Monday, March 22, 2010

Svarga Back in Second Life


By Bixyl Shuftan

On Sunday afternoon, March 21, just after logging on I heard some great news. The Svarga sim was back! I looked it up on the map, and there it was, so I ported over. And there was a sight I hadn’t seen in many months. What some people called one of the Seven Wonders of Second Life was back.

Svarga was started early, around 2004. By 2006, it was complete and further construction ceased. It’s creator, Laukosargas Svarog, created a grand island of waterfalls, mountains, rivers, stone temples, and the artificial life experiments, the “Eco System” project, gave the sim it’s own cycle of life, with clouds raining on the plants, bees pollinating, and occasionally eaten by a flytrap lily, and other aspects. It was considered one of the most ingeniously built places in the Metaverse. More can be read in our April 2007 article .

In December 2008, Laukosargas made her decision to look for a buyer for Svarga. Running the sim was just too expensive for her, she felt, and Second Life seemed no better to her than when she first went about on it.

Some months later, the sim vanished from the map. It seemed that this wonder of the Metaverse had vanished into the virtual nether forever, much to the sadness of many who had seen the area and marveled at it’s details. Until now, that is.

Checking Laukosargas’s profile, she says the sim has a new owner, even though Svarga still lists her as in charge. She also asked not to be contacted, saying she plans to return to Second Life only sparingly, once in a few months.

As time goes on, someone will figure out exactly what happened and what we can expect. But for now, we can take heart that once again, this gem of a sim is once again open for visits, and not just a memory.

The entry point for Svarga is at http://slurl.com/secondlife/Svarga/5/124/22 .

By Bixyl Shuftan

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Virtual World There.com to Close


In an announcement on March 2, 2010, There.com’s CEO Mike Wilson announced the virtual world would be shutting down on March 9. Wilson cited the troubled real-life economy as the reason for the decision.

 “There.com's customers were hardest hit by the recession, and, so was There. While our membership numbers and the number of people in the world have continued to grow, there has been a marked decrease in revenue ...  at the end of the day, we can't cure the recession, and at some point we have to stop writing checks to keep the world open. There's nothing more we would like to avoid this, but There is a business, and a business that can't support itself doesn't work. Before the recession hit, we were incredibly confident and all indicators were "directionally correct" and we had every reason to believe growth would continue. But, as many of you know personally, the downturn has been prolonged and severe, and ultimately pervasive.”

There was launched in October 2003, not l ong after Second Life. It was founded by Will Harvey, whom was noted for writing the first commercial sheet music processor for home computers “Music Construction Set,” and work on several computer games. The Instant Messenger IMVU was also founded by Harvey. Jeffrey Ventrella was There’s co-founder, noted for his programs on artificial life, whom later worked as a developer at Linden Lab.

In it’s early days, There did well, possibly because of the prestige of it’s founder and starting out with more funding than Second Life. But it soon ran low on finances, and Second Life gained the media spotlight. It ran into trouble starting in 2004, and in 2005 the company split in two, Makena Technologies which continued to operate the virtual world, and Forterra Systems, which concentrated on “private and secure” virtual worlds for government and corporate clients.

There distinguished itself from Second Life as a more family-friendly place with “controls on adult content and griefers,” which attracted some users too edgy of it’s more noted competitor. It also aimed at teenagers, whom were too young for Second Life’s main grid. The language on it’s info page included, “Feeling awesome today? You can look awesome. Feeling like you want to make some heads snap around? You can look knock-down gorgeous and totally buff.”

There also advertised itself as more corporate friendly, having places such as Club Scion and Coca-Cola Skate Park. In 2006, There partnered with MTV. Other brands with a presence in There include Cosmogirl, The Humane Society, Paramount Studios, and the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Like Second Life, residents of there moved about in avatars, and could communicate in text and private Instant Messaging, or voice for those with Premium accounts. Unlike Second Life, avatars could only be modified from a basic human form: hair, skin, and eye colors, head and body shapes, etc. Avatar graphics were a little simpler than those on Second Life as well. People could get around on foot, or on vehicles such as buggys , and hoverboards. There was an emphasis on sports, such as the paintball games in the video on There’s introduction page on it’s website. There were also virtual pets, although limited to two breeds of dogs.

There also had it’s own virtual economy, with it’s currency called “Therebucks,” which could be bought and sold from and to the company, with one US dollar equal to 1,800 T. There were also virtual banks, which unlike Second Life remained legal on There. People with Premium memberships could build and sell items, such as buildings and vehicles, as well as being able to own and rent homes. There had it’s own newsletter at http://www.therefuntimes.com/

Unlike Second Life, There was never available to Mac users.

In Second Life, Torley Linden named his personal sim “Here” as a tribute to There. The surname “Thereian” is also available to Second Life residents.

In the statement, Wilson stated there would  be refunds on “All purchases of Therebucks and member program updates” between February 1 and the moment the closing was announced, “We will attempt to continue a Therebucks buyback for developers.” There also appeared to be a subtle jab at Second Life, “many things ... made There special, accessible, and attractive to people from all over the United States and the world -- not just the privileged with high-end machines and broadband connections.”

There have been a number of comments by former users. One “on again off again” user felt there were several reasons for it’s decline, including that suggestions for new activities were often ignored, and the corporate endorsements to make up for a stagnant membership might have brought in cash but also ruined the “ambience” of There, and some changes “helped kill off some of it’s most popular activities and communities ... One of the last lingering, saddest memories I had before quitting There was to see the once thriving hoverboard park a ghost town.” More common were expressions of sadness over the loss of the virtual world.

Of final thoughts, those from CNet writer Daniel Terdiman are as good as any, “For me, though I hadn't gone into There for quite some time, I always enjoyed the idea that I could go back in, jump in my wonderful hoverboat and go for a nice long ride. I recall the early days of There when there were regular hoverboat flotillas and when you could easily find people riding around on flying dragons. To all the fans of There who will now be without a digital home, there is perhaps only one suitable salutation: 'wave. “

Bixyl Shuftan