January 15, 2022

Let's Grade Linden Lab's New Press Release

Linden Lab's new announcement welcomes founder Philip Rosedale back to the company's ranks. But is everything as perfect as it seems?

Let's Grade Linden Lab's New Press Release
A landscape somewhere in Second Life.

Linden Lab’s latest announcement heralds the return of a beloved hero to its ranks: Philip Rosedale, who founded the company in 1996 and went on to do the same with High Fidelity in 2013, will be rejoining Second Life as a "strategic advisor" to the platform. The official notice also mentions an investment towards the longstanding virtual world, as well as patents to be distributed to the company from Hi-Fi.

The bulletin is triumphant and openly confrontational in its tone. With a fiery dash, it writes off unspecified VR projects as having dubious aims, framing Second Life as a purer endeavor and thus more deserving of investor attention. It touts its seniority and experience, its world size, and its user count as a testament to its staying power. Certainly at first glance, the missive is a success that’s worthy of fanfare.

But, is it? Without further information, let’s break down the press release as it is. Then, we’ll provide additional context to give it a final score.

Words and Priority

"High Fidelity announced today that it acquired an interest in Linden Research, Inc. ("Linden Lab"), the pioneering developer of the virtual world Second Life."

Although Linden Lab covers more than one service on its company’s website, it’s curious how High Fidelity leads both title and first sentence of the press release. Second Life is clearly the larger entity here. Let’s pin this as something to note and keep going.

The Lengthiest Quote Attacks Other Virtual Platforms

"No one has come close to building a virtual world like Second Life," says Second Life founder and High Fidelity co-founder, Philip Rosedale. "Big Tech giving away VR headsets and building a metaverse on their ad-driven, behavior-modification platforms isn’t going to create a magical, single digital utopia for everyone. Second Life has managed to create both a positive, enriching experience for its residents — with room for millions more to join — and built a thriving subscription-based business at the same time. Virtual worlds don’t need to be dystopias."

It isn’t known directly what company Rosedale is referencing (which is another thing to pin for later). As-is, Rosedale’s words provide a shadow to swing at, leaving it up to the reader to imagine what VR-based company they don’t like as the surrogate enemy.

But, is Rosedale even referencing a business? Talking about virtual worlds as dystopias can also mean a callback to works like Snow Crash or Ready Player One. Because of the vagueness of the statement and how much space it takes up in the bulletin, it gives Linden Lab a defensive and weakened stance in their otherwise triumphant writeup.

Back On Track

"Since Philip started Second Life in 1999, its visionary approach has not only stood the test of time, but positioned it for the future," says Brad Oberwager, chairman of Linden Lab. "He and the High Fidelity team have unmatched experience and I can’t wait to capitalize on the vast opportunity in front of us."

This is where the release regains its stature. It’s on-message, positive, and follows with impressive numbers. This is the real meat of the notice, the part where an interested businessperson with cash to dip into the industry will want to take a look.

As the missive stands overall, it’s a bit confused in its tone and purpose. It can also read one way to someone who has never played Second Life/High Fidelity, and another way to a user of the Lab’s services. It needs additional information to make sense.

Let’s go back and provide some.

Acquisitions and Investments

High Fidelity was originally aimed at a new platform for VR. While not explicitly a replacement for Second Life when it was created in 2013, many Second Life residents saw it as a possible spiritual successor. Those hopes were dashed in 2019, when High Fidelity gave up on VR and moved on to spatial audio instead.

Sansar was the next project by Linden Lab in 2017, this one a serious intent to become a new world for Second Life residents to possibly move to. Rumored as a way to help fund the work required to build a new world, Linden Lab raised its premium membership rates for Second Life residents in 2019. A few months later, contests and giveaways appeared on Sansar’s social network to entice new users. It didn’t work; by 2020 the platform was sold to Wookey Project Corp. Recent news of Sansar has been of its outages.

In the same year of Sansar’s sale, Linden Lab was acquired by an investment group led by Brad Oberwager and Randy Waterfield.

Rosedale Mentions Facebook Specifically In Interviews

Remember the vague quote we spotted in the press release earlier? In a Venturebeat article released on the same day as the company’s notice, Rosedale criticizes Facebook directly. A CNET article published simultaneously shows Rosedale speaking unfavorably about the Quest 2. The “enemy” was the obvious one this whole time.

Criticism of Facebook aside, why spotlight another company’s activities on one’s own press release? Does Linden Lab hope to face off against the metaversal media magnate with its original founder re-entering the picture as an advisor? Are the two corporations even offering the same type of product?

No, they aren’t. The quote was possibly meant to distract from Linden Lab’s own recent troubles and cast them as an underdog.

A Likely Explanation

Linden Lab has had a lot of challenges lately. High Fidelity has failed its VR venture, having struck out at the new tech too early without earning the playerbase it needed. Sansar, too, floundered and is considered dead by many. Second Life might have a hardcore and loyal userbase, but it’s also running on a dated engine. It needs to revamp itself somehow before its digital citizens decide the next sparkly virtual world that pops up is worth more of their time.

So, how do you frame Rosedale’s return without acknowledging the Lab’s rough patches? Redirection, of course! Point out a company as ethically worse than yours, and suddenly you’re the hero. It’s naturally easy with Facebook’s own blunders, but an experienced eye won’t be impressed with the trick.

Linden Lab’s back is possibly against the wall right now, and Rosedale might be stepping in to save them from serious trouble.

Giving the Grade

PR writing isn’t easy, especially when it deals in the emerging field of virtual worlds. The m-word is hot on everyone’s lips, and the old tech giants of yore are staggering. Here Linden Lab stands, the very picture of the Seven of Wands tarot card: it needs to defend itself while newer entities come for its userbase and capital. It sees new VR worlds rising, and struggles to define itself and where it belongs.

The outlook isn’t as grim as it seems. As mentioned on CNET, there’s hope through some very cool technology that might reinvigorate Second Life in a new way: avatar facial mocap. Rosedale muses for now, but if the tech is successfully implemented with webcams and phone apps, Second Life could make a strong comeback as an alternative to popular vtuber creation software. Imagine not only giving your vtuber changing hairstyles and outfits, but a house and world to live in (common VR tubers aside, who already exist). Making it easy to build that world can attract a new generation of players—given Twitch removes Second Life from their list of prohibited games to stream, of course.

But can Linden Lab believe in itself first? If their recent press release is an example of their mindset, achieving what’s possible might be harder than first glance. Our recommendation is that the company no longer mention other entities on their missives, and instead focus on the possible things they’ll achieve from here on out.

There’s a lot to be excited for, and plenty of loyal users still rooting for them. Focus on one’s own and achieve the goal. In other to best others, sometimes you first have to face off against yourself.

Final Grade: C