In another blog entitled SL2-- Prediction Time I discussed the likelihood of social VR's impact on our existing virtual environment... namely creative-based systems (appealing to builders). In that article I stated that Inworldz probably need not worry about SL2 as it will be a different social structure than the current VR concept.
In this article we'll discuss "What if that premise is wrong?"... effectively debating my own statement.
THE COMPETITIVE DANGER OF SOCIAL VR
At this time virtual reality is based on the following concepts:
* Creators love building and displaying their creations. To do so, they need land.
* Land costs money.
* In order to afford land (even at Inworldz' relatively low prices) many creators become merchants.
* Merchants require customers who buy their wares.
* Thus we have an economic system which drives land sales.
* Other land sales are fueled by real-life businesses and organizations who want exposure in a 3D virtual environment.
* To get such exposure, they need a lot of visitors.
* Those visitors come from the same source in which merchants make their sales.
* Those visitors can become residents, purchasing their own lands not for creative but rather for social gathering purposes, ie "permanent visitors".
* Another source of land sales is groups, which rely on regular visitors to form their populations.
* Grid primary profit source is land sales, which sales depend merchants, businesses, organizations and groups-- which all depend on visitors and residents.
The bottom line is that the primary source of income for virtual worlds as we know it isn't creators... but rather visitors and residents who fuel the economy and drive creative / business / organizational force. This brings about land sales which are the core profit of virtual reality worlds. Thus, the primary profit driver of VR is socially-based users.
ZERO LEARNING CURVE, ZERO WORK, ALL FUN
That is where the problem comes in. What if the majority of socially-based users are attracted not to a high-learning-curve creative VR platform, but instead an easy-to-use, zero-learning-curve VR social environment in which any and all creations are available at a price... but requiring almost no work or effort on their part. The only "creativity" required would be shopping and rezzing goods bought, which pretty much everyone loves to do.
That is most likely the environment SL2 will be offering-- a social environment focusing on groups and individual profiles (aka Facebook)-- one in which the users/customers will not need to create or build anything (in fact, such likely won't be possible). Their entire focus will be on exploring a ready-made world, enjoying social groups, chatting, "dancing", attending parties, listening to live music, and basically doing all the things that are already the most popular activities on virtual worlds. The difference is it will all be easy. As a bonus, griefers (now removed of their toys on which they so heavily depend) will largely be a thing of the past.*
THEREIN LIES THE DANGER
If such a social world draws the vast majority of potential visitors and residents to their grid, what will be left for current high-learning-curve VR such as Inworldz, Second Life and OpenSim? It is predictable that while older grids may continue on at a minimal level, catering to those who love creativity for its own sake... the economy of such worlds could well collapse, forcing creators to switch from a market-based to reputation-based format (ie, instead of focusing on sales, they would focus on reputation gained from their creations... and goods would largely be just given away for the fun of it). Why? Because there wouldn't be enough general population interested in buying wares on an "old fashioned, difficult-to-use grid" to fuel the economy and drive a sales-based merchant force.
That's just a possibility. Whether that would actually happen or not is anyone's guess.
HOW TO OVERCOME
So how can a company like Inworldz overcome this situation? How can they prevent a small steamroller like Linden Lab from taking (and possibly ruining) what remains of the VR market? It's actually not all that difficult in concept or execution:
* Become a social VR system itself. There's nothing wrong with the idea. It makes sense. Just don't cut the creators, merchants and landlords out of the deal.
* Totally re-design the viewer user-interface. It needs two modes: Beginner and Advanced. Common concept. Change the entire menu system so that it's divided into two systems-- items essential to navigating and using the grid-- and items necessary to create. With an easy-to-use viewer, more people will be attracted to the grid.
* Completely re-create the IDI new user intake area.
1) First, change the name to something else. "Inworldz Desert Island" is not the most welcoming name for a first-impression intake area... and the name isn't intuitive in purpose.
2) Make the intake area more automated so the Mentors don't get swamped during busy times, make it easy for people to find areas pertaining to their interests, make use of notecards, portals, information signs, volunteer "tour guides" and tutorial systems.
3) Put your best foot forward and make a good first impression. Every business knows that. The claim that "Everything has to be neutral! No favoritism!" is unrealistic and self-defeating.
Consider: When a city puts out a tourist guide, it doesn't include every strip mall, bar and pawn shop in town as attractions. Inworldz needs to feature its best regions and attractions. If someone wants to be so featured, they need to work to make their area top notch. One can't build a strip mall and expect the same level of company-sponsored promotion as an incredibly-designed wondersim. Shouting "favoritism" or "we must remain neutral!" will simply make Inworldz unimpressive and boring to newcomers, and thus restrict profitable growth.
How do we know this? Look at the last three years. "Neutrality" hasn't worked thus far and it won't work in the future. It's not how business operates. The best products in a store are featured. The nuts and bolts hang on pegboards on the side-aisles. That's just how business works.
If the grid grows, the merchant systems will prosper. People can cry neutrality! all they want... but if the grid doesn't grow such becomes a moot point from the outset. Newbies can only take in so much in their first visit. It makes sense to present to them our very best on that first visit, so they are encouraged to make Inworldz their home. Then they can see the rest on additional visits.
If anyone disagrees with these concepts, it may be good to realize that IDI as it exists now has not been effective in promoting Inworldz land growth for going on three years. Continue to do what you are doing, and you can expect to remain where you've been.
There is more that can be done to beat Linden Lab at their own game. All this post is intended for is to sound the warning of potential heavy competition and point to the reality there are things that can be done about such. Beyond that, the future of Inworldz is fully in the hands of the Founders.