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How the makers of Second Life are using VR to build the next generation of virtual worlds

Hayden Dingman | July 16, 2014
"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."

Not Altberg and Linden Lab, though. " We define it to be more narrow — not necessarily equal to Second Life, but we'd say Second Life is probably the only thing that deserves the wording 'virtual world.'"

The key is freedom. Linden Lab abides by a strict philosophy — if it's not illegal, it's fine. Gambling? That's off limits. IP infringement? You can't do that. But Second Life is not, Altberg makes it clear, a game. It's a platform for users to build experiences on, and those experiences cover a broad swath of content — games, education, roleplaying, et cetera.

"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," says Altberg." An economy, all those things. Nobody else really has all those elements to make it considered a world."

An intuitive third life

A "next-generation" version of Second Life has to follow the same tenets. "We want to be able to reach an audience that's way beyond what any one game could do," says Altberg. That comes with some challenges — accessibility being the primary issue, Altberg continues. "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."

And it extends to creators, also — those who build content for Second Life and its eventual successor. "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," says Altberg. "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."

Anything and everything like the woman who painstakingly recreated 1920's Berlin in Second Life. "The first time she experienced her build [in virtual reality], she said she cried. She was just freaking out," Altberg describes. That's the type of reaction Linden Lab wants.

Despite the overhyped-underhyped cycle of Second Life, Altberg still thinks virtual worlds are coming, and coming relatively soon, and not just to PCs this time. Nor does he expect these digital environs to be limited to virtual reality. "I want to stay in touch with my social community on my phone," says Altberg. "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.


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