Linden Lab launches the Official Second Life Merchandise store

via Linden Lab / RedBubble

Some might say it’s a long time overdue, but on Friday, September 25th, Linden Lab announced the launch of the official Second Life Merchandise Store offering a range of physical world merchandise related to Second Life and Linden Lab.

The on-line store is hosted by RedBubble, and currently comprises a range of SL and Lab branded clothing items and accessories utilising both the “new” and “old” logos, with the promise that more items t come soon, including seasonal and limited time items.

The Second Life store on RedBubble

As with most virtual market stores, the RedBubble Second Life Merchandise Store feature a list of categories down the left side of the page (note: these are a part of the site design, and not all of them may apply specifically to Second Life / Linden Lab). The main part of the site is then devoted to displaying the displaying the essentials on available merchandise, with filter options, and the ability to use at the designs offered with applicable products, rather than the product itself. Obviously, clicking on an individual item will open a page devoted to it, where things like size, etc., can be selected.

A nice aspect of the site is that it appears to automatically recognise your country of origin and presents prices in your local currency. Payments can be made via Credit / Debit card or using PayPal, whilst shipping options are available for “regular” or “faster” delivery. Joining RedBubble allows for faster checkout: your own personal page, a complete order history and tracking option, and the ability to follow favourite merchants on the site (such as Second Life / Linden Lab) and receive notification of new items as they are added to the store.

RedBubble automatically recognises your country of origin (unless using something like a VPN, perhaps), immediately presenting the price of items in your local currency, as seen here, in my view of some of the SL merchandise

I’m not entirely sure why the site features a couple of skydivers snogging as its banner image – perhaps this will change according to some site criteria, but it did strike me as something not really immediately representative of either Second Life or Linden Lab – not that either is particularly easier to pigeon-hole in a single image for those unfamiliar with either.

That very minor niggle aside, the store would appear to be a good move – hopefully we’ll see merchandise such as mugs (Lab Gab mugs have oft been requested), coasters, key fobs and other handy items, as well and more clothing items appearing in due course. Actual Linden Bears would be fun as well, if perhaps harder to produce in  a cost-effective manner.

In the meantime,those interested / curious can hop over the the official store and have a mooch.

Tilia Inc., and forthcoming Second Life account changes

via Linden Lab

Update, July 12th: this article has been updated to reflect comments made at the July 12th ton hall meeting at which Tilia Inc., and its role with regards to Second Life. A summary of that event, with audio extracts and video will be available in this blog soon.

Update, July 2nd: Linden Lab have started a new forum thread designed to directly address questions. Answers to questions will be placed in the original post in the thread to save having to scroll through question. The new thread can be found here: Official Tilia Q&A Forum Thread.

Update: some 90 minutes after this article was published, Linden Lab issued a further forum post on the subject. Among other clarifications, this further reiterates that L$ purchases, L$ balances, use of L$ to pay tier or Premium fees will all not be affected by these changes. 

Also, as clarifications are still being given, some of the wording in this blog post may be revised to match LL’s feedback so as to maintain the accuracy of the information given here. However, do please keep an eye on Lab posts to the forum thread, as additional information, separate to the points I’ve highlighted below may also be given.

On Monday, July 1st, Linden Lab issued a blog post announcing important changes to how Second Life accounts are to be handled with regards to the Lab’s subsidiary, Tilia Inc (which the blog post officially introduces for the first time) and credit processing.

Tilia Inc is a wholly owned subsidiary of Linden Lab, which was established in 2014/15, and focused on payments and the compliance work associated with operating virtual economies. Since its formation, the company has been involved in becoming a registered Money Transmitter throughout the United States, and many SL and Sansar users may have had some awareness of its existence as the Tilia Inc., logo appears on both the SL and Sansar web pages related to L$ account purchases and Sansar account management.

The blog post issued by Linden Lab, Important Changes to your Second Life Account – Introducing Tilia, should in particular be read in full and carefully noted by anyone who currently withdraws funds from Second Life through the credit process mechanism. This following is merely a short summary of the key points:

  • On August 1st, 2019, Tilia Inc., will assume responsibility for managing users’ USD denominated accounts, which will be referred to as their Tilia Account.
  • This means that users with US Dollar accounts and / or who cash-out (“credit process”) money from Second Life, will be required to agree to the Tilia Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Doing so will automatically create a Tilia Account that will be associated with the user’s Second life account and use the same user name and password.
  • Most importantly: users wishing to process a credit – that is, withdraw money from Second Life via their US dollar account – after August 1st, 2019 must be prepared to supply the following information directly to Tilia Inc: name, address, date of birth, and social security number (or government-issued identification for non-US citizen).
    • Note that if you have previously supplied this information to Linden Lab, you may still have to re-supply it to Tilia Inc.
    • This information should only need to be supplied once, and will be retained on file by Tilia Inc., (as is currently the case through Second Life at the moment)
    • Some users may be required to provide additional information to complete a transaction.
    • Again, only those cashing out of their USD balance are required to meet the ID verification requirements.
  • These changes should not impact the average time it takes for credit to be processed (around 3-5 working days) for most SL users, once the required identification documentation has been verified.
  • The fees for inactivity mentioned in the blog post, etc., are still TBD, but again, they only apply in cases where USD have been cashed out, but the account has been dormant (i.e. no cash-out / no logging-in) for 12+ months. They do not affect L$ balances.
  • These changes do not impact or change the purchase and use of Linden Dollars with Second Life or on the Marketplace. So you do not need to provide personal information in order to buy L$.
  • Additional information can be found in the Lab’s official Tilia Inc FAQ.
From August 1st, 2019, US dollar balances associated with Second Life will be handled by Tilia Inc.

The blog post has already led to a growing forum thread on the matter, which voices some genuine confusion on matters, coupled with no small amount of misunderstanding. This prompted the Lab to add further clarification, and additional replies many be forthcoming from LL over the next day or so to try to address additional concerns / answer further questions. Note that I cannot address specific concerns or answer questions posted to this blog, as I do not represent Linden Lab.

As an aide, I first wrote about Tilia Inc., almost five years ago. At that time, I lot of what I had to say was highly speculative. However, there is now more to say and consider – but to avoid conflating my commentary about Tilia Inc., with news of this announcement, I’ll leave that to a separate blog post.

Related Links

Second Life: LL statement on creator rights and IP protection

On November 6th, 2018, Linden Lab issued a statement on their stance on protecting the rights of creators producing content for use on the Second Life platform.

It would seem the statement has been issued as a result over the ongoing debate around the use of UV Maps in mesh heads, following one designer issuing DMCA notices against a number of competing creators – although it is obviously intended to outline Linden Lab’s position on content protection and their process of handling matters as a whole.

To this end, and rather than obfuscate with subjective commentary here, I’m including the entire text of the blog post below, for ease of reference.

At Linden Lab we appreciate and support the creativity of our community – a community based on the very idea that the only limit to your creativity is your imagination. That is why we feel it is important to clarify our stance on and process for the protection of community-created content. Our goal is to nurture the overall creative and competitive ecosystem that enables each member of our community to prosper — even when that means making difficult determinations in disputes between our Creators.

While we cannot comment publicly with a definitive analysis of any one case or dispute, we want to reassure our community that we closely consider all perspectives (and applicable law) before arriving at any dispute determination. When there is disagreement in our community over the integrity of a creation, we strive to be fair in our review of the facts. In particular, we do not take actions for or against any Creator lightly as we know that our Creator community is passionate about and protective of their work.

So, why make this statement now?

Due to the size of the Second Life economy and its user base, there will always be Creator conflicts and complaints under review. Recently, there’s been some debate about one of the more esoteric aspects of content creation, which impacts many in our community. For example, one high-profile complaint under review deals with a fundamental question about whether UV mapping can be considered proprietary and protect-able or part of the public domain.

Linden Lab recognizes that there are passionate arguments to be made on both sides of this and similar discussions. However, the determining factors are quite nuanced and not easily assessed without a closer review of the facts in the context of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (or DMCA).

Ultimately, Linden Lab will always comply with the DMCA process, and continue to determine the validity of each DMCA notice (and any counter-notice) on a case-by-case basis. That is precisely why we have a team dedicated to reviewing all properly submitted IP claims and determining the fairest outcome within the guidelines of the policies and laws governing the process, which is described in the Intellectual Property Infringement Notification Policy.

We are ever-amazed by the ways this community utilizes the Second Life platform for creativity. Keep innovating – you make Second Life even better as we roll out new features and tools to create with — and keep supporting your fellow Creators!

Jason Gholston departs Sansar and the Lab

Jason Gholston

Jason Gholston, who through social media and interviews, had become something of a public “face” for Linden Lab’s Sansar Social VR platform, has left the company for pastures new.

Jason joined the Lab in April 2012, working initially on Second Life before transitioning into the Sansar team as a Director of Product.

While working on Second Life, Jason Led the maintenance engineering team with a focus on customer retention and quality of service, and oversaw the attempts to integrate Oculus Rift with the platform.

On transitioning to work on Sansar, he worked on creating the Unity prototypes used to greenlight the development of Sansar. As Product Manager, he was responsible for management of the monthly releases of Sansar from the engine, rendering, audio, level editor, terrain editor, VR level editor, avatar simulation, and content pipeline teams. He also initially hosted the weekly VR meet-ups with the creator community within Sansar to gather feedback, help troubleshoot issues.

Jason was also responsible for establishing Sansar Studios, the content creation team for Sansar. This team has been responsible for developing a range of experiences on the platform designed to help demonstrate capabilities within the platform and for working with content partners to develop unique experiences.

From left to right: Jason Gholston, Drew Struzan, Greg Aronowitz discuss the Drew Struzan Gallery in Sansar during a Deviant Art livestream event with host Matthew Holt. Credit: Deviant Art

As a part of running Sansar Studios, Jason initiated and negotiated unique partnerships and content commissions between Linden Lab and partners, valued at over US $2 million. Some of these partnerships have included the development of experiences tied-in to the Ready Player One movie – Aech’s Garage and Aech’s Basement, the Star Trek ties-ins, Bridge of the USS Enterprise and the Roddenberry Nexus, and most recently No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man, a collaboration between Linden Lab, Intel and The Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Jason also managed the collaboration with Greg Aronowitz and Drew Struzan that resulted in the Hollywood Art Museum, featuring Star Wars memorabilia reproduced in Sansar, together with the art of Drew Struzan and a reproduction of his studio workshop.

The Bridge of the USS Enterprise – a social space where people can watch weekly broadcasts of the Mission Log Live series by Roddenberry Entertainment, hosted by Ken Ray (seen on the viewscreen) and John Champion. One of several collaborative experiences in Sansar Jason Gholston helped bring to fruition

In leaving the Lab, Jason has moved to work for UK-based Speech Graphics, where he takes up the role of Creative Director, working out of the company’s Bay Area offices. Speech Graphics is one of Linden Lab’s technical partners with Sansar, the platform utilising the company’s technology to provide accurate avatar lip-syncing and facial animations, driven in real-time as users simply speak into the microphones on their HMDs or audio headsets.

On a personal note, I had the pleasure of dealing with Jason on several occasions whilst preparing Sansar articles for this blog, and would like to thank him for his willingness to provide his time and assistance, and for supporting this blog through social media. I wish him every success at Speech Graphics.

Looking at the new private region and L$ fees

Village of Ahiru; Inara Pey, May 2018, on FlickrPrivate region set-up fees and monthly tier rates are reduced from July 2nd, 2018, together with an increase in L$ purchase fees. Picture:  Village of Ahiru (blog post)

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 the other side of the scale, we’ve seen efforts to make virtual land more attractive – notably through the region buy-down offer of April-September 2016, and more recently the changes to Mainland pricing.

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.

New Private region pricing structure. Note that as from July 2nd, 2018, new OpenSpace regions will no longer be available as a product, and Linden Dollar purchase fees 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 buy 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.

Crunching some numbers: the 2018 SL infographic

Courtesy of Linden Lab

On Monday, April 23rd, Linden Lab issued an infographic on the state of Second Life as the platform approaches its 15th anniversary. The last time the company did this was, I believe, for the  platform’s tenth anniversary in 2013.

Both infographics obviously offer a potted view of Second Life which some might choose to take as spin – but casting the platform in a positive light is what PR is about. More than that, when all is said and done, the figures do go some way to showing the platform is still a vibrant place with a healthy economy and a (broadly speaking) positive engagement on that part of active users.

The “spin” element might be seen in elements such as the number of accounts created in Second Life: a total of 36 million between 2003 and 2013, and a further 21 million in the last five years (for a total of 57 million since 2003, when SL formally opened its doors to the public at large). These figures sound impressive, but when push comes to shove, “accounts created” is a pretty meaningless figure. What really matters is the number of active accounts operating within Second Life; and the fact is that over the years these have been dropping – perhaps not by the amounts some might think – although it is admittedly hard to pin things down to a precise figure.

Similarly, the number of new user registrations (400,000  reported in 2013 and 350,000 reported in 2018) doesn’t add up to a major indicator of SL’s health – but, in fairness nor do they indicate any kind of major decline, despite the 50,000 drop over the intervening period between the two infographics. But really, the issue with Second Life is not the number of sign-ups achieved, but the number of retained active users the platform obtains.

Side-by-side: the 2013 (SL10B) and 2018 (SL15B) infographics. But how useful are they?

Perhaps of more value, to a degree, are figures like the total hours users have spent engaged in the platform. in 2013, this cumulative total for 10 years was stated as an equivalent of 217,000 years; for the 15th anniversary it is put at 482,000 years.  What these show is that while the number of active users engaged in Second Life may have shrunk somewhat (notably since its peak in around 2008), those still engaged in the platform are between them potentially spending more time logged-in to the platform than they were five years ago.

Why this might be is open to speculation; but one group of reasons could be that the time an effort Linden Lab has put into improving the overall Second Life infrastructure, making batter use of technology, improving the performance of much of the platform (simulators, back-end systems, etc.), and the work put into enhancing user-facing capabilities, which have collectively encouraged people to spend more time in-world now than five years ago.

This increase in time spent engaged in the platform has other potential benefits as well – such as in increased economic activity. This is somewhat indicated by the 2018 infographic, which indicates that Second Life creators and land holders cashed out some $67 million in 2017. During sessions such as Lab Chat, and other public meetings, it had been indicated that the amount cashed-out by users in 2015/2016 was around $60 million; so it would seem that overall, the SL economy is experience an upturn, albeit a modest one. The strength of the economy might also be indicated by the rise in the number of virtual goods for sale: 2.1 million in 2013 and a stated 5 million in 2018 – although I point to this increase with the caveat that items for sale doesn’t necessarily translate directly into increases in goods sold.

Given that the 2018 infographic would tend to indicate overall engagement in the platform among engaged Second Life users has increased, the economy has apparently undergone something of a growth as well, it’s perhaps understandable why – as per the recent town hall meeting – there is now a much stronger emphasis within the Lab to pro-actively try to grow the user base going forward – and some interesting approaches are being tried.

So, what of the issues of active user numbers and new user accounts? It is true that Second Life is experiencing shrinkage in the number of active users. However, a degree of perspective is required when discussing it. At its peak in around 2008, SL averaged around 1.1 million active monthly log-ins. Today, it is lower – but by how much? That’s a tough nut to crack.

One of the few sources of real data we have comes from the SL Statistical Charts Page put together many years ago the most respected Second Life blogger (whose insight is genuinely missed), Tateru Nino, which is still active today. Among other things, it provides a series of breakdowns of concurrent log-ins – current and over set periods of times. These tend to collectively show that by-and-large average concurrency is between 30,000 and 50,000. Even when taking the bottom end of this range as the daily “average”, it still yields around 900,000 active monthly log-ins. That’s just 200,000 from the platform’s peak.

Second Life average concurrency is around 30,000-50,000 per day, as illustrated by these two 14-day extracts from Tateru Nino’s Statistics Charts, deliberately collected just over a month apart from one another

Of course, it might be argued that some of these concurrent log-ins are alt accounts or possible bots and so “don’t count”. But how large a figure is that likely to be? It’s impossible to know. Some factor it as being more than one-third, which might not be a wholly unreasonable figure; however, a counter-point to this is that just because someone is logged-in on two accounts doesn’t mean they’re not actively contributing to things like the economy through both of those accounts; so while it might be argued such activities reduce the total user count, it may not negatively impact the platform’s economy. Similarly, and where there are no empirical numbers available, it is fair to say that bot usage today is a lot less prevalent than when SL was at its peak; thus while their influence cannot be completely discounted, they are likely to have less of an influence on concurrency today than a decade ago.

The most interesting aspect of the figures is perhaps those of sign-ups As noted above, the Lab notes a decline in monthly sign-ups of around 50,000 since 2013. Looking at Tateru’s data for 2011 (the nearest 6 month period to 2013 I have archived) and 2018, shows the average daily rare of sign-up hasn’t varied overly much across the years – although arbitrary daily figures can show more of a variation.

Sign-up across 2 6-month periods, in 2011 and up to April 2018. The averages for both are not too far apart

Both the infographic and Tateru’s stats would again point to the Lab’s optimism around growth, indicating as they do that while daily sign-ups have dropped somewhat over the years – Second Life potentially still generates interest, not all of which can be put down to existing users creating thousands of alt / bot account daily. The problem is, as noted earlier, getting more of those sign-ups converted to active, retained users.

Overall, the current infographic reveals that while there is undoubtedly room to grow the numbers of active users, and despite the downplaying of monthly active users by some, Second Life is still a healthy platform for both users and the Lab when it comes to generating revenue – and the weight of virtual goods tends to point to the Lab’s hopes to re-balance their own revenue generation away from such a heavy reliance on land tier as having merit.

More to the point, it does demonstrate that, despite all the fears about the arrival of Sansar, etc., as Second Life approaches a celebration of it’s fifteenth anniversary, it still offers a richness and depth that can keep us all engaged with it.