VWBPE 2021: Patch Linden – the board, Second Life, and more

VWBPE 2021

On Thursday, March 18th, 2021 Patch Linden, the Lab’s Vice President of Product Operations and a member of the company’s management team, attended the 2021 Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education (VWBPE) conference in the first of three special events featuring representative from Linden Lab.

The following is a summary of the session covering the core topics raised. The notes provided have been taken directly from the official video of the session, which is embedded at the end of this article. Time stamps to the video are also provided to the relevant points in the video for those who wish to listen to specific comments.

Notes:

  • This is a summary, not a full transcript, and items have been grouped by topic, so may not be presented chronologically when compared to the video.
  • In places, information that is supplementary to Patch’s comments is provided in square braces (i.e. [ and ]) are used in the body text below to indicate where this is the case.

Linden Lab’s New Board

[Video: 4:04-10:55]

[For additional information on the new board members, please also see: Meet Linden Lab’s new board of directors (January 9th, 2021) and Linden Lab’s board of directors: snippets of news (February 4th, 2021).]

Linden Lab’s board of directors (l to r): Brad Oberwager, J. Randall Waterfield and Raj Date
  • New ownership team is a “joy to work with”.
  • Brad Oberwager is particularly active, and has the avatar name Oberwolf Linden  and is described as “a lot of fun” to be around and to work with. [He is both on the board and serves as Executive Chairman on the management team.]
Brad Oberwager has joined the Lab’s management team as Executive Chairman, and his long-time colleague, Cammy Bergren serving as Chief of Staff
  • As Executive Chairman Brad Oberwager’s aim is to see Second life set as the “largest and best” virtual world,  and has a genuine love for the platform.
  • Both J. Randal Waterfield and Raj Date (particularly) appear to lean more towards the Tilia Pay side of things, with Brad Oberwager more “in the middle”. However, this doesn’t mean there is a dichotomy. Tilia is a key component of Second Life (it runs the entire Linden Dollar eosystem), and Tilia’s own success and growth will benefit SL.
    • [Tilia is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Linden Research (Linden Lab). It’s board comprises two members of the Linden Research Board: Brad Oberwager and Raj Date), together with Aston Waldman, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at Linden Lab. The management team comprises: members of the the Lab’s management team: Aston Waldman, David Kim, Ray Johnson, Emily Stonehouse and Brett Attwood.]
    • The two entities enjoy a symbiotic relationship: Tilia is owned by Linden Research with Linden Research also a primary customer. However, day-to-day operations are carried out by two separate  teams.
  • [48:48-49:59] The new owners are bringing a tremendous new energy to Linden Lab, and are “super enthusiastic” about growing Second Life, including its educational use. What gets to be invested in the platform will only benefit everyone.
    • The key question Brad Oberwager asks and prompts people to ask is, “How will it benefit the residents, and how will it benefit Second Life?”

SL Short-Term and Longer Term

Priorities for the Second Life Team in the Next 12 Months

[Video: 10:57-16:02]

  • Immediate priority is to increase the Second Life active user base. This is very much being driven as a goal by Brad Oberwager, and includes:
    • “Drilling down into” the new user experience.
    • Refactoring the on-boarding process and orientation islands.
    • The work will include viewer-side changes that are intended to “smooth out a lot of the bumps in the road”.
    • The will will be built on two years of active study and A/B testing to try to determine what the on-boarding path should look like, together with learning from users returning to Second life as a a result of the SARS-CoV-2 impact.
    • It is hoped this work will both help LL improve user retention and also feed through to the community gateways, particularly with regards to the upcoming changes which will be made to the viewer.
    • No specifics provided, but the viewer changes are described as:
      • “New UIs”
      • Refreshed looks.
      • Easier to find information.
  • There is also the need to complete the work of transitioning to AWS – fixing the current issues directly related to the move and also on-going work to properly leverage the AWS environment for the benefit of the platform.
    • [29:24-30:00] This work includes a  lot of under-the-hood simulator performance improvements that will be continuing throughout the year.

Second Life in Five Years Time

[Video: 16:04-19:33]

  • The company would like to at least double the active user population over the next 3-5 years.
  • This is seen as a realistic goal in light of the shift in emphasis seen within business, education, etc., from purely physical world interactions towards more digitally-based interactions / hybrid opportunities that mix various formats [e.g. digital + virtual + remote working / learning].
  • AWS offers the potential for regions to be geographically located around the world, potentially bringing them closer to their core audience.
    • This could allow educational regions, for example, to be hosted much closer to the schools / colleges / students they serve, making them more responsive.
    • This approach could potentially start to be used towards the end of 2021.
  • Further out, geolocating regions could potentially offer the ability for the Lab to offer white label grids to specific customers / groups.
  • [24:00-28:25] White label grids present the opportunity for the Lab to better meet specific client requests to remove features and capabilities from the viewer – and also take features an capabilities required for a specific environment and potentially make them available across the entire Second Life product.
    • Two examples of the latter already exists: the new extended chat range feature available to region owners, and the Chrome Embedded Framework updates that allow video to be streamed into Second Life, as originally demonstrated in the Adult Swim streaming of episodes from The Shivering Truth in May 2020.

What Lessons has LL Learned due to the Pandemic?

[Video: 20:31-24:00]

  • The pandemic, particularly as a result of attempts to leverage the platform for education, business and similar use by organisations and groups, reinforced the fact that the new user experience needs to the overhauled.
  • It has also underlined the fact that people’s usage habits have changed.
  • The Land Team in particular has learned a lot about business, etc., needs of clients – the team deals directly with such requests as they come in to the Lab, and so have been dealing first-hand with understanding client requirements, determining the best for of assistance (e.g. providing one of the Lab’s turn-key solutions or brokering contact between the client and a solution provider who can meet their requirements.

Pricing and Options

[Video: 30:27-34:17]

  • Nothing on the roadmap related to pricing; land costs should remain untouched through the rest of the year.
  • There is the potential for AWS to allow the Lab to develop new region products; this is something that may start to be looked at 12-24 months hence.
  • AWS might also allow for on-demand spin-up of regions, initially building on the idea of Homestead holders being able to take a temporary upgrade to a Full region to run a specific event, then downsizing back to a Homestead.

Competition and Experimentation

[Video: 34:39-45:58]

  • Competition helps drive innovation.
  • There is no Lab-based group specifically tasked with investigation competitive platforms, but staff tend to try them out through their own interest.
  • Attention is paid to how other platforms adopt newer technologies and the challenges encountered in such adoptions.
  • There is still no real, direct competitor to Second Life in terms of size, flexibility of use, or in having an in-built content creation tool set.
  • LL don’t regard users as beta testers per se. However, major new features do require trialling / testing, which can involve selected users / tried at scale to determine feasibility / performance, etc. Sometimes the result is a capability has to be withdrawn as it is not performant enough (e.g. the VR headset viewer) and / or negatively impacts the user experience.

Oz Linden’s Departure

[Video: 46:09-46:56]

  • Oz was a fabulous colleague to work with. His retirement leaves a “gaping chasm” at the Lab.

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