The metaverse is not a new concept. Neal Stephenson not only coined the idea in 1992, but some of us were literally living in virtual spaces with virtual currency and virtual storefronts almost 20 years ago.
The virtual place that a lot of people went to back then was Second Life. Philip Rosedale, the founder of Second Life, has decided to commission a core team to work on the evolution of Second Life now that the metaverse has become a buzzword once again. His hopes are that the development of community-focused worlds like Second Life will solve some metaverse problems that aren’t necessarily being solved in VR headsets… yet.
After Second Life, Rosedale focused on VR technology in 2013, co-founding a company called High Fidelity that promised high-quality, low-latency VR. But High Fidelity started moving from VR to other technologies in recent years, focusing more recently on spatial audio. In 2019, Rosedale posted a farewell to VR of sorts, stating that VR hadn’t reached a form that was good enough for most people to want to use it. Talking to him about Google Meet in 2022, he still feels that way, calling VR headsets a real-world blindfold that only some people are comfortable enough to wear.
Rosedale thinks that VR headsets could make it around the time of the iPhone, but maybe not for a few years. In the meantime, it’s shifting focus to a metaverse platform that doesn’t require a headset: namely, Second Life. He’s not the only person who feels this way: even VR/AR software companies like Spatial have recently moved away from VR headsets as a way to reach more people. In many ways, that’s already the cross-platform tone underlying Microsoft’s and Meta’s recent metaverse moves.
Rosedale is going to be a “strategic advisor” to Second Life, while his company High Fidelity looks to infuse Second Life with some fresh ideas, simultaneously working on other ideas for future technology, including, at some point, virtual reality again. “We’re announcing that we’ve changed 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 patents in a decentralized environment, which is really cool.”
The reason for the change is that Second Life still makes money and still has a considerably larger community than most VR platforms: it has created more than 73 million accounts since launch, and active user estimates hover around 900,000. . Rosedale sees the change as a solution to the problems while virtual reality hardware is still being thought of.
Despite the apparent success of Oculus Quest 2, he still doesn’t think it’s enough. “The headset is so broken that it’s actually going to take, I think, five years to get to something that’s good,” he says, “and we as a start-up wouldn’t survive, nor would it make sense for us to sit around.” five years.” He sees building Second Life as a better platform that will be VR-optional until that magically perfect hardware arrives.
“I think it’s going to grow from the baseline to something that vaguely resembles Second Life, he resolves. these governance issues scale and then people are going to say, ‘Oh my gosh, you know, for even more, you can put your headphones on ahead,'” says Rosedale.
He acknowledges that even the best virtual community spaces are still pretty limited, including Second Life.”You can get about 100 people in one place at one time in Second Life. That’s not enough, but it’s more than everyone else in terms of people standing up.” Rosedale wants Second Life to be even more decentralized, but says it’s a delicate balance to get right.
What does this mean for Second Life? Difficult Spatial audio could be in the mix, but also more advanced avatar animations that use face-tracking cameras: “Using the webcam to animate an avatar, it’s a really interesting in-between,” he says. “Not enough people looking at that space, it’s one I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about.” Rosedale is also considering how Second Life could eventually work on phones, perhaps.
As for Second Life embracing new metaverse ideas like NFTs and some sort of interoperable content, Rosedale remains skeptical.”Do you want to take a Ferrari from Grand Theft Auto and drive it into Fortnite or Among Us?” he asks, referring to how random placement of content in other ex experiences breaks the fourth wall of immersive experiences in a bad way. “In the short term, between games, the idea of content interoperability is one of those things that only a brand could love.” Second Life already has its own currency, which Rosedale considers stable, as well as its own economy.
“Content interoperability has to be there for everything to take off. As a way to further connect games to each other, it’s a total failure. The short-term idea is silly. The long-term idea is totally right.” And it’s validated by things like Roblox and Second Life, where there are thousands of pieces of content that people have moved from one place to another.”
Rosedale considers Second Life’s own salable content to be, in a way, like NFT. But he also acknowledges a lot of competition for virtual venues: Roblox and VRChat, which he sees as the most successful competitive examples, and obviously many others.
“There are 375 million things a year that sell in Second Life for around two dollars each. So that’s about $650 million a year in transactions. That’s all NFT, basically, the core idea of allowing digital assets to be marked and allowing them to be tradable and shareable. That’s going to get bigger and bigger. But first, we have to answer the question, why should it be there? Why am I using that space? We have to get to that.”