The “SL Killer”

I have to confess — I’m actually not a regular forum/blog reader. Unlike any normal netizen (when was the last time you’ve heard that word…? Probably back in 1997), I don’t really have the habit of reading all about the Internet, its culture, and its development. People assume I’m aware of all the net.celebrities around the world and that I keep in touch with what they write. I “know” only one net.celebrity, Eric Rice, who, in his incarnation in SL as Spin Martin, is an avid enthusiast and unofficial evangelist — besides being both cool, open-minded, intelligent, witty, and a pleasure to read (which I sadly can’t say about most of the other net.celebrities). So, I mostly ignore what is going on at 3PointD, Terra Nova, or any other major gaming/virtual world sites/forums, as well as what all the world is talking about these days. I happen just to read once in a while a few interesting articles, here and there, that friends and colleagues send to me.

It’s clear that 2006/7 would be the turning point of SL: becoming mainstream. In this age and era, this mostly means having perhaps a few dozens of millions of users — hopefully, hundred or hundred fifty million. Without that, you’re just a grain of sand in the whole desert — a tiny blip on the radar that doesn’t register at all. Second Life, however, managed to get the media and the press to focus on “business in Second Life” since the summer of 2006 — after just briefly registering “sex” in 2005, and “games” in 2004 — and this has been the driving force behind the whole movement. You see, “sex” attracts the media, but “business” will draw the crowd’s attention: if you want to go mainstream, and not appeal just to a tiny majority of technological gurus, early adopters, and lonely people, you need to talk to them about business. And Linden Lab has been very successful in doing that.

Obviously, this also means that it starts catching the attention of their possible competitors. During 2005 and most of 2006, the most obvious target for competition was on the computer games industry — since they have the 3D technology, the content designers, and the knowledge to run multi-million environments. In early 2005, Second Life had barely twenty or thirty thousand users, while World of Warcraft had 6 millions — 0.5%. In early 2007, SL has 4 million and WoW has 8. Before the end of this year, SL will have more accounts than WoW, even counting that Blizzard will add extra packs and levels, and new and improved content, etc. So, something strange is going on. An “inferior product” — low frame rates and inferior technology, bad content (designed by users), a weak business model, almost no advertising (except for press releases and word of mouth advertising) is beating a giant in the sheer amount of created accounts. What is going on?

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