Linden Lab confirm Second Life iOS client in the making

Logos copyright and Trademark Linden Lab and Apple Inc., respectively

On January 9th, 2019, and thanks to a pointer from Whirly Fizzle, I blogged Lab working on a Second Life iOS client? noting that a Bit Bucket code repository had recently been set-up by Brad Linden for just such a purpose.

In writing the piece, which includes some of the Lab’s recent commentary of the subject of mobile / streaming solutions for Second Life, I indicated that I had contacted Linden Lab with a series of questions concerning the repository and what it might signify, and that I’d provide an update on receiving any reply.

Being so early into the work, the Lab declined to comment on all of the questions I asked, but here is what they did say via-email in responding to my enquiry:

As you point out, we discussed at our Town Hall events last year that we’re actively looking at ways to extend the reach of Second Life to new audiences including mobile platforms. For example, we’re in the early stages of work on an iOS companion app for Second Life.  

Right now we’re focused on getting a prototype out to our Residents, at which point we’ll be looking for feedback and suggestions. In the early stages, we will not be tying the app to a streaming service. However, we don’t have anything to formally announce yet about the specific features, capabilities, and availability.

– Brett Linden,  Second life Marketing Manager, via e-mail

Granted, it’s not a lot of information, but there are a couple of potentially interesting elements to the statement that might help contextualise things /  be indicative of some of the thinking still in place at the Lab. For example, the use of the term mobile platforms and noting that that the iOS work is offered as an example of this work.

This would perhaps suggests (and in answer to some of the questions asked following my original piece) that an Android client is still part of the Lab’s thinking. Certainly, it is something I’d anticipate, given both the popularity of the Android platform and the popularity of Lumiya and Mobile Grid Client*.

I also found the comment In the early stages, we will not be tying the app to a streaming service interesting, suggesting as it does that a future streaming solution is still very much part of the Lab’s broader thinking.

Again, this would make sense given the ongoing move of SL to the cloud. As well as providing the means to deliver SL as a whole to users, the cloud move further deepens the Lab’s relationship with AWS. This might in turn allow them to more positively and cost-effectively (to both the Lab and to users) supply a streaming service to mobile devices and web browsers at some point in the future. Perhaps this might even be part of a broader examination of their product offerings once Second Life is firmly established within a cloud-based infrastructure.

So, food for thought; in the meantime. I’ll continue to update on the iOS work as / if / when news emerges.

* I’m intentionally avoiding LightSight here, as it is questionable as to whether the app is still being maintained and the repeated complaints that users have been unable to log-in since the last update (October 2016).

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Lab working on a Second Life iOS client?

We’re in the early discussion stages, so Grumpity and I – Grumpity who heads-up Product here for Second Life – we talk quite a bit about what it would mean to invest in a mobile Second Life experience or product. So we’re trying to figure out how to validate the idea, and how much would it take to do it, and what could the value be to us and to customers to do it.

– Ebbe Altberg, April 20th, 2018 Town Hall meeting

I’m leading with the above quote because in the early hours of Wednesday, January 9th, 2019 (UK time), Whirly Fizzle directed me towards a Linden Lab code repository on Bit Bucket, which reveals that work has apparently started on an iOS client for Second Life.

The repository has been posted by Brad Linden, and shows some initial code segments Brad has been working on.

Brad Linden’s Bit Bucket repository for the iOS Client. Note I’ve redacted his given last name and some other information in respect of his privacy (although I understand it has also been posted to the forums)

That the Lab could start work on a mobile solution has in some ways been heralded over the course of the past 12 months, with Ebbe and senior SL managers openly discussing thoughts and possible options.

In his April 2018 discussion, for example, Ebbe pointed out that at that time, there were still issues the Lab wanted to address in trying to develop a mobile client, including what kind of investment it would be, both monetarily and resource-wise, and what the return on investment might be gained for the effort, as well as trying to figure out how such a client might be used.

I think the main question is if it would really primarily be a companion for existing users, so therefore increase the time spent in engagement and commerce. Or would it be an opportunity to actually reach users who don’t even have PCs and Macs, and would that be an addressable market, is something we have to wrap our heads around.

– Ebbe Altberg, April 20th, 2018 Town Hall meeting

By June, and the SL15B Meet the Lindens talks, it was clear that the Lab was thinking long and hard about the merits of both mobile and streaming solutions, with Grumpity and Oz openly discussing both.

– Grumpity and Oz Linden discussing mobile / streaming options at SL15B, June 2018

Both the question of how a mobile  / streamed solution might be developed and used was also a topic Ebbe returned to in his SL15B session in June 2018. Like Oz and Grumpity, he pointed to a previous streamed solution, SL Go (Grumpity and Oz referenced Bright Canopy, which was founded after SL Go had ceased to be available).

– Ebbe Altberg  discussing mobile / streaming options at SL15B, June 2018

Whether the repository indicates the Lab has now answered those questions and is ready to go ahead with an iOS client, or whether it is another aspect of testing the water and seeing what can be done, code-wise is unclear. I also freely admit to being insufficiently versed in code to guess whether this work is geared towards a dedicated iOS client, or part of a larger streaming option.

Turning to the man who is fronting the project, Brad Linden joined Linden Lab a the time of the Windlight integration over 11 years ago, and since that time has been focused on viewer development, specifically in the area of viewer stability.  Interestingly, the first indication that the Lab might be ready to move beyond talking about a mobile client came in December 2018, when Brad changed his Second Life Display Name from Brad Linden to Mobile Brad.

Brad Linden changed his display name to Mobile Brad in December 2018

I have contacted the Lab about the repository and what might be coming out of it placed with the Lab, and will update should a reply be received.

In the meantime, until such time as Linden Lab do clarify the work, it shouldn’t be assumed any kind of iOS client is about to be released in the immediate future. However, that the Lab is working on code would appear to be a positive sign, again given Ebbe’s words at the April Town Hall.

I hope will come to the conclusion to jump in soon; so more to come on that.

– Ebbe Altberg, April 20th, 2018 Town Hall meeting

Second Life: state of the grid, 2018

Black Bayou Lake; Inara Pey, October 2018, on FlickrBlack Bayou Lake  blog post

On December 30th, 2018, Tyche Shepherd tweeted a brief summary on the general size and state of the Second Life main grid.

The surface level reading in the summary is good: overall, the grid increased in size by 2.1% – the first such increase since 2011, leaving the grid at a total of 23,811 regions at the end of December 2018, compared to 23,337 at the end of 2017. However, where private regions are concerned – still the major revenue earner for the Lab – things were far more modest: just 14 regions up on the year, from 16,106 to 16,120 – a 0.1% growth. The rest came from Mainland, up 460 regions to 7691, thanks largely to the arrival of the SSP continent.

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

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
24,483 23,857 20,994 19,273 18,600
Increase
%age
Loss %age
Loss
%age
Loss
%age
Loss
%age
810 3% 626 2.56% 2863 12% 1719 8.2% 673 3.5%
 2015 2016 2017 2018
17,775 16,783 16,106 16,120
Loss   %age  Loss  %age Loss
%age
Increase %age
 
825 4.4% 992 5.6% 677 4.0% 14 0.1%

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 five-year period might be given as:

  • November 2013: US $3,857,000 (+/- US $52,000)
  • March 2016: down to US $3,385,000 ( +/- US $43,000)
  • December 2016: down to US $3,162,000 (+/- US $39,000)
  • December 2017: down to US$ 2,970,000 (+/- US $36,500)
  • December 2018: approximately US$ 2,970,000 (+/- US $36,500)

Note the December 2018 monthly tier level reflects a growth of just 14 regions (most likely mixed between Full and Homestead), having minimal overall impact based on the margin of error.

The increase in private region is likely – as Tyche points out – due to the Lab’s downward adjustment in private region fees, announced in June 2018, and which came into effect as from the start of July 2018. Certainly, this was followed by an upswing in demand totalling 69 private regions over two weeks, although it might be argued that overall, the fee changes can’t yet be judged to have moved the grid into a sustained level of growth.

Private estate numbers downs and ups in 2018 – click for full size

In fairness, the reduction in costs for private regions wasn’t going to result in a massive upswing in demand. For one thing, the 15% reduction in monthly tier for a Full region  – as I noted at the time – wouldn’t see people stampeding to get a region of their own. Thus, outside of events, etc., demand for land still largely lays with those in the land rental business, particularly given Homestead availability remains tied to having at least one Full region, and how well they are perceived as passing on the lower fees through reduced rental charges to customers, which itself could be complicated. Although all that said, it might have been hoped things came out a little stronger by year-end than has been the case.

So, what might we see in 2019 in terms of land?

Well, it’s unlikely Linden Lab will move towards another reduction so soon after that of July 2018, simply because more time will be required to analyse the overall outcome in terms of overall outcome. However, there are other things that will be forthcoming in 2019.

As noted, the largest growth in regions is the SSP continent (384 + a testing region). It’s no secret this is likely the new Linden Homes continent, due to come on stream in 2019. What is still to be seen is how they will be offered, how they might help generate revenue, and what effect they might have on the grid. For example, will they replace the existing Linden Homes entirely and be offered within the current Premium subscription package and ultimately intended to replace the existing Linden Homes continents? Will they form part of a new Premium subscription offering, sitting alongside the existing Linden Homes continents? If they are to completely replace the existing Linden Homes over time, what might be the logistics for doing so and for “retiring” the existing LH continents? Might we see more than one new Linden Homes continent deployed in the coming year?

2019 may well also see a large part of the Lab’s work in transitioning Second Life to the cloud. Even if this is completed by the end of the year (which is probably optimistic given the massive complexity of SL, but we’ll see), it’s also unlikely to lead directly to any adjustments to land fees or the release of new products, simply because, again as the Lab has indicated, they’ll need time to bed things in and ensure everything is running as anticipated and – equally importantly – experiment to see what  (if any) kind of product options might be available and how they might be priced.

For my part, I suspect the sine wave we’ve seen in the second half of 2019 will likely continue, undulating between losses and gains, with a possible bias towards the positive side of the line. But that said, I didn’t foresee a fee cut for private regions coming in 2018, and actually expected numbers for the year to decline (albeit far more slowly than previous years); so what do I know?  🙂 .

Related Links

Our Digital Selves: film festival nominee

via Monarch Film Festival

The Monarch Film Festival is an annual event held in Pacific Grove, California. It is intended to not only showcase the latest in International blockbuster achievements, but to also be a place where local filmmakers of any age can show their artistic vision on the big screen.

Among this year’s entrants in the Festival is Our Digital Selves: My Avatar is me, the documentary by Brenard “Draxtor Despres” Drax, the film focus on the work of Tom Boellstorff and Donna Z Davis (respectively Tom Bukowski and Tredi Felisimo in Second Life), who for three years were engaged in  studying the experiences of people with disabilities – visible and invisible – who are using immersive virtual spaces to represent themselves, possibly free of the shadow of any disability, engage with others and do things they may not be able to do in the physical world.

Released in May 2018, the film tells the story of 13 global citizens and their avatars as they transcend their various disabilities through artistic expression and making a home for themselves in the VR Metaverse – Second Life, Sansar and High Fidelity. You can read more about the film and Donna and Tom’s work in my articles: Our Digital Selves: living within a virtualised world (2018) and Exploring disability, new cultures and self in a virtual realm (2016).

As a part of this year’s Monarch Film Festival, Our Digital Selves is in the running for Best Documentary. As such, the film will be shown on Friday, December 7th, 2018: 5:35 PM, Pacific Time, And those wishing to attend in person can purchase tickets view the link at the start of this paragraph. For those who cannot see the film at the festival, it can be seen via Draxtor’s You Tube channel, and I’ve embedded it below as a reminder – if you’ve not see it before, now it your chance to catch up with a truly remarkable documentary.

The other nominees for Best Documentary at the festival are:

  • Moksha, by Jennifer Killian, a film that follows three Nepali women who have dedicated themselves to spreading the joy that mountain biking can give to women across the Himalayas.
  • Up to Snuff by  Mark Maxey, following the life of American musician and composer W.G. Snuffy Walden.
  • Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn? by Zachary Stauffer, recording the efforts of Nicole Van Dorn to discover what actually happened in the helicopter accident that killed her husband, Lt. Wes Van Dorn.
  • Rodents  of Unusual Size by Quinn Costello, Chris Metzler, and Jeff Springer, tracing the work of fisherman Thomas Gonzales as he faces the threat of hordes of monstrous 20 pound swamp rats that are eating up the coastal wetlands that protects Thomas and his town of Delacroix Island from hurricanes.

Congratulations to Drax and all involved in Our Digital Lives, and wishing them all the best for the film festival.

Related Links

With thanks to Eliot for the heads-up.

Lab to open-source Linden Realms code for creators

The re-vamped Linden Realms and rock monsters. Credit: Linden Lab

During the Content Creation User Group meeting on Thursday, November 29th, Oz Linden announced that Linden Lab will be open-sourcing the code used within the Linden Realms game to content / experience creators.

The aim of the move is to make the code available to (Premium) users wishing to build interactive experiences / games within Second Life, so they might study it, re-purpose elements from it, and even critique it.

The release, when it is made, will be of the latest iteration of Linden Realms, which was updated in October 2018 to provide a completely new look and offer a broader range of game elements. It is also supported by end-user documentation on how to play the game, which might also be useful to experience creators in generating their own supporting end-user games.

Making content like this available to a wider audience is something that has been requested on numerous occasions during Content Creation meetings. The move also fits into the broader pattern of the Lab involving creators and users in the development of capabilities within Second Life – as Vir Linden noted during the meeting when Oz made his announcement. Given that the code is to be open-sourced, it means that updates and improvements to it – or new capabilities / options added to it – could be contributed back to Linden Lab, and thus to others building experience-based games.

Part of the re-vamped Linden Realms. Credit: Linden Lab

The move is also potentially in keeping the Lab’s hope to increase the Second Life user-base. Games are an obvious means of attracting new users to a platform, and providing the means for creators to develop and run more comprehensive games using mechanisms that both work and which can potentially be extended and enhanced. Coupled with the means to bring users directly into said games – such as by the new user API and / or Second Life Place Pages (although the latter do perhaps require further enhancements themselves to be more practical) – they might come to assist in attracting new users. Time will tell on that.

It’s not clear   exactly when the code will be made available; as Oz linden noted, it requires careful checking to avoid the risk of code that could be exploited to the detriment of Second Life. Hopefully, there will be an official blog post when the code is made available to all.

LEA announces restructure

On Thursday, November 29th, 2018, the serving committee of the Linden Endowment for the Arts gave notices that the LEA will be undergoing restructuring, which will include – for the initial part of 2019 – the closure of the 20 Artist In Residence (AIR) regions currently held by the LEA (LEA 10 through 29).

The core part of the announcement reads as follows:

Come January 1st 2019, the Linden Endowment for the Arts, known as the LEA, will be temporarily closing its Artists in Residence regions (LEA 10 – 29) to allow for a major restructuring.

Over the last seven years, these regions have been open for artists who apply to build their dreams, each for a six month grant. We have seen many great installations here – and some that have attracted controversy.

The nine Core regions (which include the Theatre, the Sandbox and Photohunt) will remain for the present, and short-term grants will still be available in these regions for community-inspired arts projects.

Discussions between the present Committee and Linden Lab about the future form of the LEA are ongoing, but it is anticipated that there will be a new organising committee when the AiR regions re-open.

KÖMA – LEA 22, November 2018 – read here for more

While it is undeniable the LEA has done a huge amount of good for art and artists in Second Life, particularly those who would not otherwise be able to amount large-scale events, it has also not been without its own controversy and for – in some circles – gaining a reputation for being something of a “star chamber” in terms of the committee’s method of operation.

For example, in 2013, just 18 months after the LEA was formed under the tenure of Mark Kingdon as the Lab’s CEO, the former Community Manager, Mark Viale, was forced to step-in after public concerns and reported irregularities with how the LEA was being run. That resulted in the formation of the LEA Committee bylaws. Intended to offer transparency, the bylaws perhaps resulted in the opposite by allowing what were effectively closed-door meetings, few of which generated public transcripts or notes. The bylaws themselves became in part a subject of controversy in 2015, when they were quietly removed from the LEA website when the committee of the time was challenged under them, after a committee member griefed an art gallery (for the record, the bylaws can still be seen via  the Wayback machine).

Second Life 1999 / 2017 – The Story – LEA 25, 2017 – read more here

Given this, some might feel reviewing and revitalising the LEA is something that is well overdue; a view I would share. I would certainly hope that any new committee – allowing for any ideas Linden Lab may have – would seek to better engage with the broader arts communities across Second Life, and seek to go about its work with greater transparency with meetings and through the keeping of public records.

In the meantime, those wishing to apply to use one of the core regions, which are available for 3-month grants (longer by arrangement) can do so via the LEA Core Sim application page.