Interview: Rod Humble On Second Life

By John Walker on February 10th, 2011 at 11:31 am.

I can't see a single penis!

Just before Christmas it was announced that EA’s Man In Charge Of The Sims, Rod Humble, had upped sticks and moved to the peculiar worlds of Second Life. Fascinated by this decision, we tracked him down to a tower made out of penises, sat on a throne of eyeballs that sing copyrighted Disney tunes, and asked him some questions. (Please note, while Rod Humble does live in a tower made of penises and sits on a throne of eyeballs that sing copyrighted Disney tunes, this is in no way reflective of his activities within the world of Second Life, nor his work at Linden Labs.) He tells us about why he made the move, ways to get around the perceived inaccessibility of Second Life, and the plans to roll out new tech that will make the world look “dramatically different”.

RPS: So, well, cor. You’re no longer Mr Sims. You’re Mr Second Life! That took everyone by surprise. What was the reason for the change?

Rod Humble: I had a blast at EA, I had been there 6 ½ years which is the longest I have worked anywhere. It was just time for a change for me. EA is a great company and I am very pleased to see my old colleagues doing so well.

RPS: No, don’t say how lovely it all was. Is EA currently a place where innovators and ideas people can move freely?

Rod Humble: [laughs] You know me too well, It really WAS all lovely. The team at EA is committed to quality and innovation, I think that shows in the great products they put out, I mean …they also put up with me making art games all these years!

RPS: It must be quite a striking change of atmosphere, from the pixelated innocence of family-friendly Sims, to the world of giant cocks and floating torture chambers. How are you finding the transition?

Rod Humble: When you get an open-ended creativity tool like Second Life, then its content mirrors the Internet’s content themes, it covers what people are interested in. So yeah you get all sorts of themes including subjects that have always been popular with humans… What has surprised me is the diversity of themes, I saw a fashion show, did a tour of various gardens, went to a sci-fi convention all within Second Life. That was really cool. So some things are different than my previous job but some things are very familiar, the high demand of hair styles for example is common to almost any avatar system I have seen.

RPS: Do you think Second Life can be understood as a videogame? If not, what is it? A country?

Rod Humble: Excellent question. I cannot even define what a game is for you, let alone a video game (neither could Wittgenstein so I don’t feel too bad).

What makes Second Life so intriguing to me is its hard to define nature. I have heard people call it a virtual world, a game, the 3d internet, a social media platform.. the list goes on. I like that kind of unresolved ambiguity, I think it shows something that is not yet fully evolved and has exciting new roads to discover. Right now we have a new world that is literally made from the ground up by our customers. Every creation adds to whatever it is Second Life is, its only when you take a step back you can start to get the shape of it. The more tools and better service you give customers the more interesting it all becomes.

RPS: I think an outsider’s perspective of Second Life is of a rather inaccessible community, rife with furries and 4Chan raining down wangs on everyone’s heads. Are we right?

Rod Humble: I think its fair to say it is rather inaccessible, certainly the UI and first user experience is tailored more for old hands and is still difficult for new users to figure out and then finding things is harder than it should be. When it comes to the content I love our diverse residents –whether they’re humans, furries, robots, tinies, or whatever they choose to be. I would note that because we are an open-ended creativity tool where you can make a house, a chair, an island, a creature, an outfit AND be able to program their behavior we get a vast swathe of content. If you let the human imagination loose then you get all sorts of things, just like the Internet.

RPS: With user hours having declined over the last year, what do you hope to bring to revive that digital world? What are your ambitions in your new position?

Rod Humble: I am have just joined so I do not want to lay out particular project vision things until going a bit deeper throughout the whole company. But the basics like ease-of-use, good service and performance are constants that we will work on immediately. More broadly though I want more people to use Second Life and experience its wonders. My dream would be that in the future most people would have a Second Life avatar and house and would use them on a daily basis for all sorts of things, meeting with other folks, playing games, attending events, the whole range.

RPS: We’ve heard rumours that Second Life will be relaunching with new tech soon. Any truth to that? And can it be updated, or are things now so entangled the only direction for a fresh look is a complete restart?

Rod Humble: It is not a relaunch, but we are working on a new capability for Second Life. There is a project in beta (not so sexily entitled “mesh import”) which will be a large leap forward graphically, and it also improves performance. We will be rolling it out this year. The world looks dramatically different with that content.

RPS: Do you think the project has a future with a subscription model, on an increasingly free-to-play internet?

Rod Humble: I feel like Darren Bent in front of an open goal…*

We are free to play!! I would invite anyone to setup a free account and once in world search for “sandbox” , go there and start making things! Or pick one of the locations in the guide and start meeting folks. All that is free, plus (literally) millions of items are free within Second Life which you can go get and use. I went to the mainland and got a free motorbike then went on a road trip across the whole thing. It took me hours and hours finding all sorts of crazy stuff.

If you like it then you can subscribe and get your own house and Linden dollars to spend! Or if you prefer just buy some single items on a case by case basis with no monthly fee at all.

*my apologies, I am an Aston Villa fan.

RPS: Is that some sort of stately home? If the business is to crank up profits, are you willing to upset a few of the dedicated to make the game more accessible to outsiders?

Rod Humble: I think our current customers would love to see more folks come in, people and their creations are what makes Second Life interesting. The fact that many of them run businesses that generate real income adds to that. I don’t think it would be an issue assuming we don’t break anything as we do it.

RPS: Or can the core idea be increased? Are there any plans for an Entropia-style licensing of unique worlds as SL spin-offs?

Rod Humble: I think the core idea can be increased, and hopefully we can talk about that in the months ahead. Right now I wouldn’t rule out any partnership or ideas along those lines.

RPS: Finally, what’s the scariest thing you’ve seen in the game so far?

Rod Humble: I was walking around the mainland when I entered someone’s lot, I froze stock still… I heard MY voice talking coming out of another room… That freaked me out. What happened is someone had linked to one of my E3 talks and were streaming it through YouTube through their TV. It had just been announced I was joining so I guess they had thrown it up there for folks to see.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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40 Comments »

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  1. checkers says:

    Can’t believe you didn’t perform this interview walking around the pointless landscape of second life, like all the interviews back when it was new & exciting.

    I can’t understand why Rod Humble moved to Linden. There’s no clues in his answers. What does he see in 2L that nobody else does? Sure, it’s got some common threads with the Sims, but it’s a dying fad.

  2. Wulf says:

    Sigh. John.

    The vast majority of furries haven’t done anything to anyone, and are quite welcoming to new people. (Just like the vast majority of any culture or subculture is harmless, and are quite welcoming to everyone.) There are one or two oddballs where I hang out in Makazi in Second Life, but the vast majority of them are really nice people.

    It’s interesting that I can equate ‘really nice people’ to furries, but I generally fail to equate ‘really nice people’ to most other groups of people I’ve met. The whole furry issue just comes down to the very most base kind of xenophobia at the end of the day, and it’s hard to convince the world that Britain isn’t the hotbed of xenophobia that the world believes it is when we have statements like these to deal with.

    Yes. It’s true that /b/ types can make things inaccessible, because they’re just as xenophobic as anyone else. It’s almost like a community made up entirely of Rush Limbaugh clones at times. They do troll. They have trolled. And they tend to create problems in Second Life. That’s been my experiences with them, so not very good then. But my experiences with furries has been amazing. They’re good people.

    Yet they get banded in with 4chan why?

    Because they’re different?

    People can be different. What’s next? Discriminating against people of a different colour of skin? Oh, wait…

    Point is is that that’s kind of like banding people of an ethnicity that isn’t yours in with Nazi Germany. An extreme example, yes, but sometimes extreme examples are necessary to drive a point home.

    Not cool, John. Not cool at all.

    This is precisely the sort of thing I hate having to deal with. I keep expecting better of people, and I keep getting disappointed.

    (And on an unrelated note – a therian friend of mine working with furries to code things in Second Life, working with vectors and such, actually learned so much about vectors that he used this in his code for engineering college projects and actually managed to freak out his professor with the knowledge he’d gained.)

    • bill says:

      what’s a furrie?

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      Kirrus says:

      I wouldn’t have said John was saying anything about furries in this post, merely that for bog-standard people, it’s kind-of a surprise to see a human-cat walking past. Not that there is *anything* wrong with furries. 4chan do rain things on people’s heads, so it’s a reasonable question, IMHO.

    • John Walker says:

      I’m sure those who are furries are a mixture of perfectly lovely, deeply abhorrent, and everything in between. Because they’re people.

    • Shiny says:

      It’s mostly the overtones of bestiality and other imitations of non-human behavior that are off-putting.

      And in general I don’t feel comfortable around people who identify more with their fantasy persona than their real one, whether it’s furries, WoW addicts, or whatever.

    • Greg Wild says:

      Each to their own and all. But I just can’t take Furries seriously. They crack me up.

      I think to my dislike for Narnia – anthropomorphicism is just a little odd in my mind. And quite, quite funny.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      It’s this kind of total overreaction that makes people dislike furries.

      You know the thing about furries that most people (the vast majority that aren’t crazy or trolls) hate? It’s not the fact that they like cartoon animal porn, or that they dress in suits about as weird as what your average baseball mascot wears. It’s also not the fact that they’re pretending they’re not human. The Internet is full of people who think 2girls1cup is deeply erotic and who masturbate to quadruple-amputee porn and use a smattering of transhumanism to fetishise household appliances, by whose standards finding Krystal from StarFox Adventures hot is perfectly normal.

      It’s the fact that they believe they’re somehow being persecuted because a few people on the Internet have taken to calling them names, and consequently spend their time making analogies like this:

      Point is is that that’s kind of like banding people of an ethnicity that isn’t yours in with Nazi Germany.

      It’s doubly funny because the reason furries are mentioned in the same breath as *channers is because both of those are insular communities, something you’ve just illustrated by calling John a Nazi and complaining that you’re being discriminated against on a daily basis.

      They get banded in with 4chan because both groups’ exclusivity make Second Life “a rather inaccessible community” – something you just demonstrated by claiming the non-furries are out to get the furries. No one cares enough about what kind of porn you like or what your (non-harmful-to-other-human-beings) hobbies are to dislike you, let alone persecute you, unless they’re trolling (4chan) or mentally unstable.

    • Gassalasca says:

      “Just like the vast majority of any culture or subculture is harmless, and are quite welcoming to everyone.”

      Harmless, yes. But quite welcoming to everyone?! Really? On what Jesus-Buddha planet did you grow up, Wulf? Screw mankind, I wanna go there.

    • MikoSquiz says:

      There’s a visibility issue here. You only see the ones that complain. I just went with ‘oh, whatever’ and ignored the issue (that is, being lumped in with 4chan trollery), but since that’s not visible to you it’s not a data point in ‘furry behaviour I have witnessed’. And the only way to make it a data point is to pipe up, which is going to sound like “wah, fursecution” to some degree. Bit of a no-win.

    • Quine says:

      Furries are fine, it’s people who lack concision that need to be burned at the stake.

    • Kollega says:

      I have to second what MikoSquiz said. Of course i was a bit upset with furries getting put in the same cathegory with 4chan dwellers, but didn’t want to say anything because i’ve thought that i’m just going to get blamed for “getting worked up over nothing”… which, this being the Internet, would probably be true. So the only ones who complain are likely upset enough to do so in a not-very-polite fashion, and it does indeed turn into a no-win situation. Oh well.

    • Nick says:

      this persecution complex is getting tiresome.

    • Tim Smith says:

      @Nick
      “this persecution complex is getting tiresome.”
      I’m not sure it is entirely a complex. I see a lot of furrie-hate around.

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      Nogo says:

      Wulf, if you’re going to espouse open-minded acceptance please refrain from making every other sentence a veiled put-down.

    • Lowbrow says:

      There’s a difference between being looked down upon and being persecuted. I think the whole furry thing is ridiculous and sad, but I think the same of hardcore Trekkies. I’ve never heard of anyone trying to stamp either group out, unless perhaps you count belligerent high school bullies.

      I don’t like it when the internet people spout nonsense about Marines deserving to die for taking part in Iraq/Afghanistan, but I don’t think some internet bullshitting is going to have veterans hunted in the streets.

    • Vandell says:

      As one furry to another, Wulf, you are what’s wrong with the fandom.

      Being a furry is a peculiar, fringe, and eclectic HOBBY. You make it seem like I think of myself as a separate species, or that all furries give two shits about the fandoms public image.

      I can say with certainty that the majority of us don’t care at all, and wish furfags like you would just shut your gobs. You come across as whiny, elitist, and petulant in your dumb and hastily concocted tyrade, when the rest of us just want to keep to ourselves.

    • the_fanciest_of_pants says:

      Seriously Wulf?

      Don’t act like furries deserve some sort of civil rights movement. I’m a big sci-fi and fantasy nerd, but you don’t see me going all self righteous when someone doesn’t get or like what I do.

      John makes a passing (and undeniably tame) comment about furries and their penchant for creating stuff that most of the planet would consider odd (to put it nicely) and you act like it’s the internet gestapo spouting hate-speech.

      That said; wow! a furry with an over-active persecution complex?! Wonders abound!

    • Xirex says:

      I would just like to add, as a furry, I took no offense to John simply mentioning the fact that furries exist in Second Life. Any time somebody mentions furries, there always seems to be THAT ONE GUY who has to fly off the handle and make a big fuss over nothing. Your knee jerk reaction is embarrassingly typical and a detriment to the fandom.

      Honestly, I was sort of looking forward to some discussion about furries and all of the other weird sub cultures that inhabit Second Life. How do you maintain a world in which every flavour of humanity interacts with each other with so freely? Imagine trying to play a game like Medal of Duty or Call of Honour where a pink fox is on the same team as a racist conservative? In america, where sex is worse than violence, whats it like working on a game where people can express their sexuality so freely? And how the hell do you even market a game that features people running around with their dicks out?

    • Pwninat0r2000 says:

      haha wulf is a faggot AND a furry? so much fail combined into one person. amazing.

  3. faelnor says:

    The “the high demand of hair styles” clause pretty much sums the whole interview, Second Life and the Sims. Maybe facebook too. I’m going to use this more often.

  4. chakraist says:

    Interestingly this chap mentions Wittgenstein in the interview- I learned about language games and some other Wittgensteinian concepts at Uni via Second Life. So there you go.

  5. Artist says:

    Hilarious that this Second Life crap is still not scrapped. So Linden still tries to squeeze money out of that rubbish. Wonder when their next sublimed marketing campaign rolls over my country.
    Last time I was working on a study about WoW-players and suddenly folks asked me: “WoW? Is that something like Second Life…?” Yeah, PR and monkeys simply rock….

  6. Artist says:

    “The fact that many of them run businesses that generate real income adds to that.”

    Muhaha, the biggest myth of Second Life – join, and you can make real money! What a bend reality! Fact is most folks rather pay money in SL not make money. But hey, we all have heard the success stories about players who got filthy rich in SL, right? Havent you….??
    So that Humble-guy already bought in to the lies of Linden Labs…

    • ukpanik says:

      “Fact is most folks rather pay money in SL not make money”

      Well if “most folks” are paying money in, other “folks” will “make money”….the content creators.

    • Nesetalis says:

      actually i make a few hundred USD a month through secondlife.. so…. :P it just actually takes some talent and patience… which it seems most idiots on the web lack.

    • AsamiImako says:

      Hi there. I make about $60 USD a month through SecondLife.
      Just because you may have thought it was too hard doesn’t mean the rest of us are liars.

      Some of the oldest land barons pull in $1 Million USD a year.
      You just have to find the right business to thrive.

    • Nick says:

      Yeah, I know a few people who make a fair bit, it can be difficult sometimes with SL equivelent of pirates duping items and whatnot, but doable. Does take constant effort to keep making new stuff though.

    • Gabe McGrath says:

      To the RPS people ‘making X$ a month’… what do you do/sell?

      (I visited SL briefly about 5(?) years ago, haven’t been back since.)

  7. MadMatty says:

    Hmm sounds like i´ll have a look. The concept is interesting, although i´ve yet to see it implemented well, to date.
    Preferably it would be like a giant museum/theme park open to the users to post their art…. though i prefer gamier ordeals, with set goals, usually, and i DON´T need another virtual social network.
    Probably Great if your legs are paralyzed.

  8. Groove says:

    What Shiny said, 100%

  9. Flappybat says:

    Rod has a lot of issues to tackle.

    First image problems, it was a media darling a couple of years ago but that fell over dead. Now everyone thinks it’s a den of perverts and weirdos. Their current advertising tries to make it look chic but they don’t advertise strongly, especially compared to IMVU.

    Second accessibility. The new client isn’t much easier to use and SL doesn’t explain itself well to new users (are built in tutorial videos just too high tech?). The website is a mess of a hundred different sections.

    Third graphics. SL normally looks bad but also runs bad with the inefficient way content is made that encourages lots of large textures and more polygons than is needed. Implementation of mesh will eventually fix this but they are taking their sweet time to get there (it’s been in beta for a year and a half) and it will take years for content to get replaced. By the time this comes out games will be using real time radiosity (Battlefield 3) but SL won’t even be up to using normal maps.

    Fourth awful content creation pipeline. Mesh import will be a huge help but you can’t use shaders, have a custom skeleton, set custom pivot or origin points etc… If you want to make clothing for avatars you have to deal with the really bad vertex distribution on the avatar, seams and stretching of the UV in areas. If you want to make animations then you have to deal with everyone having different skeleton shapes from an excessive number of avatar shape options so the animation bones overshoot or undershoot positions, forget having two avatars high five, hold hands or hug, even sitting results in hovering or sinking through the chair.

    Fifth a lack of interaction with the world. I’ll give them that you can do a lot more than other virtual worlds but you’re still constrained a lot. The engine doesn’t deal well with anything more complex than casino games. Vehicles are a bad joke.

    When World Of Darkness comes out SL is going to look seriously out of date. You can’t compare to it for user customisation but it’s only getting clunkier with age.

  10. Reapy says:

    I still feel like SL is wasted potential. I had a lot of fun exploring second life a while ago and made some good friend to chat with there. If you look around more you can find some really interesting stuff amidst the crap. One of the most memorable things I found was a recreation of a 4D cube that you could walk around in. One avatar would sit at a location, then go first person, while another would have the cube sync to them. The person with whom the cube was synced to could walk around the cube, which would reform itself as the person walked to maintain the 4d aspect of it. To the person sitting, you would see your friend randomly walk through your cube on the ceiling upside down or sideways, it was super trippy, but very cool.

    But anyway, it is really like browsing geocities back in the early days of the web, the content is all over the place, with no easy way to find the good stuff. Also, the tech is really limiting. While there are some really cool ideas in there, nothing ever works right. The game is too laggy to really enjoy the idea that you can use vehicle physics and put a car or plane together. Most of the time scripts can just plain fail in execution due to lag or a simulator being overworked.

    SL also suffers from the problem of seeing the same thing everywhere. While there is a nice amount of variety, at the end of the day there are just a few creators churning out content that actually looks good, so when browsing avatars you basically see the same hair, cloths, and animations everyone else has, it becomes increasingly more difficult to create something unique for yourself. I guess it’s the ken/barbie problem of snow crash in essense.

    Well, anyway, I still think SL has the potential to be something. The idea of having a sort of open 3d world for people to build/create things is obvious, we do it in game engines all the time as mods, its just nobody has been able to take it out to the masses yet.

  11. Steveke Wulluf says:

    I would not diminish the significance of Humble’s characterization of SL as “an open-ended creativity tool” in which you can program behavior, and, I would add, work interactively with all manner of other creative people. As in RL, the Challenge is wading through the pointless muck and finding the creative and interesting people and places.

    • DigitalSignalX says:

      I used to be very active in There.Com – the “father” of secondlife – they had a superb content submission device that allowed users to submit models and meshes within prescribed limits based on a multitude of pre-fabricated patterns. So for example, they would have a default chair model that if you modify it to whatever extreme you wanted, was guaranteed submission and approval regardless of it’s nature as long as you stayed within the software limits of the chair. Same with default models for sculptures, vehicles, lamps and thousands of basic objects you can modify.

      What made this superb was not only did it allow users to easily integrate their own content into the “world” but it also provided a popularity and quality recognizing systems that would make superior designs more widely available for other users to enjoy, while more primitive (and often puerile) objects would only ever see the light of day by its creator.

  12. Kean Kelly says:

    It’s not the temperature of your graphic card, but the depth of the game/platform/whatever, that makes it interesting. Just look at Minecraft/Dwarf fortress.

    • zeekthegeek says:

      Dwarf Fortress is known to melt CPUs. Minecraft has had serious FPS issues for ages :P Bad examples – they’re low-res but not easy on the system at all.

    • Kean Kelly says:

      ok – never heard of probs like that with minecraft :D

  13. hdiandrew says:

    Known Rod since the early 90s when he was at Gametek (anyone remember that company?). The quality of the work he for which he has been responsible throughout his career (with a few exceptions) makes me interested in SL for the first time in years. There are certain people whose projects I will try out just because he or she worked on them, and he is one.