Second Life and the Metaverse: the Wall Street Journal

Philip Rosedale in Remember Second Life? It’s Now Taking On Big Tech’s Metaverse. Credit: The Wall Street Journal

If there is one thing that can certainly be said concerning the news that Philip Rosedale has “returned to Second Life” is that over the last few weeks it has certainly generated a lot of interest from the media.

I’ve already covered articles on Rosedale, Second Life and his views on “the metaverse” from the likes of Protocol (see here)¹, and VentureBeat  / GamesBeat, c|net, and The Wall Street Journal (see here)² – admittedly with some speculation on my part on the case of the latter. More recently Wired and others have also covered SL, Rosedale and “the Metaverse”, and he has been interviewed by CNN, CNBC (the latter of which I’ve yet to summarise), and most recently, by The Wall Street Journal once more.

The latter takes the form of a video segment – embedded below – that features Rosedale taking about Second Life, its users and “the metaverse”, whilst comparing and contrasting SL with plans voiced by the likes of Facebook / Meta and Microsoft and touching on the Lab’s hopes for SL – including further hints at the direction in which the company is leaning in terms of upping the platform’s appal to a broader audience.

Running to 20 seconds short of 6 minutes, the video is actually a concise and honest look at SL, and comes complete with a careful underlining of the age of some of the in-world footage used – a refreshing touch given that so often we are confronted with “archival” images / footage of the platform that get presented without any cage context, and so can leave people thinking they are looking at SL as it appears today.

Starting with Zuckerberg enthusiastically stating how people will all “work, learn, play, shop” in “the metaverse”, the piece quickly reminds viewers that for Second Life, all of that promise is very much a case of “already there and doing all of that, thank you!”. It then offers a fairly accurate recap of SL’s history in terms of early attractiveness, user engagement, and gradual (if somewhat low-key overall) resurfacing of interest (which predates all the current “metaverse” hype by around 24 months). As such, it neatly packages:

  • The the history of SL and its longevity.
  • The broad attractiveness people have found with the platform – notably the appeal of content creation and the power of the economy SL has forged.
  • A frank, thumbnail look at some of the issues those coming into the platform face in trying to understand it (the IU, understanding avatar operation & customisation, finding others (particularly those of a like mind) with whom to interact, etc.
  • Slightly conversely with the above, it also underscores the fact that while complex to understand, SL’s avatar  system is still incredibly powerful and well beyond anything the likes of Meta are considering.
  • The reiteration of the idea that virtual worlds down actually need VR or other headsets for engagement, and any focus on such hardware will, for a foreseeable future at least, remain a hurdle to potential engagement rather than a benefit
  • The openness in allowing some doubt about all the current hype around “the metaverse” to be expressed.
  • The underlining of LL’s approach to basic aspects of their platform in order to (hopefully) generate better user take-up and retention (e.g. improving performance, developing mobile support, improving (/simplifying) avatar user and the viewer’s UI).

The video also neatly encapsulates some of the problems “the metaverse” faces that appear to be outside of the thinking of Meta, etc. One of these is clearly stated by Rosedale: getting the vast majority of people simply comfortable with using avatars for tmany of their interactions. Like it or not, this is a stumbling block, and one Rosedale is correct in point out. Were it not, then after nigh-on 20 years, it would not be unfair to assume SL’s user base would likely be somewhat larger than its current 1 million active monthly users.

That said, this is also where the video is apparently a little too glib. In making the comparison between SL’s and Meta’s monthly active users (3.5 billion for the latter across its platforms), there is a suggestion that Meta has a big head start – but that’s hardly the case. If anything, I’d suggest the Meta has made its life that much harder compared to LL. Not only do they have to convince that 3.5 billion active user base of the need to swap away from doing much of what they do “in (first) person” – so to speak – to doing it with an avatar, they’ve also got to convince them to do so with a headset strapped to their faces. Given that currently, they probably have around 10 million headset users out of that 3.5 billion, they clearly have a huge mountain of their own to climb to get the rest to invest in headsets, even with a cash pot of up to US $10 billion to spend in doing so (which I assume includes money directly related to further headset development, etc.).

There are some wider holes in the piece that could be picked at – such as what the likes of Microsoft and Meta really mean by “interoperability” and the “movement of assets”, and whether, beyond some perfunctory basics they’ll really go down that path (after all, walled gardens are the best way to hold on to an audience – and their money); but at the end of the day this isn’t a piece on the metaverse per se. It’s about Second Life and its continuing relevance in the world today.

 

Footnotes

  1. Second Life’s founder doesn’t believe in VR, by Janko Roettgers and Nick Statt – Protocol,
  2. Philip Rosedale’s High Fidelity cuts deal with Second Life maker Linden Lab – Dean Takahashi, VentureBeat/GamesBeatSecond 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

The InVerse Orlando house in Second Life

The InVerse Orlando House – the (first?) arrival of 2022 at Isla Myvatn

So I ended up back at Novocaine Islay’s InVerse store recently, where I was supposed to be there helping her make decisions about a new house she’d been considering. But, unfortunately for you, whilst paging through one of the rezzers there, I came across a house design that piqued My curiosity. I say “unfortunately for you”, because after carrying out so checks and measuring, I realised it could be a good fit for the home island – and so here you are, wading through another house review 🙂 .

The house in question is the Orlando, modern style of house that has a certain look to it that whilst not “Scandinavian” per se, has a look that is well suited to somewhere like Second Norway. I’m not sure how long Novocaine has had it on the market, but it is currently only available via the InVerse in-world store. The living space is split over two full floors, each split into two rooms, with additional space provides by balconies and terraces, including a covered one to the side of the house that includes a swimming pool sheltered by the extended roof of the house.

The Inverse Orlando (furnished version) straight out of the rezzer

The overall footprint for the building is 26 metres wide by 22 deep, with added “tongue” to the front aspect forming a large step that brings the overall depth of the building out to almost 26 metres. Within this footprint, the interior living space is just under16.4 metres in width and some 18 metres in depth. The ground floor, served by a single front door, presents a lounge area running the full width of the front of the house and some 8.2 metres in depth, with the staircase to the upper floor to one side and large picture windows to both the front aspect and to the pool patio. Behind this sits a kitchen / dining area approximately 12 metres wide and 8 metres deep and with windows overlooking the pool to the side and to the rear aspect.

On the upper floor are two interconnected room, each approx. 8.2 metres square, and both individually served by a landing that runs to one side of them. One of these rooms has a balcony to the front aspect, and both have windows overlooking the covered pool, a large skylight in the roof over the pool allowing ambient light into both. The second room also has windows to the rear aspect, and the upper floor is completed by a side balcony also accessed from a door leading off of the front-to-back landing hallway. The entire default finish of the house is a mix of wooden framing, white brick and grey and white stucco, with a tiled and highly attractive waveform roof.

The default furnishings on the Orlando’s lounge. Note the baked light / shadows from the windows on the flooring

As with many of Novocaine’s houses, two versions are included in the exceptionally modest price of just L$349. One of these is the bare-bones house with controller, and the other comes will furnishings and additional décor. Which you option to use is a matter of choice; the furnishings supplied are acceptable enough for those looking for an out-of-the-box home, although the style is perhaps more towards low LI than the finer aesthetics of design (although this didn’t stop me from using some of the elements from the furnished version!).

The bare bones house tops-out at 83 LI (including lighting and house control system), with the furnishings increasing this by a further 77, in the process offering drapes for most of the windows, plants, a lounge suite of sofa and armchair, a galley kitchen with basic 4-place tabled and chairs, a large bath with bathroom vanity fittings, a double bed with side tables and lamps, a fireplace with scripted fire and various sideboards and with rugs, plants and picture throughout, a basic web TV, with the majority of the fittings complete with animations – including for the kitchen and even in one of the rugs!

I preferred to use mix of the supplied furniture and fittings – sideboard and fireplace in the lounge, for example – with my own furniture. Note also, the re-textured floors to avoid the baked sunlight / shadow effects

Something new to me with this design is the inclusion of an additional control element in the furnished version: a texture changer than allows the user to turn the shadows cast by the furnishings on the floors on and off. This is only practical if you don’t move the supplied furnishings around (or replace them), but it’s a novel idea. A pity it didn’t also extend to the baked sunlight / shadows on the floors as well.

What attracted me to the Orlando lay in the overall build quality, which – with the odd caveat here and there – is pretty darned good – and the fact that, like the Tarzana I picked up in October 2021 and reviewed here, it is ideal for modding and tweaking.  For example, for anyone who has a waterfront home and who may not want the included swimming pool, it and the patio area under the roof can be removed, and, with the addition of a new house base and additional support under the outer wall of the pool space, a small, covered dock can be made. I found it offers sufficient space for a pier and a boat up to the size of my Bandit 460AK cabin cruiser (reviewed here) – and I came close to actually using the house in this configuration on the waterfront of Isla Myvatn.

The floor-to-ceiling height of the Orlando, coupled with the structure’s width meant it almost perfectly fitted the space vacated by the Tarzana, and matched the elevated back garden

However, and (again) as I’ve covered in these pages, I’ve spent a far amount of time building a stepped Zen garden and elevated spots at one end of the home island, integrating them with the upper floor of whichever house I’m using, starting with Fallingwater and then continuing with the InVerse Tarzana house.

On measuring things like floor-to-ceiling space, and overall size, I realised that the Orlando would more-or-less slot right into the space that had been occupied by the Tarzana and aligned with the paths of the elevated garden. All I needed to do were a couple of minor adjustments to the lengths of walls in the garden and add an extension to the garden down one side of the house to replace the pool terrace I put together for the Tarzana. The design of the Orlando also meant it was easy to install an additional door at the back of the house to access the gardens. Such was the fit, the mods and adjustments (with some re-texturing) took less than an hour to complete – so, lucky me!

Another view of the rear of the Orlando, showing the mods I made to the top of the stairs, adding an additional door to access the back gardens

The re-texturing was largely due to me watching to remove the baked sunlight and shadows from the floors to the front of the house, plus some roughness of some of the wall and ceiling textures. Doing so isn’t essential, it was just a personal choice and down to the niggles I have with things like “sunlight” being baked on surfaces. Use of specularity is also a  little odd in places – such as on the roof – but again, easily fixed by setting it to None on those faces that do look out-of-place.

However, given the price of the unit, dwelling on the negatives is a little churlish – we’re talking the price of a cup of coffee overall! – and the attractiveness of the design is hard to overstate. Those looking for a house that offers cosy living space with some flexibility and a pool with poses, the Orlando could be just the thing.

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