A further look at Tilia and their new client, Upland

via Linden Lab / Tilia

In preparing my piece on Tilia Pay and the changes coming to US dollar transactions related to Second Life (see: Tilia Pay to handle all Second Life USD-related transactions), I had the opportunity to take a look at the updated website for Tilia Inc., Linden Lab’s wholly owned subsidiary.

For those who may not be familiar with it, Tilia Inc, was established by Linden Lab in 2014, and focused on payments and the compliance work associated with operating virtual economies, including Second Life and Sansar. And now, as shown within the updated Tilia website, it is to provide its services to its first client not to have a direct link to Linden Lab, the property trading game Upland.

For those unfamiliar with Upland (I was until I looked them up), available via browsers and on Android and iOS, it is a trading game in which players buy, develop, sell and / or trade virtual properties that are based on real-world addresses.

The Upland… mascot(?)

Currently focused on the city of San Francisco, Upland is built on the EOS blockchain protocol. It entered a closed beta in June 2019, which ran through until the end of that year. During that period, the company added their own virtual currency – UPX – in August of that year, which users could collect as a reward and in return for collecting properties.

At the start of 2020, the game entered an open beta available to any wishing to play it, and added the ability for users to purchase UPX using selected cryptocurrencies.

The partnership with Tilia means that from later in 2020, Upland will be adding the ability for users to trade their virtual properties (and, I understand, goods associated with those properties) for fiat money (this is, US dollar values), through the Upland marketplace and to cash-out those US dollars, with Tilia Pay being the mechanism by which they do so.

In add the use of fiat money is seen as providing a further layer of value to the game, as Upland’s co-founder Dirk Lueth explained to VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi in an article that went to press while I was drafting this piece:

By using fiat currency, Upland can stay in compliance with money transmission regulations in the U.S. And in this way, players can actually own the digital goods and properties they buy in Upland … If the game ever shuts down, the players will theoretically be able to take their property and move it elsewhere, in contrast to other games where players don’t really own the objects that they build or trade.

It is Tilia’s ability to provide services fully in compliance with U.S. regulatory requirements, including anti-money laundering, sanctions monitoring, and fraud prevention that could well make it a popular potential partner among companies offering their users to buy / sell virtual goods, as it provides said companies with the ability for their users (and themselves ) to profit in real terms from such virtual transactions.

I’d actually first speculated on the potential for Tilia being used by companies other than the Lab itself back in November 2015. It was was a subject I returned to again in July 2019, again referencing comments made to me in 2015 by the Lab’s former Director of Global Communications, Peter Gray:

Peter’s [2015] statement struck me as interesting in that its structure seemed to suggest that supporting Second Life and Sansar (then still “Project Sansar”) was part of, but also separate to, the overall goal of presenting Tilia as an entity focused on providing a robust payments and compliance system for operating (and managing) virtual economies to third parties.

– This blog, July 2019

More recently, Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg made it clear we would be seeing a growing client list for Tilia at a couple of public events, include the 2020 VWBPE Above The Book session in commenting about Sansar’s future, he also referenced Tilia.

We’re partners with them [Wookey Project Corp] because they’re using Tilia for payments / payouts just like Second Life is doing, and Tilia will have more and more customers over time. We have several of them lined up to be integrated to get those payment services.

– Ebbe Altberg, March 2020

As such, it will be interesting to see who else opts to leverage Tilia / Tilia Pay in support of their platform / game / product in the coming months / year.

In terms of Tilia itself, the website offers a view of the management team – perhaps the first since Vick Forcella helped me with digging into the early days of the company as a Linden Lab subsidiary in November 2015.  Back then, Tilia’s management team was pretty broad, encompassing multiple members of the Lab’s management team, and a small board of three.

Today, the management team is down to three people – Aston Waldman (the Lab’s CFO), Emily Stonehouse (the Lab’s Chief Compliance Officer) and Ray Johnson (the Lab’s VP of Engineering). Aston Waldman is also a member of Tilia’s board, alongside of Kelly Conway (Linden Lab’s former General Council), and fintech compliance and product leader Ben Duranske (the only “non-Linden”, so to speak).

The Tilia Management team and board. Top: Aston Waldman (Tilia CEO and board member as well as Linden Lab’s CFO); Emily Stonehouse (Chief Compliance Officer at Tilia Inc and LL); Ray Johnson (VP Engineering for LL and Tilia) – the management team. Bottom: board members Kelly Conway and Ben Duranske

Also included on the site are a couple of press articles that cover the threat of money laundering through on-line games, helping to further explain the value of services such as those provided by Tilia, and both of which make for interesting reading.

I’ll continue to report on Tilia as news becomes available.

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