They started gathering hours before the Town Hall meeting on Jan. 9 was scheduled to begin, anxious to grab a seat in the virtual auditorium: a lizard man, an armor-plated robot, a floating ball of energy, several dragons, and members of the Alliance armed forces in their best dress uniforms, along with many dozens of curvaceous women and preternaturally buff men. Some paced in front of the stage, while others hovered in mid-air or sat typing text chat at each other on invisible keyboards.
These Town Hall meetings are a tradition in Second Life, the virtual world operated by Linden Lab, a San Francisco startup, where users dress their avatars in clothes (or dragon getups) bought in virtual boutiques, participate in social dramas of their own making, and set up virtual businesses where they buy and sell virtual real estate or hawk virtual clothes, houses, vehicles and furniture.
With more and more avatars filling the same virtual space, the simulation software that tracks the movements and position of individuals and executes animation scripts starts to fall behind. Time seems to slow down, with avatars moving as if through molasses. Some people blink out of existence as the viewer software on their own desktops crashes. Others find themselves in odd predicaments as the laws of physics seemingly break down; while trying to grab a spot in the standing-room area at the back of the auditorium, they find themselves sinking through the floor up to their necks and getting stuck there disembodied heads, unable to see what's happening onstage.
It's not the first time for such problems, but audience members grumble that this time the whole system may crash before the event even gets started. In fact, one of the four simulators that have been clustered together to support a bigger audience does go down, ejecting everyone within it.
These types of problems, however, don't seem to be deterring people and businesses from entering Second Life.