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.

 

Second Life Given Back to the Role Players

The Tesla Room in the soon to close France3D futuna sim

So I spent a  fair amount of posts devoted to what seems to be a battle of “visions” going on in Second Life.  A string of posts starting with this one I wrote a year ago.  I have written so many I just decided to create a new sl visions tag. Click to see all the related posts.

So here is the story in a paragraph.  There have been three competing “visions” of what SL should be: The role-player vision, the merchant vision, and the 3D Facebook vision.  Since the resignation of the last CEO Mark Kingdon, the temporary CEO Philip Rosedale has systematically disassembled the 3D Facebook vision, largely because it is unworkable (as I predicted).  Because of the resources spent, changes requested by the merchants have not only not happened, but actually they are worse now.  Merchants continue to quit with profits way down.  That leaves us role players basically in charge, and if you have seen the latest re-design of the main Second Life page, you will see, that SL has recognized it as well.  We are back to “Your World, Your Imagination” again (though not in those exact words).

Now a lot has happened under the brief Rosedale administration:

  • Second Life Enterprise Grid – Gone
  • Basic account support – Gone
  • Premium support – once 24 hours, now limited hours
  • Non-Profit/Educational Sim discounts – Gone (or soon will be)
  • Avatars United – Gone
  • X-Street, soon to be integrated into game, currency exchange Gone
  • Teen Grid – Gone (or soon will be)
  • Community Gateways – Gone

Now many of these I am sad to see are disappearing, while others I say good riddance.  What they are doing is simplifying the whole thing.  Simplifying, always a good thing.  The general philosophy is now a “hands off” policy, meaning they are giving us players more autonomy.

Meanwhile, check out where their current development efforts are focused:

  • Mesh
  • Display Names
  • Voice Morphing
  • Wearable Avatar Physics
  • Havok 7 support

Here is what they all have in common:  They are all good for us role players.  If you are in SL because you enjoy pretending you are someone else, whether that is a formal role player in a community, or an informal role player pretending to be someone you are not, then SL seems to be catering to you again, after a couple of years where they weren’t.

Here’s the cloud to go along with that silver lining.  Philip Rosedale has stepped down, and Linden Lab is once again looking for a new CEO.  Furthermore, there is good evidence that the remaining employees don’t really seem to “get” the whole RP vision thing.  Here is hoping they hire someone who does.  Unfortunately, I am not that hopeful.

Wither the Merchant Vision

So there are now two different visions left about what Second Life is, or should be. What vision you are apart of is largely based on what motivates you to play. I call these visions “role play” and “merchant” as a short hand way of understanding them.

There are builders who build for fun, they are part of the role play vision. There are builders who build for profit, they are part of the merchant vision. There is a lot of mixing and gray area obviously.

We can all see that SL has plateaued, and will likely decline soon. This is very bad for the Merchants. It is possible that Mesh could revitalize the market, but I am leaning to the idea that it will radically change the market so much that it is unlikely to help the current merchants.

Most of us Role Players have accounts in other places, especially many open sim grids. When SL closes, we’ll probably spend a little time mourning, then we’ll be elsewhere.  Us non-merchant types will likely move on to Open Sim and start building there. Heck, a lot of them already are. Similarly the various role play communities would move and rebuild as well.

The Merchants don’t have many other places to go.  With no currency, no theft protection, no one to file a DMCA complaint to, the merchants have no desire to move to Open Sim, even if there were no SL.  The market place in SL is one of a kind, the closest is IMVU, and it is about a tenth of the size of SL.

The RPers may have built SL, but it is the merchants that made SL popular, they provide most of the content we RPers enjoy.  We non-merchant RPers are better off with the merchants around, which means we are better off with SL around.

I believe that when SL eventually closes, there will be a new virtual goods market somewhere, innovation abhors a vacuum.  Maybe not of the same nature as SL, but I see other virtual good markets, like Renderosity and various app markets, succeeding in other similar venues, so it is only a matter of time before there is another virtual goods market where creative people can make a few bucks.  This is another topic I have already written about.