Sex, Pranks, and Reality - Forbes July 2, 2007
Will the Last Corporation in Second Life Please Turn off the Light - TechCrunch, July 14, 2007
Avatars, advertisers alike having second thoughts about virtual world - Austin American-Statesman, July 16, 2007 (by way of the LA Times)
What do the above have in common? They are all spreading the sensationalism that a growing technology – virtual worlds – might be headed down the proverbial drain.
I won’t waste your time de-bunking these claims, as there are more inconsistencies, mistakes, and lies by omission than you can shake a stick at. Instead just go read nwn.blogs.com Wagner James Au’s excellent de-bunking in his blog posts Forbes Flunks School of Second Life and De-bunking 5 Business Myths about Second Life as Wagner James does a great job of educating the realities of the virtual reality.
I would prefer to talk about virtual world sustainability and the relevant importance to the way we entertain, conduct business, socialize, and surf the Internet in the near future. Virtual worlds on the Internet are here and they are here to stay. This is evident from the over 20 major worlds in existence and the millions more that play online massive multi-player video games. Moreover, virtual worlds like Second Life, Kaneva, There.com, and others have proven to us that a 3D Internet is very possible and is an obvious evolution of the Internet.
Thus, to me, the debate is not whether virtual worlds are a relevant technology, but rather what is the best way to utilize this technology. This is the not the first time we have been through this type of cycle. In case anyone has forgotten, we went through the same type of high tide/low tide with 2D websites back in the mid-to-late 90’s. However, if you were to just listen to the journalists (who may or may not have ever spent more than 1 minute inside a virtual world) they would sound much like the iconic fairy tale character, Chicken Little, as they scream in unison “The sky is falling, the sky is falling.”
I sarcastically applaud the Austin American-Statesman, NY Times, and the other “news” agencies that diligently took an LA Times article and re-tread it for their paper without as much as lifting a pencil sharpener to check facts. Why is this the case? Simple – it is the NASCAR syndrome. People would rather hear about the crashes than the wins, even if the crashes were just slight fender rubs.
As these articles reported, yes, some companies, are leaving Second Life, but is this Second Life’s fault or is the fault of the “market” not yet knowing how to best utilize this type of technology to communicate, interact, and integrate with the virtual world community? Many of the early adopter companies (which not so coincidently are some of the ones bailing out) moved into Second Life knowing that it would be an experiment. They also had a “if you build it they will come” mentality, which is 180 degrees from “virtual” reality, as you need to continue to provide compelling content within a virtual presence just like you would re-invest in any website, banner ad, press release, email or other e-circular.
The question of whether or not virtual worlds are sustainable is to me just another attempt to refute the potential boundaries of technological evolution. Doubts have been cast on every new technology, including the TV, telephone, and telegraph. Recall that in 1995, Bob Metcalfe, inventor of Ethernet wrote an article for InfoWorld in which he listed 10 reasons why the Internet would fail, mostly due to the fault of the "people." Sound familiar?
The real question for me (and for many people who are much smarter than me) is not whether virtual worlds are sustainable, but how quickly can virtual worlds grow and be accepted by businesses.
And in the end, it will be the people and residents of virtual worlds that determine their sustainability – and so far those combined numbers reach into the 40+ million range (including all MMOG’s) and the numbers are climbing. To me this says the people have spoken and it is up to as marketers, corporations, and organizations to determine the best way to communicate with them.