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.

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Bjørn Laurin departs Linden Lab for HTC Vive

Courtesy of Linden Lab

Bjørn Laurin, the former Vice President of Product at Linden Lab, has departed the company to join HTC Vive, where he is involved with Viveport, the company’s app store for Virtual Reality experiences.

Bjørn joined Linden Lab in March 2015 – although it passed almost unnoticed at the time. I personally didn’t catch it until a passing comment from Don Laabs (Danger Linden), at that time the Lab’s Senior Director of Product, whilst he was being interviewed at SL12B that year. That led me to provide a very quick outline biography for Bjørn.

Whilst his remit as VP of Product covered all three of the Lab’s platforms and applications – Second Life, Sansar and Blocksworld – over the course of his roughly two-and-a-half years at Linden Lab, Bjørn perhaps became most closely identified with Sansar. He was generally present at physical world events where the Lab sought to promote the platform. He was also, for a time, one of the “regulars” from the Lab who would hop into Sansar to join community  meet-ups and product meetings there.

Bjørn Lauren, the Lab’s former Vice President of Product (l), and fellow Swede, Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg, in the basement of the Lab’s San Francisco office. Credit Dean Takahashi

In this latter capacity, he became one of the popular Lab reps (alongside Ebbe Altberg and Jason Gholston (Widely Linden)) for his willingness to offer broad-ranging views and comments on Sansar’s direction, upcoming releases and ideas being discussed for the platform back at the Lab.

Nor was his time restricted to meeting people in Sansar. Ahead of the launch of the platform’s open Creator Beta at the end of July 2017, Bjørn, together with  Jason (Widely Linden), sat down with Sansar and SL users to discuss the new platform and explain some of the thinking behind its evolution, as well as looking a little further down the road. It’s also not unfair to say that he has been an enthusiastic adopter of consumer-focused VR, something which tended to become very evident in even brief conversations with him, so his move to HTC Vive would appear to be a good fit.

I actually first became curious about Bjørn’s status at the Lab in mid-January, 2018, when I noticed his biographical notes had been removed from the Lab’s corporate website shortly after Peter Gray had dropped me a line to say he would be departing the Lab for pastures new.  At the time, I reached out to the Lab through various channels to try to ascertain whether Bjørn had left the company, but without success (someone – and my apologies to them as I forget who – had pinged me in late 2017 to ask if I knew whether or not he was still with that Lab – as there was no change in his status on the Lab’s corporate pages at the time, I took it to mean he was still with the company back then). According to LinkedIn, Bjørn took up his new position at HTC Vive some time around the end of January / beginning of February 2018.

Currently, there has been no nomination to the role of VP of Product at the Lab. However, it might be that Paul Chen, who has been with the company since the end of 2014, may have inherited Bjørn’s role. He is now listed on the Lab’s management page as Head of Product and Business operations – a role he moved to in October 2017, and which he describes in part as being, “Building and operating the next generation of virtual worlds, overseeing the development, planning and execution of Sansar.

Linden Lab’s senior management team, February 2018

While I didn’t know him particularly well, Bjørn always came over as very personable, friendly and with something of a wry sense of humour. He was always hugely enthusiastic about Sansar’s potential and Second Life’s future. I wish him all the best for his new role at HTC Vive.

 

Peter Gray to depart Linden Lab

Courtesy of Linden Lab

Peter Gray, Linden Lab’s Senior Director of Global Communications is departing the company after nine  years.

Peter broke the news to me via e-mail on Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018 prior to e-mailing a number of other people. He first joined Linden Lab in 2009 from Lewis PR, a technology-focused company, where he gained his first exposure to both Linden Lab and Second Life. This means his experience with the company extends back more than a decade.

It’s been a privilege to represent Linden Lab, our innovative products, and their incredible users as a Linden for the past nine years. I wish our user communities and my Linden colleagues all the best for the future, and I’ll be rooting for their continued success.

– Peter Gray, Senior Director of Communications, Linden Lab

Throughout his time at the Lab, Peter has been one of the public faces of the company, rising from PR Specialist to his current position of Senior Director of Global Communications, gathering a wealth of knowledge about the Lab’s products along the way. In-world, his Classic avatar has often been visible at events such as the SL Birthday celebrations, taking questions at Meet the Lindens events, VWBPE conferences and more. More recently, Peter’s role has extended beyond Second Life to encompass Blocksworld and Sansar, and he has never failed to deal with the myriad question I and a lot of other bloggers have forwarded to the Lab over the years, as and where he has been able to do so.

In departing Linden Lab, Peter is moving on to  a new role with the communications team at Facebook AI Research  – and I wish him well in the new role, although I can honestly say he will be sorely missed.

Peter Gray and his Linden alter-ego

On a personal level, I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Peter for all of his help over the years; I’ve deeply appreciated our working relationship, and can say with hand on heart that his support, assistance and insight is one of the major reasons I’ve kept on blogging about SL for so long; his support – and what of the Lab as a whole – has, I believe allowed me to present news and information through these pages objectively, and in the knowledge it is as accurate as I could possibly make it.

Throughout all our time in correspondence and conversation, Pete has never been anything less than open, supportive and friendly. I’d like to further thank him for the personal invite to pop into the Lab and pay him a visit if ever I managed to get back to California and make my way up to San Francisco; I’m genuinely sad I never got to take him up on the offer.

Many thanks again, Peter, and wishing you all the best for 2018 and the future!

Linden Lab: Terms of Service updates and new policies

On Tuesday, July 11th, Linden Lab issued an updated Terms of Service, which is due to come into effect on July 31st, 2017. As is the Lab’s usual practice, anyone logging-in to one of the Lab’s services for the first time after the new Terms have come into force will be required to accept them. As such, a read through is advisable beforehand.

The summary of the changes indicate them to be:

  • A restructuring of the Terms to include terms and conditions that apply to all Linden Lab products, with separate product-specific references (such as Linden Dollar and LindeX for SL) now contained within product-specific policies. The new Second Life Terms and Conditions contains all the Second Life-specific references that were previously in the Terms of Service.
  • Reference to the Lab’s wholly owned subsidiaries, Tilia Inc. and Tilia Branch UK Ltd., have been added. These companies will be handling payment services on our behalf under certain circumstances. I first wrote (albeit somewhat speculatively) about Tilia Inc in November 2015.
  • Minor text revisions to clarify that Linden Lab has discretion to undertake certain account actions.
  • An updated the arbitration provision in accordance with applicable law.

In addition to the updated ToS there is a new Intellectual Property Infringement Notification Policy, which I have not had the opportunity to digest, and a new Content Guidelines document; both of which also take effect from July 31st.

The first of these bullet points sees the most extensive changes to the ToS, with the removal off sections formerly specific to SL, and the removal of references related to the Second Life (e.g. “inworld”) to more generic terms. These are all clearly part-and-parcel of adopting the ToS to encompass Sansar, and some of the amendments make for interesting reading – such as the definition of terms.

While the blog post refers to “the Second Life Terms and Conditions”, there is no actual link to such a document at present. There is a link to the Community Standards – which are still specific to Second Life. However, it is unclear if this is what is meant by “the Second Life Terms and Conditions” – and if so, they have not as yet been updated to reflect elements of the ToS specific to SL – such as the operation of “bots” or to Skill Gaming / for profit games of chance, Linden Dollars, the LindeX, etc. Nor are the ancillary policies to Second Life listed (e.g. the Machinima policy, Mainland Policy, etc.).

Excluding the changes specific to Second Life (i.e. removal of references and clauses). The most extensive changes to the ToS can be found in the following sections:

  • 1.1 – updates to defined terms
  • 2.2 – licences granted, specifically the section on “Linden Content”
  • 3 Eligibility To Use the Service
  • 4.3 – payment service providers (including Tilia Branch in the UK)
  • 7 – Infringement Notifications – now dealt with via the Intellectual Property Infringement Notification Policy
  • 9.6 – Unsolicited Ideas and Materials Prohibited; No Confidential or Special Relationship with Linden Lab
  • 10.2 – Exceptions to Requirement to Arbitrate (dispute resolution).

I’ve not had time to do more than run through a rough comparison between this updated ToS and the current version (last archived via the Wayback machine in April), so my apologies if I’ve missed anything.

 

The Lab’s most recent board members

In mid-March 2017, Linden Lab introduced a new member of the board of directors via a press release.

William “Bing” Gordon is a man with impressive credentials. The Chief Product Officer of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), where he serves as an advisor and General Partner, Gordon worked with Electronic Arts for 26 years from its founding in 1982, driving the company’s branding strategy with EA Sports, developed EA’s pricing strategy for package goods and on-line games, created EA’s studio organization, and contributed to the design and marketing of many EA franchises, including John Madden Football, The Sims, Sim City, Need for Speed, Tiger Woods Golf, Club Pogo and Command and Conquer. As well as EA and KPCB, he has He has served on the boards of public companies Amazon and Zynga, and was a founding director at Katango (acquired by Google 2011), ngmoco (acquired by DeNA 2010) and Audible (acquired by Amazon in 2008).

William “Bing” Gordon

One of the acknowledged experts in computer gaming, Bing Gordon was awarded the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011, and he held the game industry’s first endowed chair in game design at The University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. He is a robust thinker and, unlike many in the tech industry, retains a level head when it comes to the subject of VR – in 2015, he spoke to Fortune.com about the risks involved for companies leaping into the emerging VR market.

In joining Linden Lab, Gordon will will advise on strategy, product, marketing and other issues as Linden Lab continues to improve Second Life and brings to market its new platform for user-created social VR experiences, Sansar – with the Lab particularly emphasising the latter for understandable reasons, CEO Ebbe Altberg noting:

We’re honoured to have Bing join our board of directors and work with our team,” said Ebbe Altberg, CEO of Linden Lab. “He’s helped to bring to life some of the most influential entertainment experiences in recent memory, and as we prepare to open Sansar for all creators, his insights, expertise, and counsel will prove invaluable.

Bing Gordon isn’t the only relatively recent appointee to the Lab’s board of directors. He joins Mark Britto, in adding his name to LL’s board. Britto is most recently the founder/chairman of Boku, Inc., a mobile on-line payments company he founded in 2009 and which now is the leading name in mobile payments, servicing 50 countries through more than 200 carrier partners. Mr. Britto also serves on the Boards of Angieslist, PayNearMe and Sonder.

Mark Britto

After starting his career in banking, Britto co-founded Accept.com, a peer-to-peer payments company which was purchased by Amazon in 1999, where it became the primary backbone of Amazon’s global payments platform. Britto himself worked for Amazon as a Senior Vice President of Worldwide Services and Sales, prior to departing the company to take over the helm of Ingenio, a communication and e-commerce platform acquired by AT&T in 2007, and more recently re-established as an independent company in May 2013.

From this, it is clear that Britto has a wealth of experience in developing and managing payment services which would appear to be of particular merit to Linden Lab as they continue to operate their micro-currency systems for Second Life and Sansar, together with their Tilia Inc., subsidiary.

Interestingly, Mark Britto joined the Lab’s board in August 2016. However, his biography notes only appeared on the company’s leadership page in April 2017, when it was updated with Bing Gordon’s details.

Together, Mark Britto and Bing Gordon join Jed Smith, Bill Gurley and Dana L. Evan as serving members of the board at Linden Research Inc.

Lab speaks out on US Administration’s Immigration Policy

LL logoOn Thursday, February 2nd, Linden Lab became the latest tech company to speak out against the recent immigration Executive Order signed by US President, Donald Trump.

Politics is a contentious issue, and one I’ve preferred to keep out of this blog. However, there is no doubt that the move by the new US Administration has caused great concern in both the United States and around the world. More to the point, Second Life is also a global entity which has  – through the Community Standards – always sought to make a stand against intolerance on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. As such, the Lab’s statement is wholly in keeping with this standing.

The statement reads in full:

We at Linden Lab are extremely disappointed in and adamantly opposed to Trump’s recent executive order on immigration. We reject racism, intolerance, and xenophobia.

We are proud to include immigrants among our leadership, colleagues, and customers, as well as our families, friends, and communities. We value diversity, compassion, and understanding, and we are proud that our products enable people to come together and form meaningful connections regardless of differences in their offline lives.

Trump’s order is counter to what we value and antithetical to American ideals. We join the many voices calling on the US government to remove this restriction as quickly as possible and to refrain from imposing additional barriers that threaten opportunities for immigrants, under-represented minorities, and women.