Second Life 2.0 will be interesting, but no breakthrough for the multiverse

Quite some excitement among virtual worlds fans: Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, confirmed that they work on a new virtual world. They won’t let themselves be restrained by concerns about backward compatibility with the eleven year old Second Life as they want a fundamentally better virtual world and not just incremental improvements. CEO Ebbe Altberg of Linden Lab said that the ‘old’ Second Life will continue and new developers are being recruited for the new project. In the meantime, the founder of the Lab, Philip Rosedale, is working on yet another new virtual world, called High Fidelity.

More can be found on New World Notes and on Living in a Modemworld.

I cannot help being excited about these new developments, yet I don’t think we’ll see a spectacular growth in virtual worlds usage. My impression is that Linden Lab tries to benefit from the excitement around Oculus Rift, telling the world that the biggest open-ended and user generated virtual world is Second Life. However, people outside the fan base of Second Life are sceptical (as reading the discussions on Reddit makes abundantly clear).

My guess is that the niche of users of Second Life and OpenSim (the open-source version of Second Life) will be dispersed over three worlds now: the old and the new Second Life and Rosedale’s new project, but that the whole open-ended user-generated virtual worlds scene will remain a niche-thing. Will it change in a few years time when motion trackers, body sensors and 3D-cameras will become more mainstream? Maybe, but it won’t be next year.

Second Life fans often say that the lack of traction of virtual worlds is because of the learning curve and the difficulties in using mouse and keyboard to navigate those worlds. I think the real difficulty is the identity-play: the fact that people represent themselves by avatars which may be very different from the physical person using those avatars. For some this opens a world of creativity and exploration, for many others it’s just a bit creepy, especially in ‘serious’ (for instance work-related) contexts.

The other issue with these worlds is that they tend to be very time-consuming. Social networks and mobile communications help people to navigate from the physical to the digital world in fast bursts of time – checking updates, having a facetime of Google Hangout videotalk etc – but without spending hours immersed in a virtual environment.

Both these behavioral phenomena – preference for short time span interventions and for seeing ‘the real other’ – make widespread usage of open ended virtual worlds a tough sell.

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7 Responses to Second Life 2.0 will be interesting, but no breakthrough for the multiverse

  1. Inara Pey says:


    An intuitive piece which touches on many truths – and thank you for the link! You hit upon many of the issues which I’ve long had about the accessibility of VWs (and I’m speaking as an SL / OpenSim user!), where everyone else is focused on the UI. Doubly so since Philip Rosedale started bashing the poor old mouse and keyboard paradigm.

    I hope you would mind if I quote you in an upcoming article of my own!

    • Inara Pey says:

      Oops! “would mind” should read “won’t mind”! That’s what comes of being distracted by a cat demanding his dinner!

  2. Of course I won’t mind, Inara, thank you for your comment!

  3. Fleep Tuque says:

    I think you’re right to say that there’s some “creepy” factor that many people feel about VR in general. I’ve seen it thousands of times introducing these platforms to others, and I’ve never quite figured out the root of the phenomenon (or perhaps there are several), but I agree that it’s not about interface or even ease of use. It’s definitely fear based, though, fear of being tricked, fear of losing themselves in something that isn’t “real”.. I don’t know if any of the next-gen platforms or interfaces will do anything to address those fears, either.

  4. Hi Fleep. The traditional argument is that ‘the new generations’ are more familiar with virtual environments and games. However, I’m not sure at all that youngsters are ready to continue to embrace these things once they get older or in different contexts such as education or work-related stuff. My impression – but you’re the expert here – is that students do use virtual environments in an education context if they have to, but once the assignments are done, a majority of them don’t go on experimenting on their own.

    • Fleep Tuque says:

      I think that’s true, but I’m not sure that has anything to do with the technology itself.

      At least in the US, I think students aren’t encouraged to think of themselves as creative partners in the education process. The resources and systems they tend to use in the classroom are static, top-down experiences dictated by the teacher or school administrators. If the school website, and learning management system, and all the other software they encounter in the classroom allows no creative input, why would they think the virtual classroom would be any different? Why bother experimenting with something you can’t change?

  5. It seems in Europe there is quite some variety in school systems. In Belgium schools also have a large autonomy. But maybe the education system is not the only variable at play here, The ‘identity’ thing could be an issue – students are ‘on the market’ as potential partners and prefer networks such as Facebook rather than avatar-based places. But there may be other stuff at work here: why is it that Minecraft is such a big hit in education (at least that’s my impression, reading media) compared to Second Life and OpenSim?

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