blog – To Designers

Mel and I have discussed this in length, to mod or not to mod. As a scripter, business owner and builder he has very strong opinions about what we put into Second Life, and what each person takes from it. He holds very true to those convictions, and even though he has done work for some big businesses in Second Life, he will and has also turned down a lot of jobs because of not wanting to make things that will just add to the strain on our resources.

Read what he has to say, and maybe look at what you are doing, and ask yourself what are the reasons behind your perms choices. I have found often that perms are based solely on what others are doing, but it is a big world, and there are still many stores out there that are allowing mod on their goods, and it makes such a difference when buying.

The designers of second life have gone a long, long way down a dark path. I’m talking about permissions – specifically the near extinct permission to modify. I think there is some hope yet for this neglected little check box before it vanishes from SL entirely, but it’s going to take some self-examination from the designers of SL, and a little education if there is to be any chance of recovery.

The first cost, is of course, the issue of ownership. If you purchase something in the real world, you own it completely. You get to do whatever you want to it… squeeze it, stretch it, paint it pretty or set fire to it and toss it off a building. In SL of course your ability to do these things in the best of scenarios depends heavily on your grasp of the building tools. If you’ve got the skills, though, you can make great use of them making the things you wear truly reflect your unique persona through immaculate fitting or other sorts of customization… unless the item is not modifiable. I’m sure that you as a designer and resident of SL have run into at least one situation where “no modify” put a wrench in your works.

For some this isn’t a big deal. For many, though, it’s a slap in the face. It’s like saying, “You don’t actually own this. You’re just leasing it.” As a designer, you necessarily have your own sensibilities about how things should look, how they should fit, and how they should work. Currently, the fashion business seems to be devoid of empathy for this, and as a result, there has been a backlash from a portion of the SL community who feel they should have the ability to do what they wish with their virtual property.

One good example of this is something I saw in group chat in a group which is filled with some of SL’s best minds when it comes to the technology that makes it run. Someone had just purchased a pair of shoes, and on getting home found they were not only not exactly how she expected them to be, but also not modifiable. She had plans for these shoes… not nefarious plans, but she evidently had bought them with a particular outfit in mind and were they modifiable she would have certainly been able to make them work.

The group happened to be on the topic of permissions, so she mentioned casually that she would just have to copybot it so she could make it work how she needed it to. I had no doubt that she had no plans to “steal” anything, and I’m sure she didn’t go on to resell it. She just wanted a pair of shoes for herself that fit a very precise idea for an outfit and as a result of the permissions choice of the designer she was forced to either discard her idea which she liked, or discard the permissions which for her was a very simple thing to do.

This isn’t some rogue, or some jerk. This is a designer who has been around longer than 99.9% of the residents of SL and who runs a successful business. She has no need to peddle in stolen content, but she deeply resents not being allowed to modify what she owns. This designer’s reaction is to just side step the permissions and do what she wants to, but you can be sure that there are many others out there who go ten steps further and punish the designers for their cumbersome permissions by passing their products out full perms. I’m not going to say this is the origin of all content theft – certainly there are many different reasons people steal, but I guarantee it’s high on the list!

The choice to make something no modify includes another cost – scripts. There are several problems here, one of which has been in the Linden blogs since mid-December ’09 regarding script time. The resizer script is quite possibly the largest and most useless waste of sim processing power to hit the grid ever. The problem as of today is multi-faceted. Part of it has to do with a problem with the Mono garbage collector on the sim servers which leaks memory the more mono scripts it comes in contact with. The result is the more mono scripts coming and going from a sim, the faster it will run out of memory.

This can take as little as a day, or on a sim with no traffic it can take forever, but in most busy sims it won’t take more than a few days for this to happen.

Now to understand what’s happening, let’s look at your average newbie avatar wearing an AO containing 3 scripts. Newbie Jane decides to teleport. The sim responds by carefully packing up the script state for those 3 scripts, sending all the data to the new sim server which unpacks it and gets the scripts running again as if nothing happened. Not a big deal! Now jane goes shopping, and buys a fancy pair of shoes and a jacket which are mysteriously no modify, but thankfully have resizer scripts! Newbie Jane goes to teleport back to their 512 plot and (gasp) the teleport screen seems to last much, much longer.

How strange! What Jane doesn’t know is that with her fancy shoes and jacket she’s now sporting 600 scripts… so when she’s teleporting, the sim needs to pack up 200x as much information and send it all over to the next sim. Shouldn’t be a big deal, right? I mean each script is probably only say 16kb of data or so… 16x600kb = what? Oh… that’s about 9 megabytes. For reference, it probably takes you 20-30 seconds to download a 9MB file off the internet. The big problem comes when one or both of the sims involved is already out of memory.

Sometimes the teleport will fail entirely, but if not, chances are that both sims are going to lock up completely for about 10-15 seconds while the sims stop and start all 600 scripts. The worst isn’t over yet, though. After the new sim gets itself running again, it still needs to run all 600 scripts. That will require about 11% of the sim’s cpu time constantly. Keep in mind, she’s not constantly resizing her shoes or jacket. Chances are she’ll never actually resize either of those things.

Even the most experienced SL resident faces the same problem with this merchandise. It’s just toxic merchandise, and unless it has a function to delete the resizer scripts, there’s nothing that anyone can do to reduce their toxicity, since you can’t delete scripts from no modify items.

Now with the changes LL is proposing for script usage for avatar attachments, it may turn out that none of these products will even be attachable 6 months from now. If an item uses too much memory, it will instantly be force detached by the server when you try to wear it. To quell the furious masses they are offering a new function which will allow scripters to make a resizer or retexture script which can perform all the same functions from a single script, but the bottom line is this whole mess is caused by people’s intolerable need to fit things to their avatar! Well, there is one very simple way to offer customers that ability, and it’s built right in to SL. Modify permissions. It’s the most advanced fitting interface ever. Just use it. It will be good for your business in all sorts of ways.

Yes, it is true that in ancient times checking the modify permissions box left you vulnerable to a certain kind of theft. With products that make use of sculpties or unique textures, though, this is no longer the case. The script function which describes the prim it is in will not report the uuid of its sculpt map unless the object in question is full perms. Now you may say but they can see the sculpt map in the edit dialog! Well, even if you didn’t use alpha to protect your sculpt map, if someone tries to screen shot that sculpt map from the edit dialog window, crop it in photoshop, then upload it again they will wind up with a lumpy, lopsided, terrible looking reproduction of your sculpted prim. In other words, it’s going to look like crap.

The content theft that happens today does not attempt to use this process, though. The reason is it’s tedious, and complicated, and the results are very bad. If someone wants to steal something, they are going to use software that completely sidesteps the permissions system of SL. It is much faster, simpler, and yields perfect results. It doesn’t even require that you own the item you’re trying to copy.

In summary, if you are making your products no modify to protect yourself from theft, you’re not only failing to do that, you’re actually inspiring people to rip your product to bypass your choice not to let them modify things they own. If you are making your product no modify because you can’t stand the thought of someone tinting or taking a BeDazzler to your masterpieces, you just need to let go and accept that once you sell something, you don’t own it any more. If it looks bad tinted, well that’s not your problem, and I am guessing people who use this as a justification for making things no modify are just putting up a smoke screen to cover up that they think they’re protecting their selves from theft in a way that defies explanation.

On the issue of scripts, many products today depend on scripts to offer features that require one or two scripts in every prim. While being able to change shoe texture or size is neat and certainly adds to the value of a shoe, it detracts from the user experience immensely and in most cases people will not understand why they’re lagging or having trouble teleporting or any of the other issues that are directly caused by irresponsible designs. It is the responsibility of designers to make sure that their products not only look good and seem to function well, but also to ensure that their designs are scripted efficiently. It is not reasonable for a pair of shoes to require 10% of a sim’s cpu time to do nothing at all. It is not reasonable for a sim to suffer time dilation as a result of what people are wearing.

Some will say that customers request resizer scripts. It is tempting to say these people are idiots, and I’m sure many would, but the reality is these are just people who haven’t learned how to use SL yet. They don’t need resizer scripts; they need someone to explain to them how to resize things. They need a tutorial on the web. I’m sure they’re out there. If not, maybe instead of spending all that time adding resizer scripts to your merchandise, add a resizing tutorial to your web site, or make a notecard, or find one someone else has made and link to it.

Recently, though, someone mentioned to me how often customers request a resizer script if it isn’t included, my response was that if someone asked me for any feature that I knew I could include, but it would require so many scripts that it would cause sims to lock up for long periods, and make it difficult to teleport while using my product, my response would be “no.” It’s not the customer’s job to know about the limitations of SL. That is the designer’s job.

Mel Vanbeeck.

Now of course some things cannot be mod, things that form part of another item would be unfair to make mod, as it could then be used in a way to make a whole new one.

The thing is that times are changing, and if the threats of script limits comes into play, do you really want to tp one day and most of your items worn come off and you will not be able to wear ? also as a designer, everything that LL does change, you will be obliged to redo, to alter or replace. If your items were mod, in many cases you could arrange to send out a fix to all that have the items, and they could do so themselves, saving many hours or weeks of work.

Sculpties are the hardest things in the world to alter, as in change to get more out of it…if you are keeping your items no mod because you think that someone will make copies and recolour etc, then the best they will be able to do is tint, and that wont look good. If you want to make it difficult to alter your item, then look at ways you can do that.

* When making the texture for the base of a sculpted item attach your logo to the actual texture not just to a seperate prim, this will not only protect your items from an ugly tint, but it will in fact act as another security measure if copied.

* If you do not already know, you can take the sculptie map you make to photoshop and add an alpha layer over the top of it, it will look as though it is gone, but do not panic, the Second Life edit tools will bypass the alpha and read the map as intended. You can also do what many do and use alpha to imprint your logo into your map, so when looked at in edit, they do know who the original creator is.

* Be specific in the labeling of every item, not just the items you link, but even as far as naming each prim something other than object – again this will help with content theft and inspect – but if you also go as far as to name the item with the specific colour as many do, then if someone inspects to find out where a cute pair of shoes is from and they see it saying pink, and the shoes are blue, well they are then pre-warned they have been tinted.

With detailed texturing tinting is going to be even harder to get away with , but it is also going to be less likely to want to do.

I hope that everyone understands that this is something that needs to be addressed and soon, if the changes are implemented the whole grid will be effected, and with the lag already effecting us so badly, people are going to start buying from places that are known to care about such things. I have seen comments made in groups and outside of SL about not wearing items from particular stores because people cannot teleport in them, don’t ever let that become your store they talk about in such a way.