Could We Finally Be Getting Official Mobile Clients (iOS and Android) for Second Life?

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Virtual worlds like IMVU and Avakin Life, which are highly popular with tweens and teens, have one strong advantage over Second Life; they can be played on mobile devices (tablets and smartphones), which are now ubiquitous technology in modern-day society. Although Linden Lab has made a few half-hearted forays into mobile clients for SL in the past, these projects never went very far before they were shut down. Second Life is still, after all these years, primarily a virtual world played on a computer desktop (Windows, Mac, and Linux), which limits its potential audience somewhat.

Wagner James Au of the long-running Second Life blog New World Notes was the first to notice that Linden Lab is hiring a senior mobile engineer for Second Life. According to the position description:

Linden Lab is looking for an innovative mobile app engineer to deliver a compelling, responsive mobile interface into Second Life. If you’re passionate about the latest cross platform mobile technologies and would be psyched to wake up every morning knowing that your efforts will enhance the largest, most successful virtual world on the Internet then we want to hear from you!

Responsibilities

  • Expand and enhance access to Second Life – the most successful user-created Virtual World ever with tens of thousands of concurrent users.
  • Collaborate with other engineers in an iterative, agile development environment with a passionate commitment to improving the Second Life experience.
  • Participate in design and code reviews and discussions both within the web team and with other parts of Second Life development.

Knowledge, Skills, Abilities

To perform this job successfully, an individual must be able to perform each essential duty satisfactorily. The requirements listed below are representative of the knowledge, skill, and/or ability required. Reasonable accommodations may be made to enable individuals with disabilities to perform the essential functions.

  • Results-oriented attitude and dedication to the user experience.
  • Demonstrated proficiency working in a geographically distributed team.
  • Experience developing consumer-oriented mobile applications for Android and IOS.
  • Experience with distributed version control (git or mercurial).
  • Experience with automated testing.
  • Experience with AWS or other cloud-based deployment models, especially streaming cloud-based rendering.
  • Demonstrated ability to accurately scope projects and negotiate deadlines within a flexible team structure.
  • Deep familiarity with and enthusiasm for Second Life is a HUGE plus.

It would appear that they are interested in building Second Life mobile apps for both Apple (iOS) and Android devices, which is good news!

Wagner adds:

Also notable: Based on this job requirement, it looks like the company is planning to create a cloud-streaming version of SL for mobile:

Experience with AWS [i.e. Amazon Web Services] or other cloud-based deployment models, especially streaming cloud-based rendering.

Back in 2014, Linden Lab partnered with the now-defunct OnLive to do just that, so it’s good to know they’re going in that direction again.

[The] job is remote and “deep familiarity with and enthusiasm for Second Life is a HUGE plus”, so this could be a dream gig for SL’s many talented community developers. My recommendation, of course, is to hire Alina Lyvette, whose Lumiya viewer for Android has already sold well over 100,000 copies.

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Lumiya client on the Google Play Apps Store

Along with High Fidelity’s recent announcement of an alpha version of an Android client for the platform, it looks like we’re going to see some interesting times ahead!

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My Predictions For The Next Two Years

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Photo by Wyron A on Unsplash

I’ve been hanging around virtual worlds of one kind or another for over a decade now. I’ve seen them come and go. Some were spectacular failures that provided lessons for other companies. Others just kind of meander along, not attracting very many users or ever becoming very big (like the multitude of OpenSim-based grids).

What usually happens in today’s hyper-competitive computer applications marketplace, is that one or two players in a particular market segment get big (e.g. Microsoft, MySpace, Facebook, and yes, in its own way, Second Life), and then continue to grow like a juggernaut, based on the network effect, while the smaller players in the marketplace fight each other over the leftovers. The ones who get big are usually, but not always, the early entrants into the field (Second Life is a prime example of that, although there were notable virtual worlds which were founded before it, like ActiveWorlds).

But social VR and virtual worlds are not a zero-sum game. Many consumers are frequent visitors to a number of different metaverse platforms, and many creators build and sell products in various virtual worlds. Right now, success in one VR-capable virtual world (e.g. VRChat) generates interest in other social VR spaces. As they say, “A rising tide lifts all boats”.

It’s still not clear where all this is going, but I’m willing to polish my crystal ball and make a few predictions of what will happen over the next two year period, from now until April 2020.

What I predict will happen, over the next two years, is that one of the Big Five computer companies:

  • Alphabet/Google
  • Amazon
  • Apple
  • Facebook/Oculus*
  • Microsoft

Is either going to launch their own social VR/virtual world/metaverse product, OR is going to buy one of the Big Four metaverse-building companies:

  • High Fidelity
  • Linden Lab (Second Life and Sansar)
  • Sine Wave Entertainment (Sinespace)
  • VRChat

(We’ve already seen this happen with Microsoft’s purchase of AltspaceVR.) We could also see a company buy out a virtual world, just to grab the programming talent, and then shut the world down completely (as Yahoo! did with the promising Cloud Party).

Now, there’s no guarantee that any of the Big Four companies WANT to be bought out by the Big Five. Perhaps instead of a buyout, a strategic partnership deal will be inked. But I bet you anything that it’s tempting for the bigger companies to buy their way into the evolving metaverse marketplace, rather than design something from scratch.

I also predict that a LOT of the new virtual world/social VR startups we see popping up are going to fail over the next two years. There’s a lot of virtual-reality-related (and especially blockchain-related) hype taking place, and some people are investing in startups that are risky. Some smaller companies have jumped into grand virtual-world-building projects without realizing the sheer magnitude of the work involved in creating a fully-featured, viable metaverse. I’m afraid that some investors are going to get burned.

I also predict that Sinespace and VRChat are going to pull ahead in terms of features, simply because they decided to build on top of the popular Unity game engine, and they can use all the cool Unity development tools that are popping up. By comparison, feature development on Sansar and High Fidelity will be slower, as they continue work in-house on their own engines.

And finally, I expect that Second Life’s 15th anniversary celebrations will entice some former users to dust off their old accounts and revisit the platform to see what’s new. It may well herald a renaissance for SL! At the very least, it will help stave off a slow decline in SL’s user concurrency figures.

*Sorry, but as I have said before, Facebook Spaces is not a palatable social VR/virtual world product. It can’t even come close to competing against what High Fidelity, Second Life, Sinespace and VRChat are currently doing. But I bet you anything that Facebook has other plans up their sleeve. They can still try to leverage off their 2-billion-plus Facebook network (not to mention 800 million Instagram users) to become a potential major disruptor in the evolving metaverse marketplace. I’m not counting them out yet!