Where is it all going? With an MMOG you already know: Content updates, free and paid expansions, and so forth. A broadening and sometimes also a deepening of the game experience.
Virtual environments tend to be a bit hazier, largely supported by microtransactions they may include game-elements (like Entropia Universe), sci-fantasy settings (like the upcoming Blue Mars), specific celebrity events (Habbo) or merchandise and marketing-focused experiences (Virtual MTV, Barbie Girls Online and more).
In a very real sense the virtual environments industry is largely about focus. Targeting a market, wooing a demographic, and showing them where you are going to take them in the coming days.
Interesting, then, that the world's best-known virtual environment, Linden Lab's Second Life lacks the answers to fundamental questions, the answers to which directly impact every user and organization who participates (or who might participate in future). In fact, hardly anyone is asking those questions. Now isn't that peculiar?
|Are you a part of the most widely-known collaborative virtual environment or keeping a close eye on it? Massively's Second Life coverage keeps you in the loop.|
When assessing a virtual environment, the key things you want to know (either as an individual participant, or as a corporation or business participant) would be:
- Who is the target demographic or market for the virtual environment?
- What is the governance strategy? (which includes both where it is, and where it is going)
- Where is the platform headed?
Few roundups of virtual worlds are complete without this information, however reading through transcripts and interviews with Linden Lab executives, it's very interesting that these questions not only aren't answered, but they never actually seem to come up.
Why exactly aren't we asking? Do we think we know the answers? Do we think we won't get any answers? Or is it that we're so used to the information being a normal part of the course of things, that we don't think to ask?
For Linden Lab's part, it never seems to speak to these topics.
We know that the existing user-base of Second Life primarily consists of Joe and Jane Average who are fairly ordinary middle- and upper-class Generation X-ers and Baby Boomers. There's a smattering of others around the fringes, but these comprise the bulk of the user population.
Are they the target demographic, though? It's not clear. What about Millennials (Generation Y)? Probably not. Linden Lab's increasing neglect of Teen Second Life seems to suggest that isn't the case -- unless they're hoping to catch them later on which seems unlikely. The University of Leipzig says that a recent study shows that of 1,000 young people surveyed between the ages of 11 and 22, hardly any interest is displayed in Second Life.
None of this tells us who Linden Lab is targeting. Maybe the answer is 'everyone' -- but in order to successfully target 'everyone', you have to start somewhere, focus on a demographic and then move on to the next, however that only goes so far. Around 2,600 years ago, Aesop said, "Please all, and you will please none." (Alright, so there's some doubt as to whether that was genuinely Aesop, or merely in his tradition, but the point still stands)
As for Second Life governance, that has been clearly evolving over time, but from what exactly -- and where is it going? It is as yet unclear as to whether past governance has been intentionally laissez-faire, or simply ineffective (or both). It is definitely going somewhere, however, but quite where and why are very good questions.
And where the platform itself is going? Nobody seems to know. Everyone has guesses, but in the end, whether you are an ordinary user, in business within Second Life or an invested corporation, the fact is that all we have is guesswork.
Regardless of which category you fall into, the answers to these questions are important to you -- if you are investing money and time into something, this information would seem to be uppermost. That industry pundits and observers spend so much time speculating about it is quite telling.
We don't know why Linden Lab keeps these answers to itself. Some have suggested that it simply does not know, while others suggest that that it is too concerned about negative public opinion to be willing to divulge them. We're not really sure which would represent the more worrisome position.
Do you, the user (or the representative of your corporation, university, or non-profit) intend to press for the answers to these, or are you content to see what happens as the Lab charts its own secretive course for you?