03 Mar Linden Lab’s Project Sansar and the Future of Virtual Reality
Will this new take on Second Life bring about a renewed interest in the concept of virtual worlds?
Since 2003, members of Linden Lab’s virtual world Second Life have been able to participate in an immersive reality filled with nightclubs, art exhibits, shopping malls, in-world corporate offices, and even higher education campuses.
With a surge of virtual reality headsets coming to market such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, the big question on the horizon remains: What needs to happen for the metaverse to catch on in the mainstream?
To better understand what it would take to bring about a resurgence in virtual worlds like Second Life, I spoke with Linden Lab‘s CEO Ebbe Altberg and Peter Gray, the Lab’s Director of Global Communications.
I also chatted with Gary Wisniewski, the founder of Treet.TV, a virtual live streaming television network that broadcasts to and from Second Life, to find out what he thought the reasons were behind Second Life’s difficulty in meeting expectations set by the media during its early years.
The magic behind Second Life’s rise in popularity
Second Life experienced a surge of media attention between 2006 and 2007, when the virtual world was entering its fourth year of operation. Much of this media attention hyped the breakthrough technology behind bringing a living, thriving virtual world to life where residents could build virtual objects using basic shapes – referred to as primitives or “prims” by its residents – from within the world itself.
You could travel quickly from island to island, experiencing a fantasy world filled with a lush forest one minute and a sprawling post-apocalyptic CyberPunk-style city the next. Just about everywhere you went, there were crowds of people taking in the sights, chatting about their experiences, or dancing the night away in one of Second Life’s many nightclubs.
Second Life’s active population grew to over 1,000,000 residents. These residents came from all walks of life, and from across the globe. A culture began to form within the virtual world, leading to the popular in-world joke: “I’ve canceled my subscription to first life.”
Second Life even received the attention of Hollywood, receiving a cameo in the popular NBC comedy The Office.
There was indeed something about Second Life that appealed to those that called it their virtual home. You could own land, start businesses, build your own house, and establish virtual neighborhoods and communities.
This appeal extended well beyond tech-savvy early adopters. Many residents found that you could do things in Second Life that transcended physical disadvantages. For example, someone bound to a wheelchair could dance the night away in Second Life’s nightclubs, or even fly through a mountain range like a superhero.
Second Life is host to annual “Relay for Life” events, offering residents the opportunity to walk or even race snails to raise money for charity.