Saturday, August 13, 2011

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Linden Lab Launching Separate New SL-Light Experience for Web & Tablets Soon (SLCC 2011 Keynote Highlights)

Rod Humble Linden Lab CEO

Linden Lab will soon launch a light, game-like experience that’s separate from Second Life that will emphasize the SL values of creatitvity and alternate identities, but architected to run on the web and tablets.

That’s the top news from the keynote just delivered by Linden CEO Rod Humble at SLCC 2011 (pictured). These products will come out in the next few months, said Humble, and will go after the large market of light casual gaming. “As a company,” as he put it, “we have to be aggressive."

Other highlights from Humble’s talk:

  • Second Life is still growing, Humble claims, with a slight increase of total monthly uniques, and more relevant to him, a substantial growth of new returning users. Most of these users tend to be from a younger 20-something demographic (historically, active SL users have skewed 30s and 40s), and their in-world activity is lighter. This is why we haven’t seen an increase in total concurrency, he said. After his talk, I pointed out to Humble that IMVU, which has 3 million monthly uniques  (compared to SL’s 800K) and a younger userbase, has similar concurrency levels to SL, but as a light social game, has shorter usage periods. He agreed that SL’s new users are closer to that behavior pattern.
  • Linden will launch a Linden-made, curated area for new SL users, who will, for example, be able to play an RPG with one click without needing a HUD, along with other immediate entertainment experiences.
  • Humble deflected 2-3 user questions about land pricing, refusing to answer them. ("I'm not going to be talking about that," as he flatly put it at one point.) My hope was that Linden Lab would address the problem of their unsupportable land-based revenue model and the continued decline of user-owned private sims, including many noteworthy ones, often due to high tier fees, but that was not to be.

More random notes after the break:

SL improvements in 2011
List of improvements to SL introduced in 2011 so far
  • Premium accounts will soon come with added value. (I interpret this as a strategic move away from land as their main revenue.)
  • There will be an upcoming initiative to deal with griefers, "to make life unpleasant for [them]."
  • Addressing merchants, Humble said that at the end of this year, you'll see a significant marketing effort to bring in more users, and also a major press push with Humble and team putting their face out their more.
  • The rise of mobile and tablet devices are an important threat to virtual worlds. You will see Linden Lab address this market. (Laptop and desktop sales are flat while tablets grow, "And I think we need to be there.")
  • SL still gets 16K new accounts daily; these are people who complete the registration and download the client. (Many big game franchises, Humble noted, would kill for activity like that.)
  • Humble doesn't know why SL is still growing -- "And I like that... [there's] something mysterious about that. If I did understand it, I probably wouldn't [have become CEO]." 
  • Humble originally thought SL would be like The Sims, but quickly learned how off that was. Everyone in Second Life creates in one way or the other, even if that's just social creativity.
  • Outsiders ask: What's the point of SL? To Humble, "There's something about us [humans]... we have this need to create. It may be what makes a person."
  • The other important part of SL is that this creativity is shared. The last important element is identity. "I really believe in the right to choose your identity", and the right to put various walls between that identity and your real life. He pointed out that there's differences between you at church, at a PTA meeting, and at a sporting event. "And you switch modes" between them.
  • By contrast, it "disturbs me... the rise of certain social networks where you share everything."
  • Rod himself uses an pseudonym on soccer forums and expresses a different part of his persona there: "Part of my obscenity-ridden rants are about soccer."
  • By holiday this year, Linden Lab wants to be able to give their uninitiated family members an SL invite and have them be able to use SL. "Right now we're about halfway through with that little project."

Some interesting highlights raised during the audience Q&A:

  • On protection of user's intellectual property: We do have new plans to improve them.
  • Voice and facial recognition: Linden has engineers working on that.
  • Someone says Viewer 2 was discouraging and they stopped using it: "Fair enough," said Humble. "I recognize that was not an ideal UI... I hope you recognize the achievements we've been making." However, he added, "there's so many new features embedded in the Viewer 2 codebase" and they can't give that codebase up.
  • Best way to get in touch with Rod Humble is through his SL profile.
  • Before introducing Basic mode, "We were losing 15K [new accounts] a day."
  • Asked if Linden will bring back community gateways, Humble asked, "What are those?" SLCC's Frans Charming explained they were branded web portals from a few years back. "Oh," said Rod Humble, acknowledging his relative noob status as CEO (as he did throughout his talk), "that's a good idea."

Readers also at SLCC: These notes were taken live, many of them are rough, so if you think I missed anything, please add amendments in Comments!

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Senban Babii

This.

"The last important element is identity. "I really believe in the right to choose your identity", and the right to put various walls between that identity and your real life. He pointed out that there's differences between you at church, at a PTA meeting, and at a sporting event. "And you switch modes" between them."

And this.

"By contrast, it "Disturbs me... the rise of certain social networks where you share everything."

I've been pretty much out of SL for months now, primarily because of these issues and SL's progression towards becoming a 3D Facebook under the idiot who was in charge before.

Rod may just be in the process of winning me back. After reading this article I'm cautiously optimistic :)

/me flicks her tail and watches closely

Uccello

@Senban This sounds exactly like a continuation of "SL's progression towards becoming a 3D Facebook." In fact, it sounds like they are developing a game much like Farmville or the like to play on Facebook or Google+ or even in our own Profiles, a nascent social network if I've ever seen one. What was described is a separate product. As I stated on my blog, "Rather than cultivate a new customer base or possibly mine the existing one by drawing them away from the current product, why can't The Lab give us a new, convenient way to keep doing what we clearly want to do?"

Yes, that is wild speculation. I look forward to seeing more details.

Hitomi Tiponi

@Uccello - at the 'Social Experience and Communities' meeting later on many attendees got the impression that in many ways LL were edging SL to be becoming a social network for people who didn't want to reveal real life info, with a virtual world tagged on. The Lindens there didn't seem to deny that.

Shug Maitland

One of the things that caught my attention was "Premium accounts will soon come with added value".
I hope this will be something meaningful. Doubling the land allotment would go a long way toward occupying some of the abandoned mainland and land *ownership* goes a long way toward newbies feeling vested in SL. After all once you own land you have to use all those prims :)
His humility and sympathy over the Viewer 2 fiasco was refreshing.
Aside to Rod: The secret ingredient is fantasy; and the freedom to choose/create what fantasy(ies) you will live.

Aliasi Stonebender

I find Humble's willingness to admit SL is not Facebook - an idea even Hamlet here seems to flirt with - refreshing. By all means, yes, take the good bits. "SL Lite" isn't necessarily a bad thing at all.

But the people who want their entire life online where anybody can see it Facebook-style are ALREADY ON FACEBOOK. To grow SL, LL should be chasing the things that make it unique and hunting after that crowd. No, you'll never get the same insane numbers of users because creative people are a minority. What LL can get is a good-sized, fiercely loyal userbase that's there because nobody's willing to offer something like this thing they want.

I regret hearing Viewer 2 is going to continue, but with any luck maybe they can work on making the UI reconfigurable; Firestorm from the Phoenix crew seems to indicate a way forward. While it isn't perfect and it still seems to rez slower than the 1.23-based Phoenix, it's usable.

Laro

I love Humble <3 ... someone who can write 3 pages of over-intellectualized introduction to a simple flash game on his homepage is JUST THE RIGHT PERSON for a creative SL.

DMC Jurassic

Finally, the CEO of Linden Lab has spoken. Great news! Let's invigorate SL again!

Ezra

Didn't Facebook just forbade the use of virtual currency in an application other than Facebook credits?

That alone seems to kill any future of a full-fledged Second Life experience embedded in Facebook since every part of Second Life involving a financial transaction would either have to be exempted somehow or Linden Lab switch to Facebook credits.

I like Rod's direction of fleshing out Second Life as a more full social network of its own not dependent upon on fickle Apple or Facebook policies as a lot of other companies have raced to subjugate themselves to.

Also, where'd he say "SL Light"? I don't seem to recall him making any connection between what-else Linden Lab is working on and Second Life. Obviously it'd make all the sense in the world to leverage existing customer base, but you make it sound as if he confirmed a thin-mobile client for Second Life Hamlet. Is that true or a guess?

Ehrman Digfoot

The "immediate entertainment experiences" seem to be passing without discussion. I wonder what this means for people who RP. It would be nice to see a more robust damage system, or an energy system like we saw in the recent 2001 Linden World video.

I really appreciate Humble's decision to side firmly with a large section of the user-base. I am not personally concerned about anonymity on the web. It's just not something I feel passionate about. But the fact that so many do, and Humble has sided squarely with them impresses me.

It's been a great year and LL has done a good job balancing small usability improvements for new users and large-scale infrastructure level technical improvements for us the loyal base.

Dizzy Banjo

This is the most interesting news from Linden for many years for me. If they are considering designing a new experience, more relevant to the devices and lifestyle of todays mainstream, then it could be super interesting. Wow, perhaps they really will do the "maintain the dream of SL as it is AND build a new project" option. Exciting!

Hamlet Au

Yeah, Dizzy, you really called it! I was going to post that NWN comment you made last week but then I started talking to Lindens who hinted that they were basically already following your plan.

Arcadia Codesmith

Rod is saying the right things. More importantly, the Lab is quietly starting to DO the right things.

This week, the glass is half-full. Let's see if they can keep filling more than spilling.

Ann Otoole InSL

They need to put some engineering resources back into the main product and fix the horrible UI performance of v3.

Sitearm

@Wagner; Excellent summary and thank you! I will add that Rod has a Brit accent, a nicely wry sense of humor, and that he is in SL search as "Rodvik Linden."

Hearing Rod(vik)'s keynote live and introducing myself afterward in the queue were my first chances to get a personal impression. I am, as others have said, very encouraged.

More than that: there were a total of 23 Linden Lab Staff attending, only a third of whom were on presentations and panels. My favorite quote from one staffer at the lunch table was,“We [all 23 of us] CHOSE to be here.”

In other words, Residents and Lindens are eager and ready to reconnect. I think this conference has been the kick start for that reconnecting to happen. SLCC 2011 has been a good experience for Live and Remote, and Resident and Linden attendees. Kudos to AvaCon and Linden Lab!

shockwave yareach

While I'm delighted to see the crew of the SSLL painting the deck back to its festive colors once more, covering up all the drab gray put in place by the previous ChimpEO, the sad fact is that the ship is STILL sinking because nobody is fixing the gaping hole in the hull after the iceberg collision!

What Rod needs to do is give us back the ownership that we paid money for -- nothing more, nothing less. If nobody can trust LL to stick to a contract, then nobody is going to pay LL more than pocket change. Otherwise, they will have to cut the price and tier for the land they will now Lease by 1/3 or more. It could be argued that the high price was an investment when we owned it. But without ownership and with LL's ability to take the property anytime and for any reason, nobody in their right mind will pay the sums of money and get so little in return.

LL needs to fix the land issue and tie the number of items in the webstore to how much land you own or how much you spend inworld in rent each month. Getting us back to our wild and free fantasy world that's separate from reality is a great first step. But until land is fixed, the world will continue to shrink; and the user base with it.

IntLibber

Whats missing from this article is how Rembrandt Flux ripped Rodvik a new one over the company's abuse of paying residents, theft of sims, money, and content, and piss poor customer service, as well as infiltration of the lab by vigilantes from the JLU.

metatraveler

It makes sense that active SL users have skewed 30s and 40s, because people in their 20s are currently exploring their first life. (They're too young to want a second life. They should invest time in hanging out with RL friends and looking for RL partners and building their RL identities.)

As for IMVU...the trurh is IMUV pays incentive virtual money to fans on facebook, those fans can use this virtual money to buy their in-game appearences and houses. That's why IMVU can gain 2M+facebook fans. IMVU is actually a pretty shallow game mainly for teenagers.

SL still has its advantages and appeals which make it unreplaceable. From my observation, one of the the major problems of SL's slow growth is that LL has only focused on why most people chose facebook instead of SL, but has never recognized the fact that SL probably hasn't introduced itself well enough to many potential foreign users as Facebook has. The truth is--hundreds of millions people in non-English-speaking countries don't even know what SL is, like Chinese.

So the problem is not that people are not to "choose" SL, the problem is most people don't even "know" SL.

Accessibility to potential users includes several aspects. Tablet/web access can definitely help SL gain more popularity, but LL shouldn't ignore the power of internet advertisements and multi-language UI, tutorials, and manuals.

Advertisements and languages are fundamental tools to communicate with potential users. Even more important than devices.

I think it's not right time yet to promote SL in order to gaining more premium members, but time to gain more worldwide popularity.

IMUV's invested immense money in worldwide propagandizing, and Facebook perfectly translated its UI to different languages. I see no reason for SL to give up putting efforts into those two directions.

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