Ghost avatars

One of the major limitations of Second Life is the maximum number of avatars that can access the same sim at the same time. For class 5 sims this number is about 100, in theory, but when there are more than 60 avatars in the same island you can experiment severe problems of lag, especially if those avatars have several attachments with running scripts. This restriction is not a problem if you consider Second Life just a place to meet people, face to face or in a small group, but if you are planning to organize an event, a conference, an expo, a live performance as a show or a concert, few dozens of avatars are not an exciting audience.

Nowadays we are used to think to Internet as a simple and cheap channel to reach millions of people in one shot. A podcast, an article posted to a blog, a debate in a forum, or just some content published in a site can easily have thousands of readers and/or participants even if you are not famous at all. If your blog or even you are famous too, a million guests audience is not science fiction.

But what about Second Life? Even if your performance is at the crossing of four sims, a three hundred people audience is a success and you risk not to perform at all because of lag. Of course there is a very good reason for such a limitation. Second Life is a very complicated environment where each avatar and each object can interact in an unpredictable way with any other avatar and object. So, the more the avatars are, the more the possible interactions are. As a consequence, more capacity is needed. Of course Linden Lab could increase the maximum number of avatars per sim by improving its hardware, improving its architecture, improving its software, but it would not be realistic to expect an improvement of an order of magnitude with respect the current situation for the number of avatars allowed in the same sim.

So what? Well, let us consider a performance, for example a show. Most of the interactions is among actors, or between the actors and the director. Of course we expect applause from the audience and comments too, possibly during the interval, but it is really necessary to physically have all the avatars in the same sim?

Well, an avatar is already a virtual representation of an individual, but if we think to Second Life as a real world, we could introduce the concept of a virtual avatar too. Let us call it ghost avatars and refer to that entity by «it». A ghost avatar is simply a spectator, an onlooker, someone who cannot really interact with the other avatars in the sim, and therefore an entity that does not steel capacity, nor contributes to the lag. Of course it cannot goes everywhere without no rule or limitations. It should have the same limitations of the avatar it represents. So, if the corresponding avatar cannot access a land, it cannot access the land too; if the avatar cannot fly, it cannot fly too. In addition it cannot touch or edit object, create prims, interact in any way with any other avatar or object in a sim. It cannot even chat, but of course it can use some remote communication mechanism, as the instant message, exactly like any other avatar in any other sim.

Of course, since it is mostly invisible, it does not represent an obstacle to else’s sight. I said «mostly» because someone – for example, the sim’s owner – might prefer to be aware of how many ghosts are in the sim. Therefore, some way to identify a ghost avatar is recommended. For example, we could use a small globular light with the name above. If that placeholder is annoying, it should be possible to use a rendering option to remove it too, of course from client side. It will be up to the user to decide if it should be possible to see ghosts!

So, what a ghost avatar can do? What it is good for? Well, it can observe, of course; at least whatever can be observed by the corresponding avatar, and it can move inside the land with the same limitations it would have if it would be present in the sim as a real avatar. By using ghost avatars we could have in a sim, for example, a band of eight musicians and two singers, a small audience of VIP avatars, and thousands ghost avatars who could see the show causing no sim overload.

By allowing ghost avatars to access a sim, it stands to reason that we can organize a show or any other kind of event involving thousands of people. Therefore Second Life would become a much more interesting channel to perform for an artist. The same is true for a company, a writer, an association or even a government agency. A larger audience is surely a good way to revitalize Second Life that in the last few months experienced a shading of the number of premium accounts, a better indicator than the number of registered users to measure the real interest for that virtual world.

Commenti (1) a «Ghost avatars»

  1. utente anonimo ha detto:

    Your idea for Ghost Avatars is quite interesting. I’ve posted an article “Failure to Admit” about admission control for land parcels and suggested a few ideas which could be combined with yours to support predictable user experiences at large meetings or performances.

    — Peter

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