Wednesday, May 30, 2012

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Facebook Didn't "Kill" Virtual Worlds, But It Did Show Their Shortcomings (Then Again, the Opposite's Also True)

Virtual worlds versus facebook

"How Facebook Killed the Virtual World" is a new editorial on Wired by my colleague Mark Wallace, who co-wrote a couple books about Second Life, edited the Second Life Herald blog, and worked for a short time at Linden Lab itself. Despite (or because) of that background, Mark Wallace now argues that Mark Zuckerberg's social network has eclipsed the once shining and buzzworthy idea of virtual worlds:

Facebook’s near-universal appeal — and virtual worlds’ near-universal failure — has as much to do with presentation as anything else. The very concept of a virtual world works against its acceptance. If I’m your great-aunt and I need a place to post pictures of your cousin’s bat mitzvah, I don’t necessarily mind joining a network in order to do so. But do I really want to join another world?

There's some truth to this, but saying "failure" seems to me a stretch. Because if we're to define "virtual worlds" as graphically simulated spaces in which users interact in real time through avatars (a definition that includes MMOs), that category is in aggregate still quite large; not only that, usage has been growing, not retracting, with the rise of Facebook:

Estimating very very roughly, there's well over 200 million people regularly using a virtual world. That's a quite conservative guess. Shanda, a single Chinese MMO game publisher, alone counts 90 million monthly active users across its online worlds. There are now MMOs and virtual worlds on iOS and Android mobile (which didn't exist a few years ago). As a multiplayer game, Minecraft is arguably a virtual world. And so on. (For that matter, about a third of Facebook users use Facebook to play social games which invoke a lot of virtual world concepts -- simulated spaces, avatars, virtual goods, etc.)

All in all, then, it's probably more accurate to say this: As an asynchronous web-based system that operates on real names, Facebook has made it far easier for more people to connect and share experiences with each other than any single virtual world. But for that very reason, virtual worlds still retain their value as an attractive "third space" online -- places where we can casually and imaginatively socialize through pseudonyms and whimsical contexts, in ways that Facebook generally falls short on, or even makes difficult to impossible. If I'm right, Facebook and virtual worlds will both keep growing, because they both provide social spaces many of us need for different contexts at different times, and for somewhat different reasons.

Hat tip: Petr Hastings-Vanbeeck

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Rusalka Writer

Facebook: I get to find out what someone I think I met once in college had for lunch today!

Second Life: I get to meet people all over the world, find out what interests them, and even work and create together.

Yeah, get me some more of that Facebook!

Torrid Luna

I wouldn't mind the headline, but in a very simple and obvious sense it is true, that Facebook "killed" Second Life: Because more and more users wanted to stay online and in contact with their friends without the burden of having a full featured PC and graphics card running, all the time, stay in contact even from work or on their way.
But Linden Lab missed the opportunity to make their account the main key to a web forum, to a chat system. They tried to catch up later, with a slim client that did only chat and voice, with web forums and all, but too late, the Web2.0 was already peaking, and we all knew each other by our facebook names and twitter accounts.
A missed opportunity indeed.

Ordinal Malaprop

I'm sure that Mr Wallace is a lovely person, but that article is just nuts. "Almost all the promise once held by virtual worlds has since been realized by Facebook" - no. What? "For every social interaction, brand engagement or persistent multiplayer social experience that Second Life or World of Warcraft or MTV’s Virtual Lower East Side was supposed to provide, there’s something the same or very similar available on Facebook" - no. What? Well, we could wait for the answers to the "what?"s but the article gives none.

It's just outrage-fodder really, and par for the course for Wired articles aimed at people who don't use the net any more. I don't see any reason to give it any time.

Arcadia Codesmith

The death of the hype is not the death of the thing hyped.

-- Me

Pussycat Catnap

@Rusalka Writer:

Facebook: I get to see my 14 year old nephew behaving like a tard / playa / wannabe gangster towards little 14 year old tarts who post profiles of themselves in suggestive camera angles and make jokes about hooking up or the man getting them down.

Second Life: I get to see 40+ year old people running around on trampy looking cartoon characters that hop on poseballs for cartoon pron and treat each other like griefers / hookers / wannabe hoodlums and make jokes about furry yiffing or the lindens cramping their style.

These two platforms have absolutely -nothing- in common. :)

Pussycat Catnap

"The death of the hype is not the death of the thing hyped."

Unless your worldview is nothing but hype. Wired magazine is the soundbyte for tech and 'cutting edge trends' - it is nothing but hype. If there is no hype in something, to Wired, that something is dead.

They are to technology what 'high end fashion' is to clothing... -NO- substance, all style.

When I was a kid, we called people with this worldview 'airheads'. All empty in there. :)

Ann Otoole InSL

facebook: engineered for malware deployment and privacy invasion.

secondlife: you can do some privacy invasion things only if people are idiots. therefore sl has no value.

get a damn clue people. nobody cares what you think. they only care what you do on the web. then they will control what you see on the web.

Indigo Mertel

Again? This topic has to come up over and over. It must be a San Francisco / Silicon Valley thing on who has the biggest, richest, most successful company on the path to world domination. Can the folks over there come to term with the fact that there are services which can be complementary and/or fulfill different needs? It would be dumb for great-aunt to join a virtual world like SL just to share pictures, but after sharing those pictures it could make sense for her to log into SL dating guys while being dressed as a bimbo. And I bet she would not share *those* pictures...

Or... perhaps not, great-aunt will never join. So what? Why do VWs have to dominate the world? VWs are not for everyone, just like Facebook is not for everyone. The fact that SL has such a strong culture is quite telling that as a service it fulfills some needs. They are just not everyone's needs.

Orca Flotta

Zacly Indi!
It's what I always say: SL isn't for everyone.

And that's why I can't see a fail in SL not becoming mainstream and ruling the world. SL is exactly what a VW is supposed to be, with all its pros and cons. LL might have a different view, of course. They are in it for the money, and FB is surely a more profitable thing than SL. SLers are a different demography from FB-ers, so trying to make SL more FB-ish is just a mistake, one of the many many mistakes LL are so famous for.

If I just wanna show my latest vacation photos to the world I do it on Flickr.
If I wanna (whatever it's called ppl are doing on FB) I do it on FB.
If I wanna watch or show vids I do it on YouTube or Vimeo.
If I wanna RP a space pilot/barbarian/super soldier I do it in any of the masses of MMOs.
If I want to try education, science, arts, culture I do it in RL.
If I wanna build with Legos I play Minecraft.

But if I wanna do it all, in a quirky, much more creative and satisfying way, I do it in SL!

Of course for SL I need better hardware and it takes me longer to learn all the tools and tricks. But is that really a disadvantage?


Jo Yardley

People keep comparing apples with pears, facebook is nothing like a virtual online 3d world.
Did people seriously think that was wat SL was going to be about?!

allfrog

Wallace was always wrong about 3dpointsD years ago.. why should he be right now?

Noodle

I don't see SL failing, and I don't see FB taking over. They are different like fork and spoon. Made for entirely different purposes. The only failure is that some people expect SL to be FB. Quite obviously SL isn't for Uncle Odie's vacation pics. Oh, and if you must stay in touch with friends on SL, there are IM clients for that.

Arcadia Codesmith

Some of you have very limited notions of what your aunts and uncles and great aunts get up to ;) Best not to think too much about it, I suppose.

I've bashed Facebook too, but it really is a nice tool for keeping in touch with distant friends and family in a low-key way.

But slipping into another world is what I've been doing since I learned to read, long before the advent of the personal computer. Facebook can't kill immersive virtual worlds. NOTHING can kill immersive virtual worlds, short of killing every dreamer on the planet.

Go ahead, shut them all down. We'll make more, with second-tier tools and a budget consisting of two litres of Mountain Dew and cold pizza. It's what we do.

Nexus Burbclave

If we reported on other things the same way we report on tech, there would be articles about how the popularity of bacon is killing the veggie burger.

epredator

I just had a much more feel good positive article published http://www.feedingedge.co.uk/blog/2012/05/31/virtual-worlds-getting-a-fashionable-boost/ in flush the fashion where I wrote about the natural evolution that occurs from his virtual worlds to free forms ones via some gaming platforms alongside Facebook and twitter :)

Pussycat Catnap

"I don't see SL failing, and I don't see FB taking over. They are different like fork and spoon."

Since their IP-I'm gonna get you sucka-O, even "mainstream press" are now starting to call Facebook a scam.

Now that -EVERYONE- but the 1% and ZB got ripped off to the tune of millions, folks are getting riled up - and looking for anything bad to say that they can find.

FB might very well get ripped apart by its own greed within the year. As there's no real replacement for the Jerry Springer Online platform nature of it, it'll stay around - but likely be mired in issues, investigations, and so on...

Going to be a little like SL: Half its community looking to jump ship, but unable to find a lifeboat to land in, so staying around in increasingly vocal angry ways.

Emperor Norton

Noodle @ "They are different like fork and spoon. Made for entirely different purposes"

Unless someone intends to ram them up their south end, like Wallace and everyone into this Web3.0 apparently wants to. At that point it's which does the less damage to soft tissue.

Jo Yardley @ "Did people seriously think that was wat SL was going to be about?!"

Yes, as nuts as it sounds. Hamlet here in his book pushed SL as the meeting place of the future because nothing says professionalism like a furry she-male

shockwave yareach

Facebook has been successful; Second Life has had far less success.

That is about as much as you can compare the two. For all it's scummy datamining, it does allow anyone on even the lamest computer to reconnect with old friends, keep up with current ones, play games, and more.

Second life does none of that, because SL was designed to be a sandbox rather than a social network connecting people.

While second life is going down the virtual bunch of tubes, it is the mismanagement of their virtual world that is responsible. During the recession, Blizzard and the movie makers posted record profits as people sought to escape their problems. Second Life saw its popularity sink in the same time period. There are three main reasons: LL screwed too many people over, most people aren't creators for sandbox worlds to interest, and the price for virtual space was simple too high. All of these problems can be fixed, even today. But not by a company that believes business would be fine if they could just get rid of all the danged customers...

Hamlet Au

"nothing says professionalism like a furry she-male"

Damn, wish I had actually wrote that in the book. :)

Connie Arida

Comparing Oranges and Apples again.

Iggy

Shockwave nails it:

"LL screwed too many people over, most people aren't creators for sandbox worlds to interest, and the price for virtual space was simple too high."

One quibble: Make it easy enough to survive the first hour and you'd get more folks willing to play in LL's sandbox.

SL could be a primo destination for escapist fun. FB is not; depending on the user, FB is a popularity contest, a place for light gaming, or a casual way to maintain connections.

To cop a phrase from LL's current adverts, SL is much more about masquerade.

Maybe LL needs to adapt an old Microsoft slogan, and market under the banner "Who do you want to be today?"

Ananda Sandgrain

I found much to agree with in the article, but it seems to have been written from the perspective of the M Linden era of Second Life, when people had this strange idea that the main purpose of virtual worlds would be to connect people together for all the usual day-to-day social and business purposes. This was, and remains, completely nuts. It's not surprising that a much more convenient service, one adaptable to all the new mobile devices, would completely trounce any idea of using virtual worlds for this.

But to suggest they managed to accomplish all the main things a virtual world is for!? I don't think there's an emote for the number of facepalms that deserves.

Second Life, and user-generated virtual worlds' biggest purpose is collaborative *creativity*. They are places where people can share alternative realities, modeled from the imagination, given full 3-dimensional form, motion, sound, and feel. And frankly, they are a long, long way from providing the tools that will realize that dream fully. Virtual worlds are going to be a niche occupied by the devoted artist, the technically competent, and the serious hobbyist for a while to come because modeling in 3-D is inevitably more complex than the effort it takes to write a 140-character post or snap a picture with your phone. But that doesn't mean they aren't highly valuable things to offer people in the meantime anyway.

The lack of vision from the M Linden era still disturbs me.

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