VWBPE 2022: Patch Linden – What’s Up at the Lab?- a summary

via VWBPE

On Thursday, March 31st, 2022 Patch Linden, the Lab’s Vice President of Product Operations and a member of the company’s management team, attended the 2022 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.
  • Timestamps are included to allow a direct jump to a subject / comment.

Management Items

On the Passing of Ebbe Altberg and the CEO Position

[Video: 1:47-3:55]

  • Still very much missed by the team.
  • Brad Oberwager noted the dynamic between Grumpity Linden (VP of Product), Brett Linden (VP of Marketing), Patch and now Mojo Linden (VP of Engineering), and decided to work with them as a management team, rather than bringing in a new VP.

Philip Rosedale’s Role

[Video 32:23-34:45]

  • Philip Rosedale’s role is purely advisory. He is not at the Lab full time, but he is a resource the management team can call on when broader strategies are being discussed.
  • The management team maintain the day-to-day management and development of Second Life.

On Tilia and Its Role

[Video: 34:55-39:15]

  • Grown out of the need to properly regulate money handling and the operation of a virtual currency, Tilia has grown into a product set in its own right.
  • It still plays a central role with Second Life in terms of handling fiat money and transferring Linden Dollars to fiat money amounts.
  • However, it is a separate entity, and specialises in all regulatory and compliance matters in dealing with fiat money transactions. As such it free the SL management team to focus on Second Life and its services for users.

Product Development Path and the AWS Architecture

[Video: 4:23-18:12]

  • A lot of under-the-hood work to optimise the use of AWS hardware and infrastructure – simulator performance improvements.
  • General improvements:
  • Starting work of new “event” regions capable of running with 100-150 avatars within them, with a hoped-for target of 200.
    • These regions have had some testing at various shopping events, and work is continuing to test and compare these environments.
    • Seen as offering a route to true auditorium-style events as well as supporting shopping style events.
    • Things like cost and additional features for this product have yet to be determined, so these regions are not generally available at this time.
    • There are still issues to be resolved. For example, tests revealed that if a region took more than around 175 avatars, the memory use within the simulator / server the region was on would start to exponentially rise with each additional avatar.
    • These regions might possibly be available to support RFL events.
    • [Video 47:46-48:22] Once available, these “event” regions will be offered to educators at the current educational discount.
    • [Video 49:40-51:21] These new “event” regions will not see any increase in either region size or in Land Capacity limits. Should Land Capacity ever change, it will be globally scaled for products.
  • A lot of the work in leveraging AWS and developing the new “event” region product have both led to the discovery of additional areas where work needs to be carried out, and this is an ongoing process.
  • The breadth of product offerings provided by AWS are constantly being analysed to see if they might be leveraged for use by Second Life.
    • However, some of this might be limited, or required more engineering work. For example, text-to-speech / real-time translation are options AWS can provide, but leveraging them would require extensive viewer-side engineering to leverage what are essentially server-based tools.
  • [Video: 44:21-47:21] Two major efforts at the moment are geared at growing the user base. These comprise:
    • A further redesign of the new user on-boarding process and new user experience, part of which can be seen with the revamp of the welcome islands launched in 2021.
    • A review of the avatar system / avatars supplied by LL for new users.
    •  For those who use the RegAPI, these changes will, it is hoped, “revolutionise” bringing users in SL.
    • These are both part and parcel of an overall drive to increase the Second Life user base over the next few years (Patch’s personal target being to double the number of active avatars in-world).
    • A benefit here of being on AWS is that Second Life is now entirely “elastic” and can group as required.

On Mobile

[Video: 18:32-23:05]

  • Mobile / lightweight strategies are still very much part of the work that is on-going at the Lab.
    • The dedicated Mobile offering (initially iOS) is still very much a focus.
    • A streaming option is also being considered – but streaming is very much a moving target in terms of technology and capabilities, so this is very much a longer-term project. However:
      • It potentially offers a higher-fidelity experience with graphics, etc.
      • It is in active development and experimentation.
      • Costs will be a factor, however, and such a service is unlikely to be something that would be folded-in to, say, some Premium subscription, simply because stream costs are so variable in terms of data load, etc.
  • [Video 42:59-44:20] It is hoped that in offering a mobile solution, LL will be able to increase SL’s exposure to audiences and help grow the user base.

Support

[Video: 24:45-32:15]

  • Front-line support has been increased by 4 people.
  • A new scripted support bot has been deployed that utilises AI to tackle support questions, rather than operating programmatically.
    • Can understand plain English questions and leverages the Knowledge Base.
    • Can carry out basic support functions, such as restarting a region on receipt of a recognised request.
    • Also includes (or will include as the capability is being developed) to help with things like filing Abuse Reports.
  • New support options are being introduced (notably as a part of Premium Plus, but no specifics).

In General

  • [Video: 39:24-42:57] On Meta and virtual spaces: Meta has put a huge spotlight on the metaverse business. Feels that at the end of the day, Meta will be just one of a number of virtual worlds / environments, and that others like Second Life can benefit out of the “all boats rise” adage.
  • Some passing mention of Premium Plus but no real specifics worth noting.

In the courts of a dragon and an emperor in Second Life

Long Feng and Akuma – Akuma, March 2022 – click any image for full size

Xue Starlight recently invited me to visit a pairing of two Full regions that have been developed for the Honour and Blood group by SHyJBuilder along an Oriental theme that mixes Japanese and Chinese history / fable with that of vampires, to present a highly-detailed setting geared towards role-play, but which is open to all with Payment Information on File.

Offering multiple opportunities for exploration and photography, the regions do have some access rules, perhaps the most important of which are likely to be: visitors are asked not to intrude into any role-play that may be in progress; child avatars are (not allowed, and visitors need to have Payment Information on File.

The regions draw upon on various elements of Oriental mythology – Yanluo Wang, the Chinese God of Death and Ruler of the Fifth Court of Diyu (Hell); the Jade Emperor, Ruler of Heaven, Creator of the Universe, member of the Sanqing (the supreme Doaist dynasty) and Lord of the Imperial Court; Akuma, the Japanese fire demon, and so on, as well as on the mythology of vampires.

Long Feng and Akuma – Akuma, March 2022

To understand the back-story to the estate / role-play, it is probably is easiest to refer to refer to the introduction on the estate’s website (roughly translated from Spanish):

I welcome you to the great Courts of the Yellow Emperor and the Jade Emperor.
We are in an age when China has been unified under the great Song Dynasty, and Japan in shines within the Heian period, the last classical era of that country.
A long time ago, so long in fact that no one remembers exactly when anymore, there was a war between the heavenly gods led by the Jade Emperor and the demons commanded by Yanluo. After days of battle heaven defeated the demons and confined them back to hell.
Today these two cities rise above the place where the battle occurred and beneath the place of heaven where the Jade Emperor triumphed. They are the cities of Long Feng and Akuma, and they are where we live this adventure of which you will be an active part, as you decide how your destiny takes you along different paths.

As a part of this, a core of the role-play is focused on vampires reborn, who use Oriental techniques – meditation, kōan / gōng’àn, singing, with a touch of Hinduism through the paths of Dhama – to regain their karma and reach a state of peace.

Long Feng and Akuma – Long Feng, March 2022

The regions share a common landing zone that actually straddles the boundary between them. This takes the form of a graveyard (remember the vampire twist), with each region having its own specific landing point within the graveyard such that visitors using either safely without risk of actually hitting the boundary between the two.

Located on a high table of rock, the landing zone connects to each region by means of paths that switchback their way down from the flat height to the north and south sides of the plateau. From the base of the plateau, visitors can make their way to either city by means of tracks and paths and, in the case of Akuma, by means of bridges.

Long Feng and Akuma – Akuma, March 2022

Within them, the two cities offer a mix of Japanese (Akuma) and Chinese (Long Feng) styles, with the two regions, each of which leverages the Full private island LI bonus, offering a good mix of land and water.

Of the two cities, Akuma is perhaps the more spacious feeling, occupying as it does pretty much all of the region on which it sits. The south-west of the city has its own port, watched over by what appears to be a large Japanese-style fort / clan house, beyond which lies a combat training ground (whilst secondary to the overall themes of role-play in the regions, I gather the SHyJ combat system is the permitted system within the estate). A multi-level palace rises to the north-west, complete with gardens and water features, and Onsen, while to the east are houses and places of business.

Long Feng and Akuma – Akuma, March 2022

To the south, the city of Long Feng is more crowded to the east, houses and businesses gathered around narrow streets and overlooking small sandy beaches. To the west, across a narrow channel of water, sits a large palace backed by a tall pagoda with a walled garden and temple alongside. These noble houses are split between men only and women only.

The majority of the buildings and rooms are furnished throughout both regions, further adding to the photogenic natures of both regions, while presenting much to see for everyone. There are also lots of engaging spots to be found throughout, such as places to mediate, little shrines where travellers can pray, while those who take a boat can make their way to the island of the Celestial Dragon. Or, if preferred, people can just watch the local panda within Long Feng. For those who don’t like walking, a horse rezzer can be found alongside the trail leading from the landing zone to the city of Long Feng.

Long Feng and Akuma – Long Feng, March 2022

What struck me about the estate was not only the richness of detail – and in places this can take its toll on a system, although not excessively so if you’re prepared to make some adjustments – was the sheer friendliness of the people running it; those I encountered were friendly, chatty and only too happy to offer a guided tour, if required.

There will be an official opening concert featuring Tia Rungray performing live in the palace in Akuma on Saturday, March 19th, 2022, and visitors are welcome to attend.

Long Feng and Akuma – Long Feng, March 2022

Richly detailed, rounded by a complimentary sound scape, Long Feng and Akuma make for a richly engaging visit whether or not the role-play is of interest, and I’d like to thank Xue Starlight for the invitation to visit, and to him and the core builder of the estate, SHyJbuilder, for their time in chatting to me journey my visits.

SLurl Details

Both Long Feng and Akuma are rated Adult.

Linden Lab announce sales tax on recurring US billings

Linden Lab has announced that, as from March 31st, 2022, they will be applying sales tax for users in the United States on recurring billings such as Premium subscription renewals, and land fees.

The announcement comes with a note that the company will, for the time being, continue to absorb sales tax on point-of-sales purchases such as for first-time Premium subscription payment, Name Change fees, and one-time Linden Dollar purchases – although  the announcement notes that taxes on such purchases will have to be passed on to U.S. users at some point in the future.

The blog post carrying the announcement reads in full:

Ever since Second Life’s inception two decades ago we have seen many local, state and federal governments impose new ways to collect tax revenue from internet-based businesses. The Wayfair Sales Tax case decision by the Supreme Court was when prior rules about sales tax really changed.  Since then, we have done our best to shield our residents from these taxes as long as possible, but we are no longer able to absorb them.
As of March 31, 2022 we will begin charging sales tax in the U.S. For the time being we will charge taxes only on recurring billings, such as premium subscriptions and land fees. The amount of tax charged will be communicated clearly in the receipt or invoice.
We will continue to absorb the taxes at point-of-sale purchases such as one-time L$ buys, first-time premium subscriptions, and name changes. At some point in the future we will need to begin passing those taxes on to you. We will make another announcement when those charges are phased in.
Your individual charges will be determined by your local jurisdictions. There are more than 13,000 sales and use tax jurisdictions in the United States, with great variation in their rules and tax rates. Tax amounts are also affected by other factors such as the type of goods or services being purchased. To determine the charges, we will be relying on an automated third-party system which closely tracks local tax laws, so the tax amounts are always up to date.
This is news we don’t enjoy sharing, but for the health of the business and of Second Life, we can no longer continue absorbing these tax burdens.
Thank you for your understanding and your continued support of Second Life.

Again, please note the paragraph stating that the sale tax you may face is dependent upon your local tax jurisdiction – there is no “one size fits all” approach.

The Wayfair Sales Tax case refers to the 2018 South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. et al case heard by the Supreme Court, in which the Court determined that an out-of-state seller (e.g. Linden Lab) can have economic presence in U.S. states where it has no physical presence, and can thusly be held legally accountable for collecting appropriate sale taxes on goods and services.

Since that decision, U.S. states have increasingly sought to mandate that out-of-state companies selling products in within their boundaries via electronic, etc., means and no physical presence, should collect sales tax on those sales.

The move by the Lab also follows past moves vis-à-vis the passing of Valued Added Taxed (VAT) charges for EU citizens (2007 – although there was later some revision to this in 2015), and passing VAT changes charge on to users in Norway, and Goods and Services Tax (GST) for citizens in Australia, both of which were announced in 2020.

Linden Lab announces Tilia partners with Unity “to power virtual economies”

Linden Lab’s Tilia services are now available for Unity developers via the Unity Asset Store

On Wednesday, January 26th, 2022, Linden Lab announced that its subsidiary company, Tilia Inc., the licensed money transmitter and end-to-end payments platform, has reached an agreement with Unity for the Tilia’s API and services to be made available to Unity developers as an integrated end-to-end payment solution.

Referring to the agreement as a partnership, the announcement from Linden Lab notes that Unity has vetted the Tilia API to ensure it is suitable and optimised for the latest version of the Unity Editor, and developers building in Unity can now access Tilia’s API through the Unity Asset Store to enable in-game and in-world economies, allowing their users to make and receive payments, and even exchange in-game tokens for real money.

This is potentially the biggest partnership deal Tilia has thus far made (customers until now being reported as Second Life, Sansar and Upland – although ” NFT marketplaces” are also listed as being partners), potentially opening Tilia’s three services – TiliaDirect (in-world payment processing), TiliaWallet (capabilities for “stored value” for assets & enables user-to-user transactions) and TiliaPay (enables the redemption of tokens for fiat (real) money, allowing players to cash out) – to Unity’s entire community of developers.

Many of today’s top games and virtual worlds are built using the powerful Unity real-time 3D development platform and increasingly developers want to incorporate significant virtual economy elements that allow for in-game or in-world user transactions. We are proud to bring an end-to-end payment solution available to the Unity Asset Store, and we look forward to seeing how Unity developers will incorporate Tilia.

Brad Oberwager, Executive Chairman of Linden Research, Inc.

It is perhaps worthwhile noting that this announcement does not in any way mean that Unity is buying or otherwise investing in Linden Lab / Second Life or that they are about to do so (a question I have already been asked). This is about leveraging the power of Tilia Inc., and the services it provides to deliver them to Unity developers who wish to utilise them and, in doing so, provide further revenue streams back to Tilia / Linden Lab.

For further context, please refer to the Press Release from Linden Lab in full.

In the press: Second Life, Tilia Inc & the Metaverse

Friday, September 3rd saw an article by VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi – no stranger to Linden Lab, Second Life and LL – doing the rounds, entitled Will the metaverse bring the second coming of Second Life? While I personally find the term “the metaverse” to be one of the must frequently over-hyped / over-used terms in recent years, Takahashi’s article makes for an interesting read on a number of levels.

The first is that VentureBeat is a well-regarded tech news and events on-line magazine that includes the supplement GamesBeat that focuses on the world of computer, mobile and video games. Between them, they draw down some 6 million unique visitors a month and 12 million page views. That’s potentially a lot of exposure for articles within the publication, and Takahashi’s article was a headline piece for GamesBeat’s front page (although it has since slipped down the ranking somewhat).

Dean Takahashi, lead writer, GamesBeat

The initial part of the article is something of a re-tread of Second Life’s history for those of us familiar with the platform. While the ground covered may well be familiar (and the quoted numbers possibly subject to quibbling in some quarters), this re-treading nevertheless frames SL for those not familiar with it or were unaware it is still around and doing moderately well for itself.

This part of the article also helps frame Linden Lab as an “elder statesman” (so to speak) of the user-generated content frontier, having long since tackled many of the issues and hurdles that those attempting to now define and provide “the metaverse” are just starting to tackle. All of which makes for good reading and certainly helps carry the message that in this day of Facebook, Microsoft, et al trying to foist their visions of what “the metaverse” should be, Linden Lab has the right to say, “been there, done that – and still doing it!”.

However, it’s the latter part of the article that drew my focus, with its referencing of both Tilia and recent moves on the part of the Lab to develop “partnerships” to try to “grow” SL. Both of these are also parts of the article I’ve witnessed as causing some negative gnashing of teeth in some circles, which has also framed my thinking in writing this piece.

In particular, Takahashi’s revelation that Tilia has cost Linden Lab $30 million has raised eyebrows and some grumblings about what this might mean for Second Life’s future.

via the Tilia website

This needs a little context. While LL has spent what seems like a huge amount of money on Tilia, as Takahashi notes, it has been over a 7-year period, starting not long after Ebbe Altberg joined Linden Lab as CEO, and the initial expenditure was required; as Takahashi goes on to point out, for a company like LL to be able to make pay-outs to users (and generally handle fiat money on behalf of its users) it must comply with a range of US federal, state, and international regulations.

In terms of US requirements, this has meant LL had to become a licensed money transmitter at both the federal and state levels – a move more easily achieved by ring-fencing the services that handle all payment processing / transfer into an entity of their own. Had it not do so, then LL would have hit a wall in its ability to make pay-outs. Beyond this, Tilia Pay’s regulated services benefit Second Life in a number of other ways (allowing the use of credit / debit cards within services such as the Marketplace through to assisting with overall user account management and security, for example).

Obviously given a large amount has been sunk into Tilia, it is natural for the Lab’s new owners to want to leverage this expenditure. But this doesn’t mean Tilia and Second Life are, or will become, an “either / or” proposition for the Lab’s future direction.

Rather if Tilia can be made a success, it would mean that Linden Lab – after more than a decade of trying – has gained a second revenue stream it can utilise to help it remain viable moving into the future. Further, it’s long been the philosophy at LL that as long as SL has users enough to ensure it remains a healthy generator of revenue / income, there is little reason to shut it down / sell it, and I’d question this philosophy being radically altered by the success of a second product within the company’s portfolio.

At the end of the piece, Takahashi brings in the subject of Zenescope, and LL’s focus on “partner collaborations”. This appears to be part of what has been referred to as the drive to grow the user base.

It’s not necessarily a bad idea – working with organisations that have established audiences of their own and which could leverage Second Life to add a new dimension of engagement for those audiences. However, it is one that has some significant hurdles to clear: attractions have to be built-out, events need to be organised and run at a tempo that keeps an incoming audience engaged and coming back at a reasonable cadence to make the effort worthwhile, and their must be a path to a practical return on the investment made (time, effort money), and so on; to say nothing of getting people into the experience and comfortable with the viewer UI.

Zenescope Metaverse a new partnership endeavour involving Linden Lab opened in August 2021, but failed to capture the imagination for me See: The Zenescope Metaverse In Second Life

There’s also the question that, even if successful in bringing an audience to Second Life, just how well such partnerships might actually convert members of the audience into engaged Second Life users – something that will be an important measure of success by the current user base, if not necessarily to LL or their partners, who will likely use other criteria to measure the success of these ventures.

In mentioning such partnerships, Takahashi’s piece open the door to broader thinking around where LL might potentially go with this idea in the wake of of the move to AWS.

For example, it’s already been hinted that at some point, LL might look to offer an “on-demand” product. Doing so could potentially be advantageous to potential partners, in they it present a way for them to offer their users experiences in Second Life at a more advantageous price that a 24/7 product that might only be used once or twice a week. Beyond this, there is the question of whether LL might consider entirely private grids for dedicated partners / clients / markets, and even white-labelling such a capability if they did so (thus essentially providing a Second Life Enterprise style of product in a manner and cost that would be far more appealing that that endeavour).

However, given these thoughts do go beyond the article, I’ll put them to one side for now, and just say that if you haven’t already done so, I do recommend giving Will the metaverse bring the second coming of Second Life? a read.

Say hello to Linden Lab’s New VP of Engineering, Mojo Linden, aka Andrew Kertesz

via Linden Lab

Some time between August 11th and August 19th, Linden Lab quietly slipped out a biography of their new Vice President of Operations, who has come aboard to take up the post vacated by Oz Linden at the end of February, when he retired from business after over a decade with Linden Lab.

The new VP of Engineering is Andrew Kertesz, a 20-year veteran of the gaming industry, who joined Linden Lab at the end of July 2021 from Level Ex Inc., a company creating “industry-leading medical video games that challenge physicians to perform at the top of their game”, and where he served as Principal Software Engineer / Principal Engineering Manager for a period of just over year.

The official biography for Mr. Kertesz posted by the Lab (and accessed via the About Linden Lab page on their corporate website) reads as follows:

Andrew Kertesz

WITH OVER TWENTY YEARS OF EXPERIENCE IN THE GAMES INDUSTRY, ANDREW IS AN EXPERT AT BUILDING TEAMS AND LAUNCHING GROUND-BREAKING GAMES ACROSS GENRES THAT PUSH THE LIMITS OF THEIR RESPECTIVE PLATFORMS. HIS PRODUCT AND TECHNICAL EXPERTISE SPANS ACROSS MULTIPLE MOBILE, PC AND CONSOLE GAMES, AS WELL AS PLATFORM AND SDK DEVELOPMENT, WEB APPLICATIONS AND CLOUD SERVICES.

PRIOR TO JOINING LINDEN LAB, ANDREW HELD SENIOR-LEVEL POSITIONS AT LEVEL EX, ZUME, DOUBLEDOWN INTERACTIVE, IGT, AND MICROSOFT. ANDREW HAS WORKED ON ICONIC FRANCHISES SUCH AS HALO, FORZA, MOTORSPORT, FABLE, CRACKDOWN, AND WHEEL OF FORTUNE. ANDREW HAS A DEGREE IN COMPUTER ENGINEERING FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON.

Like Oz Linden before him, Mr. Kertesz – who has taken the name of Mojo Linden – will have overall responsibility for managing both the viewer and the simulator engineering teams at the Lab.

As noted in his biography, he comes to the Lab with extensive experience in a range of games development environments, and perhaps most interestingly, he has experience in mobile app development and exposure in managing cloud-based services and applications, both of which are of considerable relevance to Linden Lab.

It is unclear whether he will be as directly hands-on as Oz Linden in terms of chairing in-world meetings such as the Open Source Developer and Third-Party Developer sessions – both of these were particularly within Oz’s sphere of interest, as he was originally brought into Linden Lab to manage the open-source side of viewer development, and so he directly formulated those meetings as we all came to know them. However, we will hopefully get to see Mojo active at least on occasion through the likes of these and sessions such as the Simulator User Group meetings over time. Currently, he’s likely focused on getting his feet firmly under the desk and getting up to speed on everything, and there will doubtless be other opportunities to get to meet him in the future beyond any of these particular meetings as well (Lab Gab, anyone?).

The updated Management Team page on the Linden Research corporate site, with Andrew Kertesz

In the meantime, here are some relevant links.