In the December 2017 issue of The Atlantic magazine, Leslie Jamison wrote an article about Second Life. The webpage for that article has the original article title, Second Life Still Has 600,000 Regular Users (which you can check for yourself by doing a Google search):
However, it would seem that Leslie’s editor at The Atlantic wanted a somewhat punchier title, and so we have The Digital Ruins of a Forgotten Future, which shows up when you click on that link. (I’m pretty sure that Linden Lab is less than pleased with that particular editor.)
There’s a quote from that article which is, to my knowledge, the most up-to-date statistic we have about how many people still use Second Life: “Of the 36 million Second Life accounts that had been created by 2013—the most recent data Linden Lab will provide—only an estimated 600,000 people still regularly use the platform.”
“Only” 600,000? That still makes Second Life, far and away, the most popular metaverse platform, at almost 17 years old. Even popular newer platforms like VRChat don’t have that level of usage. (Note I am talking specifically about open-ended purpose social VR and virtual worlds here, not games like Fortnite which are slowly expanding into non-combat, social environments.)
And yet, somehow, the mainstream news media continues to portray Second Life as quaint, outdated, and “forgotten”. In case you doubt that 600,000 figure, it was supported by statistics released by Jessica Lyon, the founder, CEO, and project manager of the Firestorm viewer project:
Let’s get this out of the way first: 542,967 unique users across 9.9 million sessions spending 17.7 million hours logged into Second Life on Firestorm over the last 30-day period.
If you assume that Firestorm has 90% of the SL viewer market (a reasonable assumption), that still works out to about 600,000 regular monthly users (that is, people who sign into Second Life at least once a month).
Well, in a May 22nd, 2020 VICE story about the boom in business in virtual worlds during the pandemic, Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg (the makers of Second Life), had this to say:
“The Second Life community, which now has about 900,000 active users monthly, hosts hundreds of events daily,” Ebbe Altberg, the CEO of Linden Lab, the creators of Second Life, tells VICE. Altberg reveals that the most regularly attended virtual events include live music performances, shopping fairs, fan fiction conventions, book and poetry readings, academic lectures, fashion shows, and art exhibitions. “Events in Second Life can be held spontaneously or with careful planning,” says Altberg. “We have an events calendar and destination guide that helps the community discover what is happening at any given moment. Inside the Second Life Viewer, many communities also form chat groups that allow for like-minded people to stay informed about the latest events.”
Linden Lab does not often reveal usage statistics, so this is noteworthy. What is also noteworthy is that the number of people who log into Second Life at least once a month has jumped from about 600,000 to approximately 900,000—a 50% increase!
Even though Linden Lab has been trying mightily to promote their virtual world and increase the number of people using Second Life for well over a decade, the company has been caught flat footed by this significant increase in usage (be careful what you wish for!).
In fact, they recently announced that they were unable to respond to a surge in demand for Second Life regions (better known as sims, which is short for “simulators”):
Well, this is awkward…
Due to the ongoing public health crisis, we’ve experienced an unprecedented surge in demand for new Second Life regions. While we are thrilled by the heightened interest, the increased demand has consumed our available inventory of full regions and homesteads (there are still many parcels available on existing regions, both on the mainland and from private estates).
We are committed to maintaining (and improving) the stability and performance of Second Life. So while we are very gratified that we can be of help to people in these trying times, unfortunately, our current server systems cannot accommodate unlimited growth without adversely impacting that stability and performance. This means that region inventory in Second Life will be extremely limited and may not be readily available until early fall.
As we’ve discussed previously, Second Life is in the process of migrating from our existing dedicated servers to a cloud hosting service. That migration has already moved a number of the most important services and databases, but we are not quite ready to host simulators in the cloud. We have a crack team working on that and are making lots of progress, but there are significant changes needed to make sure that we can provide the performance, stability, and security required. When that process is complete we will have a nearly unlimited region capacity, but until then we are constrained by the size of our existing server fleet.
While our migration project has been underway for some time, even our most optimistic business projections did not anticipate a surge of the magnitude we have seen in recent weeks for additional regions. While we planned for growth driven by improvements to Second Life and other factors, we didn’t expect demand to be created by a global pandemic.
As a result, we are in the unfortunate position of hitting the maximum capacity of our “old” servers until the “new” cloud servers are fully operational.
Of course, Second Life is not the only metaverse platform to see an increase in business because of the global public health crisis. Many other social VR and virtual worlds have seen an increase in use, and they have been receiving many inquiries from educational institutions, businesses, and convention organizers. For example, the Balticon science fiction and fantasy convention, taking place this weekend, set up a virtual convention meeting place in Second Life.
Sensing a business opportunity, the pandemic has led to a sharp increase in the number of companies offering platforms supporting remote team work, or (as I prefer to call them) YARTVRA. (This last link will take you to all the blogposts I have written about the remote teamwork marketplace to date.)
And this is not going to be a temporary situation, either. In a best-case scenario, we are going to have to wait 12 to 18 months for a vaccine, which means that social distancing policies, lockdowns, and quarantines are going to be implemented, off an on, for the foreseeable future by governments around the world. We could well see successive waves of coronavirus infection well into 2021, or even 2022!
The coronavirus pandemic has created an unprecedented business opportunity for social VR platforms and virtual worlds. As the saying goes, make hay while the sun shines!