The 14th edition of Lab Gab was live streamed on Friday, February 21st and featured as guests, Ebbe Linden (aka Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg) and Grumpity Linden, Vice President of Product, who between them discussed the Second Life roadmap for 2020.
As might be expected, a call to Second Life users to submit questions that might be asked of Ebbe and / or Grumpity generated a lot of feedback, so little time was lost in getting down to hearing their responses. Note that this summary may not reflect the chronological order in which questions were asked; however, time stamps are provided for those wishing to jump to a specific point in the video, and a complete video is embedded at the end of this article.
But first – Sansar and Linden Lab
At the top of the programme, Ebbe confirmed Linden Lab is no longer “sponsoring”, as he put it, Sansar, and are actively seeking a new home for the platform.
So as you might have heard, sadly we have decided that we, as Linden Lab, couldn’t continue to sponsor the project financially, so we’re looking for a plan B for Sansar to continue. I can’t say much, but we’re having very interesting conversations with several parties to help that project move forward, which I’m really excited about. But no deal is done yet, so people will just have to be patient and see what happens with it, but yes it is true that Linden Lab going forward will focus entirely on Second Life and Tilia. I’m still busy making sure that Sansar finds a great home and that the great work that that team has started can continue.
– Ebbe Altberg
He went on to note that the company is continuing to work with those they have laid off to help their secure their futures, and that overall, Linden Lab remains in a strong financial position with strong confidence in the future, vis Second Life and Tilia Inc.
You can read more on this in Lab seeking a “plan B” to secure Sansar’s future.
Current Technical Projects
- Cloud uplift is the term now being employed by the Lab to describe the project to transition all of Second Life to cloud-based provisioning.
- This has been a long-term project, with considerable planning and preparation work having thus far been completed, and 2020 marking the time when the actual transitioning of services takes place (“lifting them to the cloud”).
- The work is long-term not just because of the number of services that must be transitioned, but also the amount of operational / engineering requirements required to ensure that services that are linked by physical proximity and connectivity in a single hosting environment continue to function and communicate with one another when moves to an environment where they no longer share that proximity or direct line of communication.
- There are a lot of perceived benefits from the move, most noticeably that hardware / infrastructure renewal will no longer be a significant factor for the Lab, while longer-term the grater spread of geographical options, hardware options, etc., may mean the Lab will be able to offer broader simulator products or reduce latency between physical groups of users and the servers they most regularly access, etc.
- The downside of this is that for the time being, the focus for engineers and developers at the Lab is very much on the cloud uplift, and not on developing new features.
- The hope is that his work will be completed by the end of 2020, otherwise the Lab starts incurring costs (e.g. Cap Ex costs) they’d prefer to avoid.
- Once the transition has been completed, a further benefit could be with LL being able to experiment with different (and more recent) server types to help with simulator-side performance, and perhaps even offer different product offering based on different servers, with suitable price points (e.g. those running venue that have high numbers on attending avatars can opt to pay to have their regions hosted on very high-end servers capable of managing the script, etc., load.
- Currently, there are no plans to make private regions an on-demand service in the cloud (that is, only spinning up a region when there is one or more avatars in it).
- This is primarily because of the persistence model around which Second Life has been built, and the expectations of some of the operations services have around this.
- However, at some point after the cloud migration, it might be possible for LL to offer a kind of on-demand private region product with a suitable price-point.
Mobile Access for Second Life
- Lab is developing a “companion” app for Second Life, that will initially be for iOS devices (see: Lab working on a Second Life iOS client?, Linden Lab confirm Second Life iOS client in the making (both January 2019) and Second Life iOS companion app – mini update (March 2019).
- It is currently in internal alpha, and does *not* have 3D rendering but does provide chat, group chat, IM, and other core communications capabilities, although additional functionality may be added over time.
- Development will be iterative, and there will be opportunities for users to help test the app when it is ready to be public-facing. The exact mechanism on how this will work is still TBD.
- There is no formal ETA for the app, but the hope is some form of (closed?) alpha testing period may be made available in the next few months (or sooner).
- [54:28-55:15] The focus is on iOS, with the hope that once done, it will not be a major effort to port the app to Android.
- Premium Plus is the upcoming new Premium subscription offering that will sit “above” the current Premium, and jokingly referred to as Premium Plös (“ploos” with a French sounding accent).
- No formal release date as yet – as LL prefer not to commit to specifying dates so as not to disappoint should things get delayed.
- It has, however, been stated at the monthly Web User Group meetings, that Premium Plus will not be released until some time after Name Changes has been implemented – so it is in the Soon™ category .
- When introduced, it will have a pro rata option, so existing Premium users will have any remaining balance on their subscription at the time they upgrade credited to Premium Plus.
- Premium Plus will have a range of additional benefits – most of which are still TBA. However, it will mean Name Changes will be “around” US $20 cheaper for Premium Plus members (so if the Name Changes fee in US $39.99 for Premium, Premium Plus many only have to pay US $19.99).
- Focus at present is on putting in place the coding and updates required to support multiple Premium account levels.
- Lab will continue to add value to both Premium Plus and Premium.
- A lot of work has been put into the Marketplace in responding to a lot of long-standing feature requests, etc, from users and in dealing with some of the low-hanging fruit of MP fixes, etc.
- More work is planned, but again, the cloud uplift project – which includes the MP and all of the other Second Life web properties – is the primary focus at the moment.
- In terms of questionable content on the MP (e.g. the mis-selling of No Copy items), this isn’t an issue that can be solved via any automated means, and is thus resource intensive and does require the support of users in flagging items, etc.
- However there are plans to replace / update some of the existing processes around these issues, so that issues can be more readily reviewed and dealt with.
- LL are conscious of being vague on matters like this, but feel they need to be, as saying too much publicly could open the door to those less-than-earnest actors trying to circumvent actions that might otherwise impact them.
- A major cause of performance issues is sub-optimal content that the viewer has to deal with when rendering (e.g. poorly-designed mesh, heavily tortured prims, sculpties, flexies, etc.), and which impact performance.
- There’s not a lot that LL can do about this, other than appeal to content creators to consider performance when designing their models, and to region creators to do likewise when designing their regions and the impact overly complex content or the over-use of unique high-resolution textures has on the viewer.
- In time, the more powerful server options that will be available for running simulators once they have been transitioned to the cloud may help improve server-side performance (e.g. thing like script processing, etc.).
- In the future, more work may be put into providing better tools to help creators ensuring their content is more performant.
- As an aside, and as reported in my CCUG summaries, work is already in progress to provide creators and user with better means of understanding the impact various content is having on their system’s performance – remembering that it is the *viewer*, not the simulator , that does most of the heavy lifting.
- Elsewhere there have been subtle performance improvements:
- A move of Marketplace infrastructure to a new environment means page loading times are measuring an 11% improvement; changes made to the asset services have improved inventory stability.
- There are currently simulator updates that are being / about to be deployed across the grid sever channels that should see improvements in region crossings (updates on server deployments can be found in my weekly SUG summaries).
- No confirmed date for deployment.
- Last Names competition has seen EIGHT names (rather than the originally stated five) selected to go into the first list of last names that will be available when the service is deployed: Conundrum, Dismantled, Huntsman, Littlepaws, Nova, Ravenhurst, Wumpkins, Yeatley.
- These are the only names that will be in that first list, and the winners will be informed via e-mail.
- The time taken for the project to be implemented is due to it touching every aspect of SL, and thus requires careful implementation and testing.
- Rather than using a credit card or similar to pay for a Name Change, Premium members can opt to use a USD dollar balance in the Tilia Wallet, including by converting L$ to USD via the LindeX. Note that anyone who has not previously held a US dollar balance associated with their account will have to accept the Tilia Terms of Serivce, but no identification documents need be submitted, unless any remaining US dollar balance is to be cashed out.
Environment Enhancement Project (EEP)
- Again, no confirmed release date.
- As per my CCUG summaries, the are around a dozen remaining rendering bugs to be resolved, but the hope is the deployment is now weeks rather than months away.
- There will still be changes in how some region environments are seen in an EEP viewer compared to a non-EEP viewer, but the decision has been made to deploy rather than constantly trying to strive for a like-for-like look in all cases.
- There is a pending rendering / graphics project that is held-up by EEP, partially prompting the desire to get what is available deployed.
- Transfer costs for buy-down / grandfathered regions is to be reduced from US $600 to US $300.
- No plans for other land price reductions at this time.
- The aim is[18:00 to continue to balance revenue generation between land and other sources.
- Overall, the Lab feel that the reductions in land pricing introduced since 2017 (see: Linden Lab announces SL Mainland price restructuring (March 2018), and Linden Lab announces major SL private region pricing restructure (June 2018) for example) have been positive in helping move the land market forward.
- The Lab also remains conscious of the fact that too many changes in too short a time period can disrupt the economy.
- Will be covered more in-depth in a future Lab Gab segment with the Lab’s marketing team.
- The best way for users to help with new user retention is a) bringing friends into SL and spending time with them, getting them engaged and making friends; b) offering support and friendship to newcomers.
- There has been some success with recent attempts to re-introduce new user mentoring.
- LL has also invested a lot of time in bettering understanding the traffic coming to SL, allowing for more refined approaches to user acquisition.
- There is a firm belief within LL that SL’s user base can be grown.
- [53:54-54:25] There are roughly 5,000 new accounts logging-in to Second Life every day.
- [8:30-10:30] Will LL resume issuing economic stats for SL?
- The reports were stopped many years ago. Currently the focus is on the cloud uplift, and this together with the work on projects the Lab does have in-hand or planned, means there are no plans for the present or foreseeable future to re-implement reporting economic stats.
- However, it might be possible to implement some form of “spot” economic reporting via one of the official blogs.
- [20:00-23:00] Does Linden Lab manipulate the LindeX L$ exchange rate?
- Short answer: no, they do not.
- The most LL do is sell into the market if there is a genuine need for L$, but even then, this is kept to a minimum both in terms of frequency and amount.
- [52:02-53:52] There will be a blog post (/ series?) on how the LindeX works, etc., appearing in the near future.
- [35:55-] Account security and two-factor authentication (2FA)
- Yes, there are plans to introduce 2FA.
- The first step is providing notifications of possible attempts to wrongfully access your account. This is to be rolled out in the near future. However, notifications will only be sent to verified e-mail addresses (see: Important: verifying your e-mail address with Second Life).
- The next step will be to disallow unverified log-ins from unfamiliar locations until verification is given.
- There are some complexities in implementing 2FA as a result of SL’s age and design, but these are being worked on.
- [47:32-48:18] VR and Second Life:
- There are no near-time plans to revive the work on supporting VR headsets in SL.
- The requirement for 90-ish fps throughout for a really smooth experience is considered as mostly beyond SL’s reach due to the nature of the content.
- However, once the cloud uplift has been completed, and after the major rendering / graphics overhaul has been delivered (e.g. 18-24 months hence), the question of VR support in SL may be re-evaluated.