Thursday, January 6, 2011

Taking the Second Life User-Created World Concept to the Next Level

The growth of the Second Life active user base has been stagnant for the last couple of years. When contrasted with CityVille's recent jump towards 50 million users in less than a month and IMVU's 600% annual growth rate, it's clear that Linden Lab is missing out on a huge potential market. The trick is to figure out how to break into the rapidly growing mainstream without jeopardizing the current user base and existing $75 million annual revenue stream.

I've been flirting for a while with an idea that I think can meet those aims by extending the foundational vision of Second Life as a user-created world. Here's the basic vision: Second Life developers and entrepreneurs are given tools and support to create and market stand-alone applications using the Second Life platform.

Applications such as:
  • Games
  • Themed 3D Chat Environments
  • Virtual Meeting Space
  • Art Exhibitions
  • Live Entertainment Spaces
  • Neighborhoods
  • Adult-themed applications
These could be marketed without overt reference to Second Life and accessible via a web browser client. So if someone created a pet-breeding game, it could be marketed like any other Facebook application. A new user would respond to a banner ad or Facebook request, choose from a selection of stock avatars, and be transported into the destination. They would never need to leave the game space or interact with the wider Second Life community. Of course, once they gained familiarity with the interface, they'd be prime candidates to try other SL-based applications or join the overall community.

To make this work, Linden Lab would need to do a few things:
  • Release a stable and truly user-friendly web-client solution
  • Enter into an agreement with Facebook to integrate authentication and payment
  • Provide enhanced tools that allow developers to provide a custom selection of initial avatar choices and pre-populate inventories of new users with the required items. 
  • Provide some sort of on-demand scaling capability 

I realize that there is a significant amount of work needed to develop these enhancements. But it's likely that at least some of them are already on the roadmap to support expansion under the current paradigm. The beauty of this approach for Linden Lab is that once the infrastructure is in place, they will benefit from an ongoing stream of virtual attractions with little incremental expense beyond their current cost-structure. The developers will invest in the application development and marketing, Linden Lab will invest in the platform.

This concept would not only benefit Linden Lab, but also give existing entrepreneurs, scripters, builders and other creatives a way to break out of the stagnant inworld population base. Just by extending to Facebook users, they would have access to a rapidly growing $1 billion market.  With a rich platform like Second Life and its existing base of experienced developers, there's no reason that scores of Farmville-level successes could not be created over time. This concept also would play in the market being carved out by game aggregators like Steam.

Finally, this expansion of the platform should have no negative impact on current Second Life residents who aren't interest in participating. The new applications would be built on private islands. And the improvements in infrastructure and scaleability would ultimately benefit everyone.

That's my two cents. It will be interesting to see what direction the new CEO takes this year.

This post is a follow-up to last month's Browser-Based Strategy is Essential for Virtual World Growth


Cisop Sixpence said...

IMVU's growth is not surprising. They seem to be advertising sex on just about every web site I go to. As for Second Life, I've only seen a few banner ads for them, and that has only been since this summer.

eurominuteman said...

This model implies that SL residents and entrepreneurs address the Out-world newbie and embrace mixed reality, in contrast to merely belly-button viewing the domestic In-world newbie and avatar... I Am An Out-World Newbie

Ron T Blechner said...


ELQ said...

Actually, Opensim would be perfect for this and would not need any of that stuff for Second Life. Why would a developer bother with SL when they could create, maintain, and have full authority on their own grid for their game?

Salvatore Otoro said...

I agree with ELQ. On Opensim the whole model would separate everything and those players from the general grid of SL. With that degree of separation everyone wins and the possibilities are endless for many different games.

Botgirl Questi said...

Cisop: Yeah, sex seems to sell when it comes to 3D chatrooms.

eurominuteman: It's true that those who would be creating the attractions would need to be able to step into the virtual shoes of their audience. But I think that one key to this idea is that each application could be segregated from current residents, the rest of the grid, or even on a different grid. To the users, it would be like a standalone application, unless they chose to teleport to Second Life at large.

Hiro: :)

ELQ and Salvatore: Based on my experience on multiple OpenSim grids, I don't think OpenSim is stable enough yet.

eurominuteman said...

The Facebook- and Cloud-like approach has now been embraced by others...

eurominuteman said...

Equivalent for free: Zoho CRM & Skype Screensharing

eurominuteman said...

Botgirl's approach also needs this Customer Relationship Management CRM interface...

ianpahute said...

I think there is some real foundation thinking here. The concept of the stand alone island accessible using a generic web based client is a real way forward.

It would enable the Second Life infrastructure to be used to create targeted standalone applications so favoured by Facebook. It would also allow applications to integrate more with shared virtual worlds.

All the technologies required tondo this have - at least - been demonstrated.

My only concern would be if it was seen as getting people into Second Life. The recent web based client is an examplenof this. You get to toe dip for an hour then have to download the full client.

If this is to work it would have to be seen as an evolution. Not a lure!