The virtual world industry can be a very contradictory one, where trail-blazing developers often allow vision and possibility to run ahead of market feasibility. Raph Koster's Metaplace project partnered with the virtual education firm 3D Squared to promote higher standards of hands-on technology education nationwide, but fell victim to a lack of profitability in the short-term. I even applauded Metaplace for its innovative approach to embedded virtual world spaces just hours before Koster publicly announced Metaplace's scheduled closure.
Now a similar fate has befallen There.com, which recently announced its scheduled closure after twelve years as an interesting playground for fun and research. This stands in sharp contrast to the success of social media developers like Playfish and Zynga, the latter of whom is on track for a highly-anticipated public stock offering and its most profitable year to date.
I've seen a few articles about how the closures of hyped worlds like Metaplace and There.com portend the end of the virtual world "hype cycle," with aging platforms like Second Life and new entrants like Blue Mars facing an uphill fight in a bad economy. The Escapist even reports on how advertisers are running from the current virtual world business darling, Playstation Home.
But this is unnecessarily negtive. One need only take a look at the booming market for social media games to see that the current trend is not so much the end of virtual worlds as a transition towards innovative new ways of delivering content.