06-27-2010 08:23 AM
Second Life has just seen its seventh anniversary (called its seventh birthday, only it technically isn't -- the original birthday is in March, but the anniversary is in June. There's history there). It's also traditionally a time when Linden Lab and Second Life users most often treat each other as enemies and obstacles; and it is a time for retrospectives and for considering the future.
With the departure of Linden Lab CEO Mark Kingdon (the press release release says "stepping down," but the day prior to the release many Linden staffers were saying that Kingdon was fired) Linden Lab has hit a turning point -- or the end of another era.
Accordingly, over the next couple of weeks, we're going to look at the history of Second Life, starting back in 1999 and continuing to the present day. Or at least as much as we can cover the ten-year history of something so rich and diverse in the available space.
Second Life is quite legitimately a phenomenon (and even won an Emmy award). It was also something of an accident, since it wasn't what Linden Lab started out to make.
1999-2002: Linden World, and "the rig"
Linden Lab was founded in 1999, and for a couple of years didn't really have a lot of direction. One of its most convincing forms by 2001 was as a hardware-research company, focusing on haptic technology, which would allow commercially viable full-body access to virtual environments and waldoes (the aggregate slang name for the category of real-time telepresence and teleoperation devices).
The haptic hardware prototype was dubbed "The Rig".
The thing is, you can't really build a haptic rig without some sort of way of testing it, and a basic virtual environment had been developed around the same time.
Linden World, as it came to be called, had an ecosystem of rock-eating birds and bird-eating snakes. The original crude avatars (called Primitars) could fly (because nobody much cared to make animations for climbing up things), and could change the shape of the terrain by lobbing grenades. It even had weather.
Linden World was spread almost seamlessly across multiple servers (albeit, only a couple), and it was envisioned that one day it might become a sprawling and distributed agglomeration of third-party servers. The streaming content architecture and protocols allowed people to create content and to participate in content creation in real-time -- without drowning their connections in data.
Nobody would fund Linden Lab. It was, at the time, considered laughable by virtually everyone with deep pockets. Then Mitch Kapor took a chance on Philip Rosedale and other investment followed.
Linden Lab at this time was envisaging some manner of game.
That notion went out of the window at a board meeting. While Rosedale and Cory Ondrejka were presenting to the investors, other Lab staffers were using Linden World's building tools, and an image of the world was projected behind the two presenters.
As Linden staffers created a scene involving a giant snowman surrounded by a small horde of snowman worshippers (truly a scene worthy of Bill Watterson), the attention of investors turned increasingly away from the presentation and towards Linden World.
That seamless, real-time, collaborative content-creation was "it" -- the defining quality that made Linden World unique, and everyone could see that.
In March 2002 (March of each year is technically Second Life's overlooked birthday), Linden World opened its doors as a limited alpha and its first user, Steller Sunshine, appeared. Sunshine was already a veteran of virtual worlds, which by 2002 were closing on 20 years old.
When the staff arrived at the office the next morning, they discovered that Sunshine had created a game.
It was on.
Getting from a limited alpha with collaborative content-creation to a commercial product wasn't an easy road. That went to Hunter Walk, late of Mattel and the Conan O'Brien show. This regrettably also involved changing the name of the platform and the rather regrettable "Second Life" was chosen instead, which was not popular among Linden staff.
It's unclear as to where "the rig" hardware is located at present. It was shoved in a box at some point and largely forgotten. Linden Lab hasn't been able to tell us what became of it.
( full story here - http://www.massively.com/2010/06/26/the-virtual-wh
( Broke it into 3 sections to hopfully make it easier to read in this style format also the rest of the story should be out next week for the following years will make part 2 then
06-27-2010 08:21 AM
2002-2003: Beta, taxes, layoffs and the road to economy
In November 2002, closed beta testing of the newly dubbed Second Life began, and open beta followed in April 2003. The user interface was primarily green in color.
Second Life initially suffered from a tragedy of the commons, so a rudimentary economic system was put in place, initially focused on flat, scaled fees to place objects in-world (not at all unlike the pennies system used in MUSH and MUCK predecessors to control resource utilization), and later followed by a more complex system of taxes.
Users almost immediately began trying to evade taxes, and a tax revolt began in a portion of Second Life called Americana, which did not simmer down until September.
In October 2003, Second Life 1.1 was released with measures to stifle tax-evasion, and Americana was doomed. With this release, though, came a vehicle API, new terrain textures, animated hair and clothes, bumpmapping, and shininess, all of which served to energize content creation in new ways.
The 1.2 release in December 2003 was the big landmark, bigger perhaps than Second Life going into production on June 23rd that year. The tax system was completely abandoned and replaced with a land-ownership model. Land was taxed in either L$ or USD. Scripters were able to create dialog boxes, and the user interface changed color to blue.
There was a tremendous outcry about the new blue color of the user interface, and quite a bit more about the new economic system, which you might recognize as the modern Second Life economy (barring a few adjustments). Many averred that these changes would spell the death of Second Life within months.
2003 also marked a period of severe financial trouble for Linden Lab and a mass layoff of staff. The company struggled to keep operating and offered a lifetime charter membership to raise funds. Charter members received a Linden dollar stipend and the ability to own 4,096 square meters of virtual land forever at no further charge.
Charter members paid US$160 or more. There were enough charter members to keep the company afloat until the financial situation improved.
2003 was the year that Linden Lab adopted the slogan "Your World, Your Imagination" until the deprecation and removal of the slogan in 2007.
06-27-2010 08:21 AM
2004: Features, bugs and Tringo
In 2004, versions 1.3, 1.4 and 1.5 brought a slew of new features and enhancements: new group tools and abilities, expanded estate controls, new prim shapes and settings, audio streaming on parcels, custom animations, XML-RPC communication with scripted objects from outside Second Life and more.
Version 1.5 was slated as a bug-fix release, but ironically it was perhaps the buggiest version of Second Life to date.
In December 2004, Nathan Keir (aka Kermitt Quirk) created Tringo -- a blend of Tetris and Bingo -- that could be played by a large number of players at once, and often involved wagering and cash-payouts.
Tringo was later licensed for the web, the PC, and for the Game Boy Advance.
Overall, a pattern generally started to emerge this year. When we considered Linden Lab projects from conception to production, a timeline of 14-18 months seemed about normal. This overall timeline held true through subsequent years.
2004 is still regarded by some as being something of a Golden Age for Second Life content creation and communities, but in practical terms the scale was very small compared to the levels that it reached just two years later.
2004 may not have been that big a year for Second Life and Linden Lab (though it was certainly a big year for bugs!), but 2005 was something special. Tune in next week for more