042108 The Competitive Landscape Metanomics Transcript
ANALYSTS FROM INFORMATION WEEK AND GARTNER ON METANOMICS
APRIL 21, 2008
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Welcome, everybody, to Metanomics, a weekly show on business
and policy in the Metaverse of virtual worlds. As always, we start by thanking our sponsors:
SAP, Cisco Systems, Generali Group, Saxo Bank, Kelly Services and Sun Microsystems.
Thanks also to my own institution, Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, for
supporting me in this effort, and to SLCN for filming and distributing these shows. I’d also
like to thank John and Rissa of UBM Think Services Metaverse for letting us hold
Metanomics here at the CMP Amphitheatre. I also want to remind everyone that Muse Isle
will also be the location of a new regular event, Metanomics Rewind, during which we will
have a special rebroadcast of today’s show, actually every Monday’s show, every Tuesday
at 3:00 P.M. Second Life time. This is a chance to catch the show, if you missed it, and
watch it with others who share your interests.
A quick word about upcoming shows: Many of you probably know that people active in
Second Life testified before Congress on April 1st, and, no, it wasn’t an April Fools Day
joke. One person to testify was Larry Johnson, CEO of New Media Consortium. And I’m
pleased to announce that I will be interviewing Larry on a special Metanomics show as part
of Clever Zebra’s vBusiness Expo this Friday, April 25th, at 11:00 A.M. Second Life time. I
want to apologize for the timing of this to the folks who run the excellent event Science
Friday. If you don’t know about this already, Science Friday’s an NPR show hosted by
Ira Flatow. And every week, Bjorlyn Loon pulls together about 80 or 100 people to watch the
show, and people can chat with one another, and they do and also post questions to the
host and guests of Science Friday. So this is an event that’s definitely worth going to. But, of
course, not this Friday because then you’d miss Metanomics.
Now another person to testify to Congress was Susan Tenby of TechSoup, the nonprofit
organization that runs the NonProfit Commons in Second Life and provides technological
support to countless nonprofit organizations, both in Second Life and Real Life. Well, Susan
was singled out by Jon Stewart who covets her Second Life name, Glitteractica Cookie,
saying now he knows why he had to settle for Glitteractica Cookie II. Well, I’m glad to
announce that Glitteractica Cookie, the original version, will be joining us on Metanomics
next Monday, April 28th, along with a representative of one of the largest and highest
profiling nonprofits in Second Life, the American Cancer Society.
Okay, now on to the show. Last week we had a fairly bullish discussion of the state and
future of Linden Lab, with two insiders Cory Ondrejka, the former CTO of Linden Lab, and
Wagner James Au, who wrote the book The Making of Second Life. This week we have two
independent analysts who I think are going to be more bearish. Mitch Wagner is executive
editor of Information Week, and Steve Prentice is the senior analyst of Gartner Incorporated.
Both of them have followed the Virtual World industry very closely.
So now, Mitch, welcome to Metanomics. Mitch and I had a chance to chat a little bit last
week and, Mitch, I’d like to follow up on a few of your comments. So you had indicated that
you see Second Life as being in not such a great place right now and that their future rests
on the choice of the CEO, which we are all waiting to hear, and that Linden Lab needs
to--your term was to “reinvent itself.” Can you elaborate a little on why you’re concerned
about Second Life and Linden Lab?
MITCH WAGNER: Sure. I mean look at all the problems that Second Life has been having
over the course of the past six or eight or nine months or so. You can start out the most
important problem it has is that signups are flattening, and the number of engaged users is
remaining pretty flat between five and six hundred thousand for the past several months.
They have difficulty deploying stable software, or perhaps I should say waiting until software
is stable until it’s deployed. The platform is still very insular. As we know here, it takes some
clever hacks even to just get streaming video in and out. Additionally, they have ongoing
communications problems. The latest issue with trademark enforcement is only the latest
example of the fact that, when it comes to communications, they seem to shoot themselves
in the foot and then reload and shoot themselves in the other foot. A lot of these things are
just basic business things.
It’s fairly ironic that these guys have just done some amazing, amazing, amazing innovation.
They were among the inventors of user-generated content on the web, coming into the
World about the same time as YouTube and the big blogging platforms did. They have
realized that you don’t need to wait until you can jack your brain into the web to have this
kind of immersive virtual reality experience. So they can do these amazing innovations
really well, but they just seem to trip over their own feet and fall flat when they do basic
business things. That’s why I’m hoping that a new CEO would be able to come in and be
someone who understands how a company should do these basics.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You don’t have to name names of people you think would be
appropriate, but what would you see as being the profile?
MITCH WAGNER: It needs to be someone with experience running, hopefully, a large
business unit of an existing thriving Web 2.0 company. And someone who’s very familiar
with platform. It needs to be someone like, you know, when Google was experiencing
growing pains, they brought in Eric Schmidt who had experience running high level at Sun
and also running Novell and turning that company around before coming to Google. Way
back in the early days of the web and the internet, eBay brought in a CEO who had a lot of
business experience and shared in the vision. They need to do those two things. They need
to have the solid basic business experience of running any company, and they also need to
share in the vision. Because what you don’t want to have happen is have somebody like
John Scully or the other successor CEOs of Apple, who didn’t understand the business
model and just kind of blundered from one thing to another.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I mean it sounds like, at heart, you think that the platform is one
that can function as the basis of a growing successful company, and it’s really just sort of
what they’re doing with it? Because I worry personally that they can be leapfrogged by
someone else who can, you know, sort of reverse engineer figuring out what Linden Lab
has done and saying, “Well, we can actually do this and make it work.”
MITCH WAGNER: Oh, yeah. I don’t worry that they can be leapfrogged. I just think that
they might be--and indeed I hope that they are because it’s a little discouraging at times to
see the frustration in Second Life and the lack of growth. Now the company that leapfrogs
Second Life could be Linden Lab, you know, Linden Lab Mark II under new management
could really revitalize the Virtual World.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Would that take them essentially starting from scratch as
opposed to kind of the regular upgrades?
MITCH WAGNER: Well, they just need to approach upgrades in a more professional
fashion, release software when the bugs have been shaken out of it and not before.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So let’s say a new world comes out. Do you think Linden Lab is
going to be able to still milk Second Life with its hundreds of thousands of users and millions
of square meters of land that they’re making some money off of? Go ahead.
MITCH WAGNER: No, I was just going to say virtual worlds MMOs never go away. Never,
ever, ever. You’ll still people who are active on MUDs and MOOs. You’ll still find people who
are diehard Everquest and Ultima online users. And there’s nothing wrong with that. People
get engaged to a certain platform and community, and they want to continue with it.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I see Reed Steamroller is asking: How is Linden Lab supposed to
find the bugs in their software without actually testing it on the main grid? Do you think that
there’s anything about the nature of this technology that maybe forces them, more so than a
Microsoft, to push stuff out before it’s totally debugged?
MITCH WAGNER: Well, perhaps Microsoft is the wrong example to use--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Point taken.
MITCH WAGNER: --push it out before it’s debugged. But certainly, I mean yeah, they have
to test it on the main grid, but they have to be testing it. They’ll come out, and they’ll deploy
new server versions, and then they’ll say, “Oops, it wasn’t ready after all.” They right now
have a release candidate that’s kind of pretty buggy. They don’t really seem to understand
that when you say “release candidate,” it means you think that all the bugs are out of it, but
you’re not sure, so you’re still calling it a “release candidate,” but you think it’s un-buggy. I’m
sitting here, by comparison, I’m using the Firefox 3, which is the Beta of Firefox. It’s not
even a release candidate, and I’ve been using that as my primary browser since December,
and that works just fine. So I realize that this software is far more complicated, but they just-
-again, it comes down to communication. They don’t communicate adequately that the
software still seems to be buggy.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Let’s talk a bit more about that bugginess and bring
Steve Prentice into the conversation, from Gartner. Steve, welcome to Metanomics.
STEVE PRENTICE: Hi.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hi. So now you wrote a research report in February called Three
Challenges That Enterprises Face Using Second Life, and the three here are: limited
graphics card support, recurring technical glitches and down time. I guess they’re fairly
self-explanatory, but do you want to just elaborate a little bit on those and why you see
those being major problems for enterprises?
STEVE PRENTICE: Sure. All our client base is essentially enterprises, so we were looking
to try to point out some of the issues that we saw specifically that related to the technical
platform that Linden is supporting. Issues like graphics card support, particularly with more
and more people using notebooks, it’s quite possible that you can have--one notebook will
quite happily work with Second Life, another manufactured six months later with different
graphics chip on the board or not, and we’ve had all of those sorts of problems. The
problem, I think, is that Second Life is not really meeting the needs of enterprise users,
which really come down to sort of this availability and resilience, reliability and accessibility
and privacy sort of issues.
The availability one it’s great sort of setting up an environment in Second Life and started to
use it inside an enterprise on a trial basis, and then just as you want to do something, the
grid fails. Or they decide they can upgrade things. Someone comes in, and they’ve got to
spend a long time actually uploading a new version of the browser. Those aren’t the sort of
things that enterprises want. When you were talking a couple of minutes ago about testing
software on the grid. Sure, software has to be tested, but you don’t find that sort of approach
generally speaking amongst enterprise _____ software. You find ways to test it in a more
controlled environment before releasing on everybody.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Your recommendation is fairly straight forward. If you are an
enterprise and you want to use a Virtual World, don’t use Second Life for anything more
than just a pilot program. Do I have you right on that?
STEVE PRENTICE: It’s very difficult to be sort of objective and so on because it always
comes out as very black and white. What our basic feeling is, is that Second Life is an
absolutely superb development environment. It’s got a lot of tools. It’s as available as
anything, although, as we just discussed, there are problems. But the reason really for us
not being able to go out to enterprises and say, “This is something you should be using
today for full-blown deployment,” is that there are some technical issues, but I think also it’s
a question of focus. And I still come across organizations that say to me, for example, “We
want to set up an island in Second Life, and we’re going to be selling products to
20-year-olds.” And yet whenever you look at the demographic data, such as it is, there isn’t
a great deal of chance of that actually happening, and the standard analysis that
organizations would do on demographics and all that just often doesn’t seem to get done
when people get carried away with Virtual World projects. And we’re trying to actually inject
a note of caution. Yes, it’s a great tool. Yes, I’m very bullish about virtual worlds as a
technology. But there are shades of VisiCalc, if you like, in where we are today with Second
Life. People say, “Is Second Life going to survive?” Yes, it could. Yes, it could be overtaken.
Yes, Linden could reinvent themselves, but it’s certainly one that needs guaranteed. And
we’re seeing an increasing number of other alternatives coming up that are targeted
perhaps more at an internal enterprise usage, which is where a lot of the focus for
enterprise usage is now heading. Organizations have become a little frustrated perhaps with
the problems they’ve been having and are starting to use internally based virtual worlds and
using for collaboration purposes rather than externally facing sort of customers focused
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Let’s talk about some of the alternatives that are out there for
enterprises. One of them is Qwaq. And, Mitch, you recently wrote an article about Qwaq,
and you had a few reservations, but it seemed that you see this as a pretty solid prospect
for enterprise software. Can you tell us a bit about what you like about Qwaq?
MITCH WAGNER: Well, Qwaq is basically you could almost think of it more as a WebEx
replacement rather than anything that replaces Second Life. You set up these small rooms,
they call them rooms instead of islands or anything like that. I think the limit is about 40
people per room, and it’s really designed to have corporate meetings in there. So you can
set it up with a conference table. You can set it up with a little amphitheatre. One of the
things that you can do that’s really neat is, you can very easily import and bring in like a
Microsoft Office format documents. They actually have server-based instantiation of Open
Office running right on the server. Everything is secured and encrypted. It costs about the
same as meeting--I’m sorry, WebEx, on a monthly basis per user. And it’s also very, very
easy to use. You just come in there. You have a default avatar that can just be this little kind
of cartoon character with an image of your own head that you upload or some other image,
or you can customize. You can import objects using standard 3D formats. So it’s a very
promising platform for holding corporate meetings in there.
I was actually, the other day, giving an impromptu demo of Twitter to some of my
colleagues. I didn’t really have time to prepare for it. We just set up a conference call, and I
went. And I remember thinking, “Boy, I wish we were doing this in Qwaq because it would
be so much easier to show people some of things that we’re doing.”
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And it is much more web-integrated, is that right, than Second
MITCH WAGNER: Not that I can recall actually.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Oh, okay. I may have that wrong. I know Metaplace, I guess, has
been making that a hallmark of its design.
MITCH WAGNER: Metaplace has gone--and it was really interesting talk to Raph Koster,
who is the CEO of Metaplace, because--I talked to him in December, and I’d already been in
Second Life most of the year. I had sort of internalized all the common wisdom about
Second Life in thinking that Second Life was the way to go, and it was the wave of the future
and this whole Metaverse model based on Neal Stephenson’s novel, Snow Crash, was the
wave of the future, and Raph thinks it's going to go in completely the other direction. He’s
looking at very small virtual worlds that are embedded images and can be little tiny rooms
initially. He's just looking at what they call 2-1/2D, so it runs in Flash--your browser, and you
only get one view of the World. Very, very flexible. Designed to be very, very scalable, going
down to the cheapest computer, low-end devices, mobile devices. So it’s going to be very
interesting to watch that company and see where it’s going.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Steve, what’s your take on Qwaq?
STEVE PRENTICE: I think I would agree with pretty much everything Mitch has said. I
mean the question of ease of use is absolutely critical. The learning curve for Second Life,
to many of the experienced users in Second Life, we've perhaps forgotten just how tough it
was to start. So if you're trying to get it to be used by people inside an organization, who
perhaps are resistant at the moment, it’s going to be tough. Qwaq is very, very simple to
use. It’s almost the opposite extreme perhaps to Second Life in that your avatar is two
blocks, someone on the chat was talking about gingerbread men. Sure. The purpose, I
think, and the whole point and focus of Qwaq is about collaboration on the content. So the
ability to actually create a very sort of elegant, very [variable?] avatar just isn’t there. Doesn’t
need to be there. But the user interface is very simple. It’s low on bandwidth and [AUDIO
GLITCH], which, again, is something that enterprises care about. It seems to work, all the
times I’ve tried it, very well through all VPNs and firewalls, which again is a big issue for
enterprise users. So it meets all of those set of requirements.
Having said that, it is strictly an internal or sort of closed environment. This is not something
you’re going to be able to extend in the future to build out to a full-blown island and start
selling, reaching out to the community at large. So it’s sort of comparing apples with
oranges in a sense. But it is very promising, I think, at this particular point in time, compared
with a lot of the other tools that are around there and that are still kind of in Beta or early
Beta or best toolkits so they can require [considerable?] amounts of effort on the part of an
organization to actually get something going.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I’ve been watching the backchat go on as you two have been
talking. So one of the themes that I’m seeing from a number of people is that, as you
mentioned yourself, Steve, a World like Qwaq does not give a firm an outward face that
Second Life does. And so I guess one question I have for both of you is: How important do
you think that is for enterprises to have a World where the enterprise can actually engage
with the public, like we are doing now? And then, from that perspective, who is the next
competitor? Who’s the one that’s going to give Linden Lab a run for their money on that?
Steve, if you want to start.
STEVE PRENTICE: Yeah. In the short term, I don’t think, for most enterprises the ability to
reach out to the community at large is as important as getting an effective tool embedded
into the enterprise infrastructure for internal collaboration. In the longer term, it’ll be
absolutely essential. The long term, this becomes as viable, as critical a media channel and
environment as the Worldwide Web has become today.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And, Mitch?
MITCH WAGNER: Yeah, pretty much what Steve said. Well, let me start with the short term
first. In the short term, I’ve identified three companies as being worth watching. We
mentioned two of them: Qwaq and Metaplace. I think the third one is Multiverse. That said,
there are a million various Second Life competitors out there and Virtual World companies
out there. And the way these things work, I would not be at all surprised if a year from now
we were looking at market dominance by a company that I’ve never even heard of now.
That’s just the way things are.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So when you say short term, Mitch, what are you talking about?
MITCH WAGNER: Well, let’s say the next six months to a year.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Six months to a year. It’s true, it seems like this industry moves in
dog years. So six months, that’s three and a half years in a normal industry.
MITCH WAGNER: Yeah, I think we’re in kind of a peculiar sort of--I want to say eye of the
storm, but that’s not the right metaphor. We’re becalmed at this point. Second Life’s growth
is flat. I’m trying to phrase this carefully: Not a lot of innovation that is interesting to people
outside the Second Life community going on right now. But, on the other hand, [AUDIO
GLITCH] companies that are just emerging and their technologies in Beta. So there’s not
really a lot going on in virtual worlds right now that is of interest to people outside the little
community. But as these other companies come out of Beta, we’re going to see a lot more
interesting things happen over the course of the second half of 2008 and the first half of
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: The worlds you’re talking about are going to be user-generated
content Worlds like Second Life? That’s your thought?
MITCH WAGNER: Well, I think they’re the most interesting applications of the technology.
Somebody came by--in the chat there was some mention of Club Barbie and Webkinz.
Those are fine for the kids involved in them, but they’re not hugely interesting, I don’t think.
Similarly a lot of these Worlds where almost the very first thing they say to me when they
pitch them is, “We’re safe for companies to get into.” Safety is boring.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Safety doesn’t excite you, huh?
MITCH WAGNER: No. When one of the first things you tell me about your company is, you
respect other people’s copyrights, it’s--oh, I don’t know.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, we’ve heard representatives of companies say that on
Metanomics before, more or less right out of the gate.
MITCH WAGNER: Yeah.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now let me, I guess, move on just a bit to using these Worlds.
You know, I agree. Actually I’d love to do an entire show and have a completely different
discussion about some of these kids' Worlds. When people say, well, they’re safe for your
companies, I don’t know that they’re necessarily talking about trying to do the same type of
enterprise software that the two of you, and particularly Steve has just been talking about,
with collaboration and so on. So we’ll probably do another show on kids’ Worlds,
entertainment worlds, MTV, and so on. But when we think about enterprises doing internal
work--so, Steve, you had a recent research report--I believe this was just in the last month
or so--how to justify enterprise investment in virtual worlds. I know people can buy that from
Gartner for about two hundred bucks. But I’m hoping you can give us a taste for free. So
first of all, in light of your concerns about Second Life, my reading of that was this is really
for, you know, if you’re saying, okay, you’re going to use a Qwaq or a Metaplace or--I see
someone is mentioning Open Croquet--or Forterra. And you propose a three-stage method
for investment. Stage one, you recommend using the enterprise’s training budget to get the
project going. Can you talk about why you start there?
STEVE PRENTICE: Sure. A tremendous amount of discussion about virtual worlds always
seems to come back to the technology and which platform should I use, etcetera, etcetera,
etcetera. People will have detailed conversations. We’ve discussed already on the show
issues with the technology platforms. My view is really that organizations need to start
forgetting to think about--I'm getting a heck of a big echo now.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, I think someone has their voice on. Maybe it’s better now,
so give it another whirl.
STEVE PRENTICE: Yeah, it’s gone again. Organizations need to be much clearer about
what it is they’re trying to achieve and then start to look on the [secondary?], the platform,
the technology they’re going to start doing that with. So what we were describing in the
report you referred to is--I’m not sure it’s sort of phased approach to how you go about
doing it. I’ve spoken over the last two years to a lot of organizations who've been very, you
know, household names, the big global _____ who've gone into virtual worlds, but
predominantly Second Life. And you asked me the question, “Well, was the project a
success? What did you achieve?” And, in most cases, I think it’s fair to say they can’t
actually tell you because the clarity objectives--they weren’t able to measure--they’re not
sure what they’ve achieved. So is it a success? Is it a failure? Who knows? And they were
carried away on a wave of enthusiasm perhaps.
And I think, as we move into some of the maturation of the use of Virtual World technologies
inside enterprises, you’ve got to be far more objective. And the reason for starting with
training is that role-based training scenarios are a standard part of training in many
organizations. virtual worlds provide a way to do that. The training department has a budget.
It is always a training budget in every organization. And you’ve got a budget, you’ve got a
clearly defined set of requirements and objectives, you know what it is you're trying to
achieve, it’s a good place to start. You’re building a somewhat constrained project. And
constrained projects are good from enterprise point of view. As soon as things start getting
very loose around the edges and expand, you lose sight of how much you’re actually going
to be spending and what the benefit was. So when your CFO comes along and says, “What
was the ROI?” it’s very difficult to determine that. It comes back to focus. Maybe when we’ve
done here, we should go back and talk very briefly about some of the kids’ games because
the question of focus, I think, has a lot to do with why some of those are very successful and
some other virtual worlds are apparently less so.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And now there are you talking about the focus of the Virtual
World developer? For example, Barbie?
STEVE PRENTICE: Well, exactly. The point really is that virtual worlds are about the
community of people that they serve, and engage and support. They’re not so much about
the technology platform.
And if we take an extreme example: Barbie Girls. Mattel are absolutely crystal clear about
exactly what characteristics and the demographics and the requirements and expectations
of their target audience is, and hence they're able to pick up an awful lot of users very
quickly because they’re meeting their needs. And I think a lot of the kids’ worlds meet their
Now Mitch might say sure, they’re not very interesting, and I don’t find them very interesting.
But there, again, I’m not an eight-year-old girl. I’m not a Club Penguin user. I’m not
someone who’s into Habbo Hotel, and Habbo is pulling tens of millions of unique visits every
month, all relentlessly focusing, feeding up a complete stream of new and appropriate
content to actually keep people coming back.
If you want a Virtual World to be successful, I think you’ve got to know who you're targeting
at, where the focus is. And the question, and I always hesitate to give it out in this sort of
forum is: Where is the focus for Linden? Who is the audience, the community, if you like,
that Second Life is focused at and targeted to? Sure, there’s a community of users and
residents today, but, as Mitch has said, that’s kind of flattened off a little bit, and what’s the
next stage of development there.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Mitch, you want to take a stab on behalf of Linden Lab answering
that question Steve just asked. Who is the target demographic for Second Life?
MITCH WAGNER: People who live on planet Earth. And this is only until extraterrestrial life
is discovered, then it’s going to be everybody in the universe. Linden Lab has a very
messianic vision of the future of virtual worlds and Second Life’s role in that. I don’t think
they’ve really--I don't like speaking for Linden Lab, but I’m pretty sure they haven’t got any
kind of vision of constraint at this point.
STEVE PRENTICE: I actually agree with Mitch there, and I think that’s one of the
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And, Mitch, would you agree with that, that that’s a problem?
MITCH WAGNER: Yeah. I think it raises the issue of people coming into Second Life and
asking, “Well, what do I do here?” And not having a really great answer for that at this point.
Now I think that Linden Lab, in their defense, would said that they’re looking to the
community owners to provide those answers. So if you’re the owner of a club that plays hip-
hop music, then your audience is hip-hop fans. I think they’re trying to provide tools to allow
the individual community owners to go out and operate more independently and bring users
in on their own, and I think that’s a very wise move for Linden Lab to be doing.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, I would say I’m not atypical in the type of thing that I’m
doing on behalf of Johnson’s School here at Cornell, which is, I decided, okay, I want to
have what is basically a guest speaker series, and, of course, we have done the promotion
for this. We have really done everything except make the platform in the World. We rely on
Linden Lab for that, for better or worse.
And let me just move along. Whenever you guys want to jump in and feel like you have to
make a point, just do so. But I did want to get through the three stages of Steve’s proposal.
So we talked about starting with the training budget. Actually, let me just say one thing that I
don’t know if you emphasized quite so heavily right now is that one nice thing about the
training budget is, they usually don’t have the good stats, even if they’re not getting involved
in virtual worlds, but just doing standard training. No one knows with ROI of that stuff
anyway. I think you mention in your report that that tends to be pretty soft anyway.
Now stage two is, okay, it’s a mouthful here: Project Based Avatar Enhanced Collaboration.
So is that really just a WebEx type application?
STEVE PRENTICE: I think it’s going a little beyond WebEx. Qwaq would be a great
example of something that’s doing that. Basically, it’s a collaboration internal, using avatars
rather than just simple WebEx because you get a more immersive experience. You get a
range of additional information and relationships building up. And the reason we talk about
project based is to, again, keep things confined. This isn’t about creating a virtual presence
for the entire organization. It’s about creating a virtual environment for a specific project. So
you can start to get benefits like reduced travel time for meetings, whole range of sort of
things, which are a real problem in a large multinational geographically diverse organization.
And by keeping things tight, again, you’re restricting the amount of expenditure you need to
put in place. You’re not worrying really about creating large amounts of build. A simple
conference room is probably going to be enough. So again, it’s relatively easy.
You can start to demonstrate the benefits rather than what is a real issue in some
organizations with some more conservative management, which is about seeing virtual
worlds as playing games. And the whole point of an enterprise is, you have to actually get
beyond that concept that these are games towards that they’re a valid, useful business tool,
in the same way that we had to fight a decade ago to actually see this newfangled thing
called the Worldwide Web as being a useful business tool as opposed to anything else. It’s
only when you go on to the third stage that you start broadening it out into the general social
interaction collaboration inside the organization. And that’s where the benefits do return
from being somewhat hard back to being relatively soft benefits. But that’s really about
creating that sense of community. The phrase that’s been used is the serendipitous water
cooler conversations, the sort of conversations that we used to have when we all went into
the same office building every day, which, of course, don’t happen anymore in many, many
organizations because we’re all working from home, or we’re on the road or on different
continents or time zones or whatever. An organization has to be prepared before they can
move to that stage, otherwise, I think it’s just too big a leap.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: At the end of your article, you talk about the top five mistakes to
avoid. And one of them is this games syndrome. And this goes back to something you were
saying earlier. Earlier you were saying that the benefit when you’re doing this
avatar-enhanced collaboration, that you’re providing a more immersive experience. It makes
that serendipitous meeting a little more personal. But you talk about a mistake that
companies can make by providing users with too many choices, especially about
customizing their avatar. So I do have a few questions on this. One is: Isn’t that then sort of
fighting against the recommendation to have avatar-enhanced collaboration? And the other
is: Are you actually saying don’t spend a whole lot of time helping people in your enterprise
do this? Or are you saying take the time to make sure they can’t so they don’t get distracted
STEVE PRENTICE: I think the former really. I’m not a great fan of sort of prevention, using
IT as the function of stop people doing things. But really, if what you’re talking about is
focusing on the content as using this as a tool for improved collaboration, then the avatar
only needs to be relatively simple to enable people to understand who’s focusing on this
particular document, who’s present. We don’t need the full-blown expression of individual
personality that has become such a feature of some of the public virtual worlds. That has its
place, but it’s not the highest priority inside an enterprise in the early days when you may
well be fighting to actually put the investment in, and you don’t want the distraction of people
worrying about what their avatar looks like too much.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. And then the third stage, Steve, of bringing your enterprise
into Second Life is nonspecific social collaboration. What’s that?
STEVE PRENTICE: As I was saying, at the end of my previous sort of segment, if you like,
that’s when you move away from just worrying about a specific project to extending the
community, if you like, out from that one project to the entire organization. You need a
relatively mature organization, I think. You also need an organization that no longer needs
to be convinced of the benefits, that no longer actually sees virtual worlds as being a game
or a toy or a distraction or whatever. Then you can start to bring in the richer environments.
And I think you’re then starting to prepare an organization for going external basically. We
talked about three phases. I mean I would view stage four as being on what happens when
you actually take the organization externally, and you start reaching out to that broader
community at large.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And actually, if I could quote from your report just a line here, in
your top five mistakes, the last one is, “Taking it external.” And you really don’t mince words
here. You say, and here’s the quote, “You’ll encounter pressure to build externally focused
Virtual World projects to give customers and partners access, to support e-commerce and to
strive for a wide range of public-related objectives. At this stage, resist these absolutely.” So
why do you see that as being such a big mistake?
STEVE PRENTICE: Because I think it diverts attention away from the more immediate
gains, and I’m not entirely convinced that there is sufficient of an audience out there who are
familiar enough with virtual worlds who necessarily want to interact with new enterprises.
We’ve seen throughout the history of Second Life, I think, a certain amount of
anti-enterprise activity. And many of the early entrants into virtual worlds have either quietly
abandoned them or actually pulled out because they simply weren’t delivering the sort of
responses and results they want. They're going external and failing to actually meet those
expectations, I think just damages the project and makes it much more difficult to go back
and do it again. Better to actually put things off for now.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Great. Well, thanks so much for walking us through that
Gartner report as a bit of a freebie for our Metanomics audience.
So let me ask, Mitch, any takes or reactions to what you just heard Steve talking about?
MITCH WAGNER: I think Steve has done a great job of outlining some of the issues here.
One practical Real World application that does seem to have gotten a lot of traction in
Second Life is training and education. We see a ton of universities and colleges setting up
presences in here, and we also have seen a lot of training exercises. Mostly going on with
customer virtual worlds, especially some of the more interesting ones have to do with
emergency services, people offering training in trauma care when there’s a huge disaster or
just out in the field with disaster recovery preparedness planning. So training certainly, and
role-playing training is certainly a great example.
I think, in general, one insight that I’ve had over the past six or seven months is that
constraints are the key to success on the internet. There’s a temptation to want to be
everything to everybody, but Ev Williams, who co-founded Twitter and Blogger, pointed out
that really, for a lot of companies, the key to success has been just doing focus at first.
Facebook focused for years just on colleges. YouTube would not let anybody upload any
videos longer than ten minutes. Google just had that blank screen with one line of text entry
and two buttons. Twitter has 140-character limit per message. The companies that really
succeed in taking over and thriving are the companies that really have a narrow focus at
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Let me ask, can you hear me?
MITCH WAGNER: I can hear you fine.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Great. Because my Second Life has partially crashed
during this discussion of Second Life and its use for enterprise. But I think this only means I
will not see backchat or any instant messages, but we can carry on from here, I believe.
MITCH WAGNER: Are you using the production client or one of the release candidates?
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, of course, I can’t do Help About because I don’t think I can
use my interface, but I believe I’m on 1.19. So I’m mainstream Second Life right now.
MITCH WAGNER: Yeah, I’ve had my client freeze up a couple of times. I’m running the
production candidates. This only addresses the point about--this is supposed to be the
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And it’s really too bad because I talked Zee Linden,
John Zdanowski, the CFO of Linden Lab, and he, I believe, is listening to our conversation
and is willing to give a quick response, and I was just about to IM him. So I guess, John, if
you are out there, maybe you can work with JenzZa Misfit to arrange a question, and we’ll
get you on voice.
The question I would love to hear, given all we’ve discussed, the question I would really like
to hear the answer from Linden on is really about that target demographic. Do they really
plan on following this focusing on everyone on planet Earth until we find the extraterrestrials
so we can add them in too, and where they see that strategy having its strengths and its
weaknesses? So, JenzZa, or maybe Yxes, if you can help me out with Zee, that would be
So we are getting to the end of our show. And, Mitch, actually one of the things that I
wanted to talk with you about is, we’ve had a very Virtual World focused discussion here,
when, in fact Virtual World are just one of a lot of technologies that we have access to, and
you have been covering Web 2.0, social networks and Twitter and all of this. Where do you
see virtual worlds fitting in the larger Web 2.0 industry? Are they a novelty? Are they the
future of what’s going on here?
MITCH WAGNER: I think that there are a lot of trends happening at this point, and virtual
worlds is one of them. I think ultimately we’re going to see virtual worlds as one channel
among many that are used to access the internet and to access our network of contexts or
our Real World friends and our internet friends around the world. Other channels will include
text messaging, email, the web, the flat web. They’re all good for different things at different
times. Just as one present day example: When I was giving that demo of Twitter to my
fellow employees at Information Week, I was kind of startled to find that I think more than
half of the people on my Twitter friends list are people I know through Second Life. So while
I’m not logging into Second Life as much as I used to anymore, I’m still keeping pretty well
in touch with the Second Life community through Twitter and through blogs.
One area that we haven’t touched on at all is the idea of augmented reality, some of the
things that people are doing to overlay images over what you see in the Real World around
you. So people are now working on using handheld devices and phones with built-in
cameras and hacking them so that, if you hold the camera up and you turn it on and you can
see what’s in front of you, you hold it up in a building, you’ll actually see the address of the
building and maybe a little bit of information overlaid over the building itself. [Ophelio Artes?]
said these information technologies are just communication tools to associate with whom we
choose. That’s pretty accurate. We’re going to be using a lot of different tools. As displays
gets larger and we start seeing some of the technologies that are being worked on in
Georgia Tech and elsewhere for really making the experience more realistic, the experience
is going to get a lot more immersive, as far as virtual worlds go.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: What’s happening at Georgia Tech?
MITCH WAGNER: They’re doing a lot of this reality augmentation stuff, where you could
have--you know, the idea being that you’d be sitting in a room, and some of the people
around would be really in the room with you, and other people would just be present virtually
as avatars, but they would all be visible to what you’re doing.
I guess the ultimate vision for this is something like you see in Charlie Stross’s novel Halting
State or Vernor Vinge’s Rainbow’s End, where the display looks like a pair of eyeglasses or
event contact lenses, and you’re just looking around you. You can’t even tell, if you don’t
think about it, what’s real and what’s virtual anymore.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We have enough problem with people driving, talking on their cell
MITCH WAGNER: Yeah. Well, see, if you were driving, you’d actually, hopefully, images
that would help you drive more safely and accurately, “Watch out for this car. This guy is
drunk over here.”
Another technology I’ve been looking at, two more technologies. Even something as simple
as omni-directional treadmills look pretty cool. I’ve been trying to be more diligent about
exercise in the morning these days, and I think, “Man! It would be great if I could just walk
through Second Life instead of sitting here in my home office staring at the wall.” And
another thing that looks pretty interesting is some of the work that Mitch Kapor’s foundation
has been doing regarding using 3D cameras to navigate Second Life, using kind of some of
that same techniques that you use to navigate a segue. So if you leave--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So now you just need the 360 treadmill Stairmaster so that you
can work while you fly. Is that--you know, use those muscles. We’re just about out of time. I
do have one last question for the both of you. So first, am I still here?
MITCH WAGNER: Yeah, I lost you for a second, but now you seem to be back.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Wonderful.
STEVE PRENTICE: You’re a disembodied voice.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Oh, I am no longer in a chair so SLCN is probably filming an
empty chair right now, which would not be the first time.
And so my last question for the both of you, it’s really sort of a Meta question because it’s
about your roles as industry analysts. I come from more of a Wall Street background, but I
don’t think Silicon Valley and the tech industry is all that different. Analysts usually want to
avoid being overly critical of the companies that they cover because they don’t want to
become pariahs. They want to keep getting access to management that gives them the
information that really is their life’s blood. So I’m wondering how do you deal with that kind
of pressure and potential loss of independence?
MITCH WAGNER: Well, first of all, I’m not really an analyst. I’m more of a journalist. I don’t
really worry that much. I do worry about access, but I don’t really let that be a factor in
influencing my writing. The fact is, I’ve been covering Apple a lot for the past year, and I
think that I’ve gotten two interviews out of them. So you can easily cover a company without
necessarily having access to the top executives. Of course, I prefer it. And Linden has been
pretty accessible, so it hasn’t been a problem.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, we’ll see if they continue to be accessible after you’ve said
the things you have today. Steve, how about you?
STEVE PRENTICE: Like Mitch I don’t actually worry too much about it. I mean
[everyone’s?] concerned about objectivity so, at the end of the day, you look at a whole
range of factual information such as you can get it, and you infer from that, and what we talk
about is our advice, if you like, to our client base. I normally would draw back from being
overly critical specifically about an organization. It's much more sensible to to talk about
technologies. And you rely on maintaining a balance and keeping to the facts, and giving
organizations, when you are critical about them, an opportunity to respond before you
actually publish. That’s something that we’ve done on a number of occasions. With Linden,
where we've been talking about Second Life specifically, and it’s something that we do as a
matter of course. But we certainly don’t see ourselves as being in the pay, if you like, of
large organizations. Large organizations are our clients. Some of those are vendors. Some
are not. It’s not really an issue for us.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Great. Well, we are nearly to the end of the show. We do
have time, really, for each of you to make any sort of closing comment you would like. A
summary prediction, a clarification of something you said earlier. Steve, you sort of still have
the floor. You want to wrap up?
STEVE PRENTICE: Second Life is not virtual worlds. There are more virtual worlds than
Second Life. A lot of the backchat has been around are we saying Second Life is going to
fail. That’s not the issue here. The issue for me is how can organizations effectively use
virtual environments, virtual worlds, of which Second Life is one. There are all sort of issues,
but this isn’t about the success or failure of an individual organization. This is about success
or the failure of what I believe is a tremendously exciting technology, which has got a huge
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And, Mitch?
MITCH WAGNER: Well, I do want to believe in Linden Lab and Second Life, even though
the situation looks dire at this point. I think they have a lot of great people over there and a
lot of great energy, and I’m really hopeful and optimistic, perhaps against the facts, that they
will turn things around and get going. They remind me a bit of Yahoo today or Apple in the
1990s, a company that has a history of great innovation, and it still has a great many
innovative people in it, but at the moment seems to be stepping all over its own feet.
I did want to raise one other point here. I’m told that Zee actually said on Friday, in response
to something I had said elsewhere, that the company has--I forgot the exact phrase he
used--between like six million dollars in free cash in the quarter or something like that.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. Six million dollars in free cash flow in--I believe that was
first quarter ’08.
MITCH WAGNER: Okay. And that’s terrific. It means that even though the engines of the
airplane are not currently running, they’ve got plenty of glide room to restart the engines and
resume powered flight again. But I’m looking at the numbers of engaged users, and, when I
start to see those ratchet upwards at a significant rate, I will declare that Second Life is
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Benn Konsynski, a professor in IT at Emory’s Business School,
actually has been emphasizing to me a number of times that, in companies like this, you
don’t look at the first derivative. He’s a professor so he’s got to use calculus. You don’t look
at the first derivative, which is just how things are changing. You look at the second
derivative, which is the change in how things are changing. I think right now, if you look at
that, you say, “Well, there is growth.” But the growth isn’t growing, so you’re not seeing them
scale up exponentially but just linearly, which is not promising for an early stage company.
MITCH WAGNER: Yeah. Zee is saying in text chat here that, “The situation is not dire. We
have plenty of cash. We are growing very rapidly.” Not according to the numbers that you’ve
been releasing, Zee. Three percent month over month was the last number for overall
account growth. As far as I have been able to see, the number of engaged users has
remained pretty flat since December. Maybe there are numbers that you guys have
internally that we’re not seeing, but those two metrics alone tell me that the situation is dire.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, that is a great point, I think, on which to close our formal
show. What I would like to do is, I’m going to log off and come right back in and ask SLCN
to stick around, and maybe we can get just a quick voiced response from Zee to what Mitch
So first of all, I would like to thank everyone for showing up, especially my guests
Mitch Wagner, of Information Week, and Steve Prentice of Gartner Incorporated. It’s a
fascinating show. I’d like to remind everyone that this will be replayed on Muse Isle
tomorrow at 3:00 P.M. Second Life time. Transcripts for any members of the press will be
available on metanomics.net, usually about a day and half or two days after the show. And,
Zee, thanks for giving that response so far, and I hope to talk with you in about a minute and
a half, if that’s possible. So off I go. I’ll be back in a moment. Thank you, everyone.
Well, that was a fascinating discussion with Mitch Wagner, of Information Week, and
Steve Prentice, of Gartner Incorporated. One of the central parts of the discussion was
about the future of Linden Lab, and Mitch actually used the word “dire” to describe Linden
Lab’s current situation.
INTERVIEW WITH JOHN ZDANOWSKI
We are delighted to have with us John Zdanowski, Zee Linden, CFO of Linden Lab, to give
his quick response to what he heard today. Zee, thanks so much for coming on the show.
JOHN ZDANOWSKI: Thanks for having me. I always appreciate your variety of guests
you’re able to get into Second Life.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, well, it’s a labor of love. I’ve really been enjoying this. What
do you have to say to Mitch?
JOHN ZDANOWSKI: Well, I think Mitch is probably commenting about a couple of the
active user stats and the unique user stats that we publish. So active users have been
relatively steady at about 500,000 users logging in for more than an hour per month over the
last year. And our, you know, just people logging in has been in the 800,000 to a million
unique users per month.
The number that I think we look at that ends up having much more sort of financial
relevance to us and to the residents of Second Life is total user hours and then total
concurrency. And both of those have shown linear growth since about a year ago. For the
six-month period between sort of Q4 of 2006 and Q1 of 2007, it was faster than linear
growth, but I think there were some unsustainable components of our growth there relative
to sort of the blog post that I recently made about our 15 percent growth from Q4 to Q1 of
this year. I think this is at a much more sustainable level of growth.
The other number that I think people get confused about at times is premium subscriptions.
Originally, premium subscriptions were a great way for us to basically stimulate the
economy by giving people Linden dollars long before there was a LindeX. Over the last year
and the year before, we significantly reduced the stipend, which had the intended effect of
slowing down the growth of premiums, and those have been flatted around 90,000. At this
point, a premium subscription, as currently configured, is really just the right to own
mainland and then a small Linden dollar stipend. I think we’ve seen more of the growth in
island users and kind of a much more diversity of usage on private islands themselves. The
mainland though has also continued to grow, with the average parcel size that each
premium user owns continuing to increase.
I think the key point here for Mitch is that, when your revenue grows from four, ten to forty in
the first quarter, about 70 million on a run rate basis, I’m not sure that there are a lot of
private companies that achieve that level of growth at the same time as achieving
profitability. And so if our situation is dire, then I just wonder about a lot of other companies
that don’t really have that kind of financial performance. And it really is kind of surprising to
hear that, being the CFO here and looking at our numbers, and also being quite transparent
about those numbers. Probably more transparent than any other private company on the
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And we appreciate the transparency, especially the economic
statistics that you do provide for the in-world economy. And actually one question I had:
When you were in the Metanomics group chat channel last week, you talked a bit about the
money that residents are taking out of Second Life. And I’m wondering how important is that
to you as something to be tracking and keeping a finger on as part of your numbers
JOHN ZDANOWSKI: It’s very important. Can you still hear me?
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yes, I can.
JOHN ZDANOWSKI: It indicates the overall health of the economy, and that was really the
focus of my most recent blog post--was the 15 percent growth and the user-to-user
economy from Q4 to Q1. Then the 17 percent growth in the LindeX volume from Q4 to Q1.
I mentioned in the chat while you were talking that, since inception, the users have traded
over $600 million worth of virtual goods inside Second Life. I’m not sure there's anybody
with a tenth of that in an open way like Linden Lab and Second Life have, or maybe even a
hundredth of that, and I think that’s sort of the most important thing about Second Life is that
in-world economy because that’s what attracts a lot of creativity and a lot of really great
builders and people providing great experiences.
In terms of people cashing out, it’s pretty consistent that the LindeX volume as it
represents--the sellers on the LindeX primarily represent successful in-world businesses,
and so you can look at the 9.2 million, I think, that were traded on the LindeX last month,
and then roughly about 45 percent of that in any given month is cashed out by residents.
Another 45 percent of that is paid back to us in fees. (There’s a little echo there.) --in fees
for land and other things. And the fees that come back to us from basically sellers on the
LindeX also translate into more than half of our overall revenue billings. And so the success
of the in-world economy is tied intimately to our own success. I think some of these numbers
also get confused when compared to last year and some of the--the three main problems of
last year were sort of hyper growth and then fraud and then shutting down gambling and
then implementing the VAT. And clearly, shutting down gambling significantly reduced
user-to-user transactions. But, as you can see on the charts on the LindeX, it had absolutely
no impact on the value of the Linden dollar relative to the U.S. dollar. And that, to me,
meant, yeah, well, it was about 40 percent of the user-to-user transactions because often
gambling transactions are quite circular in nature, and the net is quite small, the overall
impact of gambling on the money supply was only about three percent. And the money
supply growth slowed about three percent for one month and then returned to its normal
So all the indications that I see, and I’d be happy to sit down with Mitch personally--I think
he’s here in the Bay Area--and walk him through some of these numbers and say it’s hard to
imagine certainly--we’ve got lots of problems with stability and definitely some growing
pains, but I think our focus is in the right area. The IBM announcement indicates that we’re
looking for an enterprise solutions provider like IBM to really help us make Second Life and
the technology enterprise ready. We’re working with the architecture working group to
establish standards in the space. And all the while we're continuing to support and maintain
a rapidly growing in-world economy and continue to add in great features like the upgrade of
Havoc and the implementation of Wind Light. There’s definitely a lot going on, and certainly
no one would like our stability to be much greater than it is than me. But I think, in
comparison to the size of other Worlds and the size of things like that, I think the situation is
far from dire, from that perspective.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So I’ve got two more questions. I know we’re just about out of
time, but I hope you’ll be able to give some responses. The first one, one topic during the
show was: What is Linden Lab’s demographic focus for Second Life? Who are the targeted
residents, users, clients? And I think the consensus of Mitch and Steve was: everyone
human on planet Earth. And that that may indicate a lack of focus that is causing some of
the problems that they saw with Linden Lab. Do you have a response to that?
JOHN ZDANOWSKI: Yeah. First of all, I think I mentioned in the backchat there that, yeah,
there has been a broad focus for Linden Lab, but certainly, I think it’s a thick client to
download, definitely requires a high speed internet connection. It definitely requires a better
than average computer. And we haven’t, though we could do things like get it to run in a
browser and things like that, I think, there’s quite a number of challenges to solve there.
People have gotten it to work on a mobile phone, but really, that’s just through our Open
Source capabilities that that’s been possible. So I think that, at the end of the day, the folks
that end up using Second Life are definitely more technically savvy than the average
person. And I think that’s an indication that virtual worlds in general are still at the earliest
stages of adoption.
At that early, early stage of adoption, I’m not sure that any analyst on the planet could
predict exactly or define which demographic to target. And certainly we look at the
demographics that we have and kind of the international split that we have. And I think
there’s lots of different use cases inside Second Life that have contributed to its growth. In
the back channel or somebody mentioned like if there’s a person who has a jazz club, then
their target demographic are jazz enthusiasts. And I think there are just so many of those
micro communities that I think that, at the end of the day, that really is--our focus is on
providing a Virtual World place where you can engage with a small group of people or a
larger group like your Metanomics group, who are interested in similar subjects and
collaborate and discuss things with them in a way that’s not really enabled by other
technologies. I think humans have diverse interests, so I think they like the fact that you can
jump from a jazz club to a Metanomics session. I think we’ve empowered quite a few people
to engage with people and information in ways that they couldn’t before that. In terms of the
lack of focus causing us problems, I don’t see that happening.
I think we’re really focused on broad stability and reliability, and we have been for some
time. It has improved. I think the implementation of Havoc reduced physics-related crashes
some 99 percent and overall crashes on simulators of more than 68 percent. The crash rate
of the viewer itself is still far too high. There’s definitely a complex problem with the way
Open GL is implemented on a variety of different hardware platforms. We have statistics on
all the different hardware platforms, and we’re working to beat down the major sources of
those crashes. And I think, in the upcoming release candidates, I think we’ve seen a
20 percent decline in viewer crash rates.
But still, I think we’ve got such a long way to go. I think virtual worlds have a long way to go.
I think Linden Lab is going to be a part of that, and I think, at this point, certainly the
economy of Second Life is the largest Virtual World economy, and we’re going to do all we
can to protect that lead.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thank you. I have one final question that takes us back to the
economy, which is about the change in land prices. So there was a decision by Linden Lab
to dramatically reduce the up-front cost of new land, while keeping the monthly rental, the
tier fees, largely the same. One question is: What was the motivation for that change? And
related questions: Why change the up-front cost rather than the tier? And how do you see
those changes ultimately affecting the Second Life economy?
JOHN ZDANOWSKI: Yeah. Changing prices in Second Life is extremely difficult. I started
in September of 2006, and the company was not profitable, and I looked at the analysis and
said, “Look, in order to get profitable, we had to make a significant price increase.” At that
time we raised prices from 1250 up front to 1675 up front, and we were looking at higher
hardware costs for better simulators that we had, and that contributed to that. Then we also
looked at the monthly fee and raised that from 195 on islands to 295. And, of course, that
wasn’t greeted with excitement from the community either. Oddly enough, reducing prices
also has been greeted largely kind of negatively by existing landowners. And certainly I can
understand that. It does feel like that we’ve taken some value out of the land by lowering our
up-front fees, but I think that the major driver for that decision was a recognition that the
hardware costs for us in 2006 were over $1,000 per region, had come down to kind of below
$400 per region and that there are many sort of applications in Second Life for which that
up-front cost was prohibitive.
The recurring fee I think for us at this stage is probably accurate where it is relative to the
cost that we incur for hosting the servers and things like that and the way that we do it. I
think there’s other technology changes such as hosting more regions on a CPU, and we’ve
done that with the open spaces so that you can get sort of a lower prim, lower cost region. I
think there’s more we can do in that area, but for a full region with full prim and full
permissions and full estate controls, I think 295 for now is the right price, and that will
probably maintain stable for some time to come.
So I think the way it’ll impact the economy, just based on what we saw before, interestingly
enough our revenue per user hour has been about 20 cents for more than the last three
years. And I think that translates into--I think some of the in-world business owners will be
able to cash out more and still expand their property holdings, or they may be able to
purchase more. So I would expect either that the profitable in-world businesses can buy
more land and cash out more at the same time or that we really enabled a variety of more
applications to be developed in Second Life.
On the up-front fee, I think that is a number that will probably continue to fluctuate as the
system changes and as some of the dynamics of the hardware pricing change. So just
based on what we saw before, there was definitely resistance to the price change in 2006.
There’s definitely resistance to the price change in 2007. And I think the cries have been the
same, that changing prices were going to destroy the Second Life economy. But it didn’t
happen before, and we’re certainly not expecting that to happen again.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thank you so much for being generous with your time, joining us
in the Metanomics backchat channel last week and joining us here to respond to what you
heard on today’s Metanomics show. So I guess we’ve gone way over our time. I would like
to remind people that, immediately after this show, we have Cybergirl Oh, who is going to be
on her show, Real Biz, talking with advertising agency GSD&M Idea City. So that should be
a very interesting show starting in about 20 minutes. We’d better let SLCN get there and get
set up for that.
Thank you, Zee. Thanks to everyone who showed up, and we will be up again on Friday
with a special Metanomics, talking with Larry Johnson, CEO of New Media Consortium,
during the Clever Zebra vBusiness Expo. So see you all on Friday, 11:00 AM, Second Life
JOHN ZDANOWSKI: Thanks, Beyers. Great show.
Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com
Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer