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Virtual worlds predictions for 2011

It’s time to get out the crystal ball again. I thought I’d take a slightly different approach this year by tackling ten fairly broad themes and identifying appropriate specifics under each. I tried to cover all of the main issues though the field is so large now as to ensure any roundup like this won’t be complete.

Hopefully there’ll be a better success rate than last year. As always, would love to hear your thoughts on what you see occurring during 2011. If you’ve got your own set of predictions, either post them in the comments or provide a URL and I’ll link it at the bottom of the post.

The predictions:

1. Second Life

It’s fair to say that Linden Lab had a mixed year during 2010 with Second Life. 2011 is likely to be even more turbulent. I’m not going to fence sit on this one too much: the next 12 months will see Linden Lab finally sold to a big tech player based in the US. Whether it’s bought out or not, expect some more significant user-interface improvements but an overall decline in number of hours in-world per user. That decline will be driven primarily by diffusion as dedicated content creators, educators and long-term residents increasingly spread out to OpenSim grids, Blue Mars etc . Second Life might see an increase in concurrency, coming from the more casual / social users attracted by an easier to use interface. That seems to be Linden Lab’s strategy anyway. Oh – and legally compliant gambling will be provided in-world by Linden Lab.

2. OpenSim

The safe prediction here is ongoing growth, but beyond that it’s a pretty murky picture. Consolidation is one of the clearer trends: a handful of grid providers will probably hold some dominance, with a skew of smaller / solo grids running. Hypergrid protocols are ever-improving, but for wider-adoption the larger providers will play a key role assuming they can keep delivering good service with a growing userbase. So overall: continued growth and emergence / consolidation of larger grid provders.

3. Blue Mars

Over the past year Blue Mars has been continuing to evolve and has picked up a cohort of Second Life content creators. Assuming the funding keeps coming in, that growth is likely to continue although it’s doubtful that 2011 will see Blue Mars reach full launch and if it does, expect a slow but promising level of uptake by new users. Unless Second Life has a major stumble, Blue Mars won’t be in its league as far as content or user numbers during 2011 – 2012 may be a different story though depending on how things pan out with both camps.

4. The casual phenomenon

The casual worlds like on platforms like Facebook will continue to fragment. Numbers will continue to grow but at a much slower rate. Fatigue with the limitations will also grow as people debate the merit of these worlds versus more traditional casual games (think Bejeweled etc). Not surprisingly there will also be a lot of underperforming worlds that close – exacerbating the fatigue with the genre from more experienced users.

5. Media and societal acceptance

The coming year will see increasing focus on how we interact in virtual environments. The Microsoft Kinect is already receiving a lot of attention, and the media are likely to latch onto the theme of improving physical activity whilst highlighting the odd case of severe addiction/injury. Nothing new there really – the difference over time however is the growing acceptance that these developments need to be incorporated into society’s thinking on a range of issues. Key educators and policy-makers have known this for years but that widespread acceptance (if not understanding) is certainly taking a big step during 2011.

6. Government

The momentum with virtual worlds at the US Government level is significant, driven primarily by intertwined military and health-care needs. Beyong that 2011 seems a pretty arid zone on the government side. Although there are potential cost-savings in the longer-term, most European governments aren’t in a financial state to invest heavily in ‘cutting edge’ work. In the Asia-Pacific I’m always surprised at the lack of overt work in the area and don’t expect 2011 to be any different. On the home front, the national political scene is favourable only from the viewpoint of the National Broadband Network rolling out. Government 2.0 initiatives are at a fairly early stage and virtual environments aren’t playing any active role in that anyway at this stage.

7. Browser-based evolution

Like it or not, people want the ease of a browser-based virtual world without losing too much of the complexity. This year will see that trend continue with some good new options emerging. Using Second Life as an example, development is well underway both at Linden Lab and externally. What you definitely won’t see this year however is a browser-based experience as good as the standalone offering. That’s well over 12 months away but it is coming.

8. Gaming Worlds

2011 is actually a huge year for MMOs. The key event will be the launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR). We’ve been following it pretty closely and so far it’s looking like it’ll be successful. There’ll be a lot of talk about SWTOR being a World of Warcraft killer. That’s a lot of hyperbole (for 2011 at least) but expect it to pick up a very significant user base in a short time. To be more specific, by end of 2011 I’d expect subscriber numbers to be sitting between two and three million minimum.

World of Warcraft itself will see fairly steady or slightly declining numbers maintained by the recent Cataclysm expansion, with continued dominance of the market for the coming year.

9. Business

Absolute status quo: there will be no increased level of traction with business beyond some further acceptance of virtual meeting solutions. The ROI equation for business till isn’t clear enough, making adoption of virtual worlds technologies an exception to the rule. Good research (see Point 10 below) will be crucial for this to change.

10. Research and Development

The number of virtual worlds research projects will continue to increase, with a particular focus on areas such as simulation and the neuropsychological aspects of virtual reality. The simulation research will be pivotal in building solid cases for business, non-government and government adoption of the technology. In an environment where more and more human services professionals are needed in an ageing population, simulation makes huge sense and will be a key driver in the medium term.

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So what say you? Let the debate begin.

  • Tinsel Silvera

    Out of all the predictions I have read so far these are closest to what I see happening in 2011.

    The only things I might add are a mention of the Entropia platform that is slated to open more worlds in 2011. However, much like Blue Mars, their biggest hindrance is a large download and steep learning curve for content creators. And speaking of large downloads, Twinity should have some mention as it continues to grow and replicate First Life cities.

    Another worthy mention akin to the web-browser is virtual worlds being accessible by smart phones and tablets. There are already various plans in place but whether or not they come to fruition in 2011 remains to be seen.

    Excellent predictions Lowell and IMHO this time next year we will see you counting more rights than wrongs when it comes time to tally up.

  • Kick

    LOL @ the “more” in “more significant user-interface improvements”

  • Lvlustre

    The Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education 2011 conference will provide an exciting portrait of the what and where of education in virtual worlds. It will be interesting to compare the shifts over the last few years from pilot projects to full fledged activities across the metaverse. Be HERE 17-19 March.

  • David Post

    you do not mention Next Island and its platform partner Entropia Universe. You will see lots happening on EU especially from Next Island. We are in launch phase and early reviews have been quite positive. Anyone going to CES should check us out at the Pepcom media event.
    David Post

  • http://becunningandfulloftricks.com/ Pathfinder
  • Lowell Cremorne

    Thanks John – some great points there on experiential knowledge. Additionally I wished I’d mentioned Unity3D in the simulation component of my predictions: its popularity is growing in a big way in that sphere. I know I’m looking at Unity for my PhD research.

  • Lowell Cremorne

    Thanks David – the predictions aren’t exhaustive, and yes Entropia continues to impress. Perhaps you could point me in the direction of your PR people as I don’t receive any press releases / updates from Entropia as opposed to other platforms….

  • Lowell Cremorne

    Thanks Tinsel ;) And yep the smartphone aspect is a key one. Perhaps next year I need to do 20 predictions!

  • Cellandra

    I’m curious, you said nothing of Inworldz. Why is that?

  • http://becunningandfulloftricks.com/ Pathfinder

    You might have forgotten to mention Unity3D, but you covered a heck of a lot of ground in your predictions. Good work!

  • http://twitter.com/Nink Nink

    You have made a lot of safe bets focused more on joining dots and extrapolation of whats already known today in public forums. I do not see anything on your list that is unrealistic but I would like to see a bold prediction list that pushes the envelope with some information that is not mainstream.

    Examples (and I am not saying these are predictions) Linden is acquired by XYZ, Kaneva Shuts down, openKinect creates realistic avatars for VW, Sony Home available on PC, Nintendo Launches Virtual World for Wii and DS ……

  • Tinsel Silvera

    I believe you just did it for him Nink. {:o) I see each one of the ones you mentioned as being realistic. ‘Linden Lab being acquired’ has been a commonly repeated one in the blogosphere this season. As for Kaneva, I have been in since Beta 2007 and honestly am surprised that it has managed to last this long. The last time I visited, there were about 10 people inworld. The remaining ones on your list would be interesting indeed.

  • Tinsel Silvera

    I could have asked the same regarding why ReactionGrid or OSGrid were not mentioned. Perhaps they all fall under the umbrella of the aforementioned Open Sim, in the same manner that Next Island and Planet Calypso would fall under the umbrella of Entropia. Maybe when Inworldz (or any of the individual grids) have 31,000 sims like Second Life then they can get a category of their own. Just a thought.

  • Tinsel Silvera

    I could have asked the same regarding why ReactionGrid or OSGrid were not mentioned. Perhaps they all fall under the umbrella of the aforementioned Open Sim, in the same manner that Next Island and Planet Calypso would fall under the umbrella of Entropia. Maybe when Inworldz (or any of the individual grids) have 31,000 sims like Second Life then they can get a category of their own. Just a thought.

  • Lowell Cremorne

    Thanks for the post Nink – yes some safe predictions in there and some not so much ;) I don’t tend to do deathwatch-type predictions on platforms where possible – as that can generate a pretty undesirable momentum all on it’s own…

  • Lowell Cremorne

    Thanks Tinsel – yes I was specifically thinking of ReactionGrid etc in my prediction around grid providers ;)

  • Gaga

    It’s good to read predictions one year later to see how much was got wrong. Anyway, here are mine for the open metaverse

    http://metaverse-traveller.blogspot.com/

  • Kevin Simkins

    These predictions are right on, but could have also included web-based virtual worlds based on Unity3D (see Pathfinder post below) and how intergrated middleware advancements will make builds easier for new users; and what platforms will be able to run their Native code inside your favorite browser in the months to come. And last but not least “the company with the best software will win big in 2011, and the simpler the better”.

  • Lowell Cremorne

    Absolutely great points Kevin, couldn’t agree more.

  • Lowell Cremorne

    Thanks Gaga – some excellent predictions there and the hypergrid content protection issue is a key one! Here’s the direct link for Gaga’s predictions: http://metaverse-traveller.blogspot.com/2011/01/predicting-metaverse-in-2011.html

  • http://twitter.com/Aine Áine MacDermot

    Open Cobalt could be a contender eventually. The current Alpha build allows import of Google 3D Warehouse models. I’m wondering why Google doesn’t do something with this platform, it sure looks like it beats their foray into Lively (by a mile). Hoping someone over there at GOOG takes an interest soon.

  • http://twitter.com/Aine Áine MacDermot

    Open Cobalt could be a contender eventually. The current Alpha build allows import of Google 3D Warehouse models. I’m wondering why Google doesn’t do something with this platform, it sure looks like it beats their foray into Lively (by a mile). Hoping someone over there at GOOG takes an interest soon.