Editorial: Why Second Life Is the Perfect Model of a Mature, Fully Evolved Virtual World for Newer Social VR Platforms to Emulate

You might have noticed that recently, even with all the different social VR platforms and virtual worlds I could choose from, I am still visiting—and blogging about—Second Life a lot lately.

There’s a good reason for that. I still love Second Life, and I still find lots to bring me back, time and again. For all the bells and whistles of the newer social VR platforms, I find myself coming back to SL for more.

Some people speculate that the evolving metaverse is going to look a lot like popular games like Fortnite. But I think that successful social VR/AR/XR platforms of the future are going to resemble Second Life.

In fact, I am going to make the argument that Second Life, at sixteen years old, is the perfect model of a mature, fully-evolved virtual world. Whether through design, luck, or accident (and really, it’s a combination of all three), founding CEO Philip Rosedale and his team at Linden Lab created something that hundreds of thousands of users still use regularly, despite Second Life routinely being ignored or derided by the mainstream media.

In fact, just a couple of days ago, Philip tweeted:

He said:

Looking right now at the live Steam concurrency stats, if Second Life were listed there it would be in the top 10 games, between Rocket League and TF2. And we’ve been at that concurrency level for more than 10 years.

Much credit lies both with Philip Rosedale for his original, pioneering vision of what a virtual world could be (and some very smart early decisions, such as allowing people to create and sell their own content to other users). Much credit must also go to the current CEO of Linden Lab, Ebbe Altberg, who has capably and competently led his team through many changes in recent years, building on Philip’s foundation. (There were a few CEOs in between, too, but we don’t talk about those. 😉 )

We can take a look at where Second Life is now, today, for a glimpse at the future of social VR/AR/XR platforms and virtual worlds.

What lessons can we take from SL? I can list four off the top of my head.

First, having a well functioning in-world economy is CRITICAL. Once people realized that they could actually make money in Second Life by creating and selling content to other users, SL took off like a rocket. And you can bet that the newer platforms like Sansar, High Fidelity, Sinespace, Decentraland, and Somnium Space have all been busily taking notes based on that early success. Even VRChat, which lacks an in-world economy, effectively proves this point, by having a booming off-world economy centered around the making and selling of custom avatars. The lesson here is simple: either build a marketplace and an economy into your virtual world, or your users will build one around it anyway, in spite of you!

We can expect that newer social VR/AR/XR platforms will develop highly detailed working economies and marketplaces for user-generated content (including comprehensive item permissions systems), whether or not they embrace blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Second Life proved that this is a key, vital ingredient to virtual world success.

Second, it’s ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE. One of the reasons that Second Life has had such extraordinary longevity and success is that people have made an investment in the communities that they belong to. Whatever you are—a Gorean, medieval, steampunk, or science fiction roleplayer; a furry, a tiny, a Na’vi or a Bloodlines vampire—you have likely already found your tribe in Second Life! And that community is what brings people back, time and time again.

Also, Second Life has proven that people will spend a significant amount of time and money on customizing their avatars to their liking. There’s a whole industry built up around avatar customization, as even a brief glance at the SL Marketplace, with its hundreds of thousands of items for sale, will attest.

One of the reasons that OpenSim-based virtual worlds have struggled so much (with so many grids closing unexpectedly, like the rather sad InWorldz saga) is that they attract so few people compared to Second Life. You don’t make too many return visits to a grid when you can’t find anybody else to interact with. And this is where the network effect comes in: the more people who use a platform, the more people it draws in, and the more valuable that network becomes. Often (but not always), these successful growing networks were earlier entrants into a particular marketplace, like Second Life was.

And obviously, Facebook hopes that they can leverage their massive existing social network to give their upcoming social VR platform Horizon an advantage over competitors. If Facebook can get even a tiny percentage of their Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp users to move to Facebook Horizon and use it regularly, they will be more successful than any other social VR platform to date (even VRChat). Facebook has the resources to dominate markets and crush competitors, and they will not hesitate to use every tool and tactic at their disposal. However, as I have said before, innovative social VR platforms will still be able to survive, if they can offer something that Facebook Horizon cannot.

Third: The early adopters of the various social VR/virtual worlds are the best ambassadors and promoters of the platforms. Engaged, raving fans are a virtual world’s best and most effective advertisement! Savvy metaverse companies court these early adopters with varying levels of success.

And you alienate those raving fans at your peril! High Fidelity is unfortunately learning this lesson the hard way. The current level of ill-will surrounding the project, spread by former users who are highly critical of the various mistakes and failings of the company, is an additional hurdle that the company will have to surmount in order to succeed.

Fourth, don’t be too quick to judge or dismiss a platform based on early impressions! I love to share the following video with people who just assumed that Second Life started off as an instant success. It dates from 2001, two years before SL opened to the public, and before it was even called Second Life (back then, it was called Linden World):

It took Philip Rosedale and his team at Linden Lab years and years and YEARS of hard work to get to the point where it finally took off (around 2006-2007).

And likewise, don’t be too quick to dismiss newer platforms that still might be a bit rough around the edges. (And yes, I am as guilty of this as the next person.) Some platforms might not look like much right now, but they will likely also take several years of concerted effort (by the companies behind them and their early users), before they reach a point where they become successful, profitable products.

I have noticed in covering the social VR/virtual world marketplace on my blog that here is such intense pressure on metaverse-building companies to become “the next Second Life”. Platforms are often judged harshly if they do not immediately get high concurrent users figures right out of the starting gate. That is completely unrealistic. The smarter companies are playing the long game here: building a quality social VR/virtual world slowly and methodically over time, and slowly but steadily attracting an audience. That’s what happened with Second Life!

A perfect example of this strategy at work is NeosVR, which is doing some insanely creative things, like this most recent example: an actual working portal gun! I mean, just how freaking cool is that?

NeosVR is still not on a lot of people’s radar yet, but they are attracting more and more users who are very impressed by what they can achieve on this platform. In many cases, these are features that other social VR platforms are not even close to matching! That’s why I believe that NeosVR will have a bright future. As Ralph Waldo Emerson apparently said, build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.

So these are just a few thoughts. Examine Second Life carefully, and you too will gain valuable clues into what the mature, fully-evolved social VR/AR/XR platforms of the future will look like. You can count on it!

Picture by Yorkie
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7 thoughts on “Editorial: Why Second Life Is the Perfect Model of a Mature, Fully Evolved Virtual World for Newer Social VR Platforms to Emulate”

  1. I disagree. SL is a model for a concept that works with a yet large, but stagnant generation on user. Those concepts 1. wont attract a younger userbase 2. the ones that are already in, have proven to be stagnant with the product of choice as well. It’s nice to analyze the success of sl, but it doesnt apply to a new platform that strives for a new userbase. Even Facebook is a model that runs out with the current generation. New ways have to be found without looking too far back. The major problem is that the gamer community today doesnt put value in custom work. Like the steam workshop was supposed to be an open market, but developed in a different direction, because the backlash of people that thought “mods” should be for free in general. Why should they pay for something if they can get it for free? The userbase thinks they connect to the development, but really they just reflect their wishes onto the development. I belive that there need to be more streamlined development branches for the individual creators, which are based on very specific market research and which sells under the hood of the company until the critical mass of users allows to open up a more individual approach.

    1. I also agree with the above statement. Mr Rosedale is looking at Second Life with rose tinted glasses, something that most of the Linden Team do. Second Life users are primarily those who have been there for a long period of time, the current ages of those as primary users would be anywhere from 34 to 65 years of age. Currently Second Life is an aging beast, it is slow, cumbersome and shaggy. Where gaming sectors are moving to ingame and lockbox purchases, the issue with Second Life is down to cheapness and inconsistency in its running, on one hand they want to increase charges yet on the other, they have perfectly good land they could sell but refuse to clean up mainland and make it attractive.

      Added to this, when Linden Labs put out statements that is residents that are bleeding the server resources dry for simply existing and so take more away from free accounts does not help. It just not be easier to incorporate paid membership as standard? . This would lower the appearance of trolls, lower the amount of alts which also creates saturation to data sharing and migration between userbase and inworld infrastructure. It is bad enough it is these third party creators who are developing items that keep people into SL, than to also charge them another 10% off digital good that’s they have made. Second Life is a service that costs money to run, why should it be free?

      The biggest problem Linden Lab faces is its need to incorporate free accounts instead of reasonable paid memberships. Considering that other VR social sites are appearing, of which are creating some very exciting and welcoming ideas such as weekly competitions with seriously good prizes such as Occulus VR sets, then suddenly your sad looking Linden Teddy bear and your priority teleport to already lagged out events are lackluster.

      There is nothing to attract new people to Second Life, I have no idea where he gets his figures for Steam. If anything most would flag it as a terrible game, with nothing to do and a toxic environment around every corner. But if you have less stupid rules, more emphasis on community building and more respect and interest for the creators inworld, then you have a good start.

  2. I want to add an quixk example to it: Fortnite! yea you can say they didnt even want to be social platform for dance parties and whatever, but thats just the story they would sell. look in the stores, you’ll find merchandise all over the place!! and thats a shooter game, that even sells pinatas to the youngest generation of gamer. Thats a streamlined concept that sells in the virtual and in the real world.

  3. Appreciate the perspective about SL’s have a social currency that has helped make it viable, and can surely see that is so.

    A significant thing that I would add is that SL is a community and cultural platform, and it seems that whenever I have seen analysis of SL by any gamer, interested blogger, or proponent for higher end VR, this fact is left out in the considerations.

    There is an art community that includes those who create art installations via the tools for building, fine arts people who bring in and exhibit their visual art work, musicians, and writers, photographers, illustrators, performance artists, and even comics. Some do sell their work, the visual artists in particular; have you seen the number of art galleries and communities there are in SL?

    The musicians and some of the others work for tips, of course, and the people who keep the venues going are an energetic lot who do amazing work to collaborate with the musical artists, and bring their performances to light among their own developed communities, which is all about dancing to the music, and socializing which I would say is contrary to what the earlier comment here states in an anecdote of what he experience; not clear what was being indicated there honestly, following mention of Fornite.

    My point is that there is live music and dance, daily, at almost any given time of the 24-hour day, and if no live music is going on, you can be sure to find a dance club where a DJ is in full swing playing every kind of music from Sinatra to Jayzee, and The Nine Inch Nails.

    And, speaking of collaboration, have you seen the number of dance troupes who create amazing sets and choreography for their performances. And, all of these creative souls have audiences.

    Then there are the communities that come together around spiritual practices, meditation and the study of Buddhism, Christianity, Kriya Yoga and Self Realization.

    There are also the Parkinsons, Michael J. Fox Foundation that has raised thousands of dollars and contributes to the support and well being of many SL users with Parkinson disease.

    There is Relay for Life, Feed A Smile, Veterans Support, Suicide Support, and so on.

    While many of these things may seem to lend themselves to the the idea that the communities are comprised of a specific generation, and rudely denoted as “Stagnate generation”, I beg to differ in every way, and have recently met a very talented set of young writers in SL, some of whom have been in world for eight years or longer and are just now turning thirty-five or thereabouts.

    Thank you for your article. And, for giving insight re: the concurrency of Second Life. I appreciate your saying how it is a big factor with “valuable clues into what the mature, fully-evolved VR/AR/XR platforms of the future will look like”.

    I would add one more thing, that those who are developing the platforms of the future also keep in mind the mature, fully-evolved social communities that Second Life had developed and follow that example if there is going to be a constant turnover and growth within the platform.

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