AOL and Pontiac Leave Second Life, and it scares me!

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 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.

11 thoughts on “AOL and Pontiac Leave Second Life, and it scares me!

  1. “Pontiac in Second Life was very successful”

    By what measure? How much did they generate in sales leads and actual sales as a result of their presence?

    I mean, let’s face it: when’s the last time you needed to hold a coffeetalk to go out test driving and buying a car?

    Thanks for the music and cool places to explore, sure, and it was probably less expensive per visitor than GM’s “The World Of Vroom Vroom” in Disney’s epcological disaster at Kissimmee, but if Pontiac islands didn’t produce, then I’d think a shareholder wouldn’t be too happy with their presence there.

    As long as there’s the concurrency limits for avatars (even a 4-way point can, at most, handle 200 or so), I think the advantage is for the smaller businesses out there to engage potential clients and customers.

    Or the businesses that depend on interactive, collaborative communities. The Kooky ones… the Ben & Jerry’s. The oddballs.

    (Still trying to figure out what Kraft is doing there… I guess more money spent on SL means less to hand out in tobacco settlements from the RJ Reynolds Lung-Cancer-R-Us factory)

    And if an SL business gets too big to fit in their space, well, there’s always kiosks or OnRez/SLX sales. Or giving out useful freebies with your logo on them in a viral marketing sense. (aka PodcastPickle).

    On the other hand, I think we’re seeing a boom in educational, non-profits, and other organizations with some kind of donor or government backing.

    I’m happy when I see an educational institution use the platform for educational purposes or an organization doing outreach and fundraising within its scope, but still not convinced that tax dollars going to presence-for-presence’s-sake is a prudent move.

  2. @Crap – So it’s my theory that it’s less about sales leads and actual sales but more about community building especially around a product. Yes, while small business will thrive in Second Life much like they do online, there are people who benefited from the community experience and people who enjoyed it as a whole. If the Motorati sims was created by someone who wasn’t Pontiac (say Francis Chung), I’m quite sure the reaction would be different. But the fact that Pontiac can do it (because of the money and manpower) and was successful (minus the Second Life limitations), it’s surprising as to why they would leave.

    I think it is less about sales numbers and more about brand awareness, development, and community creation.

  3. I am not sure you go into virtual worlds to sell cars. You go into virtual worlds to define your image. At some point people might even buy a car. But it’s hard to link those together. Taking the eyeballs you have in SL it’s probably also very little compared to other means of marketing and thus I see this mostly as experiment.

    I also doubt that they will move to another virtual world as it’s hard to redo this experience without those creativity of the community (which most of the others do not allow).

    That said it’s actually too bad they don’t give any reasons for their departure. It would be interesting to know them.

    As for AOL, I am not sure, 3D Chats might also work and appeal to different audiences. It’s definitely easier to use because of it’s limitations.

    Anyway, a new year is coming soon and I would suspect that also lots of stuff will happen in and around Second Life.

  4. don’t be sad!!! :) don’t be SCARED!!! it’s OK…

    and christian hit it on the head…



    just remember this… most large companies have an agency they work with who implement their marketing plans… report back to the client, etc. they try new things all the time… (not just pontiac, all companies) pontiac does things like “the pontiac garage” where bands play, (one in time’s square, one on jimmy kimmel live, etc) and they do tons of other marketing things that shape and leave an image of the brand in people’s mind.

    so i’m sure SL was one… well i know it was. personally, i think most companies, like most of us, are not sure about SL’s future, and the early ones who are trying are working in a world with no real established rules, and we’re all sorta making this up as we go along, aren’t we?

    so to see some of them leave, is sorta like them stopping advertising on a particular tv show or magazine for a bit, no? it doesn’t mean they won’t ever come back, to them it just might be, “we tried that… *scratch head* hmmm, should we keep doing it?”

    i think as time goes on, and trends and methods are established in virtual worlds, the companies coming in will have more to look at.

    don’t be scared nexi!!! it’s ok!

    personally, i had a BLAST working with pontiac, they did a lot of things no company did who had come into SL, the community they built loves them as does a lot of the SL community. i’ve gotten probably 90 im’s of people very upset by this… and most from people i have never met… that was surprising.

    they did build a hub of “car culture” in SL, so to see them announce a departure is a bit sad.

    but yes, next year is gonna be GREAT…

    nice post nexeus.


  5. @Tao – Yes I agree with you that the point isn’t to sell cars, you are completely right on that end. I don’t always buy the 3D Chat argument, only because that’s another piece of software to download and run where for a person like myself, something along the lines of Meebo seem to offer a lot more value

    @Callie – Thanks for the comfort! I can’t help but to be a wee bit afraid for several reasons. As for 2008 – well… that’s a different post!

  6. Nexeus, I think what caLLie says has many truths to it. The other thing I would say is that getting support for any SL work from inside a big company does tend to take the support of a great sponsor with in the business. If that person leaves, or moves roles, then all of sudden SL may be off the agenda, as the next person doesn’t understand it, doesn’t see the merit, or wants to try whatever is being seen as this weeks big thing.

    I’m lucky in having a great sponsor for all of this, and the trick is to widen your sponsorship by having a great concept thats working. So perhaps I’m about to talk myself out of this, as it would seem like Pontiacs concept was working really well, in an SL concept. I don’t think any big brand is in SL right now to make cash, I agree with Christian that its more about what it says about your image.

    So we’ll wait and see if they come back, and just what excitement it is that 2008 holds!

    Best regards!


  7. Pingback: Being positive about the future of Second Life « No 7 on Second Life Weblog

  8. don’t be afraid ;-)
    SL needs time to be understand and people act like doing sponsored links (google, yahoo search) wanting results in short time, they don’t remenber that it takes time to establish and Google in 1998 exist because none of the search engine (alta vista, yahoo) wanted their technology. Same with PC’s in early 80′s (it was toys for a lot of people), Internet took mostly 10 years to be mass media worlwide and in 2001 it was not good to work on it because a lot of people thought it was the end. Amazon exist since 1994 but most of people thought it would be impossible to pay by card etc or online then ecommerce is now a king.
    Each time there is sceptisism on something which is a future shock
    virtuality will take place and sl is well positionned those days, it needs more structure and some killer ideas to make all the companies saying “i want my sl ” or another
    As you know it was same for electronic music :-) and now it’s massive but few believe it at first sight

  9. Hi Nexi -

    Great post. Good points. I agree that Pontiac’s departure is much more surprising than AOL’s. As CaLLie says, SL may be just one of Pontiac’s various marketing experiments, but given the hugely popular car culture community they built in SL with beaucoup marketing goodwill, it is surprising that the company is leaving and also that they don’t say anything about why on the Motorati blog or elsewhere. I expect someone might to try to buy the sims and keep the community running or re-establish it elsewhere in-world.

    Luckily CaLLie already diversified with her fashion and jewelery lines :)

    These departures (along with ESC laying off 1/3 of its staff, events people not developers) are good to remind us of the volatility and potential transience of the medium; presence can spring up and melt away. Probably just the fits and starts in the growth of virtual worlds.

    Happy holidays, :-)

  10. Pingback: WHAT IS THIS CRAP? » Expanding on Pontiac

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