I've avoided making "predictions" for some time now. First, while Second Life has seriously declined both in region count and Premium users, they didn't actually self-destruct as I predicted in 2012. I was partially right but mostly wrong; somehow they managed to hang in there. That's okay. Predictions are always "iffy" at best... and SL customers have tolerated a lot more absurdity than I figured they would.
Predictions are always a shot-in-the-dark, even when based on educated guesses. Even predictions based on facts and trendlines are still just predictions; trendlines don't always pan out.
Still... I can't resist this one.
SECOND LIFE 2
Linden Lab recently announced they plan to develop a system currently referred to as "Second Life 2". They promise they're not going to close down the current Second Life (and we totally trust that, right?). They hint this is going to be a totally new generation of virtual reality.
So... what is SL2 likely to be? Let's see if we can make some educated guesses. Why? Mark it up to total masochism. ; )
First, Second Life has a bad reputation. There is no denying that. Despite the fact that Linden Lab basically put VR on the map and developed the core concept that is used in both OpenSim and Inworldz... over the years the grid has gained bad press ranging all the way from being a badly-coded lag/crash system... to a virtual brothel and haven for pedophiles. Sadly, these reputations were (at least at the time) pretty much warranted... and Second Life is widely perceived as a "not for smart computer users" game rather than a viable virtual society. There's a good chance Linden Lab would like to eliminate such perceptions in their second try.
In addition the grid has been plagued by griefers and security issues. It's simply not professional or secure. That is something Linden Lab needs to correct as well.
A serious problem is that the majority of the company's profitability has been land-based. That has always been an issue. We have seen land prices devalue to near-worthlessness, we've seen Second Life undercut by systems such as Inworldz (which offers a far better product at 1/4 the price), we've seen SL's profitability plummet since 2008 as their region counts dropped and Premium user base cancelled their memberships, reportedly by the tens of thousands. So it's become rather obvious that renting land and paid memberships is not going to be the wave of the VR future.
Second Life (and indeed all grids) has also been plagued by another less-obvious problem: amateur and unprofessional merchants. This takes several forms, ranging from poor-quality merchandise and badly-written scripts to outright fraud, copyright infringement and criminal activity.
So how does Linden Lab overcome these problems? What are they planning?
A FEW PREDICTIONS REGARDING SECOND LIFE 2
So based on 10 years of personal VR history and examining the above issues, I decided to open up the prediction box and stick my foot in the water once again. Here is what I would expect them to do with SL2:
* SL2 will likely not feature user-based creations. No building tools, no scripting, no importing or exporting of any kind.
* Instead, Linden Lab will make arrangements with established professional-level merchants to provide high-quality creations on an all-new SL2 Marketplace at which only licensed, authorized merchants will be allowed to display and sell. Expect the SL2 marketplace to greatly decrease in number of offerings and greatly improve in overall quality of merchandise.
* If LL is smart scripts will be required to adhere to stringent guidelines and testing protocols.
* Linden Lab will likely take a much larger cut of sales... 25 to 50 percent (considering who we're talking about here). Why will merchants accept this? Because their numbers will be limited and the competition far less intense. Widespread freebies or cut-throat prices would be a thing of the past. As only authorized merchants would be allowed to sell, they will sell a whole lot more... and will be more than happy to give Linden Lab a larger chunk of their sales for that privilege.
* SL2 will probably not have a membership fee; after all, they are most likely intending to compete directly with Facebook. It will be designed to be a "3D virtual chat room". Those who visit will be encouraged to improve their avatars (at a cost of course).
* Users will possibly be provided small plots of land for free... which naturally will make them want to purchase homes, furniture, cars, swimming pools, small airports and airplanes, sailing ships to sail the oceans, etc. Alternately, LL may decide to rent parcels of land. That is the big if. Impossible to predict that one. We can expect no "land barons"; that would all be Linden Lab's venue. Either way they do it, we can be guaranteed profit will be the #1 consideration.
* Likely SL2 will have a much stronger social structure. Think Facebook on steroids. Membership profile pages (along with actual paid advertising... something LL has avoided in the past), photo and video sections, advanced messaging, the works... a 2D Facebook-like system tied in directly to their 3D world. Click an in-world profile... visit their 2D profile pages. I believe Linden Lab would very much like to be the Facebook of the 3D world and perhaps in their wildest visionary dreams, imagines SL2 taking over Facebook's market entirely.
* EXTREMELY EASY-TO-USE INTERFACE. That will be a core issue. No building tools or menus. Very easy-to-use avatar clothing and changing functions. Easy-to-use rezzing and object movement functions (of course using only authorized items purchased on the SL2 Marketplace). Learning time: 5-10 minutes tops, via real-time startup activity / tutorials... and a near zero learning curve.
* Laggy grid and poor performance, because they aren't likely to start with brand new, expensive, time-consuming code. They'll be using their current platform and all new rules.
(If they were smart they'd be offering Inworldz some major $$$ to implement their upgrades, changes and scalability / performance boons. Now that's a scarey thought.)
WHY SUCH EXTREME CHANGES?
Why do I believe Linden Lab would change their entire marketing plan? Because they have made millions of dollars in fees from SL Marketplace... and their percentage there has been very low. That market has been a consistently-increasing cash cow. Imagine how much they would make in a market where they took a much larger percentage... and everyone bought from them?
Could such a market finance and fuel an entire grid? You bet it could. And they'd still have the old SL on hand, still making a tidy profit ruling the "creative" sector of VR. Linden Lab would be grabbing cash with both fists.
DE-SEXING THE SEX GRID?
Will sexual products and activity be prohibited on SL2? Not likely. Linden Lab has a history of openly promoting sexuality on their board. Sex sells. Unless their core viewpoints and policies are changing, that will continue. But there would likely be changes. Such would probably be relegated to an "adult" district or would they'd significantly limit the overt nature of such. It's hard to predict what they would allow, what they wouldn't allow, or to what extent they would knowingly turn a blind eye. One thing we can be pretty sure of: sexuality will remain, because it means bottom-line profit. Linden Lab has never ignored a source of profit.
Possibly the in-your-face sex marketing would be somewhat eliminated. The "new SL" would more wisely limit such things to behind-closed-doors, in private clubs, in private homes and specified areas... but it will be there. Goods will almost definitely be offered in an "adult" section of their marketplace, with signs warning people what's there so that no one can complain about being "offended". The genre will still be very much alive... it just won't be quite so blatantly obvious as it is now. Maybe. On the other hand this is Linden Lab. Maybe they'll totally fail to learn from past mistakes and sexuality will be as in-your-face as ever. Difficult to say.
Most of all, SL2 is likely to be presented in a more professional light. Businesses and even education may be courted to present their companies and organizations on a 3D virtual chat world with a potential audience of hundreds of millions of regular users (or so they hope). Only professionally-designed, quality merchandise will be available, from the best-of-the-best merchants. The new VR would possibly be totally controlled, operated and regulated by Linden Lab, with no irate customers or merchants to deal with. SL will most likely be a tourist grid as opposed to their current creator nature... and Linden Lab will be in complete control of every facet of operation (as much as they can manage, anyway).
IT'S STILL LINDEN LAB
A major issue to be considered is that this is still Linden Lab... a company with a repetitious history of blunder after severe blunder. This is a company that evidences repeatedly putting profit ahead of customer welfare and interests. Consider: they put highly-supportive GOM out of business to start a monopolistic online market of their own. They lost some 5,000 regions in the OpenSpace Sim fiasco before barely backtracking. Elf Clan as an entire group left Second Life after seven years of continual frustration with self-serving company policies.
So the question of the day: Has Linden Lab learned from past mistakes, or are they doomed to repeat them?
If I were to predict... I'd foresee additional bad decisions and blunders from the company, perhaps so severe it would undermine the project and sink it faster than the Bismark. On the other hand maybe they've heavily examined where they went wrong and their new business plan is designed to be leaner, smarter and more attuned to what customers want and need-- at a significant profit, of course.
INWORLDZ PROBABLY DOESN'T NEED TO WORRY
This is my big out-on-a-limb prediction. I foresee the new SL as being a totally restructured product that will not appeal to creator-customers. It will be designed to appeal directly to the social crowd... the exact opposite of Inworldz primary market. (Although such should be Inworldz market as well.)
As such, while it may impact Inworldz future, potential market, it's not likely to harm their existing market-- and may unintentionally even through significant business Inworldz' direction.
Despite the longer-than-expected progress of Inworldz, the truth is the grid is progressing. It may have been on the slow-track to completion, but that may also mean Inworldz will be far more stable than SL ever achieved. The time may actually come that SL2 benefits Inworldz more than harms it... as SL merchants realize that a growing Inworldz platform at 1/4 the cost of SL might be a smart move.
Those who are creative individuals who enjoy making their own worlds likely won't be much interested in SL2. Linden Lab likely intends to tap two markets: those on SL who couldn't care less about creating (they're just there for the social aspects)-- and markets currently held by Facebook and IMVU. In fact, what we may be seeing is Linden Lab making a direct grab at the popular and lucrative IMVU market.
Therefore on second examination (since my previous blog listing SL2 as serious potential competition), Inworldz probably doesn't really have to worry much about this one. If anything, SL2 may benefit migration to the Inworldz platform. However, it is very possible that Linden Lab could interfere with future Inworldz markets... taking over a social VR platform that would otherwise be potential Inworldz customers. That will undoubtedly be the case if SL2 actually comes into existence (and there is every reason to believe it will).
Or I may be totally wrong and SL2 could work so well it completely corners the market. We'll just have to wait to see what happens.*
I could write a lot more, but I think that will suffice for early-guess no-data predictions. Linden Lab has said very little at all about the new system. About the only thing they've published at all is that they don't intend to "replace" the current Second Life (maybe they're right, but I wouldn't bet my bank account on that)... and that SL2 will be the next generation of a vastly improved VR. They're naturally being secretive and playing this very close-to-the-vest. What actually comes about is anyone's guess... which is all I'm really doing here.
I wonder how close these predictions will prove out when / if the new grid appears... and how long it will be before this latest announcement actually transpires?
We will see.
* Honestly though... I seriously doubt SL2 will corner the market. It could, but this is Linden Lab we're discussing here. Historically they tend to be somewhat self-destructive.