Yes much like in the movie Blade Runner the replicants already walk among us, virtually at least. In Second Life bots are nothing new, however what is new is their heavy usage in marketing to boost traffic numbers and increase virtual sales. You can find some good coverage on Grid Expectations and New World Notes for the back story. Once you’ve read up why don’t we take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of bots in Second Life. I’ll even tell you how its done….
While not a popular opinion I support the use of bots in Second Life. I deal with plenty of dead, automated systems that mimic humans (ie telephone directories, web sites etc) every day, why not in the virtual space as well? One thing companies have failed to invest in for their virtual properties is a proper staff. Avatars arrive at virtual ghost towns when they should be greeted and shown the right direction to get started. A combination of paid live staff and bots with crude AI (already possible thanks to Pandora Chat Bots) can greatly increase the visitors experience at your destination.
Bots used as virtual models at B&B Skins
In a virtual world where clothes, skins, and body shapes are by far the most prized commodity using bots for display purposes is another example of the good. Here a customer can see the truest representation of what they are about to buy. Images are flat and take forever to load, avatars load quickly and offer the best preview.
Adding a layer of Artificial Intelligence to these bots open the doors to a lot opportunities beyond staff, above we see an example of a their use in machinima. In this scene we see several bots playing sports together, some players are bots, others live actors. Sine Wave has a great web based interface for setting up and controlling your bots, you program the triggers and define the actions.
Cafe of the Dead!
In the first image of this blog post and above we see another image from B&B Skins. High in the sky (well above the standard flight limit) we find the virtual worlds most quiet cafe. Here I found over 75 bots sitting among themselves, enjoying whatever a bot enjoys (one can only assume that’s CPU cycles). So what’s bad about this? They aren’t hurting any one up there other than perhaps causing some extra lag. Right?
Well as some know Second Life traffic is based not only how many avatars visit a location but how much time they spend there as well. So if you camp bots for 24 hour periods your location will get a significant boast in ranking and in some cases a spot on the much beloved "Popular Places" list. In the case of B&B they do make the popular places list and as a result get a steady flow of new (and live) traffic through their shops. Gamed? Tricked? Scamming? Sure maybe a little, but B&B offers something different, a very high quality product. Other places who artificially inflate their ranking typically offer shit products or scammy pyramid schemes for Linden dollars. Vendors in Second Life continue to get more competive, it’s hard to blame some for using this tatic to get noticed amoung the 1000s of other retailers.
Say hello to our new masters
So what’s next? An army of millions of undead and unrezed avatars plaguing the metaverse, stealing your very soul and of course lindens? The eventual enslavement and overtaking of the entire grid, turning us into pawns for a heartless, tax dodging super race of corrupt replicant powers? Well not exactly, out of hacks and gamed systems will come a new way to calculate traffic. Much like how we record traffic for web sites Linden Labs (or TNBT) is going to have to give us a few upgrades. There has already been plenty of talk about this but I imagine as with many much needed upgrades they are low of the "to-do" list right now. Until the loop hole is fixed (lets hope it eventually is) you might as well enjoy and experiment with bots for your own business.
How Its Done
Creating bots in Second Life is done several different ways but all are based around the libsl frameset. If you have prior programming experience (or just an ungodly amount of free time) you can create your own scripts and start logging in bots. For those that want a little more user friendly experience try one of the following:
Thoys SL Bot
For a one time fee of $2000L (about $8USD) you can turn any existing avatar into a bot. Thoys is one of the better ones available because with your purchase you get a nice light Windows client to control your bot. With this client you can set a "Owner" (yourself), chat, make payments and execute several other commands. One of the more interesting tabs lets you setup your bot for use with Pandora Chat Bots where you can easily install some very crude but effective AI. I’ve used this on my land for staff and preloaded the bots responces with marketing messages and helpful directions. Specific keywords trigger the values I program through the Pandora web site.
Lastly Thoys SL Bot has one very nice feature, avatars logged through it do not appear "ruthed". This is where the avatar remains gray and custom skins/clothes do not properly render. You’ll find many SL bots face this fate making them much easier to spot and less engaging.
Sine Wave Robots
With a web interface as sexy as their branding Sine Wave has one of the best services on the market. Setup is quick and easy and allows you a dizzying amount of customization to your bot’s behavior. Bots are appropriately called actorbots and will cost you around $1USD per day, per robot to run. Since there is no client to run connectivity is reliable, they will even auto re log your bot at a time you designate.
SLeek is a very light Windows based Second Life client for logging in avatars. Here you can perform most of the basic actions of the full client minus the CPU intensive graphics. The program works well but from my experience can only run about 3 instances (logged in bots) before they all crash. Additionally your bots appear "ruthed" to other residents but hey its free so as they say, you get what you pay for. I’ve found this client helpful when on a laptop or public terminal and need a quick way to login for chat.
Please feel to share comments on ethics of bots in Second Life or any additionally questions in the comments. Just please…no comment spam bots.