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How the makers of Second Life are using VR to build the next generation of virtual worlds

Hayden Dingman | July 16, 2014
"We're not really here to talk about the future too much, but I'm going to tell you that our biggest investment by far will be a next-generation virtual world. Something in the spirit of Second Life."

"We're not really here to talk about the future too much, but I'm going to tell you that our biggest investment by far will be a next-generation virtual world. Something in the spirit of Second Life."

I'm sitting at Linden Lab ready to see Second Life running on an Oculus Rift and suddenly I'm being thrown into something totally different by company CEO Ebbe Altberg — something far crazier.

"Even though Second Life today is better than it's ever been — it performs better, the graphics quality is better, the stability's better, scale is better — you still can't create something in Second Life that creates the feel of a AAA game, even though you can create some cool stuff," says Altberg. "There are things we can do to enable people to create things that have that complexity and visual fidelity. We know we can do that.

"And then it gets interesting because now people who otherwise might choose to build something using Unity or Unreal or something like that, now they have a choice. 'Oh, I can do it on this platform where I get a ton of cool services and communities and social networking and communication tools and economies and all that stuff for free as part of the product,'" he continues.

What have I stumbled into?

A new life for Second Life

Although Altberg is technically new to Linden Lab, at five months on the job, he's got quite a history with the product: He was formerly a roommate of one of the board members and was an early alpha tester for the platform. And he's not very happy with the rise and fall of Second Life in the media.

"Second Life went on this ride where in '06, '07, '08 it was like, 'Oh my god...' Cover of Newsweek or whatever that was. Like, it's going to change the world," he says. "They way overhyped it. And then it got this backlash. 'Oh, it's not changing the world so I guess it's shit then.' No. It was overhyped and then it got underhyped."

But now Altberg thinks things are different — thanks to Oculus. "The Oculus has regenerated new excitement around the whole idea of virtual worlds and virtual reality." Where just a few years ago virtual reality and virtual worlds were seen as a silly pipe dream, now there are hundreds of people worldwide plugging away at problems — software, hardware, usability, voice recognition, and the like. In other words, the last barriers standing between us and a truly virtual world.

Virtual world is a loaded phrase, though. "[Oculus has] said 'We want to build a virtual world for a billion people,'" says Altberg. "When you say virtual world, what do you mean? There are a lot of people that would say that's a fairly broad range of things."

 

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