It’s now official, and perhaps it doesn’t come as a surprise for us Second Life® residents: after half a year of existence as a Beta product, Google decided to shut down Lively. People will still be able to enjoy it until the end of the month, then it’s gone.
It would be unfair to go “told you so!” on Google’s decision. I’m pretty sure that “certain companies” and anti-SL evangelists are gnawing at their nails in despair. I’m also sure that the doomsayers that proclaimed an era where Google’s Lively would totally push SL out of the virtual world history are now going “oops”.
Remember, Google is not perfect. They occasionally get things wrong. It’s interesting that on their Lively newsletter they claim “moove is the new meeting point for all Lively users”. Does that mean that Google is thinking of buying Moove? If so, that would at least be a wise move (pun intended): Moove is actually better than Google Lively. It has far nicer avatars (much closer to SL’s, and they can be personalised), user-generated content to keep everybody happy (yes, you can buy and sell it), around a million registered users, and a Web 2.0 “social site” not unlike Kaneva’s (although they seriously need to hire some good web designers). It’s been around for longer than Second Life (since 1997, in fact), and used to be very popular in Germany (Moove comes originally from Germany) but they also have offices in the US, and, strangely, a strong Portuguese-speaking community as well. And although it’s a Windows-only application, it works under emulation on a Mac or on Linux.
Sadly, however, it also sucks.
In any case, there is a negative effect about the failure of Google to keep alive a virtual world. With Google being acclaimed as the company that does magic with its development team, the next giant to (finally) overthrow Microsoft (who, in turn, have overthrown IBM), many analysts will claim that the problem is not with Google — but with 3D virtual worlds. So expect that soon you’ll read all sorts of articles on how “it is impossible to monetarise virtual worlds — not even Google managed that”. There will be harsh criticisms on all virtual world evangelists, all pointing to how “even Google can fail”, and how in this brave new order under a financial crisis, virtual worlds are simply the wrong horse to bet.
Well, even with all the terribly bad decisions recently made by Linden Lab, the plain and simple truth is that LL makes money out of Second Life. A lot of money — enough to support five offices and 300 employees, and even make a profit. They won’t ever be filthy rich like Blizzard with World of Warcraft, but in less than five years, they will certainly be able to repay back the original investment — which was not that high anyway (Spore, with two million copies sold, had a development budget five times larger than Second Life, and took about three years and a half to go from “announcement” to “product on the shelves”).
The lesson to be learned here is that it takes more than a top-notch team of developers, an infinite amount of money, and a world-wide brand to make money out of a virtual world. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Expect Sony to drop their efforts on Sony Home soon and save the development time to incorporate their ultrarealistic avatars into a next-generation console game.