Second Life’s Experience of Applying Virtual Reality

Second Life is a three-dimensional virtual world with elements of social networking, which has over one million active users. The project was developed and launched in 2003 by Linden Lab, a San Francisco-based company, which was founded by Philip Rosedale, former CTO at RealNetworks. Oculus VR has already announced about its support of the project, so now Second Life and Oculus Rift became quite a sensation.

Recently Linden Lab’s CEO, Ebbe Altberg, shared his thoughts on the possibilities of applying virtual reality technology in the company’s research.

“We’re not really here to talk about the future too much, but I’m going to tell you that our biggest investment by far will be a next-generation virtual world. Something in the spirit of Second Life,” Altberg says.

“Even though Second Life today is better than it’s ever been—it performs better, the graphics quality is better, the stability’s better, scale is better—you still can’t create something in Second Life that creates the feel of a AAA game, even though you can create some cool stuff,” says Altberg. “There are things we can do to enable people to create things that have that complexity and visual fidelity. We know we can do that. And then it gets interesting because now people who otherwise might choose to build something using Unity or Unreal or something like that, now they have a choice. ‘Oh, I can do it on this platform where I get a ton of cool services and communities and social networking and communication tools and economies and all that stuff for free as part of the product,'” he adds.

Since Altberg joined Linden Lab 5 months ago, he was following nearly every step of further development of Second Life. This is what he thinks of active media coverage of this project: “Second Life went on this ride where in ’06, ’07, ’08 it was like, ‘Oh my god…’ Cover of Newsweek or whatever that was. Like, it’s going to change the world,” he says. “They way overhyped it. And then it got this backlash. ‘Oh, it’s not changing the world so I guess it’s shit then.’ No. It was overhyped and then it got underhyped.”

However, Altberg’s new hope is Oculus Rift: “The Oculus has regenerated new excitement around the whole idea of virtual worlds and virtual reality.” Where just a few years ago virtual reality and virtual worlds were seen as a silly pipe dream, now there are hundreds of people worldwide plugging away at problems—software, hardware, usability, voice recognition, and the like. In other words, the last barriers standing between us and a truly virtual world.”

The developers of Second Life do not intend to restrict the gamers in their activities in the virtual world. “There are lots of other virtual experiences, but when it comes to ‘virtual world’ I think you have to be somewhat close to the expectations we have in the real world—of the amount of freedom we have in the real world and the things we can do and the things we can create,” Altberg believes.” An economy, all those things. Nobody else really has all those elements to make it considered a world.”

Altberg is sure that the biggest attention must be paid to what the gamers want to experience in the virtual world. “We want to be able to reach an audience that’s way beyond what any one game could do. That comes with some challenges—accessibility being the primary issue. Today, there are too many users that hit these walls and bounce out. We have to figure out how to get people to come in, how to discover the things that are relevant.”

The same is true for developers: “A lot of things people do to build cool games we make a bit difficult for them to do in Second Life, whether it’s graphics quality, instancing—a number of things we take for granted in a game context,” Altberg says. “I think the next-generation product will be a really cool game platform. But again, we wouldn’t say this is a gaming platform. It’s more generic than that. We want to have that sandbox that allows for anything and everything that’s taken place in Second Life.”

Here, Altberg mentions one of the Linden Lab’s developers, a woman, who recreated Berlin in 1920s: “The first time she experienced her build [in virtual reality], she said she cried. She was just freaking out,” Altberg reflects. “That’s the type of reaction Linden Lab wants.“

Altberg strongly believes that virtual reality is inevitably the technology of the future. He also thinks that it will become available for broader range of devices, not only to personal computers. “I want to stay in touch with my social community on my phone. Maybe in time I’ll be able to stick some goggles on my phone—that’ll happen in a few years, and I can sit on the bus and hang out with my community building a rocket or whatever.”

“We obviously overestimated how soon that would happen eleven years ago. It’s taking longer than we thought it would, and it took long enough that the hype came down,” Altberg says. “But how soon? There’s no doubt that in a short period of time with the Oculus and things like what we’re doing combined, you’ll have moments of total immersion where you’re completely lost in the space. Your brain cannot tell the difference.”

Apparently, these are very ambitious plans. However, it seems that such technologies are very steady on their way of becoming real.

For now, the process of development goes its own way: “We’re undertaking something on the scale of a massive MMO. It’s not something we can chuck out over the weekend; it’s going to take a while,” Altberg concludes.

Ler’s wait and see what comes out of all of this. Whatever the results will be, it’s definitely worth trying.