With the recent news of AOL (see Reuters) leaving Second Life for other virtual worlds and Pontiac (see their Motorati Life blog) leaving Second Life period, a sense of fear creeps over me and begs me to ask two questions: Which other companies are thinking about leaving Second Life? How many companies are going to attempt Second Life now with the news of these departures?
Of the two companies, I’m not shocked that AOL is leaving, especially given their reasoning. AOL is leaving to incorporate AIM into another virtual world (something that would make absolutely no sense to incorporate into Second Life in my opinion). AOL’s presence in Second Life was really more like a theme park; you took pictures, got a few things, skateboarded, and then went along your merry way. With AOL’s departure this means that you may want to get a few of the items from AOL’s island as memorable artifacts. Pontiac’s departure really shocked me. Pontiac had a very strong community within Second Life to the point that they had a virtual spokeswoman Callie Cline, who has become an interesting case study. While AOL’s departure doesn’t translate to much concern, Pontiac’s does, and it scares me a bit. If you have a strong presence and community, why would you leave it?
When the major corporations began to embrace Second Life, there was a sense of fear from the community but many people (including myself) have benefitted from their presence. I’m frightened that companies leaving Second Life for more closed systems will have similar results as they did in Second Life. This scares me for several reasons; the first is that, while Second Life is the first true potential mark of the metaverse, it has very high limitations in part due to how open the system is. vSide uses pre-generated content, which means you can have a sever (or series of servers) that load the same content over and over again. With Second Life where you have anywhere from 30 to 50 thousand avatars on their system at any given time, each wearing an unlimited amount of items, the server strain is tenfold. I do understand that companies see the maximum amount of concurrent avatars on their Second Life location (40 to 60 avatars) and look at how many hits their website received in an hour (say 40 to 60 thousand web pages), something does not add up and they need to fill in the gap. Virtual worlds like vSlide (and that of There.com) seem to do the trick, but I don’t necessarily see the long term results of this move.
The second and most important reason I’m scared, is because I don’t believe that AOL will have similar if not more “ghost town” like effects in yet another virtual platform. AOL’s reason to go to vSlide to incorporate AIM makes sense, but it does not mean it will drive people to vSlide. More importantly it does not mean that the experience that AOL had in Second Life will happen again in vSlide. My fear is that after the initial success or interest in the platform, users won’t return, and the virtual world becomes a ghost town.
Pontiac’s and AOL’s departure from Second Life could be the beginning of a flood of companies exiting the virtual world landscape. Comcast and Scion both have presences in Second Life, will they follow to other virtual worlds along with their competition? More importantly, what does the market think as it begins to read this news? Pontiac in Second Life was very successful, I’m not quite sure I can say the same about AOL’s Second Life presence; I don’t know what their expectations were and what the impact was. I do know they had several events when they opened in Second Life but after that I’m not quite sure. I still can’t help but to feel that outside of AOL, companies feel as if they are having unsuccessful attempts at the metaverse and seeking for other virtual worlds to enter. I can’t help but to think that their unsuccessful attempts were not due to the fact that Second Life has some deep seeded problems with its platform (which it doesn’t) but their approach was not appropriate for Second Life. Do I think AOL and Pontiac will return to Second Life in some form, if they are smart, yes. Their departures from Second Life still will frighten me and leave my questions unanswered.