Shocking! Maybe Second Life is a game after all! For years now residents of Second Life explain over and over again that they are not ‘players’ but ‘residents’, that one does not ‘play Second Life’ and that it is not a game even though one can play games in that virtual world just as in the real world. Those same residents, often educators, business people and artists, would promote Second Life talking about the great educational experiments and practices, possibilities for the arts, the joy of meeting people from all over the world.
During the reign of former CEO Mark Kingdon of Linden Lab (the company behind the virtual world) it was admitted that most people however do not come to Second Life to attend lectures, but for entertainment purposes, but at the same time the arts, the educational and business applications of Second Life were being considered important. For many reasons however the business applications never really became that very important: conservative corporates, reputation issues (flying genitalia), practical hurdles (scaling, security, reliability…) etc.
The education community is doing a great job in exploring the possibilities of an open-ended and user generated virtual environment, but probably did not add much to Linden Lab’s earnings, because they enjoyed until recently steep price discounts.
So business applications did not really gain traction and the educators were not profitable enough. The user base was and is stagnating. Thirty percent of the Linden Lab employees had to go, among them Kingdon himself.
The founding father of Second Life, Philip Rosedale, stepped in as a CEO, doing some useful things such as making the development of the platform more transparent. There was some anxiety when Rosedale quit as CEO (he remains Chairman of the board though) before even a new CEO was selected, but yesterday Linden Lab announced that Rod Humble will be the new man in charge:
Rod has an impressive depth of experience in developing and leading fun, immersive entertainment experiences that have been great successes. As a 20-year veteran of game development, he’s worked on more than 200 games, and last year, the gaming magazine Edge named him #2 on their annual list of Hot 100 Game Developers. Rod is coming to Linden Lab from Electronic Arts, where he was Executive Vice President and led EA Play, including the best-selling PC game franchise of all time, The Sims. Prior to EA, he was a VP of Product Development at Sony Online Entertainment, where he led the EverQuest Studio.
Wagner James Au on the New World Notes remarks that Linden Lab previously hired “Electronic Arts/Activision vet Kim Salzer as VP of marketing, who has been re-branding Second Life in part as an animal-raising sim” and says:
W]hat really matters is making Second Life fun, developing it to serve the extremely large market of consumers who already use virtual worlds for play and games, not real world work. Only then will Second Life gain a mass market, and only then may it be feasible to turn SL into a full-fledged platform for real world work that people who are not already well-versed in SL can use.
Lowell Cremorne on The Metaverse Journal explains that “there’s plenty of aspects of user experience that game companies get very right and it’s a key weakness of Second Life at present. The challenge will be making those improvements without turning Second Life into The Sims. Unless of course it’s been identified that that’s where the market is, in which case hold onto your seats.”
Cremorne also thinks that buyout rumours will not abate with this appointment.
In the press release announcing the new CEO, Linden Lab says this about its financial situation:
Linden Lab was founded in 1999 by Philip Rosedale to create a revolutionary new form of shared online experiences known as Second Life. The privately held company has had revenues exceeding $75 million and has been profitable (excluding restructuring and non-cash stock compensation expense) each of the last three years. The company is headquartered in San Francisco and employs more than 220 people.