Second Life is not so much a game as it is a virtual world. Unlike in other online role-playing games, the goal in Second Life isn't to create a character and adventure; rather, it's to participate in a vibrant virtual world where the users have the freedom and power to determine reality. That may sound confusing, but imagine the virtual world of The Matrix, and you'll get an inkling of what Second Life is about. In Second Life, users build and shape the world, developing their own activities, games, and adventures. And though Second Life has been out for almost a year, developer and publisher Linden Lab is ushering out the latest version of the game today.
Since it launched last June, Second Life has gone through a large amount of growth, according to Philip Rosedale, CEO of Linden Lab. The community has grown to approximately 10,000 users, many of whom engage in creating new content and objects for the game and then sell it on the virtual market. Rosedale says that they have recorded more than $200,000 in transactions. Users buy and sell everything, from objects such as clothes, player skins, guitars, and weapons, to virtual real estate. In Second Life, you can become a virtual Donald Trump, buying up land, developing it, and then turning around and selling it on the market. According to recent news reports, some prime beachfront property goes for as much as $550 an acre. That's cheap for the real world, but it's an eye-opener for the virtual world.
Version 1.4, which is being launched today, will introduce a number of new features, including the ability for users to create custom animations and the ability to stream music into the game. Since everything in the game is streamed from Linden Lab's servers, you have a huge amount of flexibility in creating new objects and sharing them with others. With the new animation system, you can use a third-party program to create motion-captured and other types of animation and then import them into the game. And the new streaming audio feature allows you to associate a song to land that you own. So if you create a nightclub, you can determine the music, and any players who enter your nightclub will hear it. The game will allow you to stream .ogg, .mp3, and other open music formats.
Linden Lab is also hosting a contest challenging players to create games. In one case, players used the in-game tools to build catapults to knock down walls. The catapults really work, thanks to the licensed Havok physics engine, so objects behave as they should. Another user created a boxing ring. Like in The Sims, objects in the game have an effect on your character. So when you don boxing gloves, your character picks up the animations and moves necessary to box properly. And you can control your punches, so some skill is involved in order to win a match.
The in-game design tools are fairly powerful, and users have created a huge variety of content, including automatic rifles and vehicles. Some users have created racing games that you can participate in, while others have created monsters to battle. While you can die in Second Life, the only penalty that is incurred is that you can only spawn at your home, so you run the risk of having to undertake a long journey to get back to where you died.
Second Life has an interesting pricing model. There's a one-time $9.95 fee in order to play the game, though if you're interested in owning and keeping land, you'll have to pay a monthly subscription. You must be at least 18 to play the game. The newest version of Second Life should be released today, and it'll be interesting to see how this virtual community continues to evolve and grow.