You may have been made aware of Second Life thanks to Dwight Shelford and Philly Jim. Second Life is not a game, it is a multi-user virtual environment. With that reference out of the way, what it really is, is not so much a game, but a social, digital… ok, Dwight was right. It is an online virtual world where you create a character and embark on a new existence.
Launched in 2003(!) by Linden lab, designer Philip Rosedale came up with one of the first virtual, social experiences available. It could be called one of the first attempts at a metaverse (incidentally I have another candidate for that title in an article to come), just without the technology needed for true item and content ownership
Second Life has its own internal economy with Linden dollars (L$), albeit a closed-loop currency, and user-generated content. It has sold land (to the likes of IBM no less), had advertising, events, has been used for lectures, it has even had an official embassy for the Maldives. In its near 20-year span, it has gone through all manner of phases and difficulties that the metaverses will have to struggle through. And yet, it lacked one key ingredient: blockchain technology.
The Return of Philip Rosedale
The developer of Second Life, Philip Rosedale, started Linden Lab in 1999 and his intention towards creating a game was always to create a virtual world that wasn’t a game at all. He was more than successful with that aim and built an online platform with hundreds of thousands of active players. An estimate of the peak active userbase is around 600,000 with over 20 million accounts by November 2010.
Nevertheless, Rosedale started to work on new ideas outside of Second Life and eventually left Linden Lab. His most successful project since, and one that is still running today, is High Fidelity, which runs on a similar premise. It is a virtual reality platform for people to interact and it has seen interest from both users and investors alike. The pandemic only increased High Fidelity’s presence along with other social software such as Zoom.
Despite the new project’s success, Rosedale has allegedly grown tired of VR’s slow adoption and has returned to work on Second Life in a different capacity than before. This isn’t all that surprising given the clear thread that runs through all of Rosedale’s work — the metaverse — even if the term was only applied by a handful of Neal Stephenson fans. With the sharp rise in stock of the term “metaverse” towards the end of last year, many people are now working towards a vision he has been striving towards for decades.
How Will Second Life Become a Metaverse?
Well, in many ways, it already is. At least insofar as all the features I’ve already mentioned. There are a number of simple, early steps that could move Second Life towards the modern conception of a metaverse. For instance, taking the Linden dollar and making it a token.
The more complicated paths are far trickier to integrate. For example, making Second Life Play to Earn (P2E) would fly in completely the wrong direction to the “game” and its philosophy. Secondly, land becoming NFTs is not plug and play on any chain. Thirdly, player-created content is important — would you force all players to mint them?
There is then the question of how much the current playerbase — their die-hard fans — would gain from the integration of blockchain. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine it alienating the game’s core players, particularly with an influx of money-hungry NFT flippers storming the castle. Furthermore, the economy inside Second Life is thriving without blockchain, in fact, Rosedale told cnet:
“There are 375 million things a year sold in Second Life at about two bucks apiece. So it’s about $650 million a year in transactions. Those are all NFTs — 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 and bigger. But first, we have to answer the question, why would I be there? Why am I using that space? We’ve got to get to that.“
It’s all but impossible to know what direction Rosedale will take this veteran of social gaming, but blockchain and Second Life do seem a good fit in theory. Rosedale and blockchain are an impeccable fit, however.