This is a really good and long interview with Hunter Walk, now an extremely influential venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, but who got his start in tech helping found Second Life in 2002. (A year after I joined the company as the "embedded journalist".) It's a excellent listen if you're also in the tech industry, but the Second Life and virtual reality stuff gets going around 8:30, starting right around Hunter saying, "Jokingly, you could claim Second Life is more profitable than Twitter, Uber, and Airbnb ever have been." (Though that's actually still true.)
A lot of what Hunter discusses from there is featured [shamelessplug]in my first book[/shamelessplug], but the points he makes about why Second Life failed to gain a mass market strike me as extremely relevant to the new wave of virtual reality-based worlds in the era of Oculus Rift and Vive -- i.e., for developers of High Fidelity, Project Sansar, and others -- and are really worth thinking about (around 23:45):
Walk: Does an immersive simulated environment need to be photorealistic? ... Anybody who's spent time in Minecraft knows that you can create a true emotional connection to an avatar, to an environment, to a simulation, without it having to be photorealistic. And I think good designers, good game designers, good designers in general, are thinking about what they’re trying to achieve as that sense of place, that emotional connection. And it’s unclear to me that the best vector for Second Life was to take the path that we did of photorealism... we spent so much time perfecting that, we didn’t spending so much time thinking about the anthropology of it.
So for example, as Hunter notes, while Second Life's graphics were improved as it gained traction, it became even more difficult to host more than a few dozen avatars in a 16 acre space. (Still is.)
It's easy to apply these insights to VR's new generation. From what we know, Project Sansar is going to be ultrarealistic, while High Fidelity will enable both photorealistic avatars (like those above) but also more whimsical cartoonish avatars created by a PIXAR vet. (Philip Rosedale also puts a lot of emphasis on low latency as crucial for creating deep social connections in VR.)
By contrast, notably, Microsoft's first VR world is Minecraft. Probably putting Hunter in the camp of John Carmack -- and, frankly, me. Though I'd also add that Minecraft's game-like mechanics (basically, just survive) are also important for success.
That in mind, what do you think will be this era's blockbuster VR world?
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