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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."

"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 continues. "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."

That's a huge proclamation. Enormous. But there's no hint of a smile on Altberg 's face. No wry grin. He firmly believes this is the case — that soon we'll be in a virtual world so realistic we won't be able to tell it's virtual.

So, of course, I ask him about the nightmare scenario — what happens when we're all addicted to this amazing, virtual world? Does he worry about what he's enabling? Whether it's Fallout 3 or The Twilight Zone or Ready Player One, these types of stories never end well.

"I've never gone to bed going, 'Oh my god, what am I enabling? Holy shit,'" says Altberg. "I've never felt that." He tells me about a woman with Parkinson's who's helped retrain her brain to walk by playing Second Life. He tells me about visiting Mont Saint-Michel in the game — "How many people have a chance to go to that place in real life?" he asks.

"For some, it's an upgrade to [their real life.] Who are we to say, 'No, you shouldn't upgrade'?" Altberg asks. "If we can extend their lives or augment it, it's their choice. I think it's great."

Optimistic, maybe, but sometimes you just have to admire that sort of "no regrets" outlook on a project — even when there's the potential for some horrific dystopian future nightmare down the line. Will this next-generation, virtual-reality-built version of Second Life be the platform that gets us there? Maybe, maybe not.

Regardless, it's clear that we're headed that direction, even if it takes a bit. "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," says Altberg.

Thank goodness — you still have a few years to stock up on nutrient rich-IV drips and Power Gloves.


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