Jim Purbrick: Second Life and user-generated content

User-generated content is set to become a big issue in games, and virtual world Second Life has hinted at what's possible. Linden Labs' Jim Purbrick exposed some of its secrets at Develop.

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While it's not technically a game, Second Life has a lot to teach the industry about user-generated content in persistent worlds, according to a lecture from Linden Labs' Dr. Jim Purbrick. Dr. Purbrick claimed that users were 30 times more likely to create something for Second Life than they would be in The Sims.

Purbrick, who works on scripting and networking technology for Linden Labs Brighton, quoted figures that suggested that on the whole, users are reluctant to create content online, even on many of the so-called Web 2.0 sites, such as YouTube, that are centered on content made by users. Typically only 5% of those online will choose to create something, only 5% of eBay users will ever sell something, and less than 0.1% of players will modify a first-person shooter. Second Life has managed to buck this trend, with 60% of its users choosing to build something in the world using the tools provided.

While this was partly put down to the financial incentives of creating and selling content in Second Life (one person managed to become a millionaire in the US, and around 150 people earn enough to make a living from purely in-game activities), Purbrick extolled the benefits of this creative force to the attendees. Of the 400,000 man-hours logged in Second Life each day, around 25% are spent creating items for the game world. Purbrick claimed this was equivalent, mathematically, to having an 18,500-strong development team working on the project. This has meant that the game world has stretched to 10,000 regions and six-and-a-half times the size of Manhattan, which is especially good for the developer, given that Linden Labs makes money from selling land.

Talking about how other developers can transfer these ideas to their own projects, Purbrick claims that the most important part of the equation is a low barrier to creation. Rather than being a separate component, the creation tools need to be available in the gameworld itself to offer instant gratification. Other key facets include collaborative creation to let people build things as a group, but also limits to what can be done because people will always try to bring down the system. Purbrick claims that Second Life follows similar social patterns as real life, and for this reason he feels the culture of teaching exists within Second Life, with experienced inhabitants often helping novice creatives add more to the world.

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