Now that we’ve reviewed our 2008 predictions, it’s on to 2009. For the coming year, we’re going to get a little bit more specific in our predictions. It may lower our chances of success but will be more fun. So here we go:
1. OpenSim grids will bleed Second Life users – this may seem a very obvious prediction given the growth of OpenSim grids, but what I mean here is that the exodus will be obvious. It won’t be a migration that will affect Second Life’s viability (other issues may achieve that), but there will be a solid, committed population of OpenSim users choosing those grids over Second Life’s one. Put another way, new users will see OpenSim grids as an equal option to signing up to Second Life.
2. Virtual worlds will appear as normal daily life in TV / Movies – To date, most appearances of virtual worlds in TV and film are either documentaries or as a central part of an action / geek film. US comedy The Office and CSI have both featured Second Life but essentially in a sensationalistic way. 2009 will see more insertions of virtual worlds into daily life scenes in shows. A disclosure here: I’m particularly confident on this one as I’ve had the pleasure of helping out on a film project that features a virtual world in a day-to-day context. More on that in the first few months of next year.
3. There will be a net increase in Australian business in virtual worlds – Second Life won’t see any significant growth in Australian businesses entering Second Life and there may actually be a decrease. The gains will come in worlds like Twinity, customised worlds created on platforms like VastPark and possibly even some entry into enterprise worlds offered by entities like IBM and Forterra. Any increase will be driven by the increasing awareness of virtual worlds as a cost-effective business collaboration tool.
4. Virtual worlds will remain a political no-go zone – Australian political parties have had zero presence to date and it’s extremely unlikely to change in 2009. Any planning being done by the major parties for the 2010 Federal Election is unlikely to extend beyond services like YouTube and Twitter. Things may stretch to sites like Barack Obama’s Change site, but forget anything 3D.
5. Metaplace will be a game-changer – Metaplace’s simple, web-based interface combined with some impressive content creation tools will ensure a launch with impact and significant growth. There’ll be some obvious poaching of users from services like Habbo Hotel but also from content-creation havens like Second Life.
6. Virtual sex will lead to legislation – Linden Lab’s gambling, ageplay and banking clamp-downs were an early start to the reality of increased regulation and governments worldwide are increasingly scrutinising virtual world activities. Sexual exploits (aside from ageplay) have remained unregulated. For better or worse, this won’t remain.
7. Australian Universities will fall further behind in incorporating virtual world training tools – Australia has some leading lights as far as virtual world and education go, something highlighted by AVWW 2008. In the wider university sector, US and UK universities are integrating virtual world training simulations in a range of areas including health and engineering. Australian universities on the whole haven’t begun thinking about this in a widespread way, even with the talented educators putting the case locally. 2009 will see the gap widen further as key universities overseas start to demonstrate significant education outcomes.
8. Second Life will remain a frustrating experience – the announcement of standalone servers may prove this prediction wrong, but 2009 is unlikely to show an enormous improvement in the Second Life user experience. The user interface will certainly improve and the stability of the platform may improve exponentially. The ongoing frustration will be the same issue that’s plagued Second Life to date: regular, crushing lag. This is one prediction I’d particularly like to be proven wrong on. A sub-prediction here too: the Teen grid will continue to decline and may even close altogether.
9. Growth, growth, growth – every metric and market research report points toward ongoing growth in the number of people spending time in virtual worlds. The new entrants will assist this growth but the incumbents will also grow. Habbo Hotel will most likely retain is dominance in raw numbers but children’s worlds like Barbie Girls, Hello Kitty Online and Club Penguin will provide an enormous userbase as well. Add to that the promising growth of Sony’s Home and you can see this is a safe prediction, but worthy of a mention.
10. Virtual Goods will boom – the interest from business in virtual goods as a money-maker has accelerated significantly in the past six months in particular, and 2009 will see that continue. Second Life has been a leader in that aspect, followed closely by children’s worlds and gaming worlds. Goods will get more sophisticated, with much more real-world marketing efforts behind them. 2009 may also see some virtual goods out-rank popular real-life items in terms of sales and revenue.
2009 looks promising overall, even in the context of the current economic situation. At worst, seven of the above ten should ring true over the coming year. More importantly, I’d love to hear your predictions for 2009. How clear is your crystal ball?