Philip Rosedale is one of the few people who can be termed a metaverse pioneer. He founded the company that created Second Life(opens in new tab), which is likely the closest thing we have to the metaverses initially described in sci-fi novels: a user-created 3D world in which residents adopt personalized avatars, socialize, and run legitimate companies.
It survived nearly two decades without much direct competition, but now it appears that even Silicon Valley pigeons are hawking the metaverse.
The world's largest IT companies are betting on the metaverse. Meta (formerly Facebook) sees a virtual and augmented reality future for work and recreation.
Microsoft just acquired Activision Blizzard and its massive quantity of IP as part of its aim to develop the “building blocks of the metaverse.” Many people have pointed out that no tech titan has provided a metaverse in any meaningful sense.
However, the essential ideas of today's metaverse movement may have been accomplished in Linden Lab's Second Life project, which is currently seeing a renaissance.
How Second Life Already Built a ‘Metaverse'
According to Time, Linden Lab's Second Life has been in operation since 2003, with millions of active users in self-created virtual worlds complete with property transactions, a market for virtual products, and a functional economy that is self-reported being valued at over $500 million in GDP around 2007.
Some Second Life users attempted to earn a career, while others displayed alter egos, staged virtual marriages, created dream homes, and lived second lives.
Second Life is fundamentally an example of a centralized authority metaverse. While Second Life was never designed to improve people's lives, it exhibits many of the themes inherent in Meta's metaverse notion, among others. Second Life has created a long-lasting community of millions of people who “live” together in virtual places.
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Philip Rosedale, the creator of Second Life, returned to the project after it saw a revival during the COVID-19 epidemic. He told CNET that while the metaverse has a place worldwide, VR adoption is a separate matter. Rosedale believes that users will not want to be “blindfolded” by a VR headgear, which appears to be based on Linden Lab's experience with Project Sansar.
Linden Lab's Sansar Was Ahead of Its Time
While Facebook was tweaking its Oculus Rift gear in 2014, Linden Lab announced Project Sansar, a next-generation virtual world (later named Sansar). It was a vast initiative supported by the late Ebbe Altberg, who had just been CEO of Linden Lab for four months at the time.
According to a press release announcing a content creator test in 2015, Altberg sought to simplify “VR experience creation,” building a creative virtual environment to which the public gained access in 2017.
Linden Lab's vision for VR platforms is far more whimsical and lifelike than what Meta or other tech titans propose today. They were, nevertheless, equally forward-thinking. Aech's Garage from the Ready Player One film adaption was a popular location in Sansar when it first debuted in 2018.
Sansar collaborated with Monstercat, a Canadian electronic music label, in mid-2019 to deliver live performances to the platform, similar to Fortnite's Marshmello event earlier that year.
Do We Even Want New Metaverses?
According to Oberwager, metaverses are first and primarily social spaces in 3D environments such as Second Life. He claims that you “play” a game but “reside” in a metaverse, and he does not believe that a technology corporation can develop somewhere people want to live.
Who wants to put on a VR headset to live inside an advertisement or go shopping in a virtual mall when doing the same thing on a standard screen is easier?
“The occupants must construct the metaverse,” Oberwager argues.
The Rich Get Richer
Rosedale is still intrigued about 3D environments, even though avatars aren't the most noticeable difference between Second Life and Discord. “Alienable products” would rank higher on virtual reality's list of vital elements. Rosedale first heard the word from activist and law professor Lawrence Lessig in 2004.
“[Lessig] stated to me, ‘The way you want to make digital objects real is by alienating them,' and I had no idea what that word meant, which is ridiculous,” Rosedale adds. “An alienable thing is anything you can freely give to someone else without their approval.”