How Do Virtual Worlds Survive

Preface

I'm in the belief that this economical crisis is reaching an end soon, but none of our countries will have a fast recovery. In some, like mine I fear, there will never be good times again, at least until someone makes deep changes to the system. And not in the sense of increasing productivity lowering salaries and all that stuff we are used to hear, but in the sense of a wealthier population.

Business owners, rulers, economists, must understand that if everybody is unemployed or with a low salary, no one will buy anything that is not essential for life. The solution: pay more, make more money be injected in the system, but not to the banks - to the people.

Until they understand this and fix the world, owners of virtual worlds -let it be big businesses or independent programmers, if there's some- must understand that the era of "all for free" has reached an end. They will have lesser populations, and must be sure that those populations bring them the money to survive.
It is hard to accept this (less public, but of more quality), but if your virtual world is not sustainable at the medium term, it will prevent you from making a big bubble that some day explodes and ruins you.

Years ago I had the idea of building a virtual worlds platform myself. I built numerous worlds and started to program the server and client. I abandoned the idea as soon as I saw the enormous costs and low possibilities of return of the investment that you need to do. Now I am so happy that I didn't do it.

So if you are wandering into this dangerous adventure, the least you could do is avoid common mistakes. I really want virtual worlds out there, and I ask all the people behind them to not repeat those common errors.

Many have already fallen to the crisis (There.com, Metaplace...). You will make us happier if yours doesn't fall too.

MaxMoney Virtual Worlds Currency Exchange

Now, The Concept

When talking about their susteinability, there are 3 types of virtual worlds: doomed, unstable and stable. A world that does not reach a real, integrated and active populaton, is doomed to disappear.

An unstable virtual world belongs to the group of those which have not reached that population, or have exaggerated costs that are not covered (may be for an excess of initial costs or a lack of continuous funding, or too elevated costs of maintenance).

A virtual world reaches a stable state when it gets enough real population that is compromised and integrated and active.

See that I'm not simply saying "population". What I mean with real population is when people:

  • Friendly welcome newbies and motivate them to make roots in the community.
  • Actively enter and participate often in the virtual world life.
  • They understand the economical needs of the business behind their virtual world.
  • They have internal cohesion, as a good family, and treat others in the virtual world with respect friendship, and willing to help, not making ghettos.
  • Are not willing to abandon the virtual world because of their deep integration, no matter what new wvs emerge.

During the last decades, many of these that are stable nowadays appeared and reached this state, because they focused on building this kind of society, and were realist and humble in their plans.

This is often not possible, or is not easy, nowadays.

Nuli Ibrahim Virtual Worlds

New worlds are forced to compete with very high requirements from new users of virtual worlds, that constantly compare them to videogames: they demand stunning speed, no lag, graphics of high quality, connection stability, features... plus a society and things to do (activities).

Businesses are reacting to this risk in many ways. One of them is using open source engines for their graphics, for example, Unity for Nurien. But this is not the key to success, just to reduce costs.

It is also essential to notice the following: you don't need only to attract people, you need to attract the right people.

As stated by Richard Bartle in his books, there are different kinds of users, that we will simplify in 3 groups:

  • Killers: are attracted by graphics and arcade features
  • Explorers (Builders): are attracted by building features and use to be too busy to talk to others or be involved in anything social, but are needed to make the virtual world alive, growing, and esthetical.
  • Socializers: basic for any social virtual world.

This last group is essential. They are people that enjoy talking and interacting with others. They are not attracted by anything but the features that make the world playable in a social sense, and allow social interaction.

A virtual world needs thousands to millions of this last group of users. They may be attracted by good graphics, but they won't stay if they can't socialize.

Virtual worlds are about people, not graphics (games are about graphics and playability). The key to failure is that many of the people that are attracted by graphical improvements are not potential real population. They are the killer type, and won't stay for too long.

Focus on features, not graphics.

Also, you need qualified builders. The more brain they have, the less CPU and GPU, and resources of connection, and server hard drive they will use, and lesser costs for any virtual world.

A skilled, geek-type of world builder can make an efficient use of resources. An inefficient one will waste your money and resources without limits, filling your world with poor quality structures.

Most of the today stable virtual world attracted their populations in times of lesser competition by offering features that made them unique or very complete.

Examples of stable type of virtual worlds: ActiveWolrds, Runescape, or Gaia.

Some possible advices for new virtual world are:

  • Have a sustainable economical model from the start. Ideally it must be something that brings money in a regular basis (a monthly fee). People that hate commercial ads, that don't want to pay for anything, and want all for free don't understand the economical needs of that project they are enjoying, and are not the kind of people you want for anything.
  • Focus on "game" features, not just graphics features. For the reasons stated before, plus that many of the socializers don't care about this and may have old computers that can't render them.
  • Get or instruct efficient worldbuilders from the beginning. Offer them a lifetime free membership, or hire them. If you hire them they will build more, as well as if you provide them with a recurring reward, not just something they get once. At least at the beginning, you must also limit the building rights or make them available only for paid accounts. This will avoid filling your virtual world with rubbish.
  • Have real socializers and make them understand and be compromised with your mision and needs. This happens in ActiveWorlds to high degree, and in Second Life in a lesser degree. Get charismatic leaders (i.e. Torley in SL). Their mission is to keep the community alive, active, to create cohesion around their figure, and even cooperate with their money to support it.
  • And the most important thing: don't oversize your project. It must grow progresively, and securing every step on financial sources. ActiveWorlds does it this way, and survived to the fall of many others.

Never ever forget that a social virtual world is about people. It's not the graphics, it's the people who are important. All the features should suppose an advantage for social interaction, cohesion, and good relationships between virtual citizens.

A virtual world must become real as a society. Must become something that ties together your citizens, yourself, and what they have created.

-Jordi R. Cardona-


© 2008 by Jordi R. Cardona. Link to this post without copying the text.

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1 comments

Anonymous said...

Now, if we can just get LL to understand it's about people. If only....

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