Second Life’s Tenth Birthday

In 2013, WordPress celebrated its 10th birthday, and so did Google AdSense. You surely knew that, right? After all, almost one fifth of all websites in the world run WordPress; and AdSense is used by 14.9% of all websites and in the subject of market share, it represents 75.6% — earning Google some whopping US$9.71 billion in 2011.

No wonder everybody in the world has heard about Google AdSense. On the other hand, even though WordPress, after a decade, is still misrepresented as a “blogging platform”, most people will have an idea of what it is being used for. Well, perhaps not “most”. But a few hundred of millions certainly will.

By contrast, Second Life is also 10 years old. Thanks to the Second Life grid, and according to Linden Lab, US$ 3.2 billion have been transacted through the Second Life grid (around US$0.5-0.6 billion annually, and, of course, this has only been the case for the past few years — interestingly enough, after the media lost interest in SL — and, of course, the Linden Dollar is used by an order of magnitude of more people than media-hyped Bitcoin — and far, far more stable), earning Linden Lab about US$75 millions every year. It’s not at the same level as Google AdSense, of course. However, compared to the company behind WordPress, Automattic, Linden Lab beats them easily: Automattic, with about the same number of employees of Linden Lab, just reported US$45 millions in revenues for 2012. LL consistently makes 50% more than that. 

So how well developed is each platform? Obviously, Google doesn’t say how much code they have developed for Google AdSense. WordPress, allegedly having some 30.000 developers, have produced in a decade a bit over 200.000 lines of code — although, to be truthful, just 15 (!) are regularly contributing to the core code actively. In the mean time, the Second Life Viewer, which is also open source since 2007, and has but a few dozens of developers (Ohloh has counted 65) which contribute code outside Linden Lab’s own team, has grown to over a million lines of code. And, of course, we have no idea how big the Second Life simulator & central server code is, since it’s proprietary; but we can compare it to OpenSimulator, which is viewer-compatible, allegedly provides around 90% of SL’s functionality, and has 400.000 lines of code submitted by 125 developers — LL’s own code should be around the same size and complexity.

Obviously those numbers don’t say much. But they should make us think. Linden Lab is not a software giant, but it easily beats popular companies who ride high on the media’s radar of interest — and they certainly develop a lot of code. Linden Lab also doesn’t make a huge fortune, but for a company that was completely discarded by the media, they certainly aren’t worth to be despised: Zynga, the popular Facebook games developer, earns twice as much from its games than the whole of the content creators in Second Life. But Zynga has a market of a billion potential users. Second Life content creators have merely 36 million users to sell their products… and, of those, we only know that around a million are actually active. The rest, as Pussycat Catnap has suggested, are merely spambots registering for the SL forums, and thus no wonder they never actually log in to the virtual world. Because they certainly aren’t ‘bots; academic researchers, eager to hunt the old meme that “everybody is a ‘bot in Second Life”, has long established that there are no more than 4-7% of ‘bots in SL, based on established advanced ‘bot detection algorithms — showing not only that there are far less ‘bots in SL than on other social networks, but that their numbers are even lower than Linden Lab has claimed (around 10%).

So, here we are after a decade. We have a virtual world with a few million users and few bots (but probably lots of forum spammers). The company behind it is financially solid and earns 50% more than the ever-so-popular WordPress owners, which runs a fifth of all websites in the world. The codebase developed by the few dozens of LL programmers is huge compared to other popular products. However, as “small” as this virtual world seems to be, it actually generates half the annual income for the content developers that the most popular Facebook game developer ever makes, out of a population that is… well, perhaps a thousand times bigger, but certainly a few hundreds of times larger for sure. While obviously we all know that Second Life is fading… the shrinkage seems to little affect overall content sales, so, from the perspective of business and overall success of the whole concept, it’s hard to rationally claim that Second Life is anything but a huge success after a decade of existence.

So why is everybody in the media irrational about it and completely ignoring Second Life?

Hamlet Au, writing at GigaOm, claims that the problem is that Linden Lab never understood how their product is actually being used, and, as such, always invested their efforts in the wrong direction. This closely follows the ideas of most opinion makers in the SLogosphere: Linden Lab simply has no clue about what their users want, and, as such, no wonder they’re suffering — specially because they have a very vulnerable business model, which is all based on the assumption that people want to build things and pay for the privilege of doing so. In this era where nobody is really “willing to pay” anything (as most of the Web is seen as being free — imagine a paid Facebook: would anyone use it?), no wonder LL’s business model, which was proven to work well when there is exponential growth, doesn’t work when the hype is gone. So LL’s next challenge is finding another revenue model, or another way to interest users in Second Life. Hamlet and the rest of the hard-core gamers all believe that the solution is called Oculus Rift, but I, personally, remain very skeptic: Second Life’s economy is not driven by hard-core gamers and never was (even though the many FPS and MMOGs created inside SL show that their contribution to the economy is not to be neglected!), and the move to place SL on Stream didn’t make any difference. Nevertheless, it’s nice to know that LL is, indeed, going to support the Oculus Rift VR headgear — but will it seriously make a difference? I doubt it!

Mona Eberhardt, by contrast, suggests that Second Life is completely the opposite of what the corporate world wants it to be: residents want privacy, corporations want to sell profiling data, and, as such, SL, which is so strong on privacy issues, will never appeal to the corporate world — and thus no wonder the media isn’t interested in it, either. On the other hand, curiously enough, residents and the corporate world are aligned on one thing: DRM. Ironically, while some residents are among the strongest open source advocates, it’s thanks to SL’s built-in DRM — the permissions system — that content sales have thrived. Practically all content creators are unanimous behind it: without permissions, Second Life would be useless as a money-making platform for digital content. Sadly, they might be very right: OpenSimulator, growing every day in usage and size, because it lacks the overall robustness of LL’s permission system — in the sense that people trust LL to keep their content from being copied, but they mistrust OpenSim grid operators to do the same; also, many popular grids neither implement permissions, nor an easily convertible currency — has failed to attract the “exodus” of disgruntled SL ex-residents. Again, strangely enough, a free and open virtual world, where there are no (money) constraints on creation and no limitations, even attracts fewer users than the closed, crassly commercial environment of Second Life. Maybe the left-wing utopians are really just that: utopians 🙂

Whatever the case may be… while nobody knows what will happen to Second Life as it enters its second decade of existence (apparently not even Rod Humble), two trends seem to be prominent. The first is that there is a relative optimism about its future, even if nobody, at this stage, knows what shape it will be. At a recent Thinkers’ event, it was clear that almost everybody believes Second Life will be around in 2023, although nobody was quite sure about how it will look like by then — except for the hard-core gamers, who all believe in the hope that Oculus Rift will change everything (in the best possible way).

And the second trend is… increased creativity. Seriously. The first person to draw attention to this trend was my friend Scarp Godenot, who noticed that fashion is hitting creativity levels like never before, becoming not only more realistic (thanks to meshes, but not only because of that: content creators are getting better and better), but even predicting fashion — some fashion creators are actually anticipating what becomes trendy iRL in a few months. Which is somehow weird. Whatever the reason, this is something I get from a lot of my friends who spend far more time shopping than I do: content creation is increasing in complexity, in quality, in diversity… but not necessarily in price, even though someone launching something completely new might get an edge for a while. It should be obvious that fashion is the biggest reason for SL’s increasing economy… specially on the adult area. But things like breedables (the latest I’ve heard are… breedable shoes!) earn their creators hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Yes, that’s not a mistake. Even Rod Humble seems to agree with that number.

Scarp didn’t publish his numbers and, as far as I know, never wrote about it. But he’s always keen to report how “relatively unknown” mesh creators, who happen to be on popular events like The Arcade, are willing to say that they make “thousands of dollars” per month — and are aware of being small fry. The huge names and brands make that much…. per week. Or sometimes on single events. Conversely, to be able to make that amount of money, it means that there are people spending a lot on buying digital content. And Scarp confirms that: he’s personally aware of some friends who easily spend US$100-150 over the weekend in SL, and never fret about it. There must be thousands of those around in SL — or else, content creators wouldn’t be cashing out so much money.

Many of you will be thinking, “What!? Are all those people crazy??” But just think on the alternatives: what would those same people be spending their money on? Maybe on drinks and going to RL parties or buying frivolous things for themselves and their homes. And nobody would complain or think they’re crazy; we do that every day. Some of my friends and relatives spend that much consulting with witches (they’re socially acceptable around here) or all kinds of New Age cons — and everybody thinks it’s perfectly natural to do so. Even if you aren’t into spiritual mambo-jambo, talking to your dead relatives, or channelling the Universe’s energy to win the next lottery, what about the trillion of “well being” offerings that populate our mailboxes (physical and digital) with junk mail, from twenty different ways of getting shiny, straight hair, to a hundred different ways of losing weight or improving your appearance by covering your face or your body from all kinds of substances, from chocolate to swamp mud?

Compared to all that, what’s a few hundred dollars spent on digital content? Clearly it’s far less insane, and very likely less dangerous for your health 🙂

Anedoctal evidence is obviously neither science, nor market research, but it throws some light on what’s really going on in Second Life: creativity is booming, and if you haven’t noticed it, you’re out of touch with reality. On the flip side of things, the few blogs I occasionally follow have completely changed their mood. Sure, a few are still grumbling and complaining that they cannot find anything in SL to entertain them, or that all their friends abandoned SL, or that SL is laggy and continues to crash. But these are a tiny minority — a minority which, for one reason or another, simply stops writing and disappears. The remaining crowd — getting joined by new bloggers and writers every month — just reports on how SL is catching their attention in novel ways, like never before. And, having been around for 90% of SL’s existence, I can certainly agree with those claims. There was a point in time, perhaps in 2006-2008, when a lot of new ideas have been experimented — events, attractions — and for a while, it seemed that the Good Old Days where everything was fun had gone. Not so: these days, all of that is growing at a scale never seen before. Sure, we might miss the odd event now or then and, because of that, thinking that SL “lost interest” and slowly disappearing. I can give a typical example: I was very sorry to see Metanomics shutting down, because it was such an interesting discussion forum on virtual worlds and its economics. But nowadays we have things like Virtually Speaking — and perhaps a hundred more similar shows/events of which I’m not aware of, but which gather huge crowds.

Years ago, I remember writing about the nature of SL — a world without mass media. Imagine how it would feel to live in a city of a few million inhabitants which had no news, no organised city planning, no cultural planning, nobody to report on what’s happening and what’s trendy — no central location, no City Hall, nothing. If you were dropped in that city, how would you find out about things? Only by talking to the residents — and your experience would be quite different depending on where you lived and who you managed to get in touch with.

Second Life is like that. It grew organically, but information about SL didn’t. Sure, we have things like the Destination Guide, and several bloggers covering as much as they can about SL. But they don’t cover everything, and often cannot cover ongoing points of interest with continuity (Hamlet has two articles about the Arcade, one about Virtually Speaking, none about Rhiannon‘s talks on Kant’s ethics). It’s impossible. Groups and communities with 50 or 100 members abound, and SL is crowded with them doing amazing things, and they have their own blogs, forums, Facebook groups, and whatever they use to keep in touch… but “we” are not aware of them. “We” live in a different neighbourhood — “we” just happen never to notice what’s going on around of us, because, well, there is simply no way to let everybody know what’s going on.

On past SL birthday celebrations or on Burning Life — I mean 7 or 8 years ago… — it was typical for friends to see what their own friends had been built for this year. We would know designers and content creators by name, and we would be amazed by their ideas and creativity, and comment on each other’s blogs, and discuss it on the forums. They had styles we recognised and we would be anticipating their latest ideas with expectations (“what will Seifert Surface present us this year in terms of mathematical oddities brought to SL?”). But that was when SL was tiny. In a city with a million inhabitants, we cannot possibly expect to know everyone. In the same city, without mass communications, we cannot even know who is the best content creator, the best fashion designer, the largest shop, the richest land baron (well, that was easy — aye, it’s still Anshe Chung 🙂 ). We only see the tiny tip of the iceberg and are completely unaware of all that goes on without us having a clue. No wonder that so many friends have told me that the SL10B exhibits for this year have completely amazed and astonished them — and it was not only because of mesh. It was mostly because there are uncountable dozens of thousands of amazing residents doing incredible things of which we’re not aware — and most of them are even making good money out of it.

It’s true that LL never understood what SL is good for, but the truth is, most of us don’t know it either. We only know what SL is good for us, and to our incredibly limited group of friends that might share the same interests — while being clueless about what everybody else is doing. Jokingly, we assume everybody else is having cybersex — and that’s certainly true for a huge proportion of the population — as if only what we do is important and nothing else matters. But everybody thinks exactly in the same way — and the diversity and variety is astonishing.

Probably an analogy can be drawn between Facebook and most of other social networks. What do people in Facebook? Post their mood; share articles; share pictures; congratulate each other on their anniversaries; and sometimes chat a bit or even tell others they’ve joined an event or a cause. And play some games. In fact, it’s rather easy to list all possible activities in Facebook: there are not many (and, as such, Facebook is “easy to grasp”). The variety comes mostly from the richness of content production by your immediate circle of friends, but not from the ability of doing different things in Facebook. Sure, I can believe that people are playing chat-based RPGs on Facebook (even though there are far better alternatives than Facebook), but my point is, the majority of people knows what kind of activities are possible in Facebook, and that it’s a question of joining the right groups or following the right people. Google+, Orkut, etc. are not different — neither is LinkedIn or similar specialised social networks. Twitter is even more limited: there are just two modes of interaction — post something or follow people. YouTube is as limited as Twitter, but compensates for the diversity of content: it’s true that you can only post videos, watch videos, and make comments (only three modes of interaction), but there is plenty to watch depending on one’s tastes.

By contrast, Second Life has limitless modes of interaction. And perhaps this is what makes things so confusing. It’s a bit like claiming “WordPress is just for blogging”, when it can do a trillion different things as well. But it cannot do everything. Strangely enough, however, Second Life is one of those very rare tools that can, indeed, do everything (it doesn’t mean it can do everything well — in fact, I have this idea that SL is the least common denominator, the tool that can do everything badly, but at least it can, indeed, provide all those different experiences in the same environment). And perhaps exactly because of that, most of us, having just a certain range of interests, are missing all the rest of the things that are possible within SL — and that are being successfully exploited by a group, here or there, together. Even if that group only has 20 people, meeting every week since March 2004 to discuss philosophy, metaphysics, and future technology.

The sheer diversity of the dozens of thousands of “communities” — groups of people who have found a novel use for SL and who come together regularly to have fun in a specific way which probably nobody else truly understands — is unveiled, at least partially, with SL’s anniversary. While it’s impossible for LL to provide space for every group and individual out there — and it’s incredibly hard to visit everything — at least it shows a tiny glimpse of what some people are doing with SL, and often it’s very baffling because of the ideas that they have. For me, SL10B is much less about fantastic buildings and insane creativity in designing them and awing the visitors — while of course all that also matters a lot. It’s a bit about understanding what people are doing with SL, in ways that I would never have dreamed about, because they don’t fit “my” idea of what a virtual world is good for. And this is what I always find amazing every year. A community for merpeople? People telling stories about pictures they take in SL? Role-playing? Learning languages? Establishing democracy and urban planning and testing it out? That’s the kind of things you stumble upon when randomly walking across all those exhibits, and they show the diversity of entertainment ideas that people have come up with.

Which, in a sense, also consolidates my own opinion about the kind of people that stick to SL, no matter what: they’re the ones who have long ago learned the skill to entertain themselves, i.e., create their own entertainment. And this, ultimately, is what SL is good for: to create one’s own entertainment, and not depend on a set of rules, imposed by others, by social conditioning and peer-pressure, which tell you how you should have fun or not. SL is the counter-culture to society’s norms of entertainment: residents refuse to do “what everybody else thinks is fun”, but, instead, create their own ways of having fun. And, to be honest — except perhaps for pen-and-paper role-playing games or artistic production, i.e. writing a novel or making a movie — there are not many ways out there to do that. Not with the ease it can be done in Second Life.

Perhaps one day Second Life (and virtual worlds in general) will be seen as entertainment as an art form — not in the usual sense of the word (e.g. movies and music are art, watching movies and listening to music are entertainment), but in the sense that where the creativity is applied to SL is in developing new forms of entertainment (or, granted, adapting existing ones to the virtual world) without social constraints and limitations about what are “acceptable” forms of entertainment. SL is non-mainstream entertainment. We certainly have non-mainstream entertainment in the real world, too, but SL is just a better medium for that.

Or, who knows, I might be totally wrong, and it’s really just about sex. 🙂

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About Gwyneth Llewelyn

I'm just a virtual girl in a virtual world...

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  • I should have finished the article with a big thanks to all the 36 million residents — even those who are ‘bots, alts, or spammers! — to turn this amazing virtual world in what it is today!

    And a specially heartfelt thanks to all Lindens, past and present, who have created Second Life and still maintain it and develop it further for all our enjoyment 🙂

    Last but most definitely not least, congratulations to all SL10B exhibits and its creators, who continue to amaze all of us during all these years, and proving that creativity is limitless and ever growing in SL!

    Big hugs to everybody who reported on SL10B. Thanks to your awesome articles and pictures, I managed to at least not miss this year’s exhibit, in spite of having so little free time for visiting it with the attention it deserved, so it was thanks to you (specially Inara Pey!) that I managed to figure out what to see first. Alas! Perhaps on SL20B I might have a bit more time 🙂

  • Lorelle

    Great article and insights. One minor correction. The “30,000 developers” that built WordPress is not a correct number. Odesk reports that number of developers listing WordPress among their abilities. I don’t believe there is any accurate estimate of how many people “developed” WordPress over the past 10 years as the term “developed” is unclear. Do you mean people who developed WordPress sites and code, or those who contributed specifically to the WordPress core? It’s an unimportant statistic, but your article is so great, I didn’t want a missed fact get in the way.

    Thanks!

  • You’re right. That was a little number that I wished to substantiate better. According to Ohloh, there are just 15 active core programmers — the ones that actually provide code to what we think as WordPress: the package that gets downloaded and installed (the SL viewer, by contrast, is listed as having 65, which seems reasonable, knowing that most of them are working for LL, and not everybody at the ‘Lab is doing the viewer, plus a few external developers who have signed the special contract allowing them to submit code directly to LL’s repository, plus the TPV developers…).

    But that’s not the whole picture. Developers also contribute code to plugins and themes. While they’re not the “core”, these add-ons are what makes WP shine in all its glory. How many are there? It’s difficult to say, as I couldn’t find any claims of Automattic saying, for instance, how many people are listed with access to their SVN (which would give a rough idea on the number of people actually contributing with plugins and themes to the WP repository). It would be fair to add this number to WP’s number of developers (as it’s fair to add TPV developers to the number of SL developers as well). But it also would mean adding more lines of code, of course. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get those statistics anywhere. There are something like 25,500 listed plugins or so, and almost 2000 themes, so Odesk’s estimate of 30,000 developers seems reasonable (even assuming that not everybody just develops a single plugin).

    I wasn’t really counting “how many people create WP sites“. Because by doing so, one would have to be fair and list “how many people develop content with/for SL”. This could also be an interesting statistic: there are more people creating websites with WordPress than using Google AdSense on their sites, and that would be something like some 67 million backend users (not all of which actually created their own site; but also many have developed many sites; and many are using somebody’s else website). But then we would also have to list everybody who dropped a prim in SL — according to an old LL statistic, at least 70% of all users have built some content at some point, so that would be, say, 24 millions.

    We’re almost comparing apples with oranges, but not quite — there are similarities. My point was mostly that WordPress has grown organically because of a tiny core team and a huge community of plugin/theme developers. By contrast, the SL viewer has grown mostly due to LL’s own internal efforts, and, in sheer amount of code, it easily beats the core of WP (but very likely not all the WP plugins/themes put together!). As for usage (in the sense of backoffice usage…), the difference is not that huge: something that drives 18% of all websites in the world is actually being used by a little less than 3 times the number of all users in SL. “It’s not that much”. It would be almost saying that Twitter and LinkedIn are “worthless technologies” because they have a third of the users of Facebook — clearly, the media think that Twitter and LinkedIn are solid businesses and Facebook’s nearest competition, and are fond of promoting them as well.

    Comparing business models and general attitude towards customers is also interesting. Both Automattic and Linden Lab rely almost exclusively on their user base to promote their products. WP is free to use, the vast majority of WP-based websites are not hosted by Automattic, but a few are — and this generates them US$45 millions annually. Automattic is very friendly to the community of developers and end-users — there is a very good community site, there are WordPress Meetups and WordCamp conferences, etc. Self-hosted WP installations can use JetPack and integrate a lot of functionality from WordPress.com — for free. Linden Lab, by contrast, only open-sources the viewer, and, although interconnecting the SL Grid with independently hosted OpenSim grids was demonstrated as a feasible technology back in 2007 or so, LL has dropped all pretenses of helping this metaverse to grow organically — they just want everybody to pay tier on LL’s own grid. Support to third-party developers exists to a degree, but the reason we have mostly an infinitely-forked SL viewer, instead of a single viewer with many developers (LL and otherwise), is because of LL’s attitude of not allowing external developers to submit code and have an active participation in how future SL Viewers should look like. Nevertheless, in spite of that attitude, and a “partially closed” attitude towards code (i.e. simulator & central servers are proprietary), LL makes US$75 million every year.

    Automattic is valued by Fortune at US$ 1 billion. Interesting, for a company that hasn’t so many different revenue sources! While SL has an internal digital content economy worth half of that (but of course that’s user-to-user transactions, of which LL only gets a slice if people cash out or announce on SL Marketplace); LL has no cool Fortune valuation (or from any similar high-profile source), but some companies seem to valuate it at roughly US$ 230-338 millions (see http://iliveisl.com/tag/sharespost/ for instance), depending on the year (it might be lower, now that revenues are slightly dropping).

    It’s interesting to see the different treatment that the media gives to things like WordPress, Tumblr, Twitter, etc. and to Linden Lab’s Second Life. When comparing numbers, they don’t seem that different.

    Of course, Twitter might tip the scales and really sell a billion US$ in ads. And in that case, the question will be: who is selling more ads? (WordPress will still be featured, even though it’s not Automattic selling the ads — its individual website owners. But there will be an “ad economy” for WordPress-hosted ads which the media will not fail to notice). And here, of course, LL will be out of the picture forever. How much revenue are they generating with their own ads on their home page (and backoffice for residents)? Even if it’s “a few million dollars”, it will go unnoticed by anyone (except LL’s board and stakeholders, of course).

    Well, as said, it’s interesting to compare. I’m still remembering how Apple was scorned by the media and the industry in general, even though everybody could see how their shares were rising and rising every year, even though their market share in the computer hardware business was not. At some point, however, it was impossible to hide the facts: this fan-based, niche-market company suddenly was worth more than any other company in the world, based on the value of their shares. It was only then that the Apple-hating media reluctantly had to agree that you can still be rich and powerful even though you’re not competing in the mainstream; it was only then that the tech media had to rethink that perhaps “selling tech to the mainstream” is not the only way of doing successful business — and this led them to start taking a closer look at specialised ventures (e.g. LinkedIn as a “professional” social networking site, Instagram for “amateur photographers”, Academia.edu as a place for academic researchers, and so forth).

    Maybe this same media, looking at LL’s numbers, and finally comparing it to similarly successful technologies and companies behind those technologies, swallow their anti-VW pride and start saying, “ok, we might hate anything done in 3D with avatars, but we have to agree that Linden Lab’s Second Life is an idea worth money. A lot of money.”

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  • Jo Yardley

    Having tried the Oculus Rift, I am indeed pretty sure that it will change how we use computers drastically, not just for games but for a lot of other things too, and it won’t just be gamers who will be using it either.
    I think it could be HUGE for Second Life but only if LL keeps up and makes sure SL works really well with it.

  • Wolf Baginski

    I am wary of how Oculus Rift support will come out.

    Why?

    Look at how well-supported an ordinary game controller is in Second Life, a joystick or an XBox controller. (My opinion: not very.) I get the feeling that there is a talent-gap at Linden Labs in the area of UI. Individual Lindens are getting the signals into the Viewer from these new devices, but I have doubts about how they decide what those signals mean.

    And Oculus Rift seems to get in the way of using the existing UI. I am not a touch-typist: how will I see the real world well enough to use my keyboard?

    But I can also see what a wonderful experience the 3D view will be. It’s worth getting write. But will they?

  • pussycatcatnap

    The problem with Oculus rift is the same as with Google Glass.

    No one wants to wear such a device except for the code geeks who wear it for a living.

    Its just too far over the geek line, in a way that makes ‘fursuits’ look normal. :p

    ( http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2013/06/e3-2013-oculus-rift-and-the-potential-of-virtual-r.html and http://bgr.com/2013/05/24/google-glass-criticism-creepy/ – same basic concerns).

  • Jo Yardley

    I wish you were right with google glass but I fear you’re wrong and we will be seeing those horrible things everywhere.

    But I feel that you’re also wrong about the Oculus.

    Lots of people are willing to wear it for gaming and other things, how people are already responding to the devkits and how serious game designers are taking this seems to show that it will do very very well.

    Have you tried it?

    Either way, VR is about to begin its renaissance, with or without the Oculus, with or without Second Life.

  • I have this nagging feeling that we’ll soon see another split for a few years.

    Remember how nobody was willing to pay for high-end graphics cards, not so long ago, because just “hard-core gamers” would be willing to pay for them? This, in turn, meant that game developers had to take into account that some of their users might not have a powerful enough computer (even SL, to a degree, was like that… a decade ago).

    Then what happened was that games became more and more mainstream, and, because of that, more and more advanced graphics cards were made part of a standard computer/laptop, which allowed game designers to push their limits, knowing that more and more people would be able to see the nice special effects.

    So I think that Oculus Rift, Google Glasses, and similar niche-market gadgets will be a bit like that. At the beginning, they will be just for hard-core gamers, geeks and nerds, who are willing to pay for that, and all games will support them, but they will not require them to stll be enjoyable. But perhaps in 4-5 years, some competing product to the Oculus Rift becomes as cheap as a mouse, and, as such, they might become a standard feature of anything sold that works like a computer (imagine every feature of Oculus Rift packed in a lightweight frame like the Google Glasses, that you can easily fold and place in a pocket to take with your tablet or mini-laptop). By then, everything will pretty much support the Oculus Rift or its successors, not only games — but games, of course, will only work with the Oculus Rift. It’s like imagining that there are still people out there (outside the Unix world, that is) willing to design an application — game or otherwise — that doesn’t use a mouse.

    So, aye, I can see such a future unfolding.

  • Very good question. We only know that LL developers are working on the integration with the Oculus Rift with the same amount of enthusiasm as other developers who have been toying around with the early version of the OR. But does this mean “perfect integration”? It’s impossible to say, and LL most certainly aren’t going to show what they have done so far until they think that they’re ready.

    You’re quite right with LL’s integration of other controllers. Not so long ago I had a huge nightmare to get the Wii controller working with SL… but apparently I couldn’t even get it to work well in Windows, either (surprisingly, it worked on the Mac rather well… but not under SL, which refused to acknowledge its existence). I spent uncountable hours trying to figure out what else needed to be installed to make SL recognise the device.

    In the mean time, somewhere in the world, people have been working with their 3D mouse controllers in SL without a glitch and don’t even understand why someone might have such a problem on specific hardware.

    So my thoughts are that, for people having exactly the same hardware as the LL developers integratin the OR with SL, well, they will probably enjoy the OR. The rest of the world, with the multitude and diversity of hardware combinations, will not be so lucky. We will certainly see people getting the OR as a Christmas gift and complain that “it doesn’t work with SL” — while watching dozens of people on YouTube playing around with SL and OR together without a glitch, and feeling very frustrated that they don’t have the “right” hardware.

    We’ll see. It’s still so early to speculate. At this stage, I think OR is like the SpaceNavigator: invaluable for machinima directors, useless for most of us. The OR might be like that — fantastic for a certain kind of immersion-seekers, but too cumbersome to wear for extended periods, if all you wish is to have a nice online chat in SL or do some scripting…

    I hope I’m totally wrong on this, and that the SL/OR integration is a huge success and completely blows everything out of proportion, with millions of brand-new OR owners suddenly joining SL, finding it cooler than Stephenson’s Metaverse in Snow Crash, and pushing ahead the second golden era of SL. But I think that’s way too optimistic. Or perhaps I don’t really believe that dramatic paradigm shift in SL appeal to anyone that is outside SL. I mean, meshes created a renaissance in SL, with content reaching new levels of creativity and ingenuity as never before. But are they attracting hordes of new users — and old users who gave up on SL because it didn’t support mesh? No. All it did was attract a few dozens of new content creators who now feel their efforts in designing content for SL are well rewarded, and, thanks to them, all the existing residents benefit; but we’re not getting many new ones…

  • Metacam Oh

    In regards to Oculus, I think it’s great that they are adding support. I don’t think it will do much to usher people into SL though, but it does show me and Second Life customers that they are at least still working on the platform and haven’t totally given up on innovating and adding support for devices.

    Otherwise, there is not much to write home about. You capture the wonder of SL perfectly Gwyn, and there once was a time I used to be passionate and excited about SL and the future, but really have changed my mind about investing in SL and have come to the unfortunate conclusion that SL will never really have a rich future.

    I say this not to be a pessimist, but just by observation and discussing the same things over and over for years. Like you said SL is very profitable still, even when it has disappeared from the worlds radar and as it slowly shrinks. That’s great for Linden Lab and the Board, but really the death knoll of the SL platform. To advance into the future as a virtual world they are going to need to keep innovating and developing and make many bold moves and changes, and simply their money train ensures that they would never risk even the smallest changes to upset that income. They are literally hooked on the current profit so much that innovating is a risk.

    As you can see by Minecraft’s success that people want virtual spaces to build and exist in, and in Second Life, virtual land of a made up arbitrary size is commoditized and extremely expensive. They are charging for a resource that is unlimited, and also restricting the experience of owning virtual land to a very few. (and please don’t come to me and tell me about small 500 meter plots being affordable, it’s the equivalent of living in a closet in a ghetto apartment.)

    SL is successful monetarily which it does deserve its’ credit for, but as a virtual world to me has failed and become a dead end. A lesson learned that relying on income from a hype phase, or too much success too early, will eventually lead to a paralyzing situation where changes that need to be made cannot.

  • Loki

    Every now and then someone posts a piece that sums everything up quite nicely, this is one of them.

    To jump on the Oculus Bandwagon, If Oculus gains the media Hype it appears to be garnishing right now, SL could position itself as the No.1 FREE Virtual Reality to go and test your new Oculus VR. Depending on how that plays out i believe SL could find itself with a new core user base who could end up creating and using SL in a way we’ve not yet seen and could be quite alien to many of us long time users. For me, LL would need to get not only the UI for Oculus immersion almost perfectly intuitive but also market SL to all these potential VR virgins who get hooked by the Oculus Hype.

    Your post filled me with confidence 🙂

  • pussycatcatnap

    I’m late to replying, didn’t know I’d been replied to. 🙂

    I’m not so sure… I’ve read a lot of articles on resistance to google glass. The Oculus rift – its a giant box on your head. Serious ‘goofy territory’ there. A Pocket Protector would be more ‘normal’.

    If you remove yourself from tech / geek culture, people get kind of freaked out about this kind of stuff.

    I feel too many techies get into an echo chamber and don’t look at product design for the ‘mundanes’… 😛