Camport

In an entry at Clickable Culture today, Tony Walsh wrote:

First of all, it’s pretty interesting that The Lounge, a tiny virtual world, can support an upper limit of 100 simultaneous users in a single, contiguous space. That’s better than Second Life, which can only support about 40 avatars in a single space. But it’s still relatively unimpressive. As a PR effort, was the time and effort required to cater to 100 users really worth it? Let’s say all 100 users had a great experience, and go tell their friends. At the next chat event, there are going to be even more disappointed users who can’t get in. Virtual worlds don’t seem capable of “mass media” events yet.

It’s an issue that has been discussed since the beginning, but as SL’s population grows and we begin to see these really popular events arise with huge followings, it’s an issue that is becoming more and more relevant. So tonight I would like to propose a solution to the problem that I thought up all on my own, but later found out had already been more or less suggested over a year ago by Stephanie Zugzwang. Cory and Moriash were right. There’s nothing new in the world.

The Problem

The cause for the problem is basically two-fold and rather technical. With each avatar, the sim has to work harder to calculate physics in the region and send all of the information associated with each avatar to everyone present in the sim. In addition, your own computer has to work harder to render all of these avatars. So, to make a long story short, it’s the avatars themselves that are causing both the sim and the viewer to lag so terribly, thereby forcing Linden Lab to limit the number of avatars that can get into a sim.

The Solution

The solution to this problem is pretty logical. Get rid of the avatars! Okay, back up. I’m not suggesting that Second Life become a world completely devoid of avatars. However, let’s consider for a moment these “mass media events” that Tony Walsh has written about. I’ll use Suzanne Vega’s recent performance as an example.

The format of this concert was similar to many large-audience events in SL. You had the people who were basically running the show (Suzanne Vega and John Hockenberry) sitting or standing on stage in front of a large sitting or standing audience. The avatars don’t need to move, in many cases. They’re just there to watch the show. Sometimes there are a bunch of dancing avatars at events like this, but the animations only add to the lag, which is so horrible that you might as well be sitting still anyway.

Okay, so it makes sense that under certain circumstances, some people might be willing to sacrifice the avatars for a limited time in order to support a specific event. But by what mechanism do we accomplish this? The region/estate tools.

Camport

I want to try and describe in general how this will work from the perspective of an attendee of a specific event. This time, I’ll use the Linden Town Hall as an example, since it is something that we can all relate to.

So I hear that there is a Town Hall meeting today. I know the location of the event, and the time is now. So I fire up the world map and run my search on the sim where the meeting is being held. From the world map, I can normally click the “Teleport” button and head straight there. However, when I try to teleport into the area, I get a message telling me the access to the sim has been limited to camport only. And sure enough, there on the world map is a new button, next to the “Teleport” button, which says “Camport.”

Camera Mode Variations

I can think of a few variations of this camport feature that would still have the desired overall effect of allowing hundreds, maybe thousands, of residents to witness and participate in one of these “mass media” events. For example, when I click to CP into an area, one of a number of things could happen:

* Locked camera mode: In this variation, when I CP in, my camera is automatically locked into position for the event, with the Lindens on stage in view. I can’t alt-zoom away from the scene. All chat comes from the position of the camera, so anyone within 20 meters of where I’m viewing from can read my chat, if chat is allowed.
* Free camera mode: When I CP in, I arrive at the telehub or spawn point, and I can move around freely. This mode presents more challenges for managing privacy and will require more apparent representation of where the resident is. More on this problem later.
* Limited Zoom: I CP in and my camera is fixed like in the first option, with the stage in view, but I can alt-zoom within my draw distance without moving the camera. When I press the Escape key, I return back to the initial camera position. I think this option makes the most sense.

In the Locked and Limited modes, the position of the camera is set by the estate manager much like the way that telehubs are created.

Interactivity

It’s technically possible for everyone present via camport to participate via chat, and to view/hear streaming video/audio, because these features do not have the same potential for lag that avatars themselves have. So, if it’s a live music performance you’re attending, it’s feasible for your camera to be fixed on the stage, and it’s feasible for you to be able to hear the music and chat with the artist and other attendees. The only thing sacrificed here is the avatar itself.

On the other hand, this might be a decent opportunity to implement voice permissions for the purpose of controlling chat spam at Town Halls or other discussion events. Certain people can be given permission to grant voice to residents present at the event. This is probably a necessary addition to the feature set, because if you have a thousand people attending an event and everyone wants to talk at once, you’re going to have a pretty noisy event.

Representation of Attendees

With the avatar gone, there’s no way to tell where a person is or who is attending. This problem can be fixed easily if the attendees’ cameras are locked in place, with a single object or UI element representing the camera position and a simple list of residents who are viewing the event.

If the residents are able to move around the estate freely without their avatars, then there will have to be some sort of alternative to the avatar that doesn’t hog resources. Since I’m really advocating the use of the limited zoom camera mode, I won’t offer up any suggestions for replacing the avatar.

Why an Estate Tool?

Why implement this as an estate tool? I have two answers for this question:

First of all, I don’t think that this is a feature that will technically work very well on the main grid, nor do I think it would be globally accepted. Imagine that you have a sim shared by a dozen residents. In order for the camport feature to work as desired, you would have to have the ability to limit access to the area except via camport. If residents are able to visit land on the sim owned by someone other than the one running the so-called mass media event, then the purpose of the camport feature will be defeated.

Second, from a business standpoint, offering this feature as a benefit to estate owners is a significant incentive for people to purchase a private sim, which is good for business.

The estate manager should be able to create a special access list of who can bring their avatars into the sim, and an option to allow other members to camport into the area once a camera position has been set. This way, residents will have the option of using this feature, rather than having it seemingly forced upon them by implementing some sort of grid-wide low-resource avatar feature.

If this feature is implemented, then I foresee Second Life becoming even more successful as a platform for huge events as more and more high-profile artists and public speakers take the plunge into virtual world presentations.


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