Second Life’s annual GDP is $650 million.

As Facebook demonstrates its desire to become the metaverse, what will become of Second Life, the first of these universes on the web? The product manager looks back at his failures…and his successes.

J.D.N. How do you view the recent public and media interest in the metaverse, a science fiction term used to describe a fictional virtual world?

Anya Kanevsky leads the product division at Second Life. © Second Life

Anya Kanevsky. It’s interesting to note this interest in the metaverse since the announcements by Epic Games and Facebook. Second Life was created 18 years ago. Hence, the platform serves as an introduction and reference on the subject. Many at the time believed that the metaverse would be the future of the Internet and that it would be possible to do just about anything on the web. This vision is now back in the conversation. The metaverse is a collection of connected virtual worlds. In a sense, Second Life is itself metaphysics. A place of life where, in the form of an avatar, you can walk in shopping centers, go to the beach, visit art galleries, etc. Second Life also has its own economy and currency, Linden Dollars.

What do you think of Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the metaverse?

Mark Zuckerberg is surrounded by a lot of smart collaborators, including a number of Linden Lab alumni. But I think they realized for themselves that the reputation that Facebook has gained over time may be an obstacle. This lack of trust in the company exists and there will have to be a number of trust-raising tools to allow those who want to explore these virtual worlds. But it is still too early to have a clear idea.

Under Second Life, we guarantee the privacy of our residents. For example, some appear as gay in Second Life, but we know that some may live in areas of the world where their sexual orientation may lead to imprisonment. So we are very vigilant on this data security issue. With a vast wealth of data in the hands of the digital giants, it will be essential to ensure that the privacy of users of these virtual worlds is protected.

Since the metaverse made headlines, Second Life is back in the news. Where are you today after the acquisition of Linden Lab in 2020 by an investment firm?

Second Life works very well. Nearly 73 million people have created an account since its inception and less than a million of them connect to it at least once a month. We have 200,000 daily active users. The platform experienced a peak of activity during the pandemic crisis because many people felt the need to maintain social connections. As we gradually come out of this crisis, we are also seeing these people return to Second Life, even if they spent less time there.

How is Second Life’s vision different?

“In order for the metaverse to exist, it has to be created and managed by the people who live there”

Second Life is entirely owned by its users. We call them “residents” because they kind of live in this virtual world. All items in there were created by our residents and not by Linden Lab collaborators. We are simply playing the role of facilitator. This represents our view of the metaverse well. I don’t see how creating different games that are linked together could be similar to a metaverse. In my opinion, this is the content that companies create for users. In order for the metaverse to exist, it has to be created and managed by the people who live there.

In March 2020, Linden Lab sold its virtual reality platform Sansar to Wookey Technologies. Where are you developing your own virtual reality projects?

While a number of early adopters shared their enthusiasm with us, we also noticed resistance from some users. Not many were happy with the idea of ​​these fairly heavy VR headsets that require enough space in the house to be able to use them. If virtual reality allowed for an unparalleled immersive experience, we noticed that few of our residents were willing to wear these headphones for more than thirty minutes. So we plan to keep trying new things about virtual reality, but virtual reality isn’t the only possible future for Second Life.

Linden Lab’s other assets are called Tilia Pay. How important is this payment system to how Second Life works?

“Not everyone is necessarily interested in experiencing virtual worlds.”

Tilia makes it possible to guarantee payments among the residents of Second Life but also to convert Linden Dollars into real money. We make use of all necessary licenses that allow us to operate in each of the 50 states of the United States for its use. Second Life’s annual GDP, which accounts for all transactions, is approximately $650 million. This number gives an idea of ​​the volume of transactions executed. It is possible for example to buy virtual things such as clothes for his avatar, but also to acquire possessions. Users can also pay for services such as building or decorating a virtual home. Many of our residents recognize their avatars and therefore spend money on customizing them.

What role do you want to play in this creative economy?

In 2020, the creators of Second Life raised nearly $73 million. Many of them use the platform as a complete source or make it their main source of income. Today we are witnessing the birth of the brands born in Second Life. For example, you might see avatars wearing designer clothes or accessories.

How is Second Life paid? Is Linden Lab profitable?

Linden Lab is a unique company in Silicon Valley. Not only has our product been around for 18 years, but our company has also been profitable for a long time. In the past, our model was primarily based on the sale of land, which represented the majority of our sales. When the price of this land became too high, we looked for other sources of income. We charge a commission on all transactions made, which includes the sale of digital items and also the sale and purchase of Linden Dollars. Finally, we also offer a premium subscription that allows you to take advantage of exclusive benefits.

Second Life still reaches a relatively small audience to this day. Do you think you have the ability to expand your audience, as Facebook could have done privately?

To reach this broader audience, we’ll need to make Second Life accessible across all platforms and across different devices. The experience doesn’t have to be the same across all of these mediums. However, we have noticed over the years that the population as a whole is not necessarily open to having this immersive experience in a virtual world. Once the hype about the metaverse is behind us, I think we’ll notice that not everyone is necessarily interested in experiencing virtual worlds.

Anya Kanevsky heads the product division of Second Life, which is owned by the San Francisco-based American company Linden Lab. She is specifically responsible for the growth, economic balance, and management of Second Life’s virtual community.

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