Linden Lab announces it is to be acquired

© and ®Linden Lab

On Tuesday, July 9th, 2020, linden Lab announced it is to be acquired by “an investment group led by Randy Waterfield and Brad Oberwager”.

The acquisition is currently pending approval by financial regulators in the U.S., due to the Lab’s subsidiary, Tilia Inc., which forms part and parcel of the acquisition.

The full statement on the matter, which can be read on the Lab’s corporate website, includes a statement from Linden Lab CEO, Ebbe Altberg:

We’re excited for this new chapter to begin. We see this as an opportunity to continue growth and expansion for Second Life and our money services business Tilia. We’re grateful for the ongoing support from our community, business partners and investors. Now more than ever, there is increased recognition of the value and utility of virtual worlds to bring people together for safe, shared, and social on-line experiences.

Once the acquisition is finalised, both Mr. Waterfield  and Mr. Oberwager will join the Lab’s Board of directors.

Bradford Oberwager has founded and/or run five tech/CPG companies—Jyve, Bare Snacks (acquired by PepsiCo), True & Good! Snacks, Acumins/more.com (acquired by HealthCentral), and Blue Tiger/Open Webs (acquired by CarParts).

J. Randall Waterfield is Chairman of The Board & Chief Executive Officer of Waterfield Group, one of the largest private financial organisations in the United State, and occupies board positions on a number of other companies and organisations.

J. Randall Waterfield (l) and Bradford Oberwager (via Waterfield.com and LinkedIn)

Also commenting on the acquisition, Brad Oberwager states:

Both the company and its virtual world community have a unique culture and creative energy that remain important to the long-term success of Second Life. There’s a bright future for both Second Life and Tilia and we’re excited to help fuel these growth opportunities.

With the news breaking on Twitter, Altberg responded to questions on what it means for Second Life with a simple “Continued Greatness!”

I reached out to linden Lab on finding out the news, but was informed the company has no further comment on the acquisition beyond the press release.

However, given that the acquisition will see Mr. Waterfield and Mr. Oberwager joining the board, I would anticipate that – given the nature of acquisitions – it is unlikely there will be any immediate visible changes to Linden Lab, Second Life or Tilia Inc., and, and the company will likely to continue to operate in a “business as usual” mode with regards to both Second Life operations and the community for the immediate future. That said, there will likely be a lot of speculation as to the future of SL, together with concerns / fears as to what the longer-term future might be.

While it is purely speculative on my part, I would hazard a guess that the acquisition will take into consideration the increased interest Second life has witnessed over the last year(ish), and particularly as a result of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, and will see in inflow of cash for the company that will allow it to (hopefully) meet its immediate goals with both Second Life and Tilia Inc., and allow both platforms to continue to be developed.

This is certainly the belief held by Linden Lab’s co-founder, Philip Rosedale, who now heads-up High Fidelity Inc. Also quoted in the press release, he states:

Since its inception 17 years ago, Second Life has been a pioneer in the concepts of virtual societies, land and economies. I’ve known Brad [Oberwager] for 14 years personally and professionally, and I’m confident he will bring his passion and proven strategies to help Linden Lab achieve new heights in distribution, scale, and quality while remaining true to the original vision, creativity, and community that makes Second Life unique and special.

Source:  Linden Research, Inc. to Be Acquired, Thursday, July 9th, 2020.

With thanks to Whirly Fizzle for the pointer.

Linden Lab in wrongful termination lawsuit over alleged cybersecurity law violations

©, ™ and ® Linden Lab

Linden Lab has been hit by a wrongful termination lawsuit by a former employee, Kavya Pearlman, in which allegations are made over potential violations of cybersecurity laws.

A security expert, Kavya joined Linden Lab in August 2017, and worked to develop information security strategies, advising on state and international information security regulations, managing IS systems, and more. Her employment with the Lab was terminated in March of 2019.

She publicly announced her lawsuit via a 12-point Twitter thread. In it she states that her employment came at a time when she was engaged in a risk assessment exercise involving the New York State Department of Financial Services, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, and the European General Data Protection Regulation, which came after a period when “the company treated me with hostility when I raised concerns about potential violations of cybersecurity laws.

The allegations would appear to encompass work related to the Lab’s subsidiary, Tilia Inc., and potentially both Sansar and Second Life – but Ms. Pearlman makes it clear that during her tenure at the Lab as Information Security Director, there were no security breaches.

Within the Twitter thread – and apparently within the lawsuit – she additionally alleges discrimination and retaliation on the basis of her gender and religion.

Given this is a lawsuit, and the fact I am neither a lawyer nor have I had any sight of the papers that have been filed, further comment on the lawsuit itself would be inappropriate, and I doubt that the Lab will reply to enquiries simply because this is a legal matter.

That said, and if and when possible, I’ll continue to watch this situation as it develops.

With thanks to John Brianna for the pointer.

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.

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.