For the most recent episode of the Drax Files, Draxtor Despres had a long chat with the CEO of Linden Lab, Rod Humble.
You can watch the video here;
And find a link to it on youtube here;
Because not everything made it into the video, Draxtor was kind enough to let me listen to the interview so I could write it all down and share it with you here.
Rod Humble interview:
On the current status of Second Life;
I think it’s an amazing thing that after 10 years we have a million people active every month, we have 400.000-odd people sign up every month.
And I think, at least from my background, I come from the world of computer games, that never happens.
Usually it’s a sequel at that point, that you’re making a franchise.
I think the reason why is pretty clear, which is, it’s this wonderful creative platform and I think that being able to see this avenue where people can make whatever they want and they can share it and they can sell it and they can socialise, I just think it is a tremendous thing and I am very pleased with it.
Second Life is ahead of its generation, but very traditional in the fact that it enables creativity and I believe that that is the most powerful form of interactivity and entertainment.
I think that children immediately are drawn to things that they can make and play with.
And they are not drawn to fixed experiences that are linear.
And my kids are the same, my son loves Minecraft, he loves Second Life, he loves being able to make things.
And my daughter is the same, she is five, she can’t quite understand Second Life yet but she plays with paint programs and Creatorverse, a program that we just did.
And I think that is more traditional, I think that people are naturally drawn to being able to play rather than follow somebody else’s fixed path.
We may look back on the video-game business from the 80s up to 2000 as something of a historical anomaly.
Adding that spacial dimension and also your sense of identity is a large factor.
I don’t have all of the answers, I don’t know why it’s magic, but it is.
On being in-world;
When I am in-world, I feel the same way.
Wow this is different, I am not sure why it’s different.
I think that some of it has to do with that I know I have this self expression which is my avatar and I know that I am in a space that I can move around and I know that it’s been made by somebody.
And it is more engaging and the conversations become different in-world
I am a great believer that the tools and rules of any interactive experience govern the kinds of things that come out of it.
I think it is no accident that for example on twitter, which is part of the reason I kind of stopped using it, is that limit on characters really does force a trivial and snarky kind of conversation.
For example, I’ve dealt with a lot of communities.
i think that the Second Life community is clearly about creativity and when I’m on first person shooter game communities, the communities there are very different because there is one activity that it is focused around.
Again I don’t think there is anything new here.
The tone of the conversations at a chess club are going to be different then the conversations at a sewing circle.
Because of the kinds of things that you’re doing, the activity is the central conversation and all the other conversations emerge around it, kind of like a coral.
I think that the ability for you to have a certain kind of identity in certain situations within Second Life is much more traditional then today.
I am very uncomfortable with the lack of privacy and ability to choose the persona I put forward, more and more.
With social media, everyone knows who you are.
That doesn’t feel comfortable to me, sometimes I want to choose.
The you that goes to church is different then the you that goes to the pub or the tavern which is different then the you that goes to work or is at home or is in a club.
And I think increasingly today those lines are getting eroded.
And I think they are important.
It is tremendously empowering for people to go into Second Life and say; “Here is my persona.”
And I love flying around with my alts, sometimes I’m a spaceship, sometimes I’m dressed as a greek philosopher, sometimes I’m dressed as an animal, I mean, it’s great!
And each one of those personas, you can fully engage in a community in a way you that you can’t when everybody knows it’s Rod Humble who’s chatting to you.
When I go in-world, I answer some messages, I give out bears.
Some of the most enjoyable things I’ve done, flying planes, riding railroads, I like to go sailing.
I love building on my island, which is secret so you won’t get to see that but I enjoy it a lot.
What did I make?
I made some little virtual pet thing, I like programming in LSL.
There was a bunch of art galleries I just thought they were fabulous.
There’s a lot of activities that I really enjoy within Second Life.
I would say that, if you browse in-world or you browse the marketplace or you just look at images from Second Life.
There will be a point when you see something and you will say; “Ah I would like to be that in-world.”
And that is the best I can give, I think there is something for everybody and it is magical when it happens.
I remember when I saw a spaceship fighter and I was like “Hey that would be a cool avatar!” and it really clicked.
So I think you just have to look around and I think some people are just not comfortable with it at all and they certainly shouldn’t do it.
But I have this hunch that there is an avatar for everybody.
It is very hard for us to figure out what you will find appealing within Second Life, within this universe of creativity.
And so I think a lot of people come to it and are like ‘Well it is not for me, I’ve seen what it is like and it is not for me.”
And then if if you take them by the hand and you say; “Well by the way are you into quilting? Because I can show you a place in Second Life where there are these wonderful communities who are making carpets and fabrics and all of these wonderful things.
Or are you into aircraft?”.
I remember, I was showing a CEO of another company, he was just looking at Second Life and we were chatting about business.
And I was like; “Oh this is one of my favorite places” and he was genuinely unimpressed.
Right up to I said “Oh and this is one of my favorite areas” and I took him to this airport where there were all these aircraft recreated within Second Life and he just flipped his lid.
He was like; “This is amazing! And I can fly these?”
It is discoverability and I wish I had the answer to that but I don’t.
On Second Life and the tech world;
There is a mindset within the tech business which is ‘rinse and repeat’.
And it’s if something is older then a year it is clearly on its way down and I just don’t believe that at all.
Creative platforms should be tremendously long lived and I, nobody is really talking about changing canvasses for painting.
And I think that you can make things better and better but fundamentally I think that creative platforms, the longer they are around the better.
There is definitely short term thinking in the Bay area.
And I think it is a mistake because I think that there are businesses that you build over time.
I am astonished, before I worked here, I worked on a game called “The Sims”, where you control little people and Second Life is similar.
And I am astonished that there has no been no significant competition to Second Life and by significant I am not trying to be disrespectful to our other competitors right now, but no large company has come in and said; “We’re going to spend 50 million dollars building a Second Life competitor.”
And that is astonishing.
And nobody did it with the Sims either and I think a lot of it is they don’t get it.
How do you compete with something you don’t understand, how do you build it?
On Second Life performance;
We are about, I would say 30 to 40% trough, I am not even sure that the 30 to 40% is live yet.
But late last year I mentioned it in passing that we were investing in performance and it has been a huge effort.
And it has been a problem that the company as a whole, we didn’t really address for years and years and we spend over a year now on it and the rest of the performance improvements should be out this summer, I think a big one should be out for SL10B.
And my hope is that people just notice, as you have.
But you ain’t seen nothing yet, there’s going to be some really significant ones that are coming and it is just going to be great for everybody.
And that is an investment that isn’t immediately apparent to people and its not very sexy but it is very much appreciated.
When Danger Linden, Don a friend of mine, he joined Second Life and he is now heading a production on it.
He just came into my office after the first week and said; “Rod there is this elephant in the room. You do know how just slow everything works? And it just ruins the immersion.”
And so we put a real focus on it.
So thank you, I’m glad you noticed, it is gonna get better.
For the pas year or so, we’ve been working under the hood to improve performance.
A lot of those performance improvements are rolling out this quarter and next quarter and I think people will be delighted by them.
We’ve added mesh, we’ve added pathfinding, we recently added CHUI which is a flexible user interface.
All of these things have made Second Life look more and more nextgen and some of the works are just beautiful and we continue to add new features.
I think with mesh there is a dramatic transformation between older creations and ones that you can make with current generation tools and upload within Second Life.
And if you just look side by side with the same creator of what they could make two years ago and what they can make today with mesh, it is absolutely stunning.
And I am so pleased to see the results.
I do think that Second Life enables people with isolation issues, disabilities or they just have different ways of wanting to interact with other people.
And it is extremely empowering and I found that myself.
And I find that a key feature for Second Life.
One of the businesses and the areas of enjoyment within Second Life is breedables, so pathfinding has helped there.
And there are so many different kinds of pets and animals that you can purchase and raise within Second Life, from horses to these wonderful fantasy creatures.
It’s amazingly enjoyable and having a pet is very addictive as well.
Yeah everything that you see in Second Life is created by the users for the users.
And what emerges are these wonderful communities and lines of business and they rise and fall and rise and it’s wonderful.
And I do think that is a misconception; Linden Lab, we don’t make the things you see in Second Life, it is all community driven.
On Second Life’s reputation;
I think that we try every day, I think that with SL, with the 10 year anniversary, there is another opportunity to position Second Life correctly.
I was actually on stage last weekend and I got asked about the biggest misconception about Second Life and my answer is; We have the same amount of interest in adult content as Google does but you don’t think of Google as the Adult search engine, which it is!
We’re very broad and that’s when you have people able to create whatever they want, they will create whatever they want and that will be interests of all kinds.
And I embrace that, I think it takes a lot for people to understand that because they believe one company is making all the content and therefor is making all the content.
I also think it is rather childish, you know, from particularly, myself in England, living in the States.
There is this rather childish cultural obsession with sex, it’s like, really?!
I mean, it is interesting, but you know it’s normal as well, it’s kind of a healthy thing, why are you guys so obsessed by this?
I think it is because video games, at least in the UK and United States, it’s always been very taboo.
It’s okay to have genocide, blowing people’s heads off, but heaven forbid you show an act of love.
On the Second Life economy;
Yeah it is actually amazing.
It is round about half a billion US dollars a year transactions within Second Life.
And so far it has been 2.3 billion USD and actually it is increasing.
So the amount of land right now is going down, slightly, but the economy is increasing, which is astonishing.
Yeah and it goes in cycles.
It is always amazing to me as a businessman seeing the way that the Second Life business evolves and it is so driven by the users, it changes in ways you wouldn’t expect.
I am still absolutely amazed at just how robust it is.
A million Monthly Active Users for an online experience that’s ten years old is unheard off within the video game business and this isn’t a video game and I think it is because of that, it’s a creative platform.
On Oculus Rift;
We’re working internally on integrating Oculus Rift and VR headsets, which I’m really exciting about.
I can’t wait, it’s already great.
It is actually trivial to get it up and working so you can look around, what isn’t trivial is you absolutely need to now convert all of your user interface because when you’re looking around you can’t track around with your mouse, it doesn’t feel right anymore.
So you have to make that UI helped with where you’re looking.
Which is astonishing, we wouldn’t have predicted that but it’s really really necessary.
We have the Oculus Rift working within Second Life and we are working to make it a triple A experience particularly round the user interface.
On the future;
We are working on not only large features for Second Life but also we have a very very large virtual world investment that we haven’t announced yet and that is still a few years out but I think that’s going to really excite people.
I think that Virtual Reality, things like the Oculus Rift are very important.
And I also think that one of the biggest multipliers that will happen within virtual worlds is creation tools getting easier and easier.
And that’s going to be a huge bonus.
We’ve been having a lot of fun and as I said, our largest product it is virtual world related and for Second Life Users, I think people are going to be excited.
But that is a few years out.
We do some programs where we support the arts by donating land and we do that trough a committee of residents.
It combines architecture with drawing with programming, it’s an amazing thing.
On Linden Lab;
At Linden Lab we have about 176 employees, we’ve got offices in Sweden, England, Virginia, Boston, San Francisco is the main office, we’ve got one in Seattle as well, so we diversify.
I will say that productivity more and more is increasing because of tools and I also think that there are modern methods of engineering which help.
Over the past two years we have gone from becoming a minority engineering organisation to a majority.
So the majority of our employees now are programmers who actually make things, which I think is healthy.
I think that we remain very much under the radar for most people, I will say that recruiting is remarkably easy.
And I think that that’s changed particularly over the past 18 months, it’s got a lot easier.
And I think people are seeing what we are doing and that we have interesting engineering problems.
But in general I think that most people in Silicon Valley have no idea that Second Life still exists.
Which is interesting in and of itself.
On the Second Life community;
But I think when it comes to the community, you mentioned the community, I love the Second Life community.
And I think the Second Life community gives itself a bad rep.
If you ask the Second Life community they will tell you ‘Oh you know, we’re so negative and we’re so drama obsessed’.
And it’s just not true.
I come from gaming communities, where I was running a gaming community, I received three death threats in a day!
I’ve never received three death threats in a day from Second Life users, I’ve only received only one death threat here.
And that was from a guy who got banned, you know, he was angry.
I actually regard the Second Life community as far more polite and less vitriolic then many video game communities I’ve managed, maybe it’s just my experience but for me it’s a step up.