Second Life CEO Rosedale to Step Down

Second Life creator and CEO Philip Rosedale announced he will cease his role as CEO of Linden Lab. He states that he will replace Mitch Kapor as chairman and stay committed to SL full-time as it’s primary visionary. No word on Kapor’s alignment.

Rosedale is definitely more suited to the new role as Second Life has failed thus far to capitalize on their hype and advance their platform. The world is dated and has been unable to realize it’s own visionary goals. They’ve generated a decent amount of revenues but have not used the income to grow the platform in any truly compelling way. Their fundamental model – which is a grave failing point for many people eager to move their endeavors into 3D – assumes that people would rather do everything in an immersive world. But the simple fact is that chat, business meetings, online learning, and ecommerce are all far more functional in the flat 2d web. Even advertising loses it’s appeal when your virtual world only supports 100 or so avatars in any one space at a time.

For SL to succeed I believe they need to do the following:

1) Completely re-engineer the scenegraph to catch up with the immersion and realism of modern gaming platforms
2) Hire content developers whose sole task is to create a rich, detailed and compelling world.
3) Rewrite the entire UI, highlighting basic navigation, rich user profiles, and social affordances
4) Focus on user affordances. An avatar should essentially be a living MySpace/Facebook/LinkedIn object.
5) Create engaging narratives that users can easily and unexpectedly slip into. Imagine ARG’s being played out in SL.
6) Break the walls of the Second Life by wiring it up to the First. Avatars should be able to easily send and respond to sms and email. If I buy a new jacket at G-Star, I should also get a virtual copy for my avatar. Cross-channel communication and cross-promotional opportunities.
7) Scale down the virtual economy. The WoW economy is an emergent property of life in the Warcraft world. It should be the same for SL, not the primary business model.

The most compelling possibilities of immersive worlds are socialization, narrative, and realism, not trade and property ownership. Linden has sacrificed the former for the latter, in my opinion.

Of course, the obvious move will be for Google to buy SL and port it into Google Earth. This may be exactly what the Linden investors are hoping for by bringing in a new CEO. Or more likely, they will move further down the road of monetization through in-world advertising.

[Update] One of the primary 3rd party developers for SL, Electric Sheep, has laid off 22 of it’s SL content creators. Blood in the water?

7 comments

  1. skribe

    ESC’s layoffs occurred in Dec. Hardly breaking news and nothing to do with Rosedale’s move.

  2. admin

    Well, I see a relationship. When the primary SL content provider lays off 20% of it’s workforce and says they are refocusing to address other emerging virtual worlds, I’d say that’s a sign that SL is flagging.

  3. Prokofy Neva

    It’s important to explain to you that all your ideas are merely about turning Second Life, which has certain MMORPG-like features, into a game, like any other game.

    >1) Completely re-engineer the scenegraph to catch up with the immersion and realism of modern gaming platforms

    There’s a limit to how much an interactive, user-generated world could sustain that sort of stress, especially one with this many diverse purposes, only some of which are about immersion, and only a tiny fraction of which are about actual games. There are plenty of immersive modern games with better graphics. Go and play them. Leave this one alone. The moves the Lindens have made to trying to make this again “more like modern games”, such as Windlight, only crack and break it in ways that are harder and harder to fix.

    >2) Hire content developers whose sole task is to create a rich, detailed and compelling world.

    Did you not understand that this is a user-generated world? That means yes, there is amateur content, and yes, people do their own thing, as they wish, on their land. It’s like real life in that way. It is rich, detailed and compelling already, with a huge variety of amateur as well as professional. I think this very concept is elusive for you, as you want to dumb it all down again and make it like the latest MMORPG. No one will be doing that. We’re past that now.

    >3) Rewrite the entire UI, highlighting basic navigation, rich user profiles, and social affordances

    Oh, I dunno. Sure. Yeah. The Lindens have yet another version of doing that. I don’t think they are probably capable of doing that, but since the browser is open-sourced, eventually, better ones will emerge. There are already two non-Linden ones that many people like better that have things easier and more clear to see.

    I think there’s a basic premise here: the UI can’t fix a more complex world to become less complex.

    >4) Focus on user affordances. An avatar should essentially be a living MySpace/Facebook/LinkedIn object.

    Ugh. Says who? If I want to go on Facebook, I go there. Perhaps the SL avatar might be linked to FB at some point — there is one guy’s API widget thing that does it, but who cares? I mean, there’s so much of all this stuff around now, that nobody feels the absolute exigencies that you feel, as apparently some would-be API and widget maker, to open up SL and make it “yours” instead of “ours,” as in “our world, our imagination” for anyone who joins it.

    6) Break the walls of the Second Life by wiring it up to the First. Avatars should be able to easily send and respond to sms and email. If I buy a new jacket at G-Star, I should also get a virtual copy for my avatar. Cross-channel communication and cross-promotional opportunities.

    I now see more what this open-source extremism within SL is about — it’s about taking the revolutionary product that is SL, and dumbing it back down to becoming a game like any other game.

    Do all MMORPGs everywhere already have an existing interoperability? I don’t think so. Have they, in their many years and zillions of iterations of existences, even developed a common lexicon? I don’t think so. So…what my take-home here is that there is a war on SL to make it go back to being a game against, by gamer geeks.

    I can already send an IM to email or visa versa, there is just a check-off box for that on my user preferences and always has been in SL.

    There are also several third-applications to do that with mobile phones, but meh, who wants to risk their security/password with that? See, you and your knocking down the walls stuff, what you are really up to is taking IP and money lol.

    >7) Scale down the virtual economy. The WoW economy is an emergent property of life in the Warcraft world. It should be the same for SL, not the primary business model.

    Hahahah ok, now I get it. You really DO want to take my money! And roll up the entire economy too! Well $1.5 million US dollars in trading a day must make gold-farmers jealous, I guess.

    The economy is a desirable and deliberate feature of SL, but I guess you must feel it threatens you in some way. I’m glad we’ve had this little talk.

  4. admin

    Prokofy, I appreciate your comments and your passion for Second Life. A lot of people are very protective of their little world and wish to defend it against growing up. I think SL was founded on some fine ideas but, IMHO, they have failed to effectively execute on them. They have a lot of potential but they’re not re-investing into the platform. It’s languishing and outdated. Linden is a business and their investors want to make some money – it can’t keep being a clubhouse for the early adopters. That’s why Philip got pushed out as CEO.

    I’m just offering my own suggestions of how I think it could have a broader appeal.

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