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Sep 242012
 
Linden Lab hopes that 'Patterns' will be the next big thing.  But isn't this just Minecraft with some corners cut off?
an editorial by Gene Turnbow

Linden Lab hopes that ‘Patterns’ will be the next big thing. But isn’t this just Minecraft with some corners cut off?

SAN FRANCISCO – On September 19, Linden Lab announced their new game for the XBox 360 called “Patterns”. From the announcement video, it looks like a cross between the wildly popular Minecraft and a few carefully selected elements from their previous big success story, Second Life.  In it, players create objects and environments by sticking together not blocks, as in Minecraft, but triangles.

The addition of physics and the concept of keying the behavior of the user-created world to the patterns of triangles the user creates makes it distinctive – but not exactly unique.  Minecraft has the same concept of creating new objects and devices by aligning user-placed primitives made from certain materials into certain configurations.  One creates a portal to the Minecraft netherworld (the “Nether”) using blocks of onyx, for example. Patterns adds physics, and the elements are more abstract – and by default, as in Second Life, you see yourself as an avatar that moves around in the triangle world building or destroying, operating and using what you make.

Unfortunately, except for it being in triangles, Mojang has a huge head start on Linden Lab.  Mods for Minecraft have had years to become rich and varied, to the point where you can build complex virtual technology from raw materials in-game, and since it’s got an extensive API you can make it do nearly anything you can imagine.  Linden Lab is not creating something new an innovative; quite the contrary.  They’re chasing the ideas Minecraft left in the distance years ago.  Even the idea of porting it to handheld devices like phones and tablets isn’t new.  Mojang was there first, releasing versions for iOS and Android in November of 2011.

Obviously Linden Lab is beginning to move on from Second Life.  They’re hoping their new game Patterns will be the Next Big Thing.  They’re certainly entitled to spin off their success with Second Life, and borrowing core concepts from Minecraft to do it is certainly allowable.  Though the new game looks like it might be fun, and their new iOS-only offering, Creatorverse has a certain appeal as well, there’s something critical that Linden Lab has overlooked.

Its own customers.

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In recent weeks, third party observers have noted that Second Life, after peaking in 2010, has been slowly losing its edge.  Users of the popular open-ended shared-experience 3D social and creative environment have lamented what seemed like bizarre customer service decisions, including:

The most recent decision has many users perplexed – the JIRA system, used to report technical issues with the Second Life platform, has now been effectively closed to the public.  Users can still file bug reports, but the reports can be seen only by the person who filed them.  This move effectively destroys creative communication with the more technical of the Second Life user base, who frequently collaborated with the Second Life developers in finding solutions or suggesting new features for the MMO.  Apparently Linden Lab no longer cares about this.  They did, however, issue the following statement about the decision to remove the JIRA from the public eye:

User-submitted bug reports help improve the Second Life experience for all Residents, so we greatly appreciate all of you who take the time to provide this invaluable information to us. 

Because we want to make it even easier to report bugs, today we are making some changes that will streamline the bug reporting process, allowing us to more quickly collect information and respond to issues.

Following is a summary of the JIRA changes:

  • All bugs should now be filed in the new BUG project, using the more streamlined submission form.
  • Second Life users will only see their own reported issues.  When a Bug reaches the “Been Triaged” status, they will no longer be able to add comments to their issue.
  • Once a Bug reaches the “Accepted” or “Closed” status, it will not be updated. You can watch the Release Notes to see when and if a fix has been released for your issue.
  • Existing JIRAs will remain publicly visible. We will continue to review and work through these.

To those of you who have taken the time to alert us to bugs and provided the information we need to fix them — thank you! We hope that you will continue to help us improve Second Life, and this new process should make it easier for all of us. Ideas about how we can continue to improve the bug reporting process can be shared here.

For more information, visit:
How to report a BUG (Knowledge Base Article): 
Bug Tracker (wiki page):
Bug Tracker Status/Resolutions (wiki page)

We don’t see how this will improve much – there is no way to check for duplicate bug reports, there’s no way to collaborate with the user base on finding solutions, and it effectively slams the door in the face of the third party developers who create tools that interoperate with Second Life.

Perhaps Linden Lab thinks that with visibility of the process completely removed, nobody will be able to keep track of how responsive they’ve been.  Given that the Second Life platform has lost over a thousand sims in the past eleven weeks alone, and this JIRA announcement was made during this period, it’s entirely possible that Linden Lab has simply stopped caring about Second Life.  They appear to have been expending their resources elsewhere, and for practical purposes Linden Lab is now merely overseeing the winding down of the Second Life economy and an entire virtual civilization – the first of its kind in the world.

All things end, good and bad – but the Second Life community is slowly getting the hint and is creating their own grids and the virtual civilization is moving outward from Second Life in a great diaspora. Once considered a shaky experimental curiosity, OpenGrid now boasts more than 11,000 region simulators – about a third of the number of regions in Second Life.  Taken all together, though, the top 40 non-Linden grids contain about 80% the number of regions Second Life does – if the current rate of Second Life decline and the current rate of OpenSim expansion hold, OpenSim regions will outnumber Second Life regions by Christmas.

Linden Lab has chosen its new course.  It’s sad that this doesn’t seem to include the customers upon whom its success was built.

- 30 -

Correction

We had received information that SpotOn3D was going out of business, and referred to that fact in the above article.  This, however, turned out not to be the case, so we retract that statement.

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President of Krypton Media Group, Inc., radio personality and station manager of Krypton Radio. Part writer, part animator, part musician, part illustrator, part programmer, part entrepreneur - all geek.

  18 Responses to “Linden Lab Leaving ‘Second Life’ Behind, Announces ‘Patterns’”

Comments (17) Pingbacks (1)
  1.  

    Sounds like they sucked as much profit as they could and now hope it implodes.

  2.  

    Yes, Linden Lab is giving up on Second Life to pursue other projects. There’s just one problem: Second Life real estate is the company’s primary source of revenue, according to some sources, and with no other stated way to replace it, this means that any future projects will have a tough time finding the necessary investment funds. Patterns looks like something geared toward small children, and the graphics look like something from the old SNES Starfox game, so obviously it will have no appeal for wider audiences.

    It seems that Linden Lab is doubling down on some very stupid policies that will, in the end, bring the company to bankruptcy within a very short period of time. I give it a year, maybe two, before the final collapse.

  3.  

    I felt like I was watching a trailer for a product being featured at a trade show, not something you’re trying to sell to the general public. That was pathetic, and I agree with you Michael, this patterns isn’t going to appeal much to the current SL audience. It’s really just a slap in the face of the current customers, who are wondering where the customer support went to. – PK

  4.  

    I think it’s fine that they’re looking forward, all companies with a future do this. What I’ve learned from my time in Second Life, though, and from my time running Krypton Radio, is that your products aren’t your business. Your customers are. They’re essentially your family. If you take care of them and attend to their needs and listen to them, they’ll stand by you through thick and thin. I think that’s what Linden Lab has not figured out – the ivory tower approach to the whole thing hasn’t really been working. It’s not too late to pull Linden Lab out of what many perceive as a tailspin. They may succeed with Patterns, but it will be in spite of their Second Life following, when they could have invited them along for the ride and made things much easier and happier for everyone.

  5.  

    I highly suspect that people who want Minecraft will play Minecraft. I think Second Life really worked because it was DIFFERENT. Like many of us fans always claimed, “It isn’t a game.” If we wanted to jump through someone else’s hoops and reach for someone else’s goals, we’d be playing World of Warcraft or something. Few people would have cared about Second Life if it had just been another “MMO game” on the ‘Net. If they think creating just another Minecraft on a console is going to work, they’re not capitalizing on their success; they’re completely ignoring it and tossing it away.

  6.  

    @Michael, one of our favorite quotes from the article you linked to on the John Carter McKnight editorial is “putting wheels on my grandma doesn’t make her a wagon”. And a commenter Inara Pey mentioned in the comments on Tateru Nino’s article on the same subject that when Alexa Linden was asked in a User Group meeting how LL will identify multiple duplicate reports on a the same issue if(/when) something serious enough goes wrong for people to file multiple reports, the reply was, “We don’t know.”

    Bingo. They haven’t thought this through, or don’t care. Either way it’s going to be a problem.

  7.  

    FYI, SpotOn3d is still around

  8.  

    Yes, April 2010 SL peaked. The negative growth coincides precisely with Linden Lab decision to stop all Full Perms from being backed up on users home computers.

    No-one (especially tech-savvy users) likes having their data locked in a walled garden by a faceless company bent upon its own demise.

    Many of my SL friends (and myself) built our Second LifeBoats in OpenSim.

  9.  

    @Jon, thank you, we have posted the correction in the article at the end.

    @Lani, we note that once again this month that the number of privately owned sims in SL has declined. According to GridSurvey.com, the web site that tracks these things, Second Life currently contains 21,549 privately owned regions. Only 11,851 of these are full sims, with nearly all the rest being homesteads – and SL has lost 1600 estate owners since July of 2010. Less than 1% of the estate owners control over 73% of the privately held land in SL, so about 500 estate magnates are basically keeping Second Life afloat. If the virtual real estate market continues to contract, it’s possible that the Second Life economy could implode, reaching the tipping point beyond which it is impossible to sustain a virtual economy. Anyone who says they know when that’s going to happen and exactly what the tipping point is is likely lying, but we’ll toss our hat in the ring anyway and guess that the economic tipping point of no return for the Second Life economy, given the current rate of decline, will occur sometime in 2014.

  10.  

    plz dont close sl down i enjoy playing it

  11.  

    As someone who’s used Second Life for quite a while, I have a question… What happens when Second life goes? Does Linden Labs intend to just give everyone that used it the finger and run off? If so, don’t expect much to come of this minecraft ripoff. No matter how good a game is, treating your customers like shit is never a good business practice and I’d be willing to bet the majority of second life users would turn against LL.

    Some persons made money off of it while others invested a lot into it. You can’t just kick a community in the nuts like that and run off… Please tell me there’s some plan to give source code, information or SOMETHING to the community so we can keep it running…

    •  

      The original creator of Second Life is working on a new virtual world (not part of Linden Labs). You can guarantee this is where current Second Lifers will be if and when SL goes away. FYI, SL isn’t going anywhere. New features continue to be rolled out at a regular pace, such as Server Side Baking and coming soon, Materials.

      •  

        They’ve slowed the inevitable, perhaps – land mass and concurrency are both about where they were in June of 2008, and though they haven’t had any dramatic drops in either in the past three months, the overall trend is still a very strong slope in the southerly direction. We’ve polled a few estates and business owners, and about one in six or so has said they’ve had to cut their regions down for lack of renters. The better established businesses are holding their own, but they aren’t doing as well as they were last year, or the year before, or the year before that.

        The new additions, like server side baking, mesh and materials are great and all – but as they add more features to the creators tools, they’re also raising the bar in terms of the minimum skill level required to capture the top of the marketplace in terms of salable goods. Eventually they’ll hit the same wall that Blue Mars hit early on, which was that there are so few capable creators who can function at such an extremely technical level that there won’t be enough to sustain the economy.

        OpenSim will also be adopting a lot of these same features. It will take longer, but Linden Lab has leaky pockets – they can’t keep the thunder in their back pockets indefinitely, and as other platforms reproduce what Linden Lab does they will lose more and more of their defining edge until they can’t find anything else to make SL do with its current architecture. And that will be that. The writing is already on the wall – despite the technological advances, they have been unable to stem the tidal wave of fleeing customers.

  12.  

    One of the sore points Second Life users have is that it’s a walled garden – anything that goes in, stays in. It’s extremely difficult to take anything back out, and that’s going to be a problem when Second Life concurrency drops to the point where the balance between what it costs to maintain those data centers and what Linden Lab gets every month in its rapidly vanishing land tier payments becomes too precarious to maintain.

    Second Life isn’t like other MMO’s – it has a huge central economy that is actually strong enough for about 5% of its population to derive their entire livelihood from it. The metrics that apply to MMO’s in general don’t apply to Second Life because of that. And, because Linden Lab gets a piece of that economy every month, the Second Life glide path is a lot shallower and a lot longer than it might otherwise have been. How much longer? Nobody knows. But one thing is fairly certain: when Second Life does close down, it will close down quickly, without much fanfare, and there are going to be a lot of people who are going to be burned by having invested all that time and energy into their constructs which Linden Lab is not going to be adequately prepared to allow them to download and move to other grids. Assuming they allow people to archive and download backups of their Second Life constructs and possessions at all.

    The alternative is the Second Life work-alike grids, such as OSGrid, Avination, InWorldz and others. Content created for Second Life works just fine in these other grids, and while conversion is difficult and labor intensive, it can be done. It’s beyond the ability of most people, though, and the economies in these various splinter universes are of a correspondingly splinter scale. Those lucky enough to be able to port their Second Life experience to other grids get to keep it. But we think most won’t be able to.

  13.  

    As of today, the number of private sims has dropped to about 20.5K, but the number of full regions is about the same as it was last October. The thousand regions lost, therefore, have been almost exclusively Homesteads and Openspace sims as estate owners reconsolidate and try to make their estates more cost effective in order to survive. Second Life region counts have not been this low since about June of 2009, and they continue to fall at a linear rate established nine months ago.

    At the grid’s current rate of decline, the number of private estates will fall to 19K by Christmas. This means that they are losing about a year’s growth every nine months, so Linden Lab is losing ground significantly faster than it took to gain that ground in the first place. Technically they could continue in this downward spiral for another 3 to 3.5 years before there are no private regions left at all. Long before this happens, the drop in concurrency will be great enough as to permanently damage the in-world economy. When that happens, commerce will begin shutting down and the vendors will begin leaving Second Life en masse as the Second Life economy enters a full, irreversible economic decline.

    The mainland regions have remained constant since October of 2011, so all the losses have been occurring in the privately held regions. Since Linden Lab makes the vast majority of its money from the lease of these islands, the Second Life grid will very likely cross the line into unprofitability before the three year mark is reached, probably no longer than 2.5 years.

  14.  

    It’s only April, but SL is still making the opposite of progress. Region counts and concurrency have slid back to where they were in May of 2009.

  15.  

    With the recent messed up T.O.S. they offered the SL community I think they’ve shot so many holes in the boat that is SL in order to support their new endeavors that SL in it’s current capacity is rapidly hitting the point where it will succumb to the whiles of the sea it swims in. However, I see that they have completely alienated the developers who worked so hard for so many years to make SL a place that intrigued so people in new and fantastic ways, and made Linden Labs what it is today. What a slap in the face to those of us who developed our asses off creating original content that Linden Labs now claims belongs to THEM.

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