Lab pauses Blocksworld development and promotion

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

Update July 2020: on June 17th, 2020, the Blocksworld servers were shut down and the dedicated website closed, presumably as a part of the work in transitioning LL services to AWS. The app was removed from the Apple Store around the same time, and from Steam at the start of July 2020.

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

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

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

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

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

Blocksworld used to appear in the footer area of the web pages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ebbe Altberg talks Blocksworld, SL and the “next gen” platform

Dean Takahashi has a new article up at VentureBeat’s GamesBeat column, featuring a conversation with CEO Ebbe Altberg.

I admit to finding the title of the article, Linden Lab explores VR for its next-generation virtual world (interview), a little bit of a misnomer, given the article actually covers more ground than just the Lab’s new platform and VR. In fact, it’s fair to say that much of the focus of the piece is on Blocksworld, and not the new VW platform – which doesn’t make the piece any less interesting a read.

Ebbe Altberg discusses the Lab's next gen platform, Blocksworld and SL with VentureBeat
Ebbe Altberg discusses the Lab’s next gen platform, Blocksworld and SL with VentureBeat

The article starts out by noting the company’s longevity and the fact that it has been in something of a transitional state (as we all know), divesting itself of almost all its existing products save Blocksworld and SL, while at the same time announcing it is heading down the road of building a new virtual world platform.

Takahashi suggests the reason for the Lab divesting itself of products is down to some of the products failing to have the right mix of talent, traction and resources to make their mark.

This is perhaps debatable; while Creatorverse and dio were perhaps lame ducks in terms of appeal, it has to be pointed out that both Versu and Patterns had potential – the former has since gone on to stand on its own two feet, and the latter already had a reasonable user-base even whilst still in a pre-release status (and its termination drew no small amount of upset from Patterns user on Steam).

In fairness to Ebbe Altberg, he does acknowledge the fact that some of the Lab’s nascent  products didn’t really get a chance to grown their own legs, and that some of them might well have worked out for the good of the company. However, hard choices were required, the Lab really being too small to handle everything at once (and we know what happens when it grows beyond its means: remember, the June 2010 layoffs came after a sustained 18 months of recruiting that saw staffing numbers increase by 50% for no demonstrable increase in revenue).

Turning to the meat of the article, it has to be said the the recent sale of Desura had led to some questions over Blocksworld’s future. However, Altberg’s replies to Takahashi about that product should put paid to speculation:

We’re also very excited about Blocksworld. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to check that out before, but it’s a small up-and-comer. It’s one of the portfolio of non-Second Life products that we decided to stick with. We liked the user experience, the ease of creation, and the audience it targets: a much younger demographic than Second Life. Also, right now, it’s iPad only. It gets us into a lot of experience dealing with a younger audience. … You need to think about ease of use and simplicity but still enable them to create really powerful things, as well as working with the new medium of mobile. We’ve had good progress with this product. It’s still early, but we have good traction. The kids love it.

Linden Lab are said to be “very pleased” with Blocksworld’s performance

In addition, and further into the interview, Altberg indicates that the game has around 400,000 monthly users. How this translates to revenue flow beyond the actual purchase of the game is hard to judge. While additional building sets and expansion packs are available as in-game “purchases”, these are paid for through “coins” which users can earn, rather than having to necessarily buy. Even so, buying coins is the easier option, particularly where the expansion packs are concerned (see the video below), so there’s a reasonable chance that Blocksworld is proving a “nice little earner” for the Lab, even if it is nowhere on the scale of SL.

Beyond this, it would seem clear that the Lab have further plans to enhance Blocksworld, including the development of an in-game user-to-user economy, which will allow the sale of creations and builds between users, somewhat a-la SL. Also, Altberg’s statement that, “right now it’s iPad only”, suggests that an Android version of the game is still under consideration.

One of the blocksworld expansion packs

Continue reading “Ebbe Altberg talks Blocksworld, SL and the “next gen” platform”

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 ( and 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.

Patterns: Lab seeks interested parties (adiós, little dorito man!)

LL logoLinden Lab has announced it is discontinuing development of Patterns, its sandbox game for the PC and Mac. In a press release issued on Thursday October 9th, the Lab state:

Recently, Linden Lab announced that we are working on an ambitious project to create the next-generation virtual world, while we continue to improve Second Life and grow Blocksworld. As we focus on these priorities, we have ceased development for Patterns, and we will be no longer offering the game for sale.

We at Linden Lab are extremely grateful for the adventurous early players who explored the Patterns genesis release. Those who purchased the Patterns genesis release will still be able to play their copies of the game, but features relying on server connections, such as world-sharing, will not be functional.

Patterns had early promise, and while Linden Lab focuses our efforts on our other offerings, we are still evaluating the future of the Patterns technology. Interested parties are welcome to contact us with proposals.

Patterns: development discontinued
Patterns: development discontinued

Following the announcement, the Patterns website was taken down, and all links to it referred back to the Lab’s corporate website. However, the game itself remains accessible, as per the announcement, although the loss of server-side elements means that the Cosmos for world-sharing is no longer functional, limiting users to the worlds they created and save locally or to the default worlds supplied with the game. Also, as a result of the move, keys for the game will not longer be purchasable, although existing keys will remain redeemable for those who have them.

Patterns was another of the games which the Lab started developing (initially using a company called Free Range Software) under Rod Humble’s tenure. Despite never reaching a formal release status, the game had undergone continuous development right through until earlier this year (I covered a lot of the updates and additions to the game through this blog), with the last update introduing a new UI. It also established a quite loyal following of users both through Steam and, later Desura.

In tha last major update (May 2014) Patterns gained a revised UI
In its last major update (May 2014) Patterns gained a revised UI

As a game, Patterns was hard to judge; the sandbox capabilities were interesting, and these came to be a focus, with more and better tools being added, together with the likes of materials capabilities and so on. Over time, creatures were also introduced, and a multi-player capability was added which allowed up for four players to work together (or compete). However, outside of the sandbox element and creating new worlds, and the competitive “you build it up, I’ll knock it down” aspect, it was actually hard to see where Patterns would potentially gain a large enough following to make it viable.

The most interesting point of note with the announcement, however, is that the Lab appear to have taken on-board the Versu situation, and rather than simply closing the door, have indicated they’d be willing to hear from third parties who might be interested in taking Patterns on – albeit with the caveat that the company is still evaluating the technology used in Patterns at this time.

Regular readers here will recall that while the Lab initially closed the door on Versu and indicated that they weren’t interested in seeing its development move elsewhere, they did eventually reach an agreement with Emily Short, Richard Evans and Graham Nelsen which allowed them to take Versu forward under its own banner.

That further changes to the Lab’s product portfolio may be forthcoming was perhaps hinted at in the Designing Worlds interview. In discussing his thoughts on whether or not the Lab was what he was expecting, Ebbe Altberg commented (around the 3-4 minute mark), “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” [emphasis mine]. Hearing him use the present tense – given that Versu dio and Creatorverse went at the start of 2014 – seemed to suggest to me that one or more of the Lab’s other products might be under the microscope as far as continued support might be concerned.

Whether or not Free Range Software have retained any involvement in Patterns, and if so,  whether they (or indeed anyone else) would be willing to take it on, is unknown. For the moment, however, it would seem that the little Dorito Man is heading off into the sunset.

Will Dorito Man head into the sunset, or will he yet live on somewhere else?
Will Dorito Man head into the sunset, or will he yet live on somewhere else?

Versu’s Blood & Laurels arrives in the App Store

versuFollowing the announcement that a deal had been reached which allows Versu, the interactive fiction engine, to continue after Linden Lab had discontinued it in February, comes the news that, as promised, the much-anticipated Blood & Laurels is now available.

As I noted in my report on Versu’s return, Blood & Laurels is the first title to be released under the new Versu banner, and will be followed in the near future by Bramble House by Jake T. Forbes.

New Versu titles will, for the forseeable future only be available on the iOS operating system and focused on the iPad. As the Versu team has noted, while they would like to have an Android version, resources are such that right now that it just isn’t possible.

So what is Blood and Laurels about? The slip notes provide an overview:

It’s the eight hundred and twenty-first year of the city of Rome, a year of bad omens and unrest. The Emperor is bloodthirsty and watches keenly for anyone who might be trying to overthrow him. The grain dole is running out and the people are going hungry. Romans are beginning to put their faith in foreign cults, as their old gods seem indifferent.

In this dangerous environment, Marcus is concerned with two things: his poetry, and keeping his patron Artus happy. But when Artus sends him to ask a secret question of an oracle, Marcus is forced to get involved, with conspiracies, politics, and a woman he is trying to forget.

Blood & Laurels offers dozens of outcomes for Marcus, his friends, his enemies, and Rome itself. The choices you make for him will decide not only how he ends up, but what kind of man he is when he reaches the end.

A page from Blood & Laurels (via the App Store)
A page from Blood & Laurels (via the App Store)

Blood & Laurels might best be described as a piece of theatre; play is heavily influenced by the evolving conversations as much as by the actions of the protagonist, Marcus the Cowardly (that’s you, by the way, should play the game). As Marcus, you have to steer your way through the complex situations which develop around you, some of which are a direct result of your actions and words, while others may be the result of things you perhaps didn’t do or say earlier in the game. Your interactions with other characters (and their interactions with each other) can be reflected in the changing expressions on their little portraits. In keeping with most intrigue in life, few things go unnoticed and repercussions can be positive or negative.

The complexity of Blood & Laurels is staggering: 240,000 words of interactive content, a branched, two-part storyline and a large cast of dynamic characters. All of this adds up to a piece in which a player is only likely to encounter around 7% of the content in any given play through.

Alongside of the launch, the Versu team also issued a teaser video of movie-like quality and presence.

Blood & Laurels can be purchased from the App Store for $2.99 / £1.99.

Related Links

Note that Emily Short of the Versu team, and the creator of Blood & Laurels, will be featured in a Drax Files Radio Hour interview on Friday June 13th. Also, coverage of the “new” Versu and Versu titles in this blog can now be found under the Versu category or via the menus: Pey’s Travelogues > Other Worlds > Versu.

Versu is reborn!

versuOn Friday June 6th, Emily Short announced through her blog that Versu, the interactive fiction engine she and Richard Evans developed while working at Linden Lab, and which was cancelled as a part of the Lab’s product review in February 2014, will now continue, and that Blood & Laurels, the interactive novel she has been working on for 15 years, will be launched on June 12th.

Following the announcement of Versu’s cancellation by the Lab, many of us speculated whether it  might be allowed to live on separately to the Lab’s involvement, and Emily herself confirmed she was talking to the Lab on matter of IP. However, hopes this might happen seemed to have been completely dashed in March, when the Lab said no to any idea of selling the IP involved. However, they’ve since had a change of heart.

The notification that this is the case came in the form of a blog post which first appeared on the  new Versu wesbite, and then reblogged on Emily’s site, which is where I came across it.

The announcement reads in part:

Versu was lauched to considerable acclaim prior to being cancelled by Linden Lab. Now it is set to continue (image from the Versu website)

Until February of this year, the Versu project had its home at Linden Lab, exploring the possibilities of interactive storytelling with advanced character AI by Richard Evans (Sims 3, Black and White) and dialogue modeling by Emily Short (Galatea, Alabaster), as well as work by authors Jake Forbes (Return to Labyrinth) and Deirdra Kiai (Dominique Pamplemousse).

When the Lab decided to refocus its offerings and cut support for Versu, the project was only three days from launching a Roman political thriller called Blood & Laurels. Blood & Laurels represented a significant step forward in complexity and depth from previous Versu stories: a large cast of characters, a richly branched two-part storyline, and over 240,000 words of interactive content — of which a player is likely to see only about 7% in a given play through. Character behaviour and relationships were modeled with at least as much fidelity as in earlier examples, but in a context with much higher narrative stakes. What other characters think of you affect whether your character lives or dies, thrives or fails — and those relationships are driven by both large and small decisions.

After Versu’s cancellation, it looked for a long time as though neither the underlying technology nor the finished stories had a future. However, we are delighted to be able to announce that Linden Lab has negotiated a new arrangement that will allow us to release these stories and explore a future for the engine.

The Versu blog post reveals that Blood & Laurels has been made possible by a language called Prompter, which is used by Versu and has been designed by Graham Nelson of Inform fame. Graham is also now a part of the new Versu team, joining Emily and Richard Evans.

Emily Short and Richard Evans are joined by Graham Nelson, the man behind the Inform IF language, and the creator of the Promptor language used by Versu
Emily Short and Richard Evans are joined by Graham Nelson, the man behind the Inform IF system, and the creator of the Prompter language used by Versu

Blood & Laurels is set to be followed by Bramble House, an interactive fantasy story written by  Jake T. Forbes, the author of Return to Labyrinth, a four volume graphic novel sequel to the Jim Henson film Labyrinth, and the English-language versions of the best-selling manga series Fullmetal Alchemist, Fruits Basket, One Piece and others.

Bramble House focuses on the character of 15-year-old Penny, who is “bound in service to the witch Stregma, forced to deal with everything from mundane dishwashing to evicting monstrous guests”. In it, the reader takes on the role of Penny, progressing through various situations and events in two stories set within the Bramble House world.

There is no publication date available as yet for the title.

Blood and Laurels (due June 12th) and Bramble House will be the first two titles released under the new Versu banner
Blood and Laurels (due June 12th) and Bramble House will be the first two titles released under the new Versu banner (from the Versu website)

The new titles will be appearing on the iOS platform. At the time of writing, it is not clear as to whether there are still plans to make Versu and its titles available for the Android platform; the website only goes so far as to state, “While we would like to support Android, we do not currently have an Android version available.”

This is excellent news for all with an interest in or passion for interactive fiction. Congratulations are extended to Emily, Richard and Graham with the launch to this new venture, and kudos, as well, goes to Linden Lab for reversing their decision on the Versu IP and allowing the project to continue.

Be sure to listen-in to an upcoming edition of the Drax Files Radio Hour interviews, when Drax will be talking to Emily Short about interactive fiction, Versu and more!

Related Links