Industry Increasingly Doubtful Over Second Life’s Sustainability

Beatlefest_Blarney_10-09-2006_1077x808pxBashing Second Life is a time honored tradition, but a recent piece critiquing the world's long-term potential may be the most compelling.

Michael Hickins, a writer for InformationWeek, combines the concerns of various media outlets and virtual world skeptics into a readable and disconcerting piece on the potentially grim future of Second Life.

Then again, skeptics have been calling Second Life's death for years. Pixels and Policy investigates whether Hickins has the proof behind his predictions.

High Barriers to Virtual Success

Hickins starts off by discussing a point we've been concerned about for some time: The coding and control scheme of Second Life is just too complex for a massive wave of new content creating minds to bother with. From his article:

A business that depends on writing dauntingly complex code running on
giant server farms to lure users to a bandwidth-hogging digitized
playscape where they can flirt or do business…is a little bit daunting to say the
least.

Unfortunately, this is true, which is why future competitors like Blue Mars are supporting industry-standard technology like Maya from the beginning. If a future competitor can offer content creation without corporate designers having to abandon their industry software, it could give Second Life a run for its Linden Dollars.

Now, no one at Pixels and Policy believes Second Life will be dust in five years – Linden Lab is turning a profit off of its virtual playground, after all – but the era of rapid growth in active accounts may be drawing to a close.

The Strain of Being a Superpower

Could it be that Second Life is reaching its carrying capacity? It's hard to tell, given that there are few real competitors to Second Life currently in the market. In-game currency transactions are rising without much slowdown, as Linden Lab happily reports, but can the now Rosedale-less Linden Lab expect another year of active account gains near 100%?

What's more, can Second Life expect an endless stream of high-end capital from corporations and government agencies after repeated failures in virtual branding? If large companies decide to sit out the risky virtual world ventures, Linden Lab will lose a major portion of its growth potential. If corporations decide to move to another (as yet unknown) virtual world, even worse.

Just because Second Life is the only major player in the freeform virtual world industry does not mean it will be an easy job to retain customers. Virtual worlds have a set number of possible converts – eventually, as was the case with households purchasing desktop computers – Second Life will hit its carrying capacity. Then the difficult questions arise.

Is Linden Lab prepared to answer them?

One thought on “Industry Increasingly Doubtful Over Second Life’s Sustainability”

  1. Um. OK. Yet again a “how do I bump my traffic up” headline followed by assertions that don’t bear scrutiny.
    But before I jump into that, can I get a list of the Pixels & Policy team? You say: “Now, no one at Pixels and Policy believes Second Life will be dust in five years” – which has me believing there’s this giant editorial board mulling over the issues and coming to pronouncements. Um, it’s you right? And a few guest authors now and then. Give me a break.
    OK, so let’s back-track through your assertions, forgetting for a moment Hickens larger points.
    Starting with the headline – “Industry Increasingly Doubtful”….um, which industry? You don’t even link to the IW article. But I’m not sure who all these industry wise mean are that are rejecting virtual worlds? The ones who are buying Nebraska and Immersive Workspaces and countless regions? The plumbing industry?
    Next: the “point you’ve been concerned about for some time” (um, some time? Your blog has been active for two months – is that “some time”? Or were you publishing elsewhere?) – to draw the conclusion that Blue Mars has solved the puzzle of ‘dauntingly complex code..and bandwidth-hogging digital landscapes” is patently absurd.
    Have you ever tried to USE Maya? And do you have any idea how much bandwidth Blue Mars uses compared to SL? Good lord, it took me 45 minutes just to download it and I’m on a fast connection.
    But to conflate using Maya with greater accessibility is just bone-headed. Even the open source 3D development tools are insanely difficult to use compared to rezzing prims.
    The logic of your argument doesn’t hold water: 1) Blue Mars is MORE bandwidth intensive, and 2) being able to pull in corporate designers running industry software presumes that what we all want to do is run around Virtual Venice or some 3D mountain in Blue Mars and have our entertainment spoon fed to us.
    OK – point two, and you betray both your bias and your ratings hunger with terms like “virtual playground”.
    Are you totally unaware of the amount of business that’s happening in Second Life at the enterprise level? Your repeated references to branding failures is rehashing 2007 not 2009.
    Palomar West is a prefect example – it achieved incredible success because it had a specific use case, a specific target audience, and a specific purpose. Was it meant to be some kind of tourist attraction that people visited for years to come? No – it was meant to be an immersive display of a REAL hospital so that local area residents, politicians and stakeholders could have a sneak peek at the future. Maybe they should have shut the sim down when the demo period was over but I’m totally not buying this ‘failures of virtual branding’ meme you’re trying to propagate.
    I mean, fine, you want to relive 2007 it’s your business, but there were far more intelligent commentaries at the time about why brands failed during the hype phase.
    The rest of it is total conjecture with no particular point, research to back it up, or logic.
    “IF large companies decide to sit out…”
    “IF corporation decide to move on…”
    OK, sure – and IF San Francisco falls into the ocean we’ll be able to reinvent the Internet.
    At which point I’m totally lost in any case, you’ve switched from the consumer use of virtual worlds to enterprise use, and then flip back again to some comment about desktop computers which is just bizarre – as if Second Life has maxed out the number of potential people who could still join the world but haven’t, as if we’ve hit a plateau, when I’d bet that the average awareness level of virtual worlds in general or Second Life in particular is well under 10%.
    Is Second Life some light application like Twitter? No – but even on that conversation there have been far more engaging and thoughtful comments.
    I think I’ll avoid the frustration in the future and just avoid reading, but these kinds of arguments aggravate me.

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