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« The FSM has Left the Building: Cory Leaves Linden Lab | Main | Florida AG issues subpoena to IGE »

Dec 20, 2007



I have a couple thoughts here:

1. It's not like Second Life plateauing is unexpected by anyone outside of Linden and their hardcore fanboys. The bet between Cory and Dmitri was always odd as SL never had any chance, from where I sit at least, of beating WoW in North America or globally in that time frame. SL can beat WoW only by WoW shedding lots of users, as it's not going to capture market size equal to what WoW has today. Its appeal is too niche, and the experience is too unpolished.

2. Remember that every year a new crop of kids is exposed to MMOs for the first time. This is important because they cannot, by definition, already be burned out on WoW or anything else. Their expectations for products can be raised/influenced, however, by what's come before in as far as the standards for what they expect will be shaped by what's come before and what they're first exposed to as an observer rather than a player (so, outside of Facebook apps like Jetman, you'd have a hard time getting kids to play something that looks like it belongs on the Atari 2600 these days regardless of the fact that kids haven't had a chance to get burned out on specific 2600 titles).

3. Virtual worlds 10 years from now are highly unlikely to look like they do now. These monolithic walled garden experiences are going to change. I'm not claiming the walls will be completely gone but the garden's going to be a lot bigger and the walls are going to be made of semi-permeable jello. ;)

Random thoughts,



I suspect that the industry is pausing on the brink of transition. The phase that it has been going through is the one where it makes money off the novelty of using a 3D avatar to do something online. The flashy graphics are key. The fact that it started with fantasy gaming is simply historical.

Additional games that involve little more than trundling avatars around a 3D landscape are simply going to emphasize the pause.

The next phase is to come up with activities that are inherently entertaining to people. Not "players", but "people". If Raph is after making MMOs as common as web sites, then I think he's on the right track.

Instead of going to an AOL for an all-inclusive virtual world experience, people will visit fragments of a virtual world for a specific experience. The shards of the virtual worlds will shatter, and people will pick and choose through the fragments that they like. Just as the functionality and features of AOL were shattered into the multitudinous web sites of the web.

In time, virtual worlds will reform from the fragments. Developers will have become sufficiently sophisticated to bring together multiple experiences skillfully enough that people won't be alienated by the union.


I think it's a bit simpler than you think. And Philip cought a glimplse of it in his interview.
Basically if boils down to the point: people are overwhelmed by TEXT, that's not how they REMEMBER information. Visualization gives us a way to memorise collaboration and communications in a way more suitable to our brain. That's it. This clearly defines the type of applications that will be successful.


Back in November I looked at the virtual geography that Second Life had and compared it to the real world Australian city of Wagga Wagga. Like Hamlet Au's piece, it does provide a suitable metaphor for where virtual worlds are at.

An experience I had yesterday really summed up for me why there's not wider adoption of virtual worlds. I was having lunch with two highly educated professionals, both of which use the internet daily and one even has a health informatics degree. They were talking about wanting to promote something they were doing - I suggested some promotion via social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn may be worthwhile. The response from one was - 'so what are they anyway - I just don't get the Facebook thing'. The other person's response was 'why not just use email?'. That's the level of understanding amongst the significant majority of people - imagine how foreign virtual worlds seem to them.


I think that World of Warcraft will propagate the cycle of Fantasy fantasies. The game industry is already in a period of declining risk aversion. WoW is the most popular Fantasy game now, and when the graphics or - perhaps - the gameplay becomes dated, people will be looking for the next great Fantasy setting, not the next great innovative setting.

That said, the casual virtual experience is really a separate market, and there's plenty of room for growth, especially in the 'casual' factor. A world that can transition seamlessly from mobile, even audio, to photorealism in the home could tap a gigantic market.


"The undisputed leaders in terms of population and revenue are still "men in tights" games -- World of Warcraft, Runescape, etc."

In revenue, maybe, but not in popularity-- just measuring active monthly users from non-Tolkien MMOs like Habbo, Club Penguin, Gaia Online, Kart Rider, etc. gets us 20 million+ to Warcraft and Runescape's 14 million or so. The undisputed leader in popularity are MMOs for kids, which Runescape also fits under, arguably. That's a point I wanted to explore more in that post-- the market for user-created 3D worlds for adults (i.e. SL) seems to be tapping out at half a million at the moment, while paradoxically, 2.5D MMOs for kids keep getting bigger and bigger. At the same time, fantasy MMOs for adults besides WoW seem to be tapping out, too. So you have this big chasm between kid MMOs and adult MMOs. So 4-5 years down the road, will the kids "graduate" to WoW? I think many will, but probably more to SL and its many competitors. A lot of these kid MMOs (Habbo and Gaia for example) are very user-created content centric and they'll expect no less when they reach college and beyond.


I think we also have to consider, and you would expect me to say this I hope, is that we are dealing with a social change that is also embedding itself in business not just free time entertainment.
This needs a different angle to the creativity and use and may take parts of the virtual worlds to places that it could not be expected to go as an purely social medium.
It is in these corporate spaces we will see things like email get challenged, where some potential new models for working will emerge.
Now the flag planting has died down we can all work away and find new and interesting and effective patterns of use.


Matt, agreed on your thoughts.

John, agreed on the transition point -- which could easily turn into a pause, or potentially a solid winter for virtual worlds. There is a lot of money being spent on projects that sounds suspiciously like graphically spiffier versions of what we've seen already, along with other projects trying to find their way in the casual "it's all about minigames" space. Are these enough to carry millions of existing and new users forward?

Hamlet, good points on kids MMOs and the potential to graduate to other games (Runescape and Club Penguin both reportedly see a lot of "aging out," often to WoW). BTW, by "undisputed leaders" I was speaking of them individually, not as a market aggregate.

epredator, it'd be great to see a real actual business case for corporate spaces in virtual worlds. Anyone have one? (Not holding my breath, alas.)


I wouldn't be surprised to see a MMO (virtual world) developed for the Wii. There are a lot of over 30 folks that really enjoy that platform. If you wanted to grow that segment of the game market - a Wii specific MMO might be a huge hit.


The problem is not "men in tights". The problem is that the games are "Men in tights (or spaceships) spending 500 hours killing rats (or space-rats)."


To some degree, MMO's are all men-in-tights games because as soon as the tights are removed, they're suddenly "not MMOs".

I think we'll get Animal Crossing as a sort of MMO on the Wii, it'll be huge, and there's a 50/50 shot at it not being considered an MMO.


Jeff Freeman wrote: "I think we'll get Animal Crossing as a sort of MMO on the Wii, it'll be huge, and there's a 50/50 shot at it not being considered an MMO."

At what point did dinosaurs stop getting called dinosaurs and get renamed to chickens?

Just as the ecological niche for 40-ton land-animals with long necks is pretty limited, so to is the market for people who like to squeeze into tights and kill rats for 500 hours.

Coin a new name if you must, but a chicken by any other name is still a descendent of a dinosaur.

Maybe the successor to MMOs should be called "archaeopteryx", or simply "ryx". (Look ma, no vowels!) :-)


What is there to suggest that SL plateauing is endemic of the state of the rest of the virtual worlds in the wild? Like Hamlet mentioned in the article, there's plenty of reasons within SL itself. If we could associate SL's trend with a leveling off in other worlds, for example, then I'd buy it.


The thing about WoW is not that its fantasy but that it's FUN fantasy, not serious fantasy. The lightheartedness of the game is key to facilitating the social aspects for people, who after all, are doing this to get away from the daily grind. The 'next' will be the next game that can make its genre feel light and appropriate for social interaction in this way, irrespective of what that genre actually is.


Thats like Saying Final Fantasy is the end of Fantasy on Consoles,

There will be other games, and I think Fantasy based MMO, will always take the lead in appealing to the most people

Alot of people myself included, are waiting for the UO version of WoW

Basically a game that does everything UO does but better, like WoW did for Everquest.

Records are made to be broken, and as the net/comps get faster, WoW will be replaced with something bigger and better, thats a fact

btw Secondlife is not a game.. its a social hangout, there is no advancement, no story, no common background, and a social hangout like it, will never appeal to more people then the whatever WoW like popular game is available.


Lots of good stuff already pointed out, so...

Amen that SL is not a game but a 3D chat space. I could never see much appeal, myself, just a lot of people cybering and recreating meatspace experiences in a VW. --I bet SL would never have gotten so much press if it hadn't been for the Anshe">">Anshe Chung>/a> types of financial stories.

Is SL plateauing? I'll bet a quarter that it's more than that: I bet it's trending down.

But that is not a statement about VWs or MMOs. That's about SL.

And a big AMEN to those saying that VWs are still figuring out who they are. Maybe they're adolescents...maybe MUDs were the gestation period and MMOs proper are just going through those awkward teen years...

The best is yet to come.


If you want to get an idea about the future of video game markets or MMO's in particular, just go around and interview some of the people you meet in your daily life. Stop to talk to the girls in the accounting department, or the guys in the maintenance shop. Stand with the smoking crowd outside and see who is there. Ask them all if they play video games. Ask them if their spouse or children play games.

I've done that over the past two years and there are some very clear trends that follow age, but I'm constantly surprised by the lack of a trend in regard to profession, education, or gender.

Older people tend to think of video games as a silly waste of time and don't like to admit that they play if they do in fact play. (While they will gladly discuss the fact that they spend several hours a night watching television. hehe) Middle age people will admit that they play if asked, but tend to shy away from talking about it in social or professional settings. Young people see video games as an integral part of life. My daughter spends as much time online with her friends as she does in real life. She's 11, and plays Club Penguin and Webkins. She's seen me playing Eve and would probably start playing if I encouraged her in the slightest.

For the average grade school person today I don't think it's a question of whether or not they will use a VW when they get older. The question will be what kind, and how much time they spend online vs other leisure activities. MMO markets will continue to grow as the video game market continues to take market share away from movies and television. There will eventually be a saturation limit, but we're nowhere near the time when gaming has reached it's maximum market share.

As more diverse types of people begin to use virtual worlds, there will be more diverse types of virtual worlds. What really scares me is that someone who is playing Club Penguine right now could be President of the United States in another 40 years.


I'm skeptical as hell of the half million active users. I'm going to punt its closer to 100K. LL is notorious for hyping userbase.

I still don't get why the academic world is so hung up on SL. Its technically miles away from best-of-breed , its ugly as hell to look at, and seems more obsessed with money than fun. More to the point, it appears to of completely flopped as a commercial success. With the double digit million figures playing the Dungeons&Dragons and kids muds , SL ain't even a contender.

The ugly person inside me wants to see it as a flop to put the lesson out there "Gold mining and harmful DRM schemes are bad for virtual humans."


Second Life is neither a bellwether nor the canary in the coal mine for this industry. It's unique characteristics make Second Life the most popular VW for people who like to blog about VWs - creating an illusion of popularity. It's an interesting, unique sideshow but as an indicator of larger trends, the numbers required to be statistically significant aren't there.

Irrespective of the other interesting things happening in VWs, it's the fantasy MMO/MUD that continues to represent the big numbers. It's easy to think of our fixation on fantasy as a problem, but there's a huge demand for experiences that lets us slip from real-time to dreamtime. We're not that good at fantasy yet and continue to find richer, more moving experiences in novels. We will get better as we sort out this medium. This quote from Guy Gavriel Kay was directed at the current state of fantasy novels, however the central theme applies just as easily to fantasy MMOs:

"Fantasy fiction occupies an uneasy niche these days. Certain forms of it - the sort the Sunday Times once memorably called 'saga puddings' - sell volume after volume ... after volume. These works, hugely successful as they are, have a downside: they shape the perception of a genre.

Fantasy is usually seen as escapist fiction and that is most often meant as a criticism. Fantasy readers escape from the responsibility of reality, the allegation goes, hiding from the real world amid dragons and magic, broadswords and broads with swords.

Fantasy has the capacity to be as important and as thought-provoking as any other form of literature we have. Indeed, in some ways, the journeys and motifs of classic fantasy can come closer to mirroring the inner journey of the human spirit than almost anything else. The patterns of myth, folklore, archetype and fairy tale embedded in such works are time-honored and immensely powerful, and fantasy can tap more directly into these ancient wells than just about anything else: they are the core elements of the genre."


God, where will I spend all 25 cents? Hmm, Linden Dollars are looking less likely.


I'm surprised that a few ppl have suggested that Nintendo is capable of hosting a virtual world. Have any of you tried to add a friend to a Wii game? Remember the separate friend codes for each game? It seems like Nintendo is not about one big game, it's about separate instances.

But to the point of this article, I don't foresee a VW winter. Virtual worlds are becoming lighter, more open, and less dependent on years of toil and overhead. MMOs are going to move from a separate app and into the browser. The barrier of entry is going to continue to decline, and the population of VWS is going to rise.

Maybe I'm so optimistic because this is what I'm working on, but if the winter winds start to blow it will be the most top heavy worlds that fall first.

and @ SVgr: Yes! Young people, as we're called, have grown up with games and instant messenger. We'll always want somewhere to be with our friends and somewhere to play. It's as natural to us as talking on the phone is to our parents. Just text us. ;)


"The answer isn't more WoW-like worlds: we already have that, and have seen the lackluster success in games like Vanguard and more recently Tabula Rasa (even though it's not strictly fantasy) that might well have flourished in a WoW-less market."

I think you're wrong here. Vanguard tanked because it was buggy, unfinished and was seriously not-very-next-gen in gameplay. Tabula Rasa lacks content, and isn't really a fantasy game.

I don't the fact that no wow-killer has appeared yet, means that none such can appear. It's just very very hard to compete with the amount of polish and content of wow. Warhammer Online might be able to do it.

There is no virtual world winter in sight - there's just a bunch of ivory tower researchers who want a different kind of virtual world than the consumers do. ;)


When I read of Winter's arrival (or perceived arrival, at least in SL), I can't help but hear an echo of the last line in Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ode to the West Wind (

"If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"

Maybe. Flag planting has gone out of style in SL. When that happened with the Apollo space program, nothing similarly exciting came to replace it.

Giff Constable from Electric Sheep ( sees this as the "Crossing the Chasm" time - when there is a transition from the early adopters to the mainstream. That's probably right. There are many barriers to entry for the mainstream. The question is whether those can be lowered enough.

One barrier is the conceptual leap in understanding what a virtual world *is*. This has been discussed elsewhere so I won't belabor it. It's the sort of barrier that will decay over time.

Another barrier is perceived required time investment: people are afraid they'll get sucked in to using SL and end up burning up a lot of time. It's true: an average of 45 hours per month in SL is a lot. I've never tried WoW because I know I'd like it and probably spend hours and hours in it... and I just don't have that kind of time. At least in SL, I can justify time spent by the fact that it supplements my income. Maybe what needs to happen is for there to be some marketing of SL as a places where you can go for a short time as a casual user. Examples:

- Listening to live music - a live music show in SL lasts about an hour and then it's done.

- Visiting specific places like the JPL sim or the Greenies Home sim, which can be toured in a fixed time.


I'll echo part of Troy's comments about the percieved time investment.

I really enjoyed WoW for a year, I had compulively played a MuD (thought it was just idle procrastination moments at my desk but it added up to a lot of destraction ) for a year before that.

I'm like 45 days or so away from the games but in reality my game play had been tapering for months.

That it can taper is a good sign against the idea of "addiction" and looking back I wouldn't use the word addiction because while habitual the times could be constrained and periods of excessive play were correlated to other personal events...just as likely I would have sort of "turtled" out of worldly stresses reading a novel etc but..

but still I'm wary about how fun and satisfying playing the game each night was. It was fun exploring, fun making small incremental accomplishments... fun laughing and joking with real people on vent as we tried repeatedly and cooperatively to progress through dungeons.

Having that much fun interactively made TV un watchable. TV tends to be self limmiting for me and I want to wake up to find some real adventure in the real world... although the effort involved in finding real world adventure demands the pains associated with effort more than that in the game.

I am also wary about playing a new game because I think the games leave me wanting to play them more. Basically putting me in a position where I need to worry if I'm playing more than I should and wishing I could be playing a bit more... frustrated when interupted etc. Perhaps there are other activities like that but most seem more self limmiting.

I wonder too if the game was filling certain hungers that I would normally use to pull myself into work activities rife with uncertainty. A hunger for something new could keep my head down through the work, be a carrot to make me jump hurdles. I worry that the games are too satisfying in ways that quench desires that are useful to regulating wordly actions.

So, I'm a consumer who has enjoyed the vw games who is deliberately going to be wary about consuming product in the future.


BTW , why am I posting here?

Probablly because I want to be playing the games, but have limmited myself and talking about them is as close as I let myself get. Its just that compulsive for me and If I don't watch out I can also compulsivley say the same things over and over again on forrums like these. I have had to make rules for myself about staying out of online philosophical and political discussions which I can also get lost in.

So perhaps I have a personality type thats at risk for lots of activities and its not the games themselves but that the games are risky for me personally. The games are particularly enticing though.


Big things I see are:

1. Crossover of MMOG to consoles. If the technology gets there (and it will eventually, I think history supports that), we will see console MMOG take off at the point where PC MMOG were in the late 1990's.

2. PC MMOGs, as we know them now, appear to be specializing, and consolidating into separate markets, like MMOVR-(SL), MMOG-(EQ, WoW,), MMOC (Competition), MMOS (Simulation), MMOE (Entertainment), and MMOH (Hobby, like Eve Online lol) which starts to cross the grey line between game and part-time activity.

3. If PC MMOG's can break the voice barrier and integrate it in such a way where it is entertaining and "in character" - that will be a great leap.

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