Some bloggers have become frustrated with Second Life™. I hear them talking out the frustration by writing about how bad SL is, how dumb the Lab is, how SL is dying, it is all over… yadda, yadda, yaddda… Then there are the bloggers that write as if they know what the Lab should do. Of course none of those writers are making US$45+ million per year. So, lets take a look at some possibilities.
Hamlet has written several articles, I take as mostly objective, about what is wrong and right with SL. So, lets start with those.
- SL Insider: 70% of SLers Don’t Regularly Explore SL, But Mostly Stay in Their Last Logged-In Location.
- Second Life turns 10: what it did wrong, and why it may have its own second life.
Many feel SL is losing users, land, and popularity. I tend to agree with that thinking about losing users. But, that is sort of like saying a 600 mph (965 kph) car has been nerfed to death when it only runs 500 mph. It is still way faster than most people’s car.
We also have the change in SL that mesh brought. Prior to mesh only sculpties were designed outside SL. Everything else was mostly made inside SL while logged on.
Yes, clothing textures were made in Photoshop or GIMP. But, once making sculpties and working with clothing templates was learned, those tasks didn’t take that long. Mesh on the other hand significantly extends the time one is outside SL.
The problem is we have no way to quantify that change. I suspect that is part of the reason the Lab stopped publishing various stats. People would misunderstand the stats and go off on their Chicken Little essays of how quickly SL was supposedly failing based on data they imagine is telling them something. Most simply would never think to question their first take or consider any other possible explanations than their mistake belief.
Hamlet has posted some interesting ideas and thoughts.
One thought being the financial model that supports SL: renting land. I think this is an odd twist on complexity and simplicity. In many ways renting land is renting a hosting service. Obtaining a hosting service to provide a web site for a business or hobby, is somewhat an arcane art. Creating the web site is mostly left to professionals. There are lots of attempts by hosting services to provide site building tools. But, landing on a site made by those tools generally screams ‘AMATEUR’ and they generally eliminate any chance of placing well in the search engines. And when amateur designers attempt to create their own sites, it usually shows.
In SL renting land and using it is much simpler. Getting the land/host for what you want to do is much more like the things we do in RL. People understand all the paradigms needed to use the land. Finding a good host is a new experience for people and is a technology based decision most people are unprepared to make.
In both cases, site hosting and SL land, the tools and skills needed to make a professional presentation using the land/hosting are difficult to learn. Both also require talent. More about these points later.
Hamlet does some analysis of recent and past numbers to point out the million monthly users is much closer to 600,000. After all we have to consider those 400,000 new monthly signups. How many of them login once and never return? Some stay but other long time users stop coming in. If you are not the ‘Lab,’ it is hard to know if SL is gaining or losing people.
In 2008 Metaverse Business worked up a chart on the longevity of SL residents, how long do people stick with SL? Answer: 2 years. That is a generality. (SL Longevity) The interesting thing in the chart is the upward trend. Since 2007 was the peak of SL hype, the chart may be misleading.
In 2008 there were at about 543,000 monthly users. So, 600,000 isn’t much growth, about 10% over 5 years or 2% per year. Saying SL is in a plateau phase of growth is fair enough. But, contrast that to US businesses in 2008 and now. In 2008 the US Census shows 5,930,132 firms with 1 and more employees. The 2010 Census shows 5,734,538 firms with 1 and more employees. (2012 business survey is currently incomplete and data is unavailable, AFAIK.) This is a decrease of 3.3%. In 2008 there were 120,903,551 employees and in 2010 that dropped to 111,970,095, a drop of 7.4%. Try working those numbers into the numbers reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
So, for the Lab to plateau or slightly increase the user base is better than the average business. On the other hand; 56 million Americans were playing games in 2008. By early 2012 that number was 135 million. (Game Sutra) That is a 241% increase. From that view point SL is doing pretty badly, 2% verses 241%. Most of those 135 million are playing Free-to-Play games in the social game market. Again SL is not really a game, so this may be an unfair comparison.
Hamlet concludes that virtual worlds will likely take a place in mainstream culture. As the technology improves the opportunity for virtual worlds increases. Hamlet thinks the Oculus Rift may make the difference, meaning the timing and tech may be coming together.