Linden Lab’s revised education policy?

Still busy marking coursework, I’ve no time at present to follow up on a rather disquieting post on SLED today.  I don’t believe this puts education in SL in jeopardy, though I suspect it will suggest some serious rethinking of the business model:

Subject: Re: [SLED] Linden Lab downsizing and its impact on the education community

Big news, but not entirely surprising.

Is this what might be called the “Zynga-effect”? (http://www.zynga.com/) Gaming companies everywhere are looking to social networking and mobile phones as their new frontiers for profit.  They all seem to be focusing their efforts on constructing better and more profitable “skinner boxes” (read this if you don’t know what a skinner box is: http://virtued.wordpress.com/2010/03/08/gaming-addiction-%e2%80%93-farming-for-new-gamers/) to stick into Facebook and hook in really huge subscriber bases and microtransactions.

Here’s an article from BusinessWeek on the Zynga/Facebook relationship:  http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_18/b4176047835883.htm

It’s more than a little ironic that this Linden Lab reorganization news comes on the same day that Zynga launched their new “FrontierVille”.

Here’s a very mainstream article on this launch and the mind boggling subscription numbers for these types of social virtual worlds: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/37598508/ns/technology_and_science-games/.  Farmville has 216 million users as of today!?!  And that’s lower than recent numbers.

Here’s an article from a gaming site on this new launch: http://kotaku.com/5559197/frontierville-the-new-game-from-the-makers-of-farmville-just-might-be-more-fun.

And these social virtural worlds profit from their users desire to pay “real money” for virtual goods.  Does that sound at all familiar?  They ALSO pay real money to skip grinding! The sheer size of the subscriber bases of these social virtual worlds would be a enough to blind any company to their current user base and set them off trying to be the next big social gaming thing.

So just taking a step back for a minute, and looking at this from Linden Lab’s perspetive.  Low fidelity graphics, a lot lower server load per user, very simplistic virtual goods, crazy huge potential subscriber bases, “real money” purchasing “virtual goods” (long standing Linden Lab mission statement), and the ability to leverage deep experience with virtual worlds to the fairly new and exploding social virtual worlds market sounds pretty promising compared to an aging virtual world platform that has been stuck at a concurrent user number something south of 100,000 users for a few years now. And this doesn’t even touch on the inherent design and database issues of the SL platform.

Checking Linden’s own stats, there have been 577,962 users logged in over the past 7 days.  Breaking that down into a daily number it’s about one tenth of one percent of the daily numbers for Zynga social games (66 million).  Let’s spin it a different way.  If 10% of SL users spent $5 each on a single day that would be $41,283.  Now, if 1% of Zynga users in a day spent $1 each that would be $660,000. Any wonder why Linden appears to be retooling and streamlining to bring their technologies to these markets?  How much do they make off of education customers again?

It’s very sad that so many of us have projects dependent on Linden Lab and Second Life.  We have lots of assets locked up in these environments that are now in question.  The next closest competitors are all still trying to catch up to SL’s technology.  The most obvious alternative is OpenSim at this point, and some assets can likely be moved over from our current projects.  My hope is that this will likely force most of us to consider some of the other virtual environments to explore going forward “IF” (and we have no announcements or information yet) Linden Lab abandons the education market.  My fear is that the Teen Grid is likely already at the top of the list of things to go (otherwise, why was Claudia cut loose?). This is truly disappointing (and possibly devastating).  If we were not swinging by a thread I would have expected some communication to our community in conjuncion with these announcements today.  But instead, the spokesperson for Linden Lab for our community is no longer employed with Linden Lab, and the word education was not mentioned in any of the news today about this reorganization.

I guess we’re all going to have to start examining our projects and coming up with backup plans for how we move forward.  At the very least, Linden Lab should reach out to the education community and fill us in on their plans for the Teen Grid and education projects on the Main Grid.  Don’t leave us guessing, educate us on what the future holds for education and SL.  Are we good for a month, six months, a year?  Or what?  I just met with teachers today that are planning their classes for next year. It would be nice if I could have information ready once they read about this news.

And I know you’re probably still out there reading this Claudia.  Thank you for all your help and assistance with PacRimX and Skoolaborate over the past four years.  You will be missed.  I hope you land somewhere where you can still serve the education community.

Stan Trevena
Director, Information and Technology Services
Modesto City Schools
http://pacificrimx.wordpress.com
http://virtued.wordpress.com

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About Christopher Hutchison

Museologist, cognitive dissident, political grouch, curmudgeonly bibliophage, and all round jolly nice chap.
This entry was posted in SL general, SL in Education. Bookmark the permalink.

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