‘Engagement’: Virtual Worlds 1 – Social Networking Sites 0

October 11, 2007

In true reportage style, I’m going to start with the bad news. I won’t say too much about the Yankee groups recent assertion that Second Life has failed to live up to its hype, as Wagner Au over at New World Notes has done more than enough to discredit their findings, and the fact that the Yankee group have pulled the report says it all. Again, it concerns me greatly that companies like the Yankee Group are paid large sums of money to comment on something with which they clearly have no experience whatsoever.

In direct contrast to the Yankee groups flawed findings, The Guardian recently reported that Second Life users spent on average 5 hours 29 minutes per month in-world in contrast to Facebook users who on average spent but 2 hours 32 minutes using the software in the UK. Linden Labs metrics suggest this figure is significantly higher, which suggests that Nielsen//Net Ratings may have made a similar mistake to that of the Yankee group.

Anyone interested or involved with virtual worlds will likley be unsurprised by this ‘finding’, after all the famous ’20 hours a week’ average for MMO players is touted with some frequency. But I wonder what the time spent playing figures are like for the growing market of casual MMOs (Barbiegirls, Club Penguin, Habbo etc.) touted as the next big things by various virtual world luminaries? Traditional MMOs, like World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, EVE Online etc. have always been seen as the choice of the more hardcore gamer who spends a lot of time gaming anyway, and the same is probably true of the majority Second Life users so I have my doubts that a more casual audience will match the dedication these kinds of players show.

But of course, hardcore gamers are a minority and gaming per se is still a relatively engagement intensive activity. This article in The Escapist points out what the economic benefits of casual gaming are, but what about the ‘attention economy’? Interestingly during the keynote speech yesterday at the virtual worlds conference Chris Sherman asked “how do you make the user experience work for users with short attention spans” in reference to the apparent success of kids virtual worlds. There is clearly some concern that just like Heelies or Friendster a given virtual world will just be flavour of the month and then disappear into obscurity, but for now the strength of virtual world platforms over social network sites lies in the of overlooked fact that they look like and contain games. The concern should be that social networking sites will realise this and bring virtual world features into their friendship oriented environments, as many of the apps on Facebook  already do.

Of course crossover virtual world platforms like Metaplace might iron out these distinctions, and virtual world Scenecaster has already launched its app on Facebook (that as yet I haven’t got working!) so such a distinction might be moot. The competition might end up relying on which company can bring out the next ‘must-explore’ virtual world.


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