What Does Open Sourcing Second Life Mean?

from the not-so-AOL-any-more dept

Just a few months ago, we were wondering if Second Life was going to become the AOL of online virtual worlds. That is, a hot property that got lots of attention and early users, but too proprietary and eventually brought down by a much more open vision. Apparently, the folks at Linden Lab (makers of Second Life) agreed. They announced today that they are open sourcing the Second Life client software, so anyone can make their own client side app. That, on its own, isn’t all that exciting. In some ways, it’s an admission that Second Life’s client software really isn’t the greatest. There are complaints that it’s hard to use and somewhat buggy — and that many people who sign up for a Second Life account never get very far, in part because of the nature of the software. What’s much more interesting, though, is that Linden Lab also is planning to open source the server side, though they don’t say when. They apparently want to make the code more secure and stable before they do so, which makes sense. In theory, this could mean that people could set up entirely separate worlds using Second Life — or, potentially, connect to the larger Second Life world, without having to pay Linden Lab for server hosting.

There certainly is a lot of potential for this to go beyond Linden Lab’s little experiment, into something much bigger. There are, however, still plenty of big questions. It’s not clear exactly what Linden Lab will do on the server side, and how they’ll handle “peering” arrangements with others who set up their own virtual worlds. If done well, it becomes a 3D virtual extension of the internet. If done badly, it disappears pretty quickly. Also, the biggest challenge of all may just be getting people to use it. Most successful open source projects start out as open source. Attempts to take closed source projects and make them open source don’t often work out well, in part because the software is often so messy that it’s better to just start over from scratch (which is more or less what happened with Netscape/Mozilla/Firefox). However, as that earlier article also noted, one of the things about software is that reinventing the wheel isn’t very interesting. The question will simply be how usable Second Life’s “wheel” really is.

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Comments on “What Does Open Sourcing Second Life Mean?”

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misanthropic humanist says:

second life is empty

Actually it means nothing. Because “Second Life” is nothing. Now, I’m not being wantonly obtuse in this case, provocative as usual, but not without cause so please stay with me here.

What is Second Life? What does it actually offer in terms of real substance of gameplay that hasn’t existed for some time already
and isn’t available in another engine?

When you break it down there are a few essential elements to any 3DVR system.

There is an object manager that deals with the constructors, destructors, ownership etc of classes.

There are the runtime object instances themselves and their attributes, spacial positioning, velocity and so on, the here and now – the “game” as it exists.

Objects by themselves are meaningless, what actually makes anything useful in a game is entity action models, interplay between instigators and targets, between actors and environment etc. There are usually one or more ordinal or cardinal scales, like health, money, ammo which are “owned”attributes of the special player class.

Then there is management of the authoratitive version, often known as replication, such that each client in the game sees (or could see and represent) the same consistent world view. WIthout this any MP game is pretty meaningless.

There’s some sounds, just samples that can be played by objects for given actions.

Like most games Second Life has a chat channel with private sub-channels and so on, much like IRC or whatever.

There are characters, models and animations for each of them.

And finally there is a clientside renderer, which takes all the info replicated to it by the server and constructs a view of the world.

That is a simplified general description of a games engine and there are many many out there such as Crystal Space, Unreal, Poseiden, Quake…

What makes a game is everything that is not in the above. The game is the constraints, the glue code that determines why any event, action, attribute is significant in play.

You see, I can never figure out what this actually is in second life. It doesn’t exist. There is no rationale, no raison d’etre. You walk about, you chat, you look cool. SInce you can teleport anywhere there is not even the challenge of physical constraint (In Operation Flashpoint for example I often used to just enjoy exploring the worlds, first you have to take a car to the airport, find a plane, get in, know how to fly it and so on. Same with GTA in its later incarnations)

But what’s the deal with Second Life? It offers nothing that can’t be built on an existing open source game engine as far as I can see. It’s just a raw MP3DVR engine with a lot of hype.

It’s appeal seems to be to all those people who were never any good at 3DFPS and came to VR very late, who like to just wander aimlessly around socialising on a persistant world, trading objects and chatting.

Fair enough, but don’t believe that is anything new or interesting, we used to do that on games servers 10 years ago, find an empty map and just chill out chatting. Any VR engine could be turned to this end. And yes, the client looks awful, there isn’t even any lighting afaics.

Maybe I’m just being a cynical old bastard, but I just don’t see what the value is in Second Life. What is the idea?

Tanith Newt (user link) says:

Re: second life is empty

The value of Second life is the incredible easy to build sopmething interesting yourself. and with building I mean not just click through some predefined parameters – but actually create something usefull that didn’t exist before and – also importent – of wich the IP is yous.
Saying that Second Life is empty is the same as saying that the internet is empty … the www in itself is nothing .. it gets meaning by the content that people create and that can be acceses by a webbrowser. Same for Seconf Life: in itself it has no meaning but it gets usefull by the content that the users create and that can be accessed using a 3D browser.

this content creating thing goes way way way further then any other VR world out there.
oh – and please … offcourse SL has lighting … maybe you’re talking about the second Life of three years ago?

return for a visit and try to look beyond the obvious technical difficulties – beyond the sex and the spam and the morons … hmmm … similarities with the internet of 10 years ago doesn’t seem to end … it’s just a 3D web, its not even a game.

anyway 🙂 Time will tell.

Open Minded says:

Re: It's not always about what you want

If your argument is that Second Life isn’t a game, then I agree. But if you are arguing that Second Life is nothing then I say that is your opinion.

There are plenty of people who chat in there texting format looking at little avatars or even on large community chat forums, IRC, etc.. I see SL as this same occupier of time but only with whatever flare you want to add by means of looks, events and wealth.

Second Life is not for me, I tried it for a while, my desire was to craft hair and jewelry for the masses and become famous or something with my designs but I lost interest. My brother on the other hand took up DJing for a club and enjoy’s every minute of it.

If some people can find some thing that they like in this new space then it works for them. Its just not for everyone. This doesn’t make it a worthless environment, just not one that you are interested in.

misanthropic humanist says:

SL as a

Okay, this is educational for me, I’ve never tried it. The apparent lack of M1A1 main battle tanks has always been the obstacle for myself, a boy at heart.

So, I am correct though, it is an empty vessel into which the users define content. In other words it is a view on a VRML object database.

“Saying that Second Life is empty is the same as saying that the internet is empty”

A good way to put it.

“it’s just a 3D web”

That’s the most succinct analysis I’ve heard. What intrigues me is how does it form a web? The critical infrastructure of the real web is probably the Apache server and the hardware in the datacenter rack on which that runs, not the browser or HTML per se, but without that simple universally open protocol of HTTP it would have never grown in any way. Where is that with Second Life, is it all marked up in VRML?

If not then that *must* the very rationale behind open sourcing it, for it is nothing without an open standard and freedom for all to create servers not just content. And to specify the rules for entering and using that server. At which point we return to the question again, what is it? However, Linden cannot possibly hope to retain any semblence of control beyond that point, which I am sure they are smart enough to realise (I hope).

“but actually create something usefull that didn’t exist before and – also importent – of wich the IP is yous.”

I think we are pushing the boat out a little far over “useful” here. Analogies to the “Web” break down because that instrument, which we are using right now, was originally designed to share information in an ancient optimal form, the written word.

Question: If I go to see your bro DJ at a Second Life club, am I listening to a high quality audio stream that I can run to disk? If so then yes, I can already see some interesting possibilities.

While assignment of intellectual property is already a given, through existing copyright laws, I would think that a place like Second Life is the last place one could hope to usefully enforce it. Who on Earth is going to police that in a system where the instant you create something it is potentially replicated ad infinitum? Who will pay for such policing and to what end? If Second Life has any sort of “economy” based on that principle it is doomed in the long term. You can take that as a pragmatic fact not an opinion, though I welcome reasonable arguments. One assumes that everything in Second Life is licenced under creative commons right? If not, why would I as a content producer have any motive to contribute?

Protoplasm says:

Get a Life?

Tools are tools, not the ends in themselves. Just because your are skilled at thier use should not mean that is why you use them.

Escapist pursuits are one thing, but what happens when the pendulum finally swings back the way of physical social interaction, the kind you actually have to be “present” in order to participate?

If you waste your time “virtually” that is even worse than wasting your time for real. What drives people to surrender their identity to an avatar, and spend countless hours?

Is our time in this realm not precious?

misanthropic humanist says:


“Tools are tools, not the ends in themselves. Just because your are skilled at thier use should not mean that is why you use them.”

If by tools you mean hammers and screwdrivers then yes. A thousand hammers will not build a thousand houses. But I liken the conquest of cyberspace to exploration, we explore because we can, because we are curious.

“Escapist pursuits are one thing, but what happens when the pendulum finally swings back the way of physical social interaction, the kind you actually have to be “present” in order to participate?”

Then most people would be entirely out their depth and at a loss. We know from psychology that real interaction is deep and complex, it involves non-verbal, gestural, olfactory senses, subtle eye expressions and other factors that would leave a closeted individual as helpless as a baby in real interaction.

“If you waste your time “virtually” that is even worse than wasting your time for real.”

I dont think so. I think if you waste your time you waste your time. and that is that. The real kicker is that only you can be the judge of whether you waste your time, it is between you and your soul and you cannot hide the lie when you face the end.

“What drives people to surrender their identity to an avatar, and spend countless hours?

You would have to ask a better psychologist or more spiritual person than I, but perhaps it is because those people do not believe in their real identities or have confidence in themselves enough. In fantasy you are a strong warrior or a beautiful princess.

Is our time in this realm not precious?”

Time is a unique currency. All the money in the world cannot buy you more time. Those who trade their time for money are fools who are robbed. It is dignified to sell the sweat of your labor, or the words of your wisdom, but an hourly wage is the greatest insult a human can receive.

citizenj (profile) says:

now if it was actually useful...

Remember Snowcrash? Now if it was something like that, it’d be cool. If there was a virtual university where people could go to learn things that are important in meatspace, it’d be cool. If it wasn’t such a complete waste of time and money, it’d be cool.

currently it’s a place filled with a bunch of escapists, perverts, pedophiles, scammers and ‘artists’ who couldn’t paint their way out of a paperbag in 1stLife.

about the only amusing thing going on in there is the ‘griefers’ who do things like…….
attack a prima donna scammer with giant penises.

as for your ‘IP’, well that’s just a bunch of crap. try protecting it in a meatspace courtroom, see what happens.

it’s a good idea, but the lcd just drags the whole thing down.

Overcast says:

It will either make it fantastic, or just a cheaters paradise…

I suspect the latter is true, hehe

But I agree too MH, I never found second life interesting enough to try, it seemed like an attempt at a MMO Sims game. Which, had already been tried.

I think EA Games will eventually come out with a good MMO Sims, but it may be sometime yet, there were a lot of difficulties with the economy, really.

Overcast says:

Can’t cheat?

While SL is referred to as a game, it, in general, does not have points, scores, winners or losers, levels, an end-strategy, or most of the other characteristics of games. Users, who are often called “Residents” amongst themselves, explore, meet other users, participate in individual and group activities or “events”, buy items, virtual property and services from one another. Long-term users learn new skills and mature socially, climbing a virtual hierarchy.

So someone couldn’t use a ‘hack’ to up their skills, or get free items/cash or property? That wouldn’t be cheating, just ‘inventive engineering’?

Given – I haven’t tried the ‘Virtual World’, but it seems to me, it could still be ‘manipulated’ to put someone unfairly on top. I mean personally, I don’t care at all. I don’t ‘partake’ in it.

I’ve seen some other ‘virtual worlds’ benefit GREATLY from open source – like Halflife, Unreal

But some others have done quite the opposite – Diablo, Ultima Online – in those cases, it was the demise of the ‘Virtual World’, by allowing some with the right hacks to jump far ahead of others. Rendering the ‘participants’ more or less in a hopeless situation of they didn’t want to cheat.

Maybe you can’t right now – but open source will change that – in some instances. I guess it depends on how ‘purist’ the people running the server are, and what kind of changes they will implement.

Oh and didn’t mean to offend in calling it a ‘game’ – but to me ‘game’ isn’t a bad word – as I spent about 85% of my free time playing games. Everything from Sims to Grand Theft Auto, and some Everquest in between. Heck, I’ve been in the ‘virtual worlds’ since Atari 2600. Being born in the early 70’s, I guess this stuff matured right along with me.

Bumbling old fool (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Oh and didn’t mean to offend in calling it a ‘game’

No. To each and every talking point you have, the answer is No.

There is no game. I’m not saying in defense of SL, but because ITS NOT A GAME. you dont level skills, you dont have objectives, there are no quests, you dont kill mobs. there is no score, there is NOTHING that relates to a game.

No, a hack can’t make you better, because there is nothing to be better at.

Wolff000 says:

Second Life Not A Bad Idea

I tried Second Life after friends raved about it. I really liked creating things that I actually owned. The fact that I actually created it was a unique experience. Creation tools in most games I have played are just point and click on a lot of predefined objects. you didn’t really create just pieced together. With SL you can really create things and then attach the sounds movement that go with the item. I personally grew tired of it quickly and moved on. That doesn’t mean the idea isn’t great. To let people trully make the game whatever they want it to be is spectacular. You can be a vampire, alien or robot. You can drive tanks, cars, planes, and spaceships. You can also make weapons, useable weapons. You can also make things sexier or down right raunchy whatever your heart’s desire is at your fingertips. That is the appeal of Second Life it can be whatever you want it to be. It is not a game so to speak more of a blank canvas waiting for your own artistic touch. Although I don’t play SL much these days the idea is a step in the right direction and open sourcing the code makes it even better.

Overcast says:

You may well be right Ol’ Fool… I’ve never played it, that italic’s just what I got from the Wiki on it, but according to that, you do level skills.

Don’t matter to me anyhow 🙂

But – on that too Ben, many other games have no end point or way to ‘win’. But yet are still considered games. Well, I guess…

Is there some sort of competition to it? Like even perceived, like he who’s the richest wins?

I did check out the page on it once, it just didn’t seem to interest me. It’s like a boring version of the Sims or something, lol

Some of us used to call Everquest a ‘Chat Room with a View’ – maybe that description’s more accurate for Second Life – from what I hear 🙂

dust (user link) says:

I don't think the anti-SL people get it

Those of you calling SL a chat with a view or a game with no point, bla blah blah, still aren’t getting it.

The appeal of SL is that everything in the world is created by it’s users. The appeal is the real economy which can turn into real money. It’s like settling a new continent–everybody has the chance to get rich if they have the right ideas, and can turn those ideas into reality.

When you ask, what is the point on SL, I ask, what is the point in life? Same answer.

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