SXSW Xcript: User-Creation in Gamespace

It’s Sunday at 5:00pm in Austin and I’m at the panel: On the Edge of Independent User-Creation in Gamespace

Moderator: Jerry Paffendorf of the Electric Sheep Company
Panelists:
John Bacus of Google
Futurist Jamais Cascio of Open the Future
Raph Koster of Areae

Paffendorf: Imagine being pumped up right now. Welcome. What I work on: My profession is being a futurist in the video gaming and virtual world space. I survey and think ahead about what’s happening with various simulations. I’m actually on staff, which is a nice position, with Electric Sheep Company, about a year old start-up that builds 3D content, experiences and software for virtual worlds that allow users to create content. We work primarily in Second Life. Invites audience to take stage to fill a fourth position on the panel.

In our business, I have a lot of freedom to lead and create public conversations. I define what’s happening in that space as the metaverse, which I do borrow from Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Last year I helped to start a research project with the Acceleration Studies Foundation called the Metaverse Roadmap: What is happening between video games, virtual worlds, gemapping and the web? We kind of came up with a definition: 4 components: Virtual worlds. Mirror Worlds. Augmented reality technolgoies bringing virtual activity to physical locations. Lifelogging, having a persistent identity in various sites and things you do, turning yourself into an avatar.

What happens when video games and gamespaces become more like the Web, in that anyone can create their own spaces and games, then connect to those with avatar identity, then we have the real practical immersive virtual world of communities online.

Panelists intro themselves.

Raph: I’ve been working professionally in VWs since 95, lead designer on Ultima Online, creative director Star Wars Galaxies, chief creative officer Sony Online, have a new startup attempts to marry MMOs in the Web way, obviously heavily into user-created content.

Jamais Casio: bloggegr, co-founded WorldChanging.com. Place I work is The Future.

John Bacus, formerly with SketchUp. now part of Google Earth geo team at Google. Here to talk about SketchUp.

Jerry shows a couple videos to “warm us up visually.” First one is of Sony’s PS3 “home” platform. I don’t have PS3, but spend a lot of time using Xbox Live and trying to meet people on that as I would in Second Life.

This was just announced a few days ago. Questions: How much can any user create or customize within this? Last year at SXSW working on Second Life stuff, no one knew what it was. I remember being in an apartment at some party, seeing that Google had purchased Sketchup, how amazed we were then, how much has happened since then to bring people’s attention to the space. With Sony, there’s the potential for them to put a lock on this world where users aren’t able to create content. Open question: Do you guys have interest in creating your own content in VWs?

Something I’ve noticed is that these simulation technologies, we see this happening and over the last 20 years, 10 years, 5 years, film technologies have allowed anyone to shoot their own films. Gaming technologies, though, are so far within this broadcast model that I don’t think people even think of it.

One more video of collaborative creation within Second Life, then John will give a demo of Sketchup. [Couple of people building a house in Second Life based on a blueprint they’ve uploaded to the world.]

Bacus: Shows Google Earth with a lot of 3D models created in SketchUp, posted into 3D Warehouse, then included in entry layers to Google Earth. This is in Denver. One of exciting things about GE is that this sort of activity is happening all over the world, Brasilia fantastic buildings being modeled and posted. We seeded the world with some stuff that we built, then it’s just people. The people get credit.

Jerry: Why did Google choose to go with this model rather than professional content?

Bacus: The idea is the world is a weird and exciting wonderflu place, changing all the time. How can any one company paying for content on a regular basis keep up? How can you get a nice model of that idiosyncratic world? Other companies are paying for airplanes to fly over and automatically extract 3D models, but that kind of thing wouldn’t have made a very nice model of Denver’s new art musuem, which is just a very unusual building. We’re hoping we can get some life injected, peopel model things intersting, things that change over time. Hope over time it will be a more interesting place to go as a result. The world is like that, right? It’s not created by one company but by lots of people doing interesting htings over time.

Jerry: Interseting to think about, back in 2003, Second Life was brand new, side by side with There.com, they took very different betws on the future. There created more of a proprietary company-built world, where user-created content had to be vetted. Second Life was more open, a lot of the content was terrible, some of it offensives, but that’s part of what brightened it up like a coral reef.

In Second Life, there’s collaborative creation happening, which I’ve found ot be an accelerator of content creations. Do you consider that, turning GE into a multi-user environment?

Bacus: I’ll walk through the process of how you make a building in Google Earth. You don’t have to use SketchUp. I’m in SketchUp. He exported a photo of the landscape from GE. Imagine we’re going to figure out what this new building looks like. He draws a building on top of the photo. When I brought the content from GE, I brought precise location and scale information. Brought over a terrain map

Jerry: Let me comment on something. I remember being in 6th or 7th grade, first time I got my hands on Photoshop. Amazing experience. Something so brand new to me. It’s a very difficult thing, often, when we’re talking about 3D content. You guys have made this as simple as possible, What about content creation literacy? Where are we and what do we need to do to make it easier?

Raph: Long way to go. Even text-based stuff has a reltatively low participation. 90 pct of users of Yahoo! Groups only read. User participation is wonderful and everyone participates. But I don’t think we should expect that 100 pct of population will participate. Different people have different skills. The higher barrier of entry, we shouldn’t forget that many people have problems with 3D period, even seeing it. It’s not so much that the literacy isn’t going to continue increasing, it is, but we also have to realize that there are some pretty significant mental limitations. We’re not all really good at everything, much less visualization in 3D. Literacy increasing dramatically, but quite a ways to go.

Bacus: Probably everyone in this room casually takes without any second thought, look at GE and think that’s 3D. But actually no, this computer screen is 2D. There’s a base literacy that doesn’t have anything to do with tools, has to do with do you get 3D. My background is in architecture. It’s a core principle in the architect’s education is learning how to draw. Most people don’t learn that. Learning to draw is learning to visualize in 3 dimnesnions and inhabit illusionary 3D spaces.

Raph: I took a lot of art in college. Enough practice, anyone can learn anything. It’s a question of giving people a good on-ramp and in some cases being incredibly patient. Teachers are traditionally very impatient.

Jamais: Important also to recognize that creative barriers map against the notion of contributory minority, which is consistent across these participatory spaces, even back to text-only collaboration spaces. You have the balance of 80 percent of people were passive, and only 10-20 percent make active contributions to the content. You can have the simplest to use technologies and still see the smallest proportion being active in creations.

Bacus: Everyone learns to write, some people write novels, some write newspapers, some write email.

Jerry intros 3D Warehouse.

Bacus: We’ve also built this thing called 3D Warehouse, which is a free repository where people can upload models and share them with each other, Some of them are geolocated. We seeded it with buildings at first. A huge percentage of what’s in here is kind of random. All the models are available for anyone to download and play with, learn from them, build something out of them.

Jerry: Have you guys considered doing anything like a 3D wiki for people to create real-world content? I don’t 3D model well. Whenever I see a marketplace like this that can facilitate people with ideas, that’s really compelling.

Bacus: That might presuppose a taxonomy of every object in the world. The buildings are a great example, because there is only one location for every location in the world that has a building. There’s objective truth that exists in one location.

Audience Q: How does Google vett what gets placed in the world at a particular location? Is there a tie-in to SL in creation tools? Any plans for an engine where you could create a VW using the models you’ve sketched up.

Bacus: We have a rating system. We’re learning what we need to do. Models that go into the base imagery layer in GE have some particular requirements. Not very high poly count, like them to have photo textures on them. Only one building per location. We have people that manually trim the data to get things to fit. We don’t really monitor the content, but if people report offensive content we have a process for taking it down.

Jerry: There have been some primitive attempts [to interoperate SL and GE]. SL has a proprietary building system, People have made some crude hacks. What makes a network of gamespace work is this idea of interoperability and standards, just as on the Web. How important is this, Raph?

Raph: Closed formats suck. [Applause.] Need I elaborate? It’s true everywhere. If you want to try to leverage other peopel’s workk, you have to be able to share the damn stuff. The fact is that other than, the reason why SL went with what they did was that they were inspired by older formats that were intended to be easier to use, so it owul dbe easier to build stuff, but oibviously there were tradeoffs. Honestly, the standard in gamespace *is* to use standard formats. It’s not unusual to upgrade models over time, migrate platforms, etc. They wouldn’t be able to work if they had to build custom objects every time. The difference is in the sharing, not in the formats.

Audience Q: Mentions VRML, polycount too high, how do you get around the rendering problem?

Raph: Particularly for this kind of networked VW application, VRML didn’t contribute hugely to the kind of spaces we’re talking about today. It was insanely heavy, over-designed in a lot of ways. There are virtues to having to do things for commercial reasons: You have to get shit done quickly and cheaply and small, otherwise you lose your money. The commercial formats ended up being the good ones. But even in the commercial world it’s a constant struggle against artists that want to use millions of polygons.

Jamais: Also interesting to note the overlap not just between VW and game design formats, but also between VW and industrial design formats, used by industrial designers to create physical objects. Interesting work right now in translating Second Life design language into industrial design language to actually 3D print out and fabricate SL objects. The notion is that as these VW technologies become more regular part sof how we interact with each other and our environment, the more we’re going to look for ways to integrate them into our lives.

Jamais goes over the four components of the metaverse, including some slides that show some mockups of the concepts he’s talking about, which I won’t really blog here due to the fact that they were visual.

Talks about augmented reality in terms of mobile location-based information services like getting a text message when pollen count is too high if you’re allergic. Lifelogging, mentions camera pics sent from London bombing sites. Mirror worlds, shows heat maps of various things. Some of the most interesting applications outside the gamespace come from virtual versions of earth. Then we imagine what kind of tools could be created. For instance, a carbon impact nutrition label.

Audience Q: How do you make creation more fun and more addicitive?

Raph: 3D is vanishingly small in its amount of importance in terms of user participation in these spaces. The number one use of user-created content in virtual spaces is the screenshot. And that is user content creation. It is shared more widely, distributed, commented on, annotated. That’s actually where the action is, things that have a far lower barrier to ewntry. The interesting areas of user-content creation .are in mashup and remix, like they are everywhere else, screenshot commets, WoW dance videos, dancing itself, stuff like that. That’s where a lot of the action is, because that’s where the barrier is low.

Jerry: Will that continue to be the case?

Raph: Yes!

Jerry: Aren’t there added benefits to a 3D world?

Raph: I didn’t say anything about benefits. Far more people are abloe to make a Mii avatar than a SL avatar. Ergo, there will be more Miis. Same way lots more people build stuff with LEGO than with Erecetor Sets than with carving wood. People rise to the level of tool use they have the chops for. That’s not going to change, nor should it.

Jerry: One of the things that will change is the ease with which you can create complicated content will rise.

Bacus: I think the reason SketchUp is fun is the barrier is lower. You’re able to create and iterate more quickly and have successes more quickly.

Jamais: You want to have a ramp up of complexity and difficulty, make sure you contuinue to have fun by succeeding in ways you didn’t thinkg you’d be able to before.

Raph: I actually wrote a whole book about this, meeting challenges that are always at the edge of your abiality.

Jamais; Interesting as we develop this, lessons not just in what’s the look of things, but what’s the interaction, how do we interact with our environment in that kind of layered, iterative understanding of this world we partially control and partially don’t.

[At this point, your correspondent’s fingers give out.]

6 comments

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  3. Prokofy Neva

    Yes, Raph is right, the screenshot is probably the prime form of inventoriable user content. I wish all these games and worlds would make it easier to take, label, caption, sort, and store the screenshots right inworld. Only Will Wright’s offline Sims had that function, it was wonderful. And people developed widgets to make it even more functional.

    In Kaneva, you have to take each print screen, give it a name, laboriously save it somewhere, etc.

    In SL, you can take snapshots that label and pile up in a folder, but you can’t see the folder it’s going into unless you catch it the first time, meaning that it often gets lost in program files or “First Look” files.

    Sure, you can go to some outside program to shuffle pictures and label them. But it would be better to do it right there within the game/world so that you could generate story boards and books better.

    I really long for something that can make captions like a cartoon right inside SL, not something outside it.

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