There are a plenty of next-generation virtual worlds out there, and most people who either know me or have read posts on this site know that I think the best contender is SineSpace. I have plenty of reasons to believe this, but the one that matters most is simple. Going mobile is important.
Let me explain why. First, a virtual world is a hybrid category that crosses social media with gaming. While content creators can make elaborate and engaging games in a virtual world, mostly it is casual gaming (the kind of things users can play for hours on end, or just a few minutes).
When previous generation virtual worlds like Second Life launched, there was no smartphone or tablet market to speak of. Mobile gaming meant on a laptop. Unfortunately for Linden Lab (makers of Second Life) and others, the way their worlds were designed made it difficult, if not impossible to go mobile.
In The Spirit Of Full Disclosure
I have been participating and managing online communities since the 1980’s. Additionally, I have helped to test and develop various operating systems for companies like Microsoft in the 1990’s and Apple since the 2000’s. I started exploring and making content for Second Life in 2008. For several years BlakOpal Designs had a significant business on that platform, and I worked with several different Linden Lab staffers to help build and test their web marketplace, the client, and some of their server projects.
Not long after the iPad was released, I met with a few different LL staffers individually and I tried to stress the importance of mobile. Back then the app store was still relatively new, and so were social networking games. Still, I saw the success of early titles like Farmville and saw more and more people using smartphones and tablets for casual gaming and social interaction and for me the writing was on the wall.
They Didn’t Share My Vision
Maybe theydidn’t share my views or believe the usage statistics that were being published at the time. Or they didn’t realize the potential significance of the category. Linden Lab continued on full steam ahead on a world for desktop and laptop users.
Actually, another factor that probably played a much more significant role than anybody would ever admit is how their ‘grid’ (the server network) was architected. It wasn’t designed for mobile devices. The experience would have likely been a nightmare in terms of bandwidth, data usage, battery life and performance.
Third parties have tried (and largely failed) to create a way to connect with Second Life on mobile. Putting aside any rights or licensing issues, I believe the core issue goes back to the world not being designed for mobile devices.
IMVU Is Different
One previous generation virtual world that has worked well on mobile is IMVU. Two key factors have helped them there. First, they came along a couple years later (they didn’t have a monstrous established platform before the smarphone era). And second, their metaverse is largely a glorified series of chat rooms.
IMVU has definitely benefitted. Despite having less to offer than other virtual worlds, they doubled down on social and leaned in on mobile clients. They now have roughly 4 million active monthly users, compared to Second Life’s 800,000 monthly users.
The Future Is Mobile
This article from Reuters shows where things are going. Nearly 65% of US adults play games. Casual gaming is the most popular genre, and more than 60% are playing games on their smartphones. They’re also spending big on content (like in-app purchases and currency to do virtual goods shopping). That’s up 20% over last year and 85% compared to 2015.
Find more statistics at Statista
Back when I was trying to convince Linden Lab that going mobile was important, approximately 80% of users were using a mobile device to connect to Facebook. As of January 2019, that percentage has increased significantly (96% use smartphones, 16% use tablets) while laptop/desktop usage (which was once 100%) has dropped considerably (only 25% of users connecting via laptop/destop).
WePC has an exhaustive and informative study on the games industry, which you can check out here. I’ll share a few of the highlights below, starting by a chart of percentage of the total revenue by gaming platform. Since 2015, desktop/laptop has lost 3%, console (like XBox and Playstation) plus VR has lost 4%, and mobile has grown by 10%. That trend will continue.
Throwing one more chart at you, this one gives you a sense of what those percentages mean in terms of dollars for game makers and content creators. Yeah, that chart is in billions of US dollars.
Accessibility Is Key
I am not trying to suggest that we should all stop thinking about other platforms, and only worry about tablets and smartphones. Personally, I think accessibility is key when it comes to a virtual world. Support more platforms, and more people have access to the virtual world.
When BlakOpal and I first discovered Second Life in 2008, one of the drawing cards was that they supported Mac, Windows, and Linux. Unfortunately over the years their Linux support has fallen behind, and in building Sansar (their next-generation world) they made the decision to make it PC only. I sincerely hope they change course.
Virtual worlds are a hybrid category that crosses social media and gaming. As a user, I wouldn’t want to only be able to connect with people who use the same kind of phone or computer on Facebook or any other social network.
An Undiscovered Country
For a lot of virtual world content creators, having mobile support represents an undiscovered country on an even bigger continent. We make our stuff and upload it to the virtual world. From there it exists and is bought and sold on whatever platform that world supports. If the charts and graphs and success that IMVU has had is any indication, it is a very significant opportunity.
SineSpace Isn’t There Yet
They’ve been talking a big game about accessibility and mobile being important since we came to SineSpace. While it’s great that Sine Wave (makers of SineSpace) has a plan, it is unfortunate that mobile support was sidelined. They do have a very rough Android client, but they don’t yet have a functional iOS client. Through some combination of investor or large customer demand and buying into the hype of VR, they have been prioritizing support for VR headsets, but I am hopeful that at some point in 2019 they will realize that going mobile is important and start turning out working beta clients.