The first time I played Second Life I saw someone flying down the street naked over an impromptu group of strangers engaged in a poetry reading session right in the middle of a digital replica of Times Square. It was at once shockingly terrifying but acutely beautiful. That mixture was at the core of what Second Life truly was on a surface level for most that tried it, but underneath all that was a thriving community that existed entirely digitally.
It was ahead of its time in many ways, establishing one of the first widely accessed and engaging social virtual worlds that millions of people from all across the planet would visit and enjoy. While it may have been called Second Life, for many it became their primary existence. They’d go to work in Second Life, hang out with friends in Second Life, and other than the need to eat and sleep in the real world, they’d more or less live inside Second Life.
VR doesn’t have anything like that yet. We’re not quite at Ready Player One Oasis levels of immersion and addiction, but the groundwork is established to take us there. The ambitions may not be that high, publicly speaking, for new social VR application Sinespace, but the potential for such ambitions are certainly there.
We recently got the chance to talk with Adam Frisby, co-founder and Chief Product Officer for Sinespace, about their VR app and the name that it’s made for itself. The UK-based company quietly launched in 2017 and has since gone on to be immediately generate revenue for not only the company itself, but for users as well. He’s describing Sinespace as a “virtual world platform built for developers” and it shows.
They’re currently sitting at approximately 10,000 monthly active users across all Unity-enabled devices (that means PC, Mac, Linux, browsers, and viewing capabilities on mobile) with about 10% of those users being in VR, primarily Rift and Vive. Sinespace is mostly a third-person experience, but if you’re in VR, the view shifts to first-person.
That isn’t a lot of VR users right now, but it still puts them just below VRChat and Rec Room in terms of sheer reach and size. Considering they’ve barely made a peep in North America and aren’t even on Steam yet, that’s pretty impressive.
But most importantly is that the business is making money for itself and its users already. On average, a user currently spends about $17 per month in Sinespace. That’s a lot more than the $0 people spend in Rec Room at the moment, for example. And of all users that have returned to the app after trying it for the first time, they typically average just over two hours per day inside Sinespace.
Frisby and his team are no stranger to creating social, virtual worlds. Not only has he been building those sorts of frameworks for over 20 years on his own, but he actually built two businesses inside of Second Life itself several years ago that earned over seven figures each.
“We started out by aiming to offer what you can do in Second Life as our base feature set, then adding form there,” explained Frisby during the interview.
All of the content you see inside of Sinespace is more than likely created by a user. On top of that, all of that content that developers spend hours making isn’t locked to just Sinespace. It can be used in engines like Unreal and Unity as well — they don’t force people to sign any exclusivity agreements or rights waivers to the content. They’ve just got a straight-forward 70/30 split on all revenue with 70% going to creators and only 30% going to Sinespace, the company also makes money by selling in-game currency (Gold) to users. But the real meat of it all is the internal user-to-user economy.
Currently there are over 2,500 virtual goods for sale that range from clothing and animations for characters all the way up to vehicles and entire buildings. This is how Second Life started cultivating its economy and Sinespace is following a similar path. According to company representatives, the top creators are already earning hundreds of dollars per month in sales and that’s expected to continue growing as the user base expands.
They’re also partnering with LA-based company Image Metrics for a new webcam-powered facial animation program (shown below) that will mirror a user’s facial movements onto the in-game avatar. Obviously this feature is only for non-VR users, but it’s remarkable to think about the applications once eye-tracking becomes more ubiquitous. Image Metrics is the same company that worked on character effects for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, as well as AAA video games like Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto. Additional features are in the pipeline as well, such as full VR creation support via Archmatix and more.
I’ve written about VR apps like MetaWorld or OrbusVR, stuff like High Fidelity and VRChat already exist, Sansar is on its way (from the actual creators of Second Life itself, Linden Lab) and there are countless other VR apps and social MMOs out there. But what few of those do very well currently that Sinespace has made a focus from day one is monetization.
When I say monetization I don’t just mean making money off of users as a company, but fostering an in-game economy that’s powered by users directly via user-to-user sales. That is to say that content creators inside Sinespace can create things that only exist in the digital world and then immediately profit off of those creations with real world dollars.
That’s what has allowed Second Life to have such staying power and Sansar is well on its way as well, but Sinespace feels uniquely positioned to make a run at making it happen as well. Also, it sort of goes without saying, but I think it’s clear that in terms of visual fidelity Sinespace just looks better than any of its competitors as well.
Currently Sinespace is only supports high-end PC VR headsets, but the team is “tinkering” with the idea of adding support for mobile headsets like the Go, Gear VR, Daydream, and others as well.
What do you think of Sinespace? If you want to give it a try, you can download the app here or read more about it on the official website. Let us know what you think down in the comments below!