3D Virtual Worlds Are In Decline

Catching up with the news on 3D Virtual Worlds, has been getting a little depressing lately.  Bottom line: they are all down in traffic.

Lets start with some news on the LL/SL front:  Linden Lab announced two weeks ago that they bought an interactive fiction company called LittleTextPeople. The small company develops 2D interactive fiction for play on mobile phones from what I can tell.  The group will develop new products under the Linden Lab roof, but they will not be associated with Second Life.  In other words, Linden Lab is finally diversifying its gaming line up.  This is what happens when you hire a game developer as your CEO, you start to develop new games.  Not reported anywhere is that one of the 3 developers at LittleTextPeople is Richard Evans, lead AI programmer for The Sims 3 who no doubt worked with LL CEO Rod Humble when he was in charge at EA/Maxis.  The other two are Emily Short, writer/programmer of text adventure Galatea, and Andrew Stern co-creator of a really cool experimental 3D interactive game called Façade.  Both are available for free.

So from the sounds of it, Linden Lab is looking to get into the mobile app market with interactive fiction.  Based on my minimal level of research, the project(s) that LittleTextPeople are working on are pseudo menu driven graphic interactive fiction. (since typing things on a phone/tablet is an annoyance to begin with).  Looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

But that is not all from the Linden Lab front. It seems LL has stopped publication of statistics for Second Life. The unanimous consensus is that the reason for no publication is that the numbers are way down.

Lets put these two items into perspective.  Linden Lab is diversifying their product line towards mobile apps, while Second Life is dropping in traffic, land sales, etc.  Linden Lab is looking to a future without its signature product.  I said before that I believe SL will close its doors when it stops being profitable, and we seem to be close to that point it sounds like.

I decided to take a look at other 3DVWs and see how they are doing.  IMVU is seeing lower numbers these days too.  There Inc is not seeing the huge influx of returning customers it was hoping for when it reopened its doors. It seems that maybe the age of the 3DVW is about up.

Some of the smaller ones are doing OK: NuVera is finally out of beta, and it seems a lot more stable. Avination says they fixed the sim crossing problem for vehicles in OpenSim.  InWorldz is now big enough to start holding a conference in Las Vegas. Onverse is still expanding with new lands and content. Despite some small time success, I am not hearing about any new ones lately, not even new OS grids.

What’s driving people away from the big 3D Virtual Worlds? Probably boredom, social networking, and the influx of “free to play” MMORPGs which are learning to incorporate the social aspects that used to be exclusive to 3DVWs.

I’m not expecting a lot of closures though, just the usual 3 or 4 a year. These things have long tails, and can get by for quite a while with loyal fan bases.  But the “golden age” is behind us.



  • “The unanimous consensus is that the reason for no publication is that the numbers are way down.”

    Hardly unanimous. In fact, there’s no indication that the numbers are either up or down from this time last year.

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  • I’m not sure what your source for this statement is: “There Inc is not seeing the huge influx of returning customers it was hoping for when it reopened its doors.”.

    There, Inc’s hope was to completely resurrect the former world, and attract enough paying customers to at least break even, if not make a profit to continue to grow the business. There were NO expectations of a “huge influx of returning customers” since we’re looking for a subscription base, rather it’s former “freemium” model.

    As of March we’ve resurrected all of the world’s functionality except for accepting new Developer submissions, and actually made a small profit for the month of February. While we’re excited that we’ve got “into the black” so quickly (a first for There in its 10+ year history), we’re still cautious about the future.

    • Thanks for the correction, nice to hear you are in the black already. I’ve been in world a few times this last month, and it looks pretty much the way I remember it, only less populated. Places seem to load faster, and so far I have not run into the rubberbanding from the old days. Keep up the good work!

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  • Honestly i think you nailed the problem by your comparison with F2P games. Most virtual worlds just look bad and move worse while F2P games have improved a lot in recent years, closing in on subscription offers.

    Obviously something like Second Life does have a fairly punishing impact on bandwidth because of all the custom textures and scripts, but for most other Social Worlds out there there’s just no excuse (and when you think like a game programmer you can squeeze quite a lot of customization in anyway).
    Compare say the avatar and clothing customization in a free MMO like APB:R (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WhOTrc5554) with your typical VR it’s just embarrassing. Most virtual worlds look amateurish and a decade old.
    About the only Virtual World out there that looks decent right now seems to be Play Station Home (and it’s made for a game console ofcourse).

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  • New reader here, I just found your list of ‘more3Dworlds’ and see that it needs to be updated: VIE closed back in January. As an explorer more than a gamer, I feel like neither MMORPGs nor the 3DVR worlds meet my need for realistic immersion. I want to lose myself in a place without the distraction of quests and goals, but open worlds are not giving me enough detail to suspend my disbelief. When a game like “Batman: Arkham City” comes out and boasts about letting players pick up any object in the environment, I wish I didn’t have to become Batman or fight villains — i just want to visit! Surely they could profit from an aftermarket for these worlds, since they’ve already invested in the engine and assets. Why can’t they sell me a backstage pass and let me turn off the gameplay and simply explore?

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  • I dumped Second Life as soon as they announce kiddies could roam freely.

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