Designing Worlds in conversation with Ebbe Altberg – Transcript + Audio

Ebbe Altberg in conversation with Saffia Widdershins

Note: the video of the show is now embedded at the foot of this page.

On Tuesday, May 15th, I was able to sit-down at a closed studio recording session which formed part of Design Worlds’ 10th anniversary. The programme featured special guest, Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg.

Ebbe had accepted an invitation to answer questions to him by Saffia Widdershins, focusing on the upcoming 15th Anniversary celebrations for Second Life and the infographic and roadmap blog post issued by the Lab in  April 2018, although Sansar was also touched upon as well towards the end of the session.

The questions were a mix of those submitted to Designing Worlds ahead of the session, and those formulated by the Designing Worlds team. What follows here is a transcript of Ebbe’s responses to the questions, with a précis of each question and an audio extract from my own recording of the session.

A summary of the topics / comments is provided below, with links to the relevant section of the transcript. Note that the audio here may differ slightly to the audio in the video, as my audio extracts have been cleaned-up a little to remove repetition, pauses and asides, to give a smoother flow of the core comments and thoughts.

The Short(ish) Form

For those who prefer, the following is a bullet-point list of the core questions asked, gathered into the same topic headings as the transcript notes. Links are given to the relevant part of the full transcript for those who would prefer to read / listen to the complete answers / comments.

Note: due to the nature of WordPress internal text anchors and scrolling, you may have to scroll up a little after jumping to a specific topic, in order to see the question.

Opening Comments

  • 15 years a testament to users’ commandment to the platform.
  • Want to make it very clear to the world in general that Second Life is still going and improving.
  • The SL team is very committed to the platform, driving to make it better with new features and improved capabilities.
  • LL more optimistic than previously that they have the opportunity to grow the SL user base.
  • Jump to topic.

On the Infographic

  • While revenues are important, particularly moved by the value Second Life brings to users.
  • Fascinating that in 2017, users redeemed almost US$70 million from the platform, indicating it offers a genuine income opportunity.
  • 5 million items on the Marketplace (although some could perhaps be removed) indicates the breadth of creativity and opportunity for income generation available to users.
  • But the stories of how SL improves people’s lives, the way it can be used to raise money to help others (e.g. US $48,000 via Fantasy Faire in 2018),and the way it can change people’s lives for the better.
  • Jump to topic.

On Re-balancing the SL Economy

  • LL recognises land in Second Life is too expensive, and that they actually generate very little from the platform’s economic activity.
  • Hope is to pivot Lab’s income generation away from land tier and towards more of the economic activities – buying / selling L$, transactional and redemption fees, subscriptions, etc.
  • Through this shift, hope is to reduce the cost of land tier.
  • Witnessing steps already being taken – the private region buy-down programme, the Mainland price reduction, and more is cautiously planned.
  • Jump to topic.

On the Mainland Pricing Restructure and Private Estates

  • Extremely happy with the results.
  • Land team still incredibly busy handling orders.
  • Has also resulted in an increase in Premium subscriptions.
  • Still have to investigate the breakdown of figures: how many orders are from Premium users expending their existing land holdings; how many orders are from Premium users taking up land for the first time; and absolute net new Premium subscribers.
  • How do these changes balance with private estate costs?
    • Still being discussed, with no decisions as yet.
    • Idea is to make changes in steps and understand cause and effect – which is not possible if a lot of changes are introduced at once.
    • Potentially more to come in the future.
    • Jump to topic.

On Linden Homes

  • Not an exercise to convert exiting Linden Homes to mesh; rather the introduction of new homes which will take advantage of mesh, etc.
  • Will likely take advantage of the 1024 sq m land form, in line with the Mainland pricing change.
  • New houses will be showcased later in 2018, but no specific dates on the roll-out.
  • Some homes might make full use of a 1024 sq m footprint, some might be smaller to allow broader choice to users.
  • Jump to topic.

On The New Land Auctions

  • Initially, only Mainland land holders will be able to offer their land for auction, and individuals only, not groups.
  • Money will likely be held in escrow, so those who don’t win will get it back.
  • Lab will take a transaction fee on auctions, again as a part of trying to move revenue generation away from land tier.
  • No dates as to when the new auctions will be introduced, but getting “close”.
  • Jump to topic.

On Themed Learning Islands and Community Gateways

Are you considering community support for the new theme learning islands, and what are the themes likely to be?

  • Primary intention of themed learning islands is to provide more vertically specific user acquisition opportunities.
    • Attempt to make things consistent as possible, from initial contact through to arriving in-world at a location that is in context with the initial interesting in wanting to join SL.
    • Today, the process is generic, with no guarantee a new user will arrive in-world where they might have expected.
  • Currently in early testing, finding out what works / doesn’t work.
  • Hope is to bring-in and retain more productively (from the user’s perspective) and at a lower cost.
  • Have found that having greeters / helpers present at these islands doesn’t actually increase new user engagement. Might be a fault with testing, but might be only some new users appreciate personal help. Possible the Lab will look again at this.
  • Jump to topic.
  • Have some great gateways, but they are not necessarily contributing a lot of new users, but appear to do a great job in supporting existing users.
  • There has been success in the past – a Brazilian gateway supported by a local media company helped grow the SL Brazilian community.
  • Anyone wishing to apply to run a community gateway is free to do so.
  • LL spend a lot of money on user acquisition, but there are many different ways to do it.
  • Needs to be in contextually relevant places on the Internet where relevant audiences might be found.
  • Community gateways could be a unique way to provide user-generated themed user acquisition that the Lab may not have thought of; addressing niche audiences.
  • Jump to topic.

On the Marketplace Updates

  • Thoughts being given to clearing some of the “clutter” – content no longer managed by the creator for various reasons (e.g. no longer active).
  • User interface updates.
  • Specific (and requested) capabilities, such as being able to sell multiple colours for an item through a single listing.
  • Long list of possible improvements, and the aim is to work with the community [e.g. via the Web User Group).
  • Will be a big project, with many changes unlikely to appear until the end of the year; some (such as the clean-up) might become apparent sooner.
  • There is a commitment to make significant improvements to the Marketplace.
  • Already have certain points where revenue is collected (land, transactional fees, L$ fees, redemption fees, Marketplace commissions, etc.). Might be additional products deployed with fees associated with them.
  • Haven’t decided on the best way to engage in the transactional economy or whether Marketplace fees will increase from the current 5%.
  • Most digital economies on the Internet charge around 30% for participation. With Marketplace fees, L$ fees and redemption fees, LL charge around 10%.
  • With trying to lower land costs, the fees through the economy are liable to increase – but no decision on by how much.
  • Jump to topic.
  • Some LL’s focus is to try to find the right economic balance so that running a business in Second Life makes sense, and thus grow the economy.
  • Jump to topic.

On Premium Benefits (sort-of)

  • Mainland pricing has already happened.
  • There’s also Animesh, Bakes on Mesh and the Environment Enhancement Project, all of which will offer now opportunities for creators and shoppers.
  • There’s also work being done with Estate Management tools to make land management easier.
  • Project viewers in general either are available [Animesh, Bakes on Mesh] or will be appearing soon [Land Management, EEP].
  • Jump to topic.

On the Return of Last Names

  • Going a little slower than planned due to other work taking priority.
  • Important for scripter to switch to using agent IDs for identifying avatars, and not to use string names, as these will no longer remain constant.
  • New accounts will continue to have the “Resident” last name.
  • Premium users will – for a fee to be decided – be able to chose a new last name from a list, and use any first name they wish with it.
  • Last name lists will not include any last names previously used.
  • No-one will be able to use a name previously used by anyone else, so a name will always apply to the same user.
  • Jump to topic.

On Transitioning Second Life to the Cloud

  • First step is to make the migration and not have anything break. This must be completed before the Lab can start thinking about options and products.
  • Likely to be well into 2019 if not longer) before the Lab has transitioned from their own co-located infrastructure to a cloud-based infrastructure.
  • Possible benefits from the move might be:
    • Running regions on more high performant hardware, offering users a choice of hardware capabilities, depending on their needs
    • Possibly taking advantage of geographic distribution of regions (e.g. regions heavily used by European users located in Europe).
    • Possibly offering dynamic availability of regions (where appropriate) – spin-up when someone visits, spin-down and store on disk when empty.
  • Constantly have to upgrade hardware, etc., and this involves significant capital expenditure. The cloud allows for these things to be paid for on demand, reducing expenditure / overheads.
  • It’s the right time to make the move, and Ll are now committed to it.
  • Not an investment that would be made if the company didn’t have long-term aspirations for Second Life.
  • Jump to topic.
  • Can do a lot without cloud infrastructure – improving code, making optimisations, etc.
  • Will continue to do this on the software side.
  • Jump to topic.

On Grid-Wide Experiences

  • Essentially making experiences a grid-wide opt-out, rather than a localised opt-in.
  • Land holders will have the ability to determine which (if any) grid-wide experiences run on their land [region or parcel].
  • Jump to topic.

On the Environment Enhancement Project (EEP)

  • Three new object types / inventory assets for water, sky and day settings which can be transferred / traded like other goods.
  • Can be set at region or parcel level, subject to permissions.
  • Close to getting a project viewer available and to start getting feedback for users.
  • Hopefully will make it easier for those without the necessary skills (XML coding) to set custom environments for their land.
  • Jump to topic.

On Animesh and Bakes on Mesh

  • Animesh uses skeletal animations on a mesh object, animating it in the same way as an avatar. Should be more efficient than current mechanisms for animating objects [e.g. no need for intensive alpha flipping].
  • Bakes on Mesh allows system wearable to be applied to mesh bodies and heads. Should reduce the overall complexity of avatar mesh bodies and heads.
  • EEP, Animesh and Bakes on Mesh should provide new opportunities for content creation.
  • Jump to topic.

On Games and Experiences

  • The aims of building games are to: make sure the Lab can make interesting content; showcase what might be done with emerging capabilities and options to creators; and understand what users find particularly engaging, and how the Lab might capitalise on that engagement in terms of tools and other capabilities.
  • Jump to topic.

On Sansar

Progress to Date

  • No – but this is fairly normal when building a complex system.
  • Sansar is essentially building a new games engine from the ground up with all the scripting, physics and rendering capabilities & building two unique interfaces: VR and mouse / keyboard
  • Work will continue in adding more capabilities and in making Sansar more performant, offering beet means for people to connect with content and with one another.
  • At present tests are in progress to improve user on-boarding.
  • Personally very excited about VR and its potential. However, VR does have a way to go before it achieves a large market.
  • Feels creativity in Sansar is starting to take off – creators are already doing things LL never imagined.
  • Now starting to look at getting growth. SL users are welcome to try Sansar. LL very happy if users opt to use both, or decided to stay with one or the other.
  • Jump to topic.

Tie-ins and Opportunities

  • Sansar has significant architectural differences to Second Life.
  • Instancing experiences is one difference, visual fidelity is another. Sansar also has a monetisation model based on economic activity.
  • All these may serve to encourage brands and companies and organisations opt to select Sansar as the platform for publishing their VR experiences.
  • Jump to topic.

The “WordPress Analogy”

  • Broad spectrum of platforms for content creation from Minecraft to Unity and Unreal.
  • Second Life and Sansar sit between the two extremes, with Sansar between SL and something like Unity.
  • Sansar aims to offer freedom to create and publish of 3D environments, coupled with scalability and the ability to target VR hardware, rather than just consume content.
  • Still a learning process – discovering what works and what doesn’t; plans have to be revised as users get involved, company has to be nimble to meet evolving requirements and needs.
  • Content creation falls into different categories. Second Life supports a lot of in-world original content, Sansar utilises a more sophisticated external toolset.
  • Both off huge opportunities not only for the actual creators of content, but for people to obtain content and utilise it to create unique spaces. This is particularly what Sansar is aimed at.
  • Jump to topic.
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