Designing Worlds in conversation with Ebbe Altberg – Transcript + Audio

Ebbe Altberg in conversation with Saffia Widdershins

Note: the video of the show is now embedded at the foot of this page.

On Tuesday, May 15th, I was able to sit-down at a closed studio recording session which formed part of Design Worlds’ 10th anniversary. The programme featured special guest, Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg.

Ebbe had accepted an invitation to answer questions to him by Saffia Widdershins, focusing on the upcoming 15th Anniversary celebrations for Second Life and the infographic and roadmap blog post issued by the Lab in  April 2018, although Sansar was also touched upon as well towards the end of the session.

The questions were a mix of those submitted to Designing Worlds ahead of the session, and those formulated by the Designing Worlds team. What follows here is a transcript of Ebbe’s responses to the questions, with a précis of each question and an audio extract from my own recording of the session.

A summary of the topics / comments is provided below, with links to the relevant section of the transcript. Note that the audio here may differ slightly to the audio in the video, as my audio extracts have been cleaned-up a little to remove repetition, pauses and asides, to give a smoother flow of the core comments and thoughts.

The Short(ish) Form

For those who prefer, the following is a bullet-point list of the core questions asked, gathered into the same topic headings as the transcript notes. Links are given to the relevant part of the full transcript for those who would prefer to read / listen to the complete answers / comments.

Note: due to the nature of WordPress internal text anchors and scrolling, you may have to scroll up a little after jumping to a specific topic, in order to see the question.

Opening Comments

  • 15 years a testament to users’ commandment to the platform.
  • Want to make it very clear to the world in general that Second Life is still going and improving.
  • The SL team is very committed to the platform, driving to make it better with new features and improved capabilities.
  • LL more optimistic than previously that they have the opportunity to grow the SL user base.
  • Jump to topic.

On the Infographic

  • While revenues are important, particularly moved by the value Second Life brings to users.
  • Fascinating that in 2017, users redeemed almost US$70 million from the platform, indicating it offers a genuine income opportunity.
  • 5 million items on the Marketplace (although some could perhaps be removed) indicates the breadth of creativity and opportunity for income generation available to users.
  • But the stories of how SL improves people’s lives, the way it can be used to raise money to help others (e.g. US $48,000 via Fantasy Faire in 2018),and the way it can change people’s lives for the better.
  • Jump to topic.

On Re-balancing the SL Economy

  • LL recognises land in Second Life is too expensive, and that they actually generate very little from the platform’s economic activity.
  • Hope is to pivot Lab’s income generation away from land tier and towards more of the economic activities – buying / selling L$, transactional and redemption fees, subscriptions, etc.
  • Through this shift, hope is to reduce the cost of land tier.
  • Witnessing steps already being taken – the private region buy-down programme, the Mainland price reduction, and more is cautiously planned.
  • Jump to topic.

On the Mainland Pricing Restructure and Private Estates

  • Extremely happy with the results.
  • Land team still incredibly busy handling orders.
  • Has also resulted in an increase in Premium subscriptions.
  • Still have to investigate the breakdown of figures: how many orders are from Premium users expending their existing land holdings; how many orders are from Premium users taking up land for the first time; and absolute net new Premium subscribers.
  • How do these changes balance with private estate costs?
    • Still being discussed, with no decisions as yet.
    • Idea is to make changes in steps and understand cause and effect – which is not possible if a lot of changes are introduced at once.
    • Potentially more to come in the future.
    • Jump to topic.

On Linden Homes

  • Not an exercise to convert exiting Linden Homes to mesh; rather the introduction of new homes which will take advantage of mesh, etc.
  • Will likely take advantage of the 1024 sq m land form, in line with the Mainland pricing change.
  • New houses will be showcased later in 2018, but no specific dates on the roll-out.
  • Some homes might make full use of a 1024 sq m footprint, some might be smaller to allow broader choice to users.
  • Jump to topic.

On The New Land Auctions

  • Initially, only Mainland land holders will be able to offer their land for auction, and individuals only, not groups.
  • Money will likely be held in escrow, so those who don’t win will get it back.
  • Lab will take a transaction fee on auctions, again as a part of trying to move revenue generation away from land tier.
  • No dates as to when the new auctions will be introduced, but getting “close”.
  • Jump to topic.

On Themed Learning Islands and Community Gateways

Are you considering community support for the new theme learning islands, and what are the themes likely to be?

  • Primary intention of themed learning islands is to provide more vertically specific user acquisition opportunities.
    • Attempt to make things consistent as possible, from initial contact through to arriving in-world at a location that is in context with the initial interesting in wanting to join SL.
    • Today, the process is generic, with no guarantee a new user will arrive in-world where they might have expected.
  • Currently in early testing, finding out what works / doesn’t work.
  • Hope is to bring-in and retain more productively (from the user’s perspective) and at a lower cost.
  • Have found that having greeters / helpers present at these islands doesn’t actually increase new user engagement. Might be a fault with testing, but might be only some new users appreciate personal help. Possible the Lab will look again at this.
  • Jump to topic.
  • Have some great gateways, but they are not necessarily contributing a lot of new users, but appear to do a great job in supporting existing users.
  • There has been success in the past – a Brazilian gateway supported by a local media company helped grow the SL Brazilian community.
  • Anyone wishing to apply to run a community gateway is free to do so.
  • LL spend a lot of money on user acquisition, but there are many different ways to do it.
  • Needs to be in contextually relevant places on the Internet where relevant audiences might be found.
  • Community gateways could be a unique way to provide user-generated themed user acquisition that the Lab may not have thought of; addressing niche audiences.
  • Jump to topic.

On the Marketplace Updates

  • Thoughts being given to clearing some of the “clutter” – content no longer managed by the creator for various reasons (e.g. no longer active).
  • User interface updates.
  • Specific (and requested) capabilities, such as being able to sell multiple colours for an item through a single listing.
  • Long list of possible improvements, and the aim is to work with the community [e.g. via the Web User Group).
  • Will be a big project, with many changes unlikely to appear until the end of the year; some (such as the clean-up) might become apparent sooner.
  • There is a commitment to make significant improvements to the Marketplace.
  • Already have certain points where revenue is collected (land, transactional fees, L$ fees, redemption fees, Marketplace commissions, etc.). Might be additional products deployed with fees associated with them.
  • Haven’t decided on the best way to engage in the transactional economy or whether Marketplace fees will increase from the current 5%.
  • Most digital economies on the Internet charge around 30% for participation. With Marketplace fees, L$ fees and redemption fees, LL charge around 10%.
  • With trying to lower land costs, the fees through the economy are liable to increase – but no decision on by how much.
  • Jump to topic.
  • Some LL’s focus is to try to find the right economic balance so that running a business in Second Life makes sense, and thus grow the economy.
  • Jump to topic.

On Premium Benefits (sort-of)

  • Mainland pricing has already happened.
  • There’s also Animesh, Bakes on Mesh and the Environment Enhancement Project, all of which will offer now opportunities for creators and shoppers.
  • There’s also work being done with Estate Management tools to make land management easier.
  • Project viewers in general either are available [Animesh, Bakes on Mesh] or will be appearing soon [Land Management, EEP].
  • Jump to topic.

On the Return of Last Names

  • Going a little slower than planned due to other work taking priority.
  • Important for scripter to switch to using agent IDs for identifying avatars, and not to use string names, as these will no longer remain constant.
  • New accounts will continue to have the “Resident” last name.
  • Premium users will – for a fee to be decided – be able to chose a new last name from a list, and use any first name they wish with it.
  • Last name lists will not include any last names previously used.
  • No-one will be able to use a name previously used by anyone else, so a name will always apply to the same user.
  • Jump to topic.

On Transitioning Second Life to the Cloud

  • First step is to make the migration and not have anything break. This must be completed before the Lab can start thinking about options and products.
  • Likely to be well into 2019 if not longer) before the Lab has transitioned from their own co-located infrastructure to a cloud-based infrastructure.
  • Possible benefits from the move might be:
    • Running regions on more high performant hardware, offering users a choice of hardware capabilities, depending on their needs
    • Possibly taking advantage of geographic distribution of regions (e.g. regions heavily used by European users located in Europe).
    • Possibly offering dynamic availability of regions (where appropriate) – spin-up when someone visits, spin-down and store on disk when empty.
  • Constantly have to upgrade hardware, etc., and this involves significant capital expenditure. The cloud allows for these things to be paid for on demand, reducing expenditure / overheads.
  • It’s the right time to make the move, and Ll are now committed to it.
  • Not an investment that would be made if the company didn’t have long-term aspirations for Second Life.
  • Jump to topic.
  • Can do a lot without cloud infrastructure – improving code, making optimisations, etc.
  • Will continue to do this on the software side.
  • Jump to topic.

On Grid-Wide Experiences

  • Essentially making experiences a grid-wide opt-out, rather than a localised opt-in.
  • Land holders will have the ability to determine which (if any) grid-wide experiences run on their land [region or parcel].
  • Jump to topic.

On the Environment Enhancement Project (EEP)

  • Three new object types / inventory assets for water, sky and day settings which can be transferred / traded like other goods.
  • Can be set at region or parcel level, subject to permissions.
  • Close to getting a project viewer available and to start getting feedback for users.
  • Hopefully will make it easier for those without the necessary skills (XML coding) to set custom environments for their land.
  • Jump to topic.

On Animesh and Bakes on Mesh

  • Animesh uses skeletal animations on a mesh object, animating it in the same way as an avatar. Should be more efficient than current mechanisms for animating objects [e.g. no need for intensive alpha flipping].
  • Bakes on Mesh allows system wearable to be applied to mesh bodies and heads. Should reduce the overall complexity of avatar mesh bodies and heads.
  • EEP, Animesh and Bakes on Mesh should provide new opportunities for content creation.
  • Jump to topic.

On Games and Experiences

  • The aims of building games are to: make sure the Lab can make interesting content; showcase what might be done with emerging capabilities and options to creators; and understand what users find particularly engaging, and how the Lab might capitalise on that engagement in terms of tools and other capabilities.
  • Jump to topic.

On Sansar

Progress to Date

  • No – but this is fairly normal when building a complex system.
  • Sansar is essentially building a new games engine from the ground up with all the scripting, physics and rendering capabilities & building two unique interfaces: VR and mouse / keyboard
  • Work will continue in adding more capabilities and in making Sansar more performant, offering beet means for people to connect with content and with one another.
  • At present tests are in progress to improve user on-boarding.
  • Personally very excited about VR and its potential. However, VR does have a way to go before it achieves a large market.
  • Feels creativity in Sansar is starting to take off – creators are already doing things LL never imagined.
  • Now starting to look at getting growth. SL users are welcome to try Sansar. LL very happy if users opt to use both, or decided to stay with one or the other.
  • Jump to topic.

Tie-ins and Opportunities

  • Sansar has significant architectural differences to Second Life.
  • Instancing experiences is one difference, visual fidelity is another. Sansar also has a monetisation model based on economic activity.
  • All these may serve to encourage brands and companies and organisations opt to select Sansar as the platform for publishing their VR experiences.
  • Jump to topic.

The “WordPress Analogy”

  • Broad spectrum of platforms for content creation from Minecraft to Unity and Unreal.
  • Second Life and Sansar sit between the two extremes, with Sansar between SL and something like Unity.
  • Sansar aims to offer freedom to create and publish of 3D environments, coupled with scalability and the ability to target VR hardware, rather than just consume content.
  • Still a learning process – discovering what works and what doesn’t; plans have to be revised as users get involved, company has to be nimble to meet evolving requirements and needs.
  • Content creation falls into different categories. Second Life supports a lot of in-world original content, Sansar utilises a more sophisticated external toolset.
  • Both off huge opportunities not only for the actual creators of content, but for people to obtain content and utilise it to create unique spaces. This is particularly what Sansar is aimed at.
  • Jump to topic.
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Ebbe Altberg: discussing the future of Second Life

Ebbe Altberg in conversation with Saffia Widdershins, discussing the future of Second Life, Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

Update: the transcript and audio of the session is now available. The video can be seen on SLArtist.

On Tuesday, May 15th, I was able to sit-down at a closed studio recording session which formed part of Design Worlds’ 10th anniversary. The programme featured special guest, Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg.

Ebbe had accepted an invitation to answer questions to him by Saffia Widdershins, focusing on the upcoming 15th Anniversary celebrations for Second Life and the infographic and roadmap blog post issued by the Lab in  April 2018, although Sansar was also touched upon as well towards the end of the session.

The programme will be shown at 14:00 SLT today, Monday, May 28th, 2018 at the Designing Worlds studio, and Second Life users are invited to attend the showing. For those unable to get into the region, it will also be shown on the SL Artist website, again starting at 14:00 SLT on Monday, May 28th.

As a part of the event, I’ll be featuring a transcription of Ebbe’s answers to the questions put to him, here on this blog. As is my usual approach to these things, the transcript will include audio recordings of Ebbe’s answrs, which can be listened to either alongside of reading the transcript, or in place of reading it.

In addition, the video will be available later in the week on the SLArtist.com channel, the Aview TV Designing Worlds channel – or on the Prim Perfect or Designing Worlds blogs. I will update the transcript with links, once the video is available.

SLurl Details

Designing Worlds: Ebbe Altberg video and transcript

On Monday October 6th, Designing Worlds, hosted by Saffia Widdershins and Elrik Merlin, broadcast a special celebratory edition, marking the show’s 250th edition, both as Designing Worlds and its earlier incarnation, Meta Makeover. To mark the event, the show featured a very special guest: Linden Lab’s CEO, Ebbe Altberg.

The following is a transcript of the interview, produced for those who would prefer to read what was said, either independently of, or alongside, the video recording, which is embedded below. As with all such transcripts in this blog, when reading, please note that while every effort has been made to encompass the core discussion, to assist in readability and maintain the flow of conversation, not all asides, jokes, interruptions, etc., have been included in the text presented here. If there are any sizeable gaps in comments from a speaker which resulted from asides, repetition, or where a speaker started to make a comment and then re-phrased what they were saying, etc, these are indicated by the use of “…”

The transcript picks-up at the 02:25 minute mark, after the initial opening comments.

Ebbe Altberg, appearing on the 250th edition of Design Worlds via his alter-ego, Ebbe Linden
Ebbe Altberg, appearing on the 250th edition of Design Worlds via his alter-ego, Ebbe Linden

0:02:25 – Ebbe Altberg (EA): Hi, thank you. Thank you for having me on this very special occasion of yours, and ours. 250, that amazing! It’s incredible, incredible; I’m very honoured to be here.

Saffia Widdershins (SW): Well, we’re very honoured to have you here … Now, you’ve been in the job for around nine months now.

EA: Yes, since February, I think. Yeah.

0:02:59 SW: Is it what you were expecting, or how has it proved different?

EA: It’s fairly close to what I expected, because I’ve had a long history of knowing Second life, even from the beginning. So Second Life, the product, was not a mystery to me. Obviously, as you dig in and look under the hood, you see some things that you wouldn’t have expected; and some of the other products in Linden Lab’s portfolio were maybe a little bit surprising to me, but we’re getting that cleaned-up. But with regards to Second Life, it is not too much of a mystery, as I’ve been following it so closely since way back in the beginning … So it felt very natural and quite easy for me to come on-board and figure out where to take things.

0:03:59 – Erik Merlin (EM): And keeping this next question as general as possible: is there anything that’s been a pleasant or unpleasant surprise?

EA: Not that many unpleasant surprises; well, it was a little unpleasant how far we had managed to disconnect ourselves from the community and our customers and residents. So that was a bit shocking to me, because I had missed that part of the history. I remember the beginning of the history, where there was a very close, collaborative relationship between the Lindens and the residents. so that was a bit shocking to me, that … some effort had to be put in to try to restore some of those relations and some of the processes that had introduced here that we had to reverse. You know, the fact that Lindens couldn’t be in-world [using their Linden account] and stuff like that. So that was a little strange to me and unfortunate.

Positives? There are many. There are so many talented people here, so that’s been a lot of fun to get to know people here. some people have been here for a very long time; some absolutely incredible people have been here for over ten years working for Linden, so just getting to recognise what incredible talent we have here has been a positive … it was a little bit low-energy when I first came here, which was a little bit unfortunate, but I think we’ve come quite a bit further, and so the energy today in the office and amongst people working here has gone up quite a bit, so I’m very pleased with that.

0:06:03 SW: That’s brilliant. Have there been any stand-out “wow!” moments when you’ve come in-world and seen something and gone “wow!”?

EA: The “wows” for me may be less visual – I think we could do better with that in the future – but just the communities, and the types of creations and how people collaborate to make these things happen. the variety of subject matter and the variety of things that Second Life helps people to accomplish, whether it is games or education or art – its just incredible, the variety. And also the interactions with people are wild moments, where I can just drop-in somewhere and just start chatting with people, and that’s always a lot of fun and creates “wow!” experiences for me.

So the fact that this is all user-generated, in some ways that just wows me every day. It’s incredible that we can enable all these things to happen. But I’m certainly hoping we can get to a point where it’s more of a visual “wow!” in the future.

0:07:32 SW: I’ve been at the Home and Garden Expo this week … and there’s certainly some things there that are stunning examples of what creators are working on at the moment.

EA: Yeah. It’s taking everybody a while. A lot of new technologies have been introduced, and we’re still trying to make adjustments and fixes and improvement s in some of those things. But as more and more creators figure-out how to take advantage of these things, whether it’s mesh or experience keys and all kinds of stuff that just creating a new wave of different types of content and experiences, it’s fun to watch happen. It’s a lot of fun to be able to enable and empower people that way.

0:08:33 SW: We wanted to talk a little bit about the new user experience.

EM: Ah yes, and talking to different people working with new users, both English and Japanese speakers, interestingly enough, both have talked about problems with the new mesh avatars … One of the first things that people enjoy when they first come to Second Life is [to] customise their appearance, but the mesh avatars don’t really allow this, or they don’t allow it easily. Is there something that can be done about that?

One of the things the Lab is trying to solve is the "dead face" - the fixed facial expression - on current mesh avatars, as demonstrated in the blank look his own avatar wears through the interview
One of the things the Lab is trying to solve is the “dead face” – the fixed facial expression – on current mesh avatars, coincidentally demonstrated in the video by Ebbe’s (non-mesh) avatar

EA: I don’t have a specific list of good things there; the team is working on making improvements to the avatars, from little things that we might see as bugs, and also trying to solve the “dead face” , get some eyes and mouths [to] start moving. But some of the clothing issues is probably also issues with the complexity of understanding what things can I shop for that are going to be compatible with what types of avatars and all that. Some of it is hard to tell with how much of it is complications with the transition… or the fact that you have two different ways of doing things happening simultaneously; we’re sort-of in this transitional period where you can obviously still go back to using any of the previous avatars, those are still all there. But we wanted to push ahead with what we figure is where the future is going to take us, and there’s probably some growing pains in doing that; but other time, this is where it is going to go.

So we just have to try to understand the bugs and the complexities and react to is as fast as we can. but I don’t, off the top of my head, have a list of known issues that we’re fixing with regards to the complexities around avatars, other than the stuff with getting the face to wake up. but I can look into that for a follow-up later on, but right now I don’t have anything right off the top of my head.

0:10:50 SW: As someone who directs dramas like The Blackened Mirror, we’ve long said that we would give anything for the ability to raise a single eyebrow …

EA: Yeah … ultimately over time, as [real world] cameras improve, if you’re willing to be in front of a camera, there are things you can obviously do to really transmit your real-world facial expressions onto your avatar, and we’re going to look at that further out. That’s not something we’re actively working on right now; but there’s certainly other companies, including HiFi that are looking at that, and we know companies that have already proprieted the technology behind it that we could license and do some of those things.

But there are very few of those types of camera around, so even if you would do that kind of functionality, very few people would be able to take advantage of it, so it’s a little bit early to jump on that. We need more 3D cameras in the world. Otherwise, there’s some other techniques – it wouldn’t necessarily be facial expression – but there’s a company working on technology to be able to have your mouth … make the right movements based on the audio. That’s an interesting technology, but they haven’t figured out how to make it real-time yet.

What they’ve found is that regardless of language, if you make a sound, your mouth makes a very specific movement and a very specific shape, and they’ve constructed all of the internals of the mouth and know exactly what your tongue and your cheek bones are doing in order to make that sound. Right now, not in real-time, but they’re working to get there. so then we could get the mouths to actually react to the sounds that you are making through the microphone.

So over time, more and more of this will come, but today it would be difficult to do something that would auto-magically make it work for everybody.

Continue reading “Designing Worlds: Ebbe Altberg video and transcript”

Ebbe Altberg: a Designing Worlds special

A reminder that on Monday October 6th, 2014, Designing Worlds will be broadcasting a special edition to mark their 250th show under both their current title, and their previous name of Meta Makeover. To mark the event, the show’s hosts, Saffia Widdershins and Elrik Merlin, will be interviewing none other than Linden Lab’s CEO, Ebbe Altberg, more familiarly known in-world as Ebbe Linden.

Running to almost 100 minutes, the show covers a range of subjects including upcoming improvements to Second Life, the new user experience, Ebbe’s experiences since joining the Lab, the importance of community, IP protection, the man himself, and, of course, the Lab’s next generation virtual worlds platform. So it is not something to be missed, as the teaser to the programme demonstrates.

The show will be available via the Designing Worlds channel on SL Artist, Treet TV, and Aview TV from 14:00 SLT.

For those who can make it, there will be a screening at the Designing Worlds studio at the same time.

I’ll have a full transcript of the core interview available through these pages following the broadcast for those who would prefer to read what was said.

Remembering Dirk Talamasca – a Designing Worlds special recording

DirkAs all who knew him are aware, long-time Second life resident, mentor, land-owner, patron of the virtual arts, raconteur, friend to many, and more besides, Dirk Talamasca passed away on March 30th, 2014.

Tributes to Dirk have been paid through Google+ and  a special in-world memorial service was held on Saturday April 5th, which was attended by so many, the region experienced issues and things had to be moved to the corner of four adjoining regions so that people could attend without risk of crashing.

I managed to pop along as well to say a small good-bye. I confess, I didn’t know Dirk as well as or as closely as many did, but we did exchange banter and flirts via IMs over the years, and there is a Dirk-shaped hole in my friends list.

That I didn’t know him as well as many has stopped me blogging about his passing as doing so felt somewhat presumptuous on my part. However, given the impact he had on so many lives in SL and in so many ways, Saffia and Elrik are recording a Designing Worlds special to also remember Dirk, and this will take place on Thursday April 10th, to be shown on Monday April 21st, 2014. In preparation for the show, Saffia has asked me to help spread the word / remind all those wishing to participate in it that there will be a special planning meeting at 14:00 SLT on Tuesday, April 8th in the Designing Worlds studio on Garden Of Dreams. Also, if you have any photos of Dirk you’d be willing to share for the show, Saffia has asked that you please send them to Saffia either in-world or by email.