Emanuel Maiberg at Motherboard:
To an outsider, Second Life may look like a crappier version of World of Warcraft. It’s a vast digital space many people can log into with their virtual avatars, only instead of going on wild adventures, slaying dragons and collecting epic swords, it just seems like a bunch of people hanging out in bars, offices, galleries—normal places. That’s a fair assessment of Second Life, but what makes it special and lasting isn’t as apparent.
Yes, Second Life, which first launched in 2003, looks incredibly dated. Thirteen years is an eon in the technology business. There are massively multiplayer games that look prettier, bigger social networks that are better integrated to our daily routines, and video games that are far more fun to play. So why is it still hanging around?
The short answer is that there’s nothing else quite like it. Second Life was never just one of these things. It was a unique combination of all of the above—plus some weird sex stuff—that no other company has managed to displace. Even Second Life’s developer Linden Lab is hesitant to compete with it.
Second Life is still a thing because despite its age and the easy jokes, it owns an entire market it invented itself.
That last point is key. Back nine years ago when we though “virtual worlds” might be bigger than the World Wide Web, we thought there would be many varieties of virtual world, with Second Life just one of them.
That was wrong. There is no such thing as “virtual worlds.” There is only Second Life. It is unique. It’s similar to a social network, multiplayer online game, virtual reality, augmented reality, user-generated content site like YouTube, online marketplace, and sex fetish site. But it is not any of those things. Nothing else is like Second Life, and Second Life is like nothing else.