Monday 23 June 2014

Linden Lab CEO Promises a Brave New Second Life - Don't Panic!

So, Linden Lab CEO, Ebbe confirms the Lab is working on a new virtual world platform that may eventually replace Second Life but he proceeded to avoid giving detailed answers to questions about it on SLU. Well, I guess it's good PR if nothing else for a reigning Linden Overlord to even take the time to brave the SLU hoards to answer anything at all but, in the Lab's time honored capacity for doublespeak, he managed the Q&A rather well I thought even in the face of off-topic TOS questions thrown at him by Karl Karl Stiefvater, the former Lab employee known as Qarl Linden. Of course, Ebbe was just avoiding answering him and barely acknowledged his posts. In fact Ebbe's answers to most questions about the new platform were remarkably brief. The essence of what he had for answers was; it's too early to say what it will be or, in an actual answer to another question on SLU; "What can you tell us about the graphic engine? Home made, third party or mix?" Ebbe replied bluntly, "Secret for now..."

The Sorcerer tricks Aladdin and offers "new lamps for old lamps".
Robida Aladin (1848-1926) illustration from page4

One SLU member was moved to post, "I've seen chatbots that are better at engaging in conversations than Ebbe has been in this thread." So I think this Q&A is not going to tell us much but from what I gather, and going by what the last CEO, Rod Humble said in the past the Lab has been working on their new creative spaces - as Humble liked to call virtual worlds after he reckons to have finally got the idea of what Second Life is - which included Patterns and all the other video games released under his tenure. So, while Ebbe admitted the project has been in development for some time the best he can say is that it will be better than Second Life. Presumably that means it is going to be very similar to SL but built on a new server engine and platform code base that was confirmed in a roundabout way when Ebbe said, in answer to another question, that it was too difficult to upgrade the current SL platform saying "Too difficult and too time consuming." So it will be completely new and yet probably little different in business model and that is how I understood his reply to another question; "but we're thinking of it to be similar to SL in that way...but better."

One wonders how much is this about changing the business model and how much about innovation. Too early to tell but Ebbe does seem to be more forthcoming on the business plan for SL2 and not a lot said otherwise about the platform.

He did say, however, that, "We're early in our discussions about business models but I'm thinking lower land tax and higher sales tax and ultimately aim to make things up with volume...(charge less to many rather than a lot to a few). This is possible with better tech and making something more people want to be part of." So now I'm getting the platform will be better coded, new engine, and a new business model as well. The new revenue model Ebbe says he would like is probably what they are planning anyway and given that Rod Humble already bought up the video gaming site, Desura I kind of have an idea what might be on the cards. Well, it all goes back to the TOS issue really for the Lab has already given themselves the rights to take all that content the residents created and use it in anyway they want. Now think of how Steam profits from user content and my guess is something similar is going to happen with SL2. No, I don't think the Lab will sell our stuff but in the new system they will control the market much more than they can do now in SL1 and I suspect it will cost the traders a lot more to do business. Moreover, I doubt prim objects will have a place in the new system and the avatars will be a totally new model as well. Therefore the system will, I'm sure, only be compatible for Mesh uploads and probably voxels rather than prim's. Bottom line is the residents will need a new wardrobe and houses and furniture. Well, Ebbe said it would cost more for the many and less for the few. I can't see anyway that can happen if those who currently enjoy free entertainments and lots of freebies and low cost quality products aren't forced out or made to pay something towards the upkeep of the platform.

Is there a connection?
Desura From Wikipedia: Linden Lab, the makers of shared creative spaces including Second Life, Patterns, Creatorverse, on July 10, 2013 announced that Linden Lab acquired Desura. The service would continue uninterrupted for current customers and the team and technology become a part of Linden Lab. After acquiring Desura, Linden Lab changed their Terms of Service to include the wording that they have future rights to use and adapt content from their virtual citizens. Speculation exists as to whether the acquisition of Desura is tied to this change in TOS.

Some might see it as a good thing but, personally, I reserve judgement until learn more about SL2. Right now it's all pretty vague but I'm pretty sure some panic will set in especially among the Land Barons. I mean, if it will cost the few less then the people that have been paying the most in SL1 the land owners and renters are looking at lower tier and with low tier and possibly a lower setup fee will almost certainly mean more of the renters will become land owners. The Land Barons might still get a deal but are they likely to get favorable enough reductions in setup fees in SL2? Considering they still hold expensive land in SL1 so what will become of that investment? Maybe the Lab will try to encourage take up with special deals from the start until the thing gains critical mass and then, yeah, you bet they will hike the tier anyway as they did in SL1 so, ultimately, the few will probably pay not much less and the content creators will pay a whole lot more. All the rest will still likely get a free lunch but they might have to pay a membership fee next time round. I really think the Lab should be wary of the Land Barons though. They could start sending powerful shots across their bows by dropping a lot of their most expensive none-grandfathered sims as they did after the Lab offered low cost setup's to residents one weekend a couple of years ago. The land model as it stands benefits the Barons and any threat to that could have damaging consequences.

One SLU comment said, "I am glad the cat is out of the bag, we would have invested in a bunch of new sims soon. Of course all new projects have been cancelled now." To which a reply came, saying, "Or, you might want to milk the current land model for all you can while it's there. Ebbe mentioned earlier that he'd like to see the new thing's fee structure less dependent on land. It's quite possible that land barons will find themselves in a drastically different business, if there is a place for them at all."

How will this affect Opensim?

Actually, I rather think Opensim grids will do alright out of it because if SL1 doesn't get much more development or new features because it is now left with just a caretaker team then this will give Opensim chance to overtake SL1 in terms of quality and innovation. In fact I think there is scope here to advance Opensim in new ways like adding new building tools and even voxels perhaps - especially if only to replace
terrain hightmap  since voxels have the  ability to represent overhangs, caves, arches, and other 3D terrain features. I think the avatar might be improved too while the Lab has decided that SL1 is too much of a problem to change. There may not be an open source viewer for SL2 either so all the more reason for the TPV developers and Opensim developers to work closer together to bring on new features that benefit Opensim while not available to SL1. We have seen in the latest releases of Opensim substantial improvements and now with new physics and variable size regions it is already ploughing ahead anyway. And, as I already said, I seriously doubt it will be possible to upload old prim content to SL2 either. Ebbe said they didn't want to be constrained by backwards compatibility although Siana Gearz, commenting on Hypergrid Business insisted Ebbe said at the meeting that he's quite certain porting content over from Second Life into new platform by original creators will be possible, even though we know that the technical architecture of the content will be different. She then stated, "I was there for the whole duration of his visit, I know what he was asked and what he said. The content porting question came up multiple times and he finally said "I think it should be possible." However, given the vagueness of the Ebbe's answers to most questions I really think you have to take what he is saying at best with a large pinch of salt.

I seriously doubt SL2, which is still a long way off, poses any near term threat to Opensim anyway and, if anything does, I rather suspect it will be High Fidelity since Philip Rosedale has stated it will be open source and embrace the Hypergrid concept as well as private ownership of the servers. But, of course, High Fidelity is a way off too and yet I see Kitely Virtual is already a contributor to the code base which indicates to me they are hedging their bets and that gives me reason to believe High Fidelity is the one to watch, not SL2. However, I still think Opensim has a lot going for it and the uncertainties and house moving pains the SL residents will have to go through in the next few years will just add to the appeal of the free Metaverse.