Ask Ryan: We Want to Leave Second Life—But Where Do We Go?

Do you have a question about the ever-evolving metaverse of social VR platforms and virtual worlds? Ask Ryan!

Maribeth asks:

Hi Ryan! My name is Maribeth. I am trying to use virtual worlds to help diabetes patients and others with chronic disease/chronic stress. My colleague and I are thinking about jumping ship from Second Life and it’s really confusing to know which way to turn. Your blog is so amazing! I’d love to pick your brain. I really respect your deep and vast knowledge on the topic. If you’re at all open to chatting, please let me know. Thanks!


Ooh boy, did you ever come to the right place to ask this great question! 😉

I’d love to schedule a time to chat, Maribeth. In fact, I even offer social VR/virtual world consulting services via my Patreon (at the Platinum patron level at US$25 per month, a price which I recently lowered).

My Patreon page

But, instead of charging you $25.00, Maribeth, I’ll let you pick my brains for free this time, provided we do it publicly on the blog…after all, I am the Freebie Queen of Second Life, plus quite a few other platforms, to boot! 😉

And, in this case, I have an easy answer for you. If you are getting tired of Second Life and are looking for something similar to replace it with, but with all the latest bells and whistles (like a webcam-based avatar facial animator), may I recommend Sinespace?

The Sinespace homepage

Like Second Life, setting up an account on Sinespace is free. (Of course, also like Second Life, to get the richest experience, you will need to buy some Gold, the in-world currency, via your credit card, although Sinespace does have a second, promotional currency called Silver, of which you get a generous 30,000 to start yourself off on the right foot!)

Sinespace is based on Unity, which is a cross-platform game engine used to develop both three-dimensional and two-dimensional video games and simulations. This is a different approach from Linden Lab’s Second Life, which built and maintains its own engine from scratch (which means, at the ripe old age of 17, it is getting a bit long in the teeth). This also allows Sinespace to take advantage of the work that is done by countless other Unity developers on other Unity-based apps and games, such as the extremely cool Archimatix tool, which allows you to automagically resize highly complex mesh items in-world (which puts the rather simple move, rotate and stretch in-world building tools in Second Life to shame!).

Even better, male and female avatar fashions are designed to fit EVERY male and female avatar body, respectively. You don’t have to check to see if apparel or footwear are designed for a specific brand of mesh body, like you have to do in Second Life (e.g. Maitreya Lara, Belleza Freya, Slink Physique, Belleza Jake, Signature GIanni, etc.). Also, you don’t have to fuss with a HUD to make parts of your avatar body invisible under apparel; the clothing fits perfectly, and it adjusts if you make any changes to the body sliders! Another advantage of basing Sinespace on Unity.

Oh, and did I mention that Sinespace has working in-world cloth physics on skirts and dresses? Check out the videos to see it in action here and here! And Sinespace supports both desktop users, and users in virtual reality headsets! There’s also a web browser-based client. You can even run Sinespace on your mobile device!

Oh, and also, while Second Life struggles with lag when over 50 avatars are in a single sim, Sinespace has already demonstrated that its worlds can handle up to ten times as many avatars (the latest record achieved in testing, Adam tells me, is 499 avatars in a single region). And those regions can be mind-bogglingly large, too, not just restricted to 512 square metres. In fact, Adam tells me that the largest Sinespace region to date is a staggering 8 km by 8 km in size, with an 8 km vertical space! Think of what you could do with all that virtual real estate!

Simply put, Sinespace is Second Life on steroids.

Here are all the blogposts I have written about Sinespace. In fact, I am such a fan of what Adam Frisby and his team at Sine Wave Entertainment have created, that I even became an embedded reporter for the platform! But even if I weren’t getting paid to blog about Sinespace, I would still recommend that you check out Sinespace if you are looking for a new home to replace the venerable (and still popular) Second Life.

And you needn’t worry that Sinespace will go poof! if the company should suddenly fold; Sine Wave Entertainment is a healthy company with a stellar, well-connected board of directors. In fact, the company has been raking in the profits during the coronavirus pandemic, serving many new corporate, conference, and educational clients with Breakroom, a version of Sinespace developed for just such a market.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has also delayed Sine Wave Entertainment’s plans for an splashy official launch of Sinespace, complete with a advertising blitz, until 2021. Trust me when I say this: Sinespace is going to attract a lot more attention from SL folks (and other quarters) next year. And if Second Life should ever stumble in future, Sinespace is perfectly positioned to welcome the refugees. In fact, many SL content creators have already set up shop in Sinespace, such as Abramelin Wolfe of Abranimations.

However, if you are loath to work your way up a new learning curve, may I suggest you investigate the incredible myriad of OpenSim-based virtual worlds? (Ironically, Adam Frisby of Sine Wave Entertainment was one of the founding developers for OpenSim, before he started his new company and focused on Sinespace and Breakroom.) Much of what you already know about Second Life can be directly transferable to OpenSim, and the prices for things such as land rentals are often significantly cheaper.

In fact, instead of renting sims from an established OpenSim grid, you might want to consider setting up and running your own grid! Everything you need to know is in the OpenSimulator wiki. And for the latest news and information about OpenSim, nobody can beat Maria Korolov’s Hypergrid Business blog, which maintains a list of active OpenSim grids.

Another advantage of Hypergrid-enabled OpenSim worlds is that you can even take your avatar from one grid to another! However, one disadvantage of OpenSim is that platforms tend to rise and fall with alarming regularity, so stability is an issue (witness the sad saga of InWorldz/Islandz for an example of what can happen). Also, the network effect means that no single OpenSim grid will ever rival Second Life for its sheer reach and (relatively) massive audience.

So, the executive summary of my answer is: if you don’t want to work your way up a new learning curve, go with OpenSim; otherwise, go with Sinespace.

Ask Ryan: What Are Some Easy Non-VR Alternatives to Zoom for Our Social Hangouts?

As my blog becomes more and more popular over time, I often receive questions from my readers about social VR and virtual worlds. In many cases, I think the questions—and my answers!—are worth sharing, so I have decided to start up a brand new category of blogposts, tagged “Ask Ryan“. Every so often, I will post a query and attempt to provide the best, most comprehensive answer I can.

Recently, I got the following message from Gavin via my Contact Me page:

Hi Ryan, I came across your website while researching Zoom alternatives. I don’t own a VR headset (although I would very much like to) and neither do many of my friends. I think we all agree that while Zoom is serviceable as far as work meetings are concerned, it’s a terrible option for social hangouts. In my mind, the issue of proximity is key. At a real party, multiple conversations can take place simultaneously. People are able to focus on one speaker by using proximity. The use of avatars seems like a pretty obvious fix. The question is: which app/software is doing this best already? Most of my friends aren’t gamers or techie types, so they would probably be turned off by anything in a highly stylized graphic environment. They also don’t own VR headsets and ease of use is critical. I’d like to just be able to text then a link or ask them to download a free app on their phone to make it work. I’ve been searching high and low for the ideal app that meets these criteria but just can’t seem to find it. What would you recommend? Thanks for your help!


Glad you asked, Gavin!

One non-VR platform you should definitely look at is the new High Fidelity*, which is a two-dimensional flat-screen app with three-dimensional audio that is perfect for your needs! You and your friends will probably have to use headphones or earbuds to really appreciate the spatial audio, which I’m sure you already have. The sound also falls off as you move away from the speaker, allowing you to break off into small groups and have many smaller conversations taking place at once. Here is their website, where you can learn more about the product.

Another platform you should investigate is Mozilla Hubs, which like the new High Fidelity runs completely in your web browser. You don’t even need to set up a user account to use Hubs! Here are all my blogposts tagged Mozilla Hubs.

Finally, there is a brand new, procedurally generated virtual world called Jel, which is also completely browser-based and would probably also suit your needs nicely.

Two avatars chatting in Jel

There are certainly many other virtual worlds you have a non-VR mode which could use for socializing, such as Second Life, Sinespace, VirBELA, etc., but they are not as quick and easy to use as these three platforms I have mentioned. Second Life, in particular, has a notoriously steep learning curve compared to the simplicity of Jel, Mozilla Hubs, and the new High Fidelity.

*not to be confused with the now-shuttered social VR platform High Fidelity, which required a high-end virtual reality headset connected to a Windows PC with a good graphics card