Roblox vs Second Life - Where one thrived while the other stagnated

And can mobile save the latter?

Roblox vs Second Life - Where one thrived while the other stagnated
  • With Second Life making its way to mobile, we wonder if it can still make a mark
  • It currently has huge competition from existing market dominator Roblox
  • And whatever happened to the term metaverse anyway?

With the recent news that Second Life, a titan of MMO history, has opened its mobile beta to the public, we’ve been thinking. Mostly about the distinction between it and a chief competitor, Roblox.

These are, after all, two massive games that have been going for decades. But whereas one has been going from strength to strength, another has been sluggish, only now beginning to crack the massive potential coming to mobile has.

Now, full disclosure - I'm not a huge player of either platform. But I did want to look at, from a layman's perspective, the differences I observe between the two. I'm familiar with both from back in the day, and have seen them change and one explode in popularity over the past few years. 

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That also means I'm hoping to give an unbiased, general opinion on why Second Life has remained popular but niche, and why Roblox is now an unabashed cultural phenomenon.

So, why is that?

The problem with Second Life

The issue that caused Second Life to stagnate even as the gaming audience opened up over the past few years can be attributed, I reckon, to how intimidating it can be to new players, with the subscription model, the user-generated content marketplace and the lack of any real selling point.

Not that the game lacks things to do - far from it. But how do you elevator-pitch a game like Second Life? “Live an alternative lifestyle” is a bit nebulous, and anything you define it as will inevitably need to be followed by, “But also-.”

Living an alternative lifestyle is kind of a moot point nowadays where, for better or for worse, everyone is themselves online to some extent. We don’t want to be someone else - we just want to present ourselves in the best possible light.

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Meanwhile, the promise of being able to do anything also means that there’s a lack of focus. Sure you can roleplay, game, and do other stuff, but unlike Roblox, there’s no easy way to figure out where to go and what community to jump into without being familiar with how it all works.

Ultimately, Second Life is a bit of a relic, graphically, gameplay and otherwise. Not to say it’s bad, but an overhaul of the kind to make it fit in with the tastes of the modern, younger audience would require so many compromises and changes it’d become an entirely different game in the process. Doing that would likely drive away loyalists, and there’s no assurance it’d bring in a younger crowd either.

The Roblox advantage

Roblox, meanwhile, despite all the blather about metaverses a few years ago, has a clear selling point. “Here are hundreds of thousands of games, in any genre imaginable, all for free!” And it’s quite a compelling one at that.

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While the majority of Roblox’s audience is, indeed, younger, there’s still a significant amount of adults that play. So if you’re a kid, you have family-friendly games that are simple, easy to access and above all, free. Meanwhile, if you’re an adult, you have games which have dedicated independent developers that are, crucially, also free.

Now, we could go into monetisation, UGC and stuff like that. “Free” is a loaded term after all, and predatory monetisation does bear a brief mention. But, for the sake of argument, let’s draw a line under it.

Roblox is a game; it’s about capital-g Games. Whether that’s obstacle courses, role-playing, zombie survival or more. It’s all about having fun, nominally speaking. You don’t have any big promises of a virtual alter-ego, and for many players, that’s not what they’re looking for anyway.

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Then there’s ease of access, use and the advantage of Covid. That’s more business talk of course, but it bears mentioning that Roblox is easily available, whereas Second Life is, as we mentioned above, a bit of a relic.

Basically, to further the elevator-pitch comparison, for Roblox, it’s easy: “It’s a game where you play thousands of other games.”

And, even if you want what Second Life offers, Roblox’s own capabilities have been rapidly expanding. Many of the experiences now offer almost the same amount of fidelity and quality-of-life features as full console and mobile releases, and those tools are only getting better.

Does mobile make or break it?

We’d be loath not to mention that mobile is a major factor in the equation. There was a time when the kind of person who’d sit in front of a computer all day on Second Life was the punchline of many an internet joke. And to an extent that’s understandable, as it’s basically a bit of a hermetic lifestyle.

A screenshot of the community showcase in Second Life

Meanwhile, Roblox and other games like it can be taken and played anywhere. Want to jump into an obstacle course while you’re out and about? Assuming a good internet connection, it’s easy to jump in and play, or even do so in between breaks at the computer, whether that’s work or otherwise.

For many of us who aren’t always on mobile, there’s still an easy distinction to be made. Because whereas Second Life can be a bit obtuse, Roblox is easy to get into.

If you’re part of the niche community of online roleplayers, Roblox already has you covered, and you don’t need to download a special client for it. And if you get bored, you can always hop into the latest hot shooter, obstacle course or other experience that catches your eye.

Promotional image of the Second Life mobile release

Second Life, meanwhile, requires a level of dedication. It’s not just a game, after all - it’s a second life to live (see what we did there?). And even on mobile, does that sound like something you can just jump in and play? Not particularly.

And that may be the crucial distinction between the two even as Second Life makes its way to mobile. Will this cornerstone of MMO history end up seeing a new lease on life? Or will it remain niche? We’ll have to wait and see.

Iwan Morris
Iwan Morris
Iwan is a Cardiff-based freelance writer, who joined the Pocket Gamer Biz site fresh-faced from University before moving to the Pocketgamer.com editorial team in November of 2023.