Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Exodus ain't gonna happen

Yesterday I picked up a BBC News story on people flocking to Virtual Worlds. The article is a little outdated, it dates back to december 11 2007, but I tend to disagree here. Here's part of the newsstory:

'Exodus' to virtual worlds predicted

Will real pubs empty as people head for virtual watering holes?The appeal of online virtual worlds such as Second Life is such that it may trigger an exodus of people seeking to "disappear from reality," an expert on large-scale online games has said.

Virtual worlds have seen huge growth since they became mainstream in the early years of this decade, developing out of Massive Multiplayer Role-Playing Games.

And the online economies in some match those of real world countries.

Their draw is such that they could have a profound effect on some parts of society, Edward Castronova, Associate Professor in the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University, told BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme.

"My guess is that the impact on the real world really is going to involve folks disappearing from reality in a lot of places where we see them," he said.

(read more)

Edward Castronova was one of the speakers at the VW Conference in San Jose (october 2007) and made regular appearances on the Clever Zebra, formerly known as Metaversed Metanomics sessions and usually has some pretty smart things to say. In this case I thinks he's off by miles. There won't be a mass exodus for a long time to come I think.

The only thing we have to go by is the number of subscriptions to these worlds. Not all worlds are giving out these stats as freely as Second Life, nor do they provide information on activity in these worlds. Cisco's Christian Renaud did a quick scan of the industry for his keynote at the VW Conference and came up with 450 million registered users in about 30 NVE's, (online gaming as well as social worlds). After the conference we hooked up our info and I did a survey of about 200 of these worlds. As far as public data goes, I could barely find another 10 million registered users in other worlds.

The percentage of active users in the gameverse is a lot higher than in the social metaverse, more like an 60% tot 10% division, so going by these numbers we could assume there are about 100 million active NVE users out there. Then there's the definition of how much activity you need to have before being active. Linden Lab defines Active as spending 1 hour a week.

Then we have to take into account that there are a lot of body doubles. I myself have accounts in a dozen virtual worlds and there are other geeks, bloggers, journalists, trendwatchers etcetera who are active in several worlds to keep up with technology. The supposed 100 million than has to be devided by maybe 5 accounts on average so we end up with 20 million users worldwide which spend about 1 hour a week in virtual worlds. True, that's more than the whole population of the Netherlands, but globally speaking still a niche market.

When we look at social websites, like YouTube, MySpace etcetera and add up all the registered accounts we have about 3 times as many subscribers as there are internet connections worldwide. What I do think is a trend is the new digital Tribal Migration where users move from one world to the other as usability and functionality are still evolving.

A last thought on why this Exodus isn't going to happen anytime soon is that we've seen the number of registered users explode last year, while social NVE's were going into hype-modus. 2008 will probably see a downward trend in user activity, as most social worlds will not be able to meet expectations (gameverse is another story). This will last a while untill we find real corporate use and means of business integration for Virtual Worlds.This will happen though, but then again, when it really goes mainstream and NVE's become a Business Tool, still there won't be an exodus. There will be millions of new subscriptions and active business users, but on the whole the social part of these worlds will still struggle in keeping the attention of most users.

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