10 predictions for 2010

As 2009 comes to a close, and we can look back and see what happened this year, I’d like to make some predictions for what will happen next year.

#1 – Consolidation continues throughout the first half of 2010.

Platforms with relatively simple feature sets will continue to face increased competition from free products and their more technologically complex brethren. Many will survive on one or two large clients – but as a whole they will languish with a dearth of new clients.

#2 – Most tele-work virtual world initiatives fall flat on their face.

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Customers of tele-work virtual worlds will find after protracted usage that Virtual World clients are no match for something like WebEx. While many instances will be sold – only those with a genuine requirement for a 3D environment (such as safety training) will actually succeed. The consequential failure of these business users will lead to yet-another-media “Are virtual worlds over-hyped?” rush.

#3 – Average World Concurrency Improves.

The shift towards doing less on the server will continue, but the servers & software will continue to get better and more scalable. OpenSim will be handling a minimum of 200+ concurrent users per region by the end of 2010 – likely a lot more. Dynamic load balancing becomes a hot feature in new virtual worlds. (Side prediction: with better protocols OpenSim could be looking at 2500+ users per server)

#4 – Entertainment Worlds continue to quietly succeed year-after-year.

I’m not talking about MMORPG games here either. The consumer entertainment virtual worlds will continue to grow, or at least will not stagnate as fast as business worlds. There.com, IMVU, Second Life will all continue to see growth — although at a smaller percentage than they have previously (5-15%).

Blue Mars will languish for the first half of 2010, but may gain serious pace in late 2010 as usability problems are fixed & average user hardware specifications continue to improve.

#5 – Greater Cooperation between Open Source Virtual World Frameworks

OpenSim, Sirikata, Wonderland and realXtend begin talking to each other. Initially this will likely be support for the various clients across platforms, but eventually this could lead to common adoption of a standard protocol. Commercial incentives for a common VW standard however will continue to languish due to complex conflicts of interest between member parties.

#6 – realXtend Naali becomes functional & useful.

Building a new viewer from scratch is a complicated process, but Naali will become modestly functional towards the middle of 2010 and competitive by the end. OpenSim developers will likely begin to standardise around it (rather than Idealist et al.) as a way of making “viewer-required” changes and improvements.

#7 – OpenSim begins a formal release process.

Sometime in Q1/Q2 2010, OpenSim begins seeing a formal release process where major improvements & features occur on one branch, while a fixed programming target occurs on a stable branch; API changes will only occur on the development branch. OpenSim also begins finalising some of the internal interfaces on the path to a 1.0 release. It is likely that a version “1.0″ will not be released in 2010, but a release candidate (or “0.9″) will appear in Q4.

#8 – Content Repositories such as Turbosquid sign licensing arrangements with VW operators.

Hot off the heels of the Turbosquid’s arrangement with Autodesk – world developers integrate content stores linked to royalty-free services such as Turbosquid to provide their worlds with content. Leads to benefits for both world operators and users alike as the general visual quality of new worlds improve. Content-related middleware providers such as Xfrog & SpeedTree see their technologies integrated into more and more worlds (Evolver.com might succeed here too).

#9 – Virtual World Content Producers slowly begin a shift to a Royalty Free Licensing as an option alongside the traditional “Item” approach.

Top end content designers realise that business users are willing to pay extra for royalty free licensed content – and are willing to pay a lot more for it. As Meshes are added to Second Life® – producers begin making and releasing content not just simultaneously in multiple virtual worlds, but to places such as Turbosquid under royalty free licenses. Visual quality in Second Life® improves dramatically – but still falls short of a new release video game title (Shaders would fix this.)

#10 – Cost of world platforms decrease as competition sets in.

The average price of a virtual environment begins to decrease – commercial standalone deployments fall dramatically from the current $50,000+ fees down to rates under $5,000.  Consumer worlds will likely remain priced fairly high, but will begin a slow inevitable drift towards a functional environment at a fairly inexpensive $14.95/mo price point. (But don’t expect it to hit that until 2012 at the very soonest.)

There we go – I think some are more probable than others, but it’ll be interesting to check back next year and see how I did.

This article originally appeared on Adam Frisby’s blog and is reprinted here with permission.

Adam Frisby

Adam Frisby is one of the founding developers of OpenSimulator, the open source platform for the 3D Internet. He is also the CEO of Sine Wave Entertainment, which specializes in specializes in creative design, content and software development for immersive virtual environments.