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A Matter of Scale - How scale affects content creation and land ownership in Second Life.

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I've posted a more complete version of this article on my blog.

 This article is intended an informative post about the practical and aesthetic implications of scale for content creators in SL. It is not a judgement against large avatars, only an objective assessment of the affects of scale on SL and how both content creators and Linden Lab would benefit from encouraging the trend towards properly scaled avatars.

If you're new to SL you may not have realized it yet, but scale is really, incredibly "off" in SL.

If you're an experienced builder you probably realize it but aren't aware of all the ways in which it affects you.

How is Scale Broken in SL?

New users coming in to SL may notice that the Appearance Editor displays your avatar's height when you go to edit your shape. If so then you've seen that the starter avatars are shownb to be around 6'3" for the women, and up to about 6'6"-6'7" (About 2m tall!) for the men. 

Those are some exceptionally tall avatars!

But it's worse than that. The height displayed in the appearance editor is broken. It's actually giving you a height about six inches (0.15m) shorter than you actually are. So when it says you're 6'7", you are actually 7'1" (2.16m) tall!

To put that in perspective, the average man in North America is a mere 5'10"/ 1.78m and the average NBA basketball player is a miniscule 6'6"/1.98m.

Case in point, here's my avatar next to the "average guy" in SL. My avatar is 5'7"/1.70m, which is tall for a North American woman.


That's just the difference of a couple of feet. The male mesh can get as tell as 8'10"/2.69m.

 So how does this affect you?

I. The Practical Issues: Land

1. Land in SL is finite. - Yes, yes. Anything is possible in SL, but only if you can fit it on your land. Since land is a set size, when you make content and avatars larger you are effectively making land smaller. When you double the size of something you are increasing the amount of area it requires four times. Four 10x10m rooms can fit in the space of a single 20x20m room. 

2. More land costs more money. - Your double sized house won't fit on a 512sq.m. parcel? You need to pay more money to incease your land until the house will fit. 512sq.m. is actually a lot of space. Chances are, if your house was not double sized it would fit easily into a 512sq.m. parcel and still have room for a comfortably spacious yard. You are effectively paying more money for less land when you up-scale.

3. Larger environments spread people out more. - People often complain SL feels like a ghost town, with many sims going empty a majority of the time. Reducing how spread out people are due to rampant over-scaling would reduce this issue by condensing, on average, four sims' worth of content to a single sim.


II. The Practical Issues: Building

1. Larger builds require more prims - This, of course ,does not apply to small items like chairs, cars, hats, etcetera but you better believe it applies to environments and other large-scale creations.  If whatever you're building goes larger than 10m at any point up-scaling begins to waste prims. A 10x10m room that requires 6 prims jumps up to 16 prims if you scale it up to 20mx20m. When you're talking a whole house you are likely at least doubling the prim count.

2. Larger builds mean less detailed environments. - As you probably gathered from the above, since a larger build requires more prims this leaves you with fewer prims to work with in creating detail for your environment. Because of this you do not expierience the imaginary issue of "unused space" when working to scale, because you wind up having the prims free to fill that space with additional content and detail. Scale a house down to 1=1 scale and the prims you free up allow you to landscape a yard and add more furniture inside the house. If anything, scaling up leads to unused space as you don't have the prims available to flesh out the environment.

3. The default camera adds an additional metre or two that you need to compensate for in environments. - 8' tall avatars already require a lot of upscaling of the environment to compensate for, but SL has abysmally poor camera placement. The camera floats at least a metre over your head, looking at a downward angle on your avatar. That's extra height you need to compensate for when setting ceiling heights in a build. As a resident, this limits where you can go in SL without experience camera clipping issues that prevent you from being able to see inside a build without going into mouselook.

 Existing sims such as 1920's Berlin, Doomed Ship and others already recognize these scale issues and have made a point of working to a smaller scale. In doing so they have been able to create environments that would require, both in size and detail, 3-4 sims if created with SL's usual scale problems.

To illustrate the above points on a smaller scale, I was able to take Pre'Fabulous' "The Old Barn" and cut the prim count by about half when I shrunk it down to half size. I was able to do the same for my own shop's building in The Wastelands. This also helped me change my shop's build from a single building taking up the entire parcel, to a much more detailed landscape including two bombed out structures, an off-sim landscape, and allowed me to create and detail two additional rooms to my shop's scaled down building.





The above four pictures are all of a 2048qs.m. parcel, the build is a total of 463 prims. That's only twice the size of a 512sq.m. parcel! (Remember, twice the size is four times the area.) The shop area (the last three pictures) make up only a small portion of the build. The landscape around the shop is fully fleshed out with burnt tree husks, bombed out structures, a water tower, a military tank, etceter.

Here's a top down view of said 2048sq.m. parcel. My avatar is the black dot in the middle of the red circle. The orange area is the off sim landscape. The blue rectangle marks the parcel area, the smaller green rectangle is a 512sq.m. area overlayed across the shop building, illustrating how the shop itself can fit easily inside that amount of land.

wasteland parcel top view.jpg

III. The Practical Issues: Avatars

1. Larger avatars have more issues with proportions. - The appearance editor sliders are not made with thought given to how large avatars can be in SL. Because of this, some of the sliders cannot keep body proportions in check on oversized avatars. The arm legnth slider on women is the primarily culprit. Arms are skewed much, much shorter for the female avatar mesh than the male mesh. A properly sized male avatar can achieve a correct "wingspan" with the Arm Length slider set at around 60. A properly sized female avatar requires the slider to be set between 90-100 o the slider. Several sliders increase avatar height, arm length is not affected by any of them. So when you increase the size of a female avatar who already required an arm length of 100 to be proportional, it becomes entirely impossible for her arm legnth to be proportionate to her height.

Proportion Measuring

scale lineup.jpg

2. Building attachments around large avatars limits who can use your attachments. - Most content creators build attachments to sell around their own personal avatar size. This is a bad habit. This limits your customer base, at least your satisfied customers, to avatars at least as large as your own. It is easy to scale an attachment up, but can be difficult, or impossible to scale an attachment down.  Create an "attachment building" shape that is around 4'5"-5' tall, as small as you can get it while retaining adult proportions. Build attachments around this shape, then scale them up to fit your own avatar when you box them up for sale. This will ensure that all avatars of at least the size of your "attachment building" shape are able to wear your attachments with ease.

IV. The Aesthetic Issues

1. Coherent scale allows for better looking environments. -  Scale is a part of design and composition. Good design means better looking environments. Currently SL has no coherent scale. Things are not even consistently up-scaled. Avatars are scaled up to about 1 and 1/3 larger than realistic. Furniture is often created around individual avatars, meaning it can be made for avatars anywhere between 6' tall and 9' tall. Environments are often done to fully double scale. Vehicles tend to be a mess of scale, either too larger or too small for any given avatar or their surrounding environment. All of this contributes to SL just looking like a mess. Even the best of SL environments often suffer these flaws.

2. Cohesive scale makes more immersive/engaging environments. - Wiuth the mess of scale described above any sense of immersion is shattered, or at least greatly reduced. A small minority of RP sims recognize this issue and build accordingly, with amazing results. When everything (environment, vehicles, furniture, avatars) are all in scale together, consistently, it creates a much stronger sense of immersion, of "being there". This is one reason why videogames and other virtual worlds place far more restrictions on character size, or remove the ability to change size altogether.

3. Coherent scale allows you to use scale for deliberate effect. - "If everybody is tall, then nobody is tall." Height is relative. But when there's limits to size and everyone crowds one end of the scale, you wind up limiting options. In SL, most people tend to crowd the extreme tall end of the spectrum, 7' to 9' tall. This means it's impossible to create a giant avatar that towers over the average person without resorting to crude hacks.

Let's take a look at how this affects SL in the setting of a role-play environment by showing two characters from the sci-fi/horror sim "Doomed Ship". A gigantic demon beast and a human engineer. Here's how it looks if the "human" is the size of your average SL man.

demon meets giant.jpg

That gigantic demon winds up being only about a head taller than our measly 7'5" human. Sure, the demon is bigger, but not by much. And that's not even a human with maxed out height.

Let's take a look at this same pair if the human engineer is only about 6' tall.

demon meets human.jpg

Now there's a huge difference! Without any hacks or cheats, we have a tremendously intimidating demon beast that literally towers over our hapless human engineer.


 Avatars can be anywhere from about 4'5" to nearly 9' tall while retaining adult proportions. You can go as short as about 3' tall with dwarf/child proportions. Moving the size of the adult average avatar more to the middle of that scale, as opposed to the extremes, allows for a wider variety in sizes. A more creative and diverse population of avatars.


Why is this posted under Building and Texturing?

It is SL's content creators who are in the second best position to drive trends. The trend in SL is already shifting towards smaller avatars. It's becoming more and more noticable, but it is still a slow transition. As more content creators recognize how scale conciousness benefits them that will make it easer and more desirable for the average resident to scale down.

But isn't it too late? Won't scaling down now break all kinds of content?

No. Content is already broken due to scale, as illustrated above. An 8' tall avatar is not in scale to a double sized house, or to furniture created by a 6'5" builder. Most moddable items in SL can be scaled down with only a modest amount of effort. No-mod items are generally a bad idea in any case and should certainly not be an excuse against much needed improvement. Anyone who has been in SL over the years should realize that new, better content tends to lead to older content being phased out over time anyways.

Sure, old content may get phased out over time, but wouldn't we be stuck with content even more oversizred if we all scaled down right now? 

Anyone who has already scaled their avatar down can tell you it is not nearly as big an issue as people tend to think. Also, there is no way to scale down all SL avatars en masse anyways. Anything done, by the residents or by LL themselves, will only speed up a trend. Time will take care of the rest.

What could LL do to fix this problem?

LL can do a few key things that will, again, give the existing trend towards smaller avatars a much needed boost.

1) They can improve the camera placement. All it takes to vastly improve the SL camera placement is changing a few numbers in the debug menu. Anyone can do this easily, but only a very small minority tend to change defaults so it would be ideal if LL changed the defaults themselves. Instructions on how to do so are here. 

2) LL can provide properly scaled avatars to new residents. Seriously, the starter avatars need to be replaced anyways. LL needs to give new residents good looking, properly proportioned avatars if they want to shake SL's reputation for poor graphics, addressing the scale issue head on with new accounts would be a large step in that direction as well.

3) They can make better use of scale and proportion in their public works projects. This does not mean making buildings and welcome areas too small for existing over-sized avatars. A theater or an auditorium isn't going to have 3m high ceilings and most Welcome Areas/Infohubs tend to be primarily open air environments at any rate.

4) They can fix AgentHeight so the appearance editor displays correct avatar height. - Jira Entry.


But why would LL want to address this problem? Wouldn't it reduce the amount of land people want to own?

Not in the slightest.You need to consider how value and cost impact demand.

Have you ever actually heard of a resident saying, "Gee, I wish I had less land!"? Probably not. If anything, people always wish they could get more for the amount of land they do own. They are already paying what they are willing to pay based on both their ability to pay and the value they attribute to land.

They would not tier down if they realized they could do more by reducing the scale of their avatar and build, they would continue to fill out the space they own, just with more content. That is how demand works. People are willing to pay X amount for a minum amount of perceived value. What they're willing to pay does not go down as perceived value rises. If anything, it will rise to meet their ability to pay.

In addition, as the value of land skyrockets so does demand. People who previously wrote off smaller parcels of land because they believed they could not use it for anything worthwhile would be flocking to the land store once they were shown the possibilities.

Encouraging better use of scale is win/win for everybody.

Residents win with a larger, better looking SL with greater diversity and creativity possible with avatars.

Content creators win with greater freedom and flexibility in creating content for SL, and a better understanding of scale helps them to create content that can be used by all avatars regardless of size.

Linden Lab wins most of all in greater demand for land of all tier levels, and a greater influx/retention of new customers drawn in by a better looking and more engaging Second Life experience.

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One user presses the "Agree" button. (No, it's not a "Like" button although I like the idea of real scale)

But also presses the "Yes.... but... oh" button. We've been here before.

Nice writeup! Indeed it should be law.

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Penny, this is the best summation II've seen yet of your persuasive and compelling views on how flawed scalibity models have been such a detriment to SL and how fixing them would be a boon to the grid. Sadly, the fixes are fairly simple and could have been implemented years ago, if not for the lack of graphic sensibilities in development priorities.

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Yeah Penny! I'd love to see avatars be proper size. If they are human, they should be human scale. For non-human avs anything goes obviously :matte-motes-sunglasses-1:

My avatar is my actual height, and although I am a little shorter than average, I'm tired of being barely above the waist of many of the monstrously tall avs in Second Life.

Often for furniture too, I will sit in a chair and I look child-sized in it, because often the chair has been created to fit the porportion for these mammoth gargantuan beasts :matte-motes-bashful:

Let's get scale corrected! :matte-motes-smitten:

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Penny, as always, really useful information for making SL look better.. Char is a bit on the tall side, but she's intended to be a tall, lithe dancer type. It's always amusing when my male alt, who is a head taller than Char, is shorter than most female avs, let alone the Super Saiyan guys. Appreciate this post.

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What's the recent obsession with how tall a human avatar is?   Avatars are measured in meters.  To get a fairly good interpetation to feet you just need to multiply the meters by 39 then divide by 12 (one meter is just about exactly 39 inches).  So now you know the size in feet/inches.  So what?  Linden Lab created the avatar that we all use using a very old avatar mesh......named Ruth (that's where the term "Ruth" came from for issues around avatars not loading properly......LL recently make us all a particle cloud instead of the frumpy female that us older residents all started out being).  Ruth was sort of tall if you compare to RL..........but this isn't RL so it made absolutely no difference.  Builders and shape makers accounted for the "over sized" avatar to keep it all relatively in scale.  The average avatar in SL is taller than the average human being.....it's pretty much adjusted for since the creation (things are just about 125% larger than RL in SL).


It's the people who want to represent themselves are their RL size in SL that appear to have a problem here.........I'm pretty close to my real life size myself.  It's us (the "shorties") who are in the minority in this respect.  I guess some people are sensitive to what people say.  Those people (me, Immy and others) are the ones who need to adapt...........I've done so (as I know Immy has).   It's our choice to be smaller.........what's the problem?

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Penny, would you also argue that a woman should be "average sized" around the waist? Take a look at the average girth of a middle age American woman and we may change our minds about wanting "realistic" proportions:) And, like art directors who do fashion advertising, stretching the vertical dimensions of a model is common to get them even taller and leaner. Frankly, I prefer the tall look to the short, dumpy "real" proportions you are advocating. My aesthetics strongly favor the tall look. "Real" proportioned women in SLlook like midgets to me, even without a comparative avatar standing near them. When it comes to scale, I say to each his own.



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@Peggy Paperdoll

I really think you misunderstood the point of this article. It has nothing to do with personal preference or "representing real life size". It is a guide explaining the very real, very practical implications of scale in SL. A content creation tutorial. 

Also, quick look around SL shows that problem is not merely that everything is oversized, but that it is also oversized inconsistently. It is not uncommon to find yourself standing in a room where every single piece of furniture in the room iis out of scale with every other piece of furniture, the room itself and your avatar. 

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Blaze Nielsen wrote:

Penny, would you also argue that a woman should be "average sized" around the waist? Take a look at the average girth of a middle age American woman and we may change our minds about wanting "realistic" proportions:) And, like art directors who do fashion advertising, stretching the vertical dimensions of a model is common to get them even taller and leaner. Frankly, I prefer the tall look to the short, dumpy "real" proportions you are advocating. My aesthetics strongly favor the tall look. "Real" proportioned women in SLlook like midgets to me, even without a comparative avatar standing near them. When it comes to scale, I say to each his own.



As Peggy liked to point out, this is a virtual world. You can get "fashion model proportions" out of a 5'5" tall lavatar that you would not be able to distinguish from a 7' tall avatar without them being side by side. But also as I pointed out to Peggy my article had absolutely nothing to do with preferences, and even less to do with body types.I  certainly did not advocate "dumpy real" proportiopns over thin proportions so I don't know where that comment came from.

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I essentially agree with Penny about the inconsistent proportions, although I have argued with Penny about whether it wouldn't just be a simpler solution to have LL declare the Linden meter to be equivalent to 2.5 English feet.

It more recently occurred to me that because the big problem with scale is not avatars but objects; objects that are permanently the wrong size in some appreciable way (as Penny says), I now think that an even better solution would simply be for LL to allow a universal permission to enlarge or shrink objects without otherwise modifying them.


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Josh Susanto wrote:

I essentially agree with Penny about the inconsistent proportions, although I have argued with Penny about whether it wouldn't just be a simpler solution to have LL declare the Linden meter to be equivalent to 2.5 English feet. 

My response to that is the same in the article I wrote at the beginning of the thread, the problem with simply declaring the "linden metre" to be larger is twofold.

1) It does not address the inconsistent scale created by camera placement, inconsistently up-scaled starter avatars and the inconsistency between AgentHeight (which is known to be broken) and every other use of the linden metre in SL (land, prim sizes, etcetera).

2) It devalues land.

I would like the ability to resize no-mod objects, tho. That would be great and solve a lot of problems, not just those related to SL's scale problems. I'd also the ability to rip scripts out of no-mod objects. We used to be able to do that, but then SL broke it, then later decided the break in functionality was actually a "feature" and left it despite how it now breaks content.

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Then why put it in General Discussions?  There is a Building and Textures forum where there are people who would put that information to good use.  Here, it's nothing but an amplication of another thread about discrimination (is that a valid observation?) against an avatar due to the size.


I don't belive your motives are quit what you are trying to tell me.


Excuse me..........I've very wrong.  This was posted in Building and Creation.  I'm the one who needs reading lessons :matte-motes-shocked:

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Well...I'd already uploaded this picture before you corrected your post so....darnnit, I'm gonna use it!

Anyways, seriously, I tried to lay out the issues addressed in an as objective and detailed way as I could, explaining exact cause and effect between scale, land value, how much we pay for land as opposed to how we use our land, even screenshots to show I'm not just blowing smoke, those are actual SL builds created putting everything I've said in the article to use to get as much detail and much content into the limited amount of land available. Anyone is welcome to pick any statement up there and try to find a way in which it's inaccurate.

 I've been trying to point out these issues for years (since about the time I joined SL in 2005) . I'm sure there's plenty of people in this forum who can vouch for that.

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Penny Patton wrote:

 I've been trying to point out these issues for years (since about the time I joined SL in 2005) . I'm sure there's plenty of people in this forum who can vouch for that.

And have you gotten anywhere with it? (And no, I'm not being facetious.) You're talking about a complete change of scale for a whole world that's grossly unrealistically scaled. Getting everyone to start scaling things differently would be a major feat, one I'm not sure if even LL could accomplish. But for it to happen, it would have to start with LL... they started it, after all.

When I first came to SL I scaled myself to real world proportions... but eventually I realized, by comparison, I was a munchkin. So I sized myself up to "fit in" better. That's what most people do, that's why we end up being huge if all you're looking at is measurement.

At 7' something, I would be considered huge, until you put me next to most avatars in SL then I'm actually only a bit shorter than most. Why would I be motivated to scale myself down just to fit some sort of RL standard then end up looking like a pigmy? Then multiply this to every individual in SL... I mean, who goes first? It's quite a dilemma.

Something would have to be done on LL's side, but what? How could this be done without breaking content all over the place? Being able to size no-mod things would of course be crucial, but would that even be possible to implement? And what would make people even want to do it?

As it is, say I build a house to scale as you suggest and then tried to sell it. Most people would stop by to see it and not even be able to walk through the door. How many do you think I'd sell? I wouldn't think I'd do much business that way. So, honestly, where do we start?

Or are you hoping to just educate people about correct scale until everyone just catches on? Seems like that would have to be done on a massive scale, again something I think only LL would be able to do effectively. But I guess every movement has to start somewhere... I have noticed more shorter avs than I used to, so maybe times are changing. Anyway, great thread.




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