Rod Humble talks-up new products, creativity and Second Life

Lelani Carver pointed me towards a further interview with Rod Humble on the subject of new products which appeared in the Gamesbeat pages of VentureBeat on October 12th. The interview is pretty much what has been said elsewhere insofar as the new products are concerned, but there are some very interesting nuggets of information sitting within it.

Pride of the father: Rod Humble shows-off Creatorverse (images coutesy of VentureBeat)

Patterns and Creatorverse are primarily mentioned in the piece, with Humble again commenting on the company’s new-found philosophy established out of Second Life:

“At Linden Lab, we believe that creativity is within all people and that it empowers them like nothing else,” said Humble. “We make digital spaces where people can have fun while exploring and sharing their creativity with others. Millions of people around the world have enjoyed that in Second Life, and we look forward to inspiring even more creativity.”

Some people have already taken issue with the use of the past tense (“have enjoyed”) when used in reference to Second Life on the Lab’s corporate website, and they are liable to feel the same way seeing Humble use the same phrasing here. While I don’t necessarily support such views, I would say that when commenting on Second Life to the wider community, media or otherwise, use of the present tense might underline the fact that SL is still out there and people are enjoying it and what it has to offer. Hope you’re reading this, Rod! ;-).

The feature is light on details for both Dio (which gets a throwaway mention) and Versu (which gets no mention at all); whether this is down to the interviewer missing them, or Humble not being in a position to speak about them at the time of the interview, is unclear. However, what he does say in reference to all three which do get a mention (Patterns, Creatorverse and Dio) is that people will be able to monetize them.

Patterns: users to be able to monetize it in the future?

This is something he lightly touched upon in his interview with Giant Bomb, specifically with reference to Creatorverse, and I mused in passing on his comment and whether it would be applicable to all of LL’s new products. Well, it would seem so.

For those curious about Linden Research itself, the article contains some interesting elements:

Today, Second Life survives with 1 million monthly active users. The world generated $75 million in revenues last year and it is operating profitably. That has allowed Humble to expand his team to 175 employees and go after the markets beyond the virtual world.

There is also mention of the 2010 lay-offs, although these are again referred to slightly out-of-context, failing to mention that during his tenure, Mark Kingdon actually recruited some 125 people into LL, expanding it by as much as 50% in order to fuel (for the most part) the company’s failed (some would say misguided) attempt to enter the enterprise market. As such, while the lay-offs did hurt, at the time they actually returned the company to more-or-less the “pre-Kingdon” expansion, a move in line with the company also dropping all aspiratiosn of entering the enterprise applications market.

However (and ignoring the perjorative “survives” in the Gamesbeat comment), the reference to “expanding” the team to 175 is an eye-opener; it suggests that the continuing run of those departing the company / being asked to leave has been cutting somewhat deeper than may have previously been appreciated given that 200-220 employees has tended to be the considered figure for the number of people employed by the Lab.

Nor does the article ignore Second Life. In referring to SL, Humble tells Gamesbeat that it is also getting a major upgrade this year, and that Linden Lab is “still investing in 3D virtual worlds.” This is liable to lead to some speculation as to what the “major upgrade” may be. For my part, and given that this week sees some shuffling of regions onto new hardware together with the recent network optimisation tests, I’m thinking Humble is talking more in terms of the company’s much-touted hardware and infrastructure investment, rather than a mega new in-world feature.

Also quoted in the article, LL board member Will Wright makes mention to SL in a maner which may draw frowns from some:

Rod has a great sense of player communities and the forces that drive them. At Linden Labs [sic] I know he’s focused on trying to evolve a very established community into something much broader and more inviting.

While this probably refers to opening-out Second Life to Steam and potentially generating a wider appeal for the platform than is currently the case, that Wright refers to Humble trying to make the existing SL community “more inviting” might easily be taken the wrong way. Many within SL are already feeling increasingly alienated as a result of some of LL’s actions under Humble’s tenure as CEO; so the idea that some at board level are still of the opinion that the existing SL user community is somehow less-than-inviting isn’t going to do much to dispel these feelings or that there is perhaps something of an adversarial attitude within the Lab towards its existing users.

Issue might also be taken with Humble’s own closing statement in the interview, in which he says, in part:

“We are still investing in 3D virtual worlds,” he said. “But shared creative spaces is what we do. There is an opportunity to embrace the new way of developing things. A lot of this could be done inside Second Life. But you get more creativity in the hands of more people by building on new platforms”

This could be seen as something of a dismissal of Second Life; however, I’d hesitate in seeing it that way. The sentiment behind the comment could just as easily be born out of an acknowledgement that from a business perspective, 3D immersive environments are still a niche market and are liable to remain so for some time to come. Thus, it is actually easier for the company to rapidly grow a new user base (and revenue streams) and leverage new platforms through the development of new products. As such, when looking at Humble’s words from the persepctive of SL, perhaps the the key phrase to focus upon is, “We are still investing in 3D virtual worlds.”

You can read the full article here.

25 thoughts on “Rod Humble talks-up new products, creativity and Second Life

  1. LL has a moral responsability when they created not a game,but perhaps the World where All would love to live for real!
    Ignoring that will not make that World disapear, as there are already alternatives,(still investing in 3D virtual worlds!) to it!
    But it is a shame that the oens that rule it, will forget its role and its place, as the leader of those 3D virtual worlds and can’t even realize how deeper behind a mere game they have in hands!
    ROD,, Sl avatars are not cpu controled!
    Take a day in your life to see that and you will be deeply involved in Sl survival, not as a mere product of LL but as some tool that makes us All, dream!


    1. Who’s ignoring it?

      Not that long ago you were demanding LL do something about region crossings and lag – they are. New hardware and further network optimisation which should benefit, plus work with multi-threading region crossings. We have a range of additional tools coming which will make the in-world experience even richer. Materials processing, advanced creation tools, much improved object rezzing, and so on.

      Where are avatars being CPU controlled? Bots have always been a part of SL – and can be excessively cumbersome. Pathfinding helps resolve many issues around them and – more importantly – opens the door for much more life-like behaviour for animals, etc., helping to present SL as a much more immersive environment.

      At the same time, LL are looking to find ways to bring more people into SL and build-up user numbers.

      And they are doing this without actually impacting any of the things you actually enjoy doing, yet you continue to be dissatisfied with everything they do. Strange.


      1. No communication implies no action.

        When was the last time anyone at LL jumped up and down and made a big public fuss over how awesome the latest awesome was. I remember a company that used to be excited about it’s own product, that needs to come back to the Lab.

        The perception is LL spending SL money to make other products.


        1. The problem is with public fuss is two-fold.

          On the one hand, LL have consciously stepped back from the Big Awesome in SL, and are far more focused on trying to get more intrinsic matters sorted out. Ironically, much of this is actually trying to sort out precisely what we, as users have been demanding they do (“fix” lag, sort out region crossings, get stability sorted out, improve reliability around things like group services, texture loading, interest lists, make SL look better, run smoother, etc., etc.). And while they can operate on more than one front, this has tended to limit the time they can spend in getting the next Big Awesome sorted out. Ergo, there isn’t a lot for them to leap up and down about and stick in front of the press.

          There’s also the fact that whether we, as users, like it or not – the press itself isn’t interested in Second Life. It’s yesterday’s news. Look at the perjorative manner in which Gamebeat presents SL; it “survives”. Not “is used by”, not “has a million active users logging into it every month” (no mean feat), but rather “survives”. Even if Humble turned up at a press conference listing new features, pricing restructures, and so on, the chances are the larger part of the media will react with yawns, because SL simply isn’t the sexy darling it was five or six years ago.

          Looking more inwardly on the matter of communications – as in keeping their own users inspired and engaged, I do agree with you. The lack of communication leads to a whole raft of slanted perceptions and complete misconceptions – and the silence around pathfinding’s premature server-side deployment more than amply demonstrates. And that really does need to be changed.


  2. I’ll make this quick, Inara. One of your comments is ” I hope you’re reading this, Rod”. There is an increasing bulk signs blatant and subtle within Linden Lab that Rod Humble is not a good listener. He expects his ideas to be acted upon with the swiftest despatch and he is not “open” to explanations of failure. To expect Rod to talk up or even act as an advocate for Second Life is rather like asking Moby Dick to walk to the coast. It ain’t going to happen.


    1. There is a case to make that things are a lot more “calendar focused” than has previously been the case, certainly. We had it from Rod himself last year at SLCC-2011, in his comments that no matter what is done when prepping a software release, it’s going to “break”, so it is better to get it out the door and “test, polish, test, polish”.

      This philosophy is fine with the likes of Patterns, etc., which are very much still in a genesis phase. But I’m certainly not convinced it works with Second Life, something I’ve commented on (Why putting the “lab” back into Linden Lab might need more consideration”) in the past.

      Of course, we’ve no actual idea as to precisely how prevalent the philosophy is within the SL development side of LL, but leaving aside inevitable issues which result from unforeseen circumstances / use of SL during things like server deployments, etc., it has to be said that all of the “big” roll-outs of 2011 / 2012 appear to have been premature, and more linked to dates on a calendar than their readiness for use.

      • Mesh rolled with an acknowledgement from the team that at least one “major update” would be required (and never came)
      • We had the deployment of the advanced creator tools before the requisite permissions system updates in place and without apparent clarity of thought as to how they might be abused, with immediate issues occurring, prompting LL to disable the tools (see: Genie out of the bottle: advanced tools capability used for griefing). Given that the tools cannot actually be used to their fullest extent until such time as the permissions system is updated (something we’re still waiting for) also tends to beg the question as to why the deployment could not have waited until the permissions systems updates were ready as well, other than for meeting a date on a calendar
      • We had pathfinding deployed server-side, without any of the requesite viewer tools being available for widespread use, without the systems being effectively documented and without the proper advanced communication on the issue (which might have at leasted seemed some of the flow of the broader misunderstanding and misconceptions which occurred around pathfinding outside of those genuine issues and concerns related to the physics changes).

      But that said, that Humble does at least hear cannot be disputed. His recent input into issues on the Marketplace show that. But as I’ve commented, there comes a time where hearing needs to be supplemented with recognisable action.

      I also think that, while much of what has happened around SL has broken a lot of the renewed enthusisam I personally felt for the platform following SLC-2011, I do think that he actually does still want SL to succeed and grow. It’s just that his attention has largely be taken up with the development of the new family of products. That it has is actually understandable, and I’m not going to begrudge him for doing so. Just so long as it doesn’t come at the exlcusion of SL – and I’m not convinced we’ve reached that point as yet.


  3. Inara, as premium member i expect that the company i pay to, keeps the nachine runing and improves it!
    Is the least i deserve,, as any that pays for a product!
    Another thing is knowing and feeling that the Helm is leaded by sme who does not know or wants to, feel that the machine is much more then that, is a living dream of a world that we all wish it was real!


    1. I’m a premium member, and I see the company is striving to “keep the machine running and improve it”.

      They’re investing in new hardware and new infrastructure; they are investing considerable time and effort into “fixing” issues such as avatar baking failures, slow rezzing due to a combination of slow texture downloads and poor interest list optimisation; they are working to bring much better graphics processing into SL which will vastly improve the in-world look and feel over time and potentially make SL far more appealing to new users; they are working to overcome significant shortfalls in areas such a large group management, teleporting issues, simulator performance. They are continuing to develop and enhance the viewer.

      In other words, they would seem to be doing precisely what you are demanding.


  4. Maybe Rod needs to hire Robin Harper again to get better handling of his PR 🙂 But I think that we read too much into Rod’s casual use of language. Even if those four new games are an awesome success — and I, for one, I’m crossing my fingers and hoping they are — it will take some time until these are able to surpass the income that LL gets from Second Life. And, if they do, I wouldn’t be surprised that the massive investments in SL — which might (I’m speculating here!) mean doing more (e.g. increasing region-per-server density) with lower running costs — can get paid from the four games, and allow LL to finally start seriously cutting prices on regions.

    They’ll be very hard pressed to compete with Kitely, though. My own prediction is that OpenSim-based commercial grids will either emulate Kitely’s ultra-low-cost, region-on-demand model using Amazon (and thus focusing on a pay-per-use model with OpenSim as SaaS, which means pretty much next-to-zero running costs), or they will have no option but to fail. But Linden Lab is also furiously investing in pushing as much as they can on Amazon (well, Jeff Bezos was also one of the “founding fathers” of Linden Lab… 🙂 ). If LL starts pushing whole simulators into the cloud as well, and start offering sim-on-demand services, well, then we’ll start to see some interesting competition — and a much more scalable long-term model with way, way lower prices.


    1. They certainly need someone to be more pro-active in informing users and ensuring their own channels are better utilised (which would in turn increase the amount they are used).

      I totally agree on the language, but thought it worth pointing out in case Rod still reads here, as I was surprised at the negativity voiced on some forums and in a few blogs I read, simply on the basis of the use of the past tense within the page for SL on LL’s website.

      Investment-wise, I also agree: region density and lower costs – hence why I mentioned the new hardware in the piece (also see my last update on SL projects in the section dealing with “more server news”).

      Revenue-wise, it’s certainly not going to be a short-term thing where the new products are concerned; they need to build up a track record and a healthy following (unless one really does set fire to the imagination and go viral – and even then the margins wouldn’t appear to be that great). It’s one of the reasons I’ve always said that the potential to relieve SL of some of the pressure is more long-term (I counted in the order of a couple of years.

      I hadn’t heard or read anything officially about LL aggressively pushing the simulator side of things into the cloud, although I’ve read a lot of speculation about it. WRT OpenSim, I’ve actually been waiting for an announcement to pop-up somewhere that someone is indeed launching a “Kitely-esque” service.


  5. Hey thanks for the write up. For sure our commitment to Second Life remains key and central to our company. When I talk about shared creative spaces I put virtual worlds right in that.

    My comment about also investing in virtual worlds is correct. As you know I dont like to detail things until we are close to something actionable, but we absolutely are investing in the large virtual world space which I think will make Second Life users, business owners and developers very happy…. but its a ways off 🙂


    1. Hi, Rod!

      Nice to know you do still take a peek here :).

      Never personally thought for a moment that LL have deserted SL (and have been beating the drum on that score for a while), but good to have it reinforced from the Man In The Know ;-).

      I note that’s the second time you’ve used the plural in referencing virtual worlds – I noted it in the Gamesbeat article, but opted to give it a pass as I thought they may have simply added the “s”. Now you can colour me intrigued!

      Can understand you not wanting / being ablt to say more at this point. However, on the wider issue of communications, I will keep prodding you from time to time. Even the “old” (short-lived) monthly updates via the blog would be better than the long periods of silence we tend to be getting.


    1. Tease!

      You do realise the amount of speculation these comments are going to kick-off, don’t you? 😀


    1. 😀

      Fun, isn’t it? I have a mental image of Rod Humble sitting in his office having a quiet little (and good-natured!) chuckle. :).


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