My how time flies… We are quickly approaching the end of 2011 which reminds me that it is once again time to reflect back on a prediction that I have mentioned in past blog entries. Way back in 2007 Gartner predicted that “By the end of 2011, 80 percent of active Internet users (and Fortune 500 enterprises) will have a “second life”, but not necessarily in Second Life“, according to Gartner, Inc. Where do we stand now with this?
Multi-user 3D environments once held so much promise, the idea just may have been ahead of its time. Back in December of last year I wrote about the hype cycle provided by Gartner which shows a timeline of 5 to 10 years for mainstream adoption of public virtual worlds. Funny that three years after the fact of Gartner saying virtual worlds would have 80 percent of all active internet users that just last year they said another 5 to 10 years for mainstream adoption. According to a post on Hypergrid Business “Virtual worlds gained 214 million new users in the second quarter of 2011“, according to virtual worlds research firm KZero Worldwide. It was the largest quarterly increase since the company began tracking these numbers in 2008.” Second Life has 27 million registered users, so they say. How many of them have actually logged in within the last 3 months is unknown to most.
I believe that since the growth of mobile computing and the sea of apps that 3D virtual worlds might just once again have a chance. So let’s not completely write them off- perhaps Gartner should extend their prediction and also expand it to include some other popular virtual worlds of today rather than yesterday’s world of Second Life. I believe that 3D virtual worlds (with purpose) still have a lot of unreached potential to capitalize on in the future.
Rear Admiral Randy Mahr from the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) recently posted a blog entry on virtual worlds. While we have seen some RFP’s and dealt with some other military specific virtual worlds it seems like it has been a long road to go down to see traction that virtual worlds so deserve. So I was pleased to hear RDML Randy Mahr’s thoughts on the subject. Looking at virtual worlds to improve their training systems, albeit Second Life but nevertheless it’s a virtual world, right? According to the Rear Admiral “While this type of “real” training is valuable, for some recruits the shock of experiencing the events can sometimes slow the learning process down. Using a virtual world to pre-immerse and familiarize the recruits holds the prospect of having them better prepared, and helping them get more out of the event.”
Mahr goes on to state: “Before we get too excited we need to acknowledge there are problems we’ll need to overcome. Our existing security firewalls and the NMCI system are not designed to permit this type of virtual interaction. We’ll need to overcome the perception that the virtual world is for “gamer”’ only, just like we finally accepted search engines were powerful tools used by everyone for things other than shopping online. (Did you realize that over 1500 colleges and universities, including Harvard, are already using virtual world technology to deliver some of their education for credit?)
Finally, we’ll need to further bridge the digital divide between the generation that has grown up fully immersed in electronic technology, and the generation that is still making the decisions about where to invest our budget.”
Urghh the firewall thing again, I just hate when that comes up (but we have found solutions to that problem). In my opinion virtual worlds are a big step in the right direction to train our future military personnel.
It sure seems like Linden Lab was all the talk in the virtual world industry for a few weeks when they launched the much-anticipated Second Life Enterprise. Well the SL Enterprise glitz and glamour has fizzled out and now Linden Lab is even making more changes which has its user base up in arms. The pillar of the virtual world industry, who was the pioneer and stage setter has now gone even as far as increasing their pricing structure for non-profits and educators. Admittedly, SL is still granting Homestead and Open Space to qualifying organizations, but non-profits and educators make up a large part of overall publicity around SL and a 200 percent price spike is quite substantial to these already budget-strapped organizations. We also know they have had internal changes as well, so what does all this really add up to? Did they put the cart before the horse? Did they price themselves out of the market? Is the loyal SL user base still there? Are these really the best business decisions or is this the beginning of the end for Second Life? My projection is that many will now turn to OpenSim grids and give up on the high’s and low’s that has become common place for Second Life. Even fundraising efforts have declined within Second Life. SL’s 2010 Relay for Life only raised $222,804 for cancer research while the 2009 event raised $274,000. Maybe they will surprise us all but as of now the business decisions being made seem to have no real rhyme or reason behind them (at least not to us outsiders), but maybe I will be proven wrong in the future. Will Microsoft be part of the picture…I guess time will tell.
Here’s a link to a prior post on Linden Lab and the Future of Virtual Worlds:
We’re pretty excited! This post has been a long time coming… We are officially announcing a new capability of which we are very proud: ‘Hybrid Simulations’…where we lovingly bake in the best elements of Decision-Based Sims with the cost-effectiveness and flexibility of Virtual Worlds. Decision-Based Simulations are great except when it comes to expanding the world or making rapid changes in a cost-effective manner. Virtual worlds make it easy to expand or update but often fall short when it comes to perceptions that trainees won’t stay on task. We’ve learned through experience that many clients are looking for something beyond the perennially popular decision-based simulation, but aren’t quite sold on virtual worlds, mostly because of the negative perceptions associated with SL-based worlds. Working with select clients over the past 18 months, we have created a successful new approach and began delivering Hybrid Sims earlier this year – marrying the best of both worlds.
These interactive, decision-based virtual environment simulations perform exceptionally well and are produced quicker (in a few months) and at lower cost. We think we like to call it “3D vWorld-DB simulation software” – though our CEO still calls them Hybrid Sims. So, maybe, just maybe, we’ll stick with Hybrid Sims. These 3D animated simulations are custom built and the scenarios play out in a private virtual world. So what other advantages do these custom-built simulations present you may ask? Increased immersion, interactivity, layered decision-making, and feedback to the user (just to name a few). And perhaps the biggest advantage of all, is that this hybrid vWorld-DB simulation, er, I mean Hybrid Sim, is able to run in a browser!
Hybrid simulations also bring their own ‘tool kit’ if you will, which includes the following:
• Idea Generating Tools designed to break current, routine thinking patterns and encourage thinking beyond the status quo through the use of provocation and challenge;
• Focus Tools designed to broaden where, and from whom, students search for new ideas;
• Treatment Tools that are designed to consider real-world constraints, available resources, and other means of support; and
• Harvest Tools that are designed to maximize value received from idea generating output.
Visual Purple isn’t the typical virtual world builder where the ‘average’ virtual world will offer a free roaming character that the trainee can navigate around, our virtual worlds have walls (visible and invisible) and threaded missions to accomplish rather than just the free roaming nature that so many businesses worry about turning an employee loose in, just to “wander” around aimlessly. So there you have it folks, our latest and greatest way of presenting our clients with cutting edge simulation technologies. Stay tuned for more in-depth reviews of the new Hybrid Simulations.
With the recent announcement of Linden Labs (you know the company behind Second Life) to begin restructuring, one must wonder what the future has in store for our friends. Does this really translate to the end of all the hype surrounding virtual worlds? Well as most of you know that follow this blog, I have long predicted the VW hype to trend downward. The news that Linden Labs will more actively pursue browser-based virtual worlds, doesn’t really surprise me (our CEO has been beating them up on this for some time). It seems as though this future for VW’s is inevitable, in my opinion it’s not a matter of if, just when. The large client download that virtual worlds tend to entail does not entice the critics nor skeptics, however once browser-based virtual worlds become more of a reality, those skeptics may be hard pressed to not change their minds.
The second announcement from LL entailed the fact that SL may become more integrated with social networking, again not a big surprise to most as I and many others have been predicting this for a while. With the meteoric rise of social networking the past few years, I believe this only to be a natural progression in the right direction.
What happens if Linden shuts down the enterprise sector of the company? Why wouldn’t companies go for the enterprise edition of Second Life? The opportunity for Second Life to be big is still there, despite the downturn of the hype cycle that exists now. If Linden Lab is able to introduce a valuable social networking integration within a virtual world, many may adapt to the idea and become believers. As for the browser-based usability access of a VW, if it is done right it has great potential. Time will tell if Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, has the ability to re-capture believers and reel in the skeptics.
Frustration abounds! Lately it seems as though the term “virtual worlds” has morphed to such a wide variety of meanings that it is nearly impossible to go back to “meaning zero.” No longer is one going to understand what I mean when describing a virtual world, instead most folks have fallen victim to confusing articles and experiences resulting in many different visions of what a virtual world is. It is a shame that it has come down to this and a few months ago I thought it would iron itself out…alas. The social gaming applications are overtaking the term/ meaning of virtual worlds (and no I do not consider Farmville on Facebook to be a virtual world). These social games are giving virtual worlds the wrong image in people’s minds, which is very unfortunate. These iPhone types of game applications are simplistic in nature, non-immersive and frankly just a graphically unimpressive experience. Sure, I could just settle on ‘serious virtual worlds’ instead, but compared to Farmville, what is considered serious nowadays?
Yes they are more fantasy like virtual worlds- not too much mimicking of the real world going on here folks. Oh yes and unrealistic avatars too. YoVille compared to Second Life is like comparing apples to oranges. Social gaming has taken over the real meaning of virtual worlds, more and more users are signing up daily for the likes of World of Warcraft and Habbo. The technology bar has officially been lowered. Facebook and 2D games take things back a few steps in some respects, but that’s where the users and the money are fortunately or unfortunately. Virtual worlds have now gone social and there is no turning back to redefine the term. Immersive, 3D environments must now take on a new name, other than the virtual world term. So maybe it’s virtual training or perhaps even a virtual collaborative environment, time will tell. Regardless, much opportunity abounds for users and producers across training and social gaming/media.
Back in February Linden Labs released a new Second Life 2.0 Beta Viewer. With all of the talk about the recent Second Life Viewer 2.0 Beta release, I figured I would give it a whirl. After I download and install the viewer upgrade, I am in. Well my experience was that I was now a bald avatar… no auburn color hair to blow in the wind. Not to mention just random talking and music at the location I entered at with some vulgar language mixed in. Those not familiar with virtual worlds and not knowing that SL actually has much more to offer may be tempted to exit the new Beta viewer. I on the other hand decide to stay and give SL the benefit of the doubt. Some type of annoying rock music is playing in the background- so I decide the fastest way is to fly in order to get out of the current environment and go explore wherever I was teleported into. Now you’ve got to remember that when I test out virtual worlds I want to approach the experience as a complete newbie to the virtual world- the less I know about all the new bells and whistles of the Second Life Viewer 2.0 Beta the better. I want to see if I really notice a difference, and be surprised by the cool things I might find rather than looking back at the SL blog or any other of the publicity that the Beta viewer had ramped up. Oh now I just ran into the yellow tape asking for age verification- my mind already feels tainted for the party I walked into when entering Second Life so I decide not to even go there. So my quick observations of my 20 minute test drive of the new Second Life Viewer are as follows:
• Ability to share (web content)
• Cleaner and more user friendly navigation menu
• A viewer as 3D browser for the user interface
• Movement away from strictly Linden scripting language (i.e. Flash, PHP, etc.)
In my opinion these changes won’t lead to a stampede of people signing up for Second Life. For regular SL users the new bells and whistles probably don’t even impress all that much, kind of like getting a newer version of your web browser- not too many noticeable changes although may now be happening behind the scenes. However, I can see more potential with the new viewer for companies and educational outlets to utilize SL. Although it is prettier than the prior releases, it doesn’t really take a giant step for Linden Labs, nor virtual worlds for that matter. A little more intuitive, perhaps a little bit better of a user experience. Improvement of overall work applications and use in SL. Who knows what the future holds with Linden Lab’s recent purchase of the social network, Avatars United, is the next step to go more social?
Sure there are a number of stories that hit the media sphere each week regarding virtual worlds, but admittedly some of the buzz around virtual worlds has faded into the background lately. While more virtual world development is being created, the most noise around the virtual worlds sector lately seems to be Metaplace shutting down, real identity names being utilized in Second Life and all of the market predictions for the new year. Many virtual world evangelists are venturing down a new path in naming conventions for virtual worlds such as: immersive 3D, 3D virtual worlds, virtual immersive environments (VIEs), virtual learning/ training environment, enterprise immersive software, collaborative environments, and the list goes on… Could this perhaps be a sign of where the virtual world buzz has gone? More specifically more press is given to virtual worlds targeted at kids/ teens/ tweens rather than the enterprise targeted vw’s. The virtual world universe is quite diverse and I see many more virtual world applications to come in the near future all targeting a variety of user demographics. Although the barriers continue to fall…the broad picture of virtual worlds remain while within this structure change is taking place. Should we still call virtual worlds an emerging technology, or rather switch it to a technology that is here to stay?
A weekly wrap-up on what’s going on within the Virtual World sphere and beyond! Click on any of the below titles to read the full story.
Farmers Market Moves from Second Life to Open Web
Enterprise immersive software trends for 2010
Educators find common ground in Second Life, for now