A New Virtual World Winter?

(editor's note: find a brief bio of Bruce Damer from his March 2007 guest column)

Its been just over a year since my last guest posting and in that time we have put some real beef into the Virtual Worlds Timeline effort. The team led by Henrik Bennetson and Henry Lowood at Stanford will soon start ingesting hundreds of hours of video and other material produced by a number of people during the mid to late 1990s virtual worlds early-adopter "boom" (a veritable "Cambrian Explosion" of VW platforms happened in 1995-96). Our archival efforts took us back even further with Chip Morningstar's digitization of a superb LucasFilm piece about Habitat produced in 1986. This is also going into the VW timeline project (thanks Chip & Randy!) and you can get a preview of it here on Google Video.

But this column is not about looking back, but about looking forward to the future, especially where this current Virtual Worlds boom may be going. The key question I would like to pose the community is: are we already seeing the early sign of a Virtual Worlds downturn that may lead to a "winter" as severe as the one in the period 2000-2003? The second logical question is: if this is so, what can we do to head off or reduce the slope of a new downturn? If the  infamous "chasm" lies before us, and not back in 2000-2003, then what can we do to sling a rope bridge over it?

Part ONE: Does the Chasm Still Lie Ahead?

Signs of an "inflection point" or upcoming "chasm" on the adoption and business curve of the current batch of virtual worlds platforms might be indicated by any or all of the following:

1. Is Second Life (the flagship platform) user growth stalled or continuing to expand? Some experts have commented to me that SL's regular usership (die-hards, creators, social mavens) is no more than 20,000 which would not justify its business existence if it was an MMO-game play platform. I don't have any way to confirm these numbers, anyone out there have a more informed opinion?

2. Is the coming of several new VW platforms going to balkanize a limited usership or grow the user base? In looking at broader scope of user interactivity demographics, will the move of more people to do their primary computing on mobile platforms reduce the number of people using VWs on big screens or put a cap on the growth of the VW market? Is the fact that there are now so many options for real-time representation of people online  (Skype, Twitter, etc) means that VWs are always going to struggle for visibility? Is interaction in a VW that much more enriching and valuable than the simpler modalities available in other platforms? Will VWs ever really go mainstream? I continuously hear complaints about VWs not being worth the trouble, especially from people much younger and hipper than me (I am 46) who prefer much lighter weight forms of interaction. What does this portend?

3. Are open source efforts the inevitable shape of things to come (ie, creating standardized protocol layers which would lower the cost of entry and operation of the whole VW ecosystem) or simply an expression of frustration with or fear of the long term prospects of commercial platforms?

4. Is the fact that our business treats as normal the building top to bottom custom browsers and servers a clear sign of an immature industry? Would the continuous beefing up of Flash or Adobe's new AIR platform "eat the virtual worlds medium" by creating a single ubiquitous front end?

5. Are virtual worlds already ubiquitous in that they are a part of online gaming (non game play socializing and creating) and gradually appearing as real time affordances in other community settings (Facebook chat, Club Penguin etc)?

6. Randy Farmer talks about the relative desirability of "small worlds" (ie, small footprint, simple to install/use worlds like the original Palace, and perhaps exemplified today by IMVU). Will these small worlds garner more usership in the long run than the big-iron, mega-landscape worlds such as SL and There? If you could embed a small world into your Facebook page, why would you take all the trouble to go to a big alternate universe walled off from the web?

7. If various venture funded VW enterprises start to close their doors in the next year or so, will this "pull down" the whole medium and deflate the already too-inflated expectations (like housing foreclosures do to a neighborhood)? The media will capitalize as easily on the stories of the failures on the way down as they did with the stories of the successes on the way up.

8. Lastly, the "walled gardens" represented by multiple proprietary VW platforms guarantee a certain (high) percentage of failure in the near-term. All industries with a large number of small players using proprietary technologies soon undergo traumatic downsizing or consolidation with a few monopoly players emerging. Think of the telephone system and Ma Bell in the 1920s and 30s and the microcomputer industry in the 1970s-80s before the IBM PC rose to supremacy. But do VWs have such a potent growth driver behind them that there will be capital and incentives allowing dominant monopoly players to emerge? Or will VWs find their fate as a boutique type enterprise embedded within  other businesses?

Thats probably enough provocative questions for this first posting. I look forward to your comments, opinions, feelings, questions, and a few rants here or there to make it all interesting! Depending on where the discussion goes, the next posting might be: Part Two: Ways to Cross the Chasm While Avoiding the Big Belly Flop!


Comments on A New Virtual World Winter?:

greglas says:

I'll have to think about a response, Bruce, but as a preliminary: it's great to have you back as a guest! Super stuff and great questions!

Posted Jun 6, 2008 9:40:32 AM | link

FlipperPA Peregrine says:

Second Life's numbers can be viewed in any number of contexts. Clay Shirky acted like he had discovered the double helix when he started writing about SL's "total avatars created" number on ValleyWag a while back, but it is hardly rocket science to figure out that the number of almost 14 million includes people with more than one avatar, people who never successfully logged in, and people who haven't logged time in ages.

That said, Linden Lab is quite transparent with their numbers, and you can find quite a bit of detail at this URL: http://secondlife.com/whatis/economy_stats.php The number I prefer to look at is Residents who have logged in during the past 60 days, which is currently 1,023,779, with 334,484 logging in time in the past week.

Even more important than SL's numbers is that SL has spawned several open source projects, most notably OpenSim, which are working with LL to standardize the protocols used within virtual worlds. IBM now has several full-time employees working on nothing but coding as part of the OpenSim team, and an Architecture Working Group made up of OpenSim, IBM, and LL devs meet on a regular basis. Topics being tackles include teleporting from grid to grid, avatar and inventory portability, and the ability to opt-in to economies by grid.

As always with VWs, it seems these are exciting times!

Posted Jun 6, 2008 1:25:26 PM | link

Ramesh Ramloll says:

Hi Bruce!
All these questions are obviously extremely relevant. My take is that it will be very difficult under the current mass/popular technology infrastructure to make the case for VWs to support collaborations as effectively as what can already be done with rich internet applications (RIAs) and the wide range of synchronous and asynchronous collaboration tools that have been thought of by the CSCW community decades ago and only instantiated as the 'twitters','digg', 'fireeagle', etc... of today. These untethered approaches/class of applications tend to be less obrusive (to our real life existence) and enables a more fluid and distributed existence. High resolution videos would probably have more emotional bandwidth that avatars that are 'driven' rather than 'lived' through because I don't think the mass market will have the right sensing technologies within the next 5 years to beat what high resolution video can achieve today/near future. I have recently realized that about 80% of all online collaborative activities do not necessitate the sharing of a common spatial context. A lot of people have talked about inhabiting and sharing data visualizations, or search results and so forth in 3D worlds (Vr VIBE etc...very old ideas) but even at the conceptual level it is very hard to beat what can already be done through a 2D interface. Trying to pull all these collaborative activities into 3D might in some instances appear as unreasonable as trying to develop applications that will allow people to write text in 3D,say with a sentence starting on a plane and landing on another...(whatever..some crazy idea like that). Bottom line VW will only fare well where spatial context adds meaning to the avatar mediated interactions. I have to say that one of the aspects of collaborative interactions, especially the un-anticipated/opportunistic ones, rely to a large extent on the awareness of 'neighbouring' activities/peer activities. A lot of collaborative applications try to capture and represent the activities in order to encourage the emergence of serendipitous interactions between peers in existing applications designed to run on a 2D screen. There are a lot of examples that can be provided to illustrate those attempts. It may be the case that the awareness of peer activities can be done more easily in a shared 3D spatial context than in the traditional webconferencing, shared whiteboard, shared rooms type of CSCW applications. I think that unless VW like SL run web applications as smoothly as they would under browsers/or allow users to create mirrors of their desktop into VWs,there is little hope to tap into the 80% of collaborative activities I am talking about. I see the main threat to VWs as being the mobile, location aware applications and the traditial CSCW RIAs which are evolving mightily. The industry that will support VWs in the immediate future are those that require mirror worlds- emergency preparedness training, virtual reality therapies, physical therapy, the porn industry. So my guess is that we will see a lull in VW while everyone waits for the HCI aspects and web integration to get sorted out.
Ramesh

Posted Jun 6, 2008 5:14:08 PM | link

dmyers says:

I like these questions, and I like them even more cause somebody besides me is asking them. Brings two things to mind.

1. Back at the State of Play II deal, I argued that Second Life’s claim of total user ownership and total user freedom and such was doomed in that any system, regardless of its level of hype or virtual hype or way-over-the-top hype, simply could not survive unless its constituent elements were restricted in order to insure the survival of that system. Otherwise, the argument went, the constituent elements begin to play, and play breaks free. I think I may have also mentioned – for the sake of Thomas M. or someone similar -- the inevitability of form. Of course, everyone realized I was from Mars at that point; although Cory L. did subsequently, to his foresightful credit, admit that SL resident gambling was likely to become an example of just this sort of system repression. And, of course, it did. And, of course, there was the SL pullback on the total user ownership thing as well.

I always thought SL’s potential was much more in the OS than the game direction – which is apparently where their collaboration(?) with OpenSim appears headed. But, of course, still being from Mars, all I can say for sure is that, OS or not, SL (and the entire virtual world thing that SL still, for better or worse, represents) remains not fun enough. And, when you’re not fun enough, then you’d better have government (or education) funding or something.

2. What is fun enough? The second thing that comes to mind is an earlier Terra Nova discussion in which I agreed with mr. hero’s journey poobah (we know who we are) that the future of mmos was more personal and more personalizable than the present: http://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/2006/04/whats_next.html. I didn’t, at the time, have a good mental model of what that would look like. Now I’m thinking Spore, or maybe I’m thinking Metaplace -- if and when I can wade through the hypno-hypo flashing lights.

In any case, more doom and gloom. Shows well from the Mars pov.

Posted Jun 6, 2008 7:09:39 PM | link

shander says:

Not sure how OT this is but I'm looking for a casual vw that can be played a few hours here and there a week and be a bit like hanging out in a common room playing backagammon, with a bit of the VW exploration/accumlation of possession thing laid on top.

More and more people haven't been introduced to persistent vw's and might have a hunger for lighter versions of their previous habits. Lighter comitment vw's and games might widen the audience to people who spend their online time at U-tube and myspace.

I've recently tried puzzle pirates and I'm thinking that they have a start at a pretty interesting level of engagement, but I have problems with the tasks and the actual players.

I'm thinking for me, that the 3d (I played wow for a bit over a year) really isn't all that important as tasks get reduced to pretty linear interactions..its really visual input and keyboard or mouse input thats important. Well, WoW was pretty entertaining visually, audioally, and often funny/engaging in its characters and their actions. But that cinematic entertainment isn't always what I need or necessarily what I'm looking for having been satiated on those counts (I think satified for a couple years before I'd want it again).

I played a Mud for a year before the WoW and it was a bit too much of a time sink and required tons of hours to get into interesting social play and to matter enough to other players in the game. The sense of obligations to others in the game and time needed to feel like you were making even a bit of head way (or even not falling behind due to reoccurring expenses) was unhealthy.

I'm also not very keen on tasks of physical dexterity with a mouse or keyboard to determine your achievement. Thats a problem with the combat in the mud and the puzzle pirates, only somewhat with WoW as I could get my mouse and keyboard reactions up to above 80% and often more, of optimizing my actions in WoW.

Puzzle pirates is a fun sort of platform where leveling isn't so important but accumulated player knowledge opens a few more options.

If only it were populated by people over 25 making interesting small talk (best if it were about in game actions others were taking with a bit of repartee thrown in).

And if only the level of success one had in sparring were more like playing a game of backgammon or liars dice well than than playing a joystick video game well. I know there are Nash equilibrium / rock paper scissors issues but I still enjoy playing solved games like hearts and add mutiple players interacting with different purposes

Travian had some interesting aspects but was too much a time sink to play well and not at all social in a live way.

A mix of a turn based campaign game that required only a few hours a week, 15 or minutes a day, running parrallel with a live game that had players able to aquire stuff while chatting with others in ways that had no affect on the campaign game except for friendships that might be useful might be cool.

New scenarios with NPC/operator dynamics could be worked in to keep things changing (and have more to talk about and keep paying for etc).

Long and short... I think people want fun ways to be social on their computers with a game overlay than unfolds a bit more each time they play. I don't think the game platform could be really pretty simple. Finding a way for compatible players to find each other would be critical.

Posted Jun 6, 2008 10:26:14 PM | link

Elle Pollack says:

Re #1: There's a lot of other data from LL's public figures on the mater to suggest SL growth may indeed be stalled somewhat (much reported on in New World Notes). But whatever the current size of the active userbase is right now, it's clear that LL is making a profit right now between land rentals and their cut of $L sales. That's the statistic that really matters for sustainability, right?

Posted Jun 7, 2008 2:12:50 AM | link

shander says:

well messed that up a couple places.

More and more people HAVE been introduced to the VW concept..

And the last paragraph, I DO think the game platform for new highly popular games could be relatively simple...(look what a big business texas hold em poker became over a few years after being around for decades)

Posted Jun 7, 2008 2:42:08 AM | link

epredator says:

Good to see you here again too :-) as I am sure you have seen there are still lots of people becoming aware and asking questions of virtual worlds who were never really aware before. For me the hope is that the widespread knowledge and awareness of what could be possible with metaverses has reached into many other places in this adoption cycle.
We do still have to make good on the expectations, as an industry, that public, consumers, artists and enterprises have of these environments.
It does seem interesting this cycle that people are not asking "why do this" but asking "how can we do this better", "how can we make it more effective".
This is merely a snapshot of the sorts of evolutionary conversations that I have in the corporate space.
What has been really beneficial is to be able to point back to the real pioneering efforts from years gone by. This, when people are thinking this is all brand new, is a real eye opener. It also helps in adoption as it is regarded in some circles that whatever it is it taks 30 years to be useful.
So, if people think that its the last 4 years that have created this, they back off expecting another 26 years before anything happens. When they see the provenance of previous cycles they realize we are closer to the 30 year magic line than they thought.
Yes there is a little way to go, and 30 years is not a rule. We have a whole load of other social factors that have swept us along, and seemingly more rapid adoption.

Posted Jun 7, 2008 8:33:42 AM | link

Hamlet Au says:

"I don't have any way to confirm these numbers, anyone out there have a more informed opinion?"

Of course you do, Bruce. Concurrency numbers are dynamically available on the SL homepage- they're about 65,000 at peak. The official blog publishes economic stats every month or so-- they're about 550,000 monthly active, in-world 50 hours monthly on average. For third-party verification, there's easily a couple dozen well-known companies that have a prominent and active presence in SL, and they can make educated guesses based on their own traffic metrics. You could even log into SL yourself on peak periods and count the green dots who are in-world users on the dynamic map.

So basically, you start this essay with an unverified assertion quoting anonymous sources that totally contradict every available public source, none of which you're even apparently aware of. How are we supposed to take anything you say after that seriously?

Posted Jun 7, 2008 5:38:21 PM | link

Larry says:

Will the "cold winter" of web3d-vr be as cold as 1999-2003?

No, it will be more like the "soggy spring" that followed "flash media hype" from 2000-2002. .

3d rt media has finally "reached" the zeitgeist of mass media money, and like the Flash portals full of linear cartoons and skip intro corporate teaser movies of 1999, it is hitting the "wtf did we spend on money on" level of scrutiny that all things new receive after the first wave of pundits perform.

The main difference between then and now Bruce, is that the real growth users of 3drt media ( those playing wow and those making shoes in SL) are not technologists, programmers, or metapundits:)

They are the the regular mass consumers and buisnessfolk, who want entertainment products, , value added media, or buisness opportunities.

The last thing they want is "technology."

They now want working "products" and or reliable "services"--smart.;)

That fact is what is causing the chill you see, as it did everytime before as "tech" driven "entities" became "media-products" for non IT consumption/regurgatation.

This isnt a worry, this is 3drt-VR "Industries" only hope.:)

C3

Posted Jun 7, 2008 8:40:34 PM | link

Julian Lombardi says:

If question #3 read as "Are open source efforts the inevitable shape of things to come (ie, creating standardized protocol layers which would lower the cost of entry and operation of the whole VW ecosystem) and an expression of frustration with or fear of the long term prospects of commercial platforms?" - then the answer would most certainly be yes.

Posted Jun 8, 2008 7:10:56 AM | link

Stan Trevena says:

Hey Bruce! Great to see you back on TN. I can't wait to see the new videos at the VW Timeline.

In my opinion, SL has hit a ceiling with their concurrent user numbers (which have not changed much in the past year) and they have been experiencing almost daily issues with their asset database. A few weeks back we had huge chunks of long deleted buildings reappearing on our islands after a database restore. Seems that there may be some limitations in the underlying infrastructure of SL that are now becoming painfully obvious. The first mention of this that I've seen by an "insider" was in the Metanomics interview of Mitch Kapor.

http://metanomics.net/03-apr-2008/recap-metanomics-interviews-mitch-kapor

He addressed stability issues and related to OS's being rewritten over and over again, "We should understand from this that, when you have something that is a big platform, it will take a generation to really get right, and it'll be written and rewritten and rewritten. And we'll see that with Virtual Worlds."

If you've not seen the interview, it's worth a watch. Especially when he wrestles with sitting in a chair, demonstrating that the SL experience is still far from easy for the casual user.

I work with virtual worlds in K12 Education. From my perspective OpenSim, Croquet, and the upcoming Sun platform have a lot of potential for self hosted services behind the firewall that I can control and secure. The cost of buying and maintaining sims through Linden for education use is cost prohibitive (our project only has 4 islands currently). For this technology to really take off there will need to be standards and a distributed grid (or grids). Think early 90's and the Internet.

The winter you speak of will affect large virtual worlds like SL which has already started to freeze. WOW will continue to buck this trend. This winter will be followed by a spring where multitudes of micro virtual worlds will spread throughout the landscapes of business, education, entertainment, and personal use. Open standards, interoperability, and federated worlds will be the key to future growth of virtual worlds, not megaworlds like SL's grid as it sits today.

Posted Jun 8, 2008 12:14:13 PM | link

chris arkenberg says:

Great provocative post, Bruce... and very much in-line with my own thoughts and concerns. My general feelings fall into two categories:

1) VR and immersive 3D has internalized the criticisms and limitations imposed upon it by the culture. The vision painted by it's pioneers was so compelling and so forward-looking that the science has inevitably fallen short since it's inception. Everyone wants cyberspace and the metaverse but the technology has not yet been capable of realizing that vision. Sadly, instead of continuing to strive towards the dream, the VR community, IMHO, has allowed itself to be marginalized and subsumed by the critique. By and large, the public offerings have homogenized into walled clubhouses and fancy branded chat rooms offering little content beyond fashion opportunities. Yet there has never been a better time than now to really push the boundaries towards true immersion and hyperconnectivity.

2) Immersive worlds must no longer be developed as proprietary islands. It's critical to stop thinking of these spaces as separate; to stop thinking of 2D versus 3D; and to acknowledge that *we* are the common factor between all of these places. We are the ones moving across the analog and digital worlds, building up social affiliations and data profiles. For VR to move forward and be truly compelling, it must openly embrace "web2.0", wire into the Twitter/Flickr/Facebook/Etc API's, and open lines of communication and affordances across all of these domains. 3D scenes must be extended to include 2D dynamic raster layers like Flash that can collate and display the myriad datastreams and profiles that surround us (eg avatar callouts and in-world comm & media).

I've fleshed out some of these ideas further in my own writings, if you're interested ( urbeingrecorded ), but my overall feeling is mixed between a nagging frustration with the current offerings in the marketplace, on one hand, and a great swell of hope rising with the digitization of global culture & the democratization of content and communication, on the other. I've spent a lot of time focusing on business models and why 3D fails to match much of the 2D world. These have been devisive thoughts that reflect my own internalization of the critique. Now my mind is shifting and I feel that compelling content and a great willingness to open VR up to the social and technical communities rising across the web will establish 3D immersion as a rich and valuable part of the human experience. The space is inherently fascinating on a deeply visceral level. We only need to connect it to the rest of the world and invite everyone to come and play.

Posted Jun 8, 2008 2:25:11 PM | link

bdamer says:

Wow! I am deeply grateful, and profoundly overwhelmed by the caliber of your responses (and still digesting them all). I am considering now that the next installment (two of three) should be "Pathways forward to a positive VW future" or "VW Summer" when the harvest of all our hard work really starts coming in. What do you think?

Posted Jun 9, 2008 1:57:20 AM | link

bdamer says:

Wow! I am deeply grateful, and profoundly overwhelmed by the caliber of your responses (and still digesting them all). I am considering now that the next installment (two of three) should be "Pathways forward to a positive VW future" or "VW Summer" when the harvest of all our hard work really starts coming in. What do you think?

Posted Jun 9, 2008 2:08:50 AM | link

David Cheney says:

Yes, a disturbingly small portion of people stick with SL. As an active resident for over two years, I am amazed that: 1) while residency has grown by a factor of at least 40 in that time, concurrency number hover at best at 3x, 2) land has increased dramatically, lowering the person per space, and 3) worst of all, the tone of community has moved from that of joint adventurer toward a jaded "what do you want from me."

Larry's note that residents want "working products and services" points up something necessary but not sufficient. There are many venues that work. What does 3Drt add? A "campfire" for social exposure is interesting, but it better also prove fun and/or fruitful. I see very little of that in SL at this point - in fact it seems rather a wasteland (some live music performances in SL offer refreshing reassurances). In regard to fruitful, I think Ramesh's comments are on the mark: a shared, real-time 3D spatial context may promise HCI capabilities tuned to human perceptual mechanisms, but the expense of supporting systems may be justifiable only for mission-critical applications and high-end entertainment. I suspect that the vast majority of information processing requirements will be better served by careful distillation to few-D than by expression in visual 3D.

Posted Jun 9, 2008 12:55:28 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Bruce, I have to admit your post has me scratching my head. A virtual world winter? I haven't seen the outlook appear as bright as it does now in years -- maybe ever.

One clue to this may be how you and I track virtual worlds differently, and may be as simply as how we define virtual worlds. You begin by calling Second Life "the flagship platform" for virtual worlds -- a claim I find pretty curious. Yes, it's garnered huge mainstream press, and it's the successor to earlier efforts like Activeworlds. It has also maintained the aura if not the actuality of being the first really "open" world, since people can build and script as they please in it (even if the world, servers, etc., are not really open). So as "platforms" go, it's done great -- though it has not lived up to earlier exuberant predictions and as you note may well be stalling.

But nevertheless SL is far from being a flagship or bellwether of virtual worlds -- if we're willing to admit game-worlds into the club. In that case, SL becomes an interesting, forward-looking chapter in terms of virtual world success, but not the canary in the coal mine.

It seems to me that any distinction between more-build-than-gameplay virtual worlds and more-gameplay-than-build ones is entirely arbitrary. Truly open virtual world platforms (e.g. Whirled or the upcoming Metaplace as just a couple of examples) may -- or may not -- change the face of virtual worlds in terms of construction, adoption, commercial success, and how they fit into our lives. We may see a new online renaissance from these, or the visions of cyberspace and the 3D web may prove to be the "flying cars" of our age.

In any event, other than Second Life showing its age and perhaps the limits of its technology and user adoption, I can't think of any indicators of an upcoming virtual world winter. More MMOs and VWs -- casual, hardcore, and non-game -- are being funded and developed than ever before. Age of Conan has reportedly shipped over a million copies, and has gathered over 800,000 registrations on over 8M uniques at their site. These numbers may seem paltry beside World of Warcraft, but keep in mind they almost double Everquest's previous high water mark in the West, and easily eclipse Second Life's paying users, and maybe their unique users.

Now it may be that I've missed the point of your post and the ensuing discussion; do you see an impending winter that negates all this, or were you focused specifically on non-game worlds?

Posted Jun 9, 2008 11:12:56 PM | link

Raymond Pirouz says:

Great post, Bruce. It inspired me to come up with my own questions: Why do female avatars in Second Life look like Malibu Barbie while the males look like Ken on hormone replacement therapy? Why — in a virtually limitless 3D space — does Second Life manifest as a unidimensional representation of virtual real estate that must be unintelligibly hawked in cheesy online land auctions? Why does Second Life take the worst of human experience — vanity, materialism and feudalism (think Linden Lab as money changer and master landlord) — and put it all together in a package glossed up as a virtual dollhouse for the digerati?

More here.

Posted Jun 10, 2008 12:23:34 AM | link

Bruce Damer says:

Hi Mike, just a brief clarification, here my definition of Virtual Worlds is "Social Virtual Worlds" (users provide bulk of social and or content value to experience) vs "Game Play Worlds" where structure of play/interaction is defined by a party separate from the usership (ie, the game publisher).

My perspective here comes from having lived through the last crash of Social Virtual Worlds (SVWs) in the 1997-99 period where many companies, friends, content and platforms went the way of the dodo, leading to a period where there was virtually no activity in the space until the next gen platforms emerged in 2003. I had been a primary evangelist for the avatar medium and was out of work on the park bench and it was a fairly forlorn period for me (although there was Adobe Atmosphere and the Game Play Worlds medium was taking off).

I dont think that the SVW medium will undergo such a severe Winter of Discontent again and that in a real sense the SVW medium is finally here to stay. My only point in posing all these provocative questions was to ask if the medium is stalling (with some serious business consequences) or about to sprint to a new level. Some commentators here point to a stall, others to a sprint. I think and hope it is a good time and venue for such a discussion.

So I hope this clarifies my intent a bit for Mike and everyone here.

Posted Jun 10, 2008 1:27:24 AM | link

Dusan Writer says:

I vote for sprint. Thanks for the post, ended up posting one of my own in response but I'll pick up the latter part of it and say it here:

You have to sort of imply from your post where this winter is coming from. My take on what you're getting at:

- The “Big” VWs that we know and love are stalled. There’s no new WoW on the horizon (Conan won't last, IMHO, it's Tabula Rosa with better gore and you can make your own fort yay!), there’s nothing new in VW development, no new model, no new stories, no, well, you get the idea. Although, I also argue that the stats for SL are positive - people are spending more time, and while you're not seeing a million people sign up a week, I think the implication is that groups are arriving specifically rather than casually (I explain more on my blog).

- Open source, small worlds, micro 3D rooms…these things might balkanize the virtual world audience.

Which I suppose implies that the dream was one big virtual world in which we’d all hold hands much like the Web was one big platform. But look - I don’t roam around the Web that much anymore, the sites I visit are in my RSS and that’s pretty much it, unless I want to Google something. So even the Web is a fractured, dispersed, massive gorilla with a billion apps and businesses and balkanized islands. Just like the VW business is shaping up to be, so I don’t understand how mirroring what happened on the Web is a sign of a VW winter.

But really it all comes down to the following:

"Do VWs have such a potent growth driver behind them that there will be capital and incentives allowing dominant monopoly players to emerge? Or will VWs find their fate as a boutique type enterprise embedded within other businesses?"

And there’s the contradiction. At one point, the Internet was going to blow up bricks and mortar. Entire industries would sink, businesses upended, the old, fossilized beasts of yesterday would disappear. But we know where that ended up. Sure, a few players didn’t need bricks to get clicks, but for the most part old enterprise adapted, adopted, and thrived. We went from bricks to clicks to bricks and clicks. And the Internet is still going strong, even though it was ‘embedded in other businesses’.

So the real question is, will business, brands, Hollywood and the other "traditional industries" sit on the sidelines and let what happened to them last go-around happen again? And I think there's ample evidence to say no.

Think about Spore and a virtual world where you aren't an avatar but you have intelligent agents evolving in a persistent space. Think about Hollywood and their increasing interest in VWs. Think about serious games, and games for change.

Think about what IBM is doing, or MTV, or Homeland Security for that matter.

But your question is more broadly about VWs as social a social media.

But we adopt tools because they're useful to us. Because they let us create new things, experience new experiences, communicate in new ways, and because as humans we have a need to tell and listen to stories, and to expand our path forward, for better or worse, into our destiny as creatures of techne. We are who we are because of our tools. And the tools we've created for ourselves are both fearsome and liberating.

Now, the argument is that "flat tools" are just as good as 3D tools. But that ignores the reality of virtual worlds. It ignores presence, and immersion, and sociality, and the fact that my 3D house is a place I can put my feet up, whereas on Facebook, bless it, I can poke people and send growing flowers and spam people with new group invites to my heart's content, but it doesn't mean I feel like I'm THERE. It ignores that there are things you can collaborate on in a 3D space that you can't in a 2D one. It ignores the power of what's not possible in real life, over what's simply an extension of current information modalities.

And yeah - that's just a synopsis, sorry to take up so much space, I tend to do that I guess. But I wanted to get my vote in for sprint.

Posted Jun 10, 2008 9:10:13 AM | link

Bob Ketner says:

Hello Bruce!
What a great set of questions you have posted - that's what it's all about.

I'd like to chime in that my un-researched opinions in response, they really got me thinking.

Basically, there has been more and continued Balkanization and silos - due to the fact that these VW's are competing businesses built on programming and intended purposes that may be simply incompatible on the most basic levels. These "proprietary islands" remain disconnected for the same reason Office Depot and Office Max are proprietary islands. So, it sounds blasphemous amongst fundamentalist open sourcers, but there's no savior "browser" or ubiquitous interface coming.

As businesses, new open-ended worlds will generally have to answer the basic question of "what's this for?" or face extinction. Everyone knows (but for some reason no one wants to admit) that SL is the flagship (non-game) platform. SL is the center of almost every VW discussion and despite all the silly criticism - all the wild outrage amongst users comes at times when they can't be logged in 24x7. Old media entertainment brands would pay any price for such umbilical loyalty.

If you consider them VW's inside of games (Wow, Halo, etc.) then by virtue of this I'd say the avatar based interactive online medium is definitely mainstream now. Amongst probable "serious" business users though, or in the areas of adopted collaborative tools, I feel more of a "Trough of Disillusionment" hangover, following a "Peak of Inflated Expectations" party as a result of a solid 2.5 years of aggressive PR and hype.

I’ll tap these questions for future Virtual World SIG meetings and look forward to your next post!

Posted Jun 10, 2008 2:57:17 PM | link

Bruce Damer says:

Raymond, Dusan and Bob, all incredibly good points. In fact we should also acknowledge the vibrant but lower-key vertical markets where Virtual Worlds have made headway in recent years. In my own personal case, after sitting on the park bench for a few months as an unemployed "avatar evangelist" I got off my duff and we used our Active Worlds based Virtual Walk on the Moon event with Apollo IX astronaut Rusty Schweickart in July 1999 to open doors at NASA. This led to a breakneck pace of 8 years of solid funding from the space agency to bring virtual worlds in the door as a mission design, outreach, planning and training tool.

With this NASA impetus, I powered up our team here at DigitalSpace and around the world and we first worked with Adobe Atmosphere to build a really cool physics-based virtual worlds Mars rover simulation DriveOnMars and then created a full open source framework we call Digital Spaces (just released on Nov 30th) which was used to create a dizzying array of space mission simulations and other more down to Earth applications. Anyone here can download and build onto our new framework (hey, can someone add avatars?). Various "serious games", medical applications, CAD/architecture, training and other verticals continue to expand the scope of virtual worlds. So, the power of vertical virtual worlds to sustain the business and build tools for the future is beautifully illustrated with all this.

Posted Jun 10, 2008 4:14:08 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

there's no savior "browser" or ubiquitous interface coming.

There is Flash10 with GPU support.

Posted Jun 10, 2008 6:55:15 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

I'd hardly call Flash 10 a savior! It's a step (or maybe even two) in the right direction but it's capabilities are still quite primitive compared to what most of these folks would like to use it for I think.

Posted Jun 10, 2008 7:40:11 PM | link

Arnold Hendrick says:

It is a mistake to assume that SL's adoption curve is representative of virtual reality as a whole.

For example, the company I currently work for, Forterra, is the "private" competitor to SL, in that we offer either a platform or custom solutions to private corporations, institutions, and various government agencies. We have more business on all fronts than we know what to do with. Our business and staff continues to grow in multiple locations within the US and the around the world. I know we aren't alone. Other companies in aspects of the "proprietary" business are also doing well.

Yes, there is a temptation to dismiss the proprietary scene because it's unlike SL and hard for outsiders to measure. But it not only exists, it's much larger than you think. Reflect, also, that games are also proprietary offerings. They're just more accessible to the public, and thus more easily measured.

And speaking of games, the vast wave of entertainment offerings funded on the strength of WoW's success will start arriving very soon. Furthermore, there is already another entire wave of virtual reality arriving which is less game oriented and more orieinted toward social spaces (the usual VC pitch is some variant on "WoW meets MySpace").

The real question is funding - are publishers, VCs and angels continuing to support ventures, or are they pulling out? The cause of the great "winter" in 00-03 was a lack of funds to create new worlds. I was in the business then and saw it all first hand. The post-WoW "mad money" is now largely committed. As the results begin to arrive (such as Age of Conan, see above), their success and failure will certainly affect how much funding is available for next-gen efforts.

Posted Jun 10, 2008 9:01:41 PM | link

Henry Banton says:

Interesting article and comments.

My response purely lays around Second Life mentioned. The issue with these platforms, is they have grown so fast they have lost the inability to react and work with their residents to evolve in the right direction.

Second Life, for example, (I am a 2004 account so have been around for a while) is riddled with theft of content (with, in some cases, serious IP theft) and whilst not lack of "controls" it's lack of response from Linden Lab in resolving the issue that has turned a once very boyant content community to one of supressed rage.

Apathy from the "Lindens" who should not have to police the content who trip up a every corner with their flawed management of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act provisions. In world Lindens who remain helpful, are told they are not allowed to discuss the topic, leading to the community feeling more impotent.

This includes continued failure to remove from their servers assets which breach IP where DMCA proceedings have occured (Napster anyone?).

I do not want my post to be a complete bashing, but it's actually to show that for retaining the user it's about community management. Not throwing a virtual event or slashing the price of buying their sims (hey ho that one was an all time great - 30 days notice and no consultation - probably on par with their change from owned by residents slogo.

I think Virtual Worlds do have a future as purely they offer a channel to many to interact and discover. With an appetite of a virtual explorer, I think we will see Second Life probably fail in the next 18 months (unless "M" Linden "gets" the community side - I have a strange faith he might) as new platforms emerge that us the creators and explorers embrace.

Ps I do not wear a sword and in my spare time am a nurse!

Posted Jun 11, 2008 5:41:28 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Matt Mihaly: I'd hardly call Flash 10 a savior! It's a step (or maybe even two) in the right direction but it's capabilities are still quite primitive compared to what most of these folks would like to use it for I think.

It's a low-level cross-platform system, without z-buffer, but you can do any kind of shader-based rendering using Hydra. The client capabilities are up to the programmer and how he handles visibility (z-sort, portals, bsp etc).

What saviour would you point at? Most (adult) people won't download a dedicated client for something they don't need... The most handy forward-compatible solution for cross-world access is to use a low-level real-time compiler like Flash10, if they come up with a more complete API...

Posted Jun 12, 2008 9:55:08 AM | link

Saijanai Kuhn says:

I'm not sure how to respond to all these points, but if you want a clue as to how many people, minimum, are dedicated to SL, than the number of "premium" (paid) accounts would be the rock-bottom indicator and that's about 80,000, or roughly 4x as many as your "experts" suggested.

The prediction of the demise of Second LIfe in 18 months seems silly, given that it is now profitable.

The prediction that it is going to be eclipsed by another system also seems unlikely given that Linden Lab is busily trying to establish itself as a quasi-official internet platform, complete with RFC-like protocol documents, that can be used by anyone.

The observation of the stalled concurrency at 65K doesn't mean that more people don't want to log on, but only that Second Life's current architecture breaks at that point, causing massive in-world problems. Because of these issues, Linden Lab doesn't do much advertising that I am aware of, and leaves major publicity to the organizations that are using Second Life. Imagine a company that doesn't do advertising that is profitable, has had 100-fold growth in two years, and is considered the gold standard for its niche market... sounds like a dying company to me! --not.

This leads back to the Second Life internet open grid protocol design -the OGP. As part of the process of designing open protocols for anyone to use, Linden Lab is redesigning its own infra-structure to allow growth well beyond their existing technology. To wit, they want to design an interactive system of virtual worlds hosted by innumerable different companies and individuals which are compatible for login, teleportation and/or "walking" between worlds, avatar display, virtual property display, virtual property "ownership," virtual property building, currency exchange, group Instant Messaging and all the other features that make Second Life useful and enjoyable, while giving individual virtual world operators/owners/designers room to innovate and offer unique services and characteristics that complement and/or supplement the "core" Second Life features.

And this infrastructure and protocols to support it have to scale to the "scary numbers" that computer industry pundits have suggested will exist for virtual worlds within 5-10 years:

one to two billion avatar accounts, 50-250 million avatars online at any given moment, and 50-100 million worlds, regions, islands, what-evers for them to visit.

The start of this design has led to a demonstration of a login via a second life server with avatars showing up on an IBM-hosted OpenSim server: http://www.massively.com/2008/06/06/historic-teleportation-one-small-step-for-ruth/

To suggest that Second LIfe is about to fail or be eclipsed is, well, silly. It is going to become the backbone of the virtual world internet.


Posted Jun 12, 2008 9:54:53 PM | link

Stan Trevena says:

Saijanai: Your post harkens back to the enthusiastic proclaimations in the press of a year ago about Second Life being the next big thing to replace the Internet. I just don't see it, at least not in the current version or soon to be released versions.

While we have these firsts, like teleporting to an OpenSim, foundation issues are still either ignored or not given priority at Linden Lab. A year and a half ago I was at Linden Lab as a participant in a meeting of invited guests. Stability was one of the big issues discussed by the attendees (both in grid stability and concurrent user limits). In my opinion, as a private estate owner of a large project on the Teen Grid, we have made little progress and may actually be experiencing a downturn in stability issues these past few months.

People have been losing inventory items (permanently), long deleted items are popping back up on servers (sometimes in chunks):
http://pacificrimx.wordpress.com/2008/06/01/ghosts-of-buildings-past

More and more logins are being disabled while database repairs are conducted on an almost daily basis. On an educators listserv that I belong to the Lindens have started using terms like "The Asset Database needs some TLC".

While Second Life itself may not "fail", I think you may see some serious failures of the core database, and that may lead to serious declines in those paid subscriptions you quote in your message. There have been several vocal owners who have had planned events cancelled due to downtime and disabled logins (music events).

I was as enthusiastic as your post here a year and a half ago. I've been to Linden Labs several times, I've been running a large private educational project in Second Life for the past year and a half, and I have 45 Kyoto students from our project arriving in the United States in less than a week to go to summer school with their counterparts in Modesto, CA (PacRimX). So you could say that I am heavily invested in the platform.

However, I've felt the pain more and more in recent months from disabled logins, disabled services (we had the voice servers go offline in the middle of a long planned meeting between our students at midnight SLT), database corruption, and a myriad of other technical problems that directly impact my ability to conduct scheduled activities in world, which in the long run will reduce my ability to roll this out in any significant way in the next year.

We've started working with Sun Microsystems on their Wonderland platform (currently only v0.3), and are looking at experimenting with some other upcoming platforms. In my opinion, the teleportation from SL to an OpenSim opens the door for Linden Lab and SL to survive in the coming Metaverse, in no way does it set them up to be the backbone of the virtual world Internet. No single company will control that.

Posted Jun 14, 2008 1:51:37 PM | link

compagnie-Russie says:

Moscou - les epicentres de l'economie Russe, le plus grand debouche en gros et les propositions. La sortie pour lui est desirable pour n'importe quel compagnie, souhaitant developper et etre fructueux. Je propose la cooperation dans la decision des questions de la distribution en gros, l'approvisionnement, le marketing.

Votre business a augmente deja. Vous n'avez pas remarque ? Est mauvais ce soldat, qui ne reve pas de devenir le general. Encore plus mal business, le maitre de qui ne pense pas a son developpement. Les perspectives, qui ouvre la sortie de l'activite commerciale pour le niveau de toute la Russie, sont immenses : de nouveaux fournisseurs, les dealers, la croissance des volumes de la production et le partenariat avec les plus grandes compagnies. Mais pour le business regional c'est pratiquement impossible sans representation a Moscou.

La representation a http://www.in-msk.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=27&Itemid=39>Moscou sera reelle Peut, vous n'etes pas d'accord avec une telle affirmation ?, et le comptable parle que la somme depensee pour la representation de Moscou, sera incomparable avec îòäà÷åé de lui ? Que, prenez le feuillet du papier et ecrivez par dessus "le profit Manque". Mais ensuite a la colonne : íàêðóòêè des dealers de Moscou pour votre marchandise, les prix surevalues des matieres premieres pour les regions, les missions constantes a la capitale, la lutte quotidienne pour la place sous le soleil avec les firmes concurrentes, qui sont sorties deja

Plus de la creation de la representation par voie de àóòñîðñèíãà A la mode ces derniers temps le mot "àóòñîðñèíã", non a gagne par hasard une telle popularite. Il est plus de que les directions les grandes compagnies rendent aux societes speciales : la conduite du service de comptabilite, la comptabilite fiscale, le directivisme informatique, la creation et le remplissage des portails d'information pour de grandes entreprises par les forces des specialistes etrangers - tout cela pour la region De Moscou est devenue habituelle. Est populaire moins àóòñîðñèíã dans les regions, mais en cas d'avec

Premierement, àóòñîðñèíãîâîå la representation pour l'ordre est plus bon marche, que l'ouverture de la representation par les forces : vous ne devez pas louer le bureau (l'economie sur un cher immobilier de la capitale, croyez, sera essentiel), il ne faudra pas payer le salaire l'effectif des collaborateurs, qui, en se servant de l'eloignement de la direction, devieront du travail, il ne faudra pas controler par les coups de telephone de toutes les heures leurs progres.

Et la derniere sphere, dans qui la cooperation avec nous sera tres utile : d'exposition. Nous presenterons votre compagnie aux expositions les plus prestigieuses, nous organiserons le panneau avec la production de votre societe, nous attirerons de nouveaux clients. Mais dans les intervalles entre les expositions nous aiderons îòäà÷åé a installer la publicite pour votre production dans la mass-media.

Posted Jun 15, 2008 11:53:08 AM | link

Saijanai Kuhn says:

Stan Trevena, you said you were present at the first AWG meeting about a year ago. Well, that's a year ago, which is a Very Long Time Indeed, in internet terms. I don't deny the problems that you have listed, but you ignore the things that have changed since that time:

1) A new Physics engine was seamlessly (close to seamlessly) installed in all current simulators without breaking most content, with minimal downtime.

2) A new scripting virtual machine is nearing completion on the beta grid and should be implemented on the main grid within a month or so.

3) The new login system for Second Life is being tested, and will be part of the transition to the next generation SL architecture, designed to support interoperability between virtual worlds, as well as to support higher concurrency, both for the grid and for each simulator.

What you seem to miss is that the Second LIfe grid is still running mostly on a design that was created 7 years ago and that usage of the system has shot up tremendously in the past few years and that that now-ancient design is creaking along at perhaps 10-100 times the use it was getting when you started in 2004 (depending on which metric you use).

That it is able to operate at all under those circumstances is pretty impressive. That it needs substantial revision to grow any more than it already has is a given. That it IS being revised/redesigned is a fact. How well this redesign/revision will address the current and future needs of SL users is another question.

The bigger issue is interoperability. Wonderland doesn't handle all the things that SL does, last I checked. You can't legally take your assets (even "full permissions) out of Second Life and stick them in Wonderland without content creator's permission, so how are you going to establish the same content in Wonderland that is available in SL?

The answer is, you won't, until SL's asset portability issues are addressed. it is the interoperability protocols that LL is developing that will make SL the "backbone" of the internet since there is far more content and users who will want to use that content who are associated with SL than with Wonderland.

And that is why I say SL will become the backbone of the virtual world internet. It will be the minimal standard for interoperability that all virtual worlds will need to adhere to in order to obtain legally copied assets on a large scale.

Posted Jun 16, 2008 9:31:29 PM | link

Stan Trevena says:

Saijanai:

Well, only time will tell I guess. We will see in a year who is setting what standards. So far most all of the new platforms are going towards industry standard 3D file formats and asset creation applications, not proprietary Linden Lab formats. To set a standard you need to establish it first with a user base. Applications like Maya and Blender have huge user bases, ie: potential asset creators. Right now, everything (as you stated) that was created in SL stays in SL.

The NMC announced at the Sun Worldwide Education and Research Conference that they were launching an initiative to develop for the Wonderland platfrom. Larry Williams specifically pointed out that they are looking to develop assets that can be moved to any platform, and that all of their previous work is locked in SL. The NMC is not abandoning SL, not leaving SL, or even talking negatively about SL. Like us, they are looking into the future and exploring options. It would be silly to tie oneself entirely to a single platform. And I never said that today, Wonderland Dev v0.3 could compete or even hold a candle to SL. It's not even Alpha yet. But it shows enough promise to warrant some deeper exploration and maybe some participation in the development cycle.

I was not at the AWG, I was at the SL Views 4. It was 15 months ago. I've been on since BETA, and I've seen all of the developments and stumbles since then with SL. Everything you state that is "coming soon" to SL will be welcomed with open arms and a little cheering if it actually comes to be in a timely fashion. I'm not going to hold my breath, but neither am I leaving the platform. Even with all the problems of late, they are still the only game in town for rapid prototyping and interactiveness with LSL.

But in the end, they will be a player in the merging of virtual worlds with the Internet, but I still don't see any one company setting or controlling the standards for that evolution. It will be decided by a community and defined in open standards based on available and proven applications and formats.

Posted Jun 17, 2008 1:58:39 AM | link

Stan Trevena says:

On another note, I also don't see any one game world's currency/economy stretching to be the standard for the Virtual World Internet (as you call it).

No special currency or economy was necessary for the Internet, nor will there be for the Internet 3D. Existing financial firms and technology companies will do for this next evolution what eCommerce did for the Internet.

Again, the key will be no one company will set the standards. The Internet 3D cannot be proprietary.

Posted Jun 17, 2008 2:03:15 AM | link

Wolfe says:

Virtual Worlds teach their users things that are hard earned lessons anywhere else. This is why they are extremely valuable in an abstract sense, and also why when they have a winter its because of failure to support this lesson with newly developed products.

Posted Jun 17, 2008 4:54:57 AM | link

Saijanai says:

Well, jeeze, so you're going by hype from 15 months ago, and looking at growing paints due to a a 10-100-fold increase in the user-base and extrapolating. Yeah, right.

Snort.

And you'r all missing the point the SL Open Grid Protocols are being designed to work with Second Life and OPenSim, but the AWG is very consciously steering Linden Lab in the direction of universal applicability. The login protocol that was recently developed, will work with literally ANY virtual world or conceivable virtual world. The secondary protocol for travel between simulators is nearly as universal and can be applied to both secondlife-style walking and the more universal teleportation. The protocol for establishing the "topology" of the "grid" will accommodate any regular mathematically consistent coordinates using three dimensions, such as cartesian x, y, z (where z might = zero for flat worlds such as Second LIfe) or cylindrical ρ, φ, z (for use in space station simulators such as a Babylon 5 world game), etc. Other protocols will be more Second-Life-centric, but even there, the heavy involvement of IBM with OpenSim will ensure that any capability envisioned by OpenSim designers will be accommodated in the open grid protocols that are currently being designed. A new code repository for an Apache-licensed test harness written in Python was just announced yesterday, and already people are testing it.
there are numerous groups and businesses associated with the Second LIfe Architecture Working Group and OGP:

Second Life viewer, OpenSim, libsecondlife, openviewer, realXtend, pyogp and numerous active forums, mailing lists and irc channels associated with these groups.

https://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/AW_Groupies#External_Resources

Which other virtual world platform has this much activity on the technical side, and which other open virtual world has as much content? Which other company associated with which virtual world has formally committed to attempting to accommodate interoperability with as many virtual worlds as possible?

Show me where they have published even rudimentary protocols in open format using CC or some other open license (GPL even). Show me management and/or technical people whose official job is to promote interoperability between virtual worlds. Etc. Just because you're not involved with or don't understand what is going on, doesn't mean that Linden Lab isn't doing things in this area. I admit to not knowing all the different virtual world projects out there, but I know people whose jobs depend on keeping on top of these things, and the Second Life platform is where it is at, as far as interoperability attempts are concerned.

Posted Jun 19, 2008 1:46:57 AM | link

Stan Trevena says:

Saijanai: (last post to this thread from me)

Remember a program called Mosaic? Even more recently Netscape? Lotus 123? How about World Perfect? Being the "Standard", the "Best", most popular, and the application with the most content does not guarantee market dominance for any length of time.

About the only thing that is guaranteed in technology is change. You quote a lot of "coming soon" developments in your post that would make Second Life the "top dog" and ruler of virtual worlds. I, and many others in these comments and elsewhere, question Linden Lab's ability to accomplish these goals before they lose their user base (or it is reduced to a niche market). There are not an infinite number of years for them to make this happen.

I would love to see everything that you stated come to be, but judging by past (and current) performance I just don't see it happening without some serious reworking of the underlying system (from the database, concurrent user max, stability, and other performance issues).

The one player that you do not mention is Google and their rumored virtual world project. They usually don't enter any market to be number two. Knowing that there are rumors they are already testing, we might not have to wait too much longer to see what's up their sleeve. And any one of the Asian companies could decide they want to move into the US market. It's not an empty playing field without potential competitors.

We can agree to disagree, and in time Linden Lab and Second Life will go where they deserve to go. We'll see where that ends up being. All I can say is it's a great time to be alive and getting to witness all of these emerging platforms and how they may mesh together into the coming "Metaverse".

Posted Jun 20, 2008 1:06:57 AM | link

Theodore Wright (SL California Condor) says:

The first question asked was "Are we already seeing the early sign of a Virtual Worlds downturn that may lead to a "winter" as severe as the one in the period 2000-2003?".

High gasoline prices cause recession in economy and in business. Therefore, we experience a cooling in the business of virtual worlds. Users also will be enjoying the nice weather of spring nearing summer in the nearby outdoors which further causes a decline.

When businesses decide to stop shrinking and choose to expand they will make marketing investments. When the weather gets too hot, users will retreat indoors to go online with their avatars. This will cause the temperature to rise for virtual worlds.

A year ago, when a number of businesses had the wrong strategy by using Second Life as push media, rather than an interactive one, it was evident that a parallel of a dot-com fallout was coming. However, after businesses had left Second Life, they later returned with new strategies. Just like with the web, e-commerce returned and improved.

Virtual worlds experience their peaks and dips like other media. They are also competitive. Statistics may rise and fall for television but it is still around. Social networking websites function well for those who desire their static content to be found easily. Virtual worlds offer dynamic interaction and are higher in maintenance. These are different animals. Are social networks and virtual worlds perceived to really compete somehow with each other?

It is evident that virtual worlds, over all, are on the rise. Metaverse is an eventuality but the question comes as to what shape it will take. This depends on the investments made by companies based on what the users desire. The charm has not worn off for the desire for greater immersive virtual experiences but people do often want to return to reality for some longer stretches at times.

While it may be winter in one part of the world, it is summer for the other. Learn to survive and thrive recession. Some businesses do very well in a recession.

"The second logical question is: if this is so, what can we do to head off or reduce the slope of a new downturn? If the infamous "chasm" lies before us, and not back in 2000-2003, then what can we do to sling a rope bridge over it?"

In a recession, it is time for the sales and marketing people to get busy. Besides that, though, we need to better build the grassroots movement. As a mutual interest effort I encourage virtual world people to meet in real life to help stir up local and global interest. This is an activity I am currently engaged in as organizer for the New Jersey Metaverse Meetup ( http://gamedev.meetup.com/166 ). Metaverse Meetups started out of Brooklyn, New York. These are great opportunities for networking. The first time I attended one I met Jerry Paffendorf, Hiro Pendragon and others. I also had the privilege to meet Bruce Damer, who guest speaker then.

Posted Jun 20, 2008 8:28:12 PM | link

Saijanai says:

I said: "Just because you're not involved with or don't understand what is going on, doesn't mean that Linden Lab isn't doing things in this area. I admit to not knowing all the different virtual world projects out there, but I know people whose jobs depend on keeping on top of these things, and the Second Life platform is where it is at, as far as interoperability attempts are concerned."

Stan Trevena, your response proved my point. Please note "Second LIfe platform" is not "Second Life Grid."

LL could go out of business, and the SL platform would almost certainly survive due to IBM's commitment to it via OpenSim.


Lawson


Posted Jun 20, 2008 8:48:09 PM | link

Ian Lamont says:

Yesterday (June 24, 2008) a Computerworld reporter asked Cisco CEO John Chambers about the possibility of a "virtual winter" at a press conference in Second Life, and referenced this Terra Nova post. Chambers' response:

"I disagree with that overall commentary," he said. "We are at the very, very beginning stages" of virtual world uses.

Posted Jun 25, 2008 11:54:28 AM | link

Bruce Damer says:

Folks, for a more "positive" treatment of this subject, see my next posting: http://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/2008/06/virtually-etern.html>Virtually Eternal: A Positive Pathway to a Healthy and Sustainable Virtual Worlds Industry?

Posted Jul 1, 2008 12:38:00 AM | link

Joe Rigby says:

How about taking a look at this blog from Caleb Booker

Posted Jul 3, 2008 3:28:19 PM | link

Bob Detremont says:

Sounds like the SL platform is getting frozen out by the virtual winter of discontent. Photo-realism is the key to creating interesting virtual environments. Social networking is OK for the chattering classes but education needs more than the blah, blah, blah of the school teacher.

Posted Jul 3, 2008 6:02:52 PM | link

alyssa #24 says:

wat is this peeps cause im fuckin bored

Posted Jul 13, 2008 1:10:01 AM | link