Why Second Life Usage Skews Mature: Probably Because Desktop PC Ownership Skews Mature Too
The Prim Perfect blog has a very eloquent post on the many Second Life users who are 30 or older, and it is rooted to a true datapoint -- according to the best Second Life demographic data that we have, about 60% of the userbase is older than 30. Some people assume this must mean there's something about Second Life that makes it uniquely appealing to older people, and while there's some truth to that, the key factor probably is not the virtual world itself, but the hardware required to run it well. Take a look:
This chart is from a 2010 Pew Report on technology usage (.pdf link here), and the clear takeaway is this: People 35 and older are more likely to own a desktop PC, while Millenials 34 and younger are more likely to own a laptop. Second Life was and is developed to run optimally on a desktop PC with a dedicated broadband line, as opposed to a laptop with wireless. So by dint of demographic probability, an older person who launches Second Life on their desktop PC is more likely to get a good experience in the world, while a younger person who tries SL on their wireless laptop is far more apt to say, say, "WTF up with this lag and gray!"
Second Life is not even unique in this case; generally speaking, MMOs which run best on desktop PCs and dedicated broadband lines also skew to an older userbase. We can also see that games/virtual worlds with similar features to Second Life can and do attract a younger audience -- Habbo Hotel mostly attracts teens and people in their early 20s, as does IMVU, as does Minecraft. All of these had or have millions of users, far more than SL... and unsurprisingly, run far better on a laptop than Second Life. If Second Life is so uniquely appealing to mature people, why are there other games and worlds with SL-like properties that are much more popular with younger people?
Make no mistake, it's great that Second Life does have a large userbase of older users, and as Prim Perfect suggests, Linden Lab should make more effort to cater to them. At the same time, it's important not to confuse the cause. Because if SL was better optimized to run on laptops -- and now tablets, which are growing increasingly popular among the young and old -- we'd see a growth in younger users too.
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