The official word came this week from Linden Labs CEO:
“Linden Lab is working on a next generation virtual world that will be in the spirit of Second Life, an open world where users have incredible power to create anything they can imagine and content creators are king. This is a significant focus for Linden Lab, and we are actively hiring to help with this ambitious effort. We believe that there is a massive opportunity ahead to carry on the spirit of Second Life while leveraging the significant technological advancements that have occurred since its creation, as well as our unparalleled experience as the provider of the most successful user-created virtual world ever.
“The next generation virtual world will go far beyond what is possible with Second Life, and we don’t want to constrain our development by setting backward compatibility with Second Life as an absolute requirement from the start. That doesn’t mean you necessarily won’t be able to bring parts of your Second Life over, just that our priority in building the next generation platform is to create an incredible experience and enable stunningly high-quality creativity, rather than ensuring that everything could work seamlessly with everything created over Second Life’s 11 year history.” (source)
This has of course sent the Second Life community into a major panic attack. “All my hard work for naught?” For your reading enjoyment, there is this thread over at SL Universe.
This has nothing to do with High Fidelity, the alpha product being created by SL original mastermind Philip Rosedale, which also hopes to be the next gen of virtual worlds.
As someone who has been involved with virtual worlds now for 11 years, I kind of know my way around. Some observations from the big picture:
1. Not one of the 19 or so virtual worlds are showing any growth these days. They have all flatlined. Some, including SL are still profitable due to continued dues paid by current membership. Linden Labs cannot sustain itself with an old product that is not growing in usage or membership.
2. If current SL were to close tomorrow, OSGrid would be there to pick up the slack. If Linden Labs builds a new world and everyone hates it, OSGrid would be there to pick up the slack. There are no plans for this though. According to an interview with Linden Lab spokesman Peter Gray: “It is thanks to the Second Life community that our virtual world today is without question the best there is, and after 11 years we certainly have no intention of abandoning our users nor the virtual world they continually fill with their astounding creativity. […] we think that much of the work we do for the next generation project will also be beneficial for Second Life.”
3. There are many design flaws in the initial concept that have created many problems. There.com and Second Life came out about the same time with two different approaches with the same social virtual world concept in mind. The fact that there is a lot you can do in There.com that you can’t in Second Life and vice versa — even today 11 years later — is proof that it is necessary to start over at some point. Reverse many of the mistakes in the initial concept, add new features you never could in the past. Simplify the whole convoluted mess of prims vs. sculpties vs. mesh. Above all make the avatars pretty.
4. If you want to know why all virtual worlds have either flatlined or collapsed, it is not because virtual worlds is a flawed concept for a program, it is because MMORPGs are doing it a lot better. MMORPGs are now doing everything that 3D Virtual worlds can do, except user created content. An MMORPG with user created content is likely going to be a much better and more interesting environment, than anything SL can currently offer. No one has done it before, but all the pieces exist to do it, and do it right. Not sure if this is what Linden Lab is working on, but I believe this is what they should be aiming for.
Personally, I am kind of tired of the current state of Second Life. I’m looking forward to something new. I hope they take the promise that was Linden Realms and run with it.