Dean Takahashi has a new article up at VentureBeat’s GamesBeat column, featuring a conversation with CEO Ebbe Altberg.
I admit to finding the title of the article, Linden Lab explores VR for its next-generation virtual world (interview), a little bit of a misnomer, given the article actually covers more ground than just the Lab’s new platform and VR. In fact, it’s fair to say that much of the focus of the piece is on Blocksworld, and not the new VW platform – which doesn’t make the piece any less interesting a read.
The article starts out by noting the company’s longevity and the fact that it has been in something of a transitional state (as we all know), divesting itself of almost all its existing products save Blocksworld and SL, while at the same time announcing it is heading down the road of building a new virtual world platform.
Takahashi suggests the reason for the Lab divesting itself of products is down to some of the products failing to have the right mix of talent, traction and resources to make their mark.
This is perhaps debatable; while Creatorverse and dio were perhaps lame ducks in terms of appeal, it has to be pointed out that both Versu and Patterns had potential – the former has since gone on to stand on its own two feet, and the latter already had a reasonable user-base even whilst still in a pre-release status (and its termination drew no small amount of upset from Patterns user on Steam).
In fairness to Ebbe Altberg, he does acknowledge the fact that some of the Lab’s nascent products didn’t really get a chance to grown their own legs, and that some of them might well have worked out for the good of the company. However, hard choices were required, the Lab really being too small to handle everything at once (and we know what happens when it grows beyond its means: remember, the June 2010 layoffs came after a sustained 18 months of recruiting that saw staffing numbers increase by 50% for no demonstrable increase in revenue).
Turning to the meat of the article, it has to be said the the recent sale of Desura had led to some questions over Blocksworld’s future. However, Altberg’s replies to Takahashi about that product should put paid to speculation:
We’re also very excited about Blocksworld. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to check that out before, but it’s a small up-and-comer. It’s one of the portfolio of non-Second Life products that we decided to stick with. We liked the user experience, the ease of creation, and the audience it targets: a much younger demographic than Second Life. Also, right now, it’s iPad only. It gets us into a lot of experience dealing with a younger audience. … You need to think about ease of use and simplicity but still enable them to create really powerful things, as well as working with the new medium of mobile. We’ve had good progress with this product. It’s still early, but we have good traction. The kids love it.
In addition, and further into the interview, Altberg indicates that the game has around 400,000 monthly users. How this translates to revenue flow beyond the actual purchase of the game is hard to judge. While additional building sets and expansion packs are available as in-game “purchases”, these are paid for through “coins” which users can earn, rather than having to necessarily buy. Even so, buying coins is the easier option, particularly where the expansion packs are concerned (see the video below), so there’s a reasonable chance that Blocksworld is proving a “nice little earner” for the Lab, even if it is nowhere on the scale of SL.
Beyond this, it would seem clear that the Lab have further plans to enhance Blocksworld, including the development of an in-game user-to-user economy, which will allow the sale of creations and builds between users, somewhat a-la SL. Also, Altberg’s statement that, “right now it’s iPad only”, suggests that an Android version of the game is still under consideration.