Linden Lab Acquires Game Studio LittleTextPeople

Technology and Team Join Linden Lab to Support Company’s Strategic Initiative to Launch Innovative New Digital Entertainment Products This Year

Linden Lab®, the creator of digital spaces and tools for shared creativity and fun, today announced it has acquired LittleTextPeople, a game development studio that specializes in writing, programming, and designing next-generation interactive fiction.

Best known for Second Life®, Linden Lab will grow its digital entertainment offering by launching several new stand-alone products this year. Now part of Linden Lab, the talent and technology of LittleTextPeople will support the development of these new forms of interactive entertainment.

“It’s an exciting time to join Linden Lab as they prepare to roll out entirely new types of social experiences and products,” said Emily Short, Chief Textual Officer of LittleTextPeople. “We look forward to building tools and technology that will allow people to create their own stories in interactive mediums that have never existed before.”

“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,” said Rod Humble, CEO of Linden Lab. “The result of this investment will be a new type of digital entertainment that modernizes the novel as a shared story-telling experience.”

About LittleTextPeople
Founded by Emily Short and Richard Evans, LittleTextPeople explores the gameplay possibilities of nuanced social interaction. The company’s core technology is a simulator able to model social practices and individual personalities. Combine the simulations with the expressive freedom of fiction and the result is gameplay that more closely resembles the rich emotional dialogue of a novel, rather than a fight scene in an action movie.

About Linden Lab
Founded in 1999, Linden Lab is a developer of digital entertainment that inspires users to create, socialize, share — and have fun. The company pioneered the virtual currency and marketplace with Second Life, the massively multiplayer online platform, where hundreds of millions of user generated items are bought and sold for real money and which entertains millions around the globe. Linden Lab is headquartered in San Francisco. More information can be found at lindenlab.com.


Now, this is actually where I start bouncing up and down and going “squeeeeeeeeee!”, because as it happens, I am a huge fan of Emily Short. I made good money with interactive fiction back in the Eighties, and still keep a close eye on that whole sector of the games industry.

40 thoughts on “Linden Lab Acquires Game Studio LittleTextPeople”

  1. Maggie, that sort of snark is disingenuous. Also, @secondlie will sue you for infringement.

    But this explains the “text gaming” rumors from late last year.

    So I hope this means that RPG and other themed sims can get NPCs, which would be a great thing.

  2. That’s very interesting. I’m getting more and more curious as to what Linden Lab is working on other than Second Life. I’m glad all signs point to ’em doing something pointedly experimental and creative.

  3. I am pretty excited about this & do hope whatever they learn from implementing the tech into their new product [the unrelated to SL thingie] is going to benefit SL as well – NPC’s that you can interact with on a story-driven sim – AWESOME!

  4. Disingenuous? Really…
    So…if it’s not related to Second Life, it represents a loss of focus and distraction from the core product some of us are still paying for. Perhaps Whump’s old buddies are getting bored.

  5. I would not jump to conclusions! The above language is not ruling out usage of the concept for SL. It would be really darn dumb for a car company to acquire a leather company and then only make handbags and not leather seats for their cars :_

  6. Putting things in perspective. You could say Blizzard’s core product is World of Warcraft, and they seem to be able to do other things besides it. Maybe there are people angry about that too.

  7. @Gianna The Lab has been going since 1999, and basically has just one model of one product, so to speak. I’d say that the Lab is way past due to add some other products – and since it seems to have been hiring new staff solely for that purpose, it doesn’t seem to reduce the existing team’s focus on Second Life – although it might be distracting Rod quite a bit. Acquisitions can do that.

    If I had to guess what was in the works, I’d say a line of games for mobile devices, and quite possibly for the new Kindle lineup.

  8. Last comment for the day and I know I am repeating myself: testing the pathfinding, adding NPC’s to SL to populate and “inter-activify” the world and NOT cross-pollinating from this new thingie seems unreasonably short-sighted!

  9. @Tateru I agree that they were overdue and it seems like now more then ever they may need another source of revenue. I am happy to hear they are hiring new staff and not just pulling from the existing teams. What @Frans said about Blizzard makes sense to me. However, I need to know more before I can decide. Without further information, I’m concerned about the amount of time and money they are spending investing in *multiple* products that don’t appear at first glance to be particularly innovative or (for lack of a better word) laudable. Then again, maybe I’m still just missing a company I used to know. A company that inspired me, made me excited for the future, and that was ambitious for something greater.. who aspired to things like “improving the human condition.” Cheesy, I know, but when I see announcements like this I can’t help but to think of Ginsu’s recent posts where he reflected on his and SL’s “failure” (so far). So while this sounds like a it could be perfectly interesting and fit with current mobile trends, I guess I’m still longing to feel excited and inspired again.

  10. I think as long as the Lab focuses on its core direction (allowing others to create for others) that this could work out alright. Although I understand – with the amount of information that is available at this time, it is vastly more difficult to raise up hopes than it is to raise up misgivings.

  11. “Allowing others to create for others”?

    Well, yes, but they’re not so good at selling a product. And this is something which seems to be more like book publishing than running an MMORPG.

    There are companies which have built up a software portfolio by acquisition, and they succeed because of core skills which I’m left unsure that Linden Labs possesses. Effectively, such companies provide stability by spreading the financial risks of development, while they provide good quality marketing and communication.

    What can Linden Lab bring to the deal besides a chunk of money?

  12. Interesting – the AI in Black & White was impressive. Quite a track record. Looking forward to see where this one runs…

  13. Looking at this from a logical perspective:
    The Second Life product isn’t looking good. They have some very stiff competition already here and set to boom sometime later this year. That product offers 3 times the value at 1/4 the price. SL users are becoming increasingly dissatisfied. Over the past 8+ years Linden Lab has proved itself to consistently ire their customers, making bad decision after bad decision. While they are currently profitable, this is a product with a predictably limited lifetime. They are to the point they will have to diversify to survive.

    The question is… will company management show any better sense in their diversification than they have in management of SL? Unlikely, I’d say. Forgive my being blunt, but given a room with two doors, LL always seems to pick the one with the tiger… and the doors are made of transparent glass. We’ve seen their expanding ventures before in Avatars United. This is not a company that inspires confidence. If we want to see a company crash and burn… let it be acquired by Linden Lab.

    Second Life was an innovative and unique product that was mismanaged to the hilt. Why should we expect any different management philosophy with additional ventures?

  14. @draxtor, this isn’t a development for Second Life, but I do largely agree with you that these sort of tools would be advantageous to Second Life so hopefully the concept gets brought across, even that means different developers doing the work.

    Overall I think this is a good move for Linden Lab, they should be diversifying.

  15. This LitteTextPeople deal made me curious, so I checked out the status quo of interactive fiction games and also played “Galatea”, Emily Short’s award-winning text adventure.

    And frankly, it bored the hell out of me. I was surprised how little had changed since the 1980s. Playing interactive fiction games still feels like exploring and manipulating an object tree through an ASCII terminal. Of course, object trees are at the heart of pretty much everything we do with computers. When people design meshes in Blender or Maya, compose music with Garage Band or Cubase, or do stuff in Second Life, they always manipulate some sort of object tree.

    But the entertainment value of the aforementioned activities does not depend on the object tree being partially hidden or cumbersome to access. And they are open-ended because they allow creation of arbitrary new objects that even the author of the software didn’t imagine.

    Not so in interactive fiction games. The number of solutions there is always finite. You can’t turn the story into a direction that the author did not anticipate. You can’t even use your language in ways the author did not expect. Whatever Linden Lab is about to develop there, it is unlikely to rival the richness of interactive fiction in Second Life, also known as roleplay. It is unlikely to appeal to the same audience as Second Life. But it will almost certainly reallocate developer resources away from SL, and that is hardly something to look forward to.

    1. To the best of my knowledge, Linden Lab has only acquired new resources to work on its non-SL projects, taking no developer resources from SL. Not to-date, leastways.

  16. I have played and enjoyed text-based adventure games. I even wrote and sold one many years ago. However, I do have to admit it amazes me that LL would “acquire” a company that (if I understand correctly) specializes in text-based interactive fiction. That’s so dinosaur the bones are dry.

    I wonder if it’s possible the company had rights to certain specific properties LL wants for a different concept entirely (such as say, the story series)? I am just having difficulty imagining LL buying them out for– well– text based gaming. There must be something more involved. (But then again… this is Linden Lab).

    Can you tell us more Tateru, about what it is LL has acquired and why they may be interested in this? If they were buying say, virtual rights to Harry Potter I could totally understand that. Is something similar involved here?

  17. I suspect we’ll know a lot more after the presentation at GDC – and Rod’s promised some more info for about that time as well. NPC AI seems to figure strongly – possibly it is related to ways of making games and plots that are more adaptable to player interaction than we’ve previously seen. That is, after all, considered one of the weaknesses of the genre – or indeed of most gaming genres – that there has been no practical way of creating a dynamic, cohesive narrative.

  18. Wayfinder, what worries me is that you could be right.

    Somebody in-game suggested I sign up with an alternative 3D world, which I am not going to link to here, But the Red Light Center label is enough of a clue to start Googling with. It’s pretty much what the label says: an adult virtual world, and the promotional video looks a lot like SL. No sign of flexiprim hair, and the AVs might be a bit better designed, but there doesn’t seem to be anything the video shows which I haven’t seen in SL

    It’s all part of a set of SL alternatives. Was the sex ever a selling point? SL has competition. It doesn’t look as though they’re selling it in the way SL was sold. It’s about as blatant as you can get, and there’s mentions of some convention in Las Vegas which is going on at this very minute.

    So LL has to do something because there is competition.

  19. Seems to me this is entirely a talent acquisition, and it doesn’t hurt LittleTextPeople already has their own banner to fly to differentiate it from the rest of Linden Lab.

    I doubt there’s anything tech-based Linden Lab needed from that few of people. More than likely its the opposite and whatever existing project LittleTextPeople had can now leverage resources Linden Lab can create for them.

    Linden Lab isn’t a company with artists, designers, musicians and writers. It consists entirely of software engineers and web developers, no? LittleTextPeople seems like a perfect fit to find new ways to leverage that kind of company culture.

    We won’t know any of the details until they reveal whatever they’re working on, but I for one am glad Linden Lab chose such a company vs. the 1 million Zynga and Playdom clones out there. Even though whatever LittleTextPeople will be doing is unrelated to Second Life, its encouraging to know Linden Lab is still interested in experimenting and hopefully innovating instead of just following what’s popular.

  20. Well, Wayfinder, i agree. SL is very complex, that´s why i found the “simplified” newbie viewer being a great idea and i still support it. But…Minecraft mainly is a success not because of it´s “simplicity” (it isn´t THAT simple at all), but because it´s is easy. Easy, direct access to building tools and whatever else, no need to run various 3D modelling, animation and graphic apps, and everyone can be creative on the same level and enjoys it. SL is a two or three class thingy, with skilled “creators” and “consumers” and something like a bourgoise middle class in between, based on in-world commerce. It´s a different conception, hardly comparable, but “Minecraft” proves that it´s not necessarily Photoshop, Blender and Poser output which attracts millions of people. I´d support any afford to make quality content creation in SL (!) much more easy, more affordable and much, much more directly accessible as it is now with imports.

  21. Very good points Vivienne. I especially enjoyed:

    “everyone can be creative on the same level and enjoys it. SL is a two or three class thingy, with skilled “creators” and “consumers” and something like a bourgoise middle class in between, based on in-world commerce.”

    I sooo agree with this. The reason is I remember when all we had to work with was prims (no sculpties, no flexis, no mesh) and like you said, everyone worked on the same playing field (building-wise). So when someone made a really nice build it was impressive, because we knew they were working with the same tools available to everyone.

    Of course, animations, sound recording, poses etc all had to be made externally, and that has always been a bummer (why in the world did LL never create an in-world animation maker?). But I agree that while sculpties are nice in appearance, they did seriously un-level the “playing field” and made standard builders feel sub-standard. I’m not sure that was actually a good thing. I do use sculpties, sure. I doubt I will ever use mesh (recently a very competent and experienced tech gave an educated estimation that 85% of the users on SL can’t see mesh on their viewers due to numerous reasons).

    So yeah, the even playing field of MineCraft is definitely a draw. I also agree with you that it isn’t simple… it’s easy to use. I tend to use those terms interchangeably, and I shouldn’t. MineCraft is anything but “simple”… but is indeed easy to learn and use. Second Life… not so much, on either count. 😀

  22. “why in the world did LL never create an in-world animation maker?”

    Given the track record of Linden Lab so far as UI design goes, do you really think you’d have ended up using it if they had, or would you have wound up using external tools anyway?

    They were working on this at one time, but the users demanded that the Lab stop working on features and focus on stability, so they axed this project (among others) and did that.

  23. I sometimes get the feeling that the Lindens, collectively, are Blender fans.

    It’s free. It does most of the external jobs. And it’s a rather intimidating tech-driven fix to content creation problems.

    It does sort of fit the pattern.

    Vivienne does have a habit of glossing over texturing when she lists the external tools we don’t need, but I do think the user experience of texture editing tools is less intimidating. It’s all 2D artwork and there’s a huge variety of help and stuff out there. As soon as you got to 3D modelling it jumps to a level we mostly don’t experience. 2D, even Photoshop, is something we’ve messed around with since pre-school. 3D Art is at a different level, and doing it with a computer, rather than Plasticine or sandcastles on a beach, is a whole new game.

  24. Wayfinder I’ve looked at your article.

    One aspect you mention: the steep learning curve. I reckon that the Lindens are lousy at documenting and explaining. OK, there’s Torley Linden, but when you set up a new account (which seems to be the only way you can see what the new users are told) there’s a lot of stuff which isn’t explained.

    Display Names came about because people said they didn’t like the old naming system. But that old system wasn’t really explained to them when they signed up. It wasn’t made explicit to a naive user that they was a choice of “family” names, which let multiple users have the same personal name. They weren’t told anything about the way the system was used socially. And, the last time I created an Alt, I didn’t see any pointers to setting up a Display Name.

    And, while Torley is good at videos, not everyone learns well from that format.

    I don’t know how you would find the right person, but the Lab needs to hire somebody able to coordinate this stuff, and organise how it is presented to users, and they need to have the authority to do some wholesale ass-kicking. And this isn’t corporate communication. It isn’t about how the Lab’s internal communications work (though it will depend on this hypothetical educator knowing what’s happening).

    Go to the Dashboard page, and try to find the link to change Display Names. Do you need to download a Viewer update?

    That’s not just about whether VR is too complex.

  25. @Tateru: Sometimes it’s better late than never, but I’d have to say that after 8+ years online and OpenSim-based worlds showing the potential of booming over the next few months, LL is just a little late on creating internal tools that should have been part of the package from the start. People have been complaining about the shaky foundation for years and the company still focused on toys… then brought out that botched concept of a viewer. With the looming competition, I think they’re going to find it very, very difficult to continue selling regions at $300 a pop… even if they do add an internal animation creator. Besides which, their reputation is pretty much in the can with their Iron Curtain “no longer your property” mentality and total failure to integrate with anyone else. All I can see at this time rather than “late than never”… is “too little too late”.

    @Wolf: “Lab needs to hire somebody able to coordinate this stuff, and organise how it is presented to users, and they need to have the authority to do some wholesale ass-kicking.”

    LOL yeah, I’ve had that same feeling for years. What we have there, as you stated, is not a failure to communicate. It’s a failure to manage. And it’s an immense failure to recognize what the customer wants and needs… and to provide that product. I think that of all the things they’ve ever done, Viewer 2 was the strongest indicator of just how incompetent and out-of-touch that company has become over the years. The OpenSpace fiasco is certainly a strong example of some hiney-stomping that needed to be done at the highest levels (and I dont’ mean Mark Kingdon– but instead the clowns that obviously told him to implement that mess. Evidence: the price remained even after he was fired).

    I agree with you that LL is lousy at documentation. But it’s more than just that. I’ve been a coder as long as there have been microcomputers. As with so very much at LL, the LsL coding language is a brilliant idea… badly implemented. Even Cory, the one who created it, admitted it was a mess. The LsL Wiki is just as bad as the language itself so yes, as you point out, the documentation is terrible. But all that does is just add to the complexity that already existed.

    Years ago, several of us who had a lot of experience using SL on a daily basis tried to get LL to understand the UI of the Viewer needed to be redone. (In truth, the entire viewer needed to be redone, so the idea of V2 was not wrong… just badly done). As people on the front lines, in the trenches, we could have helped them implement a UI that would have be user friendly, easy-to-use and beneficial to both newbs and existing users. Instead they totally ignored us (nothing new there) and went to a third-party source that knew nothing about the daily grind of Second Life, and predictably wound up with an abomination of a product.

    It’s not that the company has no resource for personnel; all they have to do is look for the professionals among their customers. The problem (imo) is and has always been that LL has its “vision” and… as Qarl ex-Linden very directly stated, “I think you Lindens (with notable exceptions) are outrageously arrogant… in fact, thinking about it – nearly every blunder the lab has committed over the years can be seen as a direct result of arrogance, dismissiveness, and general disrespect for your customers.”

    That’s right out of the horse’s mouth so to speak. So yes, I do agree with you on all points. The real problem when it comes to LL isn’t identifying where things are going wrong. It’s trying to identify which of the myriad wrong things are doing the most damage. Complex design, over-achieving in some areas while leaving essentials un-resolved and un-fixed, bad decision-making, bad documentation… is it any wonder the grid hasn’t grown over the past three years?

    When Rod Humble came in, I knew two things: 1) He had an uphill fight and 2) He’d have to be a near-genius to pull this wreck out of the mud. So far, I have to admit nothing I’ve seen come out of his administration has done anything differently than I’ve seen done at LL in the past, which adds evidence to a strong suspicion I’ve had for a long time: the CEO is nothing but a figurehead, a puppet designed to implement concepts created by people behind-the-scenes who don’t want to get their hands dirty. Unfortunately, those people seem mostly interested in “how much profit can we pull down” rather than, “How can we offer a good product that warrants profit?”. Which was the point of the blog: if they’d paid more attention to what the customer needed and wanted… SL might have been a lot more successful… and a lot more fun.

    Okay, done with soapboxing. For now. ;D

Comments are closed.