Linden Lab announces Town Hall series for Second Life

Courtesy of Linden Lab

To mark Second Life’s fifteenth anniversary, Linden Lab has announced a series of Town Hall meetings at which Second Life users can hear members of Linden Lab and well-known groups within SL talk about the platform, their work, and answer questions offered by users.

The announced sessions will comprise:

  • Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg.
  • Members of the Firestom team.
  • Residents of Bay City.
  • The Designing Worlds team.

The first of these town hall meetings will feature Ebbe Altberg in a double session on Friday, April 20th, at the following times:

  • 09:30 SLT.
  • 13:00 SLT.

User are invited to offer questions for Ebbe via the forum thread A Conversation with Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg. Questions will be selected from those submitted, and as many as possible will be answered within the time frame set for the meetings.

Users can attend the meetings by teleporting to one of the three following landing points at Town Hall Island:

Not: none of the above SLurl may be open to the public prior to the day of the event. 

Other Town Hall meetings, to be “held in the coming months”, will be announced in due course.

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The return of Second Life Last Names – update with audio

Update, April 21st, 2018: at the April 20th Town Hall meeting with Ebbe Altberg, it was indicated that the new first name / last name system might be a Premium only benefit, or that if generally available to all users, that Premium account holders will have some advantage in using the capability over Basic account holders. Please refer to the audio of Grumpity Linden’s comments from that event appended at the end of this article.   

Update, March 28th, 2018: further information was provided at the Web User Group meeting on this date. This information has been appended to the end of this article. 

Following the Lab’s announcement that last names will be returning to Second Life  later in 2018 (see my post here), Oz and  Patch Linden have been providing further details on the change.

Patch has been commenting on the forum thread related to this topic (and the Lab’s 15th anniversary blog post in general), starting here, and I’ve also quoted him below.

Oz Linden took time to address questions on the subject at the Content Creation User Group (CCUG) meeting on Thursday, March 22nd.

The following is a summary of what has been said thus far, predominantly using Oz Linden’s comments at the CCUG meeting. I’ve attempted to summarise the key points as series of short topics, and have included audio extracts of Oz’s comments with each topic.

Note that the audio extracts draw together related comments voiced at different points in the session, as Oz addressed questions. I hope that presenting them in this way, rather than just chronologically as they came up at the meeting, helps to present a clearer picture of what is being planned.

In General

As the original blog post indicated, the return of last names will be coming later in 2018 – not in the immediate future. There are some back-end changes to SL which need to be made before last names can make a return, so it would seem like “later in 2018” users might be read as “late 2018”.

That is not something that we’re going to be able to deliver real quickly. Don’t look for it in the next few weeks. But it is on the road map for this year, and we’ll try to make it better than the very end of the year, but there are a couple of things that have to get fixed on the back-end before that can work.

Oz Linden, CCUG meeting, March 22nd, 2018

With the introduction of this system, Agent IDs will become the primary means of link names to avatars. As noted below, this means that those scripting items which require avatar details, and who don’t use Agent IDs might want to start thinking about revising their scripts to do so.

In Summary

  • The plan is to allow people to change their first and last name whenever they wish.
    • As with the “old” system, users will be able to choose whatever first name they like, then select their last name from a pre-set list of available names.
    • Once a name combination has been created, it is forever tied to that avatar, it cannot be used by anyone else, even if the “owner” later changes their name, or their account is deactivated.
    • Previous names will be retained by the system, so if you can remember someone’s previous name, you can search on that and get their current name.
    • As with the “old”system, this list of last names will be routinely changed with different names appearing on it.
    • To help keep the available names relatively fresh, the Lab is considering accepting suggestions from users.
    • It has not been determined if someone will be able to switch back to using a name they’ve previously used.
    • Unicode will not be supported when entering a first name.
  • The first name / last name capability will not replace Display Names1..

This has no effect on display names and largely I do not anticipate we will change how display names work. If anything, it somewhat sunsets the need for them.

Patch Linden, March 22nd, forum thread

  • There will be a fee associated with changing your name (which has still to be determined).
    • The fee is liable to be “large enough” to prevent people simply constantly changing name just to use the “good names” up.

  • Advice from the Lab to scripters:
    • Given this change is coming, scripters who have a need to same avatar details should start to consider doing so by Agent ID, not first name / last name.
    • The Lab will most likely provide an API for resolving first name / last name into a valid Agent ID.

 

In the forum thread, Patch also reiterates the uniqueness of first name / last name combinations, as noted above.

No hiding of names. First name and surname combos will have to be unique like they are today. A couple of other questions that came up – no re-use of retired names, once a name has been used, it belongs to that account forever. We keep a transnational name change history. Only standard English characters will be permitted.

Patch Linden, March 22nd, forum thread.

I’ll have more on the return of Last Names as information becomes available, mostly like much nearer the time the feature is ready to deploy. In the meantime, Patch may post further information on the forum thread, so it might be worth keeping and eye on that.

  1. Oz indicated that Display Names will not be replaced due to the work involved in removing the functionality. It’s also worth noting that – depending on the fee levied for name changes, people  who have multiple characters associated with their avatar for role-play, etc., and so frequently change their name, might find using Display Names remains more convenient / cost-effective means of doing so once the first name / last name capability is deployed.

Update From the Web User Group, March 28th, 2018

  • “Original / legacy” last names will not be re-opened for use.
  • New users joining Second Life will still be given the automatic “last name” of “Resident”, but have the option of changing if they wish.
  • The fee for name changes has not been announced, however, at this point the indication is that the fee will be in fiat currency (i.e. US dollars) not Linden Dollars.

Update From the Town Hall Meeting, April 20th, 2018

  • Intimation that the name change capability might be a Premium-only benefit.
  • Indication that if available to Premium and Basic, Premium members will have an (at the time of reporting) unspecified advantage over Basic account holders.

Last names to return to SL and more – Linden Lab

Courtesy of Linden Lab

Update, March 22nd: At the Content Creation User Group meeting, Oz Linden indicated the return of last names will be somewhat similar to the “old” system – users select a last name from a list. However, people will be able to change their names as often as they like (although a fee will apply). See more in my summary update.

He also indicated that the Lab might take suggestions from users for last names which can be included in the various sets of names offered.

As promised during the VWBPE 2018 conversation with Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg and Brett Atwood (Brett Linden), Senior Manager for Marketing at Linden Lab, the company has provided a blog post presenting something of a “roadmap” for Second Life.

The post, which also serves as something of a launch of Second Life’s 15th anniversary, starts with a recap of the Mainland price restructuring announced on March 14th, 2018, and goes on to provide an interesting list of items – some of which could prove to be highly popular.

Key among these is the promise that – after years of requests – last names will be returning to Second Life.

No time frame is given – beyond later this year. Note that this is not necessarily the return of the “old” system of last names, but appears to be a means for people to more readily change their last name, the blog post stating:

The return of Last Names – You’ve asked for it (a lot!), so we will provide a way to customize your last name in Second Life! More details will be available later this year.

Another item which may well be of interest to existing users is a new attempt by the Lab to raise the level of new user retention within Second Life, with the post noting:

Themed Learning Islands – Getting connected to people who share your interests will be easier than ever with “Themed Learning Islands.” Soon newcomers may start their adventures in one of several themed areas, so their first experience in SL will be among Residents who share similar interests. This new initiative is in addition to our existing Community Gateway program which empowers independent communities to develop their own newcomer-friendly experiences.

Speaking at a recent Third-Party Developer meeting, Grumpity Linden, a Senior Product Manager at Linden Lab provided an overview of what this will entail:

Another intriguing change will see the Mainland Land Auction system overhauled, including integration with Place Pages and the ability for users to auction their own land.

Merchants are liable to be interested in the news that the Marketplace will see improvement, with the blog post noting:

We’ve got a number of improvements to Marketplace in the works, too! We’re integrating many long-requested features that will help to reduce clutter and improve the functionality of listings as the Marketplace gets a facelift later this year.

Among the more general items listed in the blog post – at least for those who follow this blog  – is a summary of some of the new capabilities and updates which are coming to Second Life:

  • Animesh.
  • Bakes on Mesh.
  • Environmental Enhancement Project (EEP).

All three are primarily covered in my Content Creation User Group updates.

It’s also worthwhile that alongside of the EEP work mentioned in the blog post, there is also a project – no time frame available – to improve the Second Life’s atmospheric shaders – which could help update SL’s general appearance and more easily allow atmospheric effects like Godrays.

The work to move Second Life to the cloud gets a mention in the blog post. Credit: Linden Lab / Amazon Web Services Inc.

The work to move Second Life to the cloud also gets a mention – and I’ll have a blog post on this up and available soon, largely as a result of the VWBPE 2018 event mentioned above, and also comments made by Ebbe Altberg and Oz Linden at a recent Third-Party Developer meeting. In the meantime, the blog post notes the work to enhance and improve SL’s performance both on the server-side and in the viewer.

Elsewhere. it is noted that Premium members will see further benefits as the year unfolds:

  • Additional benefits for merchants with Premium membership, which may have come out of / been hinted at during Web User Group meetings.
  • Linden Homes are going to get a (long overdue) revamp.
  • Premium users  will be able to run Experiences that are enabled anywhere on the grid (unless specifically blocked by a landowner). This is again something many Experience creators have requested since the introduction of Experiences.

Finally – and as some have noted with the arrival of new region groups on the grid in recent weeks – a further new Experience-based game is on the way. Expect to see that, according to the official blog post, closer to the actual SL15B celebrations.

All told, the list of 15 expectations is an interesting mix of news, some of which those actively engaged in Second Life will already be aware, as note. Others – again, perhaps notably the upcoming return of last names – could generate excitement among users. I’m personally keen to see the new themed learning islands, and will hopefully have more information on them as the project launches in the new future. I’ll also continue to cover the technical enhancements to the platform through my weekly project updates.

Linden Lab announces SL Mainland price restructuring

Linden Lab has announced changes to Mainland parcel rates. Image: Italian Village of Ciampi

On Wednesday, March 14th, 2018 Linden Lab announced a restructuring of Mainland tier costs, with allotment of “free” land for Premium members doubled from 512 sq metres to 1024 sq metres.

The announcement was made via a blog post, which reads in full:

We’ve got some exciting news for both aspiring and existing Landowners who think the cost of land is too darn high in Second Life. Effective immediately, we’ve reduced Mainland costs by over 10 percent. 

But, wait…there’s more!

Premium members now also get DOUBLE the Mainland allotment! That’s twice as much space to build, create and design your own home, business or experience in Second Life at no extra charge! Premium subscribers now have 1,024m² included with their membership: you could keep your Linden Home and still have another 512m² left over, or use your entire 1024 allotment towards a parcel on the Mainland.  To learn more about specifics of this change, view our Pricing and Allotment Comparison chart.

We know that costs associated with land ownership can hinder some people from realizing their full creative vision in Second Life or even keep them from participating in Second Life as much as they’d like. In 2015, we decreased land setup fees by up to 40% and restored a 50% discount on set-up fees and ongoing maintenance fees for educators and nonprofits. In 2016, we offered a limited-time “buy-down” opportunity that rolled back maintenance fees on full islands and homesteads.

As Second Life begins to celebrate its fifteenth birthday, we hope that this latest price drop will be welcome news to those who aspire to explore their creativity in 2018 and beyond.

The new Mainland tier rates for Premium members (right), with the new “free” allowance of 1024 sq metres of land, compared to the pre-March 14th tier rates

Of course, when people talk about tier being “too damned high”, they are generally referring to the cost of private regions (particularly Homesteads), so this change in Mainland rates many not be looked upon favourably in some quarters. But the fact remains – as I pointed out in 2013 – lowering private region tier isn’t as easy a proposition for Linden Lab as some tend to think, the (roughly) 23% reduction in tier revenue the Lab has seen since November 2013, notwithstanding.

As such, this should be seen for what it is – an attempt by the Lab to encourage land take-up  – and leave us not forget there have also been calls to re-invigorate Mainland with all of its abandoned land – without unduly exposing their bottom-line. So, if nothing else, it will be interesting to see what this offer does both in terms of Premium subscriptions and in encouraging people to take-up their “free” 1024 square metres of Mainland (or go bigger and use the 1024 “free” + the reduced difference in remaining tier).

A slight spanner in the works here, of course is that obtaining Mainland parcels can be time-consuming, and comes with the initial overhead of the purchase price. Nevertheless, it will also be interesting to see if / how this affects Linden Home ownership. A complaint against the latter is that while they come with a 175 LI allowance and a house which does not count towards that total, the houses themselves are oft viewed as unattractive. So, will these changes encourage some of those with Linden Homes to abandon them in favour of a 1024 sq m parcel (the aforementioned pain in finding and purchasing a suitable parcel notwithstanding) with at least 350 LI and a house of their own choosing, even if it does count against that total?

Time will tell on this.

Lab posts on their 64-bit viewer and plans

On Tuesday, January 16th, Linden Lab promoted the Alex Ivy 64-bit viewer (version 5.1.0.511732 at the time of writing). This is a significant release, not so much because of any specific new features (although it does include improvements to media handling), but because it marks a number of important changes to the viewer.

Following the release, which Oz Linden blogged about the viewer and the Lab’s plans around it, on Wednesday, January 17th, 2018, and I’ve highlighted a few points of note from that blog post below – but do please read it in full.

Most notably, this version of the official viewer is built using an updated set of libraries (some of which will be undergoing a further update in the future), and a revised build process. It is currently being made available for download for Mac OS X (64-bit) and Windows (32-bit and 64-bit) – there is no Linux version of this viewer at this time, as explained below.

For Windows users, the most significant update lies with a new viewer executable, the SL_Launcher, which – as Oz explains in his blog post:

Manages the viewer update process, and on Windows also ensures that you’ve got the best build for your system (in the future it may pick up some other responsibilities). For Windows systems, the best build is usually the one that matches your operating system. For example, if you’re running a 64-bit Windows, then you’ll get the 64-bit viewer. If not, then you’ll get the 32-bit viewer.  However, some older video cards are not supported by Windows 10, so the launcher may switch you to the 32-bit build which is compatible for those cards. You won’t have to do anything to make this work – it’s all automatic – if you get an update immediately the first time you run this new viewer, it’s probably switching you to the better build for your system.

Oz also notes that if you have a shortcut to the viewer set-up, you should update it to point to SL_Launcher rather than the viewer .EXE, to avoid issues with running / updating the viewer, and indicates there is a slight bug with both the SL_Launcher and Second Life Viewer processes both show as icons on the OS X Dock, and will be fixed in a future update so that only a single icon is shown.

One of the things the Lab has been tracking with the Alex Ivy viewer is overall performance / stability. It had long be noted that running the 32-bit version of the Windows viewer on 64-bit version of Windows with more than 4 Gb of memory could lead to fewer crashes related to running out of memory. However, with the 64-bit version of the viewer, the Lab have seen further benefits for Windows users, and so are encouraging those who can to switch to using a 64-bit version of their preferred viewer, if one is available (e.g. users still running a 32-bit version of a viewer on a 64-bit version of Windows, or those upgrading their hardware to a system running 64-bit Windows).

Linux will be supported – if there is sufficient input from the open-source / Linux communities

Linux is the notable exception to the Alex Ivy branch of the official viewer, as there is currently no support for the operating system.

Linden Lab halted Linux development work in 2015 for a number of reasons (see here for more), and sought the support of the Linux community (who represent around 1-1.5% for the SL user base) to help maintain the viewer on Linux. More recently, as I’ve reported in a number of my weekly SL project updates (see here for an example),  the Lab has set out new plans for Linux support going forward, With Oz explaining:

We’re reorganising the Linux build so that instead of a tarball, it produces a Debian package you can install with the standard tools, and rather than statically linking all the libraries it will just declare what it needs through the standard package requirements mechanism. We’ll post separately on the opensource-dev mailing list with information on where that project lives and how to contribute to it.

Again, a key aspect of this project will be continued support from the open-source / Linux community to help maintain the Linux viewer going forward, in providing bug fixes, etc., and the Lab providing essential QA and the core build environment, as noted above. This approach is seen as beneficial, as it will remove many of the idiosyncrasies / overheads involved in producing a Linux viewer, such as maintaining multiples libraries associated with the viewer, and instead provide a basic viewer package which can be used by TPVs / Linux users to meet their specific preferences.

Some TPVs have already released versions of their viewers based on the Alex Ivy code, and Firestom’s upcoming release should also, I believe, include a 64-bit version based on Alex Ivy.

And if you’re wondering about the viewer’s name – as Oz explains (and I noted back when the first 64-bit project viewer appeared), Alex Ivy is derived from 64 in Roman numerals: LXIV – aLeX IVy.

 

Looking at the Second Life 2017 year-end Grid Survey report

La virevolte; Inara Pey, December 2017, on FlickrLa virevolteblog post

On December 31st, 2017, Tyche Shepherd issued her year-end summary on the general size and state of the Second Life main grid.

In terms of a percentage loss, 2017 saw private region losses return to the 2014/2015 levels, with a 4% decrease through the year, somewhat lower than seen in 2016. In all, 677 private regions of all classes were removed from the grid in 2017, compared to 992 in 2016. At the same time, the number of Mainland  / Linden held regions increased very slightly from 6,744 to 6,806 (up by 62), leaving an overall net loss of 605 regions across the grid as a whole.

Taking the year-on-year figures from 2010 onwards (that being the last year the grid exhibited a growth in the number of regions), we get the following breakdown for private regions:

2010 2011 2012 2013
24,483 23,857 20,994 19,273
Increase
%age
Loss %age
Loss
%age
Loss
%age
810 3% 626 2.56% 2863 12% 1719 8.2%
2014
2015 2016 2017
18,600 17,775 16,783 16,106
Loss
%age
Loss
%age
Loss
%age
Loss
%age
673 3.5% 825 4.4% 992 5.6% 677 4.0%

Working on the basis of Tyche’s Full Private Region surveys I have to hand, a breakdown of approximate recent monthly revenues from private regions over the most recent four-year period might be given as:

  • November 2013: US $3,857,000 (+/- US $52,000)
  • March 2016: US $3,385,000 ( +/- US $43,000)
  • December 2016: US $3,162,000 (+/- US $39,000)
  • December 2017: US$ 2,970,000 (+/- US $36,500)

This represents around a 23% drop in monthly tier revenues over a four-year period. Of course, there are other revenue routes associated with Second Life – notably Premium memberships (which the Lab has in the past indicated account for around 20% of revenues). More directly, the end of 2016 / start of 2017 saw the Lab generate an estimated US $80,000, which doubtless help offset the decline in tier revenues to some extent. So, taking these factors into consideration, I would suggest that overall, the Lab might still be generating around US $48-49 million in revenue, or roughly the same as my estimate from my 2016 end-of-year article.

In 2016 there was some speculation that any opening of Sansar might have an impact on SL’s landmass. In my 2016 piece, I expressed the opinion this would not be the case, noting:

Some have raised concerns over how much of an impact Sansar will have on SL’s landmass in 2017. I actually don’t think it will. While I anticipate the decline in land will continue (but hopefully at a slower rate than 2016), I simply don’t think Sansar will have any immediate impact on Second Life one way or the other. Not in its first year, at least.

Unsurprisingly, this has proven to be the case: region losses for the second half of 2017, following the opening of Sansar’s public Creator Beta, remained pretty much on a weekly par with the months prior to the Creator Beat opening. I expect this will continue to be the case through much – if not all – of 2018.

Private estate numbers downs and ups in 2017 – click for full size

For me, the question remains as to how the Lab might respond to the slow tier revenue decline. As unpalatable though it may be to some, the answer still isn’t any tier cut, for the same reasons I gave back in 2013.  Simply put, from the Lab’s perspective  – and contrary to popular misconceptions on the matter – what users might consider  a “reasonable” tier reduction could actually be more immediately damaging to LL’s bottom line revenue generation, and bring with it no actual guarantee it would be overcome through any sustained demand for private land.

A better way – again from the Lab’s perspective – to relieve any pressure causing by reductions in revenue would be to reduce the costs involved in running ad maintaining Second Life. Doing so may not yield direct benefits to users in terms of tier reductions – but given the Lab’s sensitivity to the subject, they could over time provide the means for the Lab to reduce the tier paid by users. In the meantime, reducing costs allows the Lab to better leverage revenue into bankable profits. This is true, as well, for the work to move Second Life to the cloud – although hopefully, as the Lab has indicated, this might also eventually result in new land products / more flexible pricing. We just perhaps shouldn’t anticipate this happening in the near future.

Might we see Horizons expanded or a re-run of the buy-down offer in 2018? Possibly; although if either were to be tried, I suspect were there to be a move towards one or the other, it would likely be more to s further run of the buy-down offer, rather than an expansion of Horizons. That said, I actually anticipate that 2018 will see a further drop in region numbers, albeit one hopefully / most likely slower as then year unfolds than that of 2017. I doubt there will be any significant reversal unless something happens to cause a sustained growth in the overall numbers of users actively engaged in Second Life.

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