VWBPE 2021: Grumpity and Brett Linden

VWBPE 2021

On Saturday, March 20th, 2021, the final of three sessions featuring Linden Lab staff took place at the 2021 Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education (VWBPE) conference. Whilst the the third session overall, this was actually the second of a double series entitled Reconnaissance with the Lab, and featured Grumpity Linden, VP of Product and Brett Linden, VP of Marketing, the first having been held on Friday, March 19th, which saw Patch Linden, VP of Product Operations and Madori Linden, Product Specialist (Land Operations) joining Grumpity and Brett.

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. however, as some discussion points followed directly on from the Friday March 19th, discussion, it should be read in reference to my summary of that meeting as well.

As always, time stamps are also provided to the relevant points in the video for those who wish to listen to specific comments.

The Attendees

Grumpity Linden

Grumpity Linden heads up Second Life Product, where she has overseen a shift to growth, a stronger, more balanced economy, movement towards better community cohesion, and an overall forward-looking approach.

Prior to working for Linden Lab (first joining as a contractor in 2009 and then full-time in 2014), she was involved in a number of industries, including technology, higher education, and oil & gas. She enjoys exploring worlds both virtual and physical and takes pride in building bridges – personal and professional.

Grumpity holds a Master’s in Computer Science and a Bachelor’s from same in Computer Science & Psychology, both from Johns Hopkins University. She finds leading the Second Life product a joy because it allows her to draw on both areas of study.

As VP of marketing, Brett Linden manages the team responsible for developing media campaigns and strategic content partnerships for Second Life. Together they focus on both the acquisition of new users and the retention of existing users for the virtual world.

Brett Linden

In the past decade, he has produced numerous virtual and “mixed reality” events and panels on various academic topics with an emphasis on legitimising and better surfacing the many cultures and communities within virtual environments.

From Rolling Stone to Billboard, Brett has also written for major publications and managed multimedia initiatives for Amazon.com and RealNetworks. He has co-founded numerous media sites on-line, including the Second Life Destination Guide and Rolling Stone Radio. As a co-founding editor at Billboard.com, he interviewed Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Shania Twain, and Bjork.

Dealing with Griefing

[Video: 10:04-19:09]

  • Grumpity:
    • The Governance User Group offers a monthly forum in-world for region / estate holders (and general users) to discuss matters of security, griefing, abuse reporting, etc. Meetings are held monthly on the third Tuesday of the month at 13:00 SLT (at the time of writing).
    • Specific issues can also be raised through the Support channel, or can be passed to Madori Linden, who will in turn pass them on to the Governance and Land teams.
    • For specialised environments, such as regions operated by educators, non-profits, business organisations, etc., the best way to secure a region or estate is via the RegAPI [see below for more on this].
    • With regards to griefing via voice – specifically things like voice channel hijacking – LL has worked extensively with the Voice API provider, Vivox, to prevent / eliminate such issues a lot more readily.

What is the RegAPI?

[Video 11:48-17:21]

  • RegAPI is a means for organisations that need to to provide dedicated, controlled access to Second Life to their users.
  • Organisations are assigned a keycode by the Lab. This can used in conjunction with the Second Life registration form (web page) the organisation designs to connect to the Second Life account registration process and then, and as required:
    • Define: the group new-sign-ups are assigned to.
    • Limit created accounts to only accessing the defined region / estate, and block them from teleporting away from it.
    • Control the avatar options available to new-sign-ups.
    • Control access to associated services within the viewer such as the voice stream.
  • The sign-up form can be hosted directly by the organisation concerned within their own environment (thus controlling access to it).
  • The process can also lock access to the defined region / estate from being accessed by accounts not created using the organisation’s dedicated key.
  • Linden Lab does not directly provide turnkey registration forms for clients, but can provide more general assistance where required.

Accessibility – Those with Disabilities & for whom English is a Second Language

[Video: 19:22-25:37]

  • Grumpity:
    • LL is constantly trying to improve accessibility.
    • Now the majority of the work in moving SL to AWS has been completed, there is potential scope to further address accessibility, including looking at some of the available third-party tools that can be integrated into the SL product – previously, the Lab has attempted to provide dedicated solutions for some issues, but then maintenance and upkeep became problematic, so third-party tools are now seen a preferable way forward.
    • There is no definitive road map as to what may be tried / addressed at present, but the Product team is now far better placed to look at potential options in discussion with involved communities within SL (e.g. educators, Virtual Ability, etc.).
    • In general, LL are very aware that there are many different uses and needs that can be addressed by Second Life by many different individuals and communities, many of who may have specific access requirements, so accessibility is very much a part of thinking at the lab.

New Users: On-Boarding and Experience

[Video: 26:23-37:07]

  • Grumpity:
    • The Lab is working on a new on-boarding experience, but it is not yet ready for deployment.
    • This has been developed not only as a means of updating the new user experience, but also looking at what people actually need to have a successful initial experience with Second Life.
      • So rather than focusing on the basics, like avatar movement, which most people with even a basic exposure to playing games can likely work out for themselves, the focus is more on social interactions – starting a conversation, for example.
    • Connected to this new on-boarding experience are:
      • A cleaning-up the viewer UI, allowing the more essential elements to be better identified and more logical.
      • An overhauling the avatar customisation process to make it easier for incoming users to create a basic look they are happy with.
    • An overall aim of all of this work is to reduce some of the multiple ways in which certain common tasks can be completed, in order to help flatten the curve of Second Life being “complicated” to learn.
    • There is also the Community Gateway programme as well, which provides an important means of bringing users into SL Life, and which Linden Lab monitors and takes lessons from, as well as carrying out testing within their own on-boarding process.

Questions Arising

Is there effort to create a browser-capable grid to flatten the learning curve?

  • Grumpity:
    • LL is working towards a possible partnership that will allow for a streaming solution  for Second Life. This is not something that can be discussed in detail at present, but would love to talk more about it Soon™.
    • In terms of mobile devices, the nature of SL means than any dedicated experience via a ‘phone is going to be less than ideal – ideally a keyboard and mouse are required, but it is being explored. [Again, the Lab has an active project to bring Second Life to both iOS and Android, initially as a basic communications tool.]
  • Brett: streaming is an area that has expanded over the last 12+ months, with multiple companies moving into the space, allowing dialogues to take place. Among other things, the Lab recognises the need to be on more lightweight client systems (such as Chromebook) when addressing areas such as education.

Why are there no up-to-date videos on how to do things in Second Life and on the communities,  etc?

  • Brett: there is a series of New User tutorials by Strawberry Linden that are just over a year old, and which are available in multiple languages. These will likely be refreshed every 18-24 months.

How Can the Education Community Help with Marketing SL?

[Video: 38:45-44:39]

  • Brett:
    • Anyone with ideas, comments or constructive critique about SL marketing are invited to contact the Marketing team.
    • There is also the potential for in-world meetings between community leaders and members of the Marketing team to discuss ideas and options, etc.
    • There is a lot going on in marketing: this year will see a new general consumer campaign to reinvigorate the SL brand. Some of this has started to roll out,  such as developing new social media partnerships and other outreach efforts.
    • Further community exposure can be obtained by being a part of stories the Lab either pitch to the media, or are approached about by the media to provide. In  particularly, success stories about how SL is being used, innovative or novel ways in which the platform is made use of, are of particular interest.
    • Now is actually a good time for such stories, as the pandemic has lead to and increased / renewed media interest in the platform and its potential.
    • In terms of marketing within SL, there are multiple options to help promote work / use / events, from the Destination Guide through to the Lab Gab live stream sessions.
  • Grumpity [49:40-50:10]: in terms of general liaison between the Lab and the educational community, there has been discussion about establishing a dedicated Discord channel, and feedback from educators (via Madori Linden) is sought.

Costs and Pricing

[Video: 45:57-48:45]

  • Grumpity:
    • It was “misguided” to have removed the non-profit  / educational discount [June 2011], and equally very important to see it returned [in 2013] as soon as the Lab could do so.
    • In  March 2020, a flat monthly fee of $99 was introduced for educational and non-profit  organisations, and the Lab has no plans to increase this.
    • However, the narrative that has circulated that costs to the Lab would be reduced as a result of the move to AWS, isn’t accurate; while it removes the high level of capital expenditure LL must make in new hardware every several years, it does not reduce the basic operating costs for the service as a whole. Ergo, there are no plans to reduce prices.