Saturday, April 7, 2012

Whither Second Life?

The future is called "perhaps," which is the only possible thing to call the future.  And the only important thing is not to allow that to scare you.

Tennessee Williams
This week, I’m going to do something a little different, at least for me. I’m going to speculate a bit about the future of Second Life (SL).  Let me put it another way, will this virtual world so many of us call home always be there when we’re looking for a break from Real Life (RL)? 

What led me here?  Well, first off, my original story for this week fell through at the last minute.  (Don’t worry, we’ll reschedule, it’ll be a great story! IMHO)  So, while surfing the Web searching for the next “big idea” I came across several stories either portending future difficulties for SL or stating outright there will be issues. 

Before I go any further, I want to warn everyone that this will not be another “the sky is falling” story about SL.  While uncertainty may be ahead inworld, life, whether SL or RL, is always about uncertainty.  I hope that those reading this blog will be motivated to become more involved inworld and bring their friends in with them. Without the residents participating and bringing their concerns to Linden Lab (LL), the end will not be good. 

OK, let me then get off my soapbox and get to the point. 

Three recent blog posts have caught my attention. 

First, Daniel Voyager has written about Tyche Shepherd’s recent analysis of the main grid regions total in SL dropping below 30,000 for the first time since January 2010.  Not just another interesting statistic, this tells of LL’s revenue base slowly receding.  A related point, LL has recently discontinued publication of its remaining inworld economic data.  I suspect that if this data had been positive, it would still be published. 

Then I came across Ariane Barne’s blog about virtual worlds being in decline.  She writes of the Golden Age of virtual worlds being behind us.  Ariane cites “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” as contributing to the demise of virtual worlds such as SL.

Finally, I dropped by Wagner James Au’s blog, New World Notes.  In a recent blog, he questions how can SL’s users be increasing while user concurrency remains static.  Wagner fairly observes how this can be so but notes that with the lack of data once available this is only supposition now. 

After reading these blogs and similar material on the Web, I’m seeing several trends that will affect SL and its communities.  Here’s my list:

·       LL is not making investments in its technology and infrastructure to permit a scalable solution
·       New SL products don’t really cut it (I’ve been to Realms and am underwhelmed.  I haven’t been to Wilderness yet but first reports say I’m not missing much.)
·       RL technology is changing (e.g., iPhones and iPads) but SL is still trapped in desktops and laptops.  (Now, there’s a slogan for a mass movement, “Free SL!”) 
·       LL acquisitions are in businesses moving away from SL (i.e., Little TextPeople)

Someone might ask (and, if they won’t, I will) what’s this all going to mean to SL’s communities and residents?  The answer – a lot.  I see three major issues arising from these insidious changes to SL. 

First, the communities that have been built and maintained by the many residents whom I’ve meeting and writing about are at risk.  Glorf Bulmer recently blogged about the social and creative aspects of SL that draw people to SL as opposed to social media like Facebook.  Where would all these residents go if SL went away?  World of Warcraft?  I don’t think so.  The community experience in SL would be hard to duplicate elsewhere.  For those who say simply go to Inworldz or Avination, I say good luck. Even if these worlds could handle the sudden influx of new members, the diaspora created by the closure of SL would, like so many others in RL history, would find themselves disconnected and adrift.  Cut off from friends.  Many would be lost along the way. Much culture and wealth would be lost along the way. 

Next, residents’ investments in the objects they’ve created would be lost.  How would the prims built over the years by so many be transferred elsewhere?  I’m not even sure it could even be done.  I cannot even begin to think of the total economic value created by all residents since the inception of SL.  If SL were to shut down, what would happen to all this value? 

Finally, let’s say that the last two scenarios don’t unfold, and I sincerely hope that they don’t, there is a third scenario and it’s not particularly pleasant. This last scenario is SL’s gaming gradually deteriorating until logging on is just not worth it anymore.  Can’t happen you say?  How many of you are encountering more lag than usual lately?  Been following the hubbub over the latest SL viewer release?  Or, SL’s attempts to discourage third party viewers (TPV)?  When was the last time you were bounced out of your inworld session? 

Hopefully, by now, I have your attention and you’re worried if not outright scared about the future of SL?  At the risk of sounding like an alarmist, there will be further signs of the end.  SL’s metrics will continue to deteriorate and will, in all likelihood, release less and less information about itself.  Transparency will be at an end.  LL will continue to make insufficient investments in its infrastructure and may even cut back from current levels of spend.  LL will also continue to experiment with non-SL ventures and be distracted from its core competency.  The inworld gaming experience will continue to deteriorate.  The openness of the platform will begin to be a thing of the past.  (Check with TPV developers for more on this.) 

Alright now, I’ve had my say.  I’ve vented my spleen.  Now what?  Do I leave my readers depressed and frightened?  Believe it or not that wasn’t my intent. I want to spend some time talking about what we, yes, we the SL community can do about all this because we can.  The cause is not yet lost. 

What can we do?

First, not only should only should we spend more time inworld, we need to bring others inworld with us.  Bring a friend!  If you don’t have a friend to bring along then go inworld and help the noobies who wandering about lost and wondering why they wasted their time signing up in the first place.

Become part of the community, blog or participate in the SL forums.  Go to social events inworld.  Step out of your comfort zone and do something inworld you wouldn’t do in RL.  Like go to a nudist function as I did a few weeks ago. 

Join a social movement inworld like Occupy Second Life.  Or, better yet, start a new movement!  With all that’s going on in RL these days, there’s certainly a lot to do something about. 

Then there’s LL itself.  They need to be more engaged and be made to understand the valuable brand that they have created.  If residents go away then who can blame LL for throttling back on their investments?  LL has to come back like they did during the so called Golden Age.  That means that we, the residents, need to reach out to them and bring them back before we lose them for good.

So, that’s my blog for this week.  What do you think?  Am I being an alarmist or is there a method to my madness?  I’m being serious this week and for that reason I’m including any pictures.  I don’t want to distract from my message. 

As always, I’m grateful to all for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives. 
I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

     If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.

1 comment:

Glorf Bulmer said...

I started out thinking up a comment on this, and it turned into a whole entry on my blog instead! - here if you're interested. The main thing is, I'm not exactly disagreeing with you, but I am reading some different things into the statistics. (I could, of course, be completely wrong!)