As if an invasion of psychiatrists desperate for work wasn’t hint enough, the metaverse is still big business. Despite the media furore over Second Life and other synthetic worlds having died off considerably, the virtualities themselves have not, as Victor Keegan at The Guardian reports:
Actually, they are booming. The consultancy kzero.co.uk reports that membership of virtual worlds grew by 39% in the second quarter of 2009 to an estimated 579 million. Not all these members are active but I can’t think of anything, anywhere, that has grown so fast in the recession this side of Goldman Sachs bonuses.
There’s another curious thing: Facebook and Twitter are lauded to the skies, but neither has found a way to make money – whereas virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft, Entropia Universe, Habbo Hotel, Club Penguin and Second Life are all profitable because their business models are based on the digital elixir of subscriptions and micropayments, a formula that other websites, including newspapers, would die for. Twitter makes the noise, Second Life makes the money.
If you think virtual worlds are a passing fad, look at the figures. Almost all of the 39% growth came from children.
It seems that many of the newer metaverse startups have learned from Second Life’s very public teething troubles, too:
In order to get a more streamlined experience, most of the new virtual worlds don’t allow users to make their own content. Twinity, which has just raised €4.5m in new funding, has a virtual version of Berlin and Singapore (with London still in the pipeline): you buy existing apartments or rent shops but can’t build yourself. Bluemarsonline.com – still in testing mode – promises much better graphics and more realistic avatars at the expense of not allowing members (as opposed to developers) to create their own content.
With technology moving so fast and a whole generation growing up for whom having an avatar is second nature, virtual worlds have nowhere to go but up. Only they won’t be virtual worlds – just a part of normal life.
Maybe more normal than normal life. After all, if we continue down the paranoid path of protecting children from reality’s every rough edge, the poor sods will still need somewhere to go and hang out.