Monday, July 17, 2006

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HALF A WOW

Slgrowth

Strange that no one's done it up to now, but former Linden Lab staffer and pal Reuben Tapioca just crunched the simple numbers behind Second Life's current growth rate, and came out with some startling results:

By this time next year, if current conditions hold, Second Life will easily have more than 50% the subscription base of World of Warcraft.  That is, nearly 3.5 million to WoW's 6 million.  And sometime in 2008, therefore, Second Life will easily eclipse it.

Mr. Tapicoa does the math here.  (By way of full disclosure of interest and coolness, Reuben's metaverse development company Millions of Us is sponsoring the Julian Dibbell appearance I'll be hosting.)

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qarl

ok... but... using the same math - how many users with WOW have grown to at that same time?

Tomas

Extrapolating any short term trend is extremely unreliable. Is there any reason to believe that the current growth rate is sustainable? For how long?

I think the current growth rate for Second Life is exciting. If it is sustained over something like a one year span and is accompanied by healthy expansion of the economy, the impact would be amazing. But even then I'd look rather suspiciously at anyone extending that 12 month trend more than six months into the future. Suggesting that Second Life's current rate of expansion will continue even for a year is disingenuous- anyone with more than a passing acquaintance with statistics knows such a proposition is false.

Personally, I'd be surprised if Second Life had more than a million active subscribers a year from now. And, by the way, that would be a *fantastic* accomplishment. I don't know of any MMOG (the closest thing to a category to put Second Life in) that has been able to re-invigorate its player base to such a degree. Most MMOGs plateau during their first two years of operation, then steadily bleed off players until they reach a lower level "stasis" point. Second Life hit (from what I've read) something like 50,000 players after 2 years of operation up until early 2005...and since then it's managed to grow that base five fold during its third year. This suggests Second Life might present a completely different model of audience growth. Maybe instead of peaking then dwindling to some kind of stasis point, Second Life will be able to generate sustained growth over many years?

That said, I'd be happy to read this post a year from now and say "wow, that short term trend really did turn out to be sustainable!" :)

Johan

Linden Lab really needs to start showing correct numbers. You can't compare Second Life with WOW because you have to pay for WOW and you don't have to pay for Second Life. This is like comparing apples with oranges! Most people play Second Life 1 time and that's it --- they should not be included in this count.

Hamlet Au

> Extrapolating any short term trend is extremely > unreliable. Is there any reason to believe that > the current growth rate is sustainable? For how > long?

Thing is, that growth rate has been consistently at the levels Reuben mentions since SL's launch. The big question is how long those numbers will be sustained, which is why it's important to note the "if current conditions hold" proviso.

Gwyneth Llewelyn

Perhaps we could just think what the "current conditions" are ;)

Or perhaps we can analyse what the "current conditions" at WoW are. I would say, WoW relies more on content than SL — SL relies on *people* to provide content.

So, to make WoW a continuing success, Blizzard needs to constantly develop more and more content, grow more and more their content team, and deploy constnatly new missions, new rules, new places to explore, new ideas, new rules, new expansion packs... new, new, new. That is not easy to do over a long period of time. After some time (say, 4-6 years) there is simply too hard to deploy innovation. I wonder what Blizzard will do then. Very likely, they'll go the easy route: deploy a "new WoW" (say, Tales of Warcraft, Realms of Warcraft, Blizzards of Warcraft :) ...) with even better graphics and more options (that would be impossible to deploy on the current version), and restart their exponential growth from that point. People love "shiny" and "new" when they're talking about graphics :)

"Current conditions" in SL are, I think, mostly the good PR and the hype. People come in by the cartload without any clue of what to expect; all they know is that the media is claiming SL to be a money-making opportunity, and that people even work full time on SL. Others simply get the hint that SL is all about sex ;) — but unlike other adult games, here, *you* create the content :) :)

The 7 million or so users of WoW, however, expect something totally different: snappy graphics, fast-paced action, missions to accomplish, a skill system, ratings. All things that SL doesn't have, and very likely, won't have until late 2007. Instead, from the new users, about half remain "active", according to the new web page statistics, because they have found something completely different in SL and are now much more interested in doing those completely different things :)

But the next step of "the current conditions holding" will mean much more, and I'm not talking about less bugs, getting rid of lag, and having photorealistic images like other "games" have. That will come, over time, just not "right now". No, SL needs to be as easy and useful to use as Amazon, Flickr, or YouTube. People will join SL because they'll be curious about a Friendster/Orkut where *people talk back* and are not simply words on a 2D page — and, at the same time, you can order some books and CDs to be sent to your home, by entering one in-world shop. I think that things like American Apparel (or Avalon before that) are glimpses of the very near future of SL. People will feel attracted to SL because it gives them a different "experience" — both in e-shopping and social interactions. My roomie Moon Adamant describes house-building (and, to an extent, changing and clothing your avatar!) as "3D blogging", and we all know how keen people are on the "social web". However, I claim that the "social web" is not so "social" at all — even taking into account that some of those "social websites" have webchats, but... they're still cumbersome. Their creators are using abstractions on top of abstractions to provide "virtual meeting rooms", where people "create content" (ie. post blog articles, upload pictures, podcasts and videos...) and "share it". Well! Look at how abstract and crude these tools are when you compare them to the vivid 3D interaction of SL!

Sooo for me the big question is not when SL will surpass WoW in terms of active users. The big question is how SL can be promoted to be the next MySpace — in 3D. Already the parallels are easy to make... but between SL and Friendster/YouTube/Flickr/MySpace... not to WoW :)

BTW, for the ones very critical about "free" access to SL: almost all "Web 2.0" social websites are free to join; their business model does not need to depend on recurring payments from their customers... unlike WoW, which has no other choice!

Andy Yutani

Being a now retired wow player after playing for a year and a half, i can see that WoW will keep on expanding, making more and more content to keep the players intrigued.

The thing with second life it that probably about half the people who make accounts on sl play it for a week (plus its free so its much easier to create an account on sl compared to wow) or less. i agree that they should'nt count in the resident total.

Natsuki Jinxing

Quote"The thing with second life it that probably about half the people who make accounts on sl play it for a week (plus its free so its much easier to create an account on sl compared to wow) or less. i agree that they should'nt count in the resident total."

This is True for some people who come to see what SL is about but a lot of people especially from the EU have played active roles with thier Av's (avatars accounts ) for years and see no need to go to a paying account. I think you would really need to set up a system that looks at how much a account is used and untill it reaches so meany say hours of use do not count it in the total residents count. But say accounts that are used over this set amount would be used. This would give a more accurate picture of just how meany active people are online on a regular basis.

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