It’s been two weeks since Linden Lab introduced the new pricing structure for private regions, and as Tyche Shepherd reports, her Grid Survey shows the grid has experienced its second consecutive week of net private region growth since the change came into effect.
In the week immediately following the introduction of the new pricing structure (Monday July 2nd through Sunday July 8th), the SL grid saw a net increase of 34 private regions, while in the week Monday July 9th through Sunday July 15th, the net increase was 35 private regions.
As Tyche indicates, these increases have helped slow the overall rate of private region attrition to just 0.3% – a net loss of 52 private regions between January 1st, 2018 and July 15th, 2018. By comparison, some 326 private regions were lost to the grid between January 1st and July 16th, 2017 (with an overall net loss of 667 private regions through the entire year).
So, have regions losses turned a corner as a result of the price change?
Frankly, it is too soon to tell; two weeks is only two weeks – we need to see how things trend out over a longer period before anything can really be determined. A lot here will depend on how much of the tier reduction land rental businesses pass on to their tenants in order to make private rentals more appealing; something I noted in passing in Looking at the new private region and L$ fees. Plus, a simple count of region growth isn’t the entire story here.
Simply put, the private region pricing restructure will have seen the Lab take a reduction in monthly revenue generation. It’s questionable whether such a modest increase in region numbers, even when coupled with other options for increased revenue generation such as the Mainland price restructuring (with its possible attendant increase in Premium subscriptions) and the US $0.50 increase on L$ purchase transaction fees, has wholly overcome the immediate deficit of the tier rate cut.
Thus, while the uptick in private region count is a positive turn, it is too early to be celebrating. We’ll need another 4-6 weeks before we can start to get a genuine feel for how things are going as a whole. It will also be interesting to see how long new regions entering the grid remain in place or whether we see some rapid comings / goings month-to-month. I’m also curious as to how the restructuring affects the Full / Homestead product ratio on the grid, so will be looking to see if Tyche can provide some updates on this in the coming weeks / months.
In the meantime – and totally off-topic as far as private regions are concerned – I wonder if Tyche has had time to have a bop around Mainland to see how the abandoned land situation there is fairing? As of January 2018, abandoned land stood between 22% and 23% of all Mainland; it would be interesting to see how it now stands, some four months on from the Mainland price restructuring.
A major goal at the Lab is to “re-balance” the Second Life economy – shifting the onus of their revenue generation away from a heavy reliance on virtual land leasing to distribute it more broadly across all fronts – land, Premium subscriptions, transaction fees, Marketplace fees, etc. Over the last few years we’ve seen some of this in action:
In April 2016, increases were made to all transaction processing fees and Linden Dollar processing fees (raising the latter by 30% to US $0.40 per L$ purchase).
In June 2017 increases were made to the maximum fee for processing credit transactions was raised to US $25, and the fee charged per L$ purchase was raised to US $0.60.
In November 2017, increases were made to L$ purchase fees (to US $0.99 per transaction) and to fees charged for transferring money via PayPal or Skill from the start of 2018, raising both to 2.5% with no maximum limit on the application of the fee.
Some of these increases were couched as being in part to meet the costs involved in the Lab handling the transactions and ensuring all proper fiscal and legal requirements for money handling are properly met. Doubtless, this was the case – the Lab has invested heavily in matters of compliance. However, it’s also not unfair to say that once the initial expense in performing this work has been recouped, these fee increases enable the Lab to both cover the cost of transaction handling and generate some revenue through such transactions (however modest on the individual transaction it might be).
On July 2nd, 2018, the most ambitious change to private region pricing in Second Life came into effect: a reduction of 15% in private region maintenance fees (tier) for all current region types and reductions in the set-up fees for Full and Homestead regions (new OpenSpace (“water”) regions no longer being offered as a product from July 2nd, 2018).
These changes – it should be noted – come with a further increase in Linden Dollar purchase fees, which increase to US $1.49 per transaction.
It’s fair to say that any change of this kind, be it in land pricing or transaction fees, can generate heated feedback (witness this forum thread on the 2017 increases). The changes to private region fees have been no exception, with views being expressed via in-world groups, within assorted forums (such as SLU) and even in blog comments. Some have been upset over the L$ transaction fee increase; others – notably those in the virtual land rental business – have been upset by the change no extending to grandfathered regions; others apparently don’t see the move as “enough”, protesting that the tier rate should be cut to US $195 (or similar). And there has been a fair amount of reaction to the L$ purchase fee increase.
Obviously, time will reveal the outcome of these changes, but as is my want, I’d pass comment on a few things.
When it comes to the land rental business, it is hard to see why the exclusion of grandfathered regions is being taken so negatively. For one thing, these are already below the new tier rates, as the Lab states. Further, it is now 18 months since the buy-down offer closed. This should have been enough time to recover the up-front cost of converting regions to grandfathered status (US $600 / Full; US $180 / Homestead), and now leave rental companies in a position to enjoy a modest increase in income from such regions whilst also offering customers using them a degree of lower rent.
Which is pretty much also the opportunity they have with this tier reduction. Frankly, 15% is unlikely to have people leaping in droves to gain Premium membership any buying Full regions directly from the Lab. But what it might do is once again increase people’s desire to have Homestead regions as private homes. Given that these remain tied to holding at least one Full region, it’s not unfair to say that should it happen, land rental companies can only benefit. And even if the private land market remains relatively flat, such businesses should still be able to lower their rental rates to attract new customers without damaging their existing margins.
So it really is hard to see why some in the land rental business are so put out by grandfathered regions being excluded, or to claim they get “none” of the benefits of this fee reduction.
When it comes to the increase in Linden Dollar transaction fees (which with this increase will have rise by 198.4% since April 2016), the impact will perhaps be harder to gauge, simply because people can offset at least some of the impact by adjusting the amounts of Linden Dollars they purchase in a single pass. Just how much of an offset can be achieved depends on a range of factors – the amount of L$ someone buys in a single pass, how easily they might be able to consolidate purchases, etc. – but this doesn’t deny the fact it is precisely what people have been doing as a result of past increases.
Even so, it will in interesting to see what, if any, impact this has on actual spending in SL – although I suspect that changes to fees elsewhere that have been hinted at (such as with the Marketplace) might have more of a visible impact, if and when they come into effect.
There will always be positives and negatives to just about anything the Lab does. However, “the tier is too damned high!” has long been a mantra within Second Life and while it is “only” a 15% reduction in tier, this is a positive step towards addressing this mantra when it comes to private regions fees (and it’s not unreasonable to assume there might yet be more in the future – although they are unlikely to be even close to appearing over the horizon at this point in time). Similarly, while people are likely to continue to be put out by it, the increase in to the L$ transaction fee is a relatively “fair” move, as it spreads at least some of the burden of revenue generation for the Lab across a much broader section of the SL user base.
It’s a huge effort. Right now the Second Life grid is a proprietary set-up in a hosting facility that we have customised for the purposes of what we’re doing – which made sense a decade and half ago. But these days, with the services from Google and Amazon and Microsoft with cloud infrastructures, it makes a lot of sense to shift our technologies to be on top of those cloud infrastructures instead of having our own.
Ebbe Altberg, VWPBE, March 15th, 2018.
That the Lab is working on moving Second Life to the cloud is becoming more and more widely known. First mentioned by Landon Linden (aka, Landon McDowell, the Lab’s Chief Product Officer) during his SL14B Meet the Lindens session, it was “officially” announced in August 2017 via a blog post.
Landon Linden, June 2017, talking about the Lab’s hope to move Second Life services to the cloud.
It’s a long-term project, which will extend well into 2019 (at least), building on a relationship with Amazon dating back to 2008, and which today both Blocksworld and Sansar (see: “Project Sansar”: an Amazon ECS case study), from which the Lab hope to gain a range of benefits, including – in time – perhaps the opportunity to offer a broader range of products at more comfortable (for users) price points.
There are some significant technology challenges the Lab faces with the move. However, progress is being made. Some non-user visible services are already running in the cloud, and more recently, the Lab has started preliminary testing with cloud-based simulators – although they are fair from ready for users to access, as Oz Linden outlined at the March 16th TPV Developer meeting:
We have actually run experimental regions on cloud servers, and it worked. There were some functional limitations that we have to do a lot of work to solve before we could begin to do regions that ordinary users can get to … It’s something we’re pursuing as aggressively as we can [but] I’m not even sure we have a sufficiently comprehensive view of the problems … some of them will only become apparent as we actually put things into production.
Oz Linden, TPVD meeting, March 16th, 2018 – full audio below.
Oz Linden, March 16th, 2018, talking about progress to date, and how things are likely to progress.
For the Lab, the benefits of the move to the cloud include things like a reduction in their capital expenditure – no need to maintain their own dedicated hardware (or continuously update / replace it) within a dedicated operating environment. It also means they can more dynamically scale consumption according to needs – this could be beneficial for a number of the back-end systems within Second Life.
It turns it into less capital expenditure to have to buy all the equipment and doing all the maintenance on that. You kind-of pay for what you use; with Second Life [right now], once we’ve bought a piece of hardware, we have to sit on it whether it’s being utilised or not, whereas you can kind-of dynamically scale your consumption as necessary when you use something like AWS … which we believe will reduce costs for use and then ultimately, we hope to pass that on to customers.
Ebbe Altberg, VWBPE, March 15th 2018.
Once the transition has been completed and the Lab has had time to evaluate things, the move might allow them to offer a more varied land product – something again touched upon in Ebbe Altberg’s 2018 VWBPE address, and allow them to more extensively “re-balance” the revenue model – something that is also an ongoing project at the Lab.
We’re really thinking hard about the economic model of Second Life. We share a belief inside the Lab that land is quite expensive. so we’re constantly looking at ways to lower land prices and find other ways to find revenues. So I think you will see us try to shift from what I would say [are] high real estate taxes to more consumption taxes or fees to create an environment where it’s easy for people to create and own experiences, and we [the Lab] participate more in all the transactions that take place.
Ebbe Altberg, VWBPE, March 15th, 2018.
Given that land tier provides the lion’s share of the Lab’s revenue, this re-balancing is far from easy to say nothing of the potential for user outcry at any fee increases). Ergo, having better means to lower fees such as through reduced operating costs and a broader spread of more “affordable” products could – depending on the time frames involved – go a long way towards helping the Lab achieving that re-balancing goal.
So what might the move to the cloud mean for users? That’s hard to quantify at the moment, simply because the project has so far to go.However, some hints at what might happen have been offered.
For one thing – and on the subject of different land products – it might allow the Lab to offer two broad categories of region / server type; I’ll call them “always on” and “on demand”.
“Always on” would be simulators running 24/7 as with SL at present. These would be ideal for handling Mainland, large open spaces like Blake Sea and the larger, contiguous private estates. Such regions might have a similar type of fixed-fee tier cost associated with them as we have today (although not necessarily the same price points).
“On demand” would be simulators that are only active (and charged for) when in active use. When devoid of avatars, they are saved to disk and spun down. These types of region could be ideal for special events, or for private business / residential regions which don’t have any surrounding regions, and would only be charged for when avatars are present; once the last avatar leaves, following an appropriate pause, the region is saved, and the instance spun-down.
Such an approach has been alluded to by Ebbe Altberg:
Some experiences might want to have continuous persistence over time, and maybe that’s one type of pricing model, for an “always on” type of scenario. Maybe other will be fine with, “hey, I’m only using this for a few hours in a class a few times a week” or something. and if that can spin-up in a few seconds, and then I just need to basically pay for the time that I’m utilising it. Those could be potential options for us to explore.
Ebbe Altberg, VWBPE, March 15th, 2018.
Land offerings could be broadened in other ways. Again, as Ebbe Altberg indicated at VWBPE 2018, there might be high-performance, high-capacity, “upper tier” servers available for those needing them for specific uses (e.g. events need high concurrency levels or similar), sitting alongside more moderate, lower-cost servers for things like residential use.
More intriguingly, cloud hosting might even allow the Lab to more readily geo-locate simulators / regions with their physical world audience. Such regions wouldn’t necessarily have to be grouped together in-world, they are simply located a lot close to the user base that most frequently uses them, potentially improving performance for that audience.
Today we are located in the US, which means that people from Australia or Asia or Europe have to travel quite a ways, which is hundreds of extra milliseconds of latency. So if you want to have a very dedicated community in Australia or somewhere, we could maybe start to distribute our server infrastructure to be closer to where the actual customers of those regions are, which would make things more performant.
Ebbe Altberg, VWBPE, 15th, March 2018.
There will be more to come on SL and the cloud and the Lab provide further updates as the work progresses, and I’ll hopefully report on them as they are made public. In the meantime, and for those who haven’t waded all the way through the VWBPE 2018 video with Ebbe Altberg (and Brett Linden), or who don’t want to read either my transcript of that event or the bullet-point summary, here’s the audio of Ebbe’s comments on SL and the cloud:
On December 31st, 2017, Tyche Shepherd issued her year-end summary on the general size and state of the Second Life main grid.
In terms of a percentage loss, 2017 saw private region losses return to the 2014/2015 levels, with a 4% decrease through the year, somewhat lower than seen in 2016. In all, 677 private regions of all classes were removed from the grid in 2017, compared to 992 in 2016. At the same time, the number of Mainland / Linden held regions increased very slightly from 6,744 to 6,806 (up by 62), leaving an overall net loss of 605 regions across the grid as a whole.
Taking the year-on-year figures from 2010 onwards (that being the last year the grid exhibited a growth in the number of regions), we get the following breakdown for private regions:
Working on the basis of Tyche’s Full Private Region surveys I have to hand, a breakdown of approximate recent monthly revenues from private regions over the most recent four-year period might be given as:
November 2013: US $3,857,000 (+/- US $52,000)
March 2016: US $3,385,000 ( +/- US $43,000)
December 2016: US $3,162,000 (+/- US $39,000)
December 2017: US$ 2,970,000 (+/- US $36,500)
This represents around a 23% drop in monthly tier revenues over a four-year period. Of course, there are other revenue routes associated with Second Life – notably Premium memberships (which the Lab has in the past indicated account for around 20% of revenues). More directly, the end of 2016 / start of 2017 saw the Lab generate an estimated US $80,000, which doubtless help offset the decline in tier revenues to some extent. So, taking these factors into consideration, I would suggest that overall, the Lab might still be generating around US $48-49 million in revenue, or roughly the same as my estimate from my 2016 end-of-year article.
In 2016 there was some speculation that any opening of Sansar might have an impact on SL’s landmass. In my 2016 piece, I expressed the opinion this would not be the case, noting:
Some have raised concerns over how much of an impact Sansar will have on SL’s landmass in 2017. I actually don’t think it will. While I anticipate the decline in land will continue (but hopefully at a slower rate than 2016), I simply don’t think Sansar will have any immediate impact on Second Life one way or the other. Not in its first year, at least.
Unsurprisingly, this has proven to be the case: region losses for the second half of 2017, following the opening of Sansar’s public Creator Beta, remained pretty much on a weekly par with the months prior to the Creator Beat opening. I expect this will continue to be the case through much – if not all – of 2018.
For me, the question remains as to how the Lab might respond to the slow tier revenue decline. As unpalatable though it may be to some, the answer still isn’t any tier cut, for the same reasons I gave back in 2013. Simply put, from the Lab’s perspective – and contrary to popular misconceptions on the matter – what users might consider a “reasonable” tier reduction could actually be more immediately damaging to LL’s bottom line revenue generation, and bring with it no actual guarantee it would be overcome through any sustained demand for private land.
A better way – again from the Lab’s perspective – to relieve any pressure causing by reductions in revenue would be to reduce the costs involved in running ad maintaining Second Life. Doing so may not yield direct benefits to users in terms of tier reductions – but given the Lab’s sensitivity to the subject, they could over time provide the means for the Lab to reduce the tier paid by users. In the meantime, reducing costs allows the Lab to better leverage revenue into bankable profits. This is true, as well, for the work to move Second Life to the cloud – although hopefully, as the Lab has indicated, this might also eventually result in new land products / more flexible pricing. We just perhaps shouldn’t anticipate this happening in the near future.
Might we see Horizons expanded or a re-run of the buy-down offer in 2018? Possibly; although if either were to be tried, I suspect were there to be a move towards one or the other, it would likely be more to s further run of the buy-down offer, rather than an expansion of Horizons. That said, I actually anticipate that 2018 will see a further drop in region numbers, albeit one hopefully / most likely slower as then year unfolds than that of 2017. I doubt there will be any significant reversal unless something happens to cause a sustained growth in the overall numbers of users actively engaged in Second Life.
Update, December 14th, 10:07 UT: Linden Lab has issued an apology on the specific situation involving Strawberry. Included in the blog post is a broader statement concerning the use of their trademarks and the guidelines thereto, and how the Lab will be revising things somewhat for the future.
The apology and statement are both welcome (not the least by Berry herself!), and kudos is offered to the Lab for openly admitting the error both reasonably quickly and positively.
As I was heading for bed last night, I caught a blog post by Strawberry Singh concerning a trademark complaint she has received from Linden Lab.
Specifically, Berry was informed that a video tutorial she had produced a year ago had been found to be in violation of the Lab’s Trademark Guidelines. These guideline specify how terms like Second Life®, Blocksworld®, SL™ , InSL™, and the eye-in-hand logo might be used.
The guidelines are reasonably clear, and even include a point that journalists and media outlets have special permission to use these marks in articles, vis:
Berry, as a blogger / vlogger, thought she was in compliance with the above requirement. The replies she’s had from the Lab – both through Tia Linden, the Lab’s IP Specialist, and other Lab personnel indicate this is not the case.
One possible way of looking at this issue – and according Linden Lab due fairness in their possible concerns – is that YouTube is a platform with a reach that goes well beyond that of a Second Life audience. As such there could be concerns about the use of the various logos and trademarks, etc., being seen as some form of “official” production – or, were they to be used with other content related to Second Life – as an implied “endorsement” of products, activities, etc. However, were this the case, the matter could perhaps have been dealt with through a request for a suitable disclaimer to the start / end of the video and to its YouTube description.
Admittedly, this doesn’t cover concerns around licensing / monetisation which some might see as being a possible cause behind the notice being issued. But then, this doesn’t appear to be the Lab’s primary concern. Rather, as indicated in Tia’s e-mail – and underscored by the updates Berry has provided since I first read and responded to her post – is over the use of images from specific Second Life web properties and the use of a logo which had – according to the trademark guideline quoted above – previously been allowed. To quote from Tia’s e-mail response to Berry:
More specifically, we do not allow images of our avatar building page, home pages or Second Life Eye In Hand Logo to be used in any capacity. Please do not use images of any Second Life web pages or logos ( with the exception of our inSL logo noted at http://secondlife.com/corporate/brand/insl/#) in your video or any other work. You may provide a link to our website or registration page in your video if you wish.
Note the bold emphasis is mine, to underscore the specific issue: the statement that certain images and logos now cannot be use in any capacity.
If this is now the case, it is worrying for many of us who routinely blog about Second Life and have used such images and logos. I have, for example, used the eye-in-hand logo in what I have believed to be in accordance with the trademark and branding requirements. Where do we now stand if we are now seeing a shift in position from Linden Lab? Are we now in violation of a new prohibition on image use? Are the various guidelines on trademark and brand use about to be revised? If so, how do such chances sit with conception such as Fair Use?
Of course it could come down to poor wording within an e-mail, and the underpinning reasons for the notice don’t extend beyond the one specific video. But if this is the case, then we should still be given further clarification on the use of images and logos.
I’ve written to Linden Lab raising these broader questions on the use of logos and images. Hopefully, I’ll receive a reply and will follow-up with a post should this be the case.
Writing for Ars Technica on Monday, October 23rd, Samuel Axon, the Senior Reviews Editor, tells of his time Returning to Second Life. It’s a lengthy, involved piece, and perhaps one of the most broadly integrated write-ups on Second Life to have appeared in a good while.
Mr. Axon is no stranger to SL, having been dipping in and out over a number of years up until around 2012. As such, he brings to the piece first-hand experience based on more than just random exposure to the platform. In addition, he spoke directly with Peter Grey, the Lab’s Global Director of Communications, and Bjørn Laurin, Vice President of Platform – who has responsibility for both Second Life and Sansar. But that’s not all, he also sought out a number of Second Life creators to gain their insights as well.
The opening paragraphs encapsulate Second Life on a number of levels: the early hype around it being the “Internet 2.0”, the media hysteria of 2006/7, and an attempt to explain, as quickly as possible, was SL “is” for those who might view it as some kind of MMORPG.
From there, the article weaves a fairly comprehensive tapestry of several aspects of Second Life: commerce, creativity (and their relationship), social interactions and the changing face of discovery in SL, and more.
For example, with commerce and creativity, he brings together several threads: how both have given rise to what might be regarded as “unusual” (to the outside world) markets – such as breedables; how creativity has changed thanks to mesh and (for many) the move away from prims to external tools; the influence this has had with commerce, the rise of the Marketplace, and its impact on land in in-world stores.
The article also doesn’t shy away from issues. It delves into the question of why Second Life failed to become as all-encompassing as the early days seemed to promised. Here the finger is pointed squarely at social media being a major reason (outside of the overall hype surrounding SL), and I wouldn’t dispute it’s validity. Back when SL was at the height of its hype (2006-early 2008), Twitter was just starting out, as was the iPhone, Android had yet to arrive, and even Facebook had yet to start its meteoric rise in user numbers (2008 onwards). Thus, there wasn’t really anything out there by which SL’s real potential could be measured and the hype around it countered.
Sex in Second Life is also dealt with head-on, with a very tidily written sidebar to the main article. In it, Mr. Axon offers one of the most considered and well-balanced ripostes to those who insist Second Life is, to its larger extent, “all (/just) about sex”.
There are one or two elements in the article which might have been tackled a little differently. The changing face of discovery – where to go and what to do in Second Life – is examined, with a degree of lamentation that the kind of exploration possible when SL was more mainland / very large private estate oriented (i.e. pre Homestead) no longer seems to be the case, with the bias now towards “siloed” activities on isolated private islands or “big public” calendared events, with information on them effectively coming through word-of-mouth.
However, rather than lamenting the change, I’d perhaps liked to have seen it examined more along the lines of how we tend to imprint our physical world activities on Second Life. It’s fair to say our social activities in the latter are “siloed” between our homes and public venues / calendared events. We visit family and friends via the most direct means possible, rarely taking time to explore what lay between; we rely on specific “word of mouth” to get news on events of interest – websites, social media, clubs / organisations, etc. So is it really that surprising social activities have evolved in a similar manner in SL, particularly as some of the tools – like Groups – naturally lean in that direction, and are very effective in their reach?
Later in the article, Sansar enters the equation – as might be expected, given there is much concern about how it might impact Second Life. Here, those concerns are confined more to the technical / fiscal: that Sansar will draw off resources / investment from Second Life to its detriment.
While these – and other – concerns are valid, right now none of them are coming into play. On the technical / fiscal front, for example, we know the Lab is still recruiting skills specific to Second Life, and we’re still seeing user-visible capabilities added to the platform, Animesh being the most recent (albeit on a test basis), with things like the Environmental Enhancement Project and Bakes on Mesh (see my CCUG updates) following it down the pipe. The Lab is also continuing its overhaul of the infrastructure underpinning Second Life, up to and including an attempt to move SL services to the cloud. If nothing else, and providing other factors don’t come into play, all of this work should help towards SL’s continued longevity.
I could go into greater lengths, but really, suffice it to say that in Returning to Second Life we have an informed, balanced piece on the platform, which reasonably attempts to reconcile past with present and offer honest insight into why, fourteen years after its public opening, the platform still has appeal, as well as offering viewpoints from both the Lab’s and users’ perspectives. As such, it is more than worth a read in its own right, and if you haven’t done so already, I urge you to do so.