Is Linden Lab Putting Its Next Big Hope on VR?

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Steve Anderson
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Is Linden Lab Putting Its Next Big Hope on VR?

Linden Lab is a name you might recognize, particularly if you were gaming in the late 2000s. Linden Lab put together a combination game / game world called “Second Life,” and for those who played, it was an unusual experience to say the least. But Linden Lab has been undergoing a lot of changes of late, and it may well have found its next big thing in the form of the growing virtual reality (VR) movement.

Now down to just two properties in its quiver—“Second Life” and the “Blocksworld” app—the company is putting particular focus on “Second Life”, and turning to VR to help drive new interest. It might strike some as odd that a game that started in 2003 is still popular today, but “World of Warcraft” hardly wants for players, and that launched in late 2004. “Second Life,” meanwhile, is still a major brand, though somewhat down from its heyday in which virtual real estate was selling for actual real-world cash, and sometimes in pretty staggering amounts.

The company's new CEO offered up an interview with Venture Beat recently in which he detailed the company's progress, and the changes it would make as time went on. Platforms like “Dio,” “Creatorverse,” “Versu” and “Patterns” were all either sold off or shuttered altogether, and the company is looking to make “Second Life”  a major name as well as perform some further moves to build a completely next-generation virtual world with a particular focus on VR.

Some key points make “Second Life” an impressive piece of property as it sits; for instance, there's a user-to-user economy, allowing users to easily set up shop within the game and make actual cash trades for virtual goods and services. There are a ton of user-generated options, and a complete communications platform in play, developments that should go a long way toward keeping interest. But with the introduction of VR elements, that has the potential to really step up “Second Life” and make it feel like an actual second life, not just a representation of one on a flat screen.

Naturally, there are some issues. Reports suggest that the frame rate is still a bit problematic for VR, and the company is already quite at work making it better. Indeed, there's already a faithful recreation of Berlin circa 1920 run by a woman named Jo Yardley, and if that were converted to a VR simulation, it would almost be like a holodeck walk through the system. It's not hard to imagine the commercial applications of such a service; advertising in 1920s Berlin might pull some interest.

But go beyond that. What if Jimmy Buffett could accurately construct a Margaritaville online? It may be five o'clock somewhere, but on the Internet, it can be five o'clock forever. What if movie studios could build accurate recreations of sets and put them online for users to walk through? What if travel companies could make recreations of tourism spots so good it was almost like being there? Picture a virtual trip to Paris, to Las Vegas, to colonial 1920s Berlin. Most of the infrastructure is already there; all that needs to happen is that “Second Life” needs to keep itself sufficiently graphically sharp that it can work with the Oculus Rift and similar devices, but not so graphically sharp that the connections can't handle it. This might well have been one of the things that Mark Zuckerberg was picturing back when Facebook bought Oculus Labs, but the idea that it might well happen, and soon, is a downright staggering idea indeed.

Only time will tell just how this all turns out, but Linden Lab may well have poised itself to be one of the biggest names in the field. That's a development that will be hard to pass up long-term, and might well give us all something completely unexpected.

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