Well, the cycle seems to be always the same, even after the dot-com era. Companies are still launching impossible-to-sell virtual worlds (not to mention Web 2.0 websites). The whole messiness of the way these “new products” are launched is appalling. They have no business models. They have no idea what they’re selling. Granted, they often have awesome technology, excellent designers, programming experts, and good evangelists. They have talented teams with experience.
But they have absolutely no idea if they have a good business model or not.
Why the stress on business and not on technology? Mostly because Second Life is not an “awesome technological breakthrough”, although it certainly has quite good ideas. The renderer is by far not the best renderer in the world. The user interface was already obsolete in 2001, years before launch. And as we soon will see, not even communication protocols and server implementation are great. Not when compared to other, more sophisticated solutions.
Linden Lab was actually very lucky. They started with the wrong business model, and, even worse, the wrong market. They tried to sell a subscription-based system to games developers, when clearly Second Life was not at the stage where games could be developed on it (and some claim it will never be). Even worse, they started with all the wrong assumptions. Looking at ActiveWorlds, where almost all content is user-created, they tried to push for a similar model — kick-starting with some content (Linden trees, Welcome areas, roads, bridges, and some decorative elements), they hoped that users would do the rest.
They struck gold. It just barely happened to work. But to make money out of it, Linden Lab had to switch markets (from targeting SL to game developers to digital content creators and now to businesses and education for quite different reasons). They did, however, make some bold decisions: listening to Lawrence Lessig and implementing intellectual property protection on user-submitted content (”the user owns the copyright”), allowing the licensing of that content to others through SL’s interface, is dramatic — not even Facebook allows that!
When you add all that up — a combination of technology; innovation; user-generated content where users retain their copyrights and can sell licenses to it; novel business models (3D content hosting!); and luck — you’ll see that launching a new virtual world is anything but a piece of cake!
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