SL’s pioneering RL millionaire speaks out
Article by Filipa Thespian
Photos by Wren Noir & Filipa Thespian
There are tales still told about when the world was new … the early days of Second Life (SL). One of the most prolific and enduring of these stories was a magnanimous (some might call infamous) man known to us all as, Stroker Serpentine. A visionary content creator who brought us the original sex pose ball and sex bed, which so popularly became known as, “SexGen.”
We all had at least one and those of us who were around back then probably still have them tucked away somewhere in our inventories collecting pixel dust. His big claim to fame though, what got him plastered all over the Real Life (RL) news, invited on Television morning shows and the reason behind the multitude of documentaries made about him, his life and his family was the magnitude of his RL income as a result of SexGen and subsequently, his battle over intellectual property rights at a time when such issues were still so very new to us all!
For those of you who are not aware, who were not with us in those early days, Stroker was the second ever self-made RL millionaire earning those millions, each year, entirely from his sales inside Second Life. This was huge news which became bigger when Copybot hit the scene and the topic of IP exploded all around us.
For the first time since his recent return to SL, this kind, gentle, intelligent and super sexy man speaks out through Nu Vibez Magazine. It was so hot folks, we had to spread it across two issues, saving the most scintillating details for our February Valentines issue! So get ready as Stroker Strikes Back and don’t miss the Sexpot on his sim going on right now until January 15th!
NVM: What do you feel has been the overall benefit of your fight in the past over intellectual property rights? Do you feel like it has made it better for other designers to protect themselves, or perhaps that it’s helped educate people?
STROKER: Probably the biggest benefit was to bring content creators together and through those relationships they learned just what their content was susceptible to and could band together to attempt to affect change. Remember the Copybot shop-revolt where everybody closed their doors in protest? It was amazing. Creators were stating, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.” That would not have happened without bringing the creator’s together as a guild which also created awareness. Today, we have the DMCA as a tool and we know that on the extreme, we have litigation as a tool. More people are aware of the process and their options whereas back then, we were all so very naive.
It’s like a pendulum swinging back and forth. Back then it was all the way to one side, today it’s gone the other way with so much isolation because people are paranoid over content ownership. Ultimately you have to find your happy medium and let the little stuff get by you. It’s going to happen, if you have a popular product or a financial success – somebody is going to copy you and it may not be that they directly ripped your content. They may just copy your business model, applying it their way but, you know what? That’s life. What is it the Japanese say? “Business is war.”
Before SL, I had been working in a platform where the content was totally locked down. The only way you could get content into the platform was to submit it for approval and actually have to wait for one of the moderators to then pass the content to you in world while they were online. That’s the other extreme. This would stifle the creativity that we all take for granted. We just have to find that happy medium both personally and professionally or it will drive us all insane. If we get caught up in totally locking down our content where it becomes unserviceable, then we have nothing.
NVM: After being on such a long hiatus from SL, what has motivated such a passionate and powerful man to come-back?
STROKER: I knew that I didn’t want to go back into contracting. I actually tried it for several months, but it didn’t offer me the creativity I enjoyed in SL and I just couldn’t bring myself to go back to the grind of getting up at 6am to come home at 5pm, eat dinner, watch the news and go to bed only to start it all over again the next day; I did that for half my life. For one thing, I’m a night person and I like sleeping until 10am! I did that grind for 20 years, working until 7 or 8pm 6 days a week when I was a contractor. I was very successful with my business too. We were a multi-million dollar organization with 40 employees but it was slowly killing me. But contracting again just wasn’t in the bag as we’re in a down economy and construction was flat.
I missed SL, the camaraderie, the creativity, the social aspects, the adult aspects, the connections you can make and the role play. You really can’t explain it to what I call “Earth People,” because they just don’t get it. First of all you really have to have some sort of artistic bent, even if you’re just there to socialize. It requires a degree of creativity just to be able to communicate so it attracts people with a diverse background of expression whether it is sexual or not. That creativity could be photography, machinima, artistry or graphic design; you just don’t find this concentration of creative people anywhere else on the web. Sure you can work in Maya, Max or Blender, throw yourself up on TurboSquid and make a living, but there is no social aspect to it, you’re just a checkout page.
In the end though, the final deciding factor for my return was Mesh … Mesh was my “downfall.” By the time LL finally released their mesh client, I’d already had enough interest in Maya and Blender to make the decision to return. I was an ok prim builder, average. I could make anything I wanted, but everything was just so geometric, boxy and “roundy.” In working with professional modelers and doing rigging for our animation business, I saw the types of designs that were being created by other companies like Pixar and I knew that if SL did not take advantage of this modeling explosion, someone would.
The natural shapes that modeling can do today, with these huge rendering farms, are just amazing. I firmly believe that you’re going to see production done online within virtual studios one day. One of the biggest expenses for any animation company is the time it takes to render everything. Think of it, if you’re doing instantaneous rendering in an online environment, you have negated the necessity for an entire production crew. You don’t have to have a studio or actors in mo-cap suits. It can all be done in the virtual environment.
NVM: Tell us about your new product lines?
STROKER: My focus has been entirely on Mami’s club, the house and the Sexpot. I currently do not have a product line because I had really lost touch with a lot of the creative community during my hiatus and I wanted to see what is available, what the needs of the marketplace are and if they’re being met. Mesh is still very new and a lot of people are redoing their product lines in mesh right now. So I wanted to get a good feel for it all but, I really wanted to showcase these talented people. As a result, my emphasis has been on the expo.
BUT … I have been working on animations and I do know exactly what it is I want to do and I’ll tell you when the time is right. I can tell you this though; I’m going to be focusing primarily on fantasy and fetish. I’ve allocated a space on my sim for my shop and I’ve been working on my product line for the past few months, off and on. I want to go into whimsical designs creating fun stuff that may or may not be sexual. I just don’t want anything that pertains to real life in my Second Life. Why do that when you have such a limitless pallet of imagination? I actually made a helicockter and no, that’s not a typo – a penis acts as the rotor. I’m going to do stuff that I find entertaining that we haven’t seen in SL before – the animations are actually secondary.
Animations for me are a given. I could spend 2 weeks in the studio and flood SL with mo-cap and probably be very successful at it but the animation alone is just one component of the individual design. You have the scripting aspect and the build. You have to have that combination of good build, good animations and good scripting that is compelling and fills a need; and you have to be able to sell it. You could create the most amazing “amazeballs sex bed” in SL but if you can’t get it in front of the people you want to share it with, then you’re really shorting yourself. You’ll get to the point of “why do I bother?”
NVM: What is the inspiration behind the new sim design/build you’ve created?
STROKER: I have a plan, a vision, and am working on it as time allows. I did the sim entirely in mesh and I see every crack and crevice so I’m learning but it familiarized me with the upload process and optimizing the LI’s. I didn’t want to do “real,” I wanted to do whimsical, something that was kind of Steampunk-ish. I just didn’t want to fall in the trap of realism. I can model the best Henredon furniture set that you’ve ever seen and make it look perfect, but what have I created? – Something that someone else originally made with their love and attention in another medium.
I come from the Myst generation, having spent 6 months in that game. I’ve even met some of the creators that worked on it and it all kind of opened my eyes. Because mesh is an unlimited pallet, you’re not relegated to geometric shapes; it was a transformation for me.
NVM: Tell us about Stroker’s Sexpot and what goes on at your sim that others might want to know about?
STROKER: I wanted to stretch my mesh muscle and I wanted to know what people are doing in mesh, what animations are out there, what new clothing designs are out there, etc. So, I came to the conclusion that the best way to do that is to have a showcase and reconnect with old friends that are content creators and make some new friends of creators. I think that content theft has been a big issue in terms of isolating us from each other. A lot of people have taken it to the extreme, while others don’t care. But the things we do have in common, the tools that we use, the difficulties that we have in production and marketing … those commonalities bind us into a community, particularly those of us in the adult market which is a niche.
The Sexpot tied together, my mesh apprenticeship, the need to network, marketing and the desire to socialize. It really was a “no-brainer.” Then of course, the Sexpot lets people know, “he’s baaack.” It gets my name out there. When it comes to marketing you’ve got to be in people’s faces. That’s one reason why it’s “Stroker’s Sexpot,” it puts my name on the blogs and on the landmarks.
I also wanted to see how others had changed or not changed the way that they approached their SL businesses. Are you still doing the same old things expecting the same results? Without exception, everyone I talk to, that hasn’t changed their business model, are complaining about how SL isn’t what it used to be or that the population is dwindling and it’s going to dwindle down to nothing. Well, there are still a lot of people doing well; I mean look at Tango’s – it went nuclear! A considerable portion of the female population now is wearing Tango’s. We went thru the Breedable thing, then the Gatcha phase and now those phenomenon’s are integrated into the fabric of SL. But there are still some amazing concepts and products that have yet to be designed. If you sit on your laurels, you’re going to be floating downstream and I for certain want to be in the rapids!
There are a lot of niches that aren’t being met. You don’t see a whole lot of fun stuff just for the pure sake of entertaining and a laugh. There are not a whole lot of new tools. We’re all using the same offline software but who is developing the next Mysti-tool? Who is developing the new generation of huds? I wanted to know and it’s been an eye-opening experience. A lot of people are resting on their laurels and I caution them, they’re going to be left in the dust. If they’re not learning to incorporate mesh and the oncoming Occulus Rift, they’re going to be relegated to that “oldbee ancient” category of “been there done that.”
I’m not even going to revitalize SexGen. Instead, I’m creating a new animation system because pose balls are passé! I may have had a hand in creating the very first one, we’re beyond that now. So, I’m creating an entirely new animation system with the focus on the developer. It will be something along the lines of what MLP was (basically an open source SexGen) for what is now considered AVsitter. That’s something that I have been focusing on predominantly. I’m working with another developer to create an open source animation engine. We’re going to do the full wiki rollout and offer both an open source version and a no-mod version with the upsells. Why? Because there really isn’t a good open source pose ball-less system out there right now.
To give you a hint on where we’re going with it, there’s currently no such thing as a universal hud, for any of the animation engines. We started from scratch and are about 80% complete at this time. This is a contribution to the community I really want to provide. It’s important we get away from the old pose ball systems and we want something persistent in that we’ll be able to easily access and save your favorite animations so you’re not scrolling through 15 menus and sub menus of sub menus to get to the one animation you really like.
As for activities on the sim, we have “Meet and Greets” planned with the merchants so that we can collaborate, introducing animators to animators, for example, and to dispel a lot of that unhealthy competitive nature. We’re creating content for a very specific platform, regardless of whether they think they have to be the biggest and best, it really comes down to the creativity and we all use the same tools. The issue comes when you add money and it becomes a purely commercial enterprise, and then you relegate yourself to part of the competition. Even though I am competitive by nature and want to be the best that I can be offering compelling products, I have never been one to isolate myself thereby falling into that trap of “I have got to be the biggest and the best.” I ever considered myself the biggest and the best, merely a player in the game.
NVM: Have you noticed a change in the SL climate/economy since your return? And if so, do you envision it affecting your success this time around?
STROKER: It’s more isolated now. More people look at it as “me against Second Life” (as in LL or the grid). With all the notoriety of Copybot, there’s a certain amount of paranoia out there. I’ve seen that paranoia manifest in ways that are detrimental. People are locking down content to the extreme, taking their creations off to SQL databases that may or may not be the most effective way to present their products. Some have had some success, others have not. But it’s the pendulum thing, swinging both ways.
In the middle of the Copybot, we had a Copybot revolt where everyone closed their shops in response to LL’s ineffective approach. As a result, they’ve really gotten better now, which is one of the reasons I made the decision to put the past behind me and make a phoenix reprisal as it were. LL now sees it more as a business rather than some conceptual idea of turning the internet into a metaverse approach.
NVM: That’s interesting that you say that, that there is an awful lot of opinion about how they’re killing off the community even more these days because of what they just did with the TOS. What do you think of the new TOS and how do you think that’s going to affect you personally and content creation as a whole.
STROKER: Well, my opinion is just my opinion. I’ve not done a lot of research, but from the few blog posts that I have read, it seemed to me to be a basic legalese CYA that you see all over the place. You see it in online software and in content creation sites like TurboSquid. The way I look at it is this, and again, this is just my perspective, but, if LL wanted to take my content, there is nothing I can do about it! First of all, its residing on their servers and it’s not any good to me anywhere but in SL. The scripting won’t work for me anywhere else. Granted the animations are portable, but even the animations we use in SL are so rudimentary and short they’re not really productive and useful in other platforms. The rig that they use is very simplistic for streaming purposes and they’ve got a very unique creature there. So my way of looking at it, my content always was their content.
What I had heartburn over was their ineffectiveness in keeping my content from being spread across their platform without my permission (i.e. Copybot). They made the decision to open source the client, which at the time a lot of us had angst about, but looking back now from a “senior citizen” perspective, I’m kind of glad they did. If they hadn’t, we wouldn’t have Firestorm and other clients that are far superior, from my perspective, for building and creating. These third party browsers have taken the needs of the community, combined them and incorporated them into their clients – as opposed to LL’s clunky machine through which it takes months and years for a good idea to be implemented into the platform.
I kind of have a new perspective now about IP. I just want my content to be protected within SL. I understand the whole analog whole concept in that if it’s being streamed to you it can be captured and manipulated. I get that. The difficulty I was having was that people were able to just change perm’s or copy and become your competitor anonymously and saturate your market and dilute your brand. That’s where most of my issues with LL came from.
So, the new TOS to bring it back around is more of the same. They always have had control of our content. It’s what they do with it now, in terms of protecting it against those that would use it for their own benefit – that is what’s important to me.
I have read a few forum posts though, where people are bantering about, “what if they sell SL off to another company.” While I do vacillate in my feelings on this matter, I feel it’s important to realize that they could have already done that! As far as we know LL is at the reigns, but they have third party billing, third party marketplaces and other third party associations. Do we really know whose maintaining our databases? Is GoDaddy maintaining our content? We really don’t know. This is a trust relationship that is based upon, not what you say, but what you do. I think though, that LL has gotten much better in the last 3 years in paying closer attention to the community.
I am not a fan boy by any means though. LL does have their co-cave mentality and it manifests itself in a lot of clunky implementations that have broken content. But I do think now, it’s more about the numbers. They have to be more responsive to the community now because frankly, the community is dwindling. There are so many other competitors for our attention spans and let’s face it, we all have the attention span of a gnat! Look at Facebook and Zynga which has probably captured 40% of what used to be a several-hundred-thousand concurrency for SL. SL’s audience is now in CloudParty, Farmville and Chefville. They each have that creative candy bar for the brain appeal, but are also competing for that limited amount of time that we as families and responsible real life beings have to spend online.
In our little micro chasm – our little huddled corner of the web, it’s important that our task masters (LL) are responsive and protective. That was always my perspective. The time we have online today is very precious to us, whether it’s a lot or it’s minimal. LL has a responsibility from a customer service perspective alone, to make sure that the time we grant them is a wonderful experience, is honored and cherished.
NVM: What are the top three things you want readers to take away with them from this article?
STROKER: Support your local content creator!!! We do what we do because we love it but it also doesn’t pay the bills unless we’re compensated in-kind. If the bills aren’t paid, we can’t keep creating content.
Respect!!! There doesn’t seem to be enough respect for the person behind the keyboard in SL. I think that a lot of us wield anonymity like a weapon or a tool for our own pleasure and that anonymity is a double edged sword.
Collaboration!!! Don’t treat everyone like a competitor. SL could be gone tomorrow and what are we stuck with? A bunch of LSL scripting that wouldn’t get us 50 cents on Ebay, so take the time to get to know whose work you admire. Drop them an IM and let them know that you find them an inspiration in your work and ask if you can get together over a cup of tea to compare notes. You don’t have to share trade secrets, just find the common ground. Fertilize those communities. All boats rise with the tide and that’s been the same since day one of SL.
Tango for example – she created a market where there was no market as did Breedables and Gatcha. Think outside of the box, find new and original ideas. That’s what people gravitate toward. Let’s face it, we all have 4, 5 or 6 sex beds and 30+ hairstyles, but we tend to only use the one we like the best. If you just want to be that choice, that’s fine – but if you want to be that obsession, that’s a whole different ballgame!