Stratification in the clothing market

Whilst shopping lately, I’m increasingly seeing what seems to be the same dresses being sold at various different shops. This is not reselling, but a case of designers buying in meshes from third parties.

This is not a new phenomenon, of course. In the past designers often bought full permission sculpts for use in their products, but it was less noticeable as using a sculpt here and a sculpt there is more finely grained; it still creates an overall unique product. In other words, two outfits using the same sculpts might look radically different, because you don’t notice the common sculpts so much, or the designers may be using them in different ways, with different placements, sizing, and the like. They may even be using different permutations of several sculpts from different creators. The overall look is therefore completely different, and the end result unique to that brand. By contrast, a mesh for a dress is entirely monolithic which gives rise to the situation where several clothing brands appear to be selling the same dress.

Ladder of Complexity

Ladder of Complexity

Clothing has gone through quite an evolution over the life of Second Life. From the original “slider clothing” (a.k.a. “system clothing”) with or without user-created textures, through to texture  + prim, texture + flexiprim, texture + sculpts, texture + unrigged mesh, and finally to rigged mesh. At each step in this evolution, the bar for entry to the next level has been raised. Also, from sculpts onwards, they require external software for creation which has its own (often steep) learning curve.

Often, a designer may find they have insufficient skill (and/or time, motivation, commitment or, indeed, ability) to move up to the next level, and can sometimes buy in the 3D models (ie. sculpts or mesh) and texture them into full products. The reason is that in some cases others may have the skill to create the 3D models but not the inclination to make them into products and have the hassle of selling to Residents. In some ways this is roughly analogous to Retailers and Wholesalers in Real Life.

As each level of the ladder gets harder and harder to reach, so the number of people reaching it falls, and so the probability of those people selling their creations to designers lower down the ladder rises (since there is an increasing demand). Or, to put it another way, there is a very small pool of people creating rigged meshes, and from that pool some are keeping them unique to their clothing brand, and others are selling them for other designers to use. And that is why we are seeing many brands selling the same clothes (or appearing to), since not only is their choice more limited but the very nature of rigged mesh means the clothing is more obviously the same (as I mentioned earlier on).

The net effect of the above is that we are seeing a stratification of the clothing market in Second Life, with the “top tier” of brands being created by very talented people who can create 3D models (ie. mesh clothing), rig it to become rigged mesh, skilfully texture it, and then sell it to ordinary people like you or I. The “second tier” are the designers who are unable to create their own rigged meshes and must buy them in, thus running the very real risk that some of their clothes will be extremely similar, if not identical, to those of other brands.

Further on down the ladder, the hobbyists of old who would dabble with prims in-world and with simple textures created with the aid of clothing templates, are increasingly finding that their efforts look unsatisfactory compared to the top designers. They are either having to make their clothing very cheap to compensate, and find themselves unable to afford the rent on their shops, or else are giving up, disheartened. Neither scenario can be good for the long-term health of Second Life.

Nor is this situation looking likely to improve. As mentioned in my previous blog entry, Linden Lab have decided to go down the path of using collision bones for their Fitted Mesh project. Whilst this is a technically simpler and, some may say, more elegant solution to mesh clothing deformation, it makes the task of rigging mesh even harder for content creators, thus making that top rung of the ladder even harder to reach.

I’m not sure where this state of affairs will take Second Life, but I do believe that warning alarms should be ringing somewhere. By making content harder and harder to create, so less and less is going to be created. Not only that, but people who may have found Engagement in Second Life through content creation might decide it is not worth it and instead drift away. However, having said that, I do acknowledge that we need to move forward and people are expecting ever more complex and realistic-looking technologies which, by their nature, are harder and more complex to create. But that doesn’t necessarily negate my point.

So, anyway, those are my thoughts on this. They’re only my opinion, so please feel free to comment below with yours.

Mesh convert

UPDATED:
Initially I based my shape changes on Standard Size ‘Small’, but after a couple of weeks I have realised that ‘Medium’ (with some modifications) is closer to my desired shape, as  ‘Small’ lost too many of my curves and made me look skinny. I’ve therefore updated this article accordingly.

After a long absence from Second Life, I’m kind of rediscovering it again.

One of the reasons for this is that I have finally bitten the bullet, so to speak, and created a copy of my shape and made it compatible with Standard Sizing. Although this seems like a massive climb-down from my previous stance on not wanting to change my shape, the thing that influenced my decision (quite apart from the desire to wear more modern clothing) is that there are surprisingly few parameters you need to change in order to have something that is broadly compatible with one of the Standard Sizes.

I chose to bring mine closer to the ‘Medium’ size, which meant adjusting the following parameters:

  • Body Fat: 11 (15)
  • Torso Muscle: 38 (38)
  • Breast Size: 58 (54)
  • Love Handles: 31 (11) [Note: I chose not change this]
  • Belly Size: 6 (2)
  • Leg Muscle: 56 (42) [Note: Again, I chose not to change this]
  • Butt Size: 44 (45)
  • Saddle Bags: 36 (41)

(Figures shown in brackets are what my normal size was)

The two things that looked awfully wrong with that were the Love Handles and Leg Muscle values, which I chose to leave unchanged. The former gives me the more curvy look I prefer, and I predict should not affect many clothes as the important thing is not to clip, although obviously some clothes will hide my narrower waist and make me look slightly shapeless. Some crop tops may require a “half-way house” version with more waist in order to look right.
With the Leg Muscles value, I figured that this would predominantly affect only boots and I could go for S or XS ones for that.

I have to say that I am really encouraged by the fact that I still look like “me” after the changes, and I’d encourage anyone else holding off from Rigged Mesh clothing to try similar (assuming your shape is modifiable). It has really opened up the doors to a whole new round of shopping in SL for me. And you know how much I love shopping!

I managed to make a comparison pic using an animated GIF. You can see the differences between my natural shape, the adjustment for Medium, and the Small from the original. Whilst I still prefer my natural shape, the Medium one is an acceptable compromise.

Comparison of shapes

Comparison of shapes (should be animated)

It’s starting to Mesh

All Dressed Up by Becca Ashbourne
All Dressed Up, a photo by Becca Ashbourne on Flickr.

Having previously said that I am not a great fan of Rigged Mesh, I’m slowly starting to discover things that I like, and that fit me (or fit near enough that a minor tweak is all that is needed). In this case it’s this lovely dress by Baiastice and hair by elikatira (I still want to say ETD, which dates me I guess!).

The dress is lovely, but not without limitations. For a start you can’t wear shoes with it, and I love shoes! The other is that occasionally when dancing, you can see that it’s invisible inside and that I have invisible legs. I guess that’s an intrinsic issue with Rigged Mesh.

 

 

Konnichiwa



Konnichiwa, originally uploaded by Becca Ashbourne.

The creativity and ingenuity of the residents of Second Life never ceases to amaze and delight me, and none more so than sims that have beautiful attention to detail and are a visual treat.

I was exploring, looking for Japanese sims for a photo shoot I wanted to do, and came across the simply wonderful Japan Dream Kenjin. This sim is so worth a visit – it’s a seaside fishing town that is just crammed with visual detail and atmosphere.

Skin: Sophie by DrLife
Hair: Holly by KeeLee Designs
Outfit & shoes: Hentai Hottie 2.0 (Classic Version) by Danika
Backpack: Randoseru Japanese backpack by House of Curios

Mesh

Slink Mesh Boots!!, originally uploaded by Nana Minuet.

I have to say I was getting very excited by Mesh, especially with the recent announcement that Phoenix is going to be supporting it (thanks to some dedicated work by Henri Beauchamp of the Cool Viewer).

These boots are a great case in point – imagine how wrong the knees would look in that pose if those were sculpt boots!

However, all is not as good as it seems; I’ve learned that the current implementation of Mesh is worse than useless, for clothes at least. It would seem that a mesh object attaches to your skeleton, not your “flesh”, and cannot be resized in-world. That means that if you are slim like the model in the above pics, those boots would look great. However, if you are any other size than her they won’t fit. Oh, sure, an alpha layer will mask out the bits of you that the boots cover but if you have bigger thighs than her you’re fresh out of luck.

One of the biggest benefits of Second Life is you can be who you want to be. You (or, rather, your avatar) can be exactly as you want it – it’s the overriding expression of your individuality and what makes Second Life so wonderful. But if Mesh clothing is going to force us all to resize our avatar to the clothing, rather than the clothing to the avatar, then this is a bad thing.

There is a JIRA running on this. It’s rather technical but the gist of it is “change Mesh to resize to your flesh not be fixed size and attached to your skeleton”.
See https://jira.secondlife.com/si/jira.issueviews:issue-html/SH-2374/SH-2374.html

Mixing it up

I love my digital art, and sometimes I like to mix things up a bit. The foreground is from Second Life, of course, but the background was taken in Crysis: Warhead.

I spent ages on this pic, what with fitting the hair to the beret, finding the pose, doing the snapshots in both SL and Crysis, and then all the post-processing (not least correcting SL’s various clipping issues) . I’m quite pleased with the result.

For reference, the various parts of the outfit are:

  • Skin: Tess by Laqroki
  • Eyes: Laqroki
  • Hair: Hunter by Magika (customised by me)
  • Beret: British Para beret by SA Quartermaster
  • Top: Jungle Camo Tank Top by Reasonable Desires
  • Trousers: Woodland Camo Pants by Breach
  • Boots: 9″ Combat by Adi Cat Designs
  • Hand gun: Heckler & Koch USP by Breach
  • Rifle: part of the background
  • Background: Crysis Warhead

Dog Tags are from the SL Library