17 July 2015

LL to merchants: No TPV for you!

Yesterday, Linden Lab announced that merchants would be migrated to the new Viewer Managed marketplace beginning next Thursday, July 23, and that once migrated, merchants would need to use the Second Life VMM Viewer to manage their stores.

Never mind that the viewer is, as I write this, only a release candidate, not even in full release yet.

I've written before about the process we follow to keep our code up to speed with LL's. The main thing of interest here is that we need to do things in the same order as LL releases them, so as to keep merges from becoming an unmanageable mess. LL only released the prior merge, the series of attachment fixes known as Project Bigbear, this past Tuesday.

On top of that, the Lab insists that we not release code of theirs until it's at least at RC status. We can merge earlier if we wish - at our own risk. We did, actually; Ansariel Hiller has a repository she's been merging the VMM stuff into. Repeatedly. LL has, more than once in the process of VMM, reformatted the XML code that describes the user interface. Every one of those merges has been a major effort to clean up. When she complained, she was told "that's what you get for merging early". The clear message: don't merge things until they're RC.

So with all of this, we're just now getting to the point we can merge VMM into the mainline viewer. That's when we begin to make sure it fits in with the rest of the code, and find and fix bugs (often, LL's), and basically make sure it's up to our standards. Our release cycle takes a few weeks because we actually test things before turning them loose.

The upshot: We will not have a Firestorm release with VMM in time for our users who are being forced to migrate to VMM.

This is not a problem to LL, of course. As far as they're concerned, users should be on the official viewer, anyway.

To our users, however, it is a problem. LL has a terrible track record of listening to users, and it shows in their viewer. We're already starting to hear complaints from folks who want no part of the LL viewer. This thread on SLUniverse is typical.

Jessica Lyon posted late in that thread (as I write this) that we may release a preview viewer for merchants to use to do VMM while we rush through the QA cycle for the full release. This is a much less than ideal solution; previews are explicitly unsupported, may change, and aren't guaranteed to work properly. We don't like doing them. In this case, LL's ...planning may force our hand.

I don't know why LL feels compelled to force people into VMM while the viewer that's required to support it isn't even an official release yet. Whatever the reason, this seems like particularly poor planning, as well as a distinct "see figure 1" to TPV developers and users.

Sadly, it's in line with their normal ways of doing things, and what we've come to be used to.

Update, 18 July: According to this post on LL's forums, the VMM version of the official viewer won't be a full release by the 23rd either! Not only is this a "see figure 1" to TPV-using merchants, but merchants in general. The net effect, since Oz will not commit to releasing the VMM viewer next, is to force us to either push VMM as it stands now and deal with potential merge headaches should they decide to release something else first, or else hold off on our release and force users to use the LL viewer to manage their Marketplace items.

Real TPV- and merchant-friendly, LL...

07 July 2015

Another one bites the dust

I did something this morning I haven't done in years on my main account: "set home to here".

For the last several years, my home is on a sim run by my good SL and RL friend Axi Kurmin. Cursed is a Goth village, home to the last true Goth club in SL, Gothika, and carefully curated to keep an overall theme. Axi did all of the landscaping and, after an incident with a former business partner, controlled all of the building as well. There's a small commercial section, and Tonya's Restraint Works' main store and demonstration playroom are there.

All of that is, at minimum, moving elsewhere. Axi finally gave in to the stress and the economic pressures and is dropping the sim. Gothika and the cemetery that goes with it are moving. So is Axi's workshop. The other rentals are ending as of July 23, the due date of the next tier payment.

Why? Put simply, the US$295 a month sim rental is too much for Axi to support. Having her own sim let her run events her way, on her schedule and on her terms, but that's become far more stressful than fun. The rents she was able to bring in didn't come close to covering the cost. And she's got a lot better use for US$295 a month these days than running a sim that's become a source of stress.

So now we have one fewer privately-run sim in SL.

Last night, my wife Chibi and I moved our home to a new location. I have my own homestead that I used for other things, but mostly rented out. My home is now there, on a very tall hill another friend terraformed for me. (I can't terraform worth a crap.) We got a copy of the house, and moved everything to the new one in just the same spots as before so it immediately feels like home. There's still some work that needs doing, but not much.

The store and playroom are, at least for now, going to close. It's not like I got a lot of business out of them anyway. I've got a project percolating in my mind that will eventually require a new physical store, but for now my stuff will only be available on the Marketplace.

Perhaps I should rename my sim, though...somehow, Catalina doesn't seem appropriate any more.

I have to wonder how many sims are going away because of the price. US$295 a month is pretty stiff for a hobbyist, after all. With the release of experience tools, LL is giving creators the wherewithal to create the kind of experiences that Ebbe Linden says he's after. That's great, but it's getting harder and harder to be able to afford the kind of space needed to create a great experience. (And individuals are not getting grid-wide experience keys.) LL's just shooting themselves in the foot keeping tier as high as it is.

I know tier's LL's cash cow...but is that business model sustainable in the face of the outlays needed for Sansar? How many more sims can LL afford to lose? Axi's one sim isn't much, true, but it is emblematic of a bigger problem.

19 March 2015

LL says "we know what's best for you!"

Inara Pey posted a very good rundown of Ebbe Altberg's comments on SL:TNG at VWBPE 2015. There's nothing really new there, but Altberg did come flat out and say what LL had danced around before:
We have stated that we’re not planning for our client, at least for the beginning – and possibly never, but never say never -, but we’re not starting with it being open-source.
I can certainly understand why they're doing it, but it doesn't speak well for their openness to NIH ("not invented here") ideas on the new platform. Basically, they're saying "we know what's best for you, so shut up and eat your Brussels sprouts".

We've been here before. Remember Viewer 2? Yeah, me too. There's a reason that Firestorm has the overwhelming majority of users on Second Life, and Viewer 3 (the descendant of Viewer 2) is in third place: LL's viewer does not fail to suck. Users told LL all about that, loud and long - and LL didn't back off and didn't listen.

I'm sure LL has a vision for SL:TNG. I'm sure it's great stuff, working equally well on platforms from the iPhone to the Nexus 9 to the PC/Mac to Oculus Rift to...you name it. I'm equally sure it, like every software system, is designed with a specific usage style in mind. Programmers develop software with a mental model of how it is supposed to work and how users are expected to use it. No matter how hard they try not to, they can't help it.

Those mental models are very difficult for a programmer - or a system architect - to overcome as he works, and yet they're the first thing to go by the wayside when actual users start to use the system. Just like no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, no software system survives contact with users intact. This is the way of the software world. A wise system architect takes that into account, and designs systems with maximum flexibility for different usage styles and patterns and needs.

LL's track record in this regard, not to put too fine a point on it, sucks rancid pond water. Why? Because they have a terrible record when it comes to listening to what their users have to tell them.

In an ideal world, there would be little need for a Firestorm, let alone room for it to demonstrably become users' favorite viewer. That's because, in an ideal world, LL would implement the capabilities of the viewer that users want and need themselves.

As I said, I can understand LL's hostility to the idea of SL:TNG being open source. When it comes to SL, LL is in a very unenviable position for a business: they do not control their own platform. They can't make significant changes to it without getting viewer developers - a bunch of unpaid volunteers who have other things to be doing with their time - to line up behind changes. No business wants to be in that position, and most businesses can't afford to be there for very long. In fairness, the only way LL was going to regain control of their platform was to do exactly what they're doing.

This is the nightmare scenario that LL, at least in their own minds, cannot afford to repeat with SL:TNG. If I trusted them to actually listen to their users when we tell LL what we want and need, it wouldn't bother me very much. The problem is that I don't and neither does anyone else. Can you see LL doing the equivalent of RLV in SL:TNG? Me either.

And that's the problem. They don't understand that there are people whose use cases for the platform do not match what their intentions are for it. Yeah, they'll probably accommodate furry avatars. (And the folks who can get in early with good stuff will do well. But Maya, LL? A 3D modeling program that's hideously expensive and has a reputation of being even harder to use than Blender?! Forget about user-created content...) But the adult BDSM community, for example, can go whistle.

Make no mistake, there's lots to like about what Ebbe laid out for SL:TNG. A new avatar skeleton and base that fails to suck is a welcome advance. C# as a scripting language is a sensible choice, if not the choice I'd make. (I'm a Python bigot.) (And to the guy who claimed on Inara's blog that LSL is a functional, fourth generation language: What are you smoking and where can I get some?) An emphasis on new user discoverability is a good thing, to draw people in and keep them. Scalability is immensely important. And the change in emphasis in revenue generation from tier to sales taxes is imperative.

Still, there's a big gaping hole in LL's plans, labeled "user direction for the platform". LL's not going to hand over control to outsiders. But there has to be a happy medium there somewhere. I'm disappointed they're not even trying to find it.

15 February 2015

Thrown out of paradise

A good friend of mine is currently spending time as a bane. He may be the last bane in Marine Kelley's program, as it's been shut down, but he's still sealed into his banesuit. He's serving a 96-hour sentence that's grown by about 8 hours' worth of penalties, and he's about 44 hours in.

Needless to say, he's been spending a lot of time sitting around, enjoying the scenery. He'd settled on the spectacular sims that make up the Calas Galadhon park as being wonderful places to hang out. He even wanted to contribute to the park, so he donated L$5000 to its upkeep. This is his second sentence, and he spent most of the first there, as well.

This afternoon, though, he was informed that he wasn't really welcome at Calas Galadhon. One of the owners there asked him to stay away from places where others might want to enjoy the park, and that while the sims weren't designed for role-play, the owner would let it go as long he was somewhere out of the way.

I know all this because the conversation was routed through me. My friend contacted me outside SL, since as a bane he's thoroughly locked down with RLV, and I spoke with the owner on his behalf.

My friend isn't sure what he did to cause the problem, but he's decided to stay away from Calas Galadhon so as not to cause any more problems than he already has. He's looking for other places to hang out where he won't get run off.

Speaking for myself...I've long thought Calas Galadhon was one of the jewels of SL. The builds are spectacular, and obviously a labor of love. The owners have poured their heart and soul, as well as a highly nontrivial amount of money, into those sims, and it's their right to run them as they choose.

Still, I'm a bit disappointed that my friend feels unwelcome there...