The Metaverse 'Is Not For Everybody, And Maybe It's Never For Everybody'

Philip Rosedale
Founder of High Fidelity, Inc. and Linden Lab

People can dream big. In the process, lessons should be learned. While people can learn something new by seeing and hearing others' experiences, there are lessons that cannot be learned.

And those lessons are the experiences themselves, experienced by those who have dealt with it in person.

Philip Rosedale is a name that may not fill in so many headline news. But in the era where tech companies are trying to create what it's called the "metaverse," Rosedale's name should come up somewhere on the top.

After all, he is the founder of Linden Lab, the company that created Second Life, a digital world considered by many as the "proto-metaverse."

When Mark Zuckerberg announced a change of name from Facebook to Meta, as his company ambitiously plans to build the metaverse, the term quickly became a trending and highly debated topic.

Many people began wondering what is this metaverse and what will it become.

With many tech companies started racing to create it, Rosedale thinks that this may not be such a great idea.

Philip Rosedale
"There are really two things that are external to the technology development itself that have happened recently."

"One is obviously COVID, where there has been the worry that maybe we would have to shift some social and entertainment activities online. I think there's a lot of the big companies trying to figure out how they can make some money from that. And then the other one is simply Facebook's claim that it's an important thing and renaming themselves to try to align with it."

When Meta and others are in pursuit of the metaverse, Rosedale is seeing history repeating itself: a land rush, where companies and brands try to claim territory in the virtual world.

As the tech world speaks about the metaverse, and wonders how this virtual world can connect millions if not billions of people together, where they can work, play and socialize, Rosedale who evangelized the concept of an immersive virtual world through Second Life, and was the one who is considered among the earliest metaverse architect, has turned pessimistic.

While he was ambitious back in the days, this time, he is no longer confident that metaverse can be a huge hit.

He believes that the modern version of the metaverse will not amount to much of a success.

After all, there are reasons why Second Life met a road block in growth.

The original mission of the metaverse, was to "build an enormous space that was physically real so that you could wander forever," Rosedale said, adding that users could indulge in the immersive environment that they can see the sun and keep on walking.

"I had the vision that it had to be this gigantic, living space. It had to have a lot of people inside it together, they had to all be able to go everywhere — you could walk anywhere — and it had to have an economy so that the things people built, whatever the rules were, whatever the things they could build were, they’d have some way of buying and selling them from each other."

Among other reasons, this is why it is called the "metaverse."

The thing is, Rosedale thinks that most people are not yet comfortable engaging with new people, or engaging socially, in a multiplayer context online. What's more, the technologies that are meant to power the metaverse are yet to allow users to communicate with facial and body language, in a way that is anywhere near adequate.

Then, there is the fact that head-mounted displays that enable AR/VR aren't very comfortable. While using those head gear, users cannot use their phone and cannot type.

The next thing is content. When the metaverse is meant to be built by many companies and many developers, there has to be a way to put everything together where users can experience them all in one place. There needs to be a way to put a really large number of people together, inside a world that is buildable in parallel.

And to make that in the scale if the internet, this will not be an easy task.

Then, there is the economy, and more.

"If you have the alternative, to have your social life happen in the real world, I think a great majority of people make that choice, and it's a binary choice," he said. "They don't split their social life partly between the real world and partly online. I think that's the reason why we don't see the breakout yet, and nothing that Facebook has said or demonstrated changes what I just said."

"It's interesting to note that Second Life is, in my opinion, still the largest and the closest thing to a metaverse that we have as it relates to grown-ups. The environments that are used by kids, such as Roblox, are very interesting as well but very different in terms of what they offer [...] Second Life didn't grow beyond about a million people. It's been growing more with COVID, but as you say, it didn't break out, it didn't become a billion people. And the hope that Facebook has is that there'll be a billion people using a metaverse."

He added that:

"I think what we've learned — and somewhat with some sadness given the work that I've done, I would have to agree — is that it's not for everybody and maybe it's never for everybody."

"There still arises this weighty question of what is it that's going to cause, you know, normal people, a lot of the time, to be willing to go into these online spaces?" Rosedale went on to say what he thinks."We still haven't answered that question.”

While he believes that the time is not yet right for the metaverse, Rosedale still sees a lot of potential in virtual worlds.

Rosedale has hopes.

If done right, Rosedale thinks that the modern-version of the metaverse should best become virtual public spaces.

"You might be able to create a public space that could be a positive thing for people, where you could go and make new friends, where you could cry out about injustice," he said. "I think that we're just not there on some of the communication components that would be needed to make it comfortable."

He envisions that the modern metaverse should embrace public freedom, and that it should not be centralized in which any company controls its identity and the way things are monetized.

"We're all watching this movie with Facebook in 2D," Rosedale said.