Thursday, November 03, 2011

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Insiders Share How Will Wright Will Influence the Future of Second Life & Linden Lab

Linden Lab Will Wright era

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.

Will Wright Second Life

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.

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Deep Semaphore

I have a very uncomfortable feeling about this. As many have pointed out, it appears that Linden Lab has lost confidence in its flagship product and is trying to keep investors on board by buying into the current buzz of the day. Am sure that there is a lot of arm chair talk going on about 'we have to build a company ... not a product ... la la la' which has come to mean 'we have to make money in the short term, right here and now.'Whoever is leading Linden Lab behind the curtain should adopt a Bezos strategy and tell investors to f.. off if they are interested in short term gains.

DD Ra

I concur with Deep Semaphore, I have a bad feeling that Linden Lab is letting SL on the side for a new project...

Shug Maitland

I too am concerned, for the reasons expressed above, but more so because Second Life development is being directed more and more by "game developers". It makes a very big difference that this is *not a game*. Without spending a substantial amount of time in-world it is difficult to appreciate that.
One recent example is the Last Names problem. An expedient fix to a hangup in the registration process has resulted in a major social problem. Unreasonable "gamer names like 123Joe45zx obstruct communication, as do display names that change on a whim. Anyone with significant in-world experience would have caught that.
There have been many such gaffs over the years, most avoidable.

Ordinal Malaprop

Sorry - I am not quite seeing how it is that LL could operate "less like a web services provider".

Mark C

I'm pretty sure he means that they make their money by renting out server space.

Ezra

I'd take the "traditional game publisher" summation with a grain of salt.

When you see art, designer, sound and writer jobs appear at: http://lindenlab.com/careers, believe Hamlet's summation and worry then.

Until then though there's no reason to believe Linden Lab is switching gears from a platform as a service provider to a game publisher.

Nyoko Salome

;0 there are so many things that could use redesign (again) to achieve a more 'gamelike' quality - the v2 gui wasn't a bad direction, if a bit mis-done along the way; can see they are still messing with it in beta.

the gui is all; the gui is key. ;) i have a suggestion; this may be 'deep' into the current architecture/lsl, but it'd be fabbo to have a better, more advanced (and of course scripted-accessible) interface with users, other than the super-limited windows-98-feeling dialog box!! ;0

that may just be a beginning, but by concentrating on how easily (and 'modernly' in terms of interface) the sl viewer can let users easily interface and play with HUDS and such without having such a steep curve for design, plus creating something a bit standardized, would be awesome. something that allows automatic display of 'any number' of buttons allowed by screenspace; collapsible/re-expandible from one little button, providing dynamic options on the fly (perhaps via an open-library script for comms) to any number of interface-able items around a user (anything within their 'click' range probably).

so, a built-in library that supports a list and automatically displays as many buttons as possible, with built-in scrolling buttons, and plus it'd be nice to have an easy 'slider' tool to call up for use too... :) imagine light fixtures with not just on/off buttons, but a brightness slider.

then click on something else, and have instant interface to that item instead; the buttons reconfigure on the fly... a 'ubiqui-HUD' kind of thing. :) but probably built into the viewer in some interface way, like the current dialog box, but a complete redesign.

;0 well... i can wish, can't i?? ;0 rock on lab!! :)

Arcadia Codesmith

Will Wright isn't exactly a traditional game designer. He makes "software toys" -- very open-ended and user-directed.

There's not a vast philosophical gulf between the portfolio of Sims titles and Second Life. I've got a very good feeling about Will's input.

Leonel Morgado

Solving the interface is key, indeed, but much more urgent is dropping the traditional prices for hosting. It's insane to think that current customers will stay for long just for the community when they can switch for OpenSim grids for a fraction of the cost.

Dizzy Banjo

I think having someone like Will Wright involved, in any way, will help improve the product. I don't think all of his projects have been great successes, but they are consistently interesting, well structured and take complex wide ranging freeform possibilities and make them easy to understand. All these insights are very valuable for Linden Lab.

Johnny alt

It doesn't matter what The Lab does or what Will Wright suggests. If the resident killing high tier costs are not reduced, Secondlife will continue to spin on the spot, stagnating and slowly declining and losing residents because of cost fatigue.

The tier costs are insane and they cause so much friction in the core user base. Committed, dedicated, passionate users are walking away, they can't justify the ongoing costs.

I doubt Will Wright, marvelous though he is, will make any difference at all unless he says to the powers that be at LL - Hey guys isn't 300USD per month kind of expensive ??

Seymore Steamweaver

With some of the displays of narrow-mindedness I'm seeing in this comment section it's no wonder hoards of people are leaving. Who wants to stay at a party full of moping molly's?

Phil came back. Everyone was happy thinking the company was saved...and then he left when even he realized he couldn't save it. Enter Rod: An artist. He'll get the job done. Will's involvement, in my mind, really shows how bad a position the company was in, and I think things can only get better.

And I'm sure this doesn't apply to everyone, but for some of you complaining about the $300 a month sim fee? You'll never hear me complaining about my $3,000. a month mortgage fee. Why? Because I don't have one. It's called living within your means. You know why some of the Mall Cart folks sell their wares on Mall Carts and not in 2000 square foot retail spaces? Because they don't do a sufficient amount of business to support it. If your sim isn't getting enough business to KEEP you in business...hey capitalism, you know how it goes. Bye bye baby.

Yes, in SL same as RL, if you dream it you can build it, But SL same as RL is often limited by real life rules: Can you afford to do so? i

foneco zuzu

Unless some alternative grid offers the same but for much less and residents start to feel they can give way all their inventory for a better place!
So far none did it, but... competition is around!

shockwave yareach

Unless the core problems are addressed, it does not matter what he or anyone else does. You can supercharge an engine and put in the biggest cylinders, add NOx etc, but if you've fueled up with water, you still aren't going anywhere.

The tier has to come down 1/3. Period.
The TOS needs simplified. Period.
The marketplace should have limits based on land owned/rented. Period.

In addition, the viewer could be split into two - a window for the world and a window for the sidebar. That would be perfect for both laptop and dual monitor folks. It would also help if a top to bottom fine tuning permitted more than 50 people on a sim; you won't convince me that these machines can't deal with more. If the servers need more ram to pull it off then do it.

SL was a brilliant invention 7 years ago. Today, the major faults have remained and new faults have been added to the mix. With the high costs and dwindling numbers, people are finding fewer reasons to stay and pay. Cut the costs and start thinking in terms of volume. Make the rules less hostile so people can enjoy their purchases. Limit the marketplace to 10 items plus the number of prims the land the magic box sits on divided by 30 to make owning land important again -- today it's seen as a sucker's buy.

Ezra

@Seymore

Sim counts are shrinking, not growing. Because of that, most of us aren't deliberating OUR livelihood, it's Second Life's.

There's a lot of different motivations that go into wanting sims to be more affordable. To own one or more is definitely a motivator, but the chief motivator is to have fewer interesting sims appearing on this blog's "Sim Deathwatch".

Its incomplete thinking to believe that the only consequence to too expensive tier prices is that the ones who want but can't or are unwilling to afford it are out of luck. Many don't want a region of their own but do want more things to DO in Second Life. That's going to require the "Sim Deathwatch" to stop marching, sim counts to stop bleeding and infact reverse back to growing. That's why tier cost reductions are necessary.

Sims are disappearing, and so things to do are disappearing, and so user hours are disappearing. So long as tier costs are where they are, Second Life will fail at anything Will, Phil or Rod ever want for it or deem it to be. There's zero point in labeling Second Life a "new continent", "shared creativity platform" or whatever its called this week when the market for buying the privilege to own land and create has deemed it too expensive.

We can talk about "moping Mollys" when there's folks complaining about tier costs when sim counts are actually growing. Until then, that moping is actually legitimate demand-side feedback that Linden Lab will either listen to and stop the bleed or not.

Emperor Norton

Seymore Steamweaver @ "Why? Because I don't have one. It's called living within your means. You know why some of the Mall Cart folks sell their wares on Mall Carts and not in 2000 square foot retail spaces? Because they don't do a sufficient amount of business to support it. If your sim isn't getting enough business to KEEP you in business...hey capitalism, you know how it goes. Bye bye baby."

Someone is still living the hype. Second Life Marketplace has replaced sims as were commerce is being done. The reason why the grid is slowly shrinking is because "hey capitalism" has found $300 a month sims are not worth it except for a few people with the most successful businesses.

Arcadia Codesmith

Tier prices have to drop, and 1/3 isn't nearly far enough. Try 90% off and you're closer to a competitive price point in the current market. I regard that as self-evident and inevitable.

So SL needs to find other sources of revenue, and they've got to be compelling enough to make up for the lost tier.

If we're looking at The Sims, one possibility that comes to mind are packaged, themed collections of user-created content. SL picks top-tier merchandise and markets it like a game expansion, and they split the proceeds with the creators. Win-win-win.

Hamlet Au

Exactly, Arcadia. Linden Lab can't cut tier costs substantially because tier costs are 80% their revenue. At least until Premium subscriptions and other revenue streams get large enough to replace them. Which won't happen until SL gets MASS GROWTH.

You want a tier cut? Get 1 million people to get a premium account. If SL ever gets to that point, LL will probably give away sims for nearly free.

Cyberserenity

Closer to gaming? Yes the script and physics engine needs that. But as a service? No. SL is not Wow.

As i always say. The future of 3d worlds is Opensim.

Johnny alt

Hamlet, unfortunately LL will NOT get massive growth until they cut tier.

Tier costs are the deal breaker, they cause too much friction.

If anybody could buy a Homestead with a Premium account and Homesteads were 49 USD per month Tier - the grid would explode and MASSIVE GROWTH would happen.

LL need to bite the bullet and grow some 'cahoonas'!

There's no other solution. No reduction in tier, no massive growth.

Hamlet Au

"If anybody could buy a Homestead with a Premium account and Homesteads were 49 USD per month Tier - the grid would explode and MASSIVE GROWTH would happen."

What existing market evidence can you cite for this projection? And what do you mean by "massive growth"? And would it be enough to replace Linden's current $80M revenue run rate? Please show your figures and assumptions, I'd love to see them.

elizabeth (16)

if LL reduce tier then only thing certain is that people will get more land

like if i have 1 sim and tier reduced by 50% then i will get 2 sims. i wont get 3 sims bc i would have to pay $450 a month instead of $300

if extrapolate this to 30,000 sims then the grid will virtually double overnight to 60,000 sims

if this happen then will put enormous pressure on large estates to start offering 2-4s to their current tenants. so their own admin costs go up without any increase in their rental income

LL hosting and admin costs will prob almost double immediately without any guarantee there will be an increase in overall
revenue

if hosting costs are 20% of tier then LL will need to sell about 14,400 more sims at new price of $150 to make the tipping point. this 14,400 on top of the 30,000 freebies. so 74,400 altogether from 30,000 now

i only got a 560m and i be really happy if i could double my land to 1120m for same tier as now. i wouldnt triple my land as i can only afford what i pay now in tier. so can understand why is not possible for LL to halve my tier. maybe one day if LL can get
more money from premiums and commissions then will be possible

i rather LL be profitable so there will always be a SL. better than LL giving me more land just bc i am outrage!!! and then go broke

if is going to be a reduction in tier one day then it cant be much anyways. like only a small amount so the tipping point not to far away and will match the growth trajectory

if it has to be small then best way is put in more tier bands for upto a full sim. and a schedule that reduce tier in bands for sims owned. people always happy to move earlier on upsizing if is relatively cheaper overall. but only if they can afford to pay that much total anyways

the 1 sim price entry point could maybe come down a bit but prob only like 5-10% to start and reducing annually by some small amount depending on growth

if prices are to fall then is more about LL needing to get more revenue from residents, than residents getting more land cheaper. while these objectives are not exclusive can easy stuff SL completely if is not planned properly

Johnny alt

Hamlet,
Here's some evidence regarding how high tier costs effect the grid

http://www.metaverse-business.com/regionmonth.php

The above graph : Monthly number of regions on the SL grid tells the story of tier and it's effect on the growth of Secondlife and the grid itself.

Before the price hike of Oct 2008 we had spectacular growth, it's almost like a rocket taking off. When tier costs went up approx 5000 people dropped sims. A clear indication of tier price effecting purchases.

If the Oct 2008 price rise hadn't happened growth would have carried on and now 3 years later we'd easily have anywhere between 60 - 120k sims on the grid, and that's with some cooling down of the market. Yet 3 years later we're stagnant at approx the same 31k sims as in 2008.

The Oct 2008 price rise was a massive error. It actually killed interest and killed the growth of the platform. the grid has still not yet recovered and never will until tier is reduced.

Johnny alt

Hamlet said :
'And what do you mean by "massive growth"?
Growth similar to previously recorded growth - prior to the 2008 price hike

Secondlife can grow from within AND attract thousands of new sim owners if the blockers on sim ownership are removed.

The 3 main blockers are -
1. High monthly tier costs
2. Blocking people buying a Homestead without owning a full sim
3. The Atlas program

1. High monthly tier costs - this is simple it's just too expensive and people are not buying

2. This is a really serious blocker. There are literally thousands of people who would love to get a Homestead directly from LL, even at current tier prices but are unable to do so because the $1000USD set up fee and 300USD monthly tier sits between them and the product they want.

3. The Atlas program is another contributing factor to the stagnation of the grid. In an attempt to protect the big estate owners, LL have basically killed one of the biggest and most exciting games in SL - THE LAND GAME.

High tier costs combined with with the Atlas program price breaks for the biggest estate owners makes it very difficult for new players to enter the LAND GAME

The Atlas program is blocking the growth of the grid and making it somewhat boring aswell as the big land owners are often just land flippers serving up the same stale ideas of how land should be presented to end users.

Current Tier costs are depressing, lowering interest in Sl and preventing exciting projects from getting off the ground. It's just too expensive.

The fact the grid isn't growing is evidence itself that the price is wrong.

When LL dropped the set up fees they had a surge of purchases. Evidence again that price is a big factor.

Did I just say price is a big factor to whether people purchase a product ????

Perhaps there may even be evidence out there that price effects purchasing choices.

Gosh !! I think I'm on to something here !

Hamlet Au

"The Oct 2008 price rise was a massive error. It actually killed interest and killed the growth of the platform."

But that chart shows that sim ownership returned to near 2008 levels by June 2010, without a price cut. If the price rise "killed interest", why did sim ownership climb back up shortly afterward?

"There are literally thousands of people who would love to get a Homestead directly from LL"

There's no proof that there is. But even assuming there was, can you explain how Linden Lab can make a drastic land price cut that would benefit existing land owners and these "thousands" of new land owners, while maintaining its $80M revenue base?

shockwave yareach

Hamlet: Okay. I would like one, but I don't need a full island sim. Several of my friends have also complained that they too would like one, but not for 300 + 95 to get one. That's 4 datapoints for you as "proof". We are builders and would like the space to make games, mazes, races, etc.

I can't foot the bill for a full sim. Deal with it. And like so many have already learned, people won't pay to visit your island and play in it -- you have to have other ways of making it self supporting. I'm not interested in another business; I already have too many to run in RL as well as SL, thank you very much. My interest is recreational, though I enjoy sharing with everyone. I cannot afford the full sim price, but I can afford a Homestead.

But if my money isn't good enough for LL, I'll just spend it elsewhere, as so many of my friends who have quit SL have done.

Flip

Land is NOT the main reason why people come to Second Life and it certainly is NOT the main reason they leave either. They come to be engaged, entertained, express themselves (all of which do not have land as a prerequisite) and when those needs are left unfulfilled, they leave. All these people saying that High Tier is destroying Second Life "look at the figures" yadda yadda....what a load of Tosh. If you have a spare $10 a month to spend and decide to spend it on land in SL then $10 is what will be spent...whether it is for a 512sqm parcel or a 10zillionsqm megaplot. People spend what they can afford and guess what...thats EXACTLY what is being spent in Second Life - What People Can Afford. Do you really believe that there is a huge dam, outside in the big wide real world that is holding back a biblical proportion horde of would be sl land grabbers who would bust down that dam and rush headlong into SL "if only the tiers were 30% cheaper". The answer is NO there is not. As someone pointed out earlier, lower tiers just means people will spend no more than they already do but just have more land.
Now, if you argue that you want more "bang for your buck" well, then you have a more sensible argument and one that can be based in reality.
On this point I think LL are heading in the right direction...slowly slowly catchy monkey.

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