Game Review - Second Life

Genre: MMORPG/sim
Format: Download
Developer: Linden Lab
Publisher: Linden Lab
Minimum System Requirements: Mac OS X v10.3.8, 1GHz G4, 512MB RAM, Nvidia GeForce 2 or ATI Radeon 9000 graphics card, Broadband (DSL/Cable/LAN)
Review Computer: 1GHz PowerPC G4, 1.25GB RAM, 128MB ATI Radeon 9000, Mac OS X v10.4.3
Network Feature: Required
Price: Free - First Basic; $9.95 - Additional Basic; $9.95/month or $72.00/annual - Premium
ESRB Rating: N/A
Availability: Now
Version Reviewed:
Official Website:

Second Life is a game that is created and maintained by the players—from the towns and buildings people live and shop in, to the games that can be played, to how your character looks and acts, to almost every other aspect. Since it's an online game, there's plenty of interactions with other people—from starting and joining groups to getting married. With the possibility of earning real money, will Second Life be the life you're looking for?

A big deal is made about being able to create your own character model, clothes, animations and items, and purchase land (which requires the Premium account) and modify it to your heart's content by changing the landscape and adding buildings. However, if you want to do any of this yourself, it requires you have both the talent and programs already at hand. Fortunately, Second Life has an excellent built-in 3d modeling editor which enables you to create items in the game either by yourself or with others, and it allows you to have detailed control over how your character looks. However, if you want to design the item's texture, then you'll need a graphics program, and if you want to make custom gestures for your character, then you'll need Poser, and if you want your item to do something then you'll need to know how to program. In other words, if you have no artistic or programming ability, then you can kiss your chances of modifying Second Life good-bye. While it's possible to create almost anything with enough time and effort, if you don't have the skills or can't find people to work under your direction, it won't be built. Let's say I want to buy an island and have a simulation of the American colonies where people could go and experience what it was like when we had to do everything by hand (educational and ironic at the same time). I could create a detailed guide on how to do this and what would be needed, but since I have no graphical abilities and am not an expert in programming, the chance of me making anything like this is zero. This is the unfortunate reality of Second Life.

Second Life

Second Life, being created and maintained by the players, has other downsides too. One, is the lack of cohesiveness and appearance of the land that I observed while flying over it (everyone gets this ability). You can have a Japanese clothing store next to a mountain with a waterfall falling over an elaborate structure next to someone's house next to a shooting game. Any order is imposed by landowners who rent land, and only if they want to. Basically, Second Life is a cluttered ugly mess with no rhyme or reason to anything, which doesn't exactly inspire me to want to come back.

Second Life

There's always the option of buying pre-made items or even paying someone to make items to your specifications, but that requires money, and how that's earned is another sore point with me. While you get 50 Linden (game currency) a week for the Basic account and 500 Linden a week for the Premium account, it won't be enough to play with. So, how do you earn money? By creating content that others will buy. What if you aren't able to make content due to lack of talent or desire? Then you can purchase Lindens by using real money by going through third-party websites or through Linden Lab. While buying game money for real money is accepted and encouraged for Second Life as well as not being expensive, it still grates me. It seems to me that a large part of the Second Life economy involves people buying Lindens with real money so they can buy items in Second Life so the folks who make those items can then sell their Lindens and get real money. While this is a great system for those folks who can or want to participate in it, I still would like there to be a reliable way for folks who have other skills to be able to earn game money without buying it with real money.

Second Life

The money issue is most important if you want to own land and build on it. Not only does the right to own land require a Premium account, but the land itself costs money as well as there being a monthly fee if you own more than 512 square meters, and all of this is paid in real money. Uploading textures, sounds, and animation costs 10 Linden each, so having a large piece of land with several custom designs can be quite expensive. Fortunately you do get compensation based on how many people spend time on your land and how long they stay there, so, if you make something popular and advertise, it's possible to break even or even earn money. Sure, that's how it works in the real world, but why must Second Life be like it? If a person is creating content for Second Life, I would think this would be valued enough to not have to go through hoops or spend real money to keep it around.

Not that there are no events going on. The handy find feature lets you quickly find what interests you, and the teleport feature gets you reasonably close. It would be great if one could search for an entire month at a time since searching day by day is tedious. However, I am a bit disappointed by the lack of variety in the events offered. For a game that promises such freedom, having so many sales, arcade games, gambling and bar advertisements are pretty dull. I think that a lot of what's available isn't advertised in the event section, so it would be great to have a list of all of the places of interest and groups Second Life has to better get a feel for what's available. Being able to search everything Second Life has to offer is great, but that assumes I know what I'm looking for. Furthermore, even after browsing the map and finding what I thought was an event at a place called Fairy Garden, it turned out to be nothing more than some trees and drums and lots and lots of shops. Somehow, I thought it would have been an actual event with other people, but I haven't bumped into too many of those.

Second Life

If the gameplay weren't enough to turn me away from Second Life, the graphics, performance and interface do a darn good job of making it difficult to play. Textures and items take several minutes to load—even with my DHL connection—and I frequently run into buildings before I can see them. I have to wait a couple of minutes after I walk forward a few yards just to be sure I can see everything. The graphics are okay and nothing demanding, so I would think the performance would be better. Yet I've tweaked the settings based on the recommendations from other players, and the frame rate still remains low and jerky. The lag makes doing anything beyond moving around and talking to be too much of a hassle. The interface can also be sluggish at times and is a pain to work with. There are more options to make and edit 3d models then there are to make the interface more to your liking. For example, if you want to use one of the built-in gestures or animations, you have to open the inventory, find what you want and right-click and make it active, and then you can type the name (such as /clap) or use the menu to use it or you can attach it to a keystroke. Interacting with objects requires you to right-click to bring up a circle with buttons that lets you touch it or buy something or rate it or edit it or a variety of other options depending on what you're interacting with. Even moving around is a hassle since there are no keystrokes for rotating or sliding; you have to use the little control window, and the same thing for the camera. It's just that Second Life doesn't feel like a game, but more like a 3d modeling application, and there's no way (as far as I can tell) to modify the interface to your liking.

Second Life is an interesting concept, and if you're able to add content to it and sell Linden dollars for real money, and if you like the emphasis on socializing, then it'll be a good game for you. If you're willing to spend real money or find some other way to earn Linden money so you can get things in the game to fully experience what is possible, then you might like Second Life, too. If you're willing to invest the time and effort and money it's possible to do amazing things in Second Life that can't be done in any other online game. Because the possibilities are so vast, I wanted to like and enjoy Second Life, but, in the end, the many negatives turned me against trying to make a place in the game for myself.

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You wrote ‘So, how do you earn money? By creating content that others will buy. What if you aren’t able to make content due to lack of talent or desire?’

Well, there is a weekly stipend of L$50 which you derided, but is enough to buy a lot. There are many free items for sale or costing L$1. Or you could make money hosting, being a DJ or even ‘camping’ and I know of one character that has made USD$80 from that alone.

Recently, part of the BBC TV ‘Newsnight’ programme was broadcast live from Second Life and I was able to chat with BBC journalist Paul Mason in Second Life after the show but what is this compared to building ‘a simulation of the American colonies where people could go and experience what it was like’ ?

Many people say that the only limit in Second Life is your imagination, perhaps this is where you went wrong.

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