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Linden Lab Acquires LittleTextPeople

by Sigmund Leominster
Published February 26, 2012

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Linden Lab has been very quiet of late. Those of us who regularly log-in and glance at the “Blog Feeds” will have noticed that since October 14th, 2011, when LL announced their 3rd Quarter figures, there have been only four posts. In blogging terms, that’s close to being described as “moribund.” However, there was a comment made in Rodvik Humble’s December 23rd, 2011 post [1] that bears repeating;

In addition to delivering new features and increasing our support for Second Life, we will be launching some completely different products next year not related to Second Life. Some of them will be very experimental, but all will fit within our company’s proud history of enabling creativity, which I hope may interest some of you.”

This is where the acquisition of LittleTextPeople comes in. In their official press release, the Lab states, “LittleTextPeople brings a depth and breadth of AI and interactive story development expertise that is a great fit for Linden Lab as we launch multiple new products.” [2]

The newly acquired company is described as a game-development enterprise that’s based on a textual experience. More specifically, LittleTextPeople has been working on building a software engine that focuses on interactive fiction. This is a form of social interaction whereby participants use text to create, modify, and expand a shared environment, most commonly experienced as text-based games – the old adventure games of early text-based computing (“You wake up in a dark room. Type ‘N/S/E/W’ to go ‘north/south/east/west.’”)

The founders are Richard Evans and Emily Short [3], who have created a simulator that seeks to mimic personalities, or, in a more poetic but painfully abstract description, software that, “explores the gameplay possibilities of nuanced social interaction.” Evans has a background in Artificial Intelligence, having worked as the lead AI developer on The Sims III, and Short is the author of a number of interactive fictions as well as having been part of the team that developed Inform 7, a natural-language parser used in creating fiction [4]. The AI background raises some intriguing possibilities for the creation of in-world “smart” avatars that are much more interactive than current vendor bots, but that’s likely to be a long way off.

Short is clearly excited by the prospect of working for Linden Lab. She is quoted in the press release as saying, “It’s an exciting time to join Linden Lab as they prepare to roll out entirely new types of social experiences and products.” And to reinforce the “new direction,” Humble said, “The result of this investment will be a new type of digital entertainment that modernizes the novel as a shared story-telling experience.”

Clearly Linden Lab is using this purchase as a way of expanding its core competencies and looking for new markets. The last few acquisitions have been focused on improving the Second Life experience directly (XstreetSL, OnRez, Avatars United), as has the implementation of Mesh. Buying LittleTextPeople is essentially a strategic decision on the part of Linden Lab, which needs to be working hard on restructuring itself to be less dependent on Second Life as its only product.

Sources

[1] CEO Rodvik Humble Shares Highlights From 2011 and his Outlook for 2012. Linden Lab forum release, 22nd December, 2011.
[2] Linden Lab Acquires Game Studio LittleTextPeople. Linden Lab Press Release, February 16th, 2012.
[3] Richard Evans and Emily Short brief bios. http://gameai.com/blog/?p=69
[4] Inform, a design system for interactive fiction based on natural language. Home page; http://inform7.com/

 

 

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