Meeting M. Linden, Part Three: Lacking Teens in SL, Developer/Landowner Frustrations, And Content He Loves
In this final excerpt of my long July conversation with Linden Lab's new CEO Mark Kingdon, M Linden in Second Life-- Part One here, Part Two here-- we hit a salad bar of topics. That includes the dearth of Residents of Teen Second Life, concerns and frustrations with Linden Lab from SL landowners and third party developers, eventual competition with Open Sim, and his favorite recent examples of SL content.
What's my personal take on M. as a managerial personality? He exudes a boyish enthusiasm that's markedly different from Philip Rosedale's own unique brand of dreamy brio. Rosedale's perspective shines most when it's visionary and broad-range-- but is often sketchy on the immediate, day-to-day specifics. Kingdon's focus, by contrast, seems precisely on those elements. Will that be enough to push the world past its plateau phase? Read his case after the break.
[T]he biggest MMOs are teen-oriented, and this is something that's always been mysterious to me-- why are there hardly any kids in Teen Second Life?
You make a good point, but I wouldn't say Second Life has been marketed towards teens... I guess the question I would ask is, Would you think Second Life is explicitly designed as a product for teens? No, it's a platform that was designed for probably a more mature market than that, and sometime ago for an early adopter market. And so the experience hasn't been really tailored for a teen market, so as a result as you say they're a very small part of our market today...
We're expanding the [Second Life] experience so it's very very relevant for a user that's interested in participating but not necessarily creating. And that's probably not going to be the teen consumer. Explicitly and singularly. Whereas some of the other offerings have been targeted specifically at the teen market... we haven't done that. The teen market's going to be incredibly crowded, and it's going to be a lot of companies chasing a relatively small wallet.
I've seen a lot of concern by land owners... because Linden Lab has put a bunch of land on the market and lowered the price. And that's sort of undermined, again, a large part of the economy, because [landlords] have to depend on land being scarce to some degree.
As I understand it, the intent of more land, well a different price structure when more land was put on the market, was to make it more accessible to more people. And I think we've succeeded there. More land did bring the average price down, though it did stabilize and now it's been going up. And I think it is a supply and demand question...
We hear Residents and we hear Resident concerns, and Residents have been vocal about that. So these are all things we're taking into consideration as we think more about the product and more about the economic model... so we don't take those things lightly, is what I guess I'm trying to say.
Sort of related to that, you just had a big interoperability announcement... eventually you'll be competing in the virtual land market, in the sense that landowners can say, “I’ll just take my land to Open Sim.”
Listen, in an open economy there’s always more competition and more alternatives, and we see that net-net, as a good thing, particularly if we continue adding value to the experience that we offer, and that’s going to be our focus… There are gonna be people who want to create different and unique products [on Open Sim] that aren’t our core, but that’s a good thing, because more people come into the virtual world, and if our experience is compelling, they’ll find their way to Second Life.
I gotta say, especially as I took the book out, and talking with readers... there's a lot of frustration from the third party developers, especially educators... [They're frustrated] expecting Linden Lab to make additions and changes and not getting them. What would you say to them at this point?
Well, we did a survey, and I don't remember the exact figures, but we did a survey of third party partners to see how they did in the 2nd quarter, and business is very good for them. So there are some that have remained, and some that have left, and new ones that have formed. So I think you're probably going to see additional growth and innovation in the third party developer community.
And I do think that there was a period where it slowed down, but the figure from our 2nd quarter survey shows that it's picked up significantly again... It's a very important constituency that we're developing, and I've been meeting with our third party development partners to understand their needs... so I'd like to see us amplify our effort to support our third party developer partners.
... This is still a medium where there's a lot of innovation and exploration... I still see incredible interest from a wide variety of people, organizations, and institutions. There was a wave, there's no question there was a hype wave, everyone saw it... I think we're at a much better place today than we were four to six months ago in terms of people's perceptions of the virtual world and Second Life specifically. You look at an economy that continues to grow in-world... and you look at the things that are on our planning horizon, and it looks very good to me.
What are some of the cooler Second Life sites and things you've seen in the last week or so?
Oh my gosh, there are so many, it's amazing... and of course we send them around the Lab all the time:
- "New Babbage: A Steampunk City In Second Life": A stunning video... Philip sent me a link to YouTube and said "Mark, you should check this out", and I'd just seen it the same morning... it was really arresting because of the kind of foggy, smoky atmosphere, and it was beautifully filmed and I was just incredibly moved by it...
"Accelor Mittal Holds A Shareholder Meeting in Second Life": I mean, just really, a cool thing... and the reason I choose those two... is how diverse they are, a shareholder meeting and this incredible short film [about Babbage]... this is a platform and people do stuff on it. And it's not like Accelor Mittal gives us a call... I learned like everyone else, I saw it in the Wall Street Journal.
"[Visiting] Global Kids in New York" - I sat down with the folks there and saw first hand how the kids were using Second Life to learn about evolution... they were in-world and they were learning about science with other kids in Chicago, and the one thing they had in common was that they were in-world in Second Life and learning. And I got a chance to ask them what they liked about it, what they thought about it, and you could see that they were learning in a completely different way.
And I all I could think about was, man, all I had was a textbook when I had science class...
We've gotten a lot of notes from Residents that have been really touchingly supportive about how powerful Second Life has been for them... I've looked at social computing for a reasonably long time in the lifespan of social computing, and I can tell you I've never seen anything like this in terms of the profound impact the medium has on people's lives. It's frankly amazing.
(For my GigaOM profile, we talked competition with Lively and other virtual worlds, profit and IPO rumors, and interoperability. In Part One of my NWN excerpts, we discussed why he joined Linden in the first place, on getting past Second Life's plateau phase, and the Love Machine; in Part Two, our conversation turned to a developer roadmap, and surveying the user community/internal economy/land use.)