Monday, January 5, 2015

2014 : The Year in Review

By Bixyl Shuftan

The year 2014 has come and gone in Second Life, one that saw a new CEO in charge of Linden Lab, the end of a troubling controversy, the possibility of the Grid being replaced sometime in the future, and a number of other issues and events.

One of the most important developments was the change of leadership in Linden Lab. In January, Rod Humble whom had led the Lab for three years announced his resignation as CEO, and a few weeks later in February he was replaced by Ebbe Altberg, who became known inworld as Ebbe Linden. With over twenty years in managing computer software businesses, it was also noted his son had been a user of Second Life. From the onset, most had an overall good first impression of him, and were hopeful he would do well. And overall, the majority of residents were pleased with his performance. He made an effort to communicate more with the residents, such as meetings inworld and interviews. He would also change the course of the previous CEO in regards to diversifying Linden Lab's product line, closing or selling those that weren't making much money for the Lab, which meant the efforts on those would be spent improving Second Life instead. Months later, Ebbe Linden continues to have a mostly positive reputation among the residents, one saying Ebbe had been much more honest with them that others on the team had been.

Also among the things Ebbe Linden delt with was the Terms of Service controversy. In September 2013, Linden Lab changed it's Terms of Service with the wording in regards to the rights of content creators altered to what many saw as Linden Lab saying they could claim anything from content creators without compensation. Some such as Tuna Oddfellow reacted by moving their activities, or most of them, to other virtual worlds such as InWorldz. Others argued for calm, notably Kylie Sabra's United Content Creators of Second Life group. But for months Linden Lab would say little, and by February Kylie concluded the Lab was just simply ignoring the residents thinking they would eventually forget the matter and move on. It would take the new CEO to settle the matter, and in April Ebbe Linden finally spoke more and in a clearer matter than the evasive language used before. In July, over nine months since the issue began, the controversial wording was finally changed. Just why the Lab let the controversy fester for so long has been a matter of opinion. But finally content creators were breathing a little easier.

Even before the ToS issue was closed, there was another matter of which residents were talking about, often in worried tones. In a meeting with third-party viewer teams in June, Ebbe Linden mentioned that Linden Lab had been working on a next-generation virtual world. Within just a few hours, this bombshell was already rocking the group chats and IMs of the Grid. "What does this mean?" residents asked. Considering the Lab's behavior in the past, some feared this meant Second Life would eventually be junked in order to force the residents to another Grid that would have many more restrictions. Others reminded that closing down the source of most of your income is a gamble even the most amateurish of businessmen know shouldn't be done unless in the most desperate of circumstances. Others worried that the announcement itself would send the Grid's economy into a slump, thinking residents would hold off on purchasing sims and goods and wait to see what the next virtual world would offer. The Lindens gave a few details about this "next generation virtual world," such as saying it wouldn't be open source and that you couldn't move items from the existing virtual world over to it. But there was still more unknown than known about it. They still have yet to give "SL 2.0" as some have called it an official name. The residents never did panic enough to the point where it affected the Second Life economy, and (virtual) life went on. As of the year's close, there has yet to be a release date for the beta to be announced, which means it's at least months away.

Developments for Second Life included the development of "Fitted Mesh" to the point where it was made part of the official viewer in February. While it wasn't a perfect solution to the quirks and bugs of Mesh builds, it was an improvement. In March, Linden Lab released "SL Go," an application that allowed Second Life users to go about the Grid on a tablet. This went beyond the aps for handheld devices that just allowed someone to access one's account but only be able to see IMs and local and group chats, but being able to truly go about the Grid in something other than a tower or laptop computer. Also in March, the Lab also worked more on an eventual integration of the Oculus Rift virtual reality viewer with Second Life, calling for volunteers.  And Linden Lab made JIRA reports readable to all after a year and a half of being closed to the public. In May, there were new Mesh starter avatars available as the defaults for newcomers. In July, Linden Lab announced the development of "Experience Keys," though for now it would require a special viewer to use this feature. One development also in July concerned the old issue of gambling, or "skill games" as Linden Lab preferred to call the issue. Linden Lab announced they would soon be updating their policy on the games, notably the requirement of fees to either build or operate them.

Second Life would witness a number of events. Although it was thought that being the one after the big Number Ten would mean being smaller in numbers, the Second Life Eleventh Birthday had more of the wind taken out of its sails with Ebbe Linden's announcement about SL 2.0 just a week before. What had been an event less in the spotlight gained more attention in the residents' eyes when both Ebbe Linden and Philip Rosedale, the former Philip Linden, spoke at the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education conference in April. The Relay for Life fundraising season broke another record by raising over $415,000 US dollars this year. Other noteable events included the Burn2 art and music festival, the RFL Christmas Expo, the Toys for Tots fair, Jamm for Genes, "Making Strides," and more.

As in previous years, real-ife media trends made their way into Second Life. The popular tune "Happy" by Pherryl Williams was soon followed by a number of music videos of it made within Second Life. The surprise social-media fueled fundraiser, the "Ice Bucket Challenge," which raised millions for Lou Gerigh's Disease, came to Second Life with both people making videos of their avatars getting put on ice as well as locations raising Lindens for it themselves.

Second Life would say goodbye to some places. The popular Australia sim, which was once the home for many of the Grid's residents from down under, closed down. The Rocket City Mall, which offered a place to shop for numerous brands of furry avatars, was taken down. The "Dryland" and "Lost Second Life" exhibits closed. The Seraph City "Dieselpunk" sim faded away, although it's club would later be reopened. Enchantment Island and Phaze Demesnes, two sims that offered much to see and explore, vanished from the Grid. After over eight years, the Mystery sim and it's Queen of Hearts riverboat club were gone. The home community of the Newser office, the Sunweaver/Angels would also experience a loss when it's Club Zero Gravity, after over four years of continuous operations which had followed a few years of previous activity was sadly taken offline due to real life finances.

Sadly, some residents would also depart from the Grid due to dying in real life. In February, DJ Brooke Denimore had died. March saw the end of Dirk Talamasca. In May, Bay City had to say goodbye to one of it's own, Ever Dreamscape, whose mischief had provided much entertainment in the past. In July, the former Joe Linden was announced as to having passed away. There were others whose passing largely escaped the Second Life community, such as Srooc Skytower of the Second Life Cheerleading Squad.

Outside Second Life, there were some developments in other virtual worlds. In January, Yahoo bought up the Cloud Party grid, and a month later it was closed down. InWorldz didn't get quite the level of attention from Second Life users after the Terms of Service controversy began to die down. In March, Tuna Oddfellow whom had moved his performances to the smaller Grid began to once again offer them in Second Life. But InWorldz continued to grow, eventually reaching the 100,000 mark in the number residents, and continued to be the location of noteable events such as the "Relay for Life in InWorldz."

Massive Multiplayer Online games also made the news. In September, the company behind the highly sucessful "Minecraft" game was bought by Microsoft for two and a half BILLION dollars, leading to speculation among fans what this might mean for their game down the road. November would see the release of the latest expansion of the world's most popular MMO, "World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor." Despite a hacker attack that forced many gamers to wait in queue to play, the game's number of players soared to over ten million for the first time in years, succeeding beyond the company's expectations, and reminding it's critics it would be around for a long time.

For Second Life Newser it was a milestone year, celebrating it's fourth anniversary. This was a mark that it's predecessor hadn't reached. But we haven't rested on our laurels. We've been busy covering Second Life. And we have almost a thousand articles, press releases, adverts, and cartoons to show for it. We've gotten some new talent over the months, and look forward to their continued work in covering  the people, places, and events across the Grid.

The year 2014 brought a number of happenings for our virtual world. And with 2015 arriving, a whole new year to cover. Whatever happens, we'll be sure to bring you the readers the story.

Bixyl Shuftan
Editor/Head Reporter
Second Life Newser

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