UPDATED! High Fidelity Invests in Linden Lab, the Makers of Second Life, and Philip Rosedale Rejoins Linden Lab as a Strategic Advisor

The Second Life website (image source)

Today, Linden Lab (more formally known as Linden Research, Inc., the makers of Second Life) dropped a press release:

High Fidelity announced today that it acquired an interest in Linden Research, Inc. (“Linden Lab”), the pioneering developer of the virtual world Second Life. The deal includes a cash investment and distributed computing patents. Members of High Fidelity’s metaverse team are joining the company, and Philip Rosedale, who is a founder of both companies, is also rejoining Second Life as a strategic advisor.

The transaction will help Second Life further scale its operations and strengthen its commitment to growing an innovative, inclusive, and diverse metaverse where its inhabitants’ ingenuity drives real-world value for themselves and others.

“No one has come close to building a virtual world like Second Life,” says Second Life founder and High Fidelity co-founder, Philip Rosedale. “Big Tech giving away VR headsets and building a metaverse on their ad-driven, behavior-modification platforms isn’t going to create a magical, single digital utopia for everyone. Second Life has managed to create both a positive, enriching experience for its residents — with room for millions more to join — and built a thriving subscription-based business at the same time. Virtual worlds don’t need to be dystopias.”

High Fidelity is the company Philip Rosedale founded after leaving Linden Lab. Its first product, an ambitious social VR platform called High Fidelity, failed to catch on and was shut down in early 2020. Its successor product (also called High Fidelity) is a 3D spatialized audio system for use in other metaverse platforms. So, when I’m talking about High Fidelity (HiFi for short), I always make sure to indicate whether I am talking about the company itself, its former social VR product (the old High Fidelity) or the new 3D audio product (the new High Fidelity)!

The website for the new High Fidelity (image source)

Wagner James Au, writer of the long-time virtual worlds blog New World Notes (from whom I first learned about this breaking news), has this to say:

Just got this message from Philip Rosedale, about the future of Second Life:

“I’m not back full-time, but it feels great to get to be talking to Lindens about design! I think the vital thing to focus on is demonstrating that a virtual world can scale to greater capacity while being inclusive and fair and safe for humanity.”

Exciting and welcome news, indeed! I will update this blogpost with more details as I acquire them. Stay tuned!

UPDATE Jan. 14th, 2022: The Wall Street Journal, in an article titled Second Life Founder Returns to Take On the Metaverse (archived version), reported yesterday:

Philip Rosedale in 2003 launched the online game where players using avatars can hang out, socialize with other players and make purchases. Second Life is a forerunner of the virtual worlds that big tech companies are now trying to create and that are often referred to as the metaverse. Mr. Rosedale is returning to the company he left in 2010 to serve as a strategic adviser and shepherd its expansion as the metaverse gains wider traction, he said in an interview…

Mr. Rosedale said that the business models underpinning some of the current tech giants, such as tracking user behavior to target ads, would be potentially harmful in the metaverse, which is more immersive than current digital platforms. “I think that there is a real genuine, existential risk associated with how that gets done,” he said.

Second Life may have had a head start on some of the metaverse companies it aims to compete with, but to some extent is the underdog. Second Life rolled out before Facebook was founded, but has hovered at around one million users since 2008, according to a company spokesperson. Meta’s Facebook, Instagram and other services sported more than 3.5 billion monthly users combined, according to its most recent earnings. Epic Games Inc.’s Fortnite videogame and game company Roblox Corp. , which are also making moves in the metaverse, have many times the number of users that Second Life has.

Brad Oberwager, chairman of Second Life parent company Linden Research Inc., said he is working with Mr. Rosedale to inject momentum into the business. Second Life already offers the ability for people to withdraw money from in-game sales into the real world, a feature lacking in some other emerging metaverses, which should attract users, he said. Coming upgrades focused on further improving the social and economic components of the game, such as the avatars and digital marketplace, promise to drive user growth, he added.

The Wall Street Journal article goes on to state that “Mr. Rosedale is bringing with him to Second Life a small cadre of developers, a number of patents and an unspecified financial investment from the company he founded in 2013, High Fidelity Inc.”

In an interview with c|net, titled Second Life founder returns to revamp his original metaverse, Philip goes into a little more detail:

Rosedale is going to be a “strategic adviser” for Second Life, while his company High Fidelity looks to infuse Second Life with some new ideas, simultaneously working on other ideas for future tech, including – at some point – VR again. “We’re announcing that we’ve shifted a group of seven people, some patents, some money. We’re investing in Second Life, to keep working on Second Life,” Rosedale told me. “Two of those patents are moderation in a decentralized environment patents, which is really cool.”

The reason for the shift is that Second Life still makes money and still has a considerably larger community than most VR platforms: It’s had over 73 million accounts created since it launched, and estimates of active users hover around 900,000. Rosedale sees the shift as solving problems while VR hardware still gets thought out. 

Despite the seeming success of the Oculus Quest 2, he still doesn’t think it’s enough. “The headset is so broken that it’s going to actually take, I think, five years to get to something that’s good,” he says, “and we as a startup would neither survive, nor would it make sense for us to sit around for five years.” He sees building up Second Life as a better platform that will be VR-optional until that magically perfect hardware arrives. 

The entire c|net article is well worth a read, by the way. This news has also been covered by publications such as The Verge, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and CoinTelegraph.

Honestly, the more I read, the better this sounds! I think this is exciting news for both Linden Lab and High Fidelity, and I wish all involved every success in this endeavour.

Editorial: Will Sansar Survive?

Sansar is the reason I started this blog a little over four years ago, and it with a very heavy heart that I write this blogpost. As many of you know, I found that I had become too emotionally attached to what was going on with Sansar, and I had to step back from my previously comprehensive coverage of the Linden Lab-founded social VR platform, to gain some much-needed perspective and to be able to write about it dispassionately.

While the rumours of Sansar’s impending demise have been circling for quite a long while now, over the past few months, I have been hearing persistent gossip, from various well-placed sources, that Wookey-led Sansar is in serious trouble. I should rush to add that I have zero official confirmation of any of this, but every time I hear a new rumour, it seems to confirm what I have already heard from others. In other words, I am hearing the same thing from many different people.

Most recently, I’ve been told that the Wookey team is missing in action, both on the official Sansar Discord and in-world. I’ve heard that Sansar has lost big-name clients like Lost Horizon and Monstercat (although Sansar is still listed on the Lost Horizon Festival website). I’ve also heard that many people who used to be actively involved in Sansar have left, leaving for platforms as various and diverse as Helios, SapphireXR, and CORE (where I see many Sansar alumni chatting on their Discord servers).

My latest source tells me:

There hasn’t been a product meetup in monthsthey were all working like crazy on Splendour in the Grass…after that, crickets.

The marketplace for hosting live events has become extremely competitive, with social VR platforms competing with game companies like Fortnite and Minecraft to sign deals with artists and festivals, and to host concerts and other musical events. And if Sansar is struggling to do this during a pandemic, how will it fare when things return to (relative) normalcy, with a resurgence of live, in-person events? Can Sansar compete against better-funded companies to attract the kind of A-list talent which brings in audiences—and more to the point, can they get that audience to stick around and become content creators and community members after the music ends?

I am in a better position that most external observers to play armchair quarterback and try to pinpoint exactly where it all went so wrong, but I must confess that, like so many others (including numerous employees laid off in at least two rounds of wrenching, painful layoffs), I really thought that Sansar would succeed.

But the expensive bet placed by Linden Lab (and Philip Rosedale’s company, High Fidelity, which shut down a similar service in early 2020, and pivoted to a spatial audio product), is that there would be tens and even hundreds of thousands of people using high-end VR headsets like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Valve Index to access social VR platforms boasting beautiful high-end graphics. It didn’t seem like such a risky bet at the time, but looking back, perhaps it was.

Certainly, part of the problem is that these companies spent millions of dollars and many years building platforms, only to find that the VR hardware market was evolving so quickly that they couldn’t keep up. I mean, the Oculus Rift is no longer being sold by Facebook, which decided to put all their eggs into the standalone Quest, which is selling like hotcakes—and which Sansar can only run on if you attach a cable from your Quest to your high-end gaming PC.

What does it take for a platform to catch fire, like VRChat and Rec Room? Again, I don’t really know the answer (although social media, particularly YouTube and Twitch, certainly played a pivotal role in at least VRChat’s ultimate popularity and success).

At a time when the metaverse has again become a hot buzzword tossed around by many companies, both big and small, who knows what will happen to Sansar. But I must confess that I am very worried.

LinguaVirtua: Coming Soon—Learning a Foreign Language Using Social VR

LinguaVirtua is a Taiwan-based company offering foreign language classes using the social VR platform Vircadia. (Vircadia is the volunteer-run product founded on the open-source code of the original High Fidelity social VR platform which folded in early 2020.) According to a company blogpost:

We used Vircadia, an open-source VR platform that allows people to build and explore VR worlds, to build a virtual version of our LinguaVirtua meetups. Learn more about Vircadia here: https://vircadia.com/

If you’re interested in learning languages in a fun and informal way, VR is the best option – best of all, you get to meet and socialize with other language learners, right in the comforts of your own home!

I chatted with the organizer via Discord (his name is Ryan, too!), and he told me:

I’m the creator of LinguaVirtua. Currently we’re not holding regular language meetups in Vircadia, but we have been planning to. We have had a few experimental language meetups inworld and they were a lot of fun. We’ve been holding regular events on Discord and I was hoping to get at least a small percentage of our 2,300 Discord members to join our language meetups in Vircadia…

I’ve been hosting offline language meetups for several years across Singapore, Philippines and Taiwan, and since Covid-19 platforms such as Discord and Vircadia have really helped allow us to continue since we couldn’t meet in person. It also gave us an opportunity to become more international as we now have people joining from all over the world.

On overhead view of the LinguaVirtua village in Vircadia

While we wait for LinguaVirtua to relaunch in Vircadia, you might be interested to know that LinguaVirtua also runs an active Discord server with over 2,300 members, featuring both text and voice channels in many different languages.

For further information about LinguaVirtua, please visit their website, or follow them on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

The New Ready Player Me Hub: The Ability to Import Your Avatar to Any Supported Platform!

An example of the avatars you can create using the new Ready Player Me Hub (source)

Wolf3D’s Ready Player Me, the customizable avatar system I have written about before here, here, and here, has issued a brand new update! In the email I received yesterday:

The Ready Player Me Hub lets you create one or multiple avatars and use them in all apps that support Ready Player Me. With one click, you can import your existing avatar or create a new one and add it to apps like VRChat, LIV, and Somnium Space.

According to the official blogpost announcing the update (which I recommend you read in full):

Ever since we launched Ready Player Me back in May last year, our goal was to create a cross-game avatar platform for the metaverse – one that gives you a consistent digital identity everywhere you and your avatar go. Think of it as a passport that gives you access to thousands of virtual worlds. Today, we are making the metaverse passport real with the launch of the Ready Player Me Hub

When you sign in to the Ready Player Me Hub, you can see all your avatars and connect them to your favorite applications in one click. To import your avatar into a partner app that uses Ready Player Me, all you need to do is sign in with your account.

VentureBeat reports:

Wolf3D’s platform allows users to travel between video games, virtual reality experiences, and other apps using a single virtual identity, said cofounder Timmu Tõke in an interview with GamesBeat.

“We’re trying to build a cross-game service to enable a lot of virtual worlds to exist,” Tõke said. “We see more people spending more and more time in virtual worlds. The metaverse is kind of happening around us. But most of it isn’t happening in one world or one app. It’s a network of many different worlds that people visit for work and play and collaboration. And doesn’t really make sense for the end user to create a new avatar identity for each of those experiences. It makes sense to have one portable entity that travels with you across many different games and apps and experiences.”

In fact, 300 games, apps, and social VR/virtual worlds now support the Ready Player Me avatar system, including the following platforms (all links below redirect you to blogposts I have previously written about each platform, which might be somewhat out-of-date, as I am covering so many different platforms on this blog!):

You can peruse the complete list of Ready Player Me partners here.

If you are interested in trying out the Ready Player Me Hub to create an avatar (either from a selfie or from scratch), you can access it here. You have a choice of making either a full-body avatar or a head-and-shoulders avatar:

The Ready Player Me Hub starting screen

When your avatar is ready, simply click Next in the top right corner of the website. You will be redirected to the new Hub interface. To save your avatar, click Claim now and sign in with your email address. You will get a one-time login code that you need to type in the Hub. You can use the Hub to connect your avatars to available apps in the Discover Apps tab. To import your avatar into a new app, all you need to do is click Connect avatar (some applications may require a few extra steps).

We are getting ever closer to the dream of having a consistent avatar which you can use in multiple social VR platforms! Be sure to give the Ready Player Me Hub a try.