Their world, their imagination – the second life of Linden Labs

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes —

Isn’t the new theme for I Rez looking great? It’s cleaner, feels more up to date, and more representative of what we’re doing here and where we’re going. Speaking of website redesigns, I’m sure that if you’re a Second Life user, by now you’ve had a wander over to the new Linden Labs website? They’ve had a makeover too.

A few bloggers have chucked in their two cents on Linden Labs’ two new product launches. They’ve called them derivative of other products out there and not having much in common with the Second Life that many of us know and love. Others have pointed out that the company has decided to rebrand itself as a “maker of creative spaces”, which is telling in itself.

A friend of mine pointed out to me that the Second Life page on the Linden Labs website displays the headline “The pioneering virtual world that millions of people around the world have enjoyed.” This headline contrasts significantly with the more future-oriented Patterns page, that has the headline: “Imagine a 3D universe of creativity…”. It is also very different from the Creatorverse page that features the headline “Set your creations in motion.”

While it’s undeniable that Second Life has existed for 9 years and is no longer new, the headline Linden Labs chose to spark a new user’s interest in Second Life sounds a bit like an old grey-bearded man describing a theme park well past its prime. It seems that Linden Labs are more excited about their two new products, which are all about building and gaming. It’s only natural that the shiny new toys that get all the attention on Christmas morning.

I’ve read several posts, and comments to the above posts, that view the introduction of these products as a positive step towards diversification which may lead to a stronger Linden Labs, not mainly reliant on 500 land barons to keep it afloat. From my very limited perspective, I tend to agree that diversification is a reasonably good business move for Linden Labs. But will it be a good move for current Second Life users?

So what might the second life of Linden Labs be like?

Do you imagine a new Linden Lab focused on fixing, developing and maintaining the Second Life most of us have come to love – a place to re-identify, to explore, to meet and socialise with heaps of really diverse people, and to have fun with each other as we live out our Second Lives?

Or, will new Linden Labs mainly work in favour of tailoring their product to the more lucrative gamer or content creator, effectively abandoning Second Life as a cash cow that perennially provides positive cash flows, which is allocated to other divisions within Linden Labs, like the ones they are now launching?

Time will tell if they do one or the other, or impossibly, both.

The Second Life of Linden Lab

The Second Life Tab of the new Linden Labs website featuring an image from the Hosoi Ichiba cluster

As a postscript, my recent visit to the Linden Lab website was not without its fair dose of irony, when I noticed that they were using a well-known piece of user-generated content for one of their image sliders (see above). Yes, that’s Hosoi Ichiba’s Japan Kanto Sim, that visitors to this blog will no doubt recognise as the poster sim that not only represents one of the best places to visit in Second Life, but was also the subject of a few posts about it being at risk as a result of their inability to pay tier. As a result of restructuring, that particular piece of user-generated content pictured above no longer exists by the way, and now serves as an example of the decay we’ve seen in Second Life as more and more sims are lost.

Is it just a little bit lazy that Linden Labs has chosen to feature a sim that no longer exists in Second Life as an example of their greatest achievement? It all just seems a tad out of touch, doesn’t it? As a private company that needn’t listen or answer to any of us users (except perhaps the 1% that own 75% of the current land base), what Linden Labs decide to do with Second Life is up to no one else but Linden Labs. After all, it’s their world, their imagination

4 Responses to “Their world, their imagination – the second life of Linden Labs”

  1. Yordie Sands
    2012/09/21 at 18:04 #

    I’m so glad you wrote this piece.

    Unfortunately, I doubt anyone in Linden Lab even knows about those tense days when it looked like that content would be gone forever.

    “Their world, their imagination…” really stings for some of those who actually built and pay for the “their world”, their Second Life.

    I read a comment today on a blog, the gentleman remarked that he pays $300 a month to lease his BMW. And it’s comments like that, that drive home this tier debate for me. I’ve been wondering about the economics. It seems to me that if you bought an i7 server and rented a co-lo server with software needed to run three instances of SL (I believe 3 instances is correct), the ROI would be astronomical. Tiers of $900 a month on one server in one co-lo center. But to be fair, there’s also the cost of those SL databases, maintenance personnel, development staff, executives and such.

    However, I’ve had chats recently with a variety of well meaning people who are dug in on their opinion that SL is fine the way it is, one even asserts that SL is a “success”. There’s no point in trying to sway that kind of opinion, but success isn’t something you earn and once earned you’ve earned it you are success forever.

    SL is in decline an people like Harvey and yourself have plenty of good ideas about what needs to be done, or at the very least have a better ideas than the onese coming out of Lab boardroom.

    • Canary Beck
      2012/10/01 at 11:06 #

      Staggering isn’t it?

      Harvey and I have come to similar conclusions, that the actual costs related to hosting a sim (accounting for scale and including related personnel and physical real estate, etc) is most likely between 20 to 40 bucks.

      I am by no means against making a profit, but there really is a difference between good profits and bad profits. Good profits come from committed customers who stay loyal, say great things about you to their friends and even evangelise on your behalf. Bad profits are from people that feel they’re not getting value and complain about you to any one that will listen.

      I have rarely been a willing customer of a company that has been at the butt of so much derision. What I’ve found, is that even when a company fails to deliver the value you expect, you might give them more credit than is rationale, if that company demonstrates they are listening, rectify their mistakes, and has your interests at heart.

      I don’t see that here. Instead, I see a company that has no clear direction, a clear history of ignoring its customers, and is taking steps towards a future that really doesn’t gel with my interests at all.

      It’s interesting that you mention Steve Jobs in relation to one of your posts about Linden Lab a while back. Back in the day when Apple decided to change their name from Apple Computer to just Apple, there was a similar outcry from the early adopters. What are they doing with our Apple? Why did they drop the word “computer” from the name? Where are they going with this? As it turned out, Apple became the most successful company in the world by introducing iTunes, the iPod, the iPhone and now the iPhone. Somehow, they managed to continue to innovate the two products that built their company, the Mac and the OS. It turns out, they knew better, and today, no one would argue that Apple is not “successful”. So, isn’t this just taking a page from a successful company’s notebook?

      Or, is it hubris?

      Is this company ready to innovate outside of the platform they’ve built? Have they demonstrated that they have such an amazing success on their hands, with an oversupply happy customers that would fight tooth and nail to defend their honour? Can you really blame them for doing what other brilliantly successful companies have done to great effect?

      Hmmm, what I would say to them is this: “Linden Lab: I knew Apple. I’ve been a fan of Apple since I first put my hand on a mouse. Apple is my friend. And Linden Lab, you’re no Apple.”

  2. Vaneeesa Blaylock
    2012/09/22 at 12:09 #

    I suppose learning that someone like Bush or Obama wasn’t really concerned with rebuilding New Orleans because they were focused on an exciting, new project called “Australia,” would be a little disappointing… especially if you’d been living in a temporary shelter for over a year…

    Still, I don’t think you can really blame Linden Lab or Blizzard or any other company for wanting to have more than 1 product, no matter how successful it may be.

    Actually, the real and legitimate issues that You, Yordie, and so many others bring up are… haha… why I love WordPress so much!

    Unlike Second Life, no one is worried about Facebook being on the brink of extinction, still, I bristle at the idea that our data, our online DNA is making one corporation so staggeringly rich… and in return… we get the opportunity to share stuff on the Internet!

    With WordPress, we’re still dependent that peeps like The WordPress Foundation, Automattic, WP Engine, Woo Themes, et al, continue to thrive, still, it’s a powerful platform on which I believe our content is as close to ours as it can be in a virtual networked space.

    Our content in Second Life is dicier… even in I/O friendlier worlds like OS Grid or InWorldz, it’s still harder to really have confident control of your creations.

    With a DXF or DAE file from Maya, 3DS Max, et al, you can feel fairly confident that you “own” your creation, but without an environment and avatar rich world like Second Life to drop it in that doesn’t mean so much.

    What I’m trying to say is that I feel a whole lot more empowered and emancipated when I share my ideas here on iRez vs Facebook (although as the “New Town Square” I DO respect Facebook’s reach and will always “pimp my stuff” there)

    BUT

    If we think of Second Life as analogous to Facebook… there is no VW “WordPress.” I love and respect OS Grid, InWordz, Blue Mars, but I don’t think they’re it. Maybe Cloud Party, time will tell. haha, maybe it’s Minecraft.

    Since I don’t know of a platform that offers the opportunity that SL does, I don’t mean to bury my head in the sand, but I’m inclined just to appreciate the richness of the experience for as long as it exists. Am I just listening to Nero fiddle as Rome burns? IDK. But so far, except for a lot of hand wringing, and yes lots of creativity coming and going, you can still do all the things you ever did in that world.

    Art in all media, as Kat recently wrote in her Ephemera post, is, well, ephemeral.

    • Canary Beck
      2012/10/01 at 10:38 #

      Hey Vanessa. Thanks for your comment, I’m just now peering above my duvet covers to respond to comments left on my posts over the past two weeks!

      Anyway, you bring up a good analogy in respect to content when comparing Second Life to Facebook. The way I approach content creation or time donations in Second Life is similar to the way I might approach investing in any non-commercial relationship. For example, if a family member, friend or partner were to ever ask me for a loan, l am very much aligned with the idea of never lending any money to that I cannot afford to lose. Of course, I’d love to see the money back, but I probably won’t sever the relationship if I don’t see it back, if that makes sense.

      In Second Life, I go in with eyes open, lending my talents and efforts as it were, without any real expectation of ever seeing any real return. This is why I have aimed for a cost neutral approach to my Second Life from day one, and with the exception of the past year, have never put a nickel in that I haven’t earned inworld. Still, I limit my investments (in time and money) to the category of “mad money”. Totally discretionary. Because I know, it’s all ephemeral, and I am locked-in.

      Under the unwritten rules of this psychological contract, I expect that Linden Lab will continue to support, maintain, and (even) improve the platform, so that I can enjoy the fruit of the time and money I invest in my time there. It’s like any relationship really, there exists what one might consider an emotional bank account.

      The trouble begins, when one party in the relationship gives and gives, and the other takes and takes. The emotional bank account, on my side at least, goes further and further into overdraft, until it becomes untenable.

      At this point, several questions arise: am I willing to keep giving to this relationship, knowing full well that my “partner”, as it were, is no longer committed to funding the emotional bank account? Have they lost interest in me, or begun to take me for granted? Are they preoccupied with other potential relationships perhaps? Is there a younger or more attractive model competing for the object of my affection? Is this a fight worth fighting, and can I win?

      I dunno, maybe I’m taking my relationship with Linden Lab too personally. Maybe I’m asking too much. It’s happened before, and it will likely happen again.