Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lively RIP

It's a coincidence that I was only talking about how dead Lively was the day before yesterday... the day before Google announced that they were planning to shut the lid on their diversion into Virtual Worlds at the end of this year.

Predictably, fans of Lively have set up protest rooms and are rallying some support for keeping the thing open, but frankly I think their efforts are doomed to failure. It almost seems as though Google had given up on this baby before it was born.

As I work in the field of virtual worlds, I got into Lively when it opened and made my share of rooms. The high levels of visitors which were seen in the first few days never developed into anything approaching a community, though. The Linden Lab room was seething with people trying to work out how to move, sit down, change their clothes for a few days, but the interest dropped and dropped to the point where nearly all the company and Second Lifer-made rooms should have had cartoon tumbleweed rolling around them.

I put the time into Lively, tried to give it a fair shot. Its advantage over Second Life, There and the other established virtual worlds was that it didn't require any artistic or creative skill in order to create an avatar and a room. As long as you weren't using a Mac, there was an easy entry into the world of virtual exploration, and indeed apart from the Second Lifers in the Linden Room, most of the people I met in Lively were in a virtual world for the first time, and struggling to understand how it was different from a chat room, which is where most of them had hung out online until then.

I made coffee bars and void landscapes, complete with music and appropriate furnishings. I experimented with the tools such as they were, to import audio and video and images. I did some extreme experimentation, seeking to find out how far I could extend the explorable area. Lively rooms are set up with a small area in the middle which can be walked around by your avatar, and with sometimes quite vast looking spaces all around. However, you can always move to an object placed in the room, and you could place objects quite a long way away, quite easily. Unlike most other virtual worlds I have explored, Lively often seemed to behave as though the world was flat, and therefore as though that fence over there, across the field, is actually on the same surface as the grassy bank in front of it and the horizon behind it - thus using the Lively placing tools, you could slide a rug over the grass, over the fence to the horizon beyond, very quickly.

In one of my rooms, the planned explorable area is a penthouse residence in a city of skyscrapers. I have a pathway made of rugs which leads to a stair case made of wardrobes... but I realised long after I had got about 300 rugs out of my inventory, that it is easier simply to use two rugs: one to stand on, and one to move to where you want to be. I probably wasted quite a lot of time in Lively, lol.

However, time is experience, and I learned a lot too, and will be able to put that to good use at some stage in the future, I am sure. I quicky started to wonder how committed Google was to the world... they were slow to respond to the problems and bugs which were identified by the community, (not least the ability to accidentally find yourself in six places at once!) and after an initial offering of shiny things in the catalogue it seemed very strange than new things were only offered in fits and starts. Being used to Second Life, where someone must be making new clothing, hair, shoes and jewellery all the time, it seemed strange to me that my Avatar Jane Doe had so little choice of clothing.

It is often said that in Second Life, people immerse to the point that they identify with their avatar, but I don't think that happened to many with the Lively avatars, which were very cartoony and not very customisable. I didn't find the experience in Lively at all the same as Second Life: it felt constrained, shut in, confined.

If there is one thing I have learned though, it is that one man's meat is most definitely another man's poison... there are bound to be people who found exactly what they wanted in Lively, and will be sad to see it pass. For me, not so much.

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