The Mystery of Second Life's Flat Growth in 2011 -- Despite 16K New Users Daily! (As NWN Readers Predicted)
As it stands, Second Life has about 1.05 million monthly users, a metric Linden Lab changed over the Summer. (When the Lindens reported 800K users last year, they were defining "user" as a returning user who's logged into SL at least twice; now, a single login suffices.) So while 2011 has seen some growth, we're also seeing quite a lot of churn. Seriously, a spectacular lot of churn.
In fact, this remains Second Life's greatest mystery to me: The company reports that Second Life still attracts an average of 16,000 new users a day, i.e. 480,000 a month, i.e. 5,760,000 new users a year. Yet somehow, total growth of retained, returning users remains nearly non-existent -- from Q2 2011 to Q3 2011, it was in the four figures.
By contrast, it's not atypical for a freemium 3D world or MMO to retain about 3 to 5% of trial users (and sometimes, much more), which in this case, would have been 173,000 to 290,000 new returning users for 2011. But it's not clear to me that we're even seeing growth of half a percent, which would have been 28,000 new returning users.
To be sure, it is possible the Lindens' Q4 2011 reports (which should be out next month) will show growth, but overall, we're so far seeing a dogged resistance to retention. Despite the fact that the SL viewer and new user experience has significantly improved and become more noob friendly through 2011. I remain totally gobsmacked that so many people will take the time to download the client install, and run a client while so few of them will log in a second time. Unless and until Linden Lab adds some game hooks like levels, achievements, and L$ rewards into Second Life's new user experience, I think that situation is unlikely to change. Which is probably another reason why Linden Lab is moving to its new strategy: In 2012, hope to grow Linden Lab's user base with new and different products other than Second Life.