#34: Ebbe Altberg, CEO of Linden Lab, on Second Life insights on virtual world identity, economies, governance, culture, the Metaverse, and making it easier to build & discover experiences

Ebbe Altberg CEO of Linden Lab, talks about how Second Life is the currently the biggest and most successful virtual world. He shares all types of insights that he’s gained over the years when it comes to identity, in-world economies, governance and culture.

He also talks a bit about Second Life’s support for the Oculus Rift, with their Second Life Project Oculus Rift Viewer
ebbe-altbergThe consumer virtual reality movement has added a lot of renewed interest and vitality in the idea of virtual worlds and the Metaverse. Ebbe is more cautious in the concept of interconnected, but independent virtual worlds because he sees that there are a lot of challenges with making the overall experience a lot easier and better first.

He sees some of the biggest open problems with virtual worlds are:

  • having a stable economy
  • easy communication tools
  • social tools to stay connected
  • having great building tools
  • being able to easily enhance or modify your world
  • having discovery mechanisms to find the experiences and communities that will resonate with you.

He sees that everything has to become easier before thinking about what data and information needs to be available to be exchanged with other systems.

He also talks about how the mouse and keyboard are not necessarily the best input devices, and that Linden Lab was investigating other input devices. This interview was at SVVRCon and since that time, Ebbe Altberg has revealed that Linden Lab is looking to rewrite Second Life from scratch to address to make it better suited for virtual reality.

Ebbe told The Next Web that “With technology, market interest, hardware and software available, now is the time to give it another big shot. We have the experience to do it more than anyone else… We’re not going to constrain ourselves with backwards compatibility.”

Linden Lab certainly has a lot of lessons learned over the years for running a virtual world, and it’ll be interesting to watch to see if they’re able to innovate and adapt to all of the latest virtual reality technology and new input devices.

Reddit discussion here.


  • 0:00 – Key pioneer of virtual world
  • 0:41 – Immersive VR in Second Life. There’s a plug-in. Pushing for a real sense of presence. Want other device access with phone, tablet and PC.
  • 2:04 – Insights from SVVR. Not a lot of new discoveries because they’re doing it everyday. PR peak in 2006-2008. Renewed energy in the space. Lots of technological innovation since then. Hoping for more acceleration in this space
  • 3:27 – Experiences within Second Life as Ebbe Linden.
  • 4:27 – Experiences with VR within Second Life. Lots of work to change the user interface beyond the keyboard and mouse. New input methods needed.
  • 5:27 – Identity insights in identity. Should be up to the user depending on the context. Has an anonymous alt to be treated less as a Linden employee. Big part is being able to be someone else.
  • 6:26 – Closed aspects and walled garden? It belongs to the user and can be imported elsewhere. Haven’t figured out how to make it mass market. Lots of problems to solve. Compatibility and getting to work for lots of people first before thinking about data portability. Make it more approachable and easier to use for more people first.
  • 8:18 – Economy within Second Life. Hundreds of millions of dollars in GDP. Mostly of people selling goods to each other. Non-trivial effort to have a stable economy and have exchanges around the world. People depend upon Second Life as their livelihood.
  • 9:46 – Rules, laws and governance within Second Life. Have rules & laws just like the real world. Try to be as open as possible and not limit people from expressing themselves. Proud of how open and free Second Life is.
  • 11:02 – Code as law and then how to enforce violations beyond that. Can watch what’s happening, but with freedom comes responsibility. Harassment, causing harm, being mean spirited. How do you enable all the good, but prevent the bad. With openness comes the risk that people will abuse their freedoms, but have gotten good at managing that balance. Give people control of the environment within their in.
  • 12:42 – Create artifacts and the range of different cultures from different communities, experiences. Arts, games, role playing fantasies as vampires, be in a different time and place, experience world through different set of eyes. It’s part of the freedom and diversity of experiences within Second Life.
  • 13:45 – The metaverse and Second Life’s connection to that. Interconnected, but independent worlds should come later. First make it easy before make it interconnected. Then talk about what data and information should be interchangeable.
  • 15:56 – Potential of VR is unbounded. Go anywhere, be anywhere with anyone. Second Life is on the leading edge, and they’re way early. Networking, devices and software is getting there, and it’ll be an interesting journey.
  • 16:48 – Biggest open problems in virtual worlds: economy, communication tools, social tools, great building tools, enhance and modify world, discovery mechanisms. Everything has to become easier. Needs to get easier to get in, navigate, communicate, find relevant experiences. Still earlier and geeky, and hasn’t crossed the chasm to reach early majority. Ease of use is the biggest issue to solve.

Theme music: “Fatality” by Tigoolio

UPDATE: A Linden Lab press rep reached out and shared this statement about their future plans

Linden Lab is working on a next generation virtual world that will be in the spirit of Second Life, an open world where users have incredible power to create anything they can imagine and content creators are king. This is a significant focus for Linden Lab, and we are actively hiring to help with this ambitious effort. We believe that there is a massive opportunity ahead to carry on the spirit of Second Life while leveraging the significant technological advancements that have occurred since its creation, as well as our unparalleled experience as the provider of the most successful user-created virtual world ever.

The next generation virtual world will go far beyond what is possible with Second Life, and we don’t want to constrain our development by setting backward compatibility with Second Life as an absolute requirement from the start. That doesn’t mean you necessarily won’t be able to bring parts of your Second Life over, just that our priority in building the next generation platform is to create an incredible experience and enable stunningly high-quality creativity, rather than ensuring that everything could work seamlessly with everything created over Second Life’s 11 year history.

Does this mean we’re giving up on Second Life? Absolutely not. It is thanks to the Second Life community that our virtual world today is without question the best there is, and after 11 years we certainly have no intention of abandoning our users nor the virtual world they continually fill with their astounding creativity. Second Life has many years ahead of it, and in addition to improvements and new developments specifically for Second Life, we think that much of the work we do for the next generation project will also be beneficial for Second Life.

It’s still very early days for this new project, and as we forge ahead in creating the next generation virtual world, we’ll share as much as we can.

If we had one message to share with Second Life users about this new project at this point, it would be: don’t panic, get excited! Again, Second Life isn’t going away, nor are we ceasing our work to improve it. But, we’re also working on something that we think will truly fulfill the promise of virtual worlds that few people understand as well as Second Life users.