Daily Signups for Second Life Grow 60% under New CEO; Tablet Version Planned

[ Rod Humble photo from video of Second Life Community Convention 2011. ]

After long-time video game executive Rodvik Humble joined Linden Labs as CEO in January, Second Life experienced its most financially successful quarter in Q1 2011 -- the company is not disclosing the amount -- and is currently averaging 16K new signups per day, compared to roughly 10K in December 2010, or 60% growth [ see our previous story on Second Life - Report: Second Life Making $100M a Year ].

"It's very rare that you get a service that has grown as long as Second Life has that enjoys continued interest in it," Rod told LAUNCH. He left Electronic Arts, where he headed the division that includes "The Sims," for the Second Life gig. Before EA he headed up development for the massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) "EverQuest."

He told the Second Life Community Convention last weekend that the company will launch a "light" version, separate from Second Life, designed for tablets. Surprisingly, Linden Labs has been slow to embrace the iPad, which isn't powerful enough to run SL.

Rod attributes some of the growth to a revamped registration process, improved software development kit (SDK) client and more privacy controls.

Traditionally, many people would start the sign-up process but not finish it, Rod says. The new registration process has been reduced from 10 to three steps. The day it went live, the completion rate increased 50%.

Linden Labs is half-way through a strategy of usability and service, Rod says. Second Life has added more customer service capacity "to make sure everybody gets the service they deserve." Improvements include giving the team additional resources and making it easier to find answers on the support section. On the back end, Second Life decreased lag time for group chat.

But many users didn't know how to move around Second Life. "They were used to games where you click in the world and move there, so we added some controls," explains Rod.

To improve navigation, Second Life replaced its broad map with a destinations guide that includes categories like music, chat and science fiction.

Sandboxes -- places where users can create anything from clothing to rocket ships that they can opt to sell -- are nothing new in Second Life, but Rod says there may be more luxurious sandboxes to come specifically for premium subscribers.

"The way I look at it is yes, it's a virtual world and yes, it's a social platform, but it's also a set of creativity tools where people make things and share them," says Rod.

While there were always privacy controls, "Right now, if you own a lot, you can now select complete privacy and nobody can look in and see what's going on," Rod explains, noting that users have welcomed the new privacy settings.

"There's something wonderful about entering Second Life and you're controlling your identity entirely," Rod says. "We're not like Facebook, we're not like Google+. In fact, we're the opposite in that we embrace your right to be whoever you want to be. I think it's a very healthy thing."

Rod says that "CEO Rod" is much different from the die-hard England soccer fan Rod.

"I think that there's a real hunger to make sure that you can keep those identities different," Rod says. "Over the next few years, you're going to see that hunger rise. People get uncomfortable with social networks putting together all the aspects of your identity that you don't want to be connected together."

People want "the right to socialize in the manner of their choosing," Rod says.

"What appealed to me about Second Life is I booted it up and thought I knew what it was," Rod says. "The more I looked at it, I realized that it was this massive shared creative space and then I kept trying to summarize it in a sentence. I'm very attracted to things that I can't explain. I still can't."

Still, Rod says it's hard to pin point exactly what the magic is. "The mystery is part of the reason why I'm here," Rod says.

Life 2.0, a documentary that follows a group of people whose real lives were transformed by Second Life, premieres Aug. 25 on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

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