In fact, when it comes to developing both Second Life and their new products, it is worth pointing out that the Lab have divided development between two separate Directors of Product. Don Laabs, recruited in March 2012, has responsibility for the continued development of Second Life, while John Laurence, who joined Linden Lab in May 2011, has responsibility for the Lab’s non-SL products.
Don Laab’s recruitment, coming earlier this year, is worth noting as it tends to point to the fact that not only is Second Life still very much a focus at Linden Lab, but that the company appears to have restructured itself specifically to enable both the continued development of SL and the creation of new products to be carried out without undue impact on one another.
Why Not SL 2.0?
Some of the opposition to the new products seems to be born out of a feeling that the money could have been put to developing a “new” leading-edge SL. There is certainly much that is outdated in SL (the avatar mesh is proving increasingly problematical, for example – although considerations are being given to trying to enhance it to some degree); as such, moving to develop a “new” Second Life would appear to make sense. However, this isn’t necessarily the case.
While developing a “new”, possibly rebranded (for those who feel it is the name holding the platform back), Second Life may potentially make many of us already engaged with it a lot of very happy bunnies (providing a lot of caveats are met, compatibility-wise), it doesn’t necessarily translate into a product that is going to be any more successful than the current platform. Ergo, LL could pour a lot of time and effort into an “SL 2.0″ which leaves them more-or-less where they started, and still stuck in the same single-channel revenue stream.
Any “new” SL could also lead to as many problems for those of us using the existing platform as it could for LL. Many are already upset at the apparent direction in which LL is taking SL. Were LL to invest in a “new ” SL, there is absolutely no guarantee that they company wouldn’t continue in the same direction, potentially building-in even more of the “gaming” capabilities some seem to view as anathema in their continued enjoyment of SL. Alongside this is the issue of compatibility. What happens if any “new” SL is such that it can only be truly enjoyed at the expense of abandoning much of our existing inventories?
Granted, neither of the scenarios above may necessarily be the case with any “new” version of SL (although it is hard not to see the former – incorporating gaming elements into the platform – as not being the case); but were either or both to happen, it’s fair to say they’d be unlikely to generate the most sanguine of reactions among many of us.
By providing a growing portfolio of products, Linden Lab could actually help Second Life. For a start, and providing each of the emerging new products goes on to find a sustainable audience, it means that a huge burden could be lifted from SL because is will no longer be sole provider for LL’s revenue and profit.This isn’t something that will happen overnight, but longer-term it could provide Linden Lab with room to address economic issues within SL. Take tier, for example. I’ve already covered why LL is pretty much hoist by its own petard here at present, and why even a moderately successful and evolving line of products could present the company with room to pro-actively do something about tier. While there is absolutely no guarantee this would in fact happen, the fact is that sooner or later, LL will have to address tier in some way rather than trying to weather the storm through gimmicks such as land sales. Having alternative revenue streams at least presents them with space to do so without necessarily having also having such a major impact on their bottom line as might currently be the case.
There is also another, more subtle aspect here as well, at least with one of the new products so far announced. While separated in terms of look, feel, and (one assumes) marketing, Patterns and Second Life have much in common. Both are immersive, 3D creative environments rooted in the concept of taking primitive shapes and putting them together to create richer, more complex objects and items. As such, who is to say that while remaining an entirely separate and distinct product from SL, Patterns couldn’t also become a gateway into SL for those who find the concept of such immersive creativity appealing, and are curious to see what else Linden Lab have to offer in this regard? As it is, I’m willing to bet that there are more than a few SL users who have signed-up for the Genesis release of Patterns – so again, why shouldn’t the flow also work in the other direction, should Patterns establish itself and the wider gaming community?
Evolutionary, not Revolutionary
There is a final aspect in all of this, and why it is beneficial for Linden Lab to continue to develop and enhance Second Life – and seek new potential audiences for it. The products so far announced or for which we’ve seen some details (Creatorverse, Patterns and Dio) are hardly revolutionary; all three are grounded in existing concepts and ideas. While there is actually nothing wrong with this (after all, what is truly “unique” in terms of any product developed nowadays, and how many products which have been seen as “the next XX” have gone on to enjoy more than moderate success?), it does carry with it some risks.
One of these is that each may itself never rise above being anything but niche itself. As such, and while taken collectively an expanding product portfolio may benefit Second Life as time goes on, it is unlikely that any one product launched by LL is going to be the proverbial runaway success. So it is fair to say that LL’s core market is liable to continue to be Second Life for some time to come. Therefore, it is in their best interest to continue to enhance and develop SL, and to continue to try to attract an audience to it – such as through the forthcoming link-up with Steam, something I’ve also commented upon recently.
So overall the relationship between Second Life and the other product streams LL develops could well turn out to be not so much competitive in nature, as some people appear to be viewing it, but something which is far more symbiotic, with each helping the other in various ways. Obviously, there are major question marks around the forthcoming launch, marketing and reception of the Lab’s new products. How well they are marketed and received – and how well they sell – will inevitably have an impact on Linden Lab and its future direction.
But to look upon the launch of new products and the attempt to leverage them into new revenue streams as a sign that Linden Lab has “given up” on Second Life or that their success can only be at the expense of SL borders on the premature.