Near-term future of virtual worlds

The past year has been disruptive to 3D immersive virtual worlds with closures or fire sales of consumer and enterprise level companies.  Though not that drastic, this week, Mark Kingdon, CEO of Linden Labs and maker of Second Life announced a 30% reduction of it’s staff (press release here).  That’s about 90 people of their current 300 or so employees.

Part of the reasoning for the restructuring is to focus on the development of a brower-based version of Second Life which is going to take some significant resources and development.  Secondly, they want/need to integrate with social networks as “Ultimately, we want to make Second Life more accessible and relevant to a wider population,” Kingdon said.  I know that growing their base was Mark’s original task when he first came onboard a few years ago; as I blogged about in the past, SL has been unable to deliver a frictionless-as-possible first-hour experience.

So, for the short-term, it’s still a bit too early for prime time for the 3D immersive virtual worlds space.  I know that IMVU is holding it’s own but personally, it’s not my cup of tea as bad behaviors (a la SL) is pretty rampant through their worlds and as that reputation grows, like Second Life, those behaviors will limit mass adoption of the product.  Mingleverse, an immersive 3D world ironically yet understandably using 1-sided, 2D pictures as avatars , is launching on Facebook.  Exposure on Facebook may educate an entirely new and mass audience to the concepts of immersive 3D virtual worlds and perhaps pave the way for a revitalized Second Life.

Unfortuately, Club Penguin’s missed earnout targets may have thrown cold water onto the faces of potential investors or buyers for kids virtual worlds.  The list of kids through teen virtual world start-ups was long a year ago; I haven’t checked to see how they are holding up today.

Clearly, on the consumer or casual virtual event participant, no client downloads is the trend.  Flash or the highly popular Unity platform works but with the launch of the iPad, HTML5 can’t be overlooked.

So where is the money to be made in Virtual Worlds?  IMHO, it’s using the technology to solve real pains today – which exist in the business world.  There are true hindrances in 2D virtual presentation solutions like WebEx and I believe that 2D event solutions will shrink as 3D solutions like Digitell take their place.

To make money in the near-term, look to virtual trainings, hybrid or all-virtual conferences, and for a lucky few with strong government or huge corporate clients that need and can afford the intensive behind-the-firewall installations, highly specialized virtual modelling, virtual trainings/simulations, and collaboration. 

Video conference meetings or conversations without streaming media or decks is a middle area that is not getting a lot of attention because frankly, regular conference calls may be just “good enough.”   There simply aren’t a lot of cheap alternatives for video conferencing in the 10+ participant range.

What do you hate the most about conference calls or 2D web presentations?  Are  you ready to try a new solution?

3 thoughts on “Near-term future of virtual worlds”

  1. This is music to my ears. Indeed many virtual worlds in use have been technology for technology sake, and as the uniqueness wears off, the questions of why they exist and what pain they solve comes to the surface. That said, if erected with these questions in mind, they can offer advantages that other environments cannot. My company has a focus in the space on how challenging problems can be solved by providing context to the user as he/she collaborates in a serious game or virtual world designed for this purpose. In short, it is important to begin with the problem and not with the technology.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and yes, we are like-minded! WisdomTools looks fantastic and I’d love to chat with you more about it. I’m working on a Virtual World Conference scheduled for September in the Silicon Valley and would love to see you there. – Nina

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