Developing Games in Second Life

Ciaran Laval comes up with interesting stuff and often unique perspectives. He has an article up about MadPea Games. His take is that since MadPea can develop games in Second Life others can too. True. That is proof positive. But, there are games and then there are GAMES.

Party Area?

Party Area? by Ciaran Laval, on Flickr

One support in the argument for Second Life as a game development platform is the new region Consignment. As you explore the region you’ll find the history of MadPea games. So, there is no doubt MadPea has been developing great games for some time and they are popular with SL users. But, are these the games gamers look for? 

If you did Blood Letters or you are doing Buried you’ll recognize the Consignment location as one of the regions in the hunts/games. These are what I think of as adventure games, somewhat Like Myst or Myst Online: Uru Live (the multiplayer follow-on to Myst).

These combination games and hunts are also a bit unique to Second Life. The financial model uses sponsors. In these games we find Second Life merchants are providing their shops as part of the game world. This allows a game maker to finance their existence in Second Life and pay for their time.

Unity and Unreal have both provided their engines to independent game developers for free, well free for practical development purposes. Once you are making big bucks (by SL standards) you are expected to pay a royalty or purchase the pro version.

To develop a game in Second Life usually requires some land. We can do much of the development work without having to have land. But, to get a game in play, someone has to have some land and that adds an immediate cost the game developer has to carry until the game begins to provide a payback.

Land in Second Life is not free. While it is debatable whether it is expensive for what we get or not, the cost of land is what a significant number of people are willing to pay. So, the free market has set the price.

Because of the cost, I find that most novice game developers will do much of the work in OpenSim. I can run however many regions my computer will host for essentially free.

So, with Unity, Unreal, and OpenSim providing, for practical purposes, free development platforms, is Second Life really a good deal? Is it competitive? For development I say no. 

Also, if you play in RP/Combat games in Second Life like NoR, you know all about lag. If you have played other multiplayer combat games you know there is no comparison on performance. For this reason many, including myself, think OpenSim and Second Life are better for prototyping and testing ideas. If they work, then move the game into Unity or Unreal and a wider audience.

Players

Games are funded by either the sale priceof the game, monthly fees, or advertising. If you have seen the TV ads for Game of War (primary sales tactic seems to center on a blonde’s bouncing boobs) and tried to play it or many of the other free apps like it, you probably felt you were drowning in advertising. I tried it and discarded the game after one attempt to play.

MadPea is using Second Life merchants and users to sponsor their design effort. In SL1 there is no way to reach the billions of people using Google and TV. This obstruction to pulling in players severally limits the workable financial models a game designer can use and the prospective return on their investment.

For a financial model like MadPea’s Second Life wins over OpenSim. It comes down to being able to capitalize on a designers effort and investment. OSGrid, back online now, seldom has 200 concurrent users and rarely 300 or more. Second Life has between 30k and 65k concurrent users through the day. Those turn over during the day, not the same people all day. According the Lab there are about a million+ unique users logging in per month. Presumably that puts a few hundred thousand users in SL per day.

In 2014 League of Legends had 64 million monthly players. That likely means millions of unique players per day. WoW (world of Warvraft), in 2012, had 12 million paying subscribers, which probably logged in each month and some significant portion daily. These are the types of numbers game developers want to see.

What did it cost the developers to get these millions of players? Well, hundreds of  millions of dollars. WoW, according to Kotaku in 2014, cost 200 million. But, they are earning great return on their investment. WoW earned over ONE BILLION US Dollars in 2013 with a 36% share of the gaming market, per SuperData Research. JoyStiq says WoW has dropped back to just under a billion in 2014.

With just Google AdWords one can earn about $1+/day with 500+ visitors/day, depending on click through rates.  That could earn League of Legends about $120k per day or $4 million per month. That is just from simple AdWords advertising.

But with, say, only 500K users per day seeing ads SL only offers developers the potential of about $30k/month from similar advertising. Not bad, but certainly not the platform to develop for.

To get into the big leagues a developer needs to reach large numbers of players/users. Second Life is far ahead of OpenSim. But, nowhere near the return offered by custom, Unity and Unreal games.

Physics

We know from what Oz Linden has said recently that we are unlikely to see the SL1 physics engine update any time soon.  But, past updates have not provided much help for the vehicle situation in Second Life. I think cars and other ground vehicles in Second Life suck. Boats and airplanes can do pretty well. There are some fun dogfight games in SL.

Building a tank game is a challenge in Second Life. Seems like it always has been. Doesn’t seem that it is ever going to get better.

Each time the physics engine updates it improves. But, with each update we have a bunch of Second Life bugs that have to be chased out. Sailors, pilots, car makers, and vehicle owners have to deal with those until they are fixed. Sometimes the vehicles have to be changed to work with a new physics engine. That is a big negative, but it is not unique to SL. Other platforms have this problem to a lesser or great extent.

The SL physics limits the type of game play one can design in SL.

The Future

Ebbe Linden, CEO of the Lab, has said they are primarily thinking of developers as they develop SL2, what I am calling the Next New Thing from the Lab, which must not be named, …Harry.

Will they get more people into SL2 than SL1? The Lindens certainly hope to. But, will they get the game into Google and a pathway for people to EASILY come into the game from Google? If they do, then SL2 could see explosive growth. Neither League of Legends nor WoW can do that. Facebook games can and I think most of them are horrible. But, they do get millions of players per day.

All those games, well most, have low learning curves, certainly the Facebook games. Will we have an easier learning curve? That is a double edged sword. For new players that would be a good thing, we think. But, for developers it would be a disaster, in my opinion. Developers ALWAYS want more creative freedom. That historically has meant a high learning curve. Think Blender and 3D Max/Maya. Can the Lab break that tradition? We have to wait to see what we get.

While SL1 is a good platform for some games, it cannot compete with Unity or Unreal. Will SL2 be able to complete? I doubt it will complete with Unity and Unreal. But, it could be WAY ahead of SL1.

Summary

There has been a lot of discussion about what has held Second Life back from mass acceptance. The things I have pointed out show why developers tend to avoid Second Life.

Drax Files shows the reasons and ways developers do use Second Life. It no doubt is a development platform.

But, there are development platforms and then there are DEVELOPMENT PLATFORMS. SL1 is a development platform. Will SL2 reach DEVELOPMENT PLATFORM status? Only time will tell.

5 thoughts on “Developing Games in Second Life

  1. Superb post. I chose to highlight MadPea for two reasons, one being the Game Developer Conference has been in progress this week and games are in the news and secondly, to highlight that games can be developed in Second Life.

    However, I’ve also posted about Unity & Unreal Engine going free and they are most definitely different beasts when it comes to game development, not least because the potential reach is far more vast than Second Life currently delivers.

    However, there is a market for gamification in Second Life, albeit a challenging one in terms of monetisation. I think it’s fair to point out there is a market, but I very much agree with you that it’s also fair to point out the challenges and realistic nature of game development within Second Life.

    • Your article well makes the point games can be made in SL. I hope the Lab can address some of the points I made with SL2.

      MadPea has found a unique way to pay for building games. I am looking forward to what they do with Experience Tools.

  2. Some games suit Secondlife more than others, and in differing situations. One other reason developers won’t come to SL to make games is because it does not follow the same rules as the established game engines. SL has its own set of rules you have to figure out, and I don’t just mean learning to rez a prim and place a script in it, I mean learning how the sims talk to the servers and keep everyone one on the same page. To work around SLs limitations you need to know those limitations inside out. Know what causes lag, learn what will happen if 100 people arrive at a location. And in the end it’s a closed platform. I can’t imagine any games developers looking at SL for first time and thinking, that’s a great aging platform to make games for. The only ones who’ll make games for SL are likely those who understand SL and its Users, great if they happen to be game devs too :-).

    • Good points… A new developer for SL does have some challenges. Ebbe’s thinking of developers’ needs as they build SL2 will probably have some interesting results.

Leave a Reply to Nalates Urriah Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.