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.

Related Links

 

Second Life: Tilia Pay to handle all USD-related transactions

via Linden Lab

In July 2019, Tilia Incorporated, a wholly owned subsidiary of Linden Lab, officially took over the management of activities such as processing credit out of second Life (that is, withdrawing funds as US dollar balances the platform), and and US dollar balances held by Second Life users (see: Tilia has officially launched operations with Second Life*, August 2019).

Now, in an expansion of Tilia’s role with Second Life, Linden Lab has announced that as from Monday, May 26th, Tilia Inc, via its Tilia Pay platform, will be managing all US dollar transactions related to Second Life, including those involving conversion of funds to other currencies.

This means that, as from Monday, May 26th, anyone:

  • Making a payment through one of their indicated payment methods – credit card, debit card, PayPal, or Skrill (as indicated on their Second Life account), such as purchasing Linden dollars
  • Adding a new payment method to their Second Life account

Will be consenting to the Tilia Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

The change is being driven to both comply with regulatory requirements across a number of U.S. states and to leverage he enhanced fraud and money laundering safeguards that Tilia Pay provides.

The important things to note here are:

  • All Second Life users should be familiar with the Tilia Pay Terms of Service (and Not just those who have either a US dollar balance associated with their account and / or cash-out money from SL).
  • Users will not be explicitly asked to confirm their agreement with the Tilia ToS / Privacy Policy. Rather, when paying with a payment method (e.g. credit card) or adding a new payment method to an account, a users will see text stating that by proceeding with the transaction, they are agreeing to both the ToS and Privacy Policy.
  • This move does not:
    • Introduce any new fees.
    • Require users to submit any additional information to Tilia Incorporated or Linden Lab.
    • Change how L$ transactions are conducted in the Viewer or in the Marketplace.

Readers are asked to read the Lab’s official blog post on the change for further information relating to it. In addition, questions or concerns should be directed to the forum thread on the matter – questions cannot be officially answered through this blog.

Related Links

Sansar’s sale and Tilia Inc: Ebbe Altberg reveals more on both

Speaking at the Above the Book session at the 2020 Virtual Worlds Brest Practices in Education conference on March 26th, and again during the Lab Gab episode 19 segment that aired on Friday, March 27th, Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg revealed more about the about the sale of Sansar and the future of that platform. Also during the VWBPE session, he revealed something of the future path for Tilia Inc, the Lab’s subsidiary company.

The following is an amalgam of his comments during both sessions, complete with a quotes, audio extracts from the VWBPE Above the Book session, references to source material and supporting links.

Sansar’s Sale

Summary

The decision to sell Sansar came, at least in part, from the recognition that as a platform, it lay at a very different stage of its evolution compared to Second Life, requiring different investment and resourcing¹.

With the decision made, the Sansar team were apparently given the freedom to attempt to raise money / seek interested parties in order to keep the platform going (hence, perhaps, Ebbe Altberg’s February 12th comment that the former Sansar team were involved in discussions concerning the platform’s future – see the quote in Sansar: lay-offs, rumours, and confusion, February 12th, 2020)².

As it is, with the sale of Sansar, some 30 members of the team have (so far?) received offers to join Wookey Project Corp, and as of the March 27th Lab Gab session, “a bunch of them” are back to work¹. In support of this, I noted in a recent blog post that Sansar’s Community Manager, Galileo, appears to already be part of the Wookey Sansar team, having posted the Sansar blog post referenced below. Further, both Sheri Bryant and Julia Munck, formerly Sansar’s General Manager and Sansar’s VP of Product respectively at Linden Lab, have departed the company – presumably to join Wookey Project Corp.

It appears that the focus for the platform will potentially remain on it being a platform for large scale virtual events in the music / entertainment sectors, and that both desktop and VR support will be continued – although obviously, strategy and direction are now the remit of Sansar’s new owners.

Linden Lab will remain a “partner”, inasmuch as Tilia will continue to be used for Sanasr Dollar transactions and fiat money payouts (see more on Tilia below)¹ ².

Ebbe’s Comments – VWBPE Above the Book

To make the long story short about Sansar, we at Linden Lab decided to sell it and to give the team the chance to go raise funds and go it alone. I think it’s easier for them to go raise money as a separate stand-alone company rather than as a part of Linden Lab. Second Life is a very established, profitable, product and we kind-of had a start-up inside of an established, profitable company. And it was actually easier for them, I think, to raise money as a standalone, rather than as a part of Linden Lab.

So … the staff that worked on Sansar are all getting offers by the new entity to come back and start working on Sansar again, and I think they’ve started this week, so I’m super happy that the product and the technology and the team all get a chance to continue … and it makes it easier for Linden Lab and Sansar to both succeed, I think, going forward. I’m happy for the way things ended up in the end.

References

  1. Lab Gab – 0:40-3:00.
  2. VWBPE 2020 Above the Book – 49:55-51:47.

Additional Links

Tilia Comments

We are all likely familiar with Tilia Inc., Linden Lab’s subsidiary that handles all micro-transactions and payments /payouts related to Linden Dollars and Sansar Dollars, and which manages the Lab’s compliance with regulations relating to its role as a Money Transmitter / Money Services Business (MSB).

Tilia officially launched on Thursday August 1st, 2019, having been formally introduced to SL users in July 2019 – although as I noted at the time, SL and Sansar users may have had some awareness of its existence as the Tilia Inc., logo had been on both the SL and Sansar web pages related to L$ and S$ account purchases and Sansar account management for some time. For my part, I’d been speculating about the company since November 2015, and did so again in July 2019, when I noted that Tilia appeared to be geared towards providing its services to other companies.

I first ruminated on Tilia being a means for Linden Lab to offer virtual economy solutions in July 2019, as a result of the (fairly obvious!) clue on the Tilia home page

Whilst speaking at the VWBPE Above the Book event, Ebbe indicated that with the sale of Sansar, Wookey Project Corp is effectively Linden Lab’s first customer for Tilia’s services, as the latter will continue to provide payment / payout capabilities for those using Sansar and the Sansar Dollar.

In addition, he also indicated more customers for Tilia are on the way:

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.

No specific details on which companies are planning to use  Tilia, I’ll hopefully have more as they are announced.

Linden Lab confirm the sale of Sansar to Wookey Project Corp – updated

Courtesy of Wookey Project Corp

On March 21st, and following rumours and conversations on the Sansar Discord server, I reported on Linden Lab having sold Sansar to Wookey Projects Inc (now referred to as Wookey Project Corp).  At the time, there was no confirmation from either Linden Lab or Wookey Projects on the matter (although I can note that since that post, I’ve had a brief conversational exchange with Wookey’s interim CEO, and hope to have more in the future).

On Tuesday, March 24th, Linden Lab, in response to assorted enquires issued a press release confirming the sale, which reads in part:

Linden Lab has had some inquiries from the public and media about the current happenings of Sansar. We are very excited to witness the unfolding of Sansar getting a fresh opportunity to thrive under the ownership of Wookey Project Corp., a San Francisco-based technology company that has assumed all operations without any interruption to operations or the Sansar community.

We are proud to have given birth to this amazing platform for creativity and live events, and encourage our community to continue the process of supporting Sansar as it shifts to new ownership. We’ve assembled a quick FAQ to address key inquiries about this transition.

Among other things, the release also makes clear that:

  • Wookey Project Corp. assumes all operations and management of Sansar, and Linden Lab is no longer involved with the platform.
  • The deal does not include or affect the ownership, management and operation of either Second Life and Tilia Inc., which continue under Linden Lab’s sole ownership.
  • However, Tilia Inc., has been contracted by Wookey Projects Corp as a third party service provider to perform certain back office functions for Sansar, including the issuance and redemption of Sansar’s in-game virtual tokens.
  • Wookey’s aim for Sansar is to “continue to evolve [it] as the premier platform for live events and entertainment including (but not limited to) support for VR, while Second Life is positioned as the Internet’s leading user-created virtual world platform.

Further to the announcement, a familiar face at Sansar – Galileo, the community manager there – issued a Sansar blog post that also provided a further official confirmation, reading in part:

Meet the new Sansar. Recently we were presented with an exciting opportunity: strike out on our own as a new entity, under new management with a focus on premier virtual events. We knew we needed to keep together our team and our vision, and the incredible community we’d built over the years.

Lucky for us, there was a company out there just as ambitious and passionate about virtual events as we were – a team that is nurturing and expanding our platform to new heights, deploying capital and expertise in a time full of opportunities for virtual communities around the globe. This week, we’re thrilled to join their family officially. Join us in saying hello to our new owners, Wookey Project Corp.! 

Galileo’s post also makes it clear that Wookey intends to continue building Sansar as a platform, stating:

What does this mean for you? More of the amazing events you know and love! More cosplay karaoke, more zero-gravity game nights, more of the massive interstellar shows that Sansar’s known for – thousands joining from anywhere in the world for one-of-a-kind live performances. You can also expect more features for meeting, socializing and hanging out with friends from around the world. Possibly even more ways to experience Sansar across different devices (more on this in weeks to come!). Nothing will change in your day-to-day.

In these challenging times, we know just how important it is to stay connected. That’s why we’ll be working hard these next few weeks to bring people together with new shows and surprises. Meet-and-greets and live performances from some of music’s biggest names. Virtual versions of the festivals you thought were cancelled or postponed. It’ll be the most fun you ever had staying home!

I recommend both the press release and Galileo’s post for further information, and I will likely resume coverage of Sansar in these pages in the near future.

Those interested can also catch-up on my own look at Wookey here: Sansar: looking at the apparent new owner – Wookey Projects Inc.

Update: Sheri Bryant (formerly Linden Lab’s General Manager for Sansar) and Julia Munck (formerly VP of Product for Sansar) both appear to have departed Linden Lab in the course of the last week. Whether they have moved across to join Wookey or not has not been confirmed – but such a move would appear to make sense for both Sheri and Julia and for Wookey Project Corp.

Lab seeking a “plan B” to secure Sansar’s future

Courtesy of Linden Lab

During the Friday, February 21st live stream of Lab Gab, Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg gave what may amount to the first fully public statement on the future of the Lab’s social VR platform, Sansar.

Speaking at the top of the programme, he stated:

Yeah, so as you might have heard, sadly we have decided that we, as Linden Lab, couldn’t continue to sponsor the project financially, so we’re looking for a plan B for Sansar to continue. I can’t say much, but we’re having very interesting conversations with several parties to help that project move forward, which I’m really excited about. But no deal is done yet, so people will just have to be patient and see what happens with it, but yes  it is true that Linden Lab going forward will focus entirely on Second Life and Tilia. I’m still busy making sure that Sansar finds a great home and that the great work that that team has started can continue.

So that’s where things are at. Hopefully, we can be more specific on what’s going on in the next couple of weeks or so. So lots of conversations going on.

The statement confirms belief that, following the recent lay-offs of staff working on the platform, that Linden Lab is looking for a new home / a new means to continue Sansar. Whether this means the Lab is looking to sell the platform entirely, or looking for a company to partner with them in order to allow development of Sansar to continue, was not made clear – although the former appears to be more likely.

Also in commenting on Sansar, Ebbe also referenced the “heavy hitters” who have returned to Second Life, laying to rest the unfounded rumour that perhaps Philip Rosedale had returned (Philip is still very much engaged with High Fidelity as a company), and instead appeared to pointtowards the long-term Lindens Whirly Fizzle and I have previously pointed to (see: Linden Lab provide statement on SL in the wake of Sansar lay-offs) – for example: Maestro, Monty and Runitai Linden.

You can hear Ebbe’s comments on Sansar’s future in the audio clip below, and in the Lab Gab video, including his remarks vis. the returning “heavy hitters” and his relationship with Philip Rosedale.

In the meantime, Sansar does still remain open for users, community events continue to be added to the events calendar and experiences remain open for people to visit.

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.