Is Second Life a game or a platform? In its early years, the question was answered — loudly and repeatedly — Second Life is not a game, it’s a platform.
Lately, however, the company seems to be moving in a decidedly game-ish direction.
Here are some reasons why it’s a mistake.
1. If you make a useful platform, people will figure out stuff to do with it.
2. If you make a game, you have to keep adding new quests to keep people interested in it.
3. No matter how many quests you add, eventually people will get tired of playing and you’ll have to invent completely new games.
4. A platform that plays well with others and becomes part of a larger ecosystem can survive for a long time. The Windows Web server, for example, coexists alongside open source alternatives and currently powers 13 percent of all websites. Okay, that’s not as good as the 40 percent market share it used to have, but considering that folks have to pay for the Windows web server, and the others are free, it’s still a pretty good showing — and the number of websites is increasing all the time, too.
5. A platform benefits from network and snowball effects. The more people use a platform, they more documentation and other ancillary resources they create, which causes other people to use the platform. Businesses created on top of the platform bring in their customers — and their success attracts other companies.
A platform’s main challenge is the “chicken and egg” problem. A new platform doesn’t have any developers using it yet, so there’s nothing available for customers, and without customers, no developers want to use it.
Second Life was able to overcome that problem, attracting both retail users, non-profits, educators, and companies. With Second Life Enterprise it seemed poised to build on that success and become a truly multi-purpose platform for the 3D web.
However, the enterprise server was crippled and overpriced and was cancelled instead of being fixed. Educators got a massive price hike and the company hired a gaming industry CEO instead of someone with a vision of a metaverse future.
With its latest acquisitions and features releases, Linden Lab seems to be moving more and more in the direction of being a game company.
Which is a shame. The hypergrid can use a compatible, proprietary server alternative to OpenSim and AuroraSim. First, because competition is always good. And, second, some customers just prefer to use commercial, proprietary software. It can be easier to sell proprietary software to senior management, for example. And it’s easier for large customers to do business with other large companies, than tiny OpenSim hosting companies.
Second Life Enterprise, with a decent pricing model, better configuration options and an enterprise-friendly feature set could have easily become a preferred platform for large enterprises who might be leery of jumping into OpenSim.