Second Life is Not the Metaverse -- But That's Not What It Was First Invented to Be
"Why Anyone Who Cares About the Metaverse Needs to Move Beyond Second Life; Now, Not Later" is an important new post by Chris "Fleep Tuque" Collins, an educator who also ran the Second Life Community Convention, and wrote an equally crucial post about that experience too. In her latest thoughts on Second Life, as the title suggests, she argues that advocates of the metaverse ideal -- where real work and activity is conducted within an immersive virtual world -- should look beyond Second Life, which is not the metaverse, for other options. I agree with her on this larger point, but the analysis is somewhat flawed by a misunderstanding of Linden Lab's history, in regards to the metaverse concept, and where the company is now, under the CEO stewardship of Rod Humble. For instance, she writes:
Back when Philip [Rosedale] ran the Lab, Second Life was not a game. Under Rod [Humble]’s leadership, a game is exactly what he’s trying to turn it into. My advice is: If you want to see the metaverse we imagined, then stop playing the perpetual hoping and waiting game that Second Life is.
It's true that Rod Humble is turning Second Life into a game platform, but here's an equally important thing to understand: Second Life was originally conceived and marketed by Linden Lab as a kind of game platform/play space, and not the metaverse.
Now, it's true that Linden Lab attempted to add metaverse-like aspects to SL many years after its launch, but no matter how much many of us wanted it to be the metaverse (I was among them) it failed in this post-facto goal because, in part, SL was never really conceived to be the metaverse in the first place, not even by its founders.
Second Life's homepage from 2004, via Archive.org
- Second Life's first public demo, Linden World, was very much a game space, with guns, explosions, and dangerous creatures.
- Indeed, Philip Rosedale's first vision for Second Life resembled what ultimately became Minecraft, more than anything else.
- Second Life co-founder Cory Ondrejka, a game industry vet, originally intended Second Life to be a game development platform (as he explained to me in my book).
- When Second Life launched, it had numerous game-like aspects, such as a leaderboard (see above).
- In fact, when I was a Linden staffer in the early years (2003-2005), the company closely tracked SL's user growth in direct comparison to The Sims Online -- not the metaverse, but a game from Electronic Arts.
And so on. It's important to remember SL's history, to make sense of where it is now. As I said, it's true that Linden Lab later attempted to add metaverse-type features to Second Life -- among them, the efforts to make it interoperate with OpenSim, introducing and promoting corporate, education, and real world advertising sims, and the rolling out of an enterprise-centric grid, which all happened in the 2006-2008 hype era. However, none of this worked, for reasons I'll discuss later. But if you look at the totality of Second Life's evolution, you'll see its beginnings as a game platform which tried to become something else -- largely at the behest of educators like Chris, who wanted it to be something more. "These educators," as a top Linden once told me, frustrated, "are trying to turn Second Life into a teaching platform, but it was never meant to be that, it was meant to be a consumer product!"
Seen from that point of view, Rod Humble's moves to make SL more like a game and a game development platform are actually in line with what Second Life was first meant to be. But here's the thing: If it can succeed as a game platform, it might also have a chance at becoming something like the metaverse. But again, that's a talk for another time.Tweet