other grids give you the standard Ruth female avatar.

Transferring my shape was the easiest task. The Imprudence viewer allows you to export your shape into a XML file (provided you have the necessary rights to the shape), and reimport it again. This was a quick task, and after a few minutes my 4 personas in other grids had the same body like my SL avatar.

Skin and hair however proved to be difficult. Except for the Rezzable grid (which is basically only a playground/testing-grid) I found some freebie shops in all the other grids, usually providing me with Eloh Eliot skins which - in doubt - I could upload myself too since Eloh hands out the Photoshop files. However, while Eloh's skins are nice, it is not what I wanted. And it is even sadder with hair, because what you find in the freebie boxes in terms of male hair is rather pitiful.

So I contacted Hart Larsson of PXL Creations and Elikapeka Tiramisu of ETD and explained my situation and asked for a license to use their creations in another grid:
Lately I am exploring more and more 3rd party grids, and of course I want to have a consistent appearance across grids. Therefore I would like to ask you for the terms and conditions of a license that would allow me to use .... in other grids too.

I know from a content creator perspective this is a touchy issue. What I am asking for is a license tied to my person only - I operate by the same name in all other grids. I don't expect to get this license for free either. In terms of security I can only offer you my public reputation though.

[... Explanation how it could be done from a technical point of view ...]

I understand fully that this might be quite a tough request for you, but I ask you to think about it with an open mind. Please let me know if there are any additional questions you might have, I am more than willing to answer them.

Hart Larsson got back to me a day later. He has already investigated a bit into 3rd party grids but is rather reluctant. The surprising argument was that he fears more theft in these grids compared to the Second Life grid. His argumentation was along the lines that in those 3rd party grids good content is rare, so someone who comes there wearing a good skin is more likely to get copybotted than in SL. I personally think that a copybotter would rather go into SL to "harvest" and then upload the items into a 3rd party grid, but I have to accept Hart's concerns. He promised me to think about it - I have not yet contacted him again.

ETD's store assistant contacted me a little later. She thanked me for the notecard and the extensive explanation, and was glad I liked the ETD hair so much. However she said that a request like mine is out of her room for decision, and that Elikapeka is on an extended hiatus from SL. She promised me to pass my request along, but also mentioned I should not set too high hopes into a positive answer.

A look into the future

When I look into my crystal ball, I see that some time in the next 18 to 24 months we will be able to freely travel with our Second Life avatars into 3rd party grids. Probably only a few at first - most likely the academical Reaction Grid - but it will become more and more. Initially we will be able to travel into those grids with our appearance only - shape, skin and the items we wear. Eventually the rest of our inventory will follow and we will be able to change clothing or rez furniture in a foreign grid. It is inevitable, and content creators will not be able to prevent this.

I expect there are more people like me who want to explore 3rd party grids already today, and who want to do so in style using an as close as possible replica of their SL avatars. And who are honest enough to want to do this officially.

There is a window of opportunity here for content creators to branch out. The opensim based grid InWorldz has a currency model and an inworld economy already, where 500 IZ$ equal 1 US$. Other opensim grids plan to introduce an economy in the near future. Those content creators who will adopt grids outside of SL first, will be the ones who become successful there.

My advice for content creators is:
  • Grant your customers licenses to use your creations in other grids
  • Open stores in the more prominent 3rd party grids to establish a presence
  • Team up with other designers and buy a sim in the more popular other grids
  • For grids without an economy, offer your customers to pay you inside SL with L$ and deliver your items to them in the other grids
There is a market out there you are missing out on. Adopt the diversity and branch out to have success in the future.

A look into the even further future

In 5-7 years from now, Second Life will be the backbone of the Metaverse, providing an infrastructure with protocols, storage databases and API's. Individuals and corporations host their own sims on their servers. Similar to renting webspace today, you can rent simspace in the future, in datacenters connected to the SL backbone. But if you so desire you can also host your sim on your home machine and connect it to the SL grid. The currency of the Metaverse is the L$ - the money transactions handled by Linden Lab which acts as the bank of the metaverse. Linden Lab offers a credit card that taps into your L$ balance and with which you can make purchases in the atomic world. For these services, Linden Lab asks the usual charges banks ask for transaction. However the L$ will become the first truly globally accepted micropayment system, obsoleting PayPal. Not only will you be able to load books on your ebook reader and pay for them with L$, you will also be able to download video on demand or music with L$ and you can seamlessly watch them either on your internet enabled TV or your sim in the Metaverse.
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