“Our dreams are a second life.” ~Gerard de Nerval
By Cat Boccaccio.
I have never purchased a shape in my almost six years in Second Life. I have always worked with the sad little Linden Lab default avatar shapes and tweaked them into shapes I found interesting and appealing. But I do realize other SL residents do not have the time or inclination to work the sliders and so they find someone to take care of it for them. Thus the shapes business in SL was born.
I’ve seen shapes for sale on Marketplace for upwards of L$1000. Expensive shapes coincidentally tend to advertise using the best and most detailed skins in Second Life. This seemed unfair to me. Shapes are just sliders (it’s free!). Shapes look different with different skins (so why advertise a shape that will look nothing like the poster?). Avatar appearance is important to me as an SL photographer. So is the happiness of my clients, who often asked where they could get shapes like mine. So I ventured into the murky world of Shapes for Profit.
Here’s what I found:
1. It’s difficult to create a shape that is unique… by that I mean it is an easy temptation to make the faces supremely, conventionally pretty, according to mainstream ideals or according to fleeting SL trends (like the current frowny face). I despair that people in SL look more and more the same. I miss the diversity of eccentric, individual looks, and also the WOW factor when a truly gorgeous female av walks into the room. But we are all are buying the same shapes– different creators, same faces. There are fewer ways to gauge the person behind the avatar when they are all the same, all model pretty or all Belleza handsome. (Note: this is just a comment, not criticism of these shape or skin creators, whose work I admire tremendously.)
2. The SL shape editing tools are irritating and unreliable. Hmm, no big surprise there. I especially would like more options for the face, but in any case the SL avatar can look pretty kinky–by that I mean kinky like a knot in a rope–and not natural at all. Plus, I KNOW that the sliders randomly change when I am dreaming my pixel dreams. I will check an avatar shape and find its hands inexplicably, mysteriously HUGE all of a sudden. What??
3. Shapes can look completely different with different skins. I mentioned that above.
4. I know people that have never changed their shape since signing up.
5. Male shapes and skins are more difficult to make than female ones, probably because the appearance editor is so limited and even quirkier than the female version, which is why I have barely dabbled in this rich field. Sorry guys, it’s not that I don’t like you!
6. The price of shapes was always appalling to me, until I started creating and packaging shapes myself. It is a boat-load of work, from perfecting the shape you want, to writing info notecards, to creating posters and packaging, establishing a shop and a Marketplace presence (which is a whole other story), to testing and promotion. It is (or was for me) hugely time-consuming to get it right. There is also the actual cost, of renting retail space and uploading textures (I promise you, this adds up). So sometimes, much against my earlier judgement, shapes can be worth spending real LL dollars on. That said, let’s be real in both setting fair and realistic prices, and not insulting with misleading ads and posters.
6. I am so on the Natural Height bandwagon. After intensive (and informal) research, and reading the blogs of SL residents much more knowledgeable than I am, I see the benefits of smaller avatars. As I mentioned in an earlier Size Matters article, it is easier to get natural and attractive body proportions when starting with a ‘normal’ sized avatar than with an elongated or bloated shape. The taller we get, the more distorted we get. And, larger avatars take up more space–smaller, more detailed structures can be built on much smaller and less laggy parcels (or current too-large builds can be scaled down and make room for more buildings).
So for the above reasons, I re-examined the shapes I market in Second Life, and found them wanting. I spent weeks updating and refining all six of my retail shapes, fine tuning the faces, but mostly scaling them down to realistic heights, from 5’7” to 5’11”. (Some of the original shapes were advertised as under 6′, but I learned the height measurement tools I was using were incorrect, and I used Penny Parton‘s Accurate Height Detector to get it right this time.) It was a long slog for me, but I am pretty happy with the results. I also created a completely new, rather cool natural height shape, called Gazelle, who is the avatar shown in the picture accompanying this article.
OK, full disclosure: maybe it is shameless to write an article about shapes and then promote my own; but I work hard in Second Life, as many long time residents do, to make it a more interesting and accessible place because it matters to me what happens here, including how avatar appearances evolve. I actually do want to make decent quality, and beautiful shapes/avatars available to everyone in Second Life.
Think about scaling back your own avatar to a more realistic size. Do it yourself or find a reliable shape merchant to help you out, or start with Penny Parton’s free collection. I wanted to offer my new natural height shape, Gazelle, for a token amount or even free… but she was just so much work and I have rent to pay. 🙂 But she is discounted now and through the weekend (until March 18), at my shop at Avalon. She is modifiable, and so you can tweak to your heart’s delight.
I think we all need to start somewhere, in this scaling down trend. I’m just offering one option. There are lots of others.
For slum magazine.