'Second Life' coming to mobile devices?

Can a mobile implementation of the popular virtual world work? It depends.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
2 min read

For years now, the popular virtual world, Second Life has been available only for PCs, Macs, and Linux machines.

There has always been talk about whether SL might ever make it onto consoles like the Xbox or PlayStation 3 and some scattered discussion about possible mobile phone implementations.

Last year, in fact, I saw a hack that allowed someone to access SL, albeit in a very, very superficial manner, on an iPhone.

But now, according to a press release I got Tuesday morning, a company called Vollee is planning on releasing technology that will make it possible to run Second Life on 3G handsets via Vollee's streaming media service.

I have to admit, I'm skeptical. Second Life is difficult to use, is very graphics intensive, and requires a huge amount of streaming data. To run it on a 3G network might work, I suppose, but it would depend entirely on that network staying up, staying high-speed, and on the device being capable of presenting the SL environment in a pleasing, useful manner.

Or not. I suppose it's also possible that someone could use Second Life on a handset and not need all the graphics. Essentially, it could be little more than a communications medium, allowing users to chat with their SL friends, to move around to various locations, and to do some small tasks. Would they be able to use the building tools? I doubt it.

Basically, this is a workaround. I haven't seen it, though, so I can't say for sure. But given the constraints that SL presents, I'm just not sure how well it translates, even onto a device with a big screen and a high-speed connection.

Still, it's noteworthy that this company is trying, and that it got someone from Linden Lab, the publisher of Second Life, to offer a quote for the release. That implies coordination between the two companies, and that always makes something like this more likely to have been thought out.

But only time will tell.

Update (5:19pm): I went over to the Game Developers Conference this afternoon and got a look at Vollee's mobile SL implementation. And I have to say, I was impressed.

While the mobile version won't allow users--at least at first--to conduct any kinds of transactions or to use the building tools, what they have got already is pretty cool.

Mostly, it's because what they've built is fairly smooth, and the look and feel is consistent with the original version, albeit much smaller.

But, for example, the graphics--say, when you're flying--look right, as it does when instant messaging with someone in-world or looking at your contacts list.

This is clearly the result of an actual partnership with Linden Lab rather than a do-it-yourself type of workaround, like the one I saw last year.

And while this is no substitute for a fully working version, it's certainly enough for what many SL users do on a daily basis.