Where Did Linden Lab Go Wrong With Second Life?

Where Did Linden Lab Go Wrong With Second Life? (Comment of the Week)

Pictured: Official 2009 commercial for Second Life which very briefly shows the in-world creation tools in the background only once — and doesn’t mention them at all in the captions

Reader “Pulsar” posted a comment last week that touches on one of Silicon Valley’s greatest mysteries that fascinates me to this day: How did Second Life, which received massive mainstream media coverage from 2006-2008, even showing up in several popular TV shows and movies, still steadfastly refuse to grow much beyond its existing user base of some 600,000? Pulsar’s answer:


Second Life official ad YouTube 2009

[Second Life] was originally meant to render simple cartoonish avatars and basic but tweakable primitives with which you could create anything.

But was that bad? A game doesn’t need an awesome graphic to become popular and can be fun even if made just by cubes (you know, Minecraft).

However, then Linden Lab took a different path and targeted a different kind of people. They hammered new features into SL (sculpt, mesh…), [but] they failed at turning SL into a conference tool. They pleased the niche who uses SL as a doll-dressing game or as a porn simulator, who is happy to see every detailed bit up to skin pores. So SL has became prettier, but the added complexity distanced the crowd who enjoys construction sandbox games.

Coincidentally, it was May 2009 when Minecraft has been released and later took off; SL had started its decline around that time.

It almost feel like Linden Lab missed a train by following those marketing ideas, instead of focusing on the construction game… and they missed it again in 2017 with Sansar, that among many other issues, it started serious a bit like a VR museum experience; while the most successful VR social game so far, VRChat, [has] a weird, funny, anime crowd – and although someone found a few more serious uses for it later, VRChat remains a crazy, colorful anime crowd.

Roblox, it’s worth noting, also launched in 2006 at the peak of Second Life’s media hype, and look what happened there.

You can see what Pulsar means by “SL as a doll-dressing game” in the official ad for Second Life above, which scarce mentions or even depicts the user-creation tools. I think this focus contributed to a negative feedback loop, since it put Second Life in implicit competition with The Sims and social games popular on Facebook at the time — both of which were much easier to install and play than SL. Whereas if SL was marketed as a sandbox construction game with the chance to make real money — basically the approach Roblox took — we would have attracted a more tech-savvy consumer who’d be more patient with the world’s daunting user interface and hardware requirements.

Then again, marketing is only part of the problem. More later. (But seeing as they’ve basically been writing about this since 2009, I bet you already knew that.)

Comment lightly tweaked for clarity. 

Have a great week from all of us at Zoha Islands Fruit Islands/Eden