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
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?