Second Life has recently generated a lot of buzz. It all starts with a post on their web site : restructuring. More precisely, 30% of employees are fired, and their Singapore office closes.
It is a serious issue for all people who, like me, believe in the business of virtual worlds. We need to remind the history of Second Life. At first, Linden Lab was created by Philippe Rosedale with the aim to build a software that would be sold. Second Life was created as a showcase, a proof of concept of the capacity of the platform. However, Philippe is more and more interested in the social aspect of Second Life, to a point that he may have forgotten the business issue. Not a good thing to do when you have Mitch Kapor, Pierre Omidyar, and Jeff Bezos at your board. Well, facebook is in the same mood, but facebook is over 400M accounts, while Second Life is around 16M, which is low, even though the peer to peer transactions amount for 567MUS$ in 2009, a very nice result in my view. So Philippe was replaced by Mark Kingdon, who decided to go back to the basics, and create an enterprise solution. Well, he created two enterprise solutions : the first one is just owning islands in the main grid, with specific features such as more flexible avatar naming, the second one, “second life enterprise beta”, being beyond the firewall.
This is, in my view, the main issue: it is not possible for a company to have both a B2C offering, and a B2B one. Amongst all issues, two are huge. The first one is about culture; sales process are not the same, sales people are not the same, pitch are not the same, eventualy it means having two different teams, which is costly. Let us remember the excellent words from crossing the chasm: “better have three customers who talk together than ten who don’t”. The second issue is about product roadmap; obviously, the requierment from a social network are not the same as the one from companies, specially the corporate ones. This leads to tension on the product. Moreover, social networks are not that much the friends of CIOs… Consequences are dramatic: the residents are more and more disapointed by SL; the B2B inworld offer seems to offer a low level of reactivity (friends of mine talk about many weeks before having an answer), and Second Life enterprise beta business model, 55k$ per year for 16 islands but only 8 simultaneous, looks outrageous, specially compared to other collaborative tools.
What is emerging now looks like a willingness from resident to step back from SL. For those close to the original spirit of Rosedale, opensim seems a good candidate. However, remains a big problem: what about all assets inworld? Everybody has in mind the closure of metaplace, and the resulting loss of assets. Maybe this is why VenueGen has offered to migrate enterprise assets into its own world?
Shall we assist to a Second life crash ?
Whether it happens or not, I still believe in virtual worlds. This excellent post made after Thinkbalm decision to widen its scope (we must all thank Thinkbalm for their constant support to Virtual Worlds), shows many positive coming aspects. In the hype curve, Virtual Worlds are clearly at the Trough of Disillusionment. Time is now on for technology to show its real potential.
What are the positiv aspects?
- The most important is the vgov initiative, lauched by US administration, whose aim is to manage virtual worlds for all US administrations. The Internet exist mostly because of the important role played by US administration, the same story may happen with Virtual Worlds. Four platforms have been selected : Web.alive; Forterra (acquired by SAIC); teleplace; and Vastpark, a very innovative opensource platform. Second Life has not been slected.
- Education already makes a huge use of virtual worlds. The special issue of the journal of virtual worlds research shows interesting results.
- Healthcare sector is also a place where virtual worlds have had big success, in SL, but not only. A study performed by doctors showed the great advantage of virtual world as a training tool.
- The enterprises are more and more interested in serious games. I can’t imagine serious games without a virtual world. With this respect, the openness of the technology becomes a key success factor…
- Tradeshows, conferences, are more and more moving to virtual worlds, with big success. Not only cost of travel is lowered, but the quality of interaction is superior to 2D tools, as shows IBM case study. Robots have now their virtual conference; and even wine producers go for it !
- On the social side, Kids and teens are massively in virtual worlds. Almost 400 millions users in the range 8-15 years old are in virtual worlds, comparable to the number of facebook users, but who has a larger scope in terms of age.
I would like to add a personal touch. Many times, I have met people very reluctant to the internet, people who did not understand the importance of social networks, forum, for whom the web was no more than an online content tool. I was always able to change their perception by showing them machinimas realized in corporate situations. Their reaction was always the same : “at last I understand what it is all about”. Well, let us be honest : facebook interface is amongst the most complicated we can imagine. At least, a 3D interface is easy to understand.
The immersive web is now entering a time of obvious concrete realizations. On the technological side, tools are diversified, some close to games or social networks, some close to corporate intranet tools. The biggest improvment is their availability through the browser. I It is now obvious thet the browser is the entry point to the Internet, and 3D plugins are the preferred solution to clients download. WebGL norm, when available, will be a huge step.
Virtual worlds are now entering their mature phase, and we shall all thank SL to have shown its potential value.