Tilia LLC gains strategic investment from J.P. Morgan

Tilia LLC, founded by Linden Research Inc., as a wholly-owned subsidiary specialising in virtual currencies and providing money services business solution to virtual platforms, has announced it has gained strategic investment from J.P. Morgan Payments, a part of the world’s largest bank (by market capitalisation), JPMorgan Chase.

Tilia has been running Second Life’s US $650 million dollar economy for the past seven years, handling over US $86 million is payments to users in the last 12 months alone. Tilia’s services have also been used by the likes of Sansar, Upland and Avatus, and leverages in partnerships with Unity (allowing Tilia’s API and services to be made available to Unity developers as an integrated end-to-end payment solution) and Applovin.

E. Drew Soinski, Senior Payments Executive, Managing Director at J.P. Morgan Payments joins the Board of Tilia LLC

While an (unspecified in dollar terms) minority investment, J.P. Morgan Payment’s involvement is liable to allow Tilia to increase pay-out methods and the number of currencies it can support, thus allowing it to provide a pay-out in local fiat currency for creators to pretty much anywhere credit cards work.

The deal has been in motion for almost a year, with effort being put into ensuring Tilia’s services are interoperable with those of J.P. Morgan Payments as well as structuring the overall financial elements of the deal. With its completion, E. Drew Soinski, Senior Payments Executive, Managing Director at J.P. Morgan Payments, has  joined Tilia’s board of directors, serving alongside Brad Oberwager, Raj Date and Aston Waldman, who is also the company’s CEO.

From Tilia’s perspective, the partnership means the company will be even better placed to serve the emerging stream of “metaverse”-related companies, providing a wide range of currency services.

Tilia is money into the metaverse. It’s money moved into the metaverse and money moved out of the metaverse. And why this is so important is because you cannot have this concept of the metaverse without a social economy. It is both the social aspect and the financial aspect. Those two things must work in harmony. To do money, you need some virtual token to make money work. Money has to be rock solid. That is JP Morgan. That’s the partnership. What’s the value of Tilia? You can’t build a metaverse without user-generated content. You can’t build a metaverse without social interaction. You can’t build a metaverse without some sort of financial token that allows people to build a world.

– Tilia Director (and Linden Lab Executive Chairman) Brad Oberwager to Dean Takahashi in Gamesbeat

He further noted that in strengthening Tilia’s ability to provide these services to platforms, J.P. Morgan Payments are helping to both fuel new economies that directly benefit creators participating in them, allowing such economies to step away from the route of revenue generation through the invasive use of data farming and advertising.

“This is a good thing when creators can make money. There are people around the world who make their living by building things in Second Life …  Here’s why I think it’s so important: these universes are social economies. If you don’t allow people to make money, if you don’t allow this economy to happen, if you don’t support creators, you’re going to have to rely on an advertising model to make your world work. That is a disaster. That would be the worst thing that could hit our society — an advertising-based metaverse.

– Tilia Director Brad Oberwager to Dean Takahashi in Gamesbeat

A great strength with Tilia is that it utilises virtual tokens rather than blockchain-powered crypto-currencies. This means that it is better placed to offer day-to-day virtual currency stability. Crypto-currencies are all too often treated as a speculative securities; they are therefore vulnerable to market volatility, going up and down in value by the day. Such volatility can potentially damage the foundations of any social economy using them.

Add to this Tilia now having such a well-regarded name within the financial markets / payments environment as a strategic partner further enhances Tilia’s standing and reputation – with Oberwager noting that new clients are already “lining up”. At the the same time, the partnership provides J.P. Morgan Payments with access to a market sector that might otherwise prove difficult to access.

More on the partnership can be found in the links below:

Linden Lab adds CMO + CISO roles “to support rapid growth”

Courtesy of Linden Lab

On Monday, May 2nd, 2022, Linden Lab announced it has added two new leadership roles: those of Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) – the first time that either role has been embodied within the company.

Interestingly, the news came not from the Lab (at the time of writing, the press release had yet to be officially posted) but via prnewswire.com. Both roles will embrace Second Life and Tilia, the Lab’s virtual economy payment processing platform.

Both roles will span across Linden’s full portfolio of businesses to support growth driven by the rapidly expanding consumer interest in metaverses and the technology platforms necessary to support them as well as other virtual worlds and marketplaces.

– Linden Research Inc.

Steven Feuling – Linden Lab’s new CMO

Taking on the role of CMO is Steven Feuling, a 30-year marketing veteran and former CEO. He has worked with and for some of the world’s best known brands including Microsoft, Bloomberg LLC, The Walt Disney Company, 20th Century Fox, E*Trade and General Motors, as well as several successful start-ups.

Having held senior roles with clients, agencies and media partners, most recently as President of MDC Partners’ Assembly, he offers a unique perspective to support both Second Life and Tilia. In his role as CMO, Feuling will oversee all marketing and communications efforts across the Lab’s portfolio.

Peter Capraro, joining the Lab as the new CISO, has spent nearly half of his career focused on financial services cybersecurity. Most recently, he was the deputy CISO at fintech start-up, Akoya, a spin-off from Fidelity Investments, and held security roles at Bank of America for 10 years.

Capraro’s wealth of experience within the cyber security space is seen as “instrumental” to the Lab’s information security and compliance initiatives, which span both Tilia and Second Life. In his role as CISO, he will serve as the strategic leader responsible for maintaining a corporate-wide information security programme to protect information assets, and ensure security for the company and it users.

Steven and Peter are filling critical roles for Linden Lab, as the virtual world landscape takes front stage again. Each of their respective expertise at both successful start-ups and world-renowned companies will have a tremendous impact on our leadership teams for both Second Life and Tilia.

– Brad Oberwager, Executive Chairman of Linden Research Inc

With thanks to Cube Republic for the link.

Linden Lab announces Tilia partners with Unity “to power virtual economies”

Linden Lab’s Tilia services are now available for Unity developers via the Unity Asset Store

On Wednesday, January 26th, 2022, Linden Lab announced that its subsidiary company, Tilia Inc., the licensed money transmitter and end-to-end payments platform, has reached an agreement with Unity for the Tilia’s API and services to be made available to Unity developers as an integrated end-to-end payment solution.

Referring to the agreement as a partnership, the announcement from Linden Lab notes that Unity has vetted the Tilia API to ensure it is suitable and optimised for the latest version of the Unity Editor, and developers building in Unity can now access Tilia’s API through the Unity Asset Store to enable in-game and in-world economies, allowing their users to make and receive payments, and even exchange in-game tokens for real money.

This is potentially the biggest partnership deal Tilia has thus far made (customers until now being reported as Second Life, Sansar and Upland – although ” NFT marketplaces” are also listed as being partners), potentially opening Tilia’s three services – TiliaDirect (in-world payment processing), TiliaWallet (capabilities for “stored value” for assets & enables user-to-user transactions) and TiliaPay (enables the redemption of tokens for fiat (real) money, allowing players to cash out) – to Unity’s entire community of developers.

Many of today’s top games and virtual worlds are built using the powerful Unity real-time 3D development platform and increasingly developers want to incorporate significant virtual economy elements that allow for in-game or in-world user transactions. We are proud to bring an end-to-end payment solution available to the Unity Asset Store, and we look forward to seeing how Unity developers will incorporate Tilia.

Brad Oberwager, Executive Chairman of Linden Research, Inc.

It is perhaps worthwhile noting that this announcement does not in any way mean that Unity is buying or otherwise investing in Linden Lab / Second Life or that they are about to do so (a question I have already been asked). This is about leveraging the power of Tilia Inc., and the services it provides to deliver them to Unity developers who wish to utilise them and, in doing so, provide further revenue streams back to Tilia / Linden Lab.

For further context, please refer to the Press Release from Linden Lab in full.

A further look at Tilia and their new client, Upland

via Linden Lab / Tilia

In preparing my piece on Tilia and the changes coming to US dollar transactions related to Second Life (see: Tilia Pay to handle all Second Life USD-related transactions), I had the opportunity to take a look at the updated website for Tilia Inc., Linden Lab’s wholly owned subsidiary.

For those who may not be familiar with it, Tilia Inc, was established by Linden Lab in 2014, and focused on payments and the compliance work associated with operating virtual economies, including Second Life and Sansar. And now, as shown within the updated Tilia website, it is to provide its services to its first client not to have a direct link to Linden Lab, the property trading game Upland.

For those unfamiliar with Upland (I was until I looked them up), available via browsers and on Android and iOS, it is a trading game in which players buy, develop, sell and / or trade virtual properties that are based on real-world addresses.

The Upland… mascot(?)

Currently focused on the city of San Francisco, Upland is built on the EOS blockchain protocol. It entered a closed beta in June 2019, which ran through until the end of that year. During that period, the company added their own virtual currency – UPX – in August of that year, which users could collect as a reward and in return for collecting properties.

At the start of 2020, the game entered an open beta available to any wishing to play it, and added the ability for users to purchase UPX using selected cryptocurrencies.

The partnership with Tilia means that from later in 2020, Upland will be adding the ability for users to trade their virtual properties (and, I understand, goods associated with those properties) for fiat money (this is, US dollar values), through the Upland marketplace and to cash-out those US dollars, with Tilia Pay being the mechanism by which they do so.

In add the use of fiat money is seen as providing a further layer of value to the game, as Upland’s co-founder Dirk Lueth explained to VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi in an article that went to press while I was drafting this piece:

By using fiat currency, Upland can stay in compliance with money transmission regulations in the U.S. And in this way, players can actually own the digital goods and properties they buy in Upland … If the game ever shuts down, the players will theoretically be able to take their property and move it elsewhere, in contrast to other games where players don’t really own the objects that they build or trade.

It is Tilia’s ability to provide services fully in compliance with U.S. regulatory requirements, including anti-money laundering, sanctions monitoring, and fraud prevention that could well make it a popular potential partner among companies offering their users to buy / sell virtual goods, as it provides said companies with the ability for their users (and themselves ) to profit in real terms from such virtual transactions.

I’d actually first speculated on the potential for Tilia being used by companies other than the Lab itself back in November 2015. It was was a subject I returned to again in July 2019, again referencing comments made to me in 2015 by the Lab’s former Director of Global Communications, Peter Gray:

Peter’s [2015] statement struck me as interesting in that its structure seemed to suggest that supporting Second Life and Sansar (then still “Project Sansar”) was part of, but also separate to, the overall goal of presenting Tilia as an entity focused on providing a robust payments and compliance system for operating (and managing) virtual economies to third parties.

– This blog, July 2019

More recently, Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg made it clear we would be seeing a growing client list for Tilia at a couple of public events, include the 2020 VWBPE Above The Book session in commenting about Sansar’s future, he also referenced Tilia.

We’re partners with them [Wookey Project Corp] because they’re using Tilia for payments / payouts just like Second Life is doing, and Tilia will have more and more customers over time. We have several of them lined up to be integrated to get those payment services.

– Ebbe Altberg, March 2020

As such, it will be interesting to see who else opts to leverage Tilia / Tilia Pay in support of their platform / game / product in the coming months / year.

In terms of Tilia itself, the website offers a view of the management team – perhaps the first since Vick Forcella helped me with digging into the early days of the company as a Linden Lab subsidiary in November 2015.  Back then, Tilia’s management team was pretty broad, encompassing multiple members of the Lab’s management team, and a small board of three.

Today, the management team is down to three people – Aston Waldman (the Lab’s CFO), Emily Stonehouse (the Lab’s Chief Compliance Officer) and Ray Johnson (the Lab’s VP of Engineering). Aston Waldman is also a member of Tilia’s board, alongside of Kelly Conway (Linden Lab’s former General Council), and fintech compliance and product leader Ben Duranske (the only “non-Linden”, so to speak).

The Tilia Management team and board. Top: Aston Waldman (Tilia CEO and board member as well as Linden Lab’s CFO); Emily Stonehouse (Chief Compliance Officer at Tilia Inc and LL); Ray Johnson (VP Engineering for LL and Tilia) – the management team. Bottom: board members Kelly Conway and Ben Duranske

Also included on the site are a couple of press articles that cover the threat of money laundering through on-line games, helping to further explain the value of services such as those provided by Tilia, and both of which make for interesting reading.

I’ll continue to report on Tilia as news becomes available.

Related Links

 

Second Life: Tilia Pay to handle all USD-related transactions

via Linden Lab

In July 2019, Tilia Incorporated, a wholly owned subsidiary of Linden Lab, officially took over the management of activities such as processing credit out of second Life (that is, withdrawing funds as US dollar balances the platform), and and US dollar balances held by Second Life users (see: Tilia has officially launched operations with Second Life*, August 2019).

Now, in an expansion of Tilia’s role with Second Life, Linden Lab has announced that as from Monday, May 26th, Tilia Inc, via its Tilia Pay service, will be managing all US dollar transactions related to Second Life, including those involving conversion of funds to other currencies.

This means that, as from Monday, May 26th, anyone:

  • Making a payment through one of their indicated payment methods – credit card, debit card, PayPal, or Skrill (as indicated on their Second Life account), such as purchasing Linden dollars
  • Adding a new payment method to their Second Life account

Will be consenting to the Tilia Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

The change is being driven to both comply with regulatory requirements across a number of U.S. states and to leverage he enhanced fraud and money laundering safeguards that Tilia Pay provides.

The important things to note here are:

  • All Second Life users should be familiar with the Tilia Terms of Service (and Not just those who have either a US dollar balance associated with their account and / or cash-out money from SL).
  • Users will not be explicitly asked to confirm their agreement with the Tilia ToS / Privacy Policy. Rather, when paying with a payment method (e.g. credit card) or adding a new payment method to an account, a users will see text stating that by proceeding with the transaction, they are agreeing to both the ToS and Privacy Policy.
  • This move does not:
    • Introduce any new fees.
    • Require users to submit any additional information to Tilia Incorporated or Linden Lab.
    • Change how L$ transactions are conducted in the Viewer or in the Marketplace.

Readers are asked to read the Lab’s official blog post on the change for further information relating to it. In addition, questions or concerns should be directed to the forum thread on the matter – questions cannot be officially answered through this blog.

Related Links

Sansar’s sale and Tilia Inc: Ebbe Altberg reveals more on both

Speaking at the Above the Book session at the 2020 Virtual Worlds Brest Practices in Education conference on March 26th, and again during the Lab Gab episode 19 segment that aired on Friday, March 27th, Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg revealed more about the about the sale of Sansar and the future of that platform. Also during the VWBPE session, he revealed something of the future path for Tilia Inc, the Lab’s subsidiary company.

The following is an amalgam of his comments during both sessions, complete with a quotes, audio extracts from the VWBPE Above the Book session, references to source material and supporting links.

Sansar’s Sale

Summary

The decision to sell Sansar came, at least in part, from the recognition that as a platform, it lay at a very different stage of its evolution compared to Second Life, requiring different investment and resourcing¹.

With the decision made, the Sansar team were apparently given the freedom to attempt to raise money / seek interested parties in order to keep the platform going (hence, perhaps, Ebbe Altberg’s February 12th comment that the former Sansar team were involved in discussions concerning the platform’s future – see the quote in Sansar: lay-offs, rumours, and confusion, February 12th, 2020)².

As it is, with the sale of Sansar, some 30 members of the team have (so far?) received offers to join Wookey Project Corp, and as of the March 27th Lab Gab session, “a bunch of them” are back to work¹. In support of this, I noted in a recent blog post that Sansar’s Community Manager, Galileo, appears to already be part of the Wookey Sansar team, having posted the Sansar blog post referenced below. Further, both Sheri Bryant and Julia Munck, formerly Sansar’s General Manager and Sansar’s VP of Product respectively at Linden Lab, have departed the company – presumably to join Wookey Project Corp.

It appears that the focus for the platform will potentially remain on it being a platform for large scale virtual events in the music / entertainment sectors, and that both desktop and VR support will be continued – although obviously, strategy and direction are now the remit of Sansar’s new owners.

Linden Lab will remain a “partner”, inasmuch as Tilia will continue to be used for Sanasr Dollar transactions and fiat money payouts (see more on Tilia below)¹ ².

Ebbe’s Comments – VWBPE Above the Book

To make the long story short about Sansar, we at Linden Lab decided to sell it and to give the team the chance to go raise funds and go it alone. I think it’s easier for them to go raise money as a separate stand-alone company rather than as a part of Linden Lab. Second Life is a very established, profitable, product and we kind-of had a start-up inside of an established, profitable company. And it was actually easier for them, I think, to raise money as a standalone, rather than as a part of Linden Lab.

So … the staff that worked on Sansar are all getting offers by the new entity to come back and start working on Sansar again, and I think they’ve started this week, so I’m super happy that the product and the technology and the team all get a chance to continue … and it makes it easier for Linden Lab and Sansar to both succeed, I think, going forward. I’m happy for the way things ended up in the end.

References

  1. Lab Gab – 0:40-3:00.
  2. VWBPE 2020 Above the Book – 49:55-51:47.

Additional Links

Tilia Comments

We are all likely familiar with Tilia Inc., Linden Lab’s subsidiary that handles all micro-transactions and payments /payouts related to Linden Dollars and Sansar Dollars, and which manages the Lab’s compliance with regulations relating to its role as a Money Transmitter / Money Services Business (MSB).

Tilia officially launched on Thursday August 1st, 2019, having been formally introduced to SL users in July 2019 – although as I noted at the time, SL and Sansar users may have had some awareness of its existence as the Tilia Inc., logo had been on both the SL and Sansar web pages related to L$ and S$ account purchases and Sansar account management for some time. For my part, I’d been speculating about the company since November 2015, and did so again in July 2019, when I noted that Tilia appeared to be geared towards providing its services to other companies.

I first ruminated on Tilia being a means for Linden Lab to offer virtual economy solutions in July 2019, as a result of the (fairly obvious!) clue on the Tilia home page

Whilst speaking at the VWBPE Above the Book event, Ebbe indicated that with the sale of Sansar, Wookey Project Corp is effectively Linden Lab’s first customer for Tilia’s services, as the latter will continue to provide payment / payout capabilities for those using Sansar and the Sansar Dollar.

In addition, he also indicated more customers for Tilia are on the way:

We’re partners with them [Wookey Project Corp] because they’re using Tilia for payments / payouts just like Second Life is doing, and Tilia will have more and more customers over time. We have several of them lined-up to be integrated to get those payment services.

No specific details on which companies are planning to use  Tilia, I’ll hopefully have more as they are announced.