Second Life almost in Singapore’s backyard

Irene Tham from The Straits Times reports that makers of popular 3-D virtual world Linden Labs will be locating its Second Life servers in Singapore.

Singaporean and other Asian habitues of Second Life can look forward to a more ‘hyper’ experience in the popular 3-D social world.

Their avatars – or virtual alter egos – will be able to chat, make a date and shake hands on a business deal faster than before.

This is because Second Life’s California-based creator Linden Lab will, for the first time, locate servers here within the next six months.

Images and search requests will load faster as users will no longer need to tap into its United States-based servers.

There’s more: Over the next three years, Linden Lab expects to invest between US$5 million (S$7.5 million) and US$10 million in new staff and training here as it expands.

The firm, whose software is used by Fortune 500 companies like IBM and Cisco Systems to host virtual conferences, already has an office in Singapore – its only one in Asia. Located at the Fusionopolis research and development complex at the One-North business park, Linden Lab officially opens on Tuesday. It started operations in April this year.

The set-up is manned by nine software developers, engineers and project managers. The number is set to double to 20 by next year with most of the new hires from Singapore.

Their mission: to provide round-the-clock software development and quality checks that have, until now, been based mainly in the US.

‘When the sun goes down in the US, the Singapore office fires up to test the software codes,’ said Mr Joe Miller, vice-president of platform and technology development at Linden Lab.

‘By handing over jobs to another time zone, we can roll out new features more than twice as fast as before.’

Every two weeks, it releases up to 40 new features and improvements. One key feature rolled out three months ago is the ability to sync an avatar’s lip movements with audio. Such frequent updates are aimed at making Second Life more user-friendly.

Today, the 3-D virtual world has six million active avatars, of which 50,000 belong to users residing in Singapore. At any time, about 70,000 avatars are logged in. They engage in activities from attending concerts and dating to buying and selling virtual goods with Linden dollars. Although a virtual currency, it has a real-life exchange rate to the US dollar, based on supply and demand like any other currency.

Eighty per cent of the firm’s revenue comes from selling virtual land to companies – including big names like Reuters and IBM – and individuals. The rest comes from a cut it takes from transactions in the 3-D world. Mr Miller says about US$2 million worth of virtual goods change hands daily in Second Life, and that the firm has been profitable for the past 18 months.

He said Linden Lab was drawn to Singapore by the tax incentives the Economic Development Board offers, and the English-speaking culture: ‘The support we got from EDB is unparalleled.’

This is highly unusual, given that EDB tends to go after large foreign direct investment (FDI) targets, i.e. MNCs such as REC, Bosch and GlaxoSmithKline. My sense is this investment promotion project was highly strategic in nature, rather than based on employment numbers and investment amounts by the company. Linden Labs.

About James Chan

James Chan is an entrepreneur, investor, geek, photographer and husband/father based out of Singapore. Apart from frequent travels to Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia for work, James can also be found online via his trusty 15" Retina MacBook Pro or iPhone 6+.