Second Life Beat ‘Metaverse’ Projects to The Punch

Second Life is an enduring virtual world by Linden Lab, and people should pay attention to the future of this 20-year-old ‘metaverse.’

portal tunnel in second life

The world’s biggest tech giants are betting on the metaverse. Meta (once Facebook) envisions a future of virtual and augmented reality for both work and play. Microsoft recently acquired Activision Blizzard and its monumental amount of IP, describing this as part of its strategy for creating the “building blocks of the metaverse.” Many have pointed out that no tech giant has delivered a metaverse in any meaningful sense of the word. However, the core ideas of the modern-day metaverse push may have been realized in Linden Lab’s Second Life project, which is currently seeing a resurgence.

When people refer to the “metaverse,” they generally tend to be talking about connected, virtual 3D worlds. Arguably, previous products and games have already demonstrated the concepts and virtual activities that companies like Meta want fans to be excited about: games, 3D creation, virtual gatherings, virtual currencies, and so on. But no other company has done it quite like Linden Lab with Second Life.

How Second Life Already Built a ‘Metaverse’

doll house world second life

Linden Lab’s Second Life has been operating since 2003, at times reporting millions of active users in self-made virtual worlds complete with property sales, a market of virtual goods, and a functioning economy that self-reported being worth around $500 million in GDP around 2007, according to Time. Some Second Life users tried to earn a living, others expressed alter-egos, in some cases they held virtual weddings, built dream homes, and followed the title by living second lives.


Second Life is essentially an example of a metaverse with a centralized authority. While Second Life wasn’t intended to change real lives, it still demonstrates many of the concepts present in Meta’s idea for the metaverse, among others. Second Life has built an enduring community of millions who are “living” together in virtual spaces.

Second Life founder Philip Rosedale returned to the project after it saw a resurgence during the COVID-19 pandemic. He told CNET that the metaverse may have its place in the world, but the adoption of VR is a separate issue. Rosedale believes consumers probably won’t want to be “blindfolded” with a VR headset, and this seems to draw from Linden Lab’s experience with Project Sansar.

Linden Lab’s Sansar Was Ahead of Its Time

people together in sansar

In 2014, while Oculus was bought by Facebook as it tweaked its Oculus Rift headset, Linden Lab was announcing a next-generation virtual world known as Project Sansar (later named Sansar). It was a major project endorsed by the late Ebbe Altberg, who had then been CEO of Linden Lab for only four months. Altberg wanted to simplify “VR experience creation,” according to the press release announcing a content creator test in 2015, developing a creative virtual world that the public got access to in 2017.

One popular location in Sansar, opened in 2018, was Aech’s Garage from the Ready Player One movie adaptation. Linden Lab’s idea of what VR platforms could be felt distinctly more playful and realistic than Meta or other tech giants suggest today. However, they were also just as forward-thinking. In mid-2019, Sansar partnered with Monstercat, a Canadian electronic music label, to bring live performances to the platform – akin to Fortnite‘s Marshmello concert earlier that year.


Despite initial excitement, hype around consumer VR tech cooled off in the late 2010s. To this day, VR adoption is slow-going, though experts have previously predicted that millions will use VR headsets by 2025. Sansar was arguably ahead of its time, and Linden Lab must have thought so at the time. It sold Sansar to Wookey Projects in 2020 and refocused on Second Life.

While Second Life might not represent the broader vision of the modern metaverse, it was arguably the closest thing at an earlier time. One of Linden Lab’s current projects, the Tilia Pay system, is designed to support economies in virtual worlds, suggesting Linden Lab is still interested in developments outside Second Life. At any rate, with decades of experience under its belt, it will be worth paying attention to Linden Lab’s journey, and where it is headed to next.

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