September 2018 Town Hall with Ebbe Altberg: transcript with audio

Ebbe is still into his T-1000 look. But then, he does keep to his promises to “be back” (and take people’s questions and offer thoughts and insight into the Lab, SL and Sansar) 😉
On Thursday, September 13th, Linden Lab hosted a further Town Hall meeting at which questions were put to the Lab’s CEO, Ebbe Altberg.

Those wishing to ask questions were asked to submit them via the forum thread September 2018 – A Conversation with Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg, a thread that is now locked from having further questions added, but remains available for viewing.

As many of the questions require a technical response, the decision was made to have the Lab’s subject matter experts address them directly through the forum thread itself after the Town Hall meeting, a process which may take several days to complete. So if you did ask a technical question that wasn’t raised at during the event, be sure to check the thread to see if an answer in provided there.

The following is a summary of the answers to questions asked during the Town Hall session, audio extracts and video time stamps provided as reference. The video is embedded at the end of the article.

Please note that this is not a full transcript of the event. Producing a word-for-word transcript takes a lot of time. Instead, I have attempted to bullet-point the replies offered, and have included an audio extract and a time line to the relevant point in the video.

Also note that:

Table of Contents

  • These notes don’t necessarily follow the chronological flow of the session, as I’ve attempted to group subjects by topic for more concise reference.
  • There is a degree of choppiness in Ebbe’s audio (present on the videos as well). This is down to Voice issues in SL. Because of this break-up, some of the audio clips are edited to remove elements where the break-up is particularly bad, but hopefully without losing the actual context of what was being said.
  • Video timestamps will open the official video in a separate browser tab at the start of the specified time period, allowing readers the choice of listening to the audio extract, or the video recording.
  • Due to the brevity of some answers, not all replies given below have an audio extract – but they all have links to the official video.

Opening Comments

  • Exciting year for Linden Lab – 15 years in the business, lot of investment in SL going on + growing the SL team. There’s a lot going on that has the Lab optimistic about the future, and looking forward to being on the journey for a long, long time to come.
  • In March LL announced a very aggressive roadmap, possibly more than could be achieved within 2018, but goals have been pursued and people hired to help meet them.
  • Perhaps most noticeable work has been the re-balancing the economy: reducing the price of land and finding other means by which the Lab can generate revenue that are fairer for everyone – users and the Lab.
    • This means some things get cheaper [e.g. land], and other may get more expensive [e.g. transaction fees] for people as things are adjusted.
    • Overall response has been positive – particularly the lower Mainland costs – increased “free” tier, which is still keeping the land team busy in handling purchase requests.
  • Roadmap also noted new games and experiences, and the next one is “not far away”.
  • Themed learning islands were mentioned, for more vertical acquisition of new users, and tests have been run.
  • Marketplace improvements are starting to come in, with more on the way, helped by a new hired in the commerce team.
  • New land auction process was deployed, but has had issues, so user-to-user Mainland land auctions still to come.
  • There have also been performance improvements.
  • Animesh is very close to release, and the Environment Enhancement Project (EEP) is close to public testing. Bakes on Mesh is following behind them.
  • More value for premium members is coming, but no announcements to make during the town hall.
  • Return of last names may not roll-out before the end of 2018; there’s still a lot of work to be done.
  • Grid-wide experience operation for users also may not be deployed before the end of 2018.
  • Work is continuing on Linden Home improvements, but not clear if this will be deployed all at once or in stages. The hope is to start releasing some of them before the end of 2018.
  • Moving SL to a cloud infrastructure will not be completed until “well into” 2019. Work is progressing on a server-by-service basis.
  • He is personally every excited with all that is happening, the SL team is dedicated to the work and is growing, and Lab is very pleased with the positive responses from users to the changes and improvements being made.

Video: 4:05-12:54

Audio:

 

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Ebbe and Xiola at the September 13th Town Hall.

Q&A Session

Land and Pricing

What was the rationale the up-front higher fees for grandfathered regions?

  • The 2016 buy-down offer was to encourage people who knew they were going to keep land for at least 6 months to obtain lower tier.
  • The structure meant that the up-front cost (US $600) could be recouped in 6 months, allowing the land holder to continue to enjoy a much reduced monthly tier.
  • The transfer fee of US $600 for grandfathered / bought-down regions (compared to the US $100 for “retail” prices regions) is intended to operate the same way: to encourage those who wish to obtain grandfathered land and will hold on to it for a period of 6 months or more to do so, and so continue to enjoy the lower monthly tier.
    • The US $100 transfer fee can still be applied to grandfathered regions, but they will revert to the full monthly tier rate, so the US $600 isn’t necessarily a barrier to selling the land.
  • Currently no plans to make further changes to tier rates – Lab still absorbing the data from the June private region pricing restructure.
  • However, there is still a commitment from the Lab to do more where land is concerned, once with economic situation resulting from the June 2018 change can be fully understood.
  • Personally has a belief that those who commit to holding land for a period of time should be able to benefit from doing so.
    • This may again involve a higher up-front cost that is recouped over a period of time.
    • Does mean that tier pricing differences (e.g. grandfathered to retail) could vary over time – just as the June reduction narrowed the gap between grandfathered and retail monthly tier.
  • But even with the June retail price reduction, those who used the buy-down offer are still enjoying a lower tier than those who buy at retail.

Video: 18:42-23:15

Audio:

 

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Will there be further land pricing reductions / increases in land capacity (prim allowance)?

  • Both are things the Lab wants to do.
  • Land price reductions depend on the Lab being able to generate revenue and remain healthy as a business via other means – increased transaction fees, increased check-out fees, increased and broader Premium subscription options, etc., all of which are constantly being looked at.
  • Increasing the land capacity is a matter of performance and hardware improvements. If these continue to be made, then further increases to land capacity might be possible.

Video: 23:28-24:54

Audio:

 

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Move to the Cloud

The transition to a cloud-based infrastructure is progressing, but will still be continuing well into 2019. Credit: Linden Lab / Amazon Web Services Inc

What is the time frame for the move to the cloud?

  • Long-term project that will extend well into 2019.
  • Does mean that work on some features and improvements to Second Life have to go on hold while the work is completed.
  • Has a massive impact:
    • Many of the SL services operate on assumptions about the hardware they are running on, which may not be the case when deployed via the cloud.
    • Requires a further upgrade of the simulator operating system, itself a difficult process do to the risk of a newer OS breaking things.
    • It is a significant change in the deployment and operation of Second Life’s many services.
  • Is seen as an overall benefit as it:
    • Avoids the need to re-capitalise investment in dedicated hardware and infrastructure.
    • More readily allows the use of newer, faster servers.
    • Can allow additional third-party services to potentially be leveraged.
    • Potentially allows for a better geographic distribution of Second life services.
  • Should be taken as a demonstration of LL’s commitment to Second Life; if they weren’t serious about continuing the service, they wouldn’t be making this level of effort / investment.

Video: 25:10-27:56

Audio:

 

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With the move to the cloud, will it be possible on demand water spaces to connect regions, or have “pop-up trees on abandoned land?

  • Probably not feasible to have all “blank” spaces on the gird become sailable / flyable water due to cost in running water regions even on demand, plus some region  / estate owners may not want such connectivity to their regions.
  • Might be possible to improve some connectivity between exiting continents.
  • Won’t be something that will happen immediately, but could be looked into in the future.

Video: 28:06-29:08

Audio:

 

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Premium Options and Last Names

Is there any further information on the new Premium subscription options – what they will be, pricing, etc.?

  • Not ready to go into specifics.
  • Hopefully a project that can start to be rolled-out before the end of 2018.
  • Goals are: to offer greater value to users and motivate more users to sign-up to Premium levels.
  • How many levels, price points for each, what they are, etc., all has yet to be finalised.
    • Some new Premium levels are feature-dependent and awaiting the features to be available for inclusion in the package.
    • Others are dependent on finding the right balance of benefits / options.
  • All dependencies must be in place before any announcement / roll-out, as this is not the kind of thing the Lab wants to start having to significantly revise once live.

Video: 31:20-33:31

Audio:

 

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Would you consider a premium option with enhanced support?

  • Really a question for Grumpity, not aware of anything specific being planned.
  • Premium already get enhanced support options as a part of their package.

Video: 1:04:36-1:05:20

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When will Premium members be able to select their own first / last name combination?

  • Requires a lot of back-end updates across services where it has always been assumed names do not change – the Marketplace, the viewer, back-end systems, etc. All of these have to be updated and fixed to ensure changes can be correctly handled.
  • There is no date on when the ability will be deployed; the goal has been 2018, but this is possibly “a stretch”, although the work remains a priority.
  • As and when it is ready, it will be announced as such by the Lab.
  • In short:
    • People will be able to select their last name from a list that will be periodically refreshed & there will be the option for users to suggests names that can be added to the list.
    • Once a first name / last name combination has been selected, it is unique to that user, and cannot be used by anyone else, even if it is not currently being used.
    • Users will be able to revert to previous names combinations they’ve selected, as well as picking news name combinations.
    • This will likely be a Premium Benefit.
  • (For further details on how last name might work, please refer to The return of Second Life Last Names – update with audio, which AFAIK, remains valid today.)

Video: 13:55-15:27 and 16:13-17:15

Audio:

 

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Upcoming Projects

Is there a time frame for the release of Bakes on Mesh?

  • Project is progressing
  • Should appear before the end of the year.

Video: 17:30-18:25

Alexa Linden toys with the upcoming Environment Enhancement Project (EEP) – now close to entering a more public test phase – to produce some eye-twisting skies. Courtesy Alexa Linden

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What is the status of Linden Homes?

    • No official release date.
    • Land team working hard on things.
    • Still being determined as whether the new lands / land will be deployed in stages or all at once.
    • Personal hope that some of it will be revealed before the end of the year.

Video: 29:24-30:39

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Are there any plans for changes / improvements on Experience Keys (experiences)?

  • From Grumpity: experience keys changes are being considered.
    • (At a recent CCUG meeting, Oz Linden confirmed that there is a plan to allow Premium users to have more than one experience key. The time frame for when this will be implemented is still TBD, as it requires a certain amount of back-end work.)
  • If it is felt that specific changes are required, these should be put to the team (e.g. via the feature request Jira).

Video: 1:05:26-1:06:16

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Platform Performance and Capabilities

Could a feature be implemented so that those on lower-end systems can be present in high mesh density regions with suffering a great loss of performance / has the Lab considered adding a complexity cap to prevent the upload of poorly made / unoptimised mesh models?

  • Lab always interested in making the platform more performant for users, and in helping creators create more optimum content.
  • However, the Lab also does not want to constrain land holders in what they do with their land.
  • How a region appears / is perceived by users is something regions designers should consider, but ultimately the choice is theirs.
    • Not everyone might want a performant, optimised region, because retention of visitors isn’t so critical to them.
    • It’s not the Lab’s place to dictate what someone can / cannot do, content-wise with their region’s  design.
  • But, the more that can be done to encourage creators make the right decision about the content they use, and helping people make better decisions on content design and use is what the Lab is interested in.

Video: 33:24-36:45

Audio:

 

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Why is so much consideration given to backwards compatibility, rather than focusing on enabling features and capabilities that allow SL to match modern games, etc?

  • Backward compatibility is a concept the Lab has been committed to in SL – and now in Sansar, as that has emerging content.
  • When there is an economy that allows people to buy things, there is an expectation that those things will keep on working, and people can get upset if things just suddenly stop working.
  • If updates and changes are simply allowed to break, who then becomes responsible for the financial outlay in replacing them? What level of confidence in the economy would be left if the expectation is that things will one day “just break”?
  • The belief is that the Lab can progress Second Life without having to break legacy content.
  • This question also sits at the opposite end of the scale to the last, demonstrating just how broad the scope of use case SL has to try to meet: from allowing those on relatively low-end systems be able to participate, through to satisfying the needs of those using power gaming rigs. This balance is a challenge to achieve.
  • Sansar opted to go for the more modern approach to rendering, etc., allowing it to have a higher visual fidelity – but it comes at the price of requiring higher specification computers.

Video: 36:59-40:37

Audio:

 

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With Apple deprecating OpenGL support, will the Lab support Apple’s Metal framework for graphics?

  • Lab are in discussions over what steps to take; there are no plans or intent to drop Mac support as a result of Apple’s decision.
  • Part of what happens depends on a broader reaction to Apple’s decision – LL is not the only company affected – and how / if Apple responds to feedback, etc.
  • Any solution the Lab opts for will probably require a significant investment of time, money and resources, but the focus at the moment is determining how best to proceed.

Video: 41:51-42:20

Audio:

 

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When will there be an official native Linux client again?

  • Seen as a difficult issue. Lab does not have significant in-house Linux expertise, and Linux represents such a small percentage of SL users (estimates are around 1-1.5%) that resources tend to be put elsewhere.
  • There is a project to try to produce a 64-bit .DEB version of the Linux viewer (see here for more), but this is not a priority in the viewer development team.
  • There have been calls to the Linux community for contributions to help achieve this (see here). Developers interested in helping are asked to contact Oz Linden.

Video: 42:29-43:39

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Marketing and Community

Is Linden Lab running targeted advertising campaigns, or more generic campaigns to reach a broader audience?

  • There are changes being made in performance marketing of Second Life, with new hires in the team.
  • Effort is being put towards both market / vertical specific campaigns (e.g. targeting role-play, maternity, fashion, LGBTQ, and other communities) and more broad spectrum advertising.
  • These cover paid and unpaid acquisition campaigns.
  • Will continue to develop and enhance programme, looking at the data as to performance, cost of conversion (from audience to sign-up), what’s the retention (from sign-up to engaged user), etc.
  • Marketing SL is a challenge, and the platform offers so much, and so many people use it for so many different reasons, it equates to trying to market a country to potential visitors –  what actually might appeal to them / make them want to come?
  • A lot of confidence that the campaigns can attract and retain new users.
  • Also looking at improved campaigns to both re-engage users who have departed SL / not logged into it for an extended period and to better address current users and keep them engaged in the platform (e.g. by advising them of events and activities they might be interested in, etc.).
Themed advertising campaigns are being run, and can be tied to themed landing pages and themed learning islands for incoming new users. Read more here. Image courtesy of Linden Lab

Video: 43:55-47:23

Audio:

 

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Could you make a place for creators and bloggers to share their blogs so they didn’t have to use Flickr?

  • LL not going to implement their own version of Flickr, as people will use all kinds of third-party services to distribute their images, blogs, videos, etc.
  • There are things the Lab could do to bring attention to such content – drive an audience to bloggers, create a more connected network, for those who help promote and explain Second life, etc.
  • More specific news on this should be appearing soon.

Video: 47:37-48:52

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Marketplace

Could gacha items be separated out from general listings, either with their own category or tag? Can more be done to prevent the misuse of tags (e.g. so that dogs don’t show up when searching for handbags)?

  • In an open environment like the Marketplace, managing the use of tags is difficult, as it relies on people playing by the rules and not mis-tagging in an attempt to generate sales.
    • Human policing of tags isn’t feasible: there are 5+ million items listed on the MP, with many of them being changed daily.
    • It might be possible to carry out some deep analysis of how tags are being used, and refining how they can be used in the future, but again, a manually intensive task.
    • Might be possible to make some logic changes around tags, but really, it is like dealing with spam e-mails: the more systems are refined to deal with it, the more people find ways around the filtering.
  • Gachas are popular, and perhaps could be better categorised and managed on the MP, but this is more a question for Grumpity Linden and the Product and Marketplace teams.

Video: 49:29-52:20

What are the Lab’s future plans for the Marketplace?

Video: 52:33-53:38

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General Questions

Will Linden Lab make economic metrics such as unique 30-day log-ins, numbers owning landing, etc., public again?

  • Some metrics have been restored; not all metrics will be restored.
  • Excited to provide those metrics that help creators run successful businesses.
  • Not all of the economic data is suitable for public consumption, as the Lab is a business in competition with others.
  • Not all of the data is necessarily accurate or useful in general terms.
  • Would require effort to ensure data is accurate and of a kind users might want to use.
  • So transparency, yes, where it helps users / creators, but it is a balancing act – and people certainly won’t have access to the Lab’s entire data store to run enquiries!
  • If there are specific metrics that creators would like to see in order to better run their businesses, the Lab would like to hear about them.

Video: 54:12-56:18

Audio:

 

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Is there a way to get direct access to business staff to have specific concerns on processes, etc., addressed?

  • The ratio of users to Lab staff means that direct access isn’t really feasible for meetings.
  • However there are a number of weekly, bi-monthly and month office hours activities users can attend and where technical or business questions can be asked.
  • Details of these meetings – when and where they are held, their times and purpose and location – can be found in the SL wiki user groups page.
  • Summaries and updates from many of these meetings can be found in the pages of this blog, which often include video and / or audio of the meetings.
  • The Lab is open to suggestions for further user groups / office hours in this type of format.
  • (In fact the Land and Governance users groups have just been re-launched in September 2018.)

Video: 56:26-58:10

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Can LSL syntax be improved / made easier to understand? Are there plans to replace LSL with a scripting capability with a simpler syntax than LSL?

  • No plans at present. Would not necessarily be easy to achieve.

Video: 59:47-1:01:33

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Will Linden Lab re-introduce 24-hours support for non-US users?

  • Currently not considering returning to 24-hours support on the basis of cost – covering time zones, languages, etc.
  • Probably not something users would welcome if the costs involved were passed to them in some way.
  • Will continue to follow industry best practices.
  • Could become an option if the SL user base grew to a point where the cost can be adequately met – but that point is not yet here.

Video: 1:01:38-1:04:00

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Do you use Second life as users, or is it just work?

  • Generally to busy to use Sansar of SL as users do.
  • Tries to drop into Sansar and spend time there with people on Saturdays for a couple of hours.
  • Times in Second Life are rarer, but does like to try to explore. Also attends the Lab’s in-world internal meetings.
  • Sees himself more as a “test user” than a creator user.
  • Is more inspired by the full immersiveness of VR than a screen-based experience, so gravitates more naturally to Sansar, where “995 of the time” he is using a VR headset.
  • Would like to have VR capabilities in Second Life, but it proved too big a technical challenge to solve for.

Video: 1:07:12-1:09:06 and 1:09:32-1:10:32

Audio:

 

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In Brief

Asked between 1:10:54 and 1:13:25.

  • Will there be an option to simply hide  the default avatar mesh, rather than having to alpha mask it? A project to do something like this may be on the roadmap for 2019.
  • Will the number of attachment point be increased from 38? Potentially – the issue at the moment is preventing attachments detaching / ghosting on teleport / physical region crossings.
    • These might be tied to a Premium subscription.
  • Will there be more sliders for the avatar shape? There are only a couple of slider slots available.

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5 thoughts on “September 2018 Town Hall with Ebbe Altberg: transcript with audio

  1. They are killing me with the delay on the last names. I’m happy they are bringing it back and while I can appreciate the issues they are experiencing, I can’t help but think that this would not have happened had they not done away with these in the first place! New people since they brought in “resident” as a last name can’t help but feel discriminated against either. Everyone got a last name up to 2010, then new people were just “resident” and now they are bringing it back, but, oh yeah, now you have to be a premium member not like like before when it was the norm. Now, we’ll make you pay for it! Yeah, I admit it, I’m feeling jaded about LL. All the new changes seem designed to make them more money. Meh.

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    1. I actually asked (twice) about the Lab’s view on the new EU copyright laws & whether there might be changes to SL / Sansar policies as a result – but it was ignored. I also have an outstanding request in writing on the matter with the Lab that I’ll be chasing. Depending on any feedback, I may offer something through this blog.

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