Looking at Second Life updates in 2019 and ahead to 2020

Each year through this blog I attempt to track news about, and changes to, Second Life, as driven by Linden Lab. On the technical side, this is do through my weekly SL project summaries, whilst news and general updates are drawn from sources such as Lab comments on the official forums and official blog posts or as a result of attending public meetings and Q&A sessions, etc.

As a lot can happen during the course of the year, so in this article I’ve tried to summarise the more notable updates to occur during the course of 2019.

Land

Mainland Auctions

In March 2019, Linden Lab introduced Mainland user-to-user land auctions. The auction system leveraged Second Life Place Pages as the medium for presenting land for auction and for placing bids, together with a “cover page” listing available parcels up for auction available at https://places.secondlife.com/auctions. At the time of the launch, Linden Lab provided a Land Auctions Walkthrough.

Unfortunately, these auctions had to be suspended in October / November 2019 due to unspecified “abuse” by users. The system is to be revised, but there is currently no indication of when the auctions will be re-enabled.

Premium Homes

The first styles of the new Premium Homes were unveiled at the annual Home and Garden Expo in March 2019 in a single “preview” region that provided both the four types of Traditional homes and four types of Houseboat that would be the first  of the Premium Homes themes that would be issued.

The Homes themselves launched on April 15th, 2019, with the opening of the new Bellisseria continent and a mass release of both Houseboats and Traditional homes.  As with the original Linden Homes, they are available through Premium member’s Land Homes page, accessed through their secondlife.com dashboard.

The new Linden Homes are available to Premium members through the existing Linden Homes registration page

The first mass release of houses and houseboats had been snatched up within 48 hours of the release, with the houseboats proving particularly popular – so much so, that the Lab immediately started planning a 709-parcel add-on to Bellisseria specifically to meet the demand. In the meantime, one of the points noted about the new region was its lack of airstrips and this was addressed with the opening of the continent’s first airstrip in late April 2019.

The new bolt-on for the houseboats opened on May 15th, 2019 – and were all gone within 27 minutes of the release. Then in June 2019, Patch Linden announced that releases would shift to a smaller-scale rolling basis with regions of new houses generally being made available on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Also in June, the Lab previewed the next major theme for Linden Homes, the Trailers and Campers, which were introduced in September. In December 2019, the Lab previewed and then released the Victorian theme of Premium Homes.

Fees and Account Changes

Fee Changes

2019 saw the introduction of significant fee changes for Second Life.

From June 2rd, 2019 Private region tiers changed as follows:

  • Full regions were reduced from L$249 a month to US $229.
  • Homestead private regions were reduced from US $195 to US $179.
The changes to Premium fees, announced in June 2019. Source: Linden Lab

These changes were exclusive of VAT, where applicable, and did not apply to Skilled Gaming region; however, Education / Non-profit (EDU/NP) discounted Full islands were be re-priced to maintain their 50% discount off the regularly priced Full island fees.

From June 24th, 2019, Premium fees were increased for the first time in their history:

  • The monthly fee increased from US $9.50 to US $11.99 (an annual increase of 26.21% from US $114 pa to US $143.88 pa)
  • The quarterly subscription increased from US $22.50 to US $32.97 (an annual increase of 46.53% a year from US $90 pa to US $131.88 pa). This fee was to be discontinued to users upgrading to Premium after July 24th, 2019, but a later decision saw it continued on a “temporary” basis that means it is still currently available.
  • The annual fee increased from US $72 to US $99 (an annual increase of 37.5%).
  • In addition, both existing quarterly and monthly subscriptions would again be subject to VAT.

Note: included with the announcement were proposed changes to Basic account users available off-line IMs and total group allowance. However, after receiving wide-ranging feedback (such as this letter from myself), the decision was made to not implement the group changes.

To help sweeten the Premium fees increase, between June 3rd through June 24th, Premium users were offered the chance to “lock-in” their Premium fee for an additional period commensurate to their subscription period from the end of their existing period. In addition, existing annual Premium subscription members were offered the chance to renew their subscription for an additional year from their next renewal date at the Winter Premium discounted rate (10% off).

There was also the 5% increase in Marketplace commission fees which caused some consternation. While the reason for the increase is understandable when put in the proper perspective, it could have been framed a little better.

Account Changes

In July Linden Lab announced that as from August 1st., their subsidiary company, Tilia Inc., would be taking over all responsibility for managing SL user’s USD denominated accounts. In short, this meant that anyone with a US dollar balance on their account would have to agree to the Tilia Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, and in order to process USD amounts out of Second Life, might have to supply personal information to Tilia. See:

Technical Updates

Teleport Disconnects

The early part of 2019 was marked by users experiencing a significant number of teleport disconnects. These proved problematic for the Lab as well,with assorted causes from EEP deployments to server OS updates being suggested as a possible cause. A series of user-involved stress tests on the best (Aditi) grid to help with investigations, allowing adjustments to be made on the simulator side. These helped point towards a race condition, with LL implementing changes and updated monitoring to counter the issue.

Script Processing Changes

Over the course of the year,  number of script-related issues have surfaced:

As a result, LL has worked to improve script handling – such as adjusting how idle scripts are handled to reduce the overhead with place on CPU cycles – and these changes and adjustments have helped to eliminate some, but not all, of the problems encountered through the year.

Marketplace

Release Notes

In May 2019, the Lab introduced new web-based release notes for the official viewer, together with a index page for said release notes. There were some initial teething problems with the system for those who track official viewer releases (sometimes a viewer update would appear on the index page, sometimes on the new Alternate Viewers page, sometimes on both that took a while to smooth out.

Server release notes made a similar move to web pages in September. After this, LL stopped breaking down simulator updates by release channel (e.g. BlueSteel, Magnum and LeTigre), listing all releases as “Second Life Server”, regardless of the actual channel used for a release.

iOS Client

In January, evidence surfaced that Linden Lab are working on a Second Life iOS. After enquiring with the Lab, I received confirmation the app was being actively worked on. As the year progressed, more details were revealed about the app, including: the app should work on both the iPhone and iPad, and will initially be more of a communicator / companion app than a fully-rounded client; it will provide a log-in option, and chat options (e.g. chat, group chat), but will not present users with an in-world location, or rez and avatar in-world. Over time it will be enhanced – but additional capabilities are still TBD. See my mid-year update for more.

Cloud Transition

Work – most of it transparent to users – has continued on the migration of Second Life to the cloud. Most of this work has been on the back-end services, notably the web services. Currently, no public-facing simulators have been transitioned to AWS provisioning. All of this work has been achieved without any significant disruption to services or – more particularly – without users actually being aware the services had been moved, and the Lab reports that the migrated services have been able to achieve almost 100% up time.

Other Items of Interest

Looking Ahead

2020 should see a number of projects reach deployment.

Name Changes

The ability for Premium members to change their first and last *account names* is due to be launched in February 2020. The fee is liable to be $39.99. For this, a user can change their first name, their last name or both names. To mark the upcoming launch, Linden Lab is running a Name Changes contest through until January 6th, 2020.

Premium Plus

2020 will see a new Premium membership option launched, although this will not be until some time after Name Changes has been deployed. Details of what it will comprise have not been revealed, however, the fees will be greater than those for Premium, and will likely be offered on monthly and annual plans. See:

Environment Enhancement Project

The project to overhaul SL’s environment (e.g. the sky, sun, moon, clouds, and water settings), with the ability to set the environment at both parcel and region level with support for up to 7 days per cycle and sky environments set by altitude, has taken time to reach maturity, but is currently in what is hopefully in the last phase of bug fixing. As such, it is anticipated that the capability should be deployed in 2020.

EEP should be deployed in 2020. Credit: Whirly Fizzle

ARCTan

This is a project to re-evaluate object and avatar rendering costs to make them more reflective of the actual impact of rendering both. The overall aim is to try to correct some inherent negative incentives for creating optimised content (e.g. with regards to generating LOD models with mesh), and to update the calculations to reflect current resource constraints.

Launched in 2018, work on the project was paused for a time, but resumed in 2019, and will hopefully continue in 2020, although currently it is too early in it development to say for certain it if will be deployed before the end of the year.

Viewer Updates and Improvements

  • Legacy Profiles: In February 2019 Linden Lab announced they would be re-implementing user profiles as a dedicated floater in the viewer, rather than displaying the web-based profile.  This new panel will also include a user’s profile feed. In June 2019, the first cut of the new viewer was issued as a project viewer. This viewer has continued to be enhanced, and should progress to RC and then release status in 2020.
  • Texture Management and Caching: Texture management – the download, caching and loading of textures by the viewer – can be a source of bottleneck with viewer handling. This project is is designed to try to improve things by overhauling how the viewer handles textures – particularly how they are caches and loaded.
  • 360 Snapshots: in progress since 2016, it is hoped capacity will be found to resume this project in 2020 and progress it to RC and eventual release status.
  • Project Muscadine: work to enhance the Animesh project with additional capabilities (currently focused on offering the means to change an Animesh size parameters via LSL) is currently paused, but will hopefully resume in 2020.