Quantcast

2011 virtual worlds predictions review

Star Wars: The Old Republic - not a WoW killer, yet

Another year, another look back at predictions made a year ago. It’s been quite a year in some ways and a little stagnant in others.

More on that in reviewing the predictions, but first here’s my hit rate over the years – some of the predictions themselves are good for a laugh at least:

2010: 4 out of 9 correct

2009: 7 out of 10 correct

2008: 5 out of 7 correct

Onto 2011, here’s the predictions made and the actual outcomes:

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.

Giving myself a half-pass, based on the user hours and user-interface improvements, but totally missed the mark with Linden Lab provided gambling and concurrency increases.

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 providers.

Pass – this was an easy prediction anyway, but I’m sure all would agree growth has continued, albeit at a slower pace than some would have expected.

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.

Fail – Although Blue Mars is still pumping along as a predominantly mobile platform, from what I can see progress has remained slow and development of the PC client was discontinued.
The final sentence of my prediction remains pretty pertinent however.

4. The casual phenomenon

The casual worlds 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.

Pass – growth has continued, with more offerings (including the launch of Sims Social on Facebook) and plenty of under-performers.

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.

Pass – although measuring this one is difficult. The Kinect certainly did create a lot of interest and acceptance and overall media coverage of virtual environments as a novelty has decreased dramatically. The continued growth in use of social gaming worlds and rapid uptake in smart phone usage has further embedded virtual worlds into the developed world mindset in particular.

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.

Pass – the US Government continue their predominantly military focused work in the area, but most other governments haven’t progressed dow the road far, if at all.

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.

Pass – excellent progress has been made, but still lots more work to do. Kitely was one offering demonstrating that this year., but there are plenty of others.

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.

Pass – World of Warcraft has dropped some subscribers but easily maintained its dominance. Star Wars: The Old Republic launch just this month instead of April, but has already hit a million subscribers a week after launch.

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.

Pass – sadly.

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.

Pass – virtual worlds research continues to grow in a range of areas. I can personally vouch for this with my own studies, as I monitor weekly any new research and its frequency continues to increase.

———-

8.5 out of ten this year, although a couple of the predictions were pretty safe ones. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the year that was, or to post links to your own review of predictions!

Popularity: 1% [?]

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.

___

So what say you? Let the debate begin.

Popularity: 3% [?]

2010 virtual worlds predictions review

It’s that time of the year again: looking back over the predictions made a year ago and seeing how right or wrong we were. We managed 7 out of 10 correct in 2009, so let’s see how it goes:

Prediction 1: OpenSim will continue or even improve on its growth trajectory – the momentum will continue, although a handful of larger grids are likely to have the lion’s share of that growth, with all the challenges that go along with it.

Pass – this has very much come to pass,and to some extent the growth challenges haven’t been major at this stage due to the number of grid options out there.

Prediction 2: Australia will have its first government funded virtual environment – a proposal is already underway to see this come to fruition. Education will be the focus, but the foresight of the proposal’s facilitators is likely to ensure it involves business, education and government in a collaborative partnership.

Fail – the proposal has stalled and although there’s a dedicated cohort of people still working at this, it certainly didn’t reach fruition during 2010.

Prediction 3: Closures – it’s not a desirable prediction to make, but unfortunately it’s also a fairly safe one. There’ll be company and/or platform failures. Some may be bought out, but like Metaplace in the past week, there’s going to be some outright shuttering of some environments. I have some specific ones in mind but don’t have the data to support naming them specifically as being on a ‘death watch’.

Pass – once touted as a Second Life competitor, There.com unfortunately closed its doors.

Prediction 4: Intellectual property disputes – The Eros vs Linden Lab action is likely to be resolved during 2010 and it will generate a large precedent in regards to virtual goods. Linden Lab will probably defend the action successfully, but the playing field will still have changed considerably.

Fail – the Eros case isn’t resolved as yet, so any precedents are far from established. Expect that to occur in the next few months though.

Prediction 5: Integration – Whether it be Second Life or Habbo Hotel, the level of integration between virtual environments and social media services will increase. Whether it’s a Facebook Connect sign-in or the ability to Tweet from Second Life, that functionality will move from the plugin / add-on phase to core architecture more commonly.

Pass – the Facebook connect option is spreading like wildfire, Linden Lab have done a lot of work this year in integrating logins between their web properties and Second Life itself, and the Twitter option is well and truly alive in Second Life (one example).

Prediction 6: ABC in Second Life – I don’t have any inside knowledge on this, and I really hope I’m proved wrong, but I can’t see the ABC continuing to fund its Second Life presence beyond 2010. For the past year, the majority of the activity on ABC Island has come from its tight-knit community, with support from ABC staff. With the burgeoning ABC Online continuing to grow, there’s always the risk that the Second Life component will be squeezed out. Please, prove us wrong on this one.

Fail – I’ve thankfully been proven wrong on this one so far.

Prediction 7: The mandatory ISP filter – If the legislation passes during 2010, there remains a real possibility of adult content in Second Life and elsewhere falling foul of the filter. There were some gob-smackingly naive acceptances of Linden Lab’s claim they’d heard nothing about being affected by the filter and therefore were not concerned. There’s a chance everything will be fine but given the blacklist isn’t defined, nothing is certain at this stage. Our prediction: Australia-specific verification mechanisms will need to be put in place for Second Life and other environments where content creation occurs.

N/A – The legislation is far from finalised so this prediction is neither right or wrong. More on that in the 2011 predictions next week.

Prediction 8: Taxation of virtual goods – 2010 will see the United States further formalise taxation arrangements in regard to virtual goods. I doubt the Australian Tax Office will make any substantive rulings in the coming twelve months.

Fail – If any further formalisation has occurred, it’s not been announced. The global financial crisis will have played a role there as well.

Prediction 9: Gaming worlds – 2010 is going to see the largest MMO launch since World of Warcraft: Star Wars The Old Republic. It won’t eclipse the incumbent but it will become the solid number 2 player in the short-term, with all bets off in the longer term. The second half of 2010 also sees the launch of the next World of Warcraft expansion, called Cataclysm. Head-to-head clashes in the MMO industry don’t get much bigger, and it’ll make for some fascinating times.

Fail – Star Wars the Republic is slated for an April 2011 release ;)

Prediction 10: Social games – this year saw social games like Farmville take off in a big way. There’ll be some significant fatigue from users with these platforms, but there’ll also be further innovation to make them more engaging and with easier integration of virtual goods without the spam-like accompaniments that plague people’s Twitter or Facebook timelines. Overall: continuation of exponential growth, albeit not at the same level it has been the past six months.

Pass – the growth has continued with some much needed Farmville alternatives. There’s been the fatigue factor which has led to some improvements.

___

Four out of nine (factoring in the non-applicable NBN legislation) isn’t a great result this year! I can claim it’s been a turbulent year for virtual worlds, and that’s true, but overall I’ve made the mistake of expecting progress too soon.

Over to you: what’s your take on 2010. Has it been disappointing, surprising or just plain evolutionary?

Popularity: 1% [?]

Virtual worlds predictions for 2010

Having completed our review of our 2009 predictions, we’re back for another round for the coming year.

1. OpenSim will continue or even improve on its growth trajectory – the momentum will continue, although a handful of larger grids are likely to have the lion’s share of that growth, with all the challenges that go along with it.

2. Australia will have its first government funded virtual environment – a proposal is already underway to see this come to fruition. Education will be the focus, but the foresight of the proposal’s facilitators is likely to ensure it involves business, education and government in a collaborative partnership.

3. Closures – it’s not a desirable prediction to make, but unfortunately it’s also a fairly safe one. There’ll be company and/or platform failures. Some may be bought out, but like Metaplace in the past week, there’s going to be some outright shuttering of some environments. I have some specific ones in mind but don’t have the data to support naming them specifically as being on a ‘death watch’.

4. Intellectual property disputesThe Eros vs Linden Lab action is likely to be resolved during 2010 and it will generate a large precedent in regards to virtual goods. Linden Lab will probably defend the action successfully, but the playing field will still have changed considerably.

5. Integration – Whether it be Second Life or Habbo Hotel, the level of integration between virtual environments and social media services will increase. Whether it’s a Facebook Connect sign-in or the ability to Tweet from Second Life, that functionality will move from the plugin / add-on phase to core architecture more commonly.

6. ABC in Second Life – I don’t have any inside knowledge on this, and I really hope I’m proved wrong, but I can’t see the ABC continuing to fund its Second Life presence beyond 2010. For the past year, the majority of the activity on ABC Island has come from its tight-knit community, with support from ABC staff. With the burgeoning ABC Online continuing to grow, there’s always the risk that the Second Life component will be squeezed out. Please, prove us wrong on this one.

7. The mandatory ISP filter – If the legislation passes during 2010, there remains a real possibility of adult content in Second Life and elsewhere falling foul of the filter. There were some gob-smackingly naive acceptances of Linden Lab’s claim they’d heard nothing about being affected by the filter and therefore were not concerned. There’s a chance everything will be fine but given the blacklist isn’t defined, nothing is certain at this stage. Our prediction: Australia-specific verification mechanisms will need to be put in place for Second Life and other environments where content creation occurs.

8. Taxation of virtual goods – 2010 will see the United States further formalise taxation arrangements in regard to virtual goods. I doubt the Australian Tax Office will make any substantive rulings in the coming twelve months.

9. Gaming worlds – 2010 is going to see the largest MMO launch since World of Warcraft: Star Wars The Old Republic. It won’t eclipse the incumbent but it will become the solid number 2 player in the short-term, with all bets off in the longer term. The second half of 2010 also sees the launch of the next World of Warcraft expansion, called Cataclysm. Head-to-head clashes in the MMO industry don’t get much bigger, and it’ll make for some fascinating times.

10. Social games – this year saw social games like Farmville take off in a big way. There’ll be some significant fatigue from users with these platforms, but there’ll also be further innovation to make them more engaging and with easier integration of virtual goods without the spam-like accompaniments that plague people’s Twitter or Facebook timelines. Overall: continuation of exponential growth, albeit not at the same level it has been the past six months.

Again, over to you. What’s in your crystal ball for the coming year?

Other sites with some interesting 2010 predictions:

Eddi Haskell
Daniel Voyager
Adam Frisby
Living on a Prim (some damn funny ones here!)
All Virtual (focused on virtual events)
Second Sins (NSFW)
Tateru Nino
Adric Antfarm

Popularity: 2% [?]

2009 predictions review

Twelve months ago we published our ten predictions for 2009. Below is the report card on them.

2009: how accurate was our crystal ball?

Prediction 1: OpenSim grids will bleed Second Life users – this may seem a very obvious prediction given the growth of OpenSim grids, but what I mean here is that the exodus will be obvious. It won’t be a migration that will affect Second Life’s viability (other issues may achieve that), but there will be a solid, committed population of OpenSim users choosing those grids over Second Life’s one. Put another way, new users will see OpenSim grids as an equal option to signing up to Second Life.

Pass – the growth in adoption of OpenSim has certainly grown and at the expense of Second Life. People aren’t abandoning Second Life for OpenSim en masse but there’s plenty of content creators and educators dividing their time between the two environments. Here’s one small example of that switch.

Prediction 2: Virtual worlds will appear as normal daily life in TV / Movies – To date, most appearances of virtual worlds in TV and film are either documentaries or as a central part of an action / geek film. US comedy The Office and CSI have both featured Second Life but essentially in a sensationalistic way. 2009 will see more insertions of virtual worlds into daily life scenes in shows. A disclosure here: I’m particularly confident on this one as I’ve had the pleasure of helping out on a film project that features a virtual world in a day-to-day context. More on that in the first few months of next year.

Pass – We were up front that this was an easy prediction due to our then under-wraps involvement with Beautiful Kate.

Prediction 3: There will be a net increase in Australian business in virtual worlds – Second Life won’t see any significant growth in Australian businesses entering Second Life and there may actually be a decrease. The gains will come in worlds like Twinity, customised worlds created on platforms like VastPark and possibly even some entry into enterprise worlds offered by entities like IBM and Forterra. Any increase will be driven by the increasing awareness of virtual worlds as a cost-effective business collaboration tool.

FailThe withdrawal by Telstra from Second Life significantly reduces the level of overt Australian business presences on that platform. That said, the level of interest in virtual worlds has grown, albeit only slightly. The gains have come around collaboration and meetings. Most of the growth in interest hasn’t translated to dollars invested, but that’s on its way. Aside from Second Life, no specific platform is gaining significant traction locally from a business viewpoint.

Prediction 4: Virtual worlds will remain a political no-go zone – Australian political parties have had zero presence to date and it’s extremely unlikely to change in 2009. Any planning being done by the major parties for the 2010 Federal Election is unlikely to extend beyond services like YouTube and Twitter. Things may stretch to sites like Barack Obama’s Change site, but forget anything 3D.

Pass – As predicted, there’s no momentum politically with virtual worlds in Australia. Why? You’ll find out in coming weeks when we release our virtual worlds policy paper.

Prediction 5: Metaplace will be a game-changer – Metaplace’s simple, web-based interface combined with some impressive content creation tools will ensure a launch with impact and significant growth. There’ll be some obvious poaching of users from services like Habbo Hotel but also from content-creation havens like Second Life.

Fail – We couldn’t have got this one more wrong given Metaplace has announced its closure. Closures are expected in a competitive environment but this one was a real surprise.

Prediction 6: Virtual sex will lead to legislation – Linden Lab’s gambling, ageplay and banking clamp-downs were an early start to the reality of increased regulation and governments worldwide are increasingly scrutinising virtual world activities. Sexual exploits (aside from ageplay) have remained unregulated. For better or worse, this won’t remain.

Fail – no significant legislation has eventuated, although the proposed Australian internet filter will likely cover ageplay-related content, but that legislation hasn’t passed as yet.

Prediction 7: Australian Universities will fall further behind in incorporating virtual world training tools – Australia has some leading lights as far as virtual world and education go, something highlighted by AVWW 2008. In the wider university sector, US and UK universities are integrating virtual world training simulations in a range of areas including health and engineering. Australian universities on the whole haven’t begun thinking about this in a widespread way, even with the talented educators putting the case locally. 2009 will see the gap widen further as key universities overseas start to demonstrate significant education outcomes.

Pass – Australia has continued to lag, although the cohort of innovative educators involved with virtual environments has continued to grow and some impressive outcomes demonstrated (one example here). The lag to date comes from governing and funding bodies rather than at the grass roots level. That said it appears to be ending with some excellent, Australia-wide proposals in the works in regards to virtual worlds and tertiary education.

Prediction 8: Second Life will remain a frustrating experience – the announcement of standalone servers may prove this prediction wrong, but 2009 is unlikely to show an enormous improvement in the Second Life user experience. The user interface will certainly improve and the stability of the platform may improve exponentially. The ongoing frustration will be the same issue that’s plagued Second Life to date: regular, crushing lag. This is one prediction I’d particularly like to be proven wrong on. A sub-prediction here too: the Teen grid will continue to decline and may even close altogether.

Pass – Teen Second Life is likely to be merged into the main grid, there is somewhat of a decline in user concurrency in Second Life and although some user interface improvements have occurred, the main improvements are yet to be seen. Things are still looking very positive for Second Life overall, but the evergreen usability challenges remain.

Prediction 9: Growth, growth, growth – every metric and market research report points toward ongoing growth in the number of people spending time in virtual worlds. The new entrants will assist this growth but the incumbents will also grow. Habbo Hotel will most likely retain is dominance in raw numbers but children’s worlds like Barbie Girls, Hello Kitty Online and Club Penguin will provide an enormous userbase as well. Add to that the promising growth of Sony’s Home and you can see this is a safe prediction, but worthy of a mention.

Pass – As we said at the time, it was a no-brainer. In June 2009 the estimated number of virtual worlds users was around 186 million by one forecaster and it’s certainly grown since then.

Prediction 10: Virtual Goods will boom – the interest from business in virtual goods as a money-maker has accelerated significantly in the past six months in particular, and 2009 will see that continue. Second Life has been a leader in that aspect, followed closely by children’s worlds and gaming worlds. Goods will get more sophisticated, with much more real-world marketing efforts behind them. 2009 may also see some virtual goods out-rank popular real-life items in terms of sales and revenue.

Pass – driven by social games on platforms like Facebook, there’s been an explosive growth in the use of virtual currencies to purchase in-game goods. One industry study found that virtual currencies were the most traded virtual goods during 2009.

Seven out of ten correct isn’t too shabby, although there were some fairly easy wins amongst them. Our 2010 predictions will be published in the coming week. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on how 2009 played out compared to how you thought it would?

Popularity: 1% [?]

Ten virtual worlds predictions for 2009

crystall_ball

Now that we’ve reviewed our 2008 predictions, it’s on to 2009. For the coming year, we’re going to get a little bit more specific in our predictions. It may lower our chances of success but will be more fun. So here we go:

1. OpenSim grids will bleed Second Life users - this may seem a very obvious prediction given the growth of OpenSim grids, but what I mean here is that the exodus will be obvious. It won’t be a migration that will affect Second Life’s viability (other issues may achieve that), but there will be a solid, committed population of OpenSim users choosing those grids over Second Life’s one. Put another way, new users will see OpenSim grids as an equal option to signing up to Second Life.

2. Virtual worlds will appear as normal daily life in TV / Movies – To date, most appearances of virtual worlds in TV and film are either documentaries or as a central part of an action / geek film. US comedy The Office and CSI have both featured Second Life but essentially in a sensationalistic way. 2009 will see more insertions of virtual worlds into daily life scenes in shows. A disclosure here: I’m particularly confident on this one as I’ve had the pleasure of helping out on a film project that features a virtual world in a day-to-day context. More on that in the first few months of next year.

3. There will be a net increase in Australian business in virtual worlds – Second Life won’t see any significant growth in Australian businesses entering Second Life and there may actually be a decrease. The gains will come in worlds like Twinity, customised worlds created on platforms like VastPark and possibly even some entry into enterprise worlds offered by entities like IBM and Forterra. Any increase will be driven by the increasing awareness of virtual worlds as a cost-effective business collaboration tool.

4. Virtual worlds will remain a political no-go zone – Australian political parties have had zero presence to date and it’s extremely unlikely to change in 2009. Any planning being done by the major parties for the 2010 Federal Election is unlikely to extend beyond services like YouTube and Twitter. Things may stretch to sites like Barack Obama’s Change site, but forget anything 3D.

5. Metaplace will be a game-changer – Metaplace’s simple, web-based interface combined with some impressive content creation tools will ensure a launch with impact and significant growth. There’ll be some obvious poaching of users from services like Habbo Hotel but also from content-creation havens like Second Life.

metaplace_dec208

6. Virtual sex will lead to legislation – Linden Lab’s gambling, ageplay and banking clamp-downs were an early start to the reality of increased regulation and governments worldwide are increasingly scrutinising virtual world activities. Sexual exploits (aside from ageplay) have remained unregulated. For better or worse, this won’t remain.

7. Australian Universities will fall further behind in incorporating virtual world training tools – Australia has some leading lights as far as virtual world and education go, something highlighted by AVWW 2008. In the wider university sector, US and UK universities are integrating virtual world training simulations in a range of areas including health and engineering. Australian universities on the whole haven’t begun thinking about this in a widespread way, even with the talented educators putting the case locally. 2009 will see the gap widen further as key universities overseas start to demonstrate significant education outcomes.

8. Second Life will remain a frustrating experience – the announcement of standalone servers may prove this prediction wrong, but 2009 is unlikely to show an enormous improvement in the Second Life user experience. The user interface will certainly improve and the stability of the platform may improve exponentially. The ongoing frustration will be the same issue that’s plagued Second Life to date: regular, crushing lag. This is one prediction I’d particularly like to be proven wrong on. A sub-prediction here too: the Teen grid will continue to decline and may even close altogether.

9. Growth, growth, growth – every metric and market research report points toward ongoing growth in the number of people spending time in virtual worlds. The new entrants will assist this growth but the incumbents will also grow. Habbo Hotel will most likely retain is dominance in raw numbers but children’s worlds like Barbie Girls, Hello Kitty Online and Club Penguin will provide an enormous userbase as well. Add to that the promising growth of Sony’s Home and you can see this is a safe prediction, but worthy of a mention.

10. Virtual Goods will boom – the interest from business in virtual goods as a money-maker has accelerated significantly in the past six months in particular, and 2009 will see that continue. Second Life has been a leader in that aspect, followed closely by children’s worlds and gaming worlds. Goods will get more sophisticated, with much more real-world marketing efforts behind them. 2009 may also see some virtual goods out-rank popular real-life items in terms of sales and revenue.

2009 looks promising overall, even in the context of the current economic situation. At worst, seven of the above ten should ring true over the coming year. More importantly, I’d love to hear your predictions for 2009. How clear is your crystal ball?

Popularity: 7% [?]

2008 predictions review

A year ago we made some predictions on virtual worlds from an Australian perspective, and it’s time to review them:

2008 – how did we go?

Prediction 1: Australia will see its first legal action in regards to a virtual world – Second Life is likely to be the battlefield and it’s likely to involve an intellectual property dispute or financial regulation issues.

Fail – there was no shortage of legal action internationally but Australia wasn’t front and centre in any of it.

Prediction 2: Second Life viability will remain under question – there’s not likely to be a sudden improvement in the technical issues confronting the platform. The reality for Australian users of Second Life is at least another 6 months of laggy virtual world experience. There’s been rumours of a deal between Linden Lab and Telstra to locate Second Life servers locally – we can only hope. Expect lots of negative mainstream and Second Life blogosphere press if the status quo remains.

Pass – things have remained pretty much unchanged in this regard, with no local servers likely.

Prediction 3: VastPark will flourish – we’ve covered the VastPark virtual world platform a few times and its evolution has been promising. If the platform delivers what it promises during 2008, much interest should be garnered. I wouldn’t be surprised to see VastPark acquired by one of the bigger players. Vastpark’s Australian operations make this one we’ll be watching closely.

Pass – VastPark is still in beta but has continued to flourish development-wise. It remains one of the stronger prospects in the market.

Prediction 4: Google will not launch a virtual world – they may have launched OpenSocial and continued to develop Google Earth but 2008 will not be the year of Google truly entering the virtual world domain.

Fail – Google Lively well and truly killed this prediction but didn’t survive long.

tauren_deathknight

Prediction 5: There’ll be failures aplenty – World of Warcraft will remain the dominant gaming MMO and of the swathe of launches touted, some will obviously fail. Claims are being made about the Conan and Warhammer franchises making some serious inroads. I’m not convinced that either will be enormously successful although neither lack significant backing and associated marketing power. And it’s not as if Blizzard will be sitting on their hands – the Wrath of the Lich King expansion for World of Warcraft is on its way.

Pass – World of Warcraft maintained its dominance in gaming worlds. Age of Conan and Warhammer Online performed under expectations and the Wrath of the Lich King expansion sold very well.

Prediction 6: Australian business will remain conservative – 2007 saw the entrance of corporations like Telstra, the ABC and the REA Group into Second Life. I doubt there’ll be as many large presences launched in 2008. There’s still major skepticism out there about virtual worlds as a business tool – it remains only a research and development option in the eyes of business and 2008 is unlikely to change that. One disclaimer – if Google do launch a virtual world product, then all bets are off. On a related note – I predict Telstra’s SydSim development in Second Life will not cut the mustard for larger businesses and for those that do set up in that location, there’ll be consternation of how little traffic is generated.

Pass – no large business launches amongst ongoing conservatism. Telstra’s momentum continued, with fresh content and activities, although SydSim still struggles compared to other aspects of Telstra’s presence. The REA Group’s presence didn’t manage to gain significant traction and ABC Island has had some challenges but a dedicated, community-driven group continues to look at keeping things fresh.

Prediction 7: Mainstream media will continue to get it wrong – aside from some of the more savvy technology journalists, mainstream media reporting on virtual world developments will remain hit and miss. 2007 had some real clangers and you can expect that to continue.

Pass – this was always an easy prediction. Thankfully there weren’t stories as bad as the 2007 clanger from News Limited but there was still no shortage of misinformed reporting.

Five out of seven isn’t too bad. As always we’re keen to hear if you disagree on any of the points. Our 2009 predictions are on the way in the coming days.

Popularity: 3% [?]