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Linden Lab clams up on metrics

Tateru Nino has a great story on how Linden Lab will no longer be providing SL economy metrics:

Essentially, over the years, the figures have been progressively stripped of the supporting data that gave them meaning, and now hardly anyone can understand what’s left. That kind of makes it a waste of time to extract the data and generate the reports in the first place.

Of course, the other side of the coin is this: When a company stops reporting some key statistic, it is almost always because the figure suddenly has gone South or otherwise looks bad. The Lab has stripped key items out of the reports on a number of occasions, as I mentioned, and it doesn’t take any great stretch of the imagination to figure that they were taken out because those figures were going sour, or that they appeared to be going sour because other data that would have aided in the interpretation of the figures was absent.

The latter tends to have a bit of a snowball effect. You stop publishing a metric that might be misinterpreted as bad, and then eventually its absence makes another metric misinterpretable as bad, until you’re left with a small set of metrics that don’t tell anyone anything terribly useful.

Here’s a post I did in May 2007, showing how far the transparency has declined. Here’s hoping this decision isn’t indicative of a more fundamental decline.

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Linden Lab’s take on 2011… and 2012

Whilst catching up on news around the place, I noticed this post from Linden Lab CEO Rod Humble:

As we head into the new year, I’d like to share some highlights from 2011, as well as a glimpse of what’s to come in 2012.

First, if you haven’t already, I hope you will explore our recently launched Linden Realms, the Lab’s first-ever game prototype. For newbies, it is a very simple way to earn L$, so hop on over and start collecting gems.

One of the key goals of Linden Realms was to learn more about what tools Residents could use to develop richer experiences in Second Life — and boy, did we learn a lot! In Q1 2012 , we will be releasing new tools used to develop Linden Realms, which will allow Residents to create even richer original experiences in Second Life. To prevent abuse of these tools, we will introduce a “creators” program in which verified members will be given access to these very powerful capabilities.

In 2011, we also made strides to improve usability in Second Life. We launched a new version of the Viewer, which allows you to customize the user interface for a more flexible workspace with drag-and-drop buttons, among other key new features. The new Viewer also makes it easier for new Residents to discover essential, basic functions — so, with the simple click of a button, you can change your appearance, go to a new location, find inworld merchants or head on over to the Second Life Marketplace.

Speaking of customization, since we deployed Mesh earlier this year, we’ve seen more than a 16 percent adoption rate. I expect this to continue to grow at a strong pace as more and more Residents take advantage of all the features available to allow you explore Second Life and create even more engaging, exciting experiences.

This past year, we also improved the customer experience with expanded Premium subscription benefits that include virtual gifts, as well as exclusive areas where you can go and create. One of the other benefits of being a Premium member is ownership of a Linden Home, which I’m pleased to report has reached an historic high. For those of you who have enjoyed owning a Linden Home and are looking for a little more real estate, you can check out what is available on the Second Life Land Store and through private-estate purchases and rentals found through Second Life Search. In 2012, you can expect to see more value added to Premium in the form of additional features and content. If you are not yet a Premium member, you can sign up here!

In 2012, the primary engineering focus of Q1 will be server side performance and fixing bugs. In fact, you may have noticed one upgrade deployed this week which should reduce the number of restarts and increase performance for all regions. This kind of work makes for a poor headline, but has enormous payoff for the customer experience. We will also continue to invest in and focus on our customer support, reducing response times and increasing satisfaction.

For landowners, existing land tier pricing will not go up in 2012. In addition, our service and quality focus in 2012 also means that we will be delivering features and policies that we believe will significantly assist merchants and landowners in running a business more profitably.

For creators our first new feature for 2012 will be pathfinding. Because worlds feel most vibrant when they are full of life, one of our next focuses for Second Life is the ability to make high-quality “life” within it. So in 2012, we will be rolling out more advanced features that will allow the creation of artificial life and artificial people to be much smoother. For starters, in Q1, we’ll unveil a new, robust pathfinding system that will allow objects to intelligently navigate around the world while avoiding obstacles. Combined with the tools from Linden Realms this will make the polished creation of full MMORPG’s or people/animal simulators within Second Life easier and of high quality.

In addition to delivering new features and increasing our support for Second Life, we will be launching some completely different products next year not related to Second Life. Some of them will be very experimental, but all will fit within our company’s proud history of enabling creativity, which I hope may interest some of you.

Thank you again for being a customer have a great holiday and a Happy New Year!

So overall, some interesting stuff on the horizon including some non-Second Life products from Linden Lab. I’d be pretty happy if even half of the Second Life changes above were implemented, so here’s hoping.

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Philip Rosedale spruiks new venture, talks down Second Life?

If you’ve followed the exploits of Linden Lab’s former CEO and current Chairman over the past year or so, you’ll know he’s been off creating something new. The New York Times has run a profile on that venture, Coffee and Power.

That venture seems interesting enough and leverages heavily the virtual currency model used for Second Life, in this case to purchase or receive payment for goods or services.

It’s very similar to a bunch of other services, though it seems a solid community is already being built up. Whether you need a garden gnome restored, someone to crochet an octopus for you or a Powerpoint presentation created for you, it can all be purchased.

What interested me most however, was this paragraph:

While he is still chairman of Linden Lab, the company that created Second life, Mr. Rosedale talks about that venture in the past tense.

“The problem with creating an immersive 3-D experience is that it is just too involved, and so it’s hard to get people to engage,” he said. “Smart people in rural areas, the handicapped, people looking for companionship, they love it. But you have to be highly motivated to get on and learn to use it.”

Assuming the quote is accurate, is that the message you want coming from the Chairman of your Board? There’s nothing in the statement I’d disagree with factually, but it still seems an interesting approach from someone who’s been aligned with Second Life from the beginning.

Over to you: a skewed story or an indication of malaise at the very top of Linden Lab?

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Will Wright joins Linden Lab Board of Directors (and a quick Sims Social review)

I had to have a bit of a smile when I saw Tateru Nino’s story on The Sims’ creator Will Wright joining the Linden Lab board.

Over the past week I’ve been playing The Sims Social, the Facebook-based version of the game. I’d argue it’s actually one of the least social versions of the game in that there is no live interaction with your Facebook friends and it’s a flurry of more traditional Facebook Wall posts and messages between your friends to achieve key parts of the game.

Not surprisingly with a Facebook-based social game, there’s a heavy push towards virtual currency (SimCash), and it’s not cheap:

Sure, you can play most aspects of the game without buying SimCash (there’s also Social Points and Simoleons that you accumulate and spend), but it takes an active effort to play that way. I can’t blame Electronic Arts for wanting to make money, but I think the slant is too heavy. There’s plenty of depth in the game although there’s a heavy feeling of the MMO grind or familiar endless Farmville grind you’ll be very used to. That classic Sims humour is still present and overall I’m enjoying playing although I think that interest may wane fairly quickly.

Anyway, back to Will Wright. He obviously has no active role with The Sims anymore and I wasn’t able to find any direct comments he’s made on The Sims Social, so I hope he’ll not be part of a drive to implement such a constraining social model on Second Life. I’m more assuming he’ll bring some new ideas that don’t rely on tried and true models – Second Life needs to remain unique whilst improving / evolving. The more brain-power on the Board to help that along the better.

That said, if Simlish becomes the new primary language of Second Life, I’m leaving.

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Linden Lab CEO: enter the bot armies!

Linden Lab CEO Rod Humble has posted an update to Second Life residents on progress and future plans. Have a read for yourself in full here, but the most interesting part for me was this:

Over the next few months (with testing most likely starting in December), we will be rolling out a series of more advanced features. These will make the creation of artificial life and artificial people much smoother. For starters, we’ll unveil a new, robust pathfinding system that will allow objects to intelligently navigate around the world avoiding obstacles. Imagine being able to create advanced pets, creatures or even a living town where non-player characters are walking about. Combined with the experience tools I mentioned above, it should soon be possible to create more advanced MMORPG’s or interactive experiences which use AI right within Second Life.

It’s a good enhancement in so many ways, and its timing is good with the unveiling of improved AI world navigation capabilities for Unity 3.5. It certainly keeps Linden Lab in the game and provides some interesting content creation opportunities currently not available.

Of course, this story’s title is tongue in cheek but it fits this announcement as no doubt someone will use the new features for nefarious purposes…

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Linden Lab CEO: we’re growing but we’re not sure why

Another year, another Second Life Community Convention. Last year it was Philip Rosedale addressing the convention. This year it’s Rod Humble and today he spent 45 minutes talking about his initial time at Linden Lab and his thoughts on the success and future of Second Life and answering questions. He starts off by emphasising that right now, there are still 16-thousand new signups per day (although no confirmation on how many have stuck with it a month later) and the challenge of battling the stereotypes around Second Life’s ‘decline’. There’s also a bunch of announcements (definitely evolutionary rather than revolutionary ones), so have a look/listen for yourself. The first 18 minutes are the speech, the rest is Q&A:



Video streaming by Ustream

Overall it seemed a solid speech, albeit a little scattered at times. Without sounding too negative, I did feel a strong sense of deja vu to Philip Rosedale’s speech a year ago: a commitment to improve things with first user experience, customer service and lag. With the relative lack of transparency around metrics compared to the ‘good old days’, it’s always difficult to measure success. That means that all we can hope for is that the 16K signups a day manage to convert to more long-term users.

On the title of this story: I think the fact that Linden Lab still don’t have a grasp on why Second Life continues to succeed is actually a good thing. It keeps everyone on their toes and hopefully avoids too much groupthink at Linden Lab. I think if Second Life ever becomes a truly known quantity, its days will definitely be numbered.

Other perspectives on Rod Humble’s speech

1. Bay Sweetwater – Live blogging Rod Humble vs what I’d love to hear

2. Honour McMillan – Attending SLCC 2011 Virtually in Second Life

3. Sylvie Dale – Usability, customer service will be key for Linden Lab in 2011
4. Post your own perspectives in comments!

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First quarter 2011 results for Second Life: steady sailing

Linden Lab late last week released their user metrics and Second Life economy analysis for the first quarter of 2011. Every time I cover this I’m reminded of how much more substantive these statistics used to be, but here’s what we’ve got to work with now:

New user registrations: stagnant to a minor decline. Although, as Tateru Nino notes, if you don’t read the graph carefully you’ll miss that they’ve included April in the stats to show the surge in registrations since the new registration process was launched. Beside that, the 10K signups per day is still something a lot of companies would love to have.

Average monthly repeats logins: unchanged at just under 800K i.e. nearly 800 thousand people logged into Second Life more than once during each month.

User hours: At 105 million hours per month it’s down on the previous year. Looking at each month within the quarter it’s stable at 104 million.

Linden Dollar value: an improvement here, the exchange rate has been the most positive in a while and the overall dollar value of Linden Dollars held by Second Life residents is up to US$29.3 million.

World size: Stable at just over two thousand square kilometres – equivalent to the Maritius as we stated last time.

So overall? The somewhat limited picture provided shows positive signs. If the peak in user registrations shown for April continues during May and June, and converts to users who continue to log in, then Q2 stats might be very interesting indeed.

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