Lab divests itself of Desura

LL logoIn a press release made on Wednesday, November 5th, Linden Lab announced the sale of Desura, the on-line digital distribution service which they acquired under Rod Humble’s leadership in July 2013.

Desura has been sold to Bad Juju Games, the Indie Game and Middleware Tools Developer for the Mobile, Console and PC Gaming markets, and based in Aliso Viejo, California. In the brief press release, the Lab state:

As has just been announced, Bad Juju Games has acquired Desura from Linden Lab.

Bad Juju has taken over all day-to-day support, maintenance, and ongoing enhancements to the Desura website and service platform. The Bad Juju team will be reaching out directly to developers with games on Desura and are happy to respond to any questions they may have.

Transitioning Desura to a new owner is great for Linden Lab and our customers, as it allows us to further enhance our focus on creating the ambitious next-generation virtual world, while continuing to improve Second Life and growing Blocksworld.

Desura is a fantastic platform for game developers and players, and we look forward to seeing it continue to evolve and grow, now as part of Bad Juju Games.

Desura: just 16 months in the Lab's portfolio
Desura: just 16 months in the Lab’s portfolio

A press release from Bad Juju themselves indicates that negotiations over the future of Desura have been underway for some months:

Indie Game and Middleware Tools Developer Bad Juju Games®, today announced that it has officially acquired Desura™, a comprehensive digital distribution service for PC, Mac and Linux gamers from its former owner and operator Linden Lab®. The move comes after several months of coordinated planning by the companies to ensure uninterrupted operation of the Desura service as well as a comprehensive roadmap of new features that will significantly benefit both its users and game developers during the upcoming months and beyond.

It is unclear what the sale of Desura may mean for Scott Reismanis, if indeed it means anything at all. Reismanis, who founded the digital distribution service, and who joined Linden Lab as “Director of Digital” not long after the acquisition. With his experience in empowering creators to benefit from their digital content, Mr. Reismanis may already be involved in the development of the company’s “next generation” virtual worlds platform.

While this may sound a little like 20/20 hindsight, I confess to being unsurprised by the sale of Deura; I’ve actually been expecting news of this kind for the past couple of months, and particularly since the Designing Worlds interview with Ebbe Altberg. During that programme, Mr. Altberg referred to the Lab being in a process of cleaning up their product portfolio (some 3 minutes into the show), with the use of the present tense suggesting to me that the process was still going on, rather than him simply referring to the company’s removal of Versu, Creatoverse and dio from their portfolio. Given the statements of support that have been repeatedly given about Blocksworld, the comment in the DW show seemed to indicate something would be happening to Desura and / or Patterns.

To be totally honest, at the time I felt it more likely that Desura would be let-go than Patterns, as the latter at least seemed to fit with the Lab’s sandbox creativity philosophy, while Desura always seemed more of an awkward fit, and something more likely to generate a decent return if offered for sale. Of course, as it turned out, Patterns went first.

Confirmation also seemed to come when an enquiry on an unrelated matter led to a response from the Lab that all remaining advertising including Desura, would be removed from their remaining web properties (my.secondlife.com and search.secondlife.com). The reference to Desura chiming as odd, given it was ostensibly a Lab product.

I was broadly supportive of the Lab’s attempts to diversify their product portfolio, even iff the effort always did seem half-hearted. Companies with all their eggs in one basket tend to by very vulnerable to any number of circumstances not always of their own making – although equally, they can also sit very comfortably in a niche and enjoy a long life. Even with Blocksworld still on the books – and another repeated statement that the company will be standing beside that product – it now seems that for better or worse, the Lab has opted to keep only their golden egg, Second Life, and focus on perhaps producing another they can nurture alongside it.

LL seek to model Desura open-source client after SL viewer model

Desura's former Terms of Service included language similar to that found in LL's ToSUpdate: Linden Lab sold Desura to Bad Juju Games on November 5th, 2014.

In 2011, Desura announced that their client-side software would be released under the GNU GPL v3, allowing it to be developed and enhanced by the open-source community, with the server-side of the service remaining proprietary. The code itself was released on January 21st, 2012 under the project title Desurium.

A small community formed around the project, focusing on the development of the Linux client, with release candidates appearing from November 2012 through until around May 2013 (RC 0.8.0 RC10 for Linux 32 and 64-bit). Since then, things have been relatively quiet, no doubt in part because of Desura being acquired by Linden Lab in July 2013, although commits have continued to the project’s repository on Github.

Now that looks like it may be changing.

On September 24th, Oz Linden published a statement of intent on the Desurium community pages outlining how the Lab proposes to carry the Desurium project forward.

desurium

Essentially, the Lab will be continuing the project, but under a structure that mirrors the current arrangements for open-source development of the Second Life viewer. Part of this is a proposal to change the licensing for the client from the General Public Licence v3 to LGPL version 2.1, which is currently used with the SL viewer. The company is also proposing introducing a Contribution Agreement “substantially similar” to the Contribution Agreement used with the Second Life Viewer.

The Lab believes the licence change will “help to clarify that game developers can incorporate Desura client technology in their products however those products are licensed, and remove the need to drive software design in order to insulate non-open source games from the viral aspects of the GPL.” It is noted that all work submitted to the project prior to the licence change will remain under the GPL v3 licence, and the change, once implemented, will only apply to the project and contributions from that point forward.

Rather than seeking to make an arbitrary change to the licence, the Lab is looking to do so collaboratively, with the announcement noting:

Changing the license will require that we initiate discussions with past contributors. If some contributors are uncomfortable with this new structure, we may need to evaluate the impact that could have and whether we may need to make any adjustments. Contributors should each expect to hear from us soon.

The announcement also highlights that the Lab wishes to see client development move forward on the Windows and Mac platforms as well. It also carries strong indicators of their commitment to Desura, noting that they are in the process of recruiting additional personnel to undertake Desura / Desurium related work in terms of client development and project management, with a strong emphasis on coordination between development work undertaken in-house and development work undertaken by open-source developers.

Response to the announcement has been muted but favourable from the Desurim community.

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Second Life viewer arrives on Desura

Update: Linden Lab sold Desura to Bad Juju Games on November 5th, 2014.

Alongside other quiet moves on the Lab’s part, such as Patterns appearing on Desura, then Versu getting some new titles, it seems Second Life has now also appeared on the Lab’s recently acquired digital distribution service.

Given the move to add Patterns to Desura, the arrival of Second Life isn’t that surprising. It’s more than likely been anticipated by most SL users since Desura was acquired in July.

Second Life on Desura
Second Life on Desura

The SL Desura page features the last promo video to have been produced / commissioned by the Lab (September 2012), which focuses strongly on the gameplay elements within the platform while touching on other aspects such as socialising and building. It’s not the strongest way to promote SL in some respects, given some of the images tend to play into stereotypes (the long zooms into bustlines, for example, suggestive of teenage oogling), but hey, SL is supposed to have seen a shift in demographics…

What is interesting about SL’s arrival on Desura is that it appears to have caused more people who use the service to wake up to the fact that it has been acquired by the Lab (announcements of the acquisition were somewhat muted elsewhere on the website at the time). Reactions to both the arrival of Second Life and the acquisition, visible in the comments on the SL page, have been mixed but swaying towards the negative.

Out of interest, I tried the download / install process using the Desura desktop service. It was fast, using a “local” mirrored site in the Netherlands, and handled both the download and initial installation of the viewer in a single pass.

SL-desura
Installing the SL viewer via Desura

The release version of the viewer is called Second Life Release Desura, and installs into a folder (under Windows at least) by that name. Interestingly, the viewer is built of a 3.6.5 code base, not the current 3.6.4. Once installed, the viewer fired-up – and had an oopsie with the media webkit failing.

webkitGiven SL has only recently arrived on Desura, I was a little surprised when clearing the error message left the screen displaying a mandatory update warning; perhaps this was to fix the webkit issue. I let the update complete, and the viewer restart … and was again confronted with the webkit failure message. As this doesn’t occur with any version of the viewer obtained directly from LL, I can only assume it is a problem within the Desura offering. Closing-down the viewer and restarting clears the message but even so, assuming others get the same warning, I can’t help but think it’s not the most confidence-building thing to see after a first-time install. Similarly, it’s a shame that the link on the update pop-up which supposedly offers more information (i.e. release notes) goes to a blank wiki page.

Once I had shut down and restarted, the viewer ran through the usual CREATE ACCOUNT / CONTINUE options. Out of curiosity, I created a throwaway account and logged-in to the new “Social Island” arrival points which are being tested, and landed on a stack of people’s heads – so it would appear a fair few are trying SL out (although not necessarily via Desura, admittedly). I didn’t go further than this, as I intend to take another look at the “new” new user islands in the future and perhaps update on my original report.

All-in-all, not a surprising move, although equally, one not without some rough edges which might cause irritation if seen by many. Whether this move is the final nail in the coffin of the Steam link-up (prematurely) announced almost a year ago remains to be seen.

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Patterns: now on Desura & the Lab teams with Alienware again

Patterns on Desura
Patterns on Desura

Update: Linden Lab sold Desura to Bad Juju Games on November 5th, 2014.

Update, October 9th, 2014: Linden Lab announced that development work on Patterns has been discontinued.

I’ve been keeping an eye on Desura for a while, mainly to see if any rebranding commences. In doing so, I came across the fact that Patterns is now available on the Lab’s latest acquisition.

Whether the Lab heard my speculation on the subject of Patterns and Desura or not I’ve no idea* , but Patterns appeared on Desura  at the start of August, just after I last poked at the digital distribution service. It arrived with a “special offer” of an additional 25% off the purchase price (so 75% off rather than the “usual” 50% for the Genesis version). This offer ended on Monday 5th August, and the price is now back to the 50% off the “Alpha” price.

Response from the Desura community has so far been small but positive, with most ratings sitting at 8-10 (out of 10). The Desura web page includes a Vimeo version of the Lab’s last video promo for Patterns, which appeared back in early July. This is actually quite stylish and something of a departure for the Lab video-wise (as have their Blocksworld promo videos – have they hired in a new team for marketing, or are the Boldai team having an additional impact? :P).

Patterns Competition

Patterns-compWhile I may not have received notification of Pattern’s arrival on Desura, I did receive an e-mail notifying me of Patterns-based competition the Lab is running in conjunction with Dell / Alienware.

The competition appears to have launched on August 12th, and is linked to via the Patterns website, Patterns on Desura and Patterns on Steam. On offer to the winner is an Alienware X51 gaming desktop.

Entrants to the competition are required to design and construct a unique alien landscape within Patterns using the in-game shapes and abilities offered in the game and then upload a screen shot of the build to the Alienware competition web page before September 15th, 2013.

An Alienware Arena account is required to enter the competition, and as has ben the case in the past, the competition is only open to legal residents of the United States (other than Rhode Island and US Territories), and entrants must be 13 years of age or older. The winner will be selected through a split between public voting (open to Alienware Arena members) and “Expert Judging”, and based on a combined score from both. Judging criteria will be on the originality / creativity within a build and relevance to Alienware / Dell.

Further details on the competition can be found on the Alienware Arena Patterns Competition page, as can the Contest Rules.

Continue reading “Patterns: now on Desura & the Lab teams with Alienware again”

Desura and Linden Lab: through the founder’s eyes

Update: Linden Lab sold Desura to Bad Juju Games on November 5th, 2014.

I came across a short interview conducted by the Linux-focused Root Gamer with Desura founder Scott Reismanis held shortly after the news broke that the Lab had acquired the digital distribution service, but which seems to have gone unnoticed elsewhere.

Since the announcement of the acquisition, there has been considerable interest in whether it means Desura / LL will compete more directly with others in the same marketplace – notably Steam. In a recent interview with Gamasutra’s Kris Ligman, which I also covered here, Rod Humble had a few pokes at this himself (although some of his comments on competition would appear to have a much wider context which includes Second Life). Reismanis sees the “competition” element of the acquisition in terms of providing Desura with much-needed additional ability to pro-actively attract games developers, rather than having to react to overtures from games developers, commenting:

Scott Reismanis
Scott Reismanis

At the moment we are largely dependent on developers reaching out to us about getting published – that’s what our small team had time to do. With Linden Lab help we will expand our team working with the game developers helping us target and bring more on board.

In reading both Reismanis’ and Humble’s comments around the acquisition, it would appear that both are very much of the same mind in how they regard the Lab’s initial relationship with Desura and in terms of future plans.

Both, for example, couch the Lab’s role as initially being more supportive than directive; providing additional muscle in key areas to assist the Desura team to carry on with their business in a more structured and focused manner, rather than the Lab charging in and absorbing everything and trying to reinvent the wheel. In this, the approach appears to be more of a partnership more than an outright acquisition and, given the marketplace is new to Linden Lab, not an unwise move.

Not that this means there won’t be any visible changes. Work is already underway to overhaul (or at least update) the Desura client in order to make the Lab’s involvement more apparent. Exactly what form this will take isn’t clear at present, but the work is seen as priority, although dependent upon Desura (or the Lab?) bringing in new staff.

Desura and the Lab: proceeding more as a partnership? (image courtesy of Root Gamer)
Desura and the Lab: proceeding more as a partnership? (image courtesy of Root Gamer)

The interview also hints that both Humble and Reismanis share the same grand ambitions for the future of a service – and that the ambitions may have been there prior to the acquisition (and by extension, might have been one of the reasons the Lab was attracted to Desura).

Commenting on the Desura blog about the acquisition following the formal announcement, Reismanis give additional insight as to what he believes this means for developers and customer using the service:

To date Desura has been built and run by a dedicated small team – and it’s grown to the point where we list over 1,000 games and have served over 1,000,000 customers. We are very passionate about the developers and community we represent, and I want to assure you now this policy isn’t changing.

With Linden Lab’s support, we plan on expanding our team and providing you with more co-ordinated coverage, sales, marketing efforts, reporting, and assistance from us. We want to solve challenges like discoverability and giving your customers’ choice, and we look forward to doing so. We are going to continue to polish and innovate so Desura stands out and does its most important job better: getting your game into customers’ hands.

So far reaction to the acquisition from within the Desura community appears to be mostly positive, with those responding to the news wishing Reismanis and his team good luck, although there are obviously some questions about what it means in practice for game developers in terms of publishing, DRM, etc., – all of which are liable to only become clearer once the initial dust has settled and both the Desura team and the Lab have worked out priorities and directions and have settled into working together over long distances.

It’ll be interesting to see how this develops over time, starting with the roll-out of the new Desura client, and whether the approach does develop along lines of a partnership rather than a buy-out, and if so, for how long.

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Desura and Blocksworld debut on LL’s corporate pages

LL logoUpdate: Linden Lab sold Desura to Bad Juju Games on November 5th, 2014.

Both Desura and Blocksworld have made their individual debuts on Linden Lab’s corporate website, with Desura appearing on Friday July 26th, and Blocksworld a little earlier in the week.

Both have links to introductory pages which in turn lead to their respective websites, as well as  banners at the top of the corporate site’s home page.

Blocksworld and Desura both now appear on LL's corporate website, with links to introductory pages and their own banners
Blocksworld and Desura both now appear on LL’s corporate website, with their own banners at the top of the home page and links to their introductory pages

The Desura introductory page includes a brief description of the service, which reads:

Desura is a community-driven digital distribution service for gamers, putting the best games, mods and downloadable content from developers at gamers fingertips, ready to buy and play.

The free Desura application can serve and patch games, mods, and add-ons directly for customers around the world.

Developers and publishers can share news, images, videos, and other content through their profiles, while every member of the Desura community can post comments, submit reviews, and upload screenshots from their own playing experiences.

The page also includes an introductory video from August 2011 entitled Introduction to Desura and (presumably) narrated by DesuraNET’s founder, Scott Reismanis.

While in-depth and useful for someone wanting to get to grips with Desura, the video is not really in keeping with the other promotional videos on the other product pages, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it is swapped-out for something a little lighter from the Lab in the near future (“Hello everyone. I’m Rod Humble, CEO of Linden Lab, makers of shared creative spaces…” ;-)) .

The link from the page goes directly to Desura’s website, which has yet to show any signs of rebranding – which is hardly a surprise, all things considered. The Lab has some grand ambitions for the service, and so it’s likely to be a while yet before we start seeing significant changes and updates.

The last time I reported on Blocksworld, I pointed to rumours that it could be launching in July. These came via All Things D’s Eric Johnson, following a Q&A with Rod Humble which appeared at the start of July.

The new(ish) Blocksworld introductory page on the Lab’s website is a little less forthcoming, stating only that it is coming soon to the iPad, with the rest of the text reading:

Blocksworld is a lighthearted build-and-play system for kids and grownups alike that brings the imaginative play of toy blocks to your iPad’s touch-screen, allowing you to bring your digital creations to life.

Snap together colorful 3D blocks to create anything you can imagine – from crazy characters to cars, space rockets, animals, robots, planes, monsters, and much more – and then bring your creations to life and play with them!

The Lab’s “official” Blocksworld video also appears on the page, and while it is good, I confess to still preferring Boldai’s own videos, but I’m again including it here for completeness.

The Blocksworld website hasn’t changed since my last report on it, and it most likely won’t until we do see the app launched. I wonder if the Lab will still push the product forward on Android, once it has launched…

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