The Lost Refuge is partly a puzzle to solve, and partly a tribute to Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg, who passed away recently. It’s a collaboration between Silas Merlin and Solas Enchantment (a.k.a Solas NaGealai), built for the Second Life 18th birthday celebrations, which you can find on the sprawling virtual fairgrounds here.
You start off in a rocky glen, on a central space with four rushing rivers flowing in all four directions:
There is a magic spell book lying open on the ground, giving you instructions you must follow and items you must collect to obtain prizes.
According to a notecard provided by Solas and Silas:
Step within the looming rock walls, amongst the statues upon the 5 giant pillars that guard the elements. Your first task will be to find the book to learn the lore of the land. It will help guide you to find the 5 stones that house the gifts and a hidden world beneath you.
The lore within the book: “The fairy, the mole the phoenix and the fish were pouring elements into the magic pool in hope of opening the way to the lost refuge for so, so very long that in the end they turned into statues. They were missing a fifth element for the spell to operate. Spirit was missing.
On the eve of the birthday of the world that shelters us all, the overseer crossed over to the other side. In the beyond, he remembered his flock, and visited this land to infuse spirit into the magic waters, to open the way to new wonders to come. Find the elemental rune stones to find your gifts. Hint: always follow the way.
The overseer is a tribute to Ebbe Altberg:
Here are a couple more shots of the Lost Refuge, to entice you to pay a visit!
Please note that I am taking the entire month of July off as a self-imposed vacation from the blog so I can focus on my other work, except for sponsored blogposts, and major breaking news such as this. See you in August!
Randy Waterfield (left) and Brad Oberwager (right). Source: LinkedIn profiles
This evening, Linden Research (better known as Linden Lab, the makers of Second Life) dropped a bombshell press release: the small but profitable privately-held company which has been run pretty much independently since it was founded by Philip Rosedale in San Francisco in 1999, will be acquired by an investment group.
SAN FRANCISCO, July 9, 2020 — Linden Research, Inc. announced today it signed an agreement to be acquired by an investment group led by Randy Waterfield and Brad Oberwager. Closing of the acquisition is subject to regulatory approval by financial regulators in the U.S. related to Tilia Inc.’s status as a licensed money transmitter as well as other customary closing conditions. Upon closing, Mr. Waterfield and Mr. Oberwager will join the Board of Directors of Linden Research, Inc.
“We’re excited for this new chapter to begin. We see this as an opportunity to continue growth and expansion for Second Life and our money services business Tilia,” says Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg. “We’re grateful for the ongoing support from our community, business partners and investors. Now more than ever, there is increased recognition of the value and utility of virtual worlds to bring people together for safe, shared, and social online experiences.”
“Both the company and its virtual world community have a unique culture and creative energy that remain important to the long-term success of Second Life,” says Brad Oberwager. “There’s a bright future for both Second Life and Tilia and we’re excited to help fuel these growth opportunities.”
“Since its inception 17 years ago, Second Life has been a pioneer in the concepts of virtual societies, land and economies,” says Second Life founder Philip Rosedale, who is now CEO of High Fidelity. “I’ve known Brad for 14 years personally and professionally, and I’m confident he will bring his passion and proven strategies to help Linden Lab achieve new heights in distribution, scale, and quality while remaining true to the original vision, creativity, and community that makes Second Life unique and special.”
Mr. Oberwager has spent his entire career in technology and consumer-focused companies. Mr. Oberwager is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Jyve, a Silicon Valley based technology company. Prior to Jyve, Mr. Oberwager owned Bare Snacks, acquired by PepsiCo. Mr. Oberwager is an advisor to several technology start-ups and sits on the boards of several technology and CPG companies.
Mr. Waterfield is the Chairman and CEO of the Waterfield Group. The Waterfield Group has invested in over 100 technology, financial, insurance, bank and other companies.
What does all this mean? Damned if I know! I’m quite sure many Second Life users will be wondering what it all means as well. New owners could mean a shake-up at Linden Lab, and we all know how much some Second Life users hate changes (witness the fuss last year over Tilia).
Of course, it might also be the best thing to happen to the platform, a new opportunity (with fresh investment!) to take it to the next level of growth.
Interesting times, indeed! Stay tuned.
UPDATE 11:08 p.m.: The news took many by surprise, including the team who work on the most popular Second Life viewer program, Firestorm, who tweeted:
I reached out to linden Lab on finding out the news, but was informed the company has no further comment on the acquisition beyond the press release.
However, given that the acquisition will see Mr. Waterfield and Mr. Oberwager joining the board, I would anticipate that – given the nature of acquisitions – it is unlikely there will be any immediate visible changes to Linden Lab, Second Life or Tilia Inc., and, and the company will likely to continue to operate in a “business as usual” mode with regards to both Second Life operations and the community for the immediate future. That said, there will likely be a lot of speculation as to the future of SL, together with concerns / fears as to what the longer-term future might be.
While it is purely speculative on my part, I would hazard a guess that the acquisition will take into consideration the increased interest Second life has witnessed over the last year(ish), and particularly as a result of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, and will see in inflow of cash for the company that will allow it to (hopefully) meet its immediate goals with both Second Life and Tilia Inc., and allow both platforms to continue to be developed.
Just jumping in to respond to a few of the comments…
A few folks are speculating that this is the end of SL and nothing could be further than the truth. Any talk of dismantling or radically changing the fundamentals of SL that we know and love is inaccurate. While we can’t get into specific details about the deal itself, I want to emphasize the fact that this keeps Linden Lab as an independent venture led by two investors who have a great deal of awareness about what SL is and isn’t. They are excited to join and help us grow both SL and Tilia while also respecting and recognizing the needs and sensitivities of the existing culture and community.
And, in response to a question about when more detailed information would be forthcoming about the acquisition, and when the new owners would address the Second Life community, Brett said:
Great question! We look forward to being able to share more as soon as we can and I know that Brad is eager to meet the community as we get closer to the closing/approval date.
In the December 2017 issue of The Atlantic magazine, Leslie Jamison wrote an article about Second Life. The webpage for that article has the original article title, Second Life Still Has 600,000 Regular Users (which you can check for yourself by doing a Google search):
However, it would seem that Leslie’s editor at The Atlantic wanted a somewhat punchier title, and so we have The Digital Ruins of a Forgotten Future, which shows up when you click on that link. (I’m pretty sure that Linden Lab is less than pleased with that particular editor.)
There’s a quote from that article which is, to my knowledge, the most up-to-date statistic we have about how many people still use Second Life: “Of the 36 million Second Life accounts that had been created by 2013—the most recent data Linden Lab will provide—only an estimated 600,000 people still regularly use the platform.”
Let’s get this out of the way first: 542,967 unique users across 9.9 million sessions spending 17.7 million hours logged into Second Life on Firestorm over the last 30-day period.
If you assume that Firestorm has 90% of the SL viewer market (a reasonable assumption), that still works out to about 600,000 regular monthly users (that is, people who sign into Second Life at least once a month).
“The Second Life community, which now has about 900,000 active users monthly, hosts hundreds of events daily,” Ebbe Altberg, the CEO of Linden Lab, the creators of Second Life, tells VICE. Altberg reveals that the most regularly attended virtual events include live music performances, shopping fairs, fan fiction conventions, book and poetry readings, academic lectures, fashion shows, and art exhibitions. “Events in Second Life can be held spontaneously or with careful planning,” says Altberg. “We have an events calendar and destination guide that helps the community discover what is happening at any given moment. Inside the Second Life Viewer, many communities also form chat groups that allow for like-minded people to stay informed about the latest events.”
Linden Lab does not often reveal usage statistics, so this is noteworthy. What is also noteworthy is that the number of people who log into Second Life at least once a month has jumped from about 600,000 to approximately 900,000—a 50% increase!
Even though Linden Lab has been trying mightily to promote their virtual world and increase the number of people using Second Life for well over a decade, the company has been caught flat footed by this significant increase in usage (be careful what you wish for!).
Due to the ongoing public health crisis, we’ve experienced an unprecedented surge in demand for new Second Life regions. While we are thrilled by the heightened interest, the increased demand has consumed our available inventory of full regions and homesteads (there are still many parcels available on existing regions, both on the mainland and from private estates).
We are committed to maintaining (and improving) the stability and performance of Second Life. So while we are very gratified that we can be of help to people in these trying times, unfortunately, our current server systems cannot accommodate unlimited growth without adversely impacting that stability and performance. This means that region inventory in Second Life will be extremely limited and may not be readily available until early fall.
As we’ve discussed previously, Second Life is in the process of migrating from our existing dedicated servers to a cloud hosting service. That migration has already moved a number of the most important services and databases, but we are not quite ready to host simulators in the cloud. We have a crack team working on that and are making lots of progress, but there are significant changes needed to make sure that we can provide the performance, stability, and security required. When that process is complete we will have a nearly unlimited region capacity, but until then we are constrained by the size of our existing server fleet.
While our migration project has been underway for some time, even our most optimistic business projections did not anticipate a surge of the magnitude we have seen in recent weeks for additional regions. While we planned for growth driven by improvements to Second Life and other factors, we didn’t expect demand to be created by a global pandemic.
As a result, we are in the unfortunate position of hitting the maximum capacity of our “old” servers until the “new” cloud servers are fully operational.
Sensing a business opportunity, the pandemic has led to a sharp increase in the number of companies offering platforms supporting remote team work, or (as I prefer to call them) YARTVRA. (This last link will take you to all the blogposts I have written about the remote teamwork marketplace to date.)
And this is not going to be a temporary situation, either. In a best-case scenario, we are going to have to wait 12 to 18 months for a vaccine, which means that social distancing policies, lockdowns, and quarantines are going to be implemented, off an on, for the foreseeable future by governments around the world. We could well see successive waves of coronavirus infection well into 2021, or even 2022!
The coronavirus pandemic has created an unprecedented business opportunity for social VR platforms and virtual worlds. As the saying goes, make hay while the sun shines!
It’s clear that one of the strong messages that Ebbe wanted to send out with this high-profile industry interview is that Linden Lab is now in a strong, profitable position as a company. Here’s an excerpt from that interview, which I would encourage you to read in full:
So why did Linden Lab sell the platform? In short, the company wanted to be profitable and Sansar wasn’t making enough money. “We incubated Sansar,” Altberg explained. “We got it up and going. It’s fantastic technology, but it’s still [got] quite a way of runway [before it can] become a cash-positive.”
Altberg said it was ultimately a “strategic decision” to sell Sansar and give the development team a chance to branch out on their own. “I’m super stoked that we’re able to find a way for them to continue the journey,” he explained.
First, though, the company needed to find a buyer. It considered “a bunch of different paths,” according to Altberg, which included some larger owners. In the end, it settled on Wookey Project Corp., a little-known startup that wants to create “a new generation of online AR/VR experiences,” according to a Linden Lab press release. Altberg describes the company as a “really scrappy investor type of player” who wants a challenge and is prepared to let the Sansar team drive its own agenda. Wookey’s CEO also lives in the same town as Altberg, which probably helped seal the deal.
I think that Ebbe Altberg and his team at Linden Lab can’t win no matter what they do. If they continue to throw too much time and money at Second Life, Sansar will suffer and they’re betting the future on Sansar… Yet if they try to promote Sansar…folks who are wedded to Second Life get upset. Or people will say that SL is “being actively starved and strangled”.
Linden Lab was trying to juggle two completely separate projects, at completely separate stages of development, and was finding the juggling to be a bit much. Like Philip Rosedale found with High Fidelity, Linden Lab discovered that all the time and money they had poured into a social VR platform, in hopes that users would flood in, was a cash drain that put the entire company in danger. In the end, something had to give, and that something was Sansar, which, under the circumstances, makes perfect sense.
Sansar now has a “really scrappy investor type of player” who will try to turn the platform into a profitable endeavour, and Linden Lab can go back to what they do best: keep Second Life humming smoothly along as the reliable cash-cow it is, at almost 17 years of age. I’m quite sure that Philip Rosedale and his original team at Linden Lab back in 2003 never dreamed that SL would enjoy the long, successful life that it has had!
However, I will put on my prognosticator’s hat and issue a prediction: Wookey will go all-in on Sansar, and they will do their absolute damnedest to aright the Good Ship Sansar, which has been listing badly of late. (Go ahead. Call the metaphor police. I dare you,)
But Wookey isn’t going to stick around forever if Sansar fails to take off a second time. The number crunchers at Wookey already have a deadline in their head. I give them two years, max. If they haven’t turned a profit by then, Wookey will sell Sansar in turn, or shut it down.