The Next Ten in Second Life


When SL started it was at the cutting edge of tech. Myst Online was releasing about the same time. In both cases immersion was important. In Philip’s interview you hear him talking about how being in SL chatting is vastly different than being in a text chat room.

My belief is the tech one needs to understand to participate in SL is too high for most people. There is too much to learn.

Technology is going to get us to the place where we can have a lower learning curve. As the Lab is working on an interface now, we may well have it out before others do. That may take some explaining…

Unreal, Unity, and others, that make game design platforms, are building in the tools to allow game developers to build for Oculus. I have no doubt that Leap will be in the game designers’ thinking and efforts too. But, they are sort of a second generation while the tool makers are a first generation. So, if the Lab, pretty much a first generation tool maker, gets a great UI out, it may just be that everyone comes to look at the tool and experience an existing virtual world.

People will be looking for places where they can play with their new hardware. SL may just be it.

I have no idea how long this window of opportunity will last. I am optimistic it will boost SL and to some extent OpenSim.


The trick to appeal to businesses and their ad dollars is whether there are enough eyes looking at a promotional effort.

When the 2007 hype was running large corporations had no idea what they were dealing with. They did not want to miss an opportunity; they had money, so they tried it. It didn’t work out. But, it was a worthwhile risk for them.

We have recently seen corporate advertising start to pull back from Facebook. Facebook certainly has enough eyes. The problem is getting those eye to the promotional pages. Game promoters running games on Facebook love it. But, GM cut back on their Facebook budget.

This is similar to the problem of getting people to a corporate promotional region in SL. So, it depends on your business and how you can promote it.

Think about Toyota having a region and showroom in SL. At the time Toyota was in SL even the best SL builders could build only a poor representation of the Toyota vehicles. It was just barely the sculpty age. If you have looked at the brochures automotive types use to promote their products, you know they go for high-quality promotional materials. That level of material was not available in SL.

Also, who in their right mind wants to go look at advertisements? Only someone who is looking for that product. So, one has to have a lot of people shopping for the product coming in and knowing that a vendor has their products on display before they get any traffic. Again, not having good built-in search engine abilities and exposure to the Google/Yahoo indexing spiders, hurts SL.

We are gaining the higher quality materials needed to meet the standards of corporate advertising. But, we are some ways from having the ubiquitous nature needed to have people think of looking in SL to see a product. We will lack enough eyes to be attractive to general advertising and probably will for some time.

Player Retention

Even with Rift-Leap we still have the challenge of keeping people in SL. On Facebook there are a load of 2D building and leveling games. Land is free in Facebook 2D space. It is simple presence that costs. Giving everyone an unbounded farm is cheap. Not so true in SL.

This is where Hamlet and others have a point when discussing the financial model of SL. Selling land holds SL back in many ways. But, currently there is no other source of income sufficient to replace land tier.

A million pairs of eye a month doesn’t do much for a corporate ad exec when Facebook gets that many eyes in an hour or less. So, until we see the cost per eye drastically change, corporate advertising will pass us by, which may be a good thing.

So what is going to keep them?

We know quite a bit about player retention. The paper I quote most often is the most comprehensive study I know of: Chun-Yuen Teng’s and Lada A. Adamic’s paper: Longevity in Second Life. It shows social interaction is the single most decisive factor.

I can’t imagine how Rift-Leap is going to improve that facet of SL. Well, on second thought, there is the increased immersion…

With 400,000 people signing up each month and SL only growing by 2% a year, there is some room for growth. That 400k is 67% of the active user base. We are probably pretty close to reality when we say more than half of them find SL too difficult to learn and leave.

Those that talk about how to keep people in SL often talk about getting people to whatever interests them as a hook to hang around and put in the effort to learn SL. Some think making the viewer easier to use would solve that problem.

The Lab does studies and tries to figure out how to make it easier. But, the problem is teaching people to handle a 3D world via a 2D interface that is foreign to everything they have ever experienced. They have nothing to base their learning on. The Rift-Leap could reduce the learning curve by coming more inline with people’s RL experience.

Of course the trade off is cost. But there is a group of people that will go for the Rift-Leap. So, that lowered learning curve could have an impact on retention numbers.

As for a hook to keep people around, all the content in SL displayed in striking 3D immersion could be a generic hook that appeals to a mass market. Just the fascination of having a 3D virtual world with shiny new hardware could keep people around.


There are possibilities. How they will play out, I can’t know. I am speculating that SL will become popular for a time because of the Rift-Leap for some time.

There are those that will say the Lab will blow it. Well, they are not solely responsible for what happens next. We share a huge amount of the responsibility, especially if the hook is fascination with seeing this virtual world in a Rift-Leap setup.

The UI developed for SL could well make or break my expectations. But, people learn the UI on Blender… OMG! So, the UI is not the sole criteria here.

No matter what we do or the Lab builds into SL, this is not a world that is for everyone. But, with a lower learning curve for those fascinated with the Rift-Leap, we might double our retention rate. Adding 4% would slowly grow SL. And word could spread and people could get interested. Growth could be explosive.

Without solid numbers on why people are leaving SL and how many directly from the learning curve or how many will spend $400 for Rift-Leap, we can’t make anything but wild guesses.

So, we’ll have to wait and see. I choose to be optimistic.

6 thoughts on “The Next Ten in Second Life

  1. One flip-side tangent to all of this is that computers are getting dumber! Not the desktops and gaming laptops that most in SL use, but the tablets that are all the rage today. Part of this is the RL economy, the computer companies are marketing what the masses can afford, but this is creating expectations that inexpensive tablets are the new norm.
    I have no idea how LL will adjust to this reality, but they will have to somehow.

    • Good article, interesting! In addition to Shugs comment about computers, I wonder if all the new features and updated viewers also affect the number of active users are in Second Life.

      I am very positive to all the new possibilities with the latest technical updates and would love to see the effect, but unfortunatelly my computer is way to old or has been too old since the first mesh viewers started to be released.

      In order to keep up with all the new features, I would need to invest in a totally new. Even if I may afford it, personally don’t feel it is motivated by this reason alone, the cost of a new “SL compatible computer” in order to be able to enjoy the new features of SL. I wonder if this is not the case too for many others.

      Especially since the U.S. population is a big part of Second Life users and when the economy is the way it is, I doubt many will prioritize a new computer in favor for other neccessary things. It would be interesting to see a comparison of amount of users vs technical updates from the start as you also mention, but I guess that is something they never will release officially 🙂

  2. “Without solid numbers… choose to be optimistic”, You are so right, it would be indeed good to get the numbers back we once had on our fingertip.

    Honestly, i tend not to be real optimistic for Rift.

    But believe that Leap could be integrated and adopted by maybe ~2% of the SL-population somehow. And that would be a real good number on my upper estimations for the first three years after it is integrated in the SL-viewer.

    Reason for my believe is that on one side the price might be somehow high (just look what old PeeCees are coming to SL) and not clearly seeing the way how the interface could merge up for Rift (thinking about how easily type with Rift).

    Btw, the sentence “From that view point SL is doing pretty badly, 2% verses 241%.” is lets say, ‘misleading’ comparing yearly grows with the total grows over 5 years of the other source. The direction is right indicated but the numbers both on annual base should by given numbers say 2.62% (grows per year of SL population) and
    35.2% (grows per year of playing US citizen)

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