Second Life mainland map created by "Icarus Fallen" in 2011
Last week's post on Dual Universe and the quest to build the metaverse has inspired a very impressive comment thread which I'll be highlighting this week and possibly next. First up, here's longtime reader "Pulsar", who argues that most of the latest social VR/virtual worlds are much less ambitious than their predecessor:
Among the virtual worlds I know, Second Life is still the closest to a single instanced and contiguous world. Other platforms are closer to a 3D chatroom instead, where at most you would teleport from a "room" to another one ([whether] they are called "rooms", "experiences", "spaces", "worlds" or whatever). In SL, instead of teleporting, you can travel, you can explore the world by driving a car, flying a copter or on a train or sailing... for hours. In Second Life, there are even organized grid flights, social cruises, drives, with dozen of people traveling together. Sometimes you can also meet someone and make a new friend while you are traveling by yourself. Thanks to the progressive loading and some client-side interpolation between regions, traveling in SL feels like a single experience, apart only the infamous region crossings disturbing it. However, sailing on the Blake Sea with an optimized boat, you would barely see it.
Pulsar does see a glimmer of this single shard vision in High Fidelity, founded by SL co-founder Philip Rosedale -- but not in Linden Lab's official follow-up to SL, Sansar:
Unlike Sansar, HiFi reduces the loading waits somewhat by showing the world progressively too, before everything has been loaded; SL seems to do it better. In HiFi you still have small waits, but it's already better than its competitors.
But if you disable the interpolation in SL, so that it stops at region crossings, usually people call it an experience breaker, even if the stop lasts for just a couple of seconds. What many hoped for -- in the aviation, sailing and other vehicle communities in SL -- was a world without region crossings. No, not even just that couple of seconds, interpolated or not.
Now it's true that we are going backward: not only these new ones don't offer that -- they make you wait from several seconds to several minutes, up to an half hour, to change place - they don't even offer this somewhat contiguous world and kind of continuous experience made with regions. You only change rooms, whatever [size] is it, to an entirely different place. Indeed back to the '90s, and you can still visit Active Worlds today and see that it's kind of the same old approach.
This is all valid, but I do want to add three complicating points:
- While the SL mainland is contiguous, the vast majority of land and experiences are on separate islands which break off the single world immersion with a loading screen.
- Despite the fact that the SL mainland is contiguous, Second Life as a whole is often dismissed by outsiders as "a 3D chatroom" -- because despite the ability to travel and explore, chat is exactly what most users largely do.
- 70% of SL users don't explore when they log in, but stay in the exact same place they were before they last logged out.
All of which points to a deeper question: If most consumers don't actually want a contiguous, single shard world, is it still worth building for the minority who do?