On Monday, January 31st, Linden Lab streamed a pre-recorded session of Lab Gab featuring the company’s Executive Chairman Brad Oberwager (Oberwolf Linden) and the Lab’s co-founder, Philip Rosedale, who recently re-joined Linden Lab in the capacity of a strategic advisor, having left in 2010 to work on a number of projects – most notably co-founding High Fidelity Incorporated in 2013.
The session was built around more than 300 questions submitted by users in the wake of the announcement that High Fidelity had invested in Linden Lab in terms of money, patents and personnel.
The following is a summary of the session, the full video of which is embedded at the end.
- For ease of reference, I have broken this summary into heading based on the topics discussed through the session, and timestamps to the relevant start point in the video are provided for each.
- Throughout the summary comments made by / questions directed towards Brad Oberwager are preceded by [BO] and those relating to or made by Philip Rosedale are preceded by [PR].
- Note that audio extracts, where provided, have (as usual) been subject to some editing to remove pauses, repetition and the occasional aside that fall outside of the topic being discussed. This has been done with the aim of making it easier to follow the comments being made, and without changing the context or meaning of any of the statements made.
On the Investment by High Fidelity
[Video: 1:54-4:49 – PR]
- After leaving Linden Lab in 2010, went on to establish Coffee And Power (2010-2012), prior to co-founding High Fidelity, a company initially focused on building a VR headset-centric virtual world.
- In 2019, the company concluded the current generation(s) of VR headsets would not be commercially successful enough to sustain a virtual world environment. So the company pivoted away from this in 2019 – see: High Fidelity changes direction: the reality of VR worlds today (& tomorrow?), High Fidelity changes direction (2) and High Fidelity changes direction (3): layoffs & shuttering apps and access), eventually opting to focus of 3D spatial audio.
- The Spatial audio side of the business – which already has the software licensed to a number of customers – will continue, However, the company retained a core set of skills based around building VW technologies, and with Brad Oberwager coming into Linden Research in a very hands-on capacity, he and Philip reached agreement that there is a synergy between the VW expertise at Hi-Fi and the work LL is doing with SL.
- His personal view is the Second Life is the place to explore where virtual reality might go next, as it remains the cutting edge example of what a virtual is, and what might be achieved within one.
On What the Investment Means for Second Life / LL and for High Fidelity
- Looks at the relationship in three ways: personal, business and “meta”.
- Personal: he and Philip have been friends for a long time. They share lot of personal time (e.g. travelling to and from Burning Man together, sharing walks and the occasional beer, etc.), and he has a lot of respect for Philip as well as liking him, and he is also a person he would like to emulate. Sees being able to connect with Philip within a business environment as “very gratifying”.
- Business: running a platform like Second Life as a “great responsibility”, and fully acknowledges the platform is nothing without the users. So sees having someone with Philip’s vision to offer tactical and strategic input from outside of the company very beneficial.
- “Meta”: believes that any / all consideration of “the metaverse” or of “metaverses” requires a moral compass. If it is left purely up to big corporations that generate their revenue through surveillance / behavioural monitoring (to deliver ads, content, etc.), could be “very dangerous”. In questioning of this approach and its associated technologies, he feels Philip has demonstrated he is that moral compass at this point in time, and is someone who continues to focus on serving and supporting users.
- In terms of Hi-Fi, the company retains a core team working on the spatial audio product, which is being licensed and will continue to be developed and licensed.
- He will continue to run Hi Fi.
On the Role of Strategic Advisor
[Video: 9:39-11:17 – PR]
- As an advisory role, is not responsible for day-to-day decision making with the Lab.
- Meets with the various teams at Linden Lab as and when they specifically would like his input / ideas / perspective.
- Very much appreciates being seen as a moral compass.
- Also hopes that his experience as an engineer and product strategist can be put to practical use.
- Personally enjoys becoming a voice at the table again in an environment where responsibility for the platform’s growth is shared between the company and the users.
On Their Friendship and Mutual Approach to SL / LL
- [BO] Initially met around twelve years ago through mutual friends when taking a boat trip around San Francisco Bay. At the time Brad was trying to close his first major business deal and “acting like a goofball” and being “obnoxious” when he noticed Philip was watching him. Once on the trip, they started talking, which lead to dinner (with at least Philip’s wife – whom Brad has previously referred to as his “closest friend” – joining them).
- [PR] notes that Brad had always shown an interest in Second Life, and when he happened to mention the Lab was looking to put itself up for sale, Brad was immediately interested in the opportunity presented.
- [BO] On the subject of buying Linden Lab:
- Understood that SL as a virtual world has different needs to those of LL as a company, so felt there was a real danger that had LL been purchased by an entity that didn’t understand the difference between the needs of the platform and the needs of a company, SL could have ended up being squeezed for revenue.
- Took a much different view in acquiring the company, with a willingness to invest in a commitment to make the platform “better” – although he admits he is not that sure what “better” actually means.
- As such, he acknowledges that running Linden Lab requires a “looseness” of approach and outlook that others might have missed.
- [PR] Felt he left Linden Lab in 2010 without knowing whether or not he’d built a successful culture at the company whilst its CEO. However, believes that it has become apparent that it does take a special kind of company to steward Second Life. The fact that the culture within the company remains very similar to when he was CEO has both made him confident that the right choices were made and made returning to the company and the platform “easy”.
PR – On Returning to LL and His View on SL in 2022
[Video: 18:15-20:20 PR]
- Felt the decision to invest in LL and make a return to SL was absolutely the right thing to do, and the decision was easy to make.
- Has loved reacquainting himself with events and activities in-world, and once again participating in the “standing wave” the platform represents.
On Facebook and its Pivot to “Meta” and the “Metaverse”
- If he could provide advice to Facebook, it would be “don’t do it”.
- Particularly believes that the temptation for companies such as Facebook to enter the metaverse environment and attempt to parlay their surveillance / behavioural business model (utilising data gathered on users for the purposes of generating revenue through targeted ads and content) would be extremely harmful.
- In contrast, Second Life has clearly demonstrated a fully scalable business model that operates purely on a fees-driven model, one that generates more revenue dollars per user per year than You Tube through its model, and probably than Facebook.
- As such, believes the approach taken by LL / SL is much less prone to the risk of abuse and is safer than those espoused by the likes of Facebook and Google.
- Would add that as well as generating more money per user, Linden Lab also spends more per user.
- Believes this is critical because a platform like You Tube is scale based: it relies on building a larger and larger audience, which in turn drives the surveillance / behavioural business model (more users means more adverts can be served and more revenue generated from advertisers, etc.).
- The Second Life model, however is not just about user acquisition but is more equivalent to the physical world consumer model of supply and demand (or perhaps more properly for SL – demand and supply). So, the more closely links LL’s ability to generate revenue to its ability to offer capabilities and services to users, the more attractive it is for users to spend money on the platform.
- As such, the decisions made by the likes of Facebook with regards to its platform will be very different to those made by the Lab for Second Life and its users.