July 9, 2008
So, I guess I wasn’t the only one out there looking for the 3D virtual world sector and the social networking sector to intersect. Yesterday alone this idea got a ton of play in the blogosphere. If you just take a gander through yesterday’s Techcrunch RSS feed you’ll see no less than four stories on the topic.
Eric Schonfeld of Techcrunch posts “Wow Virtual Worlds are So Hot Right Now: $345M Invested So Far This Year.”
Waiting to hop on a plane, I don’t have time to write up all my thoughts on this; and I probably shouldn’t, since my portfolio company Hangout is aimed squarely at this space and hasn’t yet launched publicly.
Instead I will quote the best commentary I read, which was a comment in Techcrunch’s post regarding Lively:
All I have seen from this video of Lively similar 3rd party products is the ability to walk around in pre-defined “areas”, chat in bubbles, and move furniture and paintings around. (Yes, this video specifically demos the ability to *move furniture around*).
The important point here is that Google and everyone else is *missing the point*. What are the most popular virtual worlds nowadays?
Kids – Habbo Hotel. basic cartoon characters, games, limited ability to create content. MASSIVE adoption
Adults – Second Life. Nearly limitless ability to customize avatars. Completely open ability to create content(includes content upload, built-in scripting language), ownership rights to content created on their platform. Ability to socialize via traditional text and voice(VOIP). Adoption comprised of nearly 100% adult members around the world. Total number of regular users limited to around 1.5 million per month. Teen grid available, but barely used in comparison to adult Second Life.
Teenagers/Adults – World of Warcraft. No content creation capability. Limited number of character/avatar options. Text-chat. Main focus is game-play and not creation. Adoption? MASSIVE.
This says something. The financially successful virtual worlds among adults are games like WoW and interaction/content creation platforms like Second Life. These pale in comparison to the number of children that are interacting via much simpler platforms like Habbo Hotel. These kids represent a coming tide of users in the 2015-2020 time frame that are growing up interacting with each other via virtual worlds. They will want much more sophisticated ones as they enter adulthood.
The adults of the current generation are already proving they are interested in 2 things. Socializing via straight game play, and socializing via an open system where they can create and experiment.
There isn’t a ton of evidence that these 2 drivers are going to change that much in the near future. I think this means that if you can make a virtual world into a fun game, people flock. If you let them create, people flock.
But Google’s Lively, other 3rd party web-worlds, Sony Home, There, and others are just about chatting via cartoons. Sure, in some cases very pretty and well done environments like Home, but still just chatting via cartoons.
They have simply not caught the same kind of fire that WoW, Habbo, and SL have. My initial guess about Lively will be that it too will be a failure as much as Orkut was, beyond minor adoption in non-major markets. (No offense to Brazil, just making a point.)
If you want to make something that becomes important, follow the path. Make it fun, let people interact, and let people create. That’s all you need to do.”