Sunday, 27 June 2010

RSA Animate - Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us

Following yesterdays post about freebies in Second Life and the negative impact many merchants feel they have on the economy, today I discovered the video at the base of this post.

It's opened my eyes a little despite my previous observations.

Its a fascinating video and makes a lot of sense and in some ways may even squash the theory about Second Life freebies killing the economy.

But right at the end of the video - he explains why the most productive and genius creators are those that do it for fun.

It is "because" they already have a source of income so creating things for free is just a hobby
and as such because there is no financial incentive or "pressure" this frees up their creative expression which results in better creative productivity.

Great if you don't "need" to make L$ to pay your SL bills but many people in Second Life depend on sales and profits to do just that.

Many of these people have a disability or health problem that prevents them from working in a conventional job. Others just enjoy being self employed and love doing what they do and are good enough at doing it  they eventually began to make a real living in from it.

It's these people who are at risk from any damage to the SL economy.

So can the act of kindness be argued as a selfish act?

The saying "It's better to give than receive" is true because you get that "feel good factor"

So essentially people like to "give" as their pay/reward is the appreciation, its human nature.

I love to not charge for custom work sometimes because when people are not expecting a freebie they are so grateful and I feel kind and good. Isn't that a selfish motive in the end? I do it as it makes me feel good about myself?

Reverse that principle. Someone asks me to do a freebie and I am instantly put off.

A good example of the motivation of giving would be some Photoshop brushes I made some months ago and set them for free download on Deviantart.com

So far they have been downloaded over 10,000 times and only 5 out of those 10,000 people said "thanks" Not much "reward" or feel good factor in that! lol

So yes, in hindsight I was motivated by selfish reasons, albeit not financial.

Philosophy. I love it but by its very nature, its a never ending debate and argument.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Why hast thou forsaken me?

OK, this is controversial but bear in mind this is just one persons opinion based on 6 years experience within Second Life and 12 months experience of selling on external websites.

Philip Linden AKA Philip Rosedale has stepped back in to Secondlife.com as the CEO again.

Official Linden Labs announcement, here. 

For those of you who don't know who he is, he is the very person who created Second Life back in 1999 launching Linden Labs and the client Second Life, from his garage.

He made it into a massive success which peaked in 2006 - 2008.  He had the vision and he is the reason SL exists today.

He left SL to do other things around two years ago and I assume he thought SL was running well enough for him to feel confident enough to do that.

Hindsight eh?

I recall peoples sadness around the time of his departure, they felt he had forsaken them, had made his millions and left. So by the same token, his return has been met with a warm welcome by and large.

The last 2 years SL has had serious problems, too many to mention in one post but needless to say its hard core users (generally people who invest time and money into SL) have been feeling deflated, frustrated and many have left either because they couldn't afford to own land or islands (which cost $280 a month) or because of moral or political disagreements over the direction Linden Labs are moving.

The main bone of contention when you get down to the bones of most complaints is politics and the economy. Where money is short, emotions are high.

People are more aggressive and volatile in general especially in an environment like SL were the main objective for many people is often commercial gain.

Were once people felt they could afford the fees associated with owning virtual land and islands in SL, now they aren't so confident and have reduced their premium (paid accounts) to basic free ones whilst also reducing or sometimes letting their land go in order to loose that monthly rental commitment to Linden Labs.

It may be because they literally can no longer afford it or because consumer confidence in general has created a fear factor.
There are few homes in real life that haven't made cut backs on spending over the last 2 years and I imagine owning a virtual island is a luxury most people feel they can live without right now.

Then you have people who own land and want to keep it but for the same reasons above they don't want the financial commitment of paying cold hard cash each month to Linden Labs.

So instead of using SL as a social platform to play, socialise and create content for fun (like they used to) they set up as merchants in hopes of selling enough content in exchange for the Linden Dollar (SL currency) to "cash out".

Finally, we have the type of people coming to SL.
People who's sole intention is to make and sell content to help pay their real life bills in this troubled  economic climate.

The new breed of SL merchants are becoming more and more 'professional"
By that I mean they will most likely have hands on experience in graphic design and 3D applications and see SL as a good platform to make money from their skill especially in light of the fact most of SLs older content creators learnt their skills "in" SL and so lack the polish a professional animator or 3d Builder may have.

Bottom line? The balance of merchants/consumers is well, unbalanced.

This creates a more aggressive competitive attitude as merchants reduce their prices more and more to win over their competitors customers.

To add to this, SL has merchants from all over the world from countries were $10.00 can often equate to a weeks wage in real life. So a skin designer from a developing country can sell quality skins for a fraction of the price their American or European competitors sell theirs for.

Its complex and trying to re balance the situation cannot be easy.

So whilst the return of SL's "daddy" Philip Rosedale is a comforting and reassuring surprise no one saw coming, for some people he is now expected to wave his magic wand and "make the world right again"
I wouldn't want to carry the burden of expectation he shoulders right now!

SLs economy is effected by real life politics and economy issues and then on a separate level it's also affected by SL politics and economy issues.

I have just had a conversation with a customer who runs a skin and building store.
She told me they had felt forced to put a Midnight Mania board out to compete with the zillions of other stores in the same field who were using the system.
 (Midnight Mania boards are a marketing and traffic generating tool that allow merchants to place free content or gifts inside to attract potential new customers to visit their store)

The problem is, as she pointed out,  traffic may increase but sales don't as many people who are attracted to these types of promotions are often people who have no intention of spending money in SL, Period.

She told me they had created a group for Midnight Mania members to have access to the freebies but they applied a one off charge of L$100 to join the group and had so many complaints from people who resented paying for the privilege. A typical response I imagine would be:
 "Why are you charging people to join your group? No one else does this, I can go else where for just as good free skins"
So is she loosing a spending customer or just a little traffic?
What % of people who do the MM hunts go back to a store and spend money in it?
I have no clue but they are very popular regardless.

She added that she and her business partner had visited a newbie welcome area and the mentality of new SLers was discouraging to say the least.
It would appear the first thing a new SLer wants to know is "where can I get free stuff?"
Some were appalled and angry at the suggestion that they should/could buy something.

Personally I feel this whole attitude of "everything should be free" is not restricted to SL as its echoed on the www from all corners of the globe. People it seems in this recession "expect" things to be reduced or free.

I sell textures on Contentparadise.com and when I reduce my items by 25% my sales triple. People resent paying full price these days even if they could afford it.

We also have a texture stock site which allows the free download of most stock at the lowest resolution whilst offering the ability for members to pay between $1.00 and $2.00 for a large image.
We get over 1000 downloads a month and 98% of them are freebies.

In private, many hard working SL business owners are not happy with the huge volume of free content people give away. They feel it's hurting an already weak economy.

Not everyone has the luxury of a real income to allow them to create content for fun and sharing.
Many serious merchants in SL depend on their sales to enable them to pay RL bills and the land fees for their store within SL

People complain and shout down at those that are brave enough to publish their resentment of the "giving community" so many merchants say nothing for fear of rocking the apple cart and being labelled greedy or money motivated.

Right now we have people on free unverified SL accounts running a business on Xstreet which costs them nothing upfront. They are making Linden Dollar and whilst some of it may go back into the economy, in this current economic climate I would imagine most "cash out"

LL need to make it so that anyone who sells content in exchange for currency needs to:

1) Pay for a premium account
2) Verify their real life identity (which is done by default when you upgrade to a premium account)

No one should be able to become a merchant and pay nothing for that opportunity.
In real life, it costs money to run a business and you can't hide your real identity for obvious reasons. Why should SL be any different? The Linden Dollar is not monopoly money, it has the potential to be real cash in peoples pockets.

The bottom line is if everyone stopped buying content from stores and didn't purchase game currency in SL (in order to buy content) SL would crash in less than 6 months in my opinion. Its "because" of the economy that SL continues to exist. Take that away and we wouldn't have SL

And that basic fundamental requirement applies to all other online worlds and SL spin offs despite what the owners may initially say. They need cash flow.

SL never was touted as a charity and unlike real life, you don't die or end up living in a cardboard box if you don't have some spending money.

In RL if we can't afford that cute pair of shoes in the shop window we accept that fact and don't kick up a fuss or start a protest because "things aren't free" We have to goto work and save up our wages until we can afford them.

Who said: "everything should be free in SL"? Us - The merchants, we have created a situation were no ones a winner long term.

Which other game is totally free?

WOW - monthly subscription.
EVE online - Monthly subscription
And these are true games by definition. People understand and accept if they want to play they have to pay.

SL is totally unique in the sense that it's the only platform that allows people a chance of making real money from the sale of their creations and yet ironically and despite this a lot of people feel they shouldn't have to pay for access to SL and further more everything created by people  should be given away.

IMVU has no freebies on the market. I looked and found nothing.
There is cheap stuff but the cheaper stuff was of poor quality. So if members want their avatar to look good they accept they have to spend some money to achieve this.

There were a few members who were sharing their textures in the forums but there was no place that I could find that allowed content creators to "give" their stuff away and as such no one complained, thats just the way it is.

Whilst IMVU does allow free access, its limited. If you want to hang out at the popular places you have to become a VIP member by paying a monthly fee.

In addition, if you wanted to create and sell content, you had to become a VIP and pay a monthly subscription.

IMVU has on average 90,000 people logged in at peak times which should be indicative that the community accept and respect that if you want to have fun, dress your avatar up or furnish your virtual crib, you have to pay.
If you want to create and sell content, again you have to pay.

If you set up a website to sell stuff from whether that be graphics or shampoo you have to first pay to have the site developed then pay a monthly subscription for servers and finally to be found by potential customers you have to pay for marketing.

Owning an e-commerce website is the closest thing to being a virtual merchant so personally, I think it's only fair people should pay "something" for that opportunity.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Left Brain - Right Brain?

I was logged into my Photobucket account the other day and there was this animated GIF of a dancer spinning around with the words:


 "Which way does she spin? Are you left brained or right - Click to find out"


I clicked and it took me to some bloody advert not even related to the sodding quiz. (pissed!)


So, I did a little research and found a few articles on the  subject.


Here's one using the same image


When I first saw that animated dancer on Photobucket she was spinning to the left but on the link above she span to the right and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't see her spinning in the opposite direction unless I could see her in the corner of my eye. Then I could make her spin left or right at will.


I have no idea why I can only do that from my peripheral vision or what that means.


The theory is that we are either left or right brain thinkers and depending on which side of your brain dominates your thought process your have different ways of evaluating things or are more inclined to be a logical thinker or an analytical thinker.


Left brain types are apparently more logical, whereas right brain are more intuitive and feeling. 


From a more comprehensive list of attributes I am definitely more Left Brained despite the fact that apparently right brained people are more creative. 


IMO you can't pigeon hole people in black and white boxes. We're generally a mixture of good and bad, right and wrong, logical and creative and so on.


Heres a test if you give a crap:


And I answered 0 Right Brain questions and 18 (100%) Left:


You responded as a right brained person to 0 questions, and you responded as a left brained person to 18questions. According to the Hemispheric Dominance test, you use your left brain the most. The summary briefly describes your dominance type. Remember, this only represents half of the picture. After you read the description, click on the link at the bottom of the page to find out how to use this information to improve your study strategies. 

Some of the traits associated with the left side of the brain are listed in the table. Not all of the traits will apply to you. Remember, we use both side of our brain, but your left sides gets the most exercise.


Type of Cognitive Processing
Brief Description
LinearProcessing information from part to whole; in a straight forward logical progression.
SequentialProcessing information in order from first to last.
SymbolicProcesses symbols an pictures; likes to use letters, words and mathematical symbols.
LogicalProcesses information piece by piece using logic to solve a problem.
VerbalProcesses thoughts and ideas with words.
Reality-BasedProcesses information based on reality; focuses on rules and regulations










































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































Saturday, 12 June 2010

Politics Economy and Second Life

I suppose I should touch on the recent news that Linden Labs (the owners of Secondlife.com) have announced job losses of 30% of their staff.


I haven't been to the forum or even the official blog announcement but I did get a mass email from M. Linden which seemed to be assuring its recipients that the decision was not down to the company having economic issues but rather streamlining staff to concentrate on evolving SL to a web based client like IMVU with plans to piggy back on social network sites like Facebook.


It makes sense to me at least. I logged into IMVU last night to check it out. There were over 90,000 people online. I have never seen that many people logged into SL and we never will because the client/viewer cannot run efficiently with more than 70,000 people logged on in any one time.
Making SL a web based client with no download means more people can log on without burden to servers.
Linking people who are already members of Facebook to a SL client is good business sense. SL right now has more merchants than consumers. Thats just the way it's gone so we need to attract more consumers and less merchants. 

Here's an interesting blog post which covers the subject from a business perspective.


As for IMVU, it seemed like good fun and there certainly was a better platform for encouraging spending right from the point of avatar creation. But the game play was awful! I visited a "room" which was a tiny floating island with 10 avatars all sat on static assets (chairs etc) and talking absolute nonsense, playing in burps, farts and the sound of some guy taking a leak in the toilet as they all fell about laughing.  I logged out bored within 5 minutes.


The avatars are more cartoony than SL avatars but the marketplace is thriving! You can earn or buy "credits" to spend on avatar clothing or furniture and even whole rooms. One way to earn credits (which have a real life value much like SL's Linden Dollar does) is to evaluate content creators submissions and test them in a 3D viewer. This was fascinating to me to see and test drive all of the different content people had made and were waiting approval of. I got to see the best and the worst. 
Once you test the basics and make sure it doesn't break the TOS standards such as nudity, violence and general abusive undertones, you pre approve it and then it is sent to IMVU staff I assume to give it the final thumbs up. I guess it's a form of alpha testing.


Everything has to be approved before its allowed to be released into the game or market. There.com had the same system and sure it took man hours but if IMVU can manage it why can't Linden Labs?


Right now anyone can upload anything into SL.
It's like the Wild West as offenders of copyright re offend in different account names which BTW don't even have to be ID verified by Linden Labs.


IMVU encourages its members to verify their ID by giving them credits, confirm your email, get more credits, buy your user name and sign up to be a content creator, get more credits.
Fantastic strategy and one that LL could lend from.


Of course, any news about job losses in Linden Land sends ripples of insecurity throughout the grid and sales plummet, its inevitable.


To me at least, it's no surprise and not because I think SL/LL are messed up but because nearly all companies in most western countries are experiencing job losses or cut  backs. Linden Labs are not immune to this recession, why would they be? 


On the flip side, I have been invited to do a 10 minute public talk and Q&A session on texture creation for Burniversity the art and build learning portion for the Second Life, Burning Life.


Its very flattering but the words "as an individual recognized as an expert in the field" fill me with utter fear because I don't consider myself an expert in the field at all. It's all relative. To some I may be seen as an expert, to others I am just an amateur.


This invitation thing brings the Anshe Chung interview incident to mind.
I laughed at that Video when I saw it. Not in spite but because it was just funny. 
Not so funny when your on the other side of that fence though and I doubt I will be putting myself in the line of fire. 

Monday, 7 June 2010

All things Game Art Training and Work

Following a request for some inspiration sent to our customer group, a chap sent me some original photographs he had taken of a local Orthodox church
This is as rare and a wonderful opportunity for me as usually inspiration requests come in the form of URLs or a few pics to whet my appetite,  so to actually get some "real" photos to work with was fab!

Of course, I asked him to sign an agreement to confirm they were his original images and that he would allow me to use them in the creation and distribution of commercial textures.
In return, I will be creating over 100 co-ordinating church textures for him free of charge and hope to have the complete 4 - 5 piece collection finished by the end of this week.

Whilst it was great to have some original texture resources, most of the photos can only be used as reference shots because they were taken from a diagonal direction meaning it was hard if not impossible to create seamless textures from many of them.

Taking photos for the creation of seamless textures requires that you face the subject "face on"and get as much of the surface into the frame as possible whilst also trying to avoid light gradients or dark shadows cast from architectural elements or even other objects situated close to the subject.

An example of this would be a wall that had shadows from a near by tree or long "late afternoon" shadows from the window sills on the wall.

If you create game textures with pre existing shadows caught in the original photograph it causes an unnatural visual anomaly even to the subconscious eye.
Game shaders often used in advanced games engines will cast their own shadows in "real time" meaning as the games sun moves,  shadows from assets within the game will move as they would do in real life.
So having a static shadow on your texture that does not move would not be acceptable.

Second Life will be introducing shaders in the future and because of this I have become conscious of the overuse of the "drop shadow" Photoshop layer style often used by default by SL texture artists including myself.
Adding shadows to complex game textures creates an instant "3D" effect by giving depth to what otherwise would be a flat texture.
Basically, if you must add any shadow keep it at 90 degrees and subtle.

The image above is an overview of some foundation textures I have made to kick start the Orthodox church texture collection.
When I start to make a 3D collection, the hardest and most time consuming process is pulling all of the pieces together that complement each other, then extracting windows and other pieces from the unwanted backgrounds and finally making the textures seamless. Once I have my layers pallet filled with elements that work well together the fun begins and I start to see them come to life, so to speak.

I am not happy with the pillars used for the exterior textures.
I don't like the curve of them and I did exactly what I explained above!
I added quite dark shadows from the pillars. So I will be making some alterations with new columns and more options for both the exterior and interior textures.

What I have tried to do is combine the more artistic elements from the customers photographs along with my own stock. The Gothic windows are from our stock site but the arched red brick window is from the customers photos.  It would be easy to just use my own stock but I want to give him a collection that at a glance he will recognise from his own photos.

TIGA diploma for Game Art & Animation


I did my Tutor Marked Assignment over the week-end for the first part of the course which was basically an Introduction to game genres, platforms, engines and a little about various software packages used such as middleware, graphic programs and Version Control packages.
It also covered the various stages and documents a game developer team need to create starting from the High Concept Pitch document, full design, proof of concept, vertical slice, full production, testing, (pre alpha, alpha and beta) to the final Master and Gold Master Candidate.

You are advised to read the book then watch the DVD whilst also doing some self assessment work which will not be seen or marked by your tutor.
I feel a little guilty as I just read the book and looked at the questions at the back which would be asked in the online test.
I was fairly confident I would pass because I did a mock test and there were a few questions I just needed to double check as I wasn't 100% sure my answers were correct, but as it happened they were and so I just did the online test and waited for the result.

Normally, you have to wait 3 days before your online test is marked and you are able to log in to see if you have passed and would be sent the course work for the next level, but the new course work arrived in the post today so I must have passed! yay!

I won't and can't be so laid back again as the course is now leaning more towards "hands on" use of the actual software, photoshop and 3D Max and requires me to send in actual art work files in addition to the end of section test.

The lessons on this section are:
Video Game Art
Art Creation Pipeline in the Game Industry
Intro to Material Editor
Welcome to Photoshop ( I should be OK with that! lol)
Intro to Concept Art  (Not so OK with that)

But the bonus is, initially I thought I only got 30 day trials of both Photoshop and 3DMax but after reading the letter that came with the course work, it appears I will get full copies of both applications which is great considering the price of each of these programs.
I already own Photoshop CS4 but I don't have 3D Max so yea, bonus!

Its ironic that I have completed the intro course just as I received an email from a game developer team who are interested in hiring me to do some 2D seamless tile sets for their iPhone game.
The terminology used in the letter made sense to me were as 3 months ago I may have strung it together but at least now I fully understood what "top down" meant and "terrain hazard assets" were.

Heres the letter I got just an hour ago:

Hey Elizabeth,

Thanks for responding to the job offer and I'm sorry I couldn't get back to you sooner. I really like your work and you certainly seem to understand seamless tiling so I'm hoping we can work together.

As I've already mentioned, this is a humble little casual game for mobile platforms and we basically just need to populate a dungeon world with the appropriate textures/tile art. This would include a top-down view of dungeon floor, walls, stairwells, raw earth, pools of water, mossy cobblestones, etc. Essentially, all the standard elements for fantasy game environments. Most art assets for the game will be 128x128pixels at most.

If you go about 20 seconds into
this video, (linked removed by me) you'll see approximately the type of environment we need. I've also attached some of our rough early experiments to give you the idea. We'd basically need a finalized and perfectly tileable version of something along these lines. We'd also need plenty of props and terrain hazards to layer over this, and there's also the possibility of multiple tilesets (i.e. lava setting, grassy setting, abandoned mine setting, etc). So please let me know if this seems like something you'd like to be a part of and please give me an idea of what you'd charge for this kind of work. Thanks in advance and looking forward to your response!

-Greg


I feel a little intimidated. I didn't expect them to be interested when I sent my application :(
Maybe I will wait until I am further into the course so I have more confidence in general.
It's one thing making game textures for your own business, quite another for a commercial game company!

I "did" explain I was looking for more work experience with game developers when I wrote to him.

Ah well, it's flattering if nothing else :)

We finally signed the contracts for the TRU websites new template which is going to be designed by Chosen Few from Second Life.
For those of you that don't know Chosen he has been in SL longer than me and is very well known and respected for the advise he gives in the official forums.
Myself, Thorian and Chosen Few had a Skype conference on Sunday night and the new template design should be completed by this week-end.

In theory, we should then be able to roll out the new site features too which will allow the purchase and download of textures to none Second Life members who will pay by Paypal.
Additionally, Thorian has isolated and fixed some bugs that were causing delivery issues in world too.
Also currently all TRU Franchise and website "in world" purchases are delivered as separate textures instead of in folders as is the case when you buy direct from the main store, this is another crease we have ironed out and we hope this will make the website even more of a convenient tool to use for content creators in SL

What Thorian designed with the website was (and still may be) totally unique to any store in SL.
The ability to browse on an external website and teleport from a product on the site to the vendor in world as well as buy and have your purchase delivered to you anywhere in SL was totally unheard of except for Xstreet which Linden Labs bought out just over a year ago.
I think there is a fashion store that has a similar system, but theirs looks professional unlike ours and so I have been niggled about the "home brewed" look of the site since is was first developed.

Our focus with the website has always been on fixing issues and researching weaknesses and now we feel we have reached the stage to focus on the aesthetics too.

In addition to the template there will be new buttons and tabs etc and I for one am very excited about it all. It has cost us an arm and a leg right from the beginning but with the amount of stock we have, we had to offer something to make browsing easier, as I have always said TRUs strength is also its weakness. People feel overwhelmed by the amount of choice and a good stock take is long overdue to separate the wheat from the chaff. As we have been running on a large scale since 2006, some of our collections date back to that time and in all honesty they simply don't come up to the standard they should do in 2010 so I must make some time to delete some old "less than brilliant" stock soon.

I hope customers will also like the new look and features of the site as it's a great way to browse LAG free for textures even when you're not logged into SL.
If you have an account you can browse from any PC and add your "possibles" to your favourites folder ready to purchase when you next log into SL.



Not all textures will be available for direct sale via Paypal.
Most of our outside clients like 3DTotal.com will continue to only sell their texture collections from TRU to existing SL members and for the use within Second Life only as has always been the case.