Imagine a world where you can fly or teleport. A world where you can assume the look of your choice and constantly develop it – from your clothes to your face to the shape of your body and the look of your skin. A world that you can change to your liking and whose objects, places and appearance are created by people like you.
This world has been around since 2003 and it’s called Second Life. This virtual 3D universe peaked in popularity and media coverage around 2006 before falling. But it’s still active – Linden Lab, publisher of the open source computer program, claims 1 million connections a month and 200,000 daily active users. It is not much compared to the giants of social networks, but enough to form a solid community. What might arouse renewed interest as the meta-verse returns to the table.
Virtual, alternative and persistent
This concept borrowed from science fiction has been an obsession of the tech world since the 1990s. A metavers is a virtual and alternative world, which is superimposed on the physical world, accessible in a computer way and persistent – it continues to exist and evolve when the user disconnects. Mark Zuckerberg’s company, renamed “Meta”, intends to develop its metaverse, just as other digital players do – for example Epic Games, the game publisher Fortnite.
… A bit like Second Life. With its nearly 20 years, it is without a doubt one of the longest-lived metavers. It all started in 1999 when entrepreneur Philip Rosedale created Linden Lab. The original goal of the company is to produce material that is used to immerse oneself in a virtual world. But as the equipment is too heavy, she turns to the creation of a software, Linden World, which will give way to Second Life.
Philip Rosedale clarified his vision of this universe in 2006: “We do not see it as a game. We see it as a platform that in many respects is better than the real world. Users, called ‘residents’, create and enrich themselves. the world in which they evolve: buildings, objects, animals, plants, but also animations and sounds, and above all, the appearance of the avatar – usually human-like in form, but not necessarily – down to the details of the skin and the shape of As for Linden Lab, it is mainly responsible for the administration of the servers, the connection and the graphical representation, as well as the five major original continents.
“The meta-verse should be created and managed by the people who live in it”
“We simply play the role of facilitator, deciphered in October 2021 Anya Kanevsky, Product Manager for second Life, with Journal du Net. (…) I do not see how creating different games that would be connected to each other could look like the metaverse. In my opinion, this content is created by companies for users. For the meta-verse to exist, it must be created and managed by the people who live there. »
Rewind to 2005. Second Life is gaining momentum in the American media and appears to be conducive to trade. In June 2006, the apparel brand American Apparel opened a store there, followed by others. Institutional actors established themselves there: universities offering online education, embassies from very real countries … Buzzen reached France in 2007: several teams of candidates for the presidential election invested in the universe. Media coverage is sometimes more negative: Second Life is particularly accused of hosting child pornographic content. From 2007, the brands are already closing their stores. The banking crisis in 2008 led to a banking crisis in Second Life. Universities and politicians are moving away, and the meta-verse is gradually being depopulated.
But it does not disappear. Some people have been going there for over a decade. Like Ayako Takahashi, 34, met at the Voodoo Club, a box with Second Life dedicated to electronic music. Her nickname does not indicate it, but Ayako is French; she has been a “resident” for 13 years. “What I love here is the ability to create and experience what you want to experience. I played role-playing games and quickly found a gaming universe, and now I’m more into the hobby and discussing with a small circle of friends. »
Top of activity in containment
The duration of “life” in Second Life appears next to the nicknames of the people you meet there. Within the Voodoo Club, some have been there for 8, 10 years; others arrived a month ago. In 2020, the platform experienced a peak in activity as many people felt the need to maintain social ties. (…) We also observe that these people return to Second Life, even though they spend less time there, ”Anya Kanevsky explained to the Journal du Net in 2021.
It is easy to understand the pleasure that can be found by visiting Second Life in full lockdown. The places where you can have fun are open 24 hours a day, and the possibilities for exploration seem endless. Although, by teleporting to a random location, it can fall into the void. “Many places only last for a while, either because their creators travel Second Life, because they move, or because they create somewhere else, explains Ayako Takahashi. Your imagination and that of other users are the only limits. »
” Second Life has this longevity because it is created by its users, there are always new cities and amazing environments to visit “, explains to 20 minutes Wagner James Au. This American journalist covers society Second Life on his New World Notes blog since the beginning of the universe. “Most long-term users have already spent thousands of dollars on virtual content that they do not want to give up,” he adds.
On arrival Second Life, we “beach” on a not really deserted island, where giant panels present various tutorials on how to evolve in the universe, and residents welcome new ones. A ride in a bat, then in a canoe, allows you to experiment with means of transport. You can then personalize your avatar or discover one of the many spaces open to all.
Second Life is a huge world and a few hours is barely enough to scratch the surface. There are many clubs, cafes and shops, art galleries, places to get free items and areas for role-playing games; but also a picturesque French village; an autism resource center; international or LGBTQ + community spaces; or even a post-apocalyptic community. Residents can be part of a group of users with a common goal: parties, live concerts, reader forums … Or more “adult” concerns.
Because sex quickly seems to be ubiquitous, which was especially said The world in a report published in 2016. “The fact that Second Life is aimed at adults and the fact that there are very few restrictions on sexual content has allowed the virtual sex market to flourish. This, and calling it ‘other life’, invites people to experiment with activities they might not try in real life, ”notes Wagner James Au. Or as Ayako Takahashi puts it more bluntly, “on the surface Second Life can quickly appear to be on the edge of an outdoor brothel. But when you dig, you come across grains of gold, whether it be places or people. »
Fashion and live music
These people, who are they? “Users are mostly in their thirties, or even older, given the age of the platform,” notes Wagner James Au. There is almost equality among active users, which is rare for a metaverse – it’s more like 70% men elsewhere. American users are not necessarily a majority – there is a strong presence of users in the EU and in Brazil and Japan. These residents participate in a variety of activities.
“When I started, we would say that Second Life looking for himself, it was a bit of a mess. But very quickly, talented creators shaped the universe, says Ayako Takahashui. Fashion fills a lot, but there are no currents like in real life. Everyone has their own vision, their own universe. Wagner James Au confirms a change in the economy and culture of the meta-verse: “Fashion shows and shopping events are very popular along with live music and other entertainment. »
And some make a living from it. “1600 people earn more than 10,000 US dollars a year thanks to their content Second Life, remembers Wagner James Au. Between 200 and 500 people earn enough to live on – that’s more than the number of Linden Lab employees! A payment system developed by the company, Tillia Pay, makes it possible to secure transactions between users, and to convert the local currency, the Linden dollar, into real money. Linden Lab charges a commission and also offers a Premium membership with exclusive perks, such as regular income.
“We knew it would be great”
Among residents in Second Lifethe big messages on the metaverse were met “with entertained contempt, but also a kind of ‘we were there first and we knew it was going to be huge’ validation,” says Wagner James Au. 20 minutes. The funny thing is that we say the same thing about these new platforms that we said about Second Life 20 years ago. The contempt is mostly directed at Zuckerberg and the others who seem to want to exploit this space for negative purposes. »
On January 12, it was announced that the creator, Philip Rosedale, was returning as a “strategic advisor”. His company dedicated to virtual reality, High Fidelity, will invest in Linden Lab, financially and with computer patents. According to the specialized media The edge, two of these patents relate in particular to community moderation in a decentralized environment. A topic of particular interest to future actors of the metaverse, while moderation of social networks has never been so discussed. Wagner James Au asked Rosedale about these issues. The creator of Second Life who criticizes the monetization practiced by the major social networks and believes that we “can absolutely create a virtual world where people do not hurt each other …”
Ayako Takahashi says she is curious. “It does not interest us too much, Facebook’s and other companies’ metavers become places of consumption. But I’m waiting to see what happens – I would say Second Life made its hole. For Wagner James Au, if he’s not sure Second Life “wanting to make the radical changes needed to compete with the leaders of the metaverset”, however, this universe could be “the standard by which the new platforms will be compared – especially in terms of creators’ income compared to those of the metaverset companies” .