Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg: Second Life Has Seen a 50% Increase in Regular Monthly Users Because of the Pandemic

Second Life’s new logo (more info)

Last year, I wrote:

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And yet, somehow, the mainstream news media continues to portray Second Life as quaint, outdated, and “forgotten”.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!

Photo by Luca Huter on Unsplash
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The Value of Community in Social VR and Virtual Worlds: Why Fostering Community Is Such a Critical Task for the Newer Virtual Worlds and Social VR Platforms

Chatting around the campfire at the weekly Morning Buzzz event in Sinespace

Today, I did something that I have never done before: I attended the regular Wednesday Morning Buzzz event, which is hosted by Mimi Marie and held in the Greenela world in Sinespace. I was told that I should attend at least one of these meetings (which normally I don’t go to, because they usually fall during my workday in my local time zone up here in Winnipeg), because it was one of the best ways to get the pulse of what was going on in Sinespace, and glean ideas for future blogposts.

(Working in self-isolation from home during the coronavirus pandemic gives me a bit more flexibility to be able to attend those events which I normally would have to miss, which is a rather unexpected perk of the pandemic! But it also means that I find myself responding to work emails and editing collections spreadsheets on Sunday mornings, so obviously, this cuts both ways.)

Anyways, back to the topic of this editorial. As my friend had suggested, it was well worth my time to attend this morning’s events (in addition to Morning Buzzz, the Technical Office Hours was held this morning, another in-world event that I had never attended in person before today).

Technical Office Hours in Sinespace

I had quite wonderful, wide-ranging, and very informative conversations with a number of different people, whom I had not gotten to know nearly as well as I should have by now (especially since I am the embedded reporter for Sinespace!). In fact, my whole experience today in Sinespace was highly instructive, and it got me to thinking.

And I was reminded, yet again, of a universal truth: that the success and longevity of any social VR platform or virtual world lies in its ability to foster, build, sustain and enhance community. The connections made between avatars, and the communities that form around those bonds, are what bring people back, time and again, to particular virtual worlds. In fact, I would suggest that community-building is absolutely critical to the long-term success of social VR and virtual worlds.

One of the reasons that Second Life’s user community has been so resistant to even contemplate a move to another virtual world, is that in all the years that they have spent in SL, many people have made a sizable investment, not so much in the number of items in their inventory (although that is certainly a consideration), but in the number and quality of their in-world relationships.

Think of all the vibrant Second Life role-play communities that have proved to be perennially popular, for example. Think of popular in-world gathering places in SL like Frank’s Jazz Club, Muddy’s Music Café, and FogBound Blues, for example. These are places where people meet each other, friendships are formed, and community is forged. And people tend to tell each other about these places and these communities, always bringing more people into the fold.

Sometimes, I think that the various companies that are busily building various incarnations of the metaverse focus too much on the technical features, at the expense of something more important to any platform’s success: the ability for people to form common communities of interest, and create virtual spaces that meet their community needs, goals, and dreams. This is why such community-building features as text and voice chat, user profiles, and user groups and notices, are so vitally important. (Remember the unholy fuss that erupted when Linden Lab wanted to cut the number of groups that Basic account members could subscribe to? They quickly backtracked from that particular corporate decision.)

What I do find interesting is that, even on platforms that have sometimes struggled to get higher concurrent user figures (e.g. Sansar, High Fidelity), there are still small but stubbornly committed groups of people who continue to plan events and promote them. Witness the tireless work of the volunteer COMETS team in Sansar, who are behind many of the events in the Sansar Events calendar.

Community is critically important. Never forget that!

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Google Adsense Follies, Part V: WHAT THE F@#%?!??

You might be interested to learn that my Google AdSense follies have continued (for previous updates, see here, here, here, and here). I have long ago given up on trying to fix blogposts which are flagged by their automated algorithms, and mistakenly determined to be “adult” content.

Well, I recently received an email from Google AdSense, informing me that because of what they politely call “invalid traffic concerns”, they are pulling advertising from my blog.

In the email I received, they say:

We found potentially invalid traffic being used to generate ad revenue on your account. As a reminder, invalid traffic is strictly prohibited by the AdSense Program policies. Clicks on Google ads must result from genuine user interest. Publishers may not ask others to click their ads. This includes asking users to support your site, offering rewards to users for viewing ads, and promising to raise money for third parties for such behavior. Additionally, clicking your own ads, automated clicking tools or traffic sources, robots, or other deceptive software are also prohibited.

We understand that you may want to know more about the activity we’ve detected. Because this information could be used to circumvent our proprietary detection systems, we’re unable to provide our publishers with information about specific account activity, including users that may have been involved.

So basically:

  • Their algorithms have decided that there is invalid clicking on their ads;
  • And no, they can’t give me any more information (trade secrets, yaknow…)

I hereby give up, and I will be removing Google Adsense from my blog this evening. I have had enough of this bullshit. I will stick with WordPress’s own WordAds program.

Email I received from Google AdSense: Enough is enough…

Editorial: The Rapidly Changing Face of the Music Industry—What Sansar Is Doing Wrong (and Fortnite Is Doing Right)

Earlier this year, after an extended break, I rejoined the official Sansar Discord server, and while I have not nearly been as active there as I used to be, I still lurk from time to time. I had a good laugh at this snippet of conversation from the day before yesterday (and yes, I do have both Medhue’s and Vassay’s permission to quote them, and to post this image here on the blog):

Medhue: Literally, Ryan Schultz does more marketing for Sansar than Sansar does.

Vassay: Funniy (sadly) enough, that’s true.

Medhue: IMHO, we have a bunch of people who live in the past, when music was a 50 billion dollar industry. It is not anymore, and likely won’t ever be again. Gaming has always been growing and there are really no signs of it slowing, grabbing more and more of the entertainment market each year.

Wookey has been strangely silent since its purchase of Sansar, and their team have been largely absent from the Sansar Discord. And yes, it is indeed true: even though I barely write about Sansar at all now on this blog, I still do more promotion of Sansar than Sansar does! This relative lack of marketing activity is frankly baffling to me. After all, the often ineffective marketing of Sansar by Linden Lab contributed to the difficulties it encountered in enticing people to visit the platform—and keep them coming back for return visits, a key indicator of success.

As you might know, the money-losing Sansar was recently sold by Linden Lab to Wookey. Many Linden Lab staffers who worked on Sansar moved over to Wookey, including Sheri Bryant, who was Vice President of Strategic Business Development and Marketing and then General Manager at Linden Lab, and is now President of Wookey Technologies (LinkedIn profile). She is widely credited with saving Sansar by setting up its sale to Wookey, and it is under her management that Sansar has significantly shifted its primary focus from a VR-enabled platform for world builders and content creators (i.e. a second-generation Second Life), to a VR-enabled live events venue.

An example of the recent shift in emphasis in Sansar (from the Sansar website)

While a quick glance at the Sansar Events calendar shows that the deal Linden Lab previously struck with Monstercat to bring live musical events into Sansar has continued now that the platform is owned by Wookey, the company is going to have to do a lot more work to attract musical artists to give virtual concerts in Sansar.

Let’s contrast the modest success that Sansar has had with Monstercat with what has been happening on other virtual world and game platforms in recent years:

In addition, both Microsoft-owned AltspaceVR (which has recently announced a pivot to live events) and the ever-popular VRChat (which is already home to popular talk shows such as ENDGAME, and many other regular live events) are no doubt eyeing the possibility of hosting live concerts on their platforms. And let’s not forget the upcoming Facebook Horizon social VR platform, where Facebook will probably take what the company has learned over the past couple of years with Oculus Venues, and where they will want to sign their own exclusive deals with musical performers to entice people to visit their platform after it launches.

And this is the important point: some profitable companies with very deep pockets—Epic Games (the makers of Fortnite), Microsoft, and Facebook to name just three examples—are going to want to get into this potentially lucrative market. Smaller companies like Wookey, trying to shop around Sansar as a live events platform, are going to find themselves outbid by companies like Epic Games to bring in top talent, which of course brings in more users to Fortnite. It’s a vicious circle; the big players get bigger, while the small ones fight each other for the leftovers.

Following on from Medhue’s point in the quote above, the music industry has already seen many changes and gone through many wrenching shifts in how it operates and how it makes money in the past (notably, the shift away from physical media like CDs to the now-ubiquitous music streaming services). But now the gaming industry is bigger than both the music and movie businesses combined!

The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered real-world concert arenas for the foreseeable future, which has only increased the economic pressure on the management representing the artists to sign deals with various metaverse-building companies in order to host virtual concerts and events. There’s probably already a lot of activity going on behind the scenes that we can’t see, but I expect we shall see quite a few announcements for virtual concerts with major musical artists, as well as many smaller artists, over the next six months.

Where Fortnite is already running circles around Sansar, even at this very early stage of the game, is their ability to sign deals with the highest level of talent (using all those billions of dollars of profit earned from their games like Fortnite), and their ability to host massive live events for millions of attendees (again, leveraging off their technical know-how to build and maintain the necessary infrastructure to support millions of Fortnite players playing the game simultaneously all around the world).

One thing that Wookey could be and should be doing for Sansar is promotion—and yet they are leaving it to bloggers like me to talk about the product. Where is the marketing? If they are holding off on marketing, waiting until they land some big-name events, I think that would be a tactical error.

Wookey needs to get Sansar’s name out there; many people in our attention-deficient society still have no idea that the platform even exists. Yet everybody and their grandmother has heard of Fortnite by now. That is no accident. Epic Games did a masterful job of fanning the flames of user interest. Wookey should be taking notes.

If no action is taken, Sansar is going to continue on its downward trajectory, slowly circling the drain, and eventually will fold. Linden Lab has already made many grievous errors in trying to effectively promote the platform; Will Wookey continue making the same mistakes?