×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Second Life Maker Linden Lab Wants to Build the WordPress of Virtual Reality

The company behind Second Life is betting on a second chance.

Linden Lab, which pioneered the idea of virtual worlds with Second Life in 2003, is getting ready to jump on the virtual reality bandwagon. The company has quietly been building a new virtual world for the Oculus Rift and other virtual reality headsets, currently code-named Project Sansar, while still maintaining the original Second Life for hundreds of thousands of monthly users.

Second Life, which allows users to roam freely through virtual places built and maintained by its community, was at one time one of the hottest trends on the Internet. Business Week even devoted a cover story to entrepreneurs selling virtual goods in Second Life in 2006.

However, Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg believes that Project Sansar can eclipse Second Life. “Second Life hit the ceiling at the hobbyist level,” he said during a recent interview, explaining that it once had slightly more than 1 million monthly active users, while still attracting just below 900,000 monthly users in 2015. Sansar isn’t just supposed to one day become bigger, but also much more instrumental to the success of virtual reality itself.

Different economics, better graphics

Ebbe said that Linden Lab had learned a few fundamental lessons from Second Life that are shaping the design of Project Sansar. Some of these are about economics. Second Life became famous for allowing users to buy land and produce and sell goods and services, but a few key economic rules stifled growth. “Land in Second Life is quite expensive,” said Altberg. Trade, on the other hand, is barely regulated. Linden Lab now wants to lower real estate taxes and increase sales taxes, he explained, to make it easier for people to pitch a tent in its virtual world.

Linden Lab is also rethinking some of the technical infrastructure used to power virtual worlds. Each virtual space could host only between 70 to 100 people at the same time before the server powering that instance of Second Life slowed down. More involved experiences could even hit that ceiling at a maximum of 30 participants.

SEE MORE: Landmark Entertainment Looks to Launch Virtual Reality Theme Parks

That, in turn, made it hard for brands to justify investing into virtual real estate. Why spend a lot of money to build a presence in Second Life if it could only be visited by only 70 people at a time? Project Sansar wants to solve this issue by allowing for unlimited copies of an experience. In other words, instead of just opening one restaurant, McDonalds could open hundreds or even thousands of eateries in the new virtual world, and open and close them based on customer demand.

Project Sansar will also be rendered with 90 frames per second to look fluid in a virtual reality headset.

Like WordPress for VR

But the most fundamental difference between Second Life and Project Sansar is a lot more conceptual: Second Life has always been first and foremost about Second Life itself. Sansar will be about individual VR experiences, powered by Linden Lab’s technology.

Project Sansar will allow brands and other developers to build their own VR experiences, and then deep-link to them from their websites or third-party apps. Users will still have to have the Project Sansar software installed to use them, but it will feel a lot more like custom experiences. “Second Life is a platform dressed as a product,” said Altberg. Project Sansar will be a platform that will allow others to build products. “The experience is the primary brand,” he said.

Altberg compared Sansar’s role to WordPress, the popular blogging and web publishing platform that now powers a quarter of the world’s websites. Linden Lab’s goal was to turn Sansar into a WordPress for VR, allowing enthusiasts and big brands alike to build VR experiences without spending tons of money and man hours on custom programming, he explained.

More experienced publishers will be able to use Sansar in connection with popular 3D software; initially, Linden Labs wants to make it work with Maya, and eventually add support for Blender, Sketchup and other apps as well. Getting those animations up and running in virtual reality will be a lot easier that starting from scratch, promised Altberg.

An open beta when the Rift launches

Work on project Sansar began in honest about 18 months ago. This month, Linden Lab is inviting a few select users to join an alpha test. Throughout the fall, it will gradually add more alpha users, and a public beta test is planned for early next year — just in time for the availability of the Oculus Rift consumer headset. A 1.0 version could launch by the end of 2016, said Altberg.

SEE MORE: Oculus Unveils Virtual Reality Headset for Consumers

Project Sansar’s success could hinge on the popularity of these VR headsets. It will also depend on how much control brands and other VR publishers are willing to hand over to Linden Lab. Developers that build experiences with Sansar will have to abide by its rules, use its billing system and share revenue with Linden Lab. In return, they’re promised an easier way to build those experiences, no matter whether it is a multiplayer game, a social space or even a telepresence application for remote learning or work.

Handing over more branding power to companies could also turn away users who aren’t looking for big real-life brands to dominate their virtual worlds. But it’s just as possible that both could co-exist. Much like Second Life, Sansar could in the end become anything that consumers, brands and developers want it to be. Altberg said that Linden Lab isn’t pre-populating the world with ready-made experiences or things ported over from Second Life. Instead, it’s betting on its users to start shaping their world. “It’s gonna start from the beginning,” he said.

More Digital

  • hdhomerun roku app

    HDHomerun App Brings Live TV to Roku Devices

    Roku users are getting another way to watch live television with the help of their favorite streaming devices: Silicondust, maker of the HDHomerun TV tuners, has released a beta version of its HDHomerun app for Roku TVs and streaming devices. “We need to start out by saying this is very much a beta product,” the [...]

  • Vox Media

    Vox Media Staff Ratifies First Union Contract, Negotiated by Writers Guild

    Staffers at Vox Media, which includes Curbed, Eater, Polygon, Recode, SB Nation, The Verge and Vox.com, have ratified their first collective bargaining agreement with more than 90% in support. The staffers are represented by the Writers Guild of America East. Vox Media’s 350-member unit began bargaining their first contract in April 2018. The campaign to [...]

  • Joslyn Davis, Lily-Marston - Shared Media

    Clevver’s Joslyn Davis, Lily Marston Launch Their Own YouTube Media Venture (EXCLUSIVE)

    Here’s the latest chapter in the saga of Clevver, the entertainment/lifestyle YouTube network marooned by the shuttering of former parent Defy Media and subsequently snapped up by Hearst Magazines. Two of the principal creatives behind Clevver — Joslyn Davis and Lily Marston — together with Clevver Media co-founder Jorge Maldonado have launched Shared Media, their [...]

  • Money-Diaries-Refinery29

    Refinery29 to Produce Interactive Series Funded by Eko (EXCLUSIVE)

    Refinery29 has been bitten by the “Bandersnatch” bug. The millennial-female-focused digital media and entertainment company inked a pact with Eko, an interactive-video platform developer whose backers include Walmart, to produce several “choose-your-own-adventure”-style series based on Refinery29 content properties. The companies have started development on their first project: an interactive scripted adaptation of Refinery29’s popular “Money [...]

  • Dan Howell

    YouTube Star Dan Howell Comes Out as Gay: 'It Gets So Much Better'

    It’s Pride Month, and popular YouTube vlogger Dan Howell had a message for fans that he’d been working on for a year: “Basically, I’m Gay,” he shared in a video Thursday. In the 45-minute video, Howell discussed coming to terms with his sexual orientation and his thoughts on labels that people use to define themselves [...]

  • Netflix Expands Korean Content Commitment

    Netflix Expands Korean Content Commitment as Industry Deepens

    Global streaming giant, Netflix is expanding its involvement in the Korean film and TV industries by greenlighting several new shows and renewing others. “When we started three years ago, we had a high degree of confidence that Korean drama would work well in Asia, but we had no internal metrics of our own,” Korean content [...]

  • Instagram Logo

    Instagram Outage: Facebook’s Photo Sharing Service Went Down For Multiple Hours

    Instagram faced another major outage Thursday afternoon, with users from around the world reporting that they weren’t able to access Facebook’s photo sharing service via its app and website. An Instagram spokesperson told Variety around 5pm PT that the issue had been resolved: “Earlier today, a technical issue caused some people to have trouble accessing [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content