Skell’s Pet SL Peeves: Another day, another fancy fair

I have only one rule when it comes to fairs in Second Life: wait until the last two days and then  go. The exception to this rule is Menswear Fashion Week (at which point, yeah; I’m the avatar camped on the doorstep in his sleeping bag the week before the sim opens). For everything else the lag is simply not worth the rush to get in, constantly attempting to teleport (“sorry, the region is full”) and rubberbanding like Kate Bush once you finally get in.

So, as per my rule, I waited until the very last day of Shoetopia, and I teleported in. Ten avatars on-sim, so I figured the lag would be minimal…

*step-BOING*

You know… I’m all for beauty in SL, but when it comes to huge events that you know  will be lagfests? BUILD SIMPLE. The idea behind Shoetopia’s build (a confection of sugar-spun white pavilions raised through the clouds into the heavens) was a really good one, but there were two major issues:

  1. Far, far, far too much fussiness. Filigree this and twirlygig that. Very pretty, I’ll grant you, but completely unnecessary. It took ages to rez, so I was surrounded by white Cubist art for at least ten minutes before I could see where I was supposed to walk.
  2. Far, far, far too much walking. I’ve never seen a layout like that one for a fair, and I hope I never see it again. If you didn’t visit, imagine a circle around the entire sim, with a vertical line bisecting it. Landing point in the centre, of course, and you walk down one of the ‘spokes’ of the line to reach the booths. The big-name designers are in those spokes. The smaller ones…

No, wait. I’ll show you.

As I said, it’s a nice idea:

Until you spend ten minutes simply waiting for all the frills to rez:

And then you start walking. Oh boy, do you start walking. Has anyone made a pedometer in SL yet? ’cause I think I reached my 10,000 steps for fitness today…

That’s both sims; let’s home in on just one of ’em:

Twenty stalls around the edges there, and to reach them all you have to walk the perimeter of an entire sim. Yes, that picture is one whole sim. I managed to get all the way around one (luckily for me, I guess, the vast majority of those stalls had no men’s shoes, and no women’s shoes that I wanted – most of the mesh stuff for women was rigged, and that’s of no use even to freaky boys like me) but I just gave up about 20m around the second one.

A little closer, because you need a good look at all the goddamn walking!

That’s a quarter of a sim. For five tiny little stalls.

What’s that you say? “Stop whining, Dagger. FLY, YOU FOOL!”

Yeah, I did. And then I bumped into the invisible walls that were meant to stop those with shitty balance from falling off the edges (and in the meantime said invisible walls added even more to the lag).

Look, it was a worthy cause, and because of that I’m probably coming over as uncharitably bitchy. But I know I’m not the only person who struggled with this build, both in its size and lagginess. By the end of my walking I was fed-up and bored. There were only TWO other people in the sim by the time I gave up and went home, and still I was rubberbanding (and my connection was, for once, fine).

In all, I spent one and a half hours trawling around a single sim – visiting just 20 stalls, waiting for them to rez, and camming to the bigger stalls in the centre, picked up five demos (all-but-one of which I trashed on realising they were rigged mesh only; which wasn’t noted on the ads), one set of nail appliers, and one pair of unisex boots.

I’ve seen this far too often at fairs. The 2009 Hair Fair was candy-themed and sculpt-heavy, and this was all I saw of each booth, even at the end of the fair’s run:

How does one walk through a door when the door is a giant grey breast? *headscratch* Note the blobs in the background, too. There weren’t just two or three small sculpts used; there were lots of different ones, each one having to be loaded and then the texture on it had to be loaded, too. Same thing is happening now, at all-mesh places with a high emphasis on detail: way too many vertices for the viewer to render that leave visitors with nothing to do but stand in an out-of-the-way place for 15 minutes and do something else IRL while everything loads.

Now, I expect fancy stuff from Fantasy Fair, because that’s a different beast. It’s not loads of identical stalls covering one or two sims; rather each area is a full themed location. And yes, Fantasy Fair is laggy, too, but it’s intended to be as much of an experience as it is a shopping fest. The likes of shoe/hair/skin/etc fair are mainly shopping fests that happen to be in a single themed location.

I know that many busy events try various tricks to help ease visitors’ experience, from burying tiny boxes covered in the sim’s textures at the landing point, to sending out free texture pre-loading HUDs (which truly is a great idea; thank you Arcade Gatcha!). But, with mixed mesh and sculpt builds (the only standard prims I saw at Shoetopia were the ads themselves) there’s a huge rendering load placed on the viewer, and that’s when lag kicks in.

The best fair I ever attended was also the simplest: Jewellery Fair, and I think it was back in 2009. The layout was intuitive – no running from one side of the path to the other in case you missed out one stall, one simple path took you all the way around and through the single sim with close to a hundred stalls fitted in neatly and compactly – and the buildings were simple prim construction. Nothing fancy, no sculpts, and there was (of course) no mesh back then. The focus was entirely  on the items for sale, not on the sim builder’s talents (and I think that’s where these big fairs are beginning to go wrong; each one has to look  more amazing than the ones before it). The entire sim rezzed quickly and was practically lag-free, even in the early days when it was packed full of people. I worked my way around the whole sim and dozens of stalls in about an hour, made loads of purchases, and – most importantly – I didn’t give up in frustration, as I did at Shoetopia.

Please, fair-builders: your ideas are fabulous, but when you’ve got committed shoppers like me quitting your build in boredom and frustration? That ain’t good. I know you want it to look amazing, but – Fantasy Fair excepted – most people aren’t there for the build; they’re there for what’s being sold, and many of them can only log in for an hour or two. Make it easy for them to buy stuff to help your good causes by creating a simple build that’s low-lag and easy to get around, without lots of walking and waiting.

How many times have you bitched with your friends about a large event being too fussy and heavy to load, and an absolute lagfest? How many of those same events have you slogged through? Now… how many times have you enthused with your friends about a great, lag-free big event? I’d lay money on the former happening a lot and the latter happening, well not at all. And yet, here I am, four years after the fact, still enthusing about that Jewellery Fair. Word of mouth matters a lot in SL, be it among friends or in the blogosphere. We all expect lag in the opening weeks – it’s a fact of SLife that we’re used to and will put up with if we simply have  to get there early – but if people are struggling late in the day with fewer than 10 avatars on-sim, that word of mouth will begin to turn into, “OMG, X-Fair is such  a lagfest. I couldn’t get around it, so I gave up.”

Gave up = stopped buying = your worthy causes miss out on potential funds.

Keep it simple (because you’re not  stupid). It can still look great without all the twiddly bits ;-)