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May 02, 2007



With regard to the idea that Boomers will have difficulty joining in, this is where our columns merge! As we age, of course, we lose abilities that we may have had earlier in our lives and we find our eyesight failing, our hearing, our mobility...

And here we are with the accessibility issue again. :) Unfortunately, being counted amongst the disabled population is a birthday or a horrible accident or an epigenetic predisposition away. And right now? Yes, there are some disabled gamers in MMOs but Second Life? If you are blind, forget it.

Just thought I'd add another issue for you to consider! :) Cheers blog-mate!


Cory's prediction is on the high end, but I'm not going to bet against him, a peak concurrency of 150K is within reach. If I had to guess, I'd put it closer to 100K, still almost insanely fast growth.

Gartner, on the other hand, are being rediculously over-optimistic, they're projecting current growth rates forward well past the point of reason. One of the things you have to look at is the pick-up ratio of Second Life, they've had 6M accounts created but their peak concurrent represents just a bit over half a percent of that. If you give them a generous TIE ration of 6 to 1, that's less than 250K active users, only about 4% of their total accounts created (this is actually rather stellar for a free-trial based system, and probably points out another way that SL differs from games). Also, some large portion of those are people who have just created accounts and haven't made their long-term decision yet.

There's no good reason that this ratio will significantly improve in the future, most people are going to go into the SL-type virtual worlds, say "not for me", and leave forever. Give it a ridiculous high 10% conversion rate, and you're still not going to see that kind of universality of presence by a mere 4 years from now.

Exponential growth of the order Second Life is experiencing simply can't continue for long, by definition. Doubling more than twice a year, you can't go too many years before you exhaust the market.

Competitors are going to appear soon as well, and there's a lot of room for improvement in the SL technology, improvements that are going to be easier to achieve for someone building from scratch than for anything compatible with the existing SL content. That won't affect the overall market growth for the "metaverse" segment, but it's going to affect Linden Labs and their users.



Couple of points:

1. It depends how you define virtual worlds.
Technical firepower is not anywhere near as limiting a factor for a lot of the flash based virtual worlds like Club Penguin.

2. Market segmentation by end use is important.
If businesses [http://siliconvalleysleuth.co.uk/2007/04/sun_puts_some_r.html], schools and universities start to adopt virtual worlds en masse, then the number of perceived "users" may be skewed upwards, especially if virtual worlds become a centrally mandated teaching or communicating tool. However, I get a feeling that betting on virtual worlds for that use may be a little like "the explosion of video conferencing": promised, but not delivered in anything like the timescale promised in 1999.

3. Does virtual world use extend beyond "Rite of passage"?
As Bing Gordon, of EA fame, pointed out: virtual worlds might well become a rite of passage for all teenagers experimenting with their identity. A key factor in whether virtual worlds reach critical mass adoption for all demographics will be whether cultivated "virtual" identities are fostered into adulthood and beyond, especially as the current tween generation ages. Will people have the time or desire? I think "maybe" is an answer as "virtual" and "real" identities become ever more blurred.



Thanks for the responses. I'll try to carry the ball forward on a few issues that have been brought up thus far:

Michelle -- Nice to meet you! You bring up a point about the baby boomers that I did not consider. And you are absolutely right -- I have read in the popular press that the incidence of tinnitus is abnormally high among boomers in their 50s; the articles suggest that a passion for loud music in their youth is responsible. This is an issue that designers will need to take into account when making worlds or gaming environments for this group, as well as other age-specific concerns. Still, in 10 years, when millions of boomers are entering retirement, I can see virtual worlds becoming a popular entertainment and interaction platform with this group.


Dave and Nick -- I think we can all agree that defining "users" has been a major problem. Earlier Terra Nova discussions have touched upon this before, but I'll bring it up again for the benefit of new readers. In a nutshell, the terms that are bandied about are seldom operationalized, and that has led to a lot of misunderstanding about the reach of virtual worlds. When people talk about users of an MMO game, they often mean paid subscribers, who are generally active participants in the game. But many press outlets that describe SL often use "residents" as a yardstick, which does not equate with active participants. With the Gartner prediction, I was unable to determine what the company meant by "active Internet users" -- would that be broadband subscribers, as measured by the OECD? Or people that spend x number of hours per day on the 'Net?

Something else worth mentioning about Gartner, and the venue in which they released this information: Gartner is an enterprise IT research firm, and the 80% figure was released in conjunction with its ITXpo conference late last month. Attendees included IT managers, as well as staff from major hardware and software companies. At the conference, there was a keynote presentation that included an interview with Linden Lab's Phillip Rosedale, who talked about business-friendly enhancements to SL. Linden Lab recognizes that "enterprise IT" is a potential profit center and infrastructure-building partner for Second Life, and the 80% estimate would have been very helpful in making a case for the gathered companies to take virtual worlds more seriously.

I am very interested in seeing what types of SL competitors emerge, and how the features and functionality will differ. Ease-of-use will be critical to building support for new VWs, not just in terms of the client UI, but also for the 3D building tools. The company that develops a tool that makes avatar or 3D object creation as easy as Blogger makes creating a website will usher in a massive wave of adoption and interest. I am also interested in seeing how standards affect competition.

Nick, your third point about virtual rites of passage is something that I intend to touch upon in my next TN post, which will also address my personal interest in the impact of 3D technologies upon mass media programming types and consumption patterns.


Interesting stuff. Briefly,

-How long until some VW creates a Virtual Woodstock for boomers to relive...this time, when they say, "yeah, I was there", they won't be lying...sorta

-I'd say that there's a big difference between someone who downloads a game and tries it a couple times (e.g., most of the SL downloads) and someone who enters a VW for hours each week. And getting honest numbers of the latter sort, w/o bias, is probably hard.

-And as for tinitus issues and generation...kids today are getting just as much ear damage (or more) via earbuds and MP3 players. Not sure that designers need to account for this...just the people who make the volume knobs on the speakers go to 11... (that is, players can just turn the volume up on their platform of choice if their hearing is failing...AND "hearing aid" technology just keeps getting better.


Literally every year since at least 1996, well-informed people have said that the market for online worlds is limited or pretty well saturated. I've told stories of this before, having heard it from VCs and execs from leading game publishers, including the well-informed group that told us they didn't think there were more than 500K potential MMOG players in the world -- three days before WoW opened its doors.

Contrast that with the growth shown on Bruce Woodcock's mmogchart.com site. Even applying appropriate grains of salt to this data, through July of last year the total growth rate continued on an exponential path with correlation coefficient of 0.9791. Finally people seem to be getting this: online worlds are huge the way the Internet was huge -- we're just following ten years or so behind the Net's overall curve. in 1985 the Net was small and cool and there were a few online worlds (Habitat, a few MUDs, etc.); in 1995 the Net and the Web had begun to be a real presence in a lot of lives and online worlds were known to some aficionados. In 2005 the Internet was just part of daily life, and virtual worlds were gaining social currency the way the Net had ten years earlier. Where will online worlds be in 2010 or 2015?

There appears to me to be a sort of Moore's Law of online worlds: as astonishing as it may seem, the growth has continued and will continue unabated (at or approximating a year-over-year squaring). As with faster processors and larger disk drives, at any point in time projecting forward this seems laughable. Long after the infamous/apocryphal "640K should be enough for anybody" from Bill Gates, in the early 1990s Raj Reddy at CMU predicted that we might see a computer with a gigaHertz processor and a gigabyte of RAM. Software industry professionals boggled at this in planning meetings I was in. Now of course we've left that level of performance in the dust the way we've left early online worlds behind.

I find it interesting that in Ian's original post, he makes a number of assumptions about online worlds that will limit their adoption: they require hours and hours of commitment; continuing growth will require "converting" people into MMO players or SL users (rather than converting online worlds to more closely fit potential users); future virtual worlds will remain PC-based (and most PCs won't be able to keep up); and these worlds will throttle adoption due to limited technological server-side scalability.

If you assume things stay as they are, I agree we'd be likely to see problems in sustaining the growth rate of online worlds. But things never stay as they are. I'm reminded of the comment from Henry Ford: "If I had asked my customers what they wanted," he said, "they would have said a faster horse." Trying to create that faster horse would have been a mistake -- looking at existing solutions instead of future opportunities.

In looking at the future of virtual worlds and their population, we cannot make the same mistake. Virtual world growth will continue because there is an opportunity there -- most people may not know it, but they don't want the analog of Ford's "faster horse." They want the analog of "better transportation." Virtual worlds are able to fill a set of human needs in monetizable fashion; and these needs are far from saturated. Thus there is continued opportunity and few barriers to continuing increase in user/customer acquisition. That said, what has worked in the past may not work in the future: virtual worlds in five years will not be "World of Second Life, only moreso." Assuming developers (and publishers, funders, etc.) can see beyond what's already been done, the future of online worlds and their populational growth is as bright as it has ever been.


"What do others think of adoption rates...."

"and finding the time to join virtual worlds in between existing family and work responsibilities is difficult."

When I think of adoption rates I think about the % of people that have enough free time to engage in a virtual world.

My father's generation seemed to spend a large percentage of their free time working on restoring cars. After dinner he would go out to the garage and work on the Pontiac. After dinner I log into Entropia and think about what I'm going to hunt for the evening. Both of us are utilizing our free time.

While it is true that some make a living playing in and writing about virtual worlds, for most of us it is a way to kill time between dinner and sleep.

So, when market saturation occurs and everyone with free time is subscribing to some virtual world, how does Second Life, Entropia Universe, EQ2 and WoW attract players with no free time? How do they tell twenty-somethings that killing dragons is more fun than rock climbing? How do they tell my auntie that being a scout is more fun than crocheting?


Using false advertising and the false promises of "ownership" and " make an easy fast big money playing a game ". The promises of money , sex, power , and the use of highly addictive technologies. It always worked that way. Just look at how much time , money , work and involvement the players " spend " there. The vast majority of players are there for the illusions of money, sex, power . They are hooked and too addicted already and/or have too much to lose if they quit. The media manipulations have a single purpose : to attract new suckers.


The question you have to ask is: What is SL *used* for? The answer is: Roleplay. People roleplay sexual relationships (mostly niche fetishes), they roleplay Star Trek, they roleplay Steampunk, and they even roleplay "We are building the metaverse."

"Strict Roleplay" is a niche interest, and the growth potential of a general purpose roleplay environment is going to be limited. Yes, it's sort of odd that the constructions that started out named "Online RPG's" are not primarily roleplaying environments, and the roleplayers are going to SL. But then, SL has *always* been a "Graphical MUSH", and MUSH's were always distinguished from MUD's by their concentration on roleplay over rules.



Dave> The question you have to ask is: What is SL *used* for? The answer is: Roleplay.

That's an interesting claim, Dave. I wonder if you polled SL regulars if most of them would agree with you? What do you think?

If so, that would be contrary to the accepted wisdom that SL is the VW that "is not a game" and therefore somehow more "real" than game-like MMORPGs.


The Goreans, furries, and BDSM fetishists might not self-identify as roleplayers, but it's hard to call what they're doing anything else (without making pointless moral judgements that are irrelevant to the question at hand). And right there you've got a *huge* chunk, possibly a majority, of SL's real population. The Ageplayers *do* claim the mantle of "roleplayers", as protective camoflage. Add in the explicit roleplayers, and you're looking at a clear majority of SL activity focusing on one kind or another of roleplay.

Myself, I look at the majority of those who aren't involved in any of those, and I see them "roleplaying" the metaverse of Neil Stephenson and Bruce Sterling, taking it as an article of faith that what they are doing "is not a game" and extending that role out of Second Life and into the blogosphere.

Which leaves a tiny minority that is just "playing" the economic and creative opportunities created by the SL environment. Only that last group is really *not* roleplaying by the classical definitions (and you could argue that they are engaged in the same sort of "functional roleplay" for the metaverse roleplayers we see a lot of in "game" worlds).



Dave Rickey says:

The question you have to ask is: What is SL *used* for? The answer is: Roleplay.

No shit, Sherlock . Now you're telling me what question i have to ask and even what the answer is. Rosedale invited me there to do business and to have ownership and to conduct educational activities , not to virtually F myself and to pay for that . Try again.


I strongly suspect this is going to be pointless, but I'll try:

No shit, Sherlock . Now you're telling me what question i have to ask and even what the answer is. Rosedale invited me there to do business and to have ownership and to conduct educational activities , not to virtually F myself and to pay for that . Try again.

Why such hostility? Am I challenging your faith? Here's the nub: Either SL, or something recognizably descended from it, will become the metaverse, or it won't. If it doesn't, if it *can't*, then those who so fervently believe it is are just another SL roleplaying contingent, in fact the most "hardcore" of them because they really believe it.

Of course, this creates a tautology, people who don't believe they are roleplaying the metaverse are just too into their role to see it. And of course, if they believe it enough, and get enough people to believe it, they'll socially construct a reality in which what they are doing isn't roleplay, it's just reality. But that requires that *everyone* buy into it, or very nearly. And I don't see that happening.

You want to see a better harbinger of what the virtualized future will look like, read Vernor Vinge's "Rainbows End", not Neal Stephenson's "Snowcrash".



Why such ingenuity ? When LL's CEO and staff makes public statements , as real persons to real persons, are they role-playing ? Is the EULA a role-play ? Is Bragg playing a role-play ? A scam is a role-play too : the scammer pretends to be/do/have something that it actually dont; and it sells that " pretended " thingie to a sucker, for very real dollars. To me it seems that you are doing exactely the same thing randolfe does : you switch and twist the concepts and the facts in an attempt to " blure the lines " between rationale and fantasy propaganda and manipulation.

You are presenting me and you base your so-called " analysis " on claims like : " huge ", " majority ", " tiny minority " but you forgot to tell me NUMBERS and FACTS. You just " dont see that happening ".

And i dont feel any hostility or anger.Amarilla is a tool of expression for some points of views.Sue me.

One more thing : i love that part with the " tautology ". It doesn't prove anything , but it's cute.


I was just pointing out a weakness in my own argument, If I declare what you're doing is roleplay, there's no way to prove it *isn't*. Or maybe there is, and I just don't see it. I'm just looking at the observable behaviour, and asking "If someone was roleplaying the creation of the metaverse, would it look like this?"

Like money or politics, the metaverse could be an idea with the potential to become reality if enough people believe in it. So maybe it doesn't really matter much in the end if you're right, only if people believe you're right. In that case, by asking if the metaverse is just make-believe, I'm working against the creation of it.

On the other hand, there's no certainty that the metaverse is even *possible*. Nobody has really asked that question, from what I've seen. What is the real benefit of the environment over the Web? Besides the cheap publicity in the media, what purpose are the corporate islands being used for? Do any of these experiments in "virtual education", "virtual governance", or other efforts to move RL social and economic activities into SL actually do a better job?

These are worthwhile questions, I would think. But asking them, trying to look past the veil and really examine what's happening beyond the make-believe and hype, doesn't seem to be popular.



no problemas. Everyone has an opinion (and a hole in a certain part of the body) , the differences being that some opinions stinks less. My opinion is : the humans are not prepared ( yet ? i hope there is an yet )for : democracy,christianity,civility or Metaverse. All i can see , in history and the present facts , is the savage use and the selling of the make-believe. You aint gonna unveil things in a blog. Meet and talk to the real ppls.Face to face.


Mike: You brought up some interesting predictions from decades past (such as Bill Gates' "640K" statement) and I am sure most readers can relate to them, to a certain extent -- think back to your first PC or gaming console in the 1980s, or your first 1990s-era laptop, and it seems quite amazing how far we've come since then in terms of processing power, storage capacity, network speed, etc.

There have been parallel advances in the applications that can harness this power. However, when it comes to graphics-intensive applications -- gaming, VR, video, even the 3D "Aero" features of Vista -- many, if not most, personal computers have a tough time keeping up. I've had multiple experiences in recent years where recent-model desktop and laptops choked on games or Second Life. This problem will continue in the next five years for many people, especially owners of laptops and other portable devices, until processors and storage capacity in most recent-model computing devices can meet the demands of current graphics-intensive applications as well as emerging applications based on HD, new 3D technologies, new virtual worlds, new standards, etc.

But personal computing (not necessarily Personal Computers) *will* catch up. I agree with Ray Kurzweil's "historical exponential" view of future technology. By his reckoning, we are at the "knee of the curve" of exponential advances in computing developments that will eventually lead to true AI. Kurzweil suggested nanotubes might be the foundation for future computing advances; I think distributed grid technologies will play a role. However these developments unfold, personal computing technology reaching this catch-up point sets the stage for a majority of Internet users having some sort of virtual presence.

The question then becomes, when will this happen? I don't think it will be by the end of 2011, but you seem to think it's possible. The figures you cite certainly support this hypothesis (BTW, thanks for sharing the Woodcock link -- it really is fascinating to me, especially the section on Asian MMO gaming use).

thoreau: You ask, "when market saturation occurs and everyone with free time is subscribing to some virtual world, how does Second Life, Entropia Universe, EQ2 and WoW attract players with no free time?"

Assuming that the creators of these platforms will come up with compelling products and effective marketing campaigns, there seem to be three possible answers to this question:

1) People will make time, by reducing/eliminating existing activities (sleep, TV, family time, exercise, work, non-gaming/VW Internet use, other games, other VWs, etc.)

2) Multitasking -- That 90s-era skiing arcade game (can't recall the title) and a few Wii titles are current examples of exercising and playing 3D games at the same time. The 2012 SL and WoW equivalents may incorporate haptics and other technologies that allow people to simultaneously exercise, or multitask in new ways, while interacting in VWs.

3) They won't be attracted, or they won't be able to give up another activity or multitask.


Ian, my main points above were more to questioning the factors you assume will limit growth in virtual world adoption.

For example, you've mentioned how SL chokes a lot of computers, which is true. And Brad McQuaid of Sigil recently said that Vanguard was released with system specs that were simply too high for most potential players.

But OTOH WoW runs just fine on a wide variety of hardware. More pointedly, it's nearest MMOG contender, Runescape (with over a million paying customers) runs on almost any computer bought in the past few years.

The upshot is that there's no reason to assume that the demand of graphics are going to go up anything like linearly over the next few years: what does HD do for your online world experience that even relatively simple graphics don't? OTOH, consider that new frontiers are emerging. Steve Grand, creator of the game "Creatures," was recently quoted by Next Generation as saying:

“As graphics have improved, the behavior of characters has got more and more embarrassing. When characters looked cartoon-like, any vaguely lifelike behavior was impressive, but now that characters have fluid movements, realistic textures and complex facial expressions, they tend to engage different circuits in the players' brains. The better the graphics become, the worse the behavior looks.

“AI isn't so much unappreciated as nonexistent. Most of what counts as AI in the games industry is actually a bunch of 'if/then’ statements. If a computer character doesn't learn something for itself then the programmer must have told it what to do, and anything that does exactly what it's told and nothing else is not intelligent. This is changing, and neural networks and other learning systems are beginning to creep in. But games programmers tend to devalue the phrase 'artificial intelligence’.”

Similarly with the "free time" question. Don't assume that the average virtual world will consume 22 hours per week of a user's/player's time as they do now. There's no reason to assume this and every reason to look for virtual worlds that are not so time consuming.

Thus my pointing to Ford's statement about not building a faster horse. Virtual worlds today are not what they were ten years ago, and in five or ten years won't be what they are today. But they will, I'm certain, grow in new ways to continue the expansion that we've seen over the past decade.


The problem with facial and body animations is that you're trying to solve the Turing problem, but in an even harder form. Instead of just trying to converse in plain text in a way that will convince or confuse the tester, you're trying to fool hardwired brain systems that are evolved to provide an internal simulation of what the person you are speaking with is thinking.

This is *much* harder than the standard Turing Test, and the nature of it is that the closer you come, the creepier and more "wrong" the results appear (the "Uncanny Valley"). Don't get me wrong, I agree that more lifelike behaviour is a critical axis of development, but we need to concentrate on gross observable behaviour right now, skipping ahead to facial animations and improv storytelling without that foundation will be pointless.

That being said, I can see early versions of this being used in places we *expect* "creepy" behaviour (undead, aliens, and insane people) in a game much sooner.



Cory Linden/Ondrejka has addressed questions related to scaling issues in Second Life in an in-world transcript published in the Second Life Herald. In the same discussion, a resident in the audience asked him specifically about laptops. His response:

"Laptop drivers are still an issue for all highperformance 3D applications. Over time, they are improving, but not as quickly as any of us would like .... We are discussing how to drive the client onto both higher and lower end cards, but right now more development is on system wide scaling."
He also said that 69% of development staff at Linden Lab are working on scaling and stability, and LL is interested in deploying servers overseas, once architectural issues are worked.


What do others think of adoption rates, considering some of the demographic and technological issues discussed above? What other data points and factors need to be considered for evaluating Gartner's projection for the year 2011, not to mention Cory's prediction for the end of this year?

IMO, the adoption rate predicted by Gartner is spot-on, and Cory's prediction will hit near the mark. My reasoning is that

1) VWs and the 3D-Web are a new interactive communication technology (ICT) diffusing in a sharp S. According Everett Rogers in Diffusion of Innovations, historically new ICTs always diffuse quicker than previous ICTs. The SL growth curve is totally consistent with an ICT that should diffuse faster than the internet itself.

2) as Moore's law does its thang, new lower-load clients, VW code/server efficiencies, and increasing demand for VW tech (resulting in possible subsidies by govt, work, sites themselves) will also conspire to reduce the barriers to entry

3) convergent evolution of info/tech will speed up adoption (there are many, many trend lines that are about to do the nasty). Augmented reality (automobile navigation, ARGs, web surfing Googgles, and tons of business/education augmented apps) will dramatically expand the utility window for VWs and allow a great deal of the multi-tasking that Ian refers to. Appliances and robots will begin to use VWs to better mow the lawn or coordinate, making their owners VW users by default. Internet apps will become entwined with VWs, thus making users of those apps users by defalut. etc.

In short, the demand for VWs will go up, the cost of running them will go down, and the opportunities for utilizing them (wholesale or piecemeal) will explode.


Whoops, forgot to take responsibility for my post.


Getting back to the original topic: I found this page, which makes a few things pretty clear:

1) Second Life has seen great gains from their PR campaign. Growth for the last 6 months has been *insane*, far above their historical levels. I wonder who they contracted to for the PR, or did they hire an expert and bring them in house?

2) It may be over. "Residents" has peaked, new signups are back to historical rates percentage-wise, and signups per day are in decline. I'm not sure that 100K by the end of the year wasn't too optimistic.

3) Second Life is now a European game? US time zones don't even show a peak, just a barely noticable deflection of the downslope from European peak hours.



Dave Rickey wrote:

1) Second Life has seen great gains from their PR campaign. Growth for the last 6 months has been *insane*, far above their historical levels. I wonder who they contracted to for the PR, or did they hire an expert and bring them in house?

Not sure who Linden uses now but they used Flashpoint for awhile (http://www.flashpointpr.com/).

Rosedale invited me there to do business and to have ownership and to conduct educational activities , not to virtually F myself and to pay for that

Your problem was believing him. ;)



I saw quite a bit of talk about Second Life in this so I thought I'd add my two cents.

The key to the future of Second Life and other virtual worlds is tied as much to gaming as it is real life uses for virtual platforms.

Take the concert I took part in last thursday. The only role playing I did was playing the part of a real life comedy star who was MC'ing the show. Some other friends of mine played the roles of the bands playing in rl. This duel presence is very effective in bringing the SL residents closer to "being there".

The show in real life was streamed into second life to a full server of fans who didn't have much trouble with lag etc. At the same time the SL show was streamed into the real life show.

So people all over the world were able to be "present" at the show in real life through Second Life.

It is not for everyone, but the "role-play" aspect of Second Life is quickly becoming only one of many reasons to visit.

My favorite reason for visiting Second Life is to extend my creativity into a 3D world. As many 2D pages as I visit and even make, I am sick and tired of the 2D web.

The number one thing about Second Life that everyone should know is, just like the world wide web in present form, anything is possible. Content is limited only by what people desire to create. A lot of people desire adult content.

There are certainly no shortages of adult sites on the internet, but I don't see that stopping anyone from making use of the internet for other purposes.

We'll see where this train stops. It will certainly be an interesting trip. I think we will continue to see a vast improvement in the use of virtual worlds as my generation (30 somethings now) grows older, and my neice and nephew's generation grows up. It is still a very new phase in colaborative technology for most people.


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