Sansar update: of lay-offs and moves

Sansar load screen

Alongside of the announced shift in emphasis with Sansar, there have been rumours of multiple lay-offs among the Sansar team. Ryan Schultz has led with the story, stating 30 have gone, although the rumour mill has been bouncing between 20 and 30.

Exactly how many have departed is difficult to judge, simply because LL does not comment on departures or cuts, but there are some limited ways in which we can stick a finger in the air and test things. My own knowledge of the Sansar team is limited to around 16 names, but it would appear from my rudimentary yardstick, that four of those names are no longer at the Lab.

My yardstick for this measurement is simple, but has been known to be effective in the past. All Lab staff have a Linden account in Second Life. With most of the Sansar team, that account name tends to marry up with their Sansar name (e.g. Ebbe Linden marries up to Ebbe in Sansar; Boho Linden marries up with Boho in Sansar, etc.). So by checking to see which accounts are inactive, it is possible to hazard a guess that the individual is no longer at Linden Lab.

In this respect, my findings tend to concur that of the three very specific names that have been mentioned in reference to the Sansar lay-offs do indeed appear to have departed Linden Lab. However, it also appears (up to the time of writing, at least) that a third high-profile name – that of the Lab’s Chief Product Officer, Landon MacDowell – still appears to be with the Lab, as his SL account is still active.

Granted, this is not a genuinely scientific means of making a judgement. However, it amounts to 1/4 of the names I know in the Sansar team, and if I recall correctly (I confess that in digging back through my notes, I’ve been unable to pin down the specific quote) during a meeting in either Sansar or Second Life, Ebbe Altberg indicated the Sansar team is around the 100+ mark. So, my finger-in-the-air figure would tend to concur with the idea of 20 to 30 people being laid off / transitioned.

In this latter regard, I took time to try to dig around a little further and concluded that it seems likely that at least two of the Sansar team who originally moved to that project from Second Life may have transitioned back to working on SL (in addition to Harley Linden also transitioning from Sansar to SL).

Precisely what this means for Sansar development in the future remains to be seen. I’ve already commented on the move to focus efforts on trying to make Sansar a venue for “live” virtual events (see Sansar changes emphasis: of live events and audience, and it’s something I intend to circle back to in the near future as it seems some of that piece may have been misinterpreted. For now, all I will say in regards to the lay-offs, is that whenever and wherever they happen, no matter how big or how small, they are never pleasant – least of all for those being laid off. So I genuinely hope any who have been let go by the Lab are successful in finding new positions sooner rather than later.

Linden Lab’s management team expands: congrats to Grumpity, Patch and Oz

© and ® Linden Lab

Back at the start of October, Beth MacBain pointed out on the forums that Patch Linden had received a promotion, to Vice President of Programme Operations.

At the time, I dropped Patch a line asking about his expended role – although as I didn’t hear back – and I did a quick check to see if his promotion had been reflected on the Lab’s official Management Team page.

Back then, the answer was no – possibly because I was a little quick on the draw. However, since then it has been updated – and it reveals that Patch is one of three senior staff with a specific focus on Second Life to gain a promotion to Vice President and join the Lab’s management team.

The other two – who have worked alongside Patch for some time as “the troika” (as Grumpity Linden puts it) who determine much of the product and feature direction for Second Life: Grumpity herself, who is now Vice President of Product (Second Life); and Oz Linden, who is now Vice President of Second Life Operations.

Linden Lab Management Team page, October 2019 – a line-up that now includes Oz, Patch and Grumpity Linden (highlighted)

Given this, I’d like to offer belated congratulations to Patch, Grumpity and Oz on their new positions. All three have contributed significantly to Second Life’s development over the years, and genuinely have the platform’s best interests at heart. If you’re unfamiliar with their backgrounds and their roles at the Lab, just hop over to the Lab’s Management Team page and click on their photos there (just scroll down the page to view them).

The October 2019 update to the Management Team page also reveals that the Lab’s General Council, Kelly Conway departed the company during the month.

Having been at the Lab since May 2013, Kelly was also a founding Director of Tilia Inc., where she oversaw the team responsible for regulatory compliance policies and procedures, including related to anti-fraud and anti-money laundering (AML) measures. She has now moved to Manticore Games, to take over the role of General Council there. I had some indirect dealings with Kelly over the years (mostly the results of assorted requests put to the Lab through Pete and Brett Linden that touched on Tilia, the Terms of Service, etc.), and would like to offer best wishes to her in her new role and company.

IP infringement complaint directed at Linden Lab

© and ® Linden Lab

According to a piece published in Yahoo Finance on Monday, September 23rd, a complaint has been filed against Linden Research Inc., (Linden Lab) alleging patent infringement.

The report quotes a news wire release from Worlds Inc, claiming Linden Lab and its Second Life product have infringed on a Worlds Inc patient System and Method for Enabling Users to Interact in a Virtual SpaceUS 7,181,690.

The complaint is the latest in a series of actions relating a set of patents filed by Worlds Inc (also known as Worlds.com Inc and Worlds Online and which I’ll refer to simply as “Worlds” for the most part below), the others being US 8,082,501, US 7,493,558 and US 7,945,856, as cited on the company’s home page.

Together, the patents relate to  technologies and methods, Worlds state, to “provide a highly scalable architecture for three-dimensional graphical multi-user interactive virtual world systems”, as seen in Massive Multiplayer Online games (MMOs) and virtual spaces. These technologies and methods particularly relate to the use of avatars, means of communication between “rooms” (disparate spaces) etc. They were filed and granted in 2007 – well after the Second Life was established – but they relate to an initial filing made by Worlds, in 1995, which they argue stands as the priority date when considering the patents.

Thom Kidrin, CEO of Worlds Inc.

The history relating to Worlds Inc and these patents dates all the way back to 2008. It was then that the company challenged against South Korean games an MMO developer NCSoft. At the time, World’s CEO, Thom Kidrin, stated the case would be the first of many such cases, asserting that his company would “absolutely” seek financial recompense from any companies they perceived as infringing on their patents – including Activision Blizzard and Linden Lab.

Ultimately, the NCSoft case reached a confidential out of court settlement in April 2010. However, in 2012, Worlds Inc. set their sights on Activision Blizzard in what has become a convoluted case.

Responding to the complaint by Worlds, Activision Blizzard initially argued that the claim of infringement was invalid, as the technologies to which their patents referred had appeared in public prior to any patient filing. However, Worlds claimed the priority dates for their patents had been incorrectly recorded by the US Trademark and Patents Office (USTPO).

Activision’s position appeared to be upheld in a March 13th, 2014 summary ruling by U.S. District Judge Denise Casper, prompting some to repeat the view that Worlds Inc a patient troll, a view first raised at the start of the Activision case.

However, judge Casper also upheld a claim by Worlds that filing irregularities at the USTPO had resulted in their priority date being incorrect, and gave the company leave to seek a correction from the USTPO. This resulted in the priority dates for the patents being revised to an earlier time frame, and Activision opted not to challenge the revision by way of an inter partes review (IPR), allowing Worlds to re-file their claim of infringement in October 2014.

Around this time as well, Worlds also mounted a challenge against games developer Bungie. In response, Bungie filed three counter-IPRs with the patent office, claiming various parts of the Worlds patents were invalid.

Worlds sought to have the Bungie IPRs discounted on the technicality that they failed to state that Activision shares a publisher/developer relationship with Bungie. However, the USTPO didn’t agree with Worlds and in 2015, ruled in Bungie’s favour – and so Worlds took their complaint over Bungie’s IPR filing to the US Federal Circuit Appeals Court, seeking to overturn the USTPO’s ruling. In September 2018, the court heard the case and issued a ruling in favour of Worlds position, and ordered the USTPO to undertake a further IPR. Which, unless I’ve missed something in digging through assorted legal sites and papers, is where matters more-or-less stand today.

Quite where the complaint against Linden Lab will go is unclear. I’ve contacted them on the matter to ascertain if they are aware of the complaint, but have yet to receive a response – and frankly, I actually don’t expect them to do more than perhaps confirm their awareness; for obvious reasons, it can be unwise for a company to openly comment too much on legal matters. However, in the past, some observers have suggested it is Worlds Inc., who could face an uphill battle in their claims. Ben Duranske, author of Virtual Law: Navigating the Legal Landscape of Virtual Worlds, for example, has previously proposed that there is a wealth of “prior art” that could be brought to bear against them; others have also noted that there is also a wealth of documented history surrounding SL’s development that could be used to challenge claims of infringement.

But, as is often the way in these matters, it is likely things will only unfold slowly over time, so it may be a while before there is any sense of motion one way or with other. In the meantime, should I received a reply from Linden Lab, I will update this article, and I’ll also attempt to keep an eye on this issue in the future.

With thanks to Cube Republic for the pointer to the Yahoo piece.

Tilia has officially launched operations with Second Life*

Logos © and ™ Linden Lab and Tilia Inc.

Tilia Inc, the a wholly-owned subsidiary of Linden Lab formed in 2014 and focused on payments and the compliance work associated with operating virtual economies, including Second Life and Sansar, officially commenced operations in respect of Second Life on Thursday August 1st, 2019.

Linden Lab reminded users of this via an official blog post, Tilia Officially Begins Operations Today in Second Life.

In my summary of the Tilia Town Hall meeting of Friday, July 12th, I attempted to précis the impact of the changes and how they affect people with a simple set of notes. I’m reproducing that table below, updated with information from the Lab’s August 1st blog post, in what I hope is an easy-to-follow guide.

How Do the Tilia Changes Affect YOU?

+++ If you have a US dollar balance associated with your Second Life account +++

You are required to accept the Tilia Terms of Service on or before October 31st, 2019.

If you do not accept the Tilia Terms of Service by October 31st, 2019 you  will not be able to utilise your USD balance or request a process credit until such time as you do accept the Tilia TOS.

+++ If you add a US Dollar balance to your Second Life account AFTER October 31st, 2019 +++

You will required to accept the Tilia Terms of Service in order to utilise that balance. 

+++ In Addition +++

If you wish to credit process all or any part of a US dollar balance (that is, transfer it out of Second Life to PayPal or Skrill or another supported method), and have not already provided personal information to Linden Lab you will be required to submit said information.

To check whether Tilia has the required information on file in order for you to be able to process credit, please refer to: Tilia: how to ensure your process credit information is on file.

+++ If you do not have a US dollar balance associated with your Second Life account +++

You do not have to consent to the Tilia Terms of Service
(unless you subsequently wish to make use of a US dollar balance).

Users should also read the Tilia Privacy Policy.

With reference to non-acceptance of the Tilia Terms of Service by those with US dollar balances associated with their Second Life account after October 31st 2019:

  • They will still be able to log-in to Second Life.
  • They will still be able to use any payment method they have on file to pay for services (e.g. purchase Linden Dollars, pay Premium membership or tier).
  • It is only their US dollar balance that they will be unable to utilise.

Related Information

Via Linden Lab

Tilia Related Articles, This Blog

* Note: I actually held off blogging on this on August 1st as there was some ambiguity in the original wording of the Lab’s blog post which might have been taken to mean that user not accepting the Tilia Terms of Service by October 31st, 2019 would lose all access to their US dollar balances in perpetuity. As a result of discussions with the Lab, the blog post was revised on August 2nd to clarify the point that users will be unable to utilise their US dollar balances at October 31st until they accept the Tilia Terms of Service.

Linden Lab in wrongful termination lawsuit over alleged cybersecurity law violations

©, ™ and ® Linden Lab

Linden Lab has been hit by a wrongful termination lawsuit by a former employee, Kavya Pearlman, in which allegations are made over potential violations of cybersecurity laws.

A security expert, Kavya joined Linden Lab in August 2017, and worked to develop information security strategies, advising on state and international information security regulations, managing IS systems, and more. Her employment with the Lab was terminated in March of 2019.

She publicly announced her lawsuit via a 12-point Twitter thread. In it she states that her employment came at a time when she was engaged in a risk assessment exercise involving the New York State Department of Financial Services, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, and the European General Data Protection Regulation, which came after a period when “the company treated me with hostility when I raised concerns about potential violations of cybersecurity laws.

The allegations would appear to encompass work related to the Lab’s subsidiary, Tilia Inc., and potentially both Sansar and Second Life – but Ms. Pearlman makes it clear that during her tenure at the Lab as Information Security Director, there were no security breaches.

Within the Twitter thread – and apparently within the lawsuit – she additionally alleges discrimination and retaliation on the basis of her gender and religion.

Given this is a lawsuit, and the fact I am neither a lawyer nor have I had any sight of the papers that have been filed, further comment on the lawsuit itself would be inappropriate, and I doubt that the Lab will reply to enquiries simply because this is a legal matter.

That said, and if and when possible, I’ll continue to watch this situation as it develops.

With thanks to John Brianna for the pointer.

Lab pauses Blocksworld development and promotion

Blocksworld was a sandbox type game allowing users to create and build from blocks, purchase specialist packs, and even sell their own creations through a marketplace

Linden Lab has confirmed it has “paused” development and promotion of its iOS sandbox app, Blocksworld.

For those unfamiliar with it, Blocksworld has been a part of the Lab’s product stable since 2013. Initially developed by a trio of Swedish guys calling themselves Boldai AB, it was acquired by Linden Lab at the time the company was looking to broaden its product offerings under the stewardship of former CEO Rod Humble. This effort encompassed:

  • The in-house development of games like Creatorverse (Android and iOS, 2012-2013 – now defunct) and Dio (browser based, 2013-2014 – now defunct)
  • The acquisition of companies and their products (LittleTextPeople  and Versu, 2012 – IP released back to the original developers, 2015; and Boldai AB with Blocksworld).
  • Partnering with Free Range Games to produce Patterns (2012-2014, still available via Steam, but only in “off-line” mode, no shared worlds).
  • A short foray into owning a games distribution platform through the acquisition of Desura (2013-2014, sold to Bad Juju Games).

Since its launch, the game has been steadily developed and has performed reasonably well – including gaining some brand support through Hasbro (with their G.I. Joe brand).

More recently, the Lab made it available through web browsers (although it never really worked well in Firefox) and through the Steam Early Access programme. As a part of the Lab’s product family, it has always appeared on the More Products listing at the foot of the secondlife.com web pages – which is how I found something may have changed.

Blocksworld used to appear in the footer area of the secondlife.com web pages

In looking at my SL dashboard at secondlife.com on July 3rd, I noticed Blocksworld was no longer listed, leaving only Sansar. I also noticed the two websites associated with Blocksworld either redirected back to the Lab’s corporate website (in the case of blocksworld.com) or had an expired security certificate issue (playblocksworld.com).

Over the course of July, the footer area of the secondlife.com pages have continued to be revised so they focus on SL, Sansar and Tilia and appear to leave little or no room for Blocksworld to make a return. Nevertheless, the game continues to be available on the Apple Store App Preview, and on Steam Early Access, and to appear on the Lab’s product page.

The revised secondlife.com web page footers seem to leave little room for Blocksworld with their focus on SL, Sansar and Tilia

All of which made me wonder what was going on, so I reached out to the Lab in early July to ask. It took a little time to get a reply, and when it did come in, it was a little short, considering the length of time it took for it to arrive:

Our primary focus continues to be on Second Life and Sansar, so we’ve paused new development and promotion for Blocksworld. However, Blocksworld continues to be available in the App Store as it still has a healthy amount of users and many people continue to enjoy it.

Which is fair enough to a point. When one considers the Lab is now engaged in developing an iOS “companion” app for Second Life, then possibly stepping back from working on Blocksworld (assuming the skills used to develop Blocksworld are indeed still at the Lab) allows in-house iOS talent to be re-directed towards this new SL companion app.

Even so, something of a nagging doubt remains, for two reasons:

  • The last significant update to Blocksworld was March 2018 – well before  any work started on an iOS app for Second Life. This tends to suggest the app’s development cycle had perhaps already reached a ceiling in terms of resources at the Lab.
  • Also, if skill sets have indeed been diverted away from Blocksworld to focus on the SL iOS, then they are potentially going to be re-directed for some time, simply because of the amount of time app development and enhancement takes.

So it’s hard not to wonder what the future might actually hold for Blocksworld. How long is the pause likely to be? Is there a risk that  – given the amount of time since the last update  – this “pause” might also stall the apps ability to acquire / retain users? If so, what then?

Will it be considered to still be a worthwhile enough revenue generator to warrant future development, or at least on-going support? Or might it come to be seen as a nice little app that has run its course, left to slowly fade away over time? I’m hoping for the former, and will continue to try to keep a check on it, even if it only sates my own curiosity!