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20 years later, Second Life is launching on mobile

Second Life mobile preview.

Remember Second Life? The virtual world launched on the desktop web back in 2003 with 3D avatars and spaces for various social activities. Believe it or not, it has been running continually this entire time—and now it’s coming to mobile for the first time.

In fact, this will be the first time that Second Life has expanded beyond the PC (across Windows, macOS, and Linux) in any form.

In a post to the virtual world’s community web forum, a community manager for Second Life developer Linden Lab shared a video with some details about the mobile version’s development, and announced that a beta version of the mobile app will launch sometime this year.

The video reveals that the app was built using Unity—in part to make for an easy path to releasing and maintaining the app on multiple platforms, including the iPhone, iPad, Android phones, and Android tablets. It also includes a few minutes of footage of Second Life‘s detailed character models and environments, with accompanying commentary by Linden Lab developers about bringing as much of the experience to mobile as possible.

A recent article in Game Developer about the announcement argues that the launch of a mobile version could breathe, well, a second life into Second Life. There’s reason to be skeptical that it’s going to greatly expand the audience for the virtual world, though; there are much more modern tries at the concept that has more recently come to be called “the metaverse.” Even those are struggling, though, and it’s unclear exactly what Second Life—which appears saddled with plenty of technical debt, among other challenges—would offer that the newer upstarts don’t.

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Linden Lab was working on a VR successor to Second Life, called Sansar, for years, but it ultimately stopped work on the project and sold it off. Sansar has hopped owners a couple of times, and its future remains uncertain.

Even though the app probably won’t fundamentally change Second Life‘s place in the market, it ought to be a welcome development for the virtual world’s surprisingly vibrant community of diehards.

As I wrote a few years ago, Second Life is still flush with both users and profit. The ambitions have been scaled down—it’s no longer aiming to become a “second Internet”—and the character of the community has shifted considerably, but it’s by no means the ghost town outsiders might expect. It’s niche, though, and a mobile app might not be enough to change that.

Listing image by Linden Lab