Potentially the most interesting comments to come out of Rod Humble’s presentation at SLCC 2011 were related to the fact that Linden Lab may be diversifying. These started early on when he announced:
“You are going to see Linden Lab working on new products as well as Second Life”.
While he refused to delve into specifics, it has led to speculation that he may be referring to what Hamlet Au refers to as a new “SL Light experience” that will utilise “the web and tablets”.
Hamlet was certainly in a position to ask Rod questions on the matter after the presentation, given he’s at SLCC; and so may have a greater insight than I; certainly, there is no denying Rod indicated that Linden Lab is eyeing-up the tablet marker where Second Life is concerned. However, I cannot help but speculate that Linden Lab is going after something a lot broader than just introducing a “light” version of SL when Rod refers to the growing tablet / mobile market.
Look at his comment, quoted above, for example. It clearly differentiates between Second Life and a product and whatever else Linden Lab has planned. This seems an odd statement to make if whatever is coming down the line is simply aimed at enhancing Second Life’s reach. It’s also a differentiation that came up again during the extensive Q&A session. Here’s what he said:
“The other massive opportunity and massive threat to on-line games and everyone in this room is the rise of tablet and mobile devices; and right now we don’t participate on those devices. So you will see us address for Second Life, but also for at least one new product, the area of tablets in particular and some mobile stuff as well.” [my emphasis]
Again, if Linden Lab are simply looking towards opportunities to extend Second Life’s reach, it seems odd that he clearly differentiates between Second Life and the “new products” in this comment.
So what else could he be referring to? Here’s where the speculation begins.
A recurring theme during the 45 minutes Rod was on stage was what I’m going to refer to “social involvement”, so much so that it is hard not to link them with his comments relating “new products”.To bullet-point some of the references:
- He was at pains to emphasis the importance of people being able to define their own persona on-line and to be able to set their own barriers as to how much they reveal about themselves and how they establish divides or barriers between what the reveal / how they interact with others according to the environment / situation they are in
- He also emphasised twice that Linden Lab believes that customer privacy is paramount, and that they will not do anything that betrays this
- A number of his comments were around LL’s perception that people’s habits are changing with regards to Second Life, people are spending less time engaged in-world, but more time engaging socially about Second Life through various mediums – the new web profiles, Twitter, etc.
In this last point, he specifically points out, “By the way, I mentioned that Second Life was growing earlier…there’s a really interesting dynamic as well, is that many of the new users of Second Life are a very, er, very younger demographic…sort-of a mid-twenties, college age. And they also…they are generally spending less time in-world but more time socialising within Second Life social circles…and I think that’s really interesting.” He goes on to note that this is common in other on-line games and suggests that the onus for LL is to enhance this capability, “for our customers”.
This would all seem to point towards Linden Lab moving more into the realm on on-line social involvement. It’s something they’ve tried, albeit on a very limited basis through the acquisition of Avatars United a couple of years back, which was ultimately discarded – which is not to say they ever gave up on the idea.
In many respects, it makes sense for the company to move into social involvement in a more premeditated manner, as a) this is clearly a growing market; b) through Second Life, they have been developing capabilities and knowledge ideally suited to the environment (i.e. through my.secondlife.com). What’s more, they are willing to step away from the likes of Facebook and Google+ and uphold the principles of pseudonymity and privacy, which could make such a move attractive to a broad audience.
Of course, it would be ridiculous to suggest that Linden Lab could in any way take-on the likes of Google or Facebook in the broadest sense; and I’m certainly not suggesting that.
But then, they don’t have to. By providing a set of social media tools that enable gamers, Second Life users and others to remain connected, to “meet” and discuss their interests, passions, plans, swap ideas, link-up with others and so on, they could potentially tap into a huge market, and offer them the ability to leverage technology and capability already developed that would not necessarily impact on their focus of “fixing” core issues and services within the Second Life platform itself.
There’s also the matter of diversification and revenue. Hamlet himself (rightly or wrongly, depending upon one’s standpoint) makes much of the current revenue stream enjoyed by Linden Lab (the “sale” of SL “land”) as being somewhat unsustainable – and over time, he may well be right. Ergo, it would make sense for LL to look at other opportunities and markets in which to generate new income. Although precisely how this might be achieved is harder to define, and worthy of a separate debated in and of itself.
It’s going to be interesting to see what is announced in the coming months and, equally, how Second Life users respond to whatever comes out of the Lab – particularly if it is seen as “taking effort away” from supporting Second Life. In this latter regard, assuming the new products are divorced from Second Life, LL will doubtless have a fine balancing act to perform where user happiness is concerned.