Following the announcement that High Fidelity, the company co-founded by Philip Rosedale in 2013 and after his departure form Linden Lab, has invested money, patents and staff into the latter, the news hit a lot of on-line tech publications and even the Wall Street Journal – creating a buzz around Second Life that has so far, if we’re honest, somewhat eluded the Lab in the wake of all the broader “metaverse” chatter that has been going on.
Of these articles, the most detailed came via GamesBeat / VentureBeat (by the ever-informative Dean Takahashi), c|net and The Wall Street Journal (the latter via Archive to avoid the paywall)¹ that added butter to the bread of the original announcement, which I’ve summarised below, and which gave me further pause for thought.
To deal with the bullet point takeaways first:
- The patents transfer from Hi Fi is for distributed computing, and include “moderation in a decentralised environment patents.”
- In all some 7 members of the Hi Fi team will be moving to work alongside the Second Life engineering team, effectively increasing it by around 20%.
- The move will mean that around 165 people will be working on Second Life and Tilia.
- Two elements of the work Hi Fi staff will be involved in are:
- SL’s “social aspects”, given as “avatars and digital marketplace”. I assume the former is a reference to things like “avatar expressiveness”, on which more below. And the latter potentially greater accessibility to SL’s Marketplace by users using mobile options, etc.
- Oberwager also indicated that Hi Fi’s work will be to assist LL in developing “the tools to make virtual economies work” and a concept for “underpinning FinTech to metaverse” – which I assume is a reference to involvement in Tilia, per my original speculations on the investment.
- Separate to its involvement with LL, High Fidelity will continue to develop its spatial audio capabilities, which have already been licensed by a number of other companies.
- In terms of SL itself:
- 2020 still seems to be the platform’s most robust year, with the economy put in terms of a US $650 million GDP, with 345 million annual transactions (virtual goods, real estate, and services) and US $80 million cashed-out.
- The platform boasts more than 1.6 million transactions per day and generates 1.8 billion messages (presumably user-to-user and Group IMs) per month.
- Second Life won’t be moved to support VR headsets any time soon, simply because the latter need much more time to mature, both in terms of their technology and their market reach; something Rosedale believes (and I’d agree, for whatever that is worth) is unlikely to be reached in the next 5 years. However, once SL itself is more performant and better placed to naturally leverage VR hardware.
In terms of my own speculation, this primarily arise – and rather belatedly, given my own previous coverage of High Fidelity in this blog – as a result of a comment from Philip Rosedale in the piece by Dean Takahashi:
The tech changes are all about communication,” Rosedale said. “I don’t think it’s about pixels. I don’t think it’s about radical richness. I don’t even think it’s all about 3D. I think the problem and the opportunity is communicating with people in a naturalistic way where I can interview you.
– Philip Rosedale, speaking to Dean Takahashi
We already know from Linden Lab’s own review of 2021, which includes a bullet list of deliverables planned for 2022 – that “avatar expressiveness” to Second Life that will bring “camera-based gestures and movement to your avatar for a whole new level of interaction and connectedness”. This is something that marries up to Rosedale’s comments above. More particularly, it is something High Fidelity started to develop back in 2014, when the company was working on its own decentralised virtual spaces – even producing an informal video that helped demonstrate that early work – and which I’ve embedded below.
Yes, the avatars are someone cartoonish is looks, but this work was carried out in Hi Fi early days and before their avatars developed into something SL users might find more appealing, so don’t get too hung up on that fact.
What’s important is to note that how the avatars (faces and hand movements) reflect those of the people behind them. Take, for example, Emily’s face as she emotionally responds to the lyrics she is singing, and the way Ryan’s avatar (with the beard) makes eye contact with viewers as it looks directly out of the screen, and they way his eyes / head naturally move as he also addresses Chris and Emily who are sharing the same office space with him – plus the capture of his real-time hand-clapping at the end of the song! (And as a total aside specific to SL “old timers”, not that the guy providing the backing vocals is none other than Andrew Meadows (once (and again….?) aka Andrew Linden.)
If this capability could be brought into Second Life – and again, I have no idea how much further down the road Hi Fi got in developing / enhancing it and am aware that SL presents a range of its own technical challenges (range of mesh heads, rigging /weighting, etc.) – then clearly, it could offer considerable depth to avatar interactions for those who would care to leverage them. Take the SL live music scene, for example, and the potential for performers to add gestures to their music and (like Emily) have the emotions in singing transferred to their avatars. (I’ve also submitted a question on this subject for consideration in the upcoming Lab Gab session with Brad Oberwager and Philip Rosedale.)
There is a lot more that might be unpacked from these articles – such as the idea of a “decentralised environment” and what that might mean for thing like SL and mobile device access, and a lot to chew on regarding SL’s approach to virtual spaces and how it stands apart from the recent headline-grabbers like Facebook / Meta. Some of these comments should give comfort to those concerned about matters of privacy and the like, and Rosedale at least has carried his view on things beyond talking to journalists, embodying them in some of his tweets.
Given what is available for consumption between the three articles, I would recommend a reading of all three rather than having me drone on further here, or dilute the core speculation I wanted to put forward as a possibility. As such, I’ll leave you to peruse them in your own time, if you’ve not already done so.
- Philip Rosedale’s High Fidelity cuts deal with Second Life maker Linden Lab – Dean Takahashi, VentureBeat/GamesBeat
- Second Life Founder Returns to Take On the Metaverse – Meghan Bobrowsky, Wall Street Journal (via Archive to avoid paywall)
- Second Life founder returns to revamp his original metaverse – Scott Stein, c|net
- While there were other articles on the announcement, most were either baseline reproductions of the original press release (with a sprinkling of commentary in some cases) or re-treads of one of these three pieces.