Archive for category Opinion

BuilderBot is coming! Look busy…

Rezzable, having first announced they’re leaving the Second Life™ virtual world for OpenSim (y’know, I hadn’t even heard about them before they were leaving, how depressing is that), have now announced the release of BuilderBot, their toolset for converting Second Life content into OpenSim region ARchive (OAR) files ready for import into OpenSim. In short, this takes an entire sim, and converts it into a nicely packaged format ready for import into OpenSim. Unsurprisingly, content creators (especially those whose content you can copy, scripts are usually more resistant) are a little upset over this. I’m therefore going to make myself unpopular and say I think this is awesome.

Lets face facts here. The Second Life content controls have been cracked like an egg in a blender. Much bigger organisations with much better backing and “trusted hardware” have tried and failed to stop content being copied, I really can’t see LL tripping over some silver bullet.  Some people have argued they’re making it even easier to copy content, by making tools even easier to get at. I’m sure, of course, that it’s really hard to find copies of CopyBot. Okay, yes, it does make it easy to copy a sim wholesale, rather than in pieces. but I would like to point out you then need (at least, for now) a region to unpack the region archive in to.

What BuilderBot really means is:

  1. I don’t have to worry about being able to copy our sim at work, from SL into OpenSim. This is an epic time saver.
  2. Full sim backups become a realistic possibility. This is fantastic for if we want to let people loose on the island and just revert afterwards.
  3. People who want to copy content now have another tool to do it, with its own advantages and disadvantages.
  4. We might finally drill it into people’s heads that content controls don’t work, and are not going to solve this.

That last one is a particular pet peeve. I am fed up with features such as llGetLinkPrimitiveParams() being avoided because they would provide copying tools to people who are already have perfectly good copying tools. If you’ve ever seen shoes with tens or hundreds of tiny resize scripts, one per prim, that function is what we need to stop doing this. Instead of having individual scripts in each prim report size and handle re-adjustment, this would allow a single script in do the same job. It doesn’t make it possible to get any information out that you can’t get already, it just means you can do it with one script instead of one hundred. I’ve got tools which will already insert a script into every prim in a link set, having to use one script per prim is not hard, it’s just a giant source of lag (and of course you can delete them after copying, so the copiers never suffer this).

My stuff continues to go out almost universally with copy/mod. Given they’re scripts, that means anyone can cut & paste the entire script trivially. Some scripts are no-mod because it’s the only way to include security keys for accessing remote web apps, but that’s the only exception. A good number even ship full perms. I may lose sales, but I make a lot of sales back to people who like knowing they can always keep a backup.

We cannot beat the copiers by technology, we can only beat them by education. Get more people involved into creating digital content, let them see how much work is involved, and you’ll do far more good than any content controls will.

Oh, and can’t wait for BuilderBot!

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Virtual world, real currency

Lets talk about implications of the PayPal™ vendors for a moment. As it stands right now, profits in virtual currencies such as Linden™ dollars are widely considered to be as if you made a profit in marbles. By this I mean that while you have a profit in something valuable, it is not considered a “real currency” and therefore doesn’t count for income tax purposes until and unless you convert those profits back to a real currency (US dollar, Euros, etc.). If you’re accepting payments in “real currency” using PayPal, you now need to consider (and these vary by country, but I’ll cover my interpretation of UK law later):

  • Do you need to register as self-employed?
  • Do you need to charge sales tax?
  • Do you need to pay income tax on the sales?
  • Do you need to make pension contributions?

So lets be clear here; PayPal payments are not for everyone. If you’re spending a couple of hours a week making things in Second Life® for fun, this is probably not for you. If you have a full time real-world job, this is probably not for you. If you’re thinking of emigrating to a different continent, this is probably not for you, but that one’s probably just me.

However lets say you are a serious trader in SL, that this isn’t just a small time hobby for you, PayPal can bring you several advantages:

  • Customers do not have to decide to convert money to L$, before they can buy from you. Converting to/from L$ involves a loss (from the spread between the bid and ask prices for L$ transactions, and the transaction fees charged by the LindeX™ currency exchange), so customers may be reluctant to convert money to L$. This particularly applies to newer users of SL.
  • You do not have to convert L$ back into money. It can be used directly to pay for web hosting, hardware, or any of the other related costs in running an SL business.
  • Both of the above advantages are magnified for non-US based sellers and customers, who do not necessarily have to deal with a conversion to/from US dollars as well.
  • Institutional customers (education, business, etc.) are much more likely to be willing (and able) to buy from a PayPal vendor. Purchasing procedures typically do not handle an interim step through L$ before payments can be made.
  • PayPal provides detailed transaction logs. Receipts are e-mailed automatically to seller and buyer, and both also get extensive details of the transactions on the website. They also can automatically report payments to external systems (which is how the vendors work).

Lets assume you do take your SL sales seriously, and are ready for this next step. Keep in mind, this is likely to include anyone who makes a RL profit from SL at all (certainly by my reading of UK laws on self-employment and income, anyway). You should look into how you register as self-employed in the country where you are resident. The list of things you need to be aware of may look scary, but they’ll have people to walk you through this, and it only has to be figured out once. In the UK, Business Link are your next step. In the US, the equivalent appears to be Business.gov. In Australia, http://www.business.gov.au/.

Personally, I’m not using these vendors due to the complexities of my own life. My sales just about cover my costs in land rental, image uploads, etc. Due to income from my day job I would be losing close to 80% of each transaction in fees, taxes and national insurance. On top of that I am intent on emigrating next summer, which would put me at risk of breaking all sorts of complex laws involving work visas AND possibly make me liable for taxes in two different countries simultaneously. My Second Life sales have always been, and continue to be, primarily for marketing.

I hope however that others will find these vendors of use. I hope that those people who take SL seriously can use them to progress virtual world transactions to their next logical step.

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Reflections on selling scripts in virtual worlds

Partly for my own benefit, partly for anyone else coming after me, my thoughts after a year of selling scripts inSL.

First of all; no-one wants to buy a script, much in the same way no-one wants software. People want magic to make their problems go away, and it’s the job of a scripter to get as close to that situation as they possibly can. Scripting is a customer service business more than it is anything else, to the point I was commenting to a friend I should call the store “Xugu’s Customer Service (and scripts) Store”.

Secondly, you probably cannot differentiate yourself from the competition on price. There are very VERY few scripts in SL that are too complicated for a bored developer to write because they fancy it, and then release for free. You therefore have to differentiate on features and support (which takes me back to my first point).

My attempts to sell more scripts by making them cheaper has only ever worked if the script is free.  My most profitable item has been a L$1,000 swing/slide/blind/phase door script, despite the fact it’s the most expensive (equal) thing I sell. Temporary sales will help, if marketed correctly, but flat out setting the price low will mean people assume it’s of lesser quality.

On the other hand, features are the way forward, particularly the tricky stuff. This is a two-edged sword; get too fancy, and you’ll trip yourself up. However, scripters with a good grasp on vector mathematics (for making things spin, move, etc. in smooth ways) are rare. Scripters with a grasp on web services (for external storage, for example), also quite rare.

Thirdly, know your target audience. If you don’t know why someone would want a script, how you persuade them they do? For example, I do a builder tool for re-texturing prims; about a year before this one was written, I wrote something similar for someone else, but they wouldn’t tell me exactly what they wanted it for. Net result, they got something better suited to window texturing, and I got something I couldn’t readily sell until someone else came along with better requirements and I could finish making a script people wanted.

On a related note; shopping is inherently a bit dull. You can either make it easy, or more fun. To make it easy, focus on getting the key points about a product across to the customer; the images I use in-world and in XStreetSL are designed to provide key bullet points on a product, for example. While most of my products now have instructions available before you buy, maybe 1 in 20 avatars actually ever reads them before the purchase. To make it fun, put out widgets. You’re a scripter, this should be easy; people like things that spin, or talk, or just do fun things if they click them, leave a bunch around. My store has a rezz-day present giver, a big button marked “Do not press” and an age/height detector, for example. There are other product demos around too, but seeing a door swing isn’t so much fun (unless you’ve been really looking for a swinging door, in which case it may be the most awesome thing in the world to you).

Finally, pricing. Unfortunately, you can’t price a script by how complex it was to write, but instead you have to price based on how much the customer wants it. If you don’t think you can sell enough to cover your time, at a price the customer will pay, then don’t write it. This means selling some scripts for more than you’d like to (example: Click ‘n’ tell) and some for less than you’d like to (example: Bell script); in the end, you just have to hope it all balances out.

Also, if you put an item out, and it’s not selling well, be cautious of changing your pricing. If you got the price wrong at the start, why? If not, why are you changing it? Look instead at marketing. Talk to your target audience, get them to give you feedback on the sale stuff. I have an ongoing issue with my texture/color changing HUD scripts, for example. It’s got better since people went “Hey, you know that script you’re marketing at hair/eye producers? Considered it would work well for shoes too?”, but once I have more time it’s on my to-do list to go over the marketing materials for.

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“IMs are capped daily”

I was thinking about the idea of customer support, in part due to the post “What happen to having Customer Service!” on XStreetSL. Many shop owners in Second Life have “IMs are capped daily, please send notecard” in their profile. IMs are capped in Second Life® because they have a finite amount of storage, and have to decide to put a limit somewhere; this makes sense to me. If you enable IM to e-mail this tends not to be an issue, unless the IM->e-mail gateway decides it doesn’t like you (happened to me twice so far).

Here’s the thing, though; I have paid for Jabber (same protocol Google Talk uses) IM service, as well as Google Talk account (e-mail address is in with any of my free products). Why, then, does it even make more sense for people to contact me in-world, through a proven flaky IM system? It’s like being forced to contact a website through one of the webforms where someone has decided that a 20×40 text field should be plenty for anyone.

There are things IM can’t do; SL needs for people to be able to talk to each other based on proximity. That just doesn’t map to IM. The groups system in SL apparently would turn even the hardiest of Jabber servers into a quivering wreck. However, what about combining the two systems? Let me use my own IM system to receive IMs from virtual worlds. Don’t tie my status for IMs to my in-world-ness, tie it to whether I’m available to chat.

Same for e-mail. Let people e-mail me directly from in-world. I understand not everyone wants their e-mail addresses published, but how about making it an option for those of us who work professionally in virtual worlds?

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Second Life® DRM: A failed technological solution to a societal issue

I see a lot of rants about in-world copy tools, copy bots, and why Linden Labs® aren’t doing anything about it. I see a lot of people (quite rightly) upset to see products they’ve poured hours/days of work into being copied and resold. I’m here to tell you it’s all backwards. I see LSL functions held back by absurd claims that they’ll remove some sort of security that never existed in the first place.

Lets get something straight; if I can perceive it, I can copy it. DRM does nothing except slow this down. Blu-Ray came closest to succeeding in stopping copying, with controlled hardware sold by licensed vendors and running custom DRM schemes in a virtual machine. It didn’t last.

So what can content creators do about unlicensed copying? Well, first of all, answer the following question:

“Why is unlicensed copying bad?”

Intuitively, any copy of a product someone has, for which the owner did not get their slice, is a lost sale. Given the insanely low prices on everything in SL (by my estimations, it will take me two years to make back the time invested in any product I sell, for example), that’s money that merchants can ill afford to lose.

Except, would these people really buy your stuff anyway? To me, there are people who understand the intrinsic value of digital content, and there are people who want everything for free. The latter will fight every step of the way, while the former will happily pay for good quality work. The problem then becomes how do we convert the non-payers into customers.

Oh, and we’re back to DRM (or C/M/T if you prefer). Except, it’s a technical solution. It restricts customers and copies alike. If I buy something no-trans, and want to transfer it to alt, why can’t I? If I want to backup content I’ve legitimately paid for (I’ll do a post about ownership in SL another time), why can’t I?

To me, I think the best thing to do is encourage everyone to build, script, animate, or generally spend time making stuff in SL. Not until they produce something and realise they too want money for it, will it sink in that others deserve money for their creations. The problem is society’s lack of perception of copying digital media as involving someone losing something (earned income). This covers not just SL, but music, video, computer games, and anything else you can stick on a CD/DVD.

Personally, everything I sell (apart from demos) in my shop is scripts with mod-enabled, which makes them trivially copiable. Many of the scripts are shipped full perms.  My experiences so far are increased sales over time, and recurring custom. I’m particularly seeing a lot of people who want to have all the scripts from me, because they know they don’t have to worry about passing it to alts, or modifying it to taste.

DRM free; give it a go, you might just like it.

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