Friday, 26 October 2007

Some Random Thoughts on CSI:NY

As the hubbub starts to subside on the whole CSI:NY thing, I thought I would record some of the stuff that’s been rattling around in my head over the last few days.

My first reaction when I read all the hullabaloo coming out of the Virtual Worlds Conference was: “Meh.” However, folks with a far keener interest and knowledge of the entertainment and media industry were at pains to assure me that this was groundbreaking stuff, and that is was “game changing.” I thought I should wait and see. The impression given was that this represented a real leap forward in the pursuit of convergent media, and is the way of the Future. To quote Mr Zuiker, proud owner of the CSI franchise: What’s the future of television? It is as follows: TV, online, mobile, and gaming.”

As for Linden Lab, CEO Phil Rosedale’s take, as quoted at Ugotrade was: “I think it is a great project. We don’t look for traffic for Second Life in general we more look for opportunities to present Second Life to people in a more obvious way to people who don’t understand it, or haven’t experienced it.

So… a major leap in convergent media – and good exposure for Linden Lab. What could possibly go wrong?

The big risk we all knew about was grid overload, but so far (touch wood) this has not happened, in part because the invasion of newcomers simply has not happened on anything like the anticipated scale.

However, what I think has gone wrong is, frankly, the whole shebang. What I’ve noted, rather than a magical blending and blurring of the lines between reality and virtuality, is simply the co-opting of Second Life to act as a games platform. A role for which it is particularly inappropriate – and for which CSI has no need, since such platforms exist already. Now, I’m not trying to be precious about SL here. In the whole wide metaverse there is clearly a large need for entertainment and, indeed, for gaming. But to be blunt, Second Life cannot offer the level of gameplay that seasoned gamers have good reason to expect.

And this leads to my next point. TV is an illusion, where it is necessary to tweak reality (and in this case, virtuality) in the interests of entertainment. CSI was not out to make a documentary about Second Life, and was bound to present it in a way designed to extract the maximum entertainment value. And this has led to 2 basic lies. First, that the Second Life virtual world is smooth, fast and beautifully detailed. This would be fine if newcomers weren’t then invited to come and try it out. The gulf between the TV version and the horribly laggy, grey, slow-rezzing virtuality cannot, to my mind, be called “good exposure for Second Life”. The second lie is that Second Life is a sleazy game, populated by players. This lie was not necessary to the plot, and is the one with which I have the single biggest issue.

In common with many of the readers of this blog, I spend a great deal of time in Real Life extolling the features and benefits of Second Life and virtual worlds in general. Through this one piece of unnecessary scripting I feel like I’ve been thrown back a year in my own evangelising efforts; back to the days of: “Second Life? It’s just a game isn’t it? Full of sleazeballs and geeks.” Again, how this view of Second Life can be viewed as “good exposure” I am at a loss to explain. This might also explain the less-than-impressive uptake of new accounts.

On a lighter note – I was tempted to call this piece: CISCO:NY. As I have mentioned previously, the grossly over-the-top “Ciscofication” was – to me at least – a complete turn-off.

I think Linden Lab have done themselves no favours here. It is not true that “all publicity is good publicity.” I am dismayed at the short-termism shown by Linden in going along with this farrago. Also, in handing over the source of the viewer to Electric Sheep we have the interesting situation where the open source code has been re-skinned, a few neat, new features added, and the whole thing seemingly locked up again as a proprietary product.

Well that’s what I think. So what did I get wrong?


centralasian said...

Lol, you 'got wrong' in many places ^_^ - to the extent that I am considering to write a separate post in my own blog, and just link it here. But as a matter of rehearsal:

- SL is *not* a game, we all know that. But it's nicely playful, interactive, and content-creative to such extent that it carry games and game-like activities relatively well. Besides - it can carry any of them, because it is flexible and open (user-generated content etc).

- Believe me, there is no other 'true' games that can do the same trick - i.e., open a side content stream. Most games are very close withing their own gameplays, and those that are slightly more open - like Sims - well, again, they are not so much games but worlds.

- The fact that that CSI:NY started with 'game' is relatively, in its current format is... relatively arbitrary; everybody is saying that 'games are cool', 'games are the future', balh, blah (I myself often say the very same things). But they could easily start with something else - contest, 3D fanzine, or fun club, or 'whatever'... The key point is not 'game-ness' but participation and involvement of people, who transform from viewers to active 'doers' of something. In this case, they become players, but as I said this can be achieved differently.

- Now, the whole thing about 'illusion'... that's nonsense, sorry. You see a glossy commercial selling a hotel in Dubai, but when you come there that's not so 'glossy'. So what? Every sane person understand (at least should do so) that any message is a metaphor of 'reality', and not reality itself. 'Reality itself' will come when you will go and experience it, and it WILL (must be, even) different from the message that called you to go and experience it.

Just an example - I remember you don't play WoW, right? When you buy WoW, you will see stunning intro movies (think you can also see them on their website). They are so beautiful, so smooth, so rich, that you RUSH to this world. And of course, as you discover very quickly, the 'real' WoWo is not that beautiful. It's also cool and colorful, but not quite like in those movies... So, do you feel disappointed? Sure, not! You THNAK these movies that they triggered you to move your ass and buy the soft. Because they seduced you with 'superficial' beauty, but thanks to them you discover the 'real' beauty of WoW - your own personal trajectory in this world, hundreds of people you will meet, dozens of battles you will fight together, fun, adrenalin, etc etc.

Same goes for SL. Who on Earth would bother than in the movie everything goes smooth, and in 'real' SL I crush every so often? Really? Who cares?

- Lastly, on (over)branding. I agree, Cisco is doing bue. Sheeps? not sure, I think they are doing kind of right amount of self-promotion. The fact that they took F/OS thingy and put their logo on it? But of those RedHats, Ubuntus, and other free Linuxes is not doing the same? Open source is not a mugi (or actually, it's mugi for only a little while, and then it becomes Mugi).

Aleister Kronos said...

Hi Centralasian - a few comments back:

"SL is not a game - we all know that." Who is the "we"? SLers certainly know this - but the wider public, at whom this is aimed, don't.

You misinterpret me regarding illusion. Of course, TV is illusion, without it there'd be little entertainment value. My beef is that the gap between the illusion and the virtuality in this case is immense. I played WoW for about a year, and never felt cheated by the movies or, indeed, the wonderful South Park episode that shows facial movements not possible in the game itself.

I refer you back to the hype at VWC'07, where there was much expectation of a major paradigm shift. Yes, you can do games in SL, but it is not a very good gaming platform. In part, this is due to so much UGC, which needs massive amounts of rendering time. In short, I don't see this as a paradigm shift, just a game.

Furthermore, I will be amazed if there is much "player" retention. As I said, the gulf between hype and virtuality is immense - and hardly likely to appeal except to the tiny fraction who might see there is more to this than meets the eye.

I think Sheep have done a good job with this - and I like the OnRez viewer. But performance might've been better if it was "CSI:Middle-of-Nowhere" with little to render. :-)

I'm less concerned about the closure of the viewer code - than I am about what else it may be doing behind the scenes, and that I have no knowledge of. I have the same discomfort about Google. For whatever good(?) intentions, Google collects a lot of info about me (or at least my IP address), without my say-so. Are ESC doing this too? I don't know.

centralasian said...

Ok, instead of arguing further, can I try another move? what would be your suggestion of something 'paradigmatically shifting' for the guys?

{as a way of spoiling - my own version: offer game like they did AND something else, for example, fun club, but with large degree of people participation and involvement. that, by the way, shows the strength of SL - you can create whatever format you want using this platform. Yes, for some formats it will be not idea (i.e., games), but still ok. What matters is that you can get here through whatever hole somebody would drill for you, and start getting not only the 'direct promise' but also many other bonuses and perks.}

Eh, and yes, under 'we' I meant 'us', you and me, these sort of people, somewhat insiders, somehow residents.

Aleister Kronos said...

Actually, as I said in the original article, my first response when I heard about this was "Meh." It was others who saw this as a huge shift, and made the case why this might be so. Personally, I am not concerned whether it is or not - besides, I think it is too early in the evolution of VWs for such a shift to work. The platforms, the clients and the network are not yet performant enough in my view.

Also, bear in mind I only have a tiny brain, and don't really do "paradigm shifts." I leave that to clever people.

Anonymous said...

Aliester, I do not take the same negative viewpoint either. I think the publicity is good for SL overall and will bring it to the minds of others. Everyone knows Hollywood exaggerates things, so the portrayal of SL did not bother me at all. I think it is good to get on prime time TV. In the long run, this is a great boon. --TerryAnn Antonelli