Age demographics and virtual worlds

Metrics gurus Kzero have released a new breakdown of the age variances by type of virtual world frequented.

There’s no big surprises but the figures do further emphasise the power of the pre-teen and teen market for social virtual worlds.

Thanks to Pavig Lok for the heads-up.

Interview – Pavig Lok (Rezzable)

Melbourne-based Pavig Lok is part of the Rezzable crew that have created some of the more memorable Second Life presences this year. We caught up with Pavig for some thoughts on creating something unique work in virtual worlds.

Lowell: Can you tell TMJ readers a little about your background in regard to virtual worlds?

Pavig: Many years ago I developed an interest in virtual world technologies. A whole bunch of folk, perhaps naievely, saw VR as part and parcel of the coming wave of ubiquitous net access. This was the early nineties, and hacker culture understood that until computers moved away from the programmer/user divide into visual metaphors there would not be strong adoption of them as any kind of enabling technology for the general public. VR was one of the ways we saw that going forward, understanding that games would be an element of that.


As usual, futurists get the general shape and the order that things happen absurdly out of whack. 2D visual metaphors like the desktop did pretty much what we expected them to, though are only starting to fulfil their true potential now, and 3D ran across a lot of stumbling blocks along the way. Immersive 3D (like VR goggles which we thought were “just around the corner) ran into the “simulator sickness” issue – nobody saw that one coming, but it pretty much put the kibbosh on what we thought 3D would be. Without cheap immersive 3D for the architects and industrial applications, it was very difficult for anyone in VR to convince business it was anyting more than a game technology, so I left off trying to get involved in virtual worlds until the general public caught up.

By the mid nineties most of the technologies we think of as radical in SL existed already as prototypes. Onlive had proximity based avatar voice chat (on modems!), things like Activeworlds with streaming 3D etc etc. The public wasn’t quite ready for it, business saw it as a toy, it was going nowhere. Ironically it was games that virtual worlds ended up riding on the back of to show their potential to business and the public. I figured the time was right to start looking at virtual worlds as a possible line of employment again.

Lowell: When did you first get involved with Second Life and what were your initial reactions to it after logging in for the first time?

Pavig: I’d heard about SL and kept an eye on it during development. I’d also been on the beta program for As far as a beta tester for them it came down to an email saying “your client won’t install on my machine” and that was that. After a year’s sabbatical from the net I got straight into SL. From watching what they were doing I could tell they had got it more right than anyone who had come before them.

When I first arrived in-world I was pleasantly surprised – it was just as disorienting and insane as it needed to be. It didn’t hold your hand – you arrived there and instantly saw that you had been given a body, access to prims, access to scripts, an entire system the same as everyone else. When I saw what people had been able to make in SL I was stunned – not because it was particularly sophisticated but because there was no solid division between residents and content creators.

That was the trick that nobody outside the hacker community had ever got right before – access to tools for everyone. It’s still the most important differentiating factor – you can teach a newbie to rez a prim, and when discussing something you can go “that bit there” and rez a prim on it – not some premade tool the designers gave you for pointing at things, basic use of the world and it’s qualities to improvise solutions on the fly.

Lowell: What are the biggest changes in the SL community that have stood out for you?

Pavig: The biggest change in just over a year that I’ve been here has been very much like the change on the internet between 1996 and 1998. Masses and masses of people, many of which don’t know precisely why they’re there. Consumer culture has grown hugely and local communities have suffered. This isn’t a bad thing just a shakeup – SL hasn’t had it’s Web 2.0 revolution yet to refocus on the local, so it’s become a big world with no center, and for the folk in it less of a sense of belonging to a community.

When I arrived there was something like 250,000 registrations and now there’s way over 10 million. Even if they aren’t all real people or stayers they represent a huge dilution and expanding of the community away from it’s frontier neighborhood origins. That must have some effect on the general quality of community in SL – it certainly has an effect on grid stability too 😛

Another change is corporate flirting with SL. For a wee while folk thought SL might be the “next big thing” and so folk started pumping money into it as the next push media. Like the web, SL is proving too anarchic to really work in this way. So by treating SL as a new revenue source rather than an experiment in tomorrows media – well let’s just say big business has been less than successful so far. So big business itself has had less of an effect on the world, but certainly had an effect on incoming resident expectations. I can’t say exactly what it is, but I feel it in the community.


Lowell: What is your role with Rezzable?

Pavig: I must say from the outset I’m just an artist working for Rezzable so anything I might say about company strategy and whathaveyou should be taken with a grain of salt. It’ll just be my opinion.

Originally at Rezzable I was bought in with Littletoe Bartlett to do the Greenies build. That also ended up including some project management type stuff and…. well the roles were then, as they are now, quite fluid. As Rezzable has expanded I’ve ended up tinkering on a lot of projects, and that seems to be the case for all of us.

Though MDC’s (Metaverse Development Companies as they’re evidently called now) like to think that there’s some kind of solid job description for folk working on these kind of projects, it tends not to be the case. SL itself is a fluid medium, and changes under our feet constantly – when they beta something all of us start losing sleep over if it’ll break our current builds or change our future plans. That’s just the way it is. I can’t imagine how that must look for big company clients who come to SL for representation, probably like chaos compared to what they would be used to in other media, but that’s just the topology of SL and virtual worlds – constantly in flux.

Part of my role is probably keeping on top of that changability – knowing what works and doesn’t, and what will soon work or break. That is on top of design, building, working with other artists and scripters etc. I’m sure my boss would have a different picture of my role if you asked him. I’m probably listed as a “creative” on the books – nobody really knows what they do 😛

Lowell: Rezzable is arguably one of the biggest phenomenons to hit Second Life in 2007 – why do you think the impact has been so large?

Pavig: I think Greenies was a big part of the buzz, and that’s not blowing my own trumpet. When Greenies went into beta we got a lot of attention from the business blogs because they couldn’t figure out what on earth we were trying to do. It even came down to conspiracy theories about the secret illuminati behind rezzable. Myself and some of the artists were on the rumor mill as well, being picked as alts for anyone but ourselves – which is ironic as most of us had a history in SL for anyone with interest in digging. As insane as that was it kept us in the blogs, which kept folk coming to our sims as they began to open. At the time we weren’t quite ready for that, but we couldn’t have asked for better PR if we had done our own marketing (which we didn’t) – nothing seems to placate bloggers when they think they’ve found a mystery. That got us a lot of initial traffic.

The other thing that kept people coming to peek I think is the content Rezzable has been working on. Just about everyone who builds for Rezz is an artist in SL who was already prolific or recognised. Rezzable simply let them do their stuff and produce stuff they love, and tried to find ways to fit it all together into a cohesive whole. That’s an old school entrepeneurial approach and very different from what the other big companies were doing at the time. As with all entrepeneurial activity it involves risk that some projects might end up plain silly, but that risk is distributed over a lot of projects, artists, sims and so becomes quite manageable. There’s a different approach if we do something corporate, but we’re pretty happy doing stuff that’s fun at the moment, and it pays for itself.

The big difference between rezzable and the main MDC’s is that the larger companies start with a corporate client and their demands, and are forced into a position where they must be risk averse – this will usually produce slick but uninteresting builds, no matter how creative a team you throw at it. Since Rezzable arrived on the scene though I think there’s been positive moves by the larger companies to address that space – we laughed when MOU got their first artist in residence finally with Robbie Dingo. Considering Rezzable was almost ALL artists in residence and a lot younger it just seemed silly – MOU’s creative director is already an artist but not advertised as such.

These creatives were all there already waving their arms around saying “Heya we got ideas let us do something that’s just plain cool for a change.” So we ended up on the crest of a big wave to recognize creatives in the professional SL developers community. The big names had all started out that way too but shied away from the creative-driven way of doing things as they’d grown – now they’re coming back, and I think their creatives are pretty happy about it. Now they have a reputation they can rely on based on what they’ve done and we have a reptation for what we’ve done, so we’re in a different market to the big MDC’s and not really in competition with each other.

Lowell:Did you have a marketing plan in place when Greenies launched or was it an organic approach that just happened to take off?

Pavig: Rezzable was very hands off and open brief with Greenies – they said “big kitchen, tiny aliens, make it amazing and fun.” So that’s what we did. Rezzable trusted me, Littletoe and Light Waves to come up with the goods based on our personal work and attitude. That was probably the best thing they could have done. Every SL builder would love a sim to go crazy on, a solid theme, and a pay packet to get it done. Rezzable was pretty flexible about our vision for it – we tweaked the brief a lot to get something we thought would work and take the design probably deeper than it needed to go from the outset – that’s part of how artists and designers work, they’re fussy about stuff that really hardly anyone notices.

Light Wave’s Greenies were already known and loved on the grid so it was about making a home for them and extending that story, though I don’t think we’ve tied up all the loose ends, nor should we. The other active thing we did when designing Greenies was tp try and make it look as unlike everywhere else in SL as possible. We wanted it to be somewhere you arrived and the look was different enough that your early SL wonderment came back. So that meant researching a lot of techniques that hadn’t been done before or often in SL – the use of physical hollow megaprims, first generation sculpties, shadow and light overlays etc.

One thing we were determined to do was allow for a day/night cycle, which is unusual in builds of this type, and so control of lighting and tradeoffs along those lines were a large part of design. Locking the sun makes it easier to light stuff but takes away the natural moods of a build and makes it static.

So the real plan was to make something different. If you hit on something that people like then you have the most valuable currency available in virtual worlds – traffic. For any company wanting to get returns in the virtual worlds business that’s the bread and butter – without that there’s very few revenue models available to you. We figured the “if you build it they will come” approach to clients was also a hole in the services MDC’s provide. So L’Oreal Paris has been one of our early clients, and jumped on our Greenies traffic for a low key promotion of their own. They’re giving away skins for their new makeup looks, and we’ve integrated their build into Greenies in a way that doesn’t damage the spirit of the sim. We always saw it going that way, and hoped to keep the “branding” subtle enough and in the spirit of SL that we wouldn’t alienate visitors.


Lowell: Can you list the presences Rezzable has created in SL to date?

* Greenies, which you know.
* Toxic Garden, curently in beta.
* Surfline, currently 3 sims devoted to surfing, and officially opening soon.
* Crimson Shadow, a gothic type build.
* Cannery, predominantly photography based artwork.
* Black Swan, an art build.
* The Stratos sims, which are nearing completion.
* Carnival of Doom, also in beta
* Cascade – closed beta
* The dump – currently being built.
* and several others also in development.

Lowell: Greenies would be the most popular one so far wouldn’t it?

Pavig: Greenies had the advantage of the flood of interest we had when we opened for beta. It put Rezzable on the map and generated a lot of buzz. But visits have been fairly consistant since opening – so much so that it’s been difficult to get in there and rebuild, redevelop, or finish some of the improvements we’ve had on the cards. That’ll be changing in the next week as we push through some long overdue changes. Black Swan has got a lot of traffic as well lately.

Apart from that I think many of the potentially popular Rezzable sims are still in development and not officially open yet. As such they haven’t had a chance to build the same popularity as they simply haven’t been launched. Surfline for example is the kind of place which will build community slowly, but retain a solid community of folk who come back once that’s established. Greenies I think by contrast is the kind of place everyone visits once, but the community that makes a habit of returning will be smaller – kind of like a picnic destination. This is something we’re working on improving, as repeat visitors are a huge asset to a sim, but we’ve all been tied up with so many projects it’s taken longer to get back to Greenies than we’d hoped.

Lowell: Can you describe how you work up your concepts and get them to a finished product?

Pavig: I generally work with Littletoe Bartlett when I can, and both of us are extremely different visual designers. We see the shapes of things differently, and I think we both plug around with our internal lego until a concept works then pretty much realize it complete. For me that means a lot of research, and I think Littletoe is like that too. So for project manager types it’s the old critical path type workings out, we just work a lot more flexibly and internally than most. By the time a concept has a shape in my head people can ask me about a detail of it and I can list the steps to realize it.

This is why I find working with Littletoe so fluid – we can agree on the bits and see the outcome. I’ll tend to start and finish things while she fills in the middle while I do a bunch of tangential stuff. Then I usually use up my remaining reserves of neurosis doing fiddly things I’ve worked out along the way. This isn’t so hard as people imagine, working out of your head. In order for a concept to actually have any kind of value it must be simple and elegant, and if it’s that, then the pieces should fit together to that end. An old wax and bromides designer once told me “put nothing in unless you can explain why it’s there” and that’s worked well for me in SL.


Lowell: What plans (if any) do Rezzable have for presences in other virtual worlds?

Pavig: That’s something you’d have to ask my boss.

Lowell: We always ask the question – what are three locations that you keep coming back to – outside your own builds of course 😉

Calleta’s Hobo Railroad Infohub: It’s my home, and I’ll always be a hobo. They got me started building.

NCI Kuula: Those wonderful folk are still helping the newcomers after all this time, and where I found my feet in SL.

Suffugium: a build that hasn’t aged in the entire time i’ve been in SL. It’s just “right”.

Lowell: Who inspires you in Second Life?

Pavig: This is a hard one because I always miss someone. Littletoe of course, and Mis Ordinal Malaprop for her stoic devotion to elegant and tasteful exploding things. The wonderful Arcadia Asylum who we sorely miss. Mis Tateru Nino for her balanced coverage of SL on the net. Thinkerer Melville for his can do attitude. Tooter Claxton for his builds. Light Waves, who sets the bar for what SL can do. Aley Arai who is prolific beyond belief. Orhalla Zander who established the hobos, and Yadni Monde for his freebie culture. There really are tons of folk. Oh and of course the Grendel’s Children crew.

Lowell: Any predictions you’d like to make for the coming year in regard to Rezzable, SL or the wider metaverse?

Pavig: Well Rezzable will continue to grow I’m sure. At the moment we’re in the process of consolidating builds and tying up loose ends in anticipation of a few launches and “stage two’s”. When that’s solid Littletoe, Light Waves and I are back onto another crazy scale ambitious build that we can’t talk about just yet. I also expect to see some crazy builds from other amazing artists that have come on board recently, but I can’t even imagine what they’ll be yet.

As for SL I believe the growth will continue steadily and things will improve on the grid. I really haven’t seen any other VR that is based on the philosophy of resident = content creator in the same way as SL. So I really do see SL as remaining the only game in town despite the other ambitious startups. Nothing I’ve seen on the horizon quite compares. People wave around Kaneva and so on, but today they’re beta testing 750 concurrent users – they’ve got a long way to go.

When it comes to the wider metaverse I see a lot of activity, but it’s going to be highly factional. Kaneva’s target user, There’s, Activeworlds, Croquet, SONY, etc… well they’re all after different things out of a VR. Some of the new entrants are going to be wildly popular – but I don’t see that impacting SL significantly. Barbie World user registrations make SL’s look piffling but we won’t all be there.

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