Beginners’ Guide to Second Life®

Update: the 3rd edition of this Guide is now available for free as an ePub.

Get it on Google Play

Here the text for the 2nd edition:

Welcome to Second Life!

Welcome to Second Life! For all of you just starting, I hope you have lots of fun in this virtual world!

My name is Gwyneth Llewelyn, and I’m a Mentor. This is a group of users — almost 1600 by now — who help newcomers to get started. You’ll see them mostly at the Welcome Area — like on the Ahern complex, Waterhead or Plum, where most of you probably entered this world after leaving the Orientation or Help Island, or on one of the “public sandboxes”: Morris, Cordova, Goguen, Newcomb, Sandbox Island, etc. — places where everybody may freely build (but not sell items!). You can always ask Mentors for help, they are here for that!

If your questions are very technical – mostly connected to objects or a bad/slow connection — you should get in touch with Live Help, an option you have on the Help menu on the top gray bar. They are also users, volunteering their time to answer your questions online. Finally, you may also find Liaisons. These are employees of Linden Lab, the company that runs this virtual world. You’ll notice that all of them have the “Linden” family name. Lindens may sometimes be very busy answering questions to other players, so be patient if they don’t reply immediatly! Think of them as the inworld technical support staff of Second Life. They also have special tools not available to users to fix the most complex problems.

How do you “talk” to these helpers? If there are few people around, just chatting on the Chat box at the bottom of the screen is ok. You can call them by name to make sure that they understand they’re being addressed, for instance, say “Gwyn, can you help me with this?”. Remember to press the History button (to the left of the input box) to scroll up to view past conversations — it’s a very useful feature!

If there is a crowd around, you may prefer to use Instant Messaging, or IM for short. Simply right-click on the person you wish to talk and select IM. IM is like a secure mobile phone — it works across the world and is completely private, no one will listen to your IM conversation, and you can talk to as many people as you like. You can even send IMs to people offline — either the messages will be stored for them until they log in, or they can be forwarded to an email, if you select that option from Preferences.

How do you IM a person who is not online? Well, the easiest way is to trade calling cards with him/her. Right-click on the person and select More >> and then Give Card. The other person needs to accept the card (most will), and afterwards you always will know if he/she is online or offline. Their cards will show up on your Inventory (more on that later): white if they’re online, grey if they’re offline. Simply right-clicking on the card will allow you to open up their Profiles, and from there you’ll be able to send them an IM.

Two users can also become Friends of each other. Right-click on the avatar of the other person and select Add Friend. Both have to accept, and from now one, they will show to each other on the IM list. Just click on the IM button to get a list of all the friends you have, and to see who is online at that moment. Then you can IM them directly from here, even if they are elsewhere in the world! You can even get this list from Second Life’s web site, on the Friends menu. Friends can also be tracked on the Map, so some people will prefer to simply trade cards.

Some “slang” and what it means

Most of you have probably some experience with online chatting, so you’ll see everybody using “lol” for Laughing Out Loud or “rofl” for Rolling On Floor Laughing. “ty” for Thank You, “yvw” for You’re Very Welcome, and “brb” for Be Right Back are also very popular, as well as all the usual smileys. The cool thing about SL (Second Life) is that you can animate your avatar when saying those things! You use Gestures for this. Select that option from the Edit menu (or right-click on yourself), and you’ll see that you can bind animations and sounds to “triggers”, special keywords that will start the gesture. Most players will have a trigger for “lol” animating their avatars with a belly laugh, or really smile when they type 🙂

Other acronyms are unique, like SL for Second Life (also referred as in-world), RL for your Real Life, and LL for the company Linden Lab. We call LL’s employees collectively “The Lindens”.

Your persona in SL is the avatar, which is usually abbreviated to AV or “avie”. You, the user, are referred as “a resident”.

SL is run on around thousand computers, colectively called “the grid”. Each computer runs a bit of the world, which is known as a “region” – the region name is shown in the top bar. The computer running a region is called a “sim”, short for “simulator”. Most servers on the grid are pretty powerful, so they usually run several “sims” at the same time. There currently are about three thousand sims overall.

Each sim handles a region of 256×256 meters and about 15.000 objects which can be built from several types of primitives (cubes, spheres, cylinders, etc.), called “prims” for short. Also, one sim can handle about 50 avatars at the same time.

“Lag” can be caused by many things. The major reasons for lag are usually related to some sort of network problems. Second Life’s servers are currently located somewhere in California, US, and the furthest you are from there, the longer all data has to travel across the world, crossing several “Internet hubs”. It’s often very hard to understand what is going wrong when the connections are not working as well as they should

But it also happens when too many avatars are in the same place, or too many objects are being displayed at the same time, or even some faulty servers. The latter is usually fixed quickly by the technical staff at Linden Lab. However, many people also wonder why Second Life is usually slower than online games. Unlike those, Second Life is a fully dynamic environment where everything can be changed by the residents — nothing is ever stored locally on your computer (except for a disk cache of recently seen objects/textures). This means that a different technology has to be used to bring the dynamic world to your computer — live streaming. It’s quite different from other technologies, and while Second Life aims to provide you with an average of 15 frames per second, sometimes your computer simply cannot keep up with that with all the objects being downloaded to you (textures come heavilly compressed over the stream, and your CPU will have to work hard to decompress them and send them to your video card as quickly as possible). As a rule of thumb, a very dynamic location will usually need a constant stream of around 100 Kbps, but this can spike for a short while when you have just entered a new region and need to download everything that your avatar sees.

The easiest way to move around regions is by teleporting. You can click on the Map button, select a point at random in the map, and you will be teleported to the nearest point possible — sometimes needing to fly, drive or walk the rest of the way. But if you wish, you can be teleported (“tp”) by a friend directly where he/she is.

Abiding by the ToS

Please take some time reading the Terms of Service (“ToS” for short). Unlike some sites or programs where you can safely press Enter and forget about it, here the residents live by the ToS and it is actively enforced by them — you can report abuse by someone or something violating ToS, and this can lead to suspension or even expulsion from Second Life — or even a lawsuit against you. We live in a virtual world where everybody can do what he/she wants, except violating ToS. The first thing to notice is if you are in PG or Mature land (you can look to the top of the screen to view in which area the current sim is). PG is much more restrictive – no violence, no sex, no offensive language, no running around naked or with “revealing” clothes (or even changing clothes!). If you think this is too restrictive, stick to mature regions and events.

At the very least, you should read the Community Standards. Since they’re so important, we’ll copy them here:

Intolerance

Combating intolerance is a cornerstone of Second Life’s Community Standards. Actions that marginalize, belittle, or defame individuals or groups inhibit the satisfying exchange of ideas and diminish the Second Life community as whole. The use of derogatory or demeaning language or images in reference to another Resident’s race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation is never allowed in Second Life.

Harassment

Given the myriad capabilities of Second Life, harassment can take many forms. Communicating or behaving in a manner which is offensively coarse, intimidating or threatening, constitutes unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors, or is otherwise likely to cause annoyance or alarm is Harassment.

Assault

Most areas in Second Life are identified as Safe. Assault in Second Life means: shooting, pushing, or shoving another Resident in a Safe Area (see Global Standards below); creating or using scripted objects which singularly or persistently target another Resident in a manner which prevents their enjoyment of Second Life.

Disclosure

Residents are entitled to a reasonable level of privacy with regard to their Second Lives. Sharing personal information about a fellow Resident — including gender, religion, age, marital status, race, sexual preference, and real-world location beyond what is provided by the Resident in the First Life page of their Resident profile is a violation of that Resident’s privacy. Remotely monitoring conversations, posting conversation logs, or sharing conversation logs without consent are all prohibited in Second Life and on the Second Life Forums.

Indecency

Second Life is an adult community, but Mature material is not necessarily appropriate in all areas (see Global Standards below). Content, communication, or behavior which involves intense language or expletives, nudity or sexual content, the depiction of sex or violence, or anything else broadly offensive must be contained within private land in areas rated Mature (M). Names of Residents, objects, places and groups are broadly viewable in Second Life directories and on the Second Life website, and must adhere to PG guidelines.

Disturbing the Peace

Every Resident has a right to live their Second Life. Disrupting scheduled events, repeated transmission of undesired advertising content, the use of repetitive sounds, following or self-spawning items, or other objects that intentionally slow server performance or inhibit another Resident’s ability to enjoy Second Life are examples of Disturbing the Peace.

Money

SL has its own economy, and it’s sometimes hard to follow, so if you are interested, there are residents offering classes on economy. To summarize it, there is an inworld currency, the Linden Dollar (L$), and you can use it to buy objects, land, clothes and services. Uploading stuff (images, animations, sounds) also costs L$, as well as rating other residents.

Thanks to several market exchanges like the LindeX, among others, you can convert US$ into L$ and vice-versa. LindeX works like a real life money exchange, where people trade on the floor placing buy or sell orders for US$ or L$, currently as an exchange rate of around US$3 for L$1000. Money is not “created” that way — it only changes hands!

So, how do you get money? Besides a limited amount that you get when joining (nothing for a Basic account, L$1000 for a Premium), Linden Lab will also pay you a “weekly stipend” every Tuesday. Imagine it like a “social payment” which will allow you to do some basic spending without working 🙂 Premium accounts recieve L$400/week.

If that’s not enough income for you — and believe me, making a living from gaming at casinos or betting on horse races is not a good idea! – you need a job.

Land

Second Life has a very complex economy, but also a very stable one, and if you are interested in reading about it, you can consult the economy section of the SL site.

Briefly, there are some scarce resources in Second Life, and competition for those resources is what makes the economy flourish. One resource is CPU Power. CPU Power is what you need for each machine to run a sim and send objects and textures to you. The more objects there are, the more CPU power the machine will need (as well as more bandwidth, of course). Since CPU power is available at a fixed amount, it makes sense to “compete” for that resource.

Second Life has an “abstraction” concept for CPU power: land. Land is not just “space to build things”, but the important thing about it is how many prims you can build on land. Currently, for each 512 square metres (m2) of land, you can have 117 prims on it. So when you buy land, besides real estate, you’re getting an “allowance” on how much burden you can put on the machine that runs the sim. Since this is tied with “real world” economics — you’re renting part of a machine’s CPU, hard disk space, and bandwidth allowance – Linden Lab will charge you extra per month beyond the “original” 512 m2 “allowance” that you get for Premium (Basic accounts are not entitled to own land — but they can rent it from other residents).

This “extra charge” is called land usage fee and is due monthly — you pay for the maximum amount of land owned on that month (and not for “average”). There are different “levels” of land usage, and these are called “tiers”. So, if you want to own land, you have to do the following steps:

Find a place which is for sale. You can get information from the auction system. First Land (the land that is reserved for newcomers without any land) is cheapest, at L$ 1 per square metre. The rest is mostly speculation – as in the real world, location dictates pricing! If you don’t find anything on the auctions, you can try to make deals directly to people, or contact a land baron as your real estate agent.

Buy the land. This means that the land gets to be assigned into your name.

If you don’t have enough money to buy it, the SL client offers you to move to the LindeX to buy some L$ with the payment method tied to your account (credit card or PayPal account)

If you don’t have enough “tier” — meaning that by buying this new parcel, you will be over your current allotment – you have to go into the next tier before you confirm the sale. Remember that you will be billed for the highest setting you have put here on tier.

Beware of scams. Since First Land is so cheap — well below the usual prices — lots of unscrupulous residents will try to “buy it off” from you. Make sure that you don’t get overexcited by an offer which will give you 50% or even 100% profit. Real prices can be way over that, and so you should take a look at the auctions to get a feeling on what your land is currently worth.

Do you need land to enjoy Second Life? While the answer is different for every resident, you can do everything else with a Basic account, just not own land. So even if you really need land to build your own home/shop/club, but don’t wish to “tier up” (ie. start paying an additional fee to Linden lab every month) you can just rent it from land-owning residents. There are several different sorts of agreements available, from renting shops or booths at a mall, to rent a parcel of land on the mainland, to “land deeds” on private islands. Since all these agreements are mande between residents, they can vary wildly from place to place, but the resident running the rental operation will be more than happy to explain you how it works.

Inventory and what you can buy

The Inventory is your personal handbag — like a real world handbag, it’s quite hard to keep it organised and find things you put in there, but unlike real handbags, it is infinite in size.

Here is stored everything that you carry with you — from objects and items you have bought, to all your clothes (so it’s a portable wardrobe as well), textures, notecards, scripts, cards you have traded withand even more strange things like your own body (!) and animations and gestures.

You start with two folders — Library and My Inventory. Library has some common objects, default gestures, default animations, and even some default avatars. My Inventory is all that you add to it!

How do you get new objects? Well, one way, of course, is doing them by yourself, as we have already seen. The other way is to buy them from other players. You can trade/exchange items directly, or, the way most people do it, go to a shopping mall or a store/shop.

Stores or shops are usually owned by the merchant – the person having their wares to offer. You can search for keywords on Search >> Places, and you will get a list of shops offering these items, and teleport to each one in turn to check for pricing. Most shops are open 24h/7, but in reality you won’t find many sales reps inside — almost all transactions in Second Life use “automated vendors”: machines that will show you a picture (or a 3D model) of the object you want to buy, you pay to the vendor, and you get the object.

Malls, like in real life, are large structures which host several shops (which are usually rented by the week). They also have automated vendors. Normally malls have dozens of small shops inside, and this means you can get a wide selection of products to chose from. However, due to the way Second Life works, this also means that big malls will be very laggy and hard to “navigate”.

Finally, you can also offer and buy services (i.e. hire a scripter or a builder). It’s easier to do that on the forums, there is a group for such offers. Of course, some people set up “offices” in Second Life for the sole purpose of meeting with other residents who want to hire their services.

Events and what to do

So, if you don’t have a job — which is time-consuming — and have just arrived at the game and haven’t talked to nobody yet, what can you do to spend your time?

Fortunately for all of us, there are Events! Events is the “social life” of Second Life. Hosted by residents, they cover virtually anything — from inworld classes on scripting, building, economy (or even self-improvement!), to contests where you show your mental skills (or your skills at building things), to parties (and yes, there are a lot of parties), to discussions and debates. Sometimes there are unique events, like fashion shows or art happenings; sometimes there are recurring events, where you will meet the same people at the same spot.

Events can be broadly classified in the following main areas — contests (or games), where you can win money or objects; classes, where you get some courses on various events, and where you usually pay for attendance (except for Mentor events which are always free); parties, held for all possible reasons; chat/discussion events; cultural events; and all the sort of possible entertainment events which don’t fit into any category.

Make sure you list all events for the day and see which ones you would like to attend — then press the Notify button. 5 minutes before the event starts, you’ll be notified with a cyan dialog box, which will also offer you teleport to the event.

Attending events is the best way to meet new people, as well as a good opportunity to show off your skills — social and other wise — to get some ratings. And yes, it’s true, most “parties” and contests in Second Life are mature events, but there are generally enough “non-mature” events around as well.

Ratings are a way to show people your appreciation of their skills, talents, or personality. Each rating costs L$25 to give.

Skills and jobs

Unlike “online games”, SL does not have a concept of “character improvement” — say, after a playing a while, you pay an amount of money, and earn “skill points” to advance “a level”, which will enable you to get a better job, for instance. Second Life is just like your real life — if you want to make money and have a job, you need to employ your own skills. And, of course, if you want to be an employee, you need to find an employer — another resident who is currently better off than you, and needs someone to help him out since he can’t handle all his work responsability. It’s up to you to apply for a vacancy — like in real life, you will need to convince him that you have the required skills and are “the right guy for the job”.

What kind of jobs are available? Well, for the completely unskilled, not many. You might get paid just to “stand around” in a certain place (usually a mall or a casino) just to attract other users (people tend to gather around places where other residents already are! A crowd draws a crowd). Some clubs also offer jobs to dancers (for about the same reason); and a few shops use sales reps or people to advertise their products. There is not much choice for a completely unskilled resident; you must become creative in order to succeed!

Another relatively unskilled job is modelling — clothes designers often employ their own avatars when taking pictures of the clothes, but the top clothiers will need models, since there are a few fashion shows in SL. Modelling is well paid, but you’ll need expectionally good looking avatars and good animations for going on the catwalk. There are not many offers for modelling, though, but there are a few agencies.

Most of the other jobs are usually self-employment or require some skills to get hired. For instance, if you’re charismatic and an extrovert, you could get a job (or self-emply yourself) as a sales representative or event hoster. You’ll see how events work on chapter 7. The ultimate job in this area is, of course, the Land Baron — how we nickname the real estate agents. They just need to be very keen on the real estate market, have some starting cash, and be very good buyers and sellers. It’s a very profitable job!

If you’re good at working with a graphical design application — like Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, or GIMP — you have two good choices, one is becoming a clothes designer (it needs one of those programs and a PSD template which is provided by Linden Lab to design new clothes), the other a master texturiser. There are already thousands (if not dozens of thousands…) of very good clothiers, well-established in SL, so be prepared to get into fierce competition here! Designing clothes for SL is mostly a creative task, it’s not “hard” to do (if you’re skilled with a graphical design application), and lots of fun!

If you have a good sense of 3D space and a keen aesthetic sense, you could probably become a “builder”. This is a generic description, since there are several builder types — house builders and “object” builders (like furniture, or cool-looking devices). A very good builder is usually a good texturer, too — so while all building takes place inworld, textures are done in a graphical design program. Most people are “simple builders” — it’s a very entertaining — but the trick to become a “professional builder” in SL is doing amazing stuff with a very low primitive count. That’s the real challenge. As an example, I have seen a fascinating motorbike in SL which uses 200 or 300 primitives, it looks amazingly realistic — but you can’t drive it, since all vehicles can only have 31 prims! The challenge here is doing the same good-looking design in such a limited amount. The same applies to houses and furnitures, since the average land owner will have a limited number of primitives available, and low-primitive designs appeal to a majority of users. If you seriously want to enter this market, be prepared to compete with people who have been building stuff for over a year and a half, and they know all the tricks of the trade. Unlike clothes — which is a purely creative thing — building requires knowing all the tricks. There are several inworld classes to tell those tricks, but you really need to take your time experimenting before you have “sellable” objects.

Cool objects are usually “scripted” — this means that they have a behavior inworld, they are dynamic, they interact with avatars. Good examples of this are vehicles and weapons, but most objects will need a script to work properly (like a lamp which is turned on, or a door that opens and closes). Scripters are residents having learned the Art of LSL Programming. LSL is “Linden Scripting Language”, similar to Java in concept and even syntax, and is very easy to learn (but awfully hard to master) if you’re a knowledgeable programmer in the real world. If you aren’t, you can still learn it, but don’t expect to make a living of it.

Strangely enough, the economy in SL never caught on with the idea of selling scripts. Scripters work in two ways: they are freelancers, doing scripting for other residents (and this guarantees a large income, but not a regular one), or they work with a builder (or are good builders themselves) and script objects. A scripted object sells for much more than an unscripted one (even a simple lamp that turns on and off will sell for more than the same lamp without a script). Amazing scripts which work perfectly well are usually “given away” by posting them in the forums or on the Bad Geometry Wiki (currently at http://secondlife.com/badgeo). Again, take into account that most “tricks of the trade” were already found out by the master programmers doing scripting for one and a half year. Still, there are new insights and development from complete newbies who come to the world without any idea of “established best practices” and try to innovate.

You have probably found out that you can buy all types of animations for your avatar, too. Animations are done on a special 3D animation program. There are lots of them available — many, like Blender, are for free — but Second Life requires a special format used by the expensive program called Poser. Poser (http://www.curiouslabs.com/go/products/poser) is quite easy to learn — even if you are not an expert — and if you have never done 3D animations before, you’ll be doing your first ones after a few hours of playing around in Poser and reading tutorials. Free alternatives are DAZ|Studio (http://www.dazstudio.com/) or the popular, very light-weigth Avimator (http://avimator.com) which is an open-source application developed by some talented SL residents!

Simple animations are easy to do, and that’s why they usually are given away for free. Complex animations — like dances — are very, very hard, and often they even require capturing a real person doing the dance, translating her movements into a special file format, and tweaking it in Poser to upload. This requires professional (or at least semi-professional) hardware and a studio, and hours of work. That is the reason for not existing many animators in SL, and there is relatively low competition — just a handful of “professional animators” doing business.

The Forums

The forums at http://forums.secondlife.com (and many blogs and external sites) are the “life outside Second Life”. Since you can’t meet a reasonable number of people at the same time inworld (one sim will hold a maximum of 50 avatars or so, but if you have 25 at the same spot, it’s so laggy that people tend to go away), one way to discuss things with a far wider audience is on the forums. Still, remember that while you sometimes have up to 10,000 people or so inworld, the last record was 350 people at the forums at the same time. Despite its million posts on more than 100,000 threads, the forums represent a tiny part of Second Life’s population — perhaps just 10%, more likely only 5%.

You can discuss about everything in the forums — as is typical for most web-based forums anyway — but even if you don’t really care much about discussing and arguing offline, the forums are a precious source for staying in touch with developments in Second Life. News and important information are announced by the Lindens here. Most events are also announced — and sometimes with more information than on the “event blurb” inworld. And here you can also see job offering, announcements on sales or on people to hire. Finally, there are the “technical forums”, where people help each other with tips and tricks, or even post free scripts.

All normal rules of behavior apply to the forums (ie. both the ToS and the Community Standards). Several are moderated, and this means that you should try to be cordial and informative on the forums, or risk to be expelled by a moderator. Remember that the people reading your posts could meet you inworld!

Moderation vs. Addiction

Some last notes about the psychological effects of Second Life. Like several other games, Second Life is not for everyone — many new people join, test the environment for a few hours, and give it up as hopelessly boring — but, if you like SL after the initial period, the probability of “enjoying it too much” is very high.

The CEO of Linden Lab, Philip “Linden” Rosedale, attributes the addictiveness to Second Life mostly to creativity and a lack of rules. You can be whoever you want to be in Second Life, and do whatever you want to do. If you conform to ToS — a few “common sense” rules — there is not much more that people can “force” you to do, so you feel a degree of enhanced freedom that usually is absent in the real world. For some people, this can be an overwhelming experience.

I can olny recommend moderation. If you feel that you’re enjoying Second Life too much, set hard guidelines for connecting and disconnecting times — and keep to them. Have your friends know about your scheduled time inworld and respect it as well as reminding you it’s time to logout.

After all — you want to have FUN in Second Life!

last updated: 2006/07/25

About Gwyneth Llewelyn

I'm just a virtual girl in a virtual world...

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