Will Wright has been a member of Linden Lab's board of directors for about 3 months, and quite curiously, it's a move that the company has done little or nothing to publicize (besides quietly putting his name on the Linden website.) How will he shape the future of Linden Lab and Second Life? Since blogging the news, I've talked with some insiders on background, and here's a general picture:
Wright's guidance will be strongest around the development of Second Life as a product from the user experience side. His influence will also guide broader corporate strategy, and continue an evolution that began when Rod Humble left Electronic Arts to become Linden Lab's CEO: A company that operates less like a web services provider, and more like a hierarchical, traditional game publisher. More about what this means after the break:
That means, as the macro suggests, that Linden Lab is now working on projects for Second Life and for spinoff products that we may never see. My guess is this includes the SL-like game that's being developed now, which even few in the company know much about. It's typical for game companies to create game prototypes, spending months on the process, only to be unsuccessful, and dump the project as a failed experiment.
As Linden Lab is restructuring to operate more like a game company, this also means it's gained much more hierarchy, with Linden Lab executives communicating through traditional channels down to their managers, their managers pushing these changes to their product developers. This means less chance for individual innovation at the lower levels of the company. However, this is probably why we are seeing a faster rate of product innovations and improvements, in the Humble era of Linden Lab: It's operated less like the free-form, transparent company that began under the era of Philip Rosedale, and now operates with the top down efficiency of, well, a company like Electronic Arts.
And this is where Will Wright comes in: While his influence will probably not be felt on day to day product development, the very hierarchical nature of Linden Lab makes it more likely that it will be felt. And if Wright argues for important changes to Second Life and Linden Lab's other upcoming projects, it's much more likely those changes will get implemented. I believe we're already seeing this now, with the Second Life new user experience starting to resemble later iterations of The Sims PC games. My guess is this process will continue. In fact, I'm told we may see these changes toward more game-like features as early as this week, so stay tuned for that.
To be sure, Linden Lab is still a large company, so the perceptions of some insiders may not convey the whole picture. Lindens reading this, I hope you share your own impressions of the Will Wright era of Second Life in Comments below.