Linden Lab, developers of the popular virtual reality game Second Life, operates a real-life VoIP telephone company that has handled over 15 billion minutes of voice traffic between Second Life players in the past 18 months, the company announced Wednesday.
The web calling service inside the game’s virtual world handles 1 billion minutes of calls per month, said Mark Kingdon, chief executive of San Francico-based Linden Lab, adding, “Voice is one of the crown jewels of Second Life.”
Kingdon described Linden Lab’s plan to offer premium voice services in Second Life in the future as part of an overall plan to improve monetization: In beta testing among some players today, Second Life residents will soon be able to receive real world calls in the virtual world throuh a service dubbed AvaLine.
The company’s Dial an Avatar function assigns residents of Second Life a phone number that will enable friends to call from a landline, cell phone, or VoIP application. Kingdon expects the service to be available by the end of the second quarter.
Further blurring the lines between worlds, users will also be able to send text messages from inside Second Life to mobile phones in the outside world, and they will be able to record and store their VoIP conversations.
The company plans to launch group chat functionality in the virtual world sometime next year, but is not planning to enable video any time soon.
The added services will come at a price, but Kingdon said the company isn’t ready to announce rates yet.
Second Life is no rival yet to IP-based calling giant Skype, whose users have racked up over 200 billion VoIP minutes in the past six years, but Kindgon claimed over 50,000 virtual characters are actively using the voice function in the game at any moment in time. He said more than half of the game’s 700,000-plus unique users have used the built-in voice chat function in the virtual world.