Philip Rosedale Talks Building Virtual Worlds

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Philip Rosedale Talks Building Virtual Worlds
April 24, 2019

Here's a great podcast interview of Philip Rosedale on the podcast show Stayin' Alive in Technologyhosted by Melinda Byerley, former Head of Marketplaces at Linden Lab, and known in SL as Pink Linden. And because she is a Linden vet, this is a much more substantial, in-depth interview, and brings up some points I've not heard Philip discuss before. (Streamable above.) It's also an important companion piece to the recent bombshell video where Philip announced scaling back High Fidelity content and making it more desktop client-focused.

 

Byerley is now founder of Timeshare CMO, a data marketing firm where Catherine Smith, another Linden Lab veteran, also works. "It's a recap of Philip's history, his thoughts on the 3D web and the future of VR," Catherine told me, when sending over the podcast. "What he's learned over the years. It was very Philip and made me laugh and smile and miss working for him!" So this is an interview with the founder of Linden Lab, speaking with a Linden, which was promoted by a Linden, and is now being blogged by a Linden. 

 

Here's the key highlights -- my favorite being what he says about "the 3D web" as a term -- with my biggest point of contention being what he says about the original goal with Second Life:

 

- What he first wanted to be when we grew up (spoiler: astronaut)

 

- Majoring physics as opposed to computer programming, and how that influenced Second Life, which started by simulating waves on water between multiple servers.

 

- How creating virtual worlds became his life's calling: A desire to simulate a world that were "equally real and detailed in comparison to the real world".

 

- Why no one else has attempted this goal. Online games simplify experience, but a high complicated virtual world does not: "It's tough to say what a new world is for... I still think that's one of the challenges of virtual worlds." 

 

- How the desire for simplification is essential to human consciousness, and how that fuels the desire for simplified, predictable games. "Frankly, real life, being what it is... is a little more stressful than we like."

 

- The very first origins of Second Life "which followed a Biblical creation cycle" and was known as LindenWorld, then gradually emerged to include human avatars and the "aha" moment of dynamic, collaborative, user-created content. 

 

- User-generated content and Minecraft vs. Second Life/High Fidelity. "People always say to me: 'We just gotta do Minecraft the size of the planet', and I look at them and say, 'How much do you use Minecraft?... There's something limiting about these colored cubes where adults won't use them."

 

- The unique diversity of the Linden Lab workforce in terms of race and gender and background. Philip relates that to the diversity of the user base of Second Life. "If you run into someone [in SL] that's demographically identical to you, there's not much to be learned... we would be best served as being as diverse a company as we think our users would be."

 

- The use of Second Life by the disabled, as featured in this documentary short.

 

- Linden Lab's early non-hierarchal management system and its pros and cons. 

 

- What he's learned about creating virtual worlds over the last two+ decades: "If you think you've come up with the best possible world, you probably haven't."

 

- Philip's thoughts on building the 3D web, and why calling virtual worlds "the 3D web" is the wrong terminology. "I'm a little down on 'the 3D web'... I have as yet never seen a way to make a web page into a 3D thing that I thought was useful for a human." He argues instead that we will one day consume 2D content within a virtual world.  

 

- The ultimate goal of social virtual reality: "I believe that VR, voice, sound, and headsets, done correctly in 3D worlds... will enable two people that are 2000 miles apart, will be able to stand face to face, make eye contact, hug, in a way that is identical as standing face to face [IRL]."

 

- Best advice he's gotten over the years: While at Linden Lab, when Philip fretted about having executives all over the world, famed Silicon Valley executive coach Bill Campbell told him: "Do you want executives all over the world? Then just make it work." Another piece of advice, especially for young entrepreneurs: "Despite all this data, you still have to follow your heart. Are you working on something that's genuinely interesting?" He goes on to talk about the importance of emotional intelligence when running companies.

 

Philip's point about "3D web" is really well taken, and it's surprising how often that's the goal of many virtual world developers. But I'm a bit sad that he talks so much about how in the beginning, the focus was on making Second Life a living, breathing world with a simulated ecosystem and realistic ocean, sun and moon cycles, and so on. That's still a great, exciting, goal -- that both Second Life and High Fidelity, which now look, feel, and operate far more like interconnected 3D chat rooms, rather than dynamic, simulated worlds, have moved far away from. You can make the case that Minecraft back in its heyday and now Dual Universe are much more genuine heirs to that vision.

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