2011 virtual worlds predictions review

Star Wars: The Old Republic - not a WoW killer, yet

Another year, another look back at predictions made a year ago. It’s been quite a year in some ways and a little stagnant in others.

More on that in reviewing the predictions, but first here’s my hit rate over the years – some of the predictions themselves are good for a laugh at least:

2010: 4 out of 9 correct

2009: 7 out of 10 correct

2008: 5 out of 7 correct

Onto 2011, here’s the predictions made and the actual outcomes:

1. Second Life

It’s fair to say that Linden Lab had a mixed year during 2010 with Second Life. 2011 is likely to be even more turbulent. I’m not going to fence sit on this one too much: the next 12 months will see Linden Lab finally sold to a big tech player based in the US. Whether it’s bought out or not, expect some more significant user-interface improvements but an overall decline in number of hours in-world per user. That decline will be driven primarily by diffusion as dedicated content creators, educators and long-term residents increasingly spread out to OpenSim grids, Blue Mars etc . Second Life might see an increase in concurrency, coming from the more casual / social users attracted by an easier to use interface. That seems to be Linden Lab’s strategy anyway. Oh – and legally compliant gambling will be provided in-world by Linden Lab.

Giving myself a half-pass, based on the user hours and user-interface improvements, but totally missed the mark with Linden Lab provided gambling and concurrency increases.

2. OpenSim

The safe prediction here is ongoing growth, but beyond that it’s a pretty murky picture. Consolidation is one of the clearer trends: a handful of grid providers will probably hold some dominance, with a skew of smaller / solo grids running. Hypergrid protocols are ever-improving, but for wider-adoption the larger providers will play a key role assuming they can keep delivering good service with a growing userbase. So overall: continued growth and emergence / consolidation of larger grid providers.

Pass – this was an easy prediction anyway, but I’m sure all would agree growth has continued, albeit at a slower pace than some would have expected.

3. Blue Mars

Over the past year Blue Mars has been continuing to evolve and has picked up a cohort of Second Life content creators. Assuming the funding keeps coming in, that growth is likely to continue although it’s doubtful that 2011 will see Blue Mars reach full launch and if it does, expect a slow but promising level of uptake by new users. Unless Second Life has a major stumble, Blue Mars won’t be in its league as far as content or user numbers during 2011 – 2012 may be a different story though depending on how things pan out with both camps.

Fail – Although Blue Mars is still pumping along as a predominantly mobile platform, from what I can see progress has remained slow and development of the PC client was discontinued.
The final sentence of my prediction remains pretty pertinent however.

4. The casual phenomenon

The casual worlds on platforms like Facebook will continue to fragment. Numbers will continue to grow but at a much slower rate. Fatigue with the limitations will also grow as people debate the merit of these worlds versus more traditional casual games (think Bejeweled etc). Not surprisingly there will also be a lot of underperforming worlds that close – exacerbating the fatigue with the genre from more experienced users.

Pass – growth has continued, with more offerings (including the launch of Sims Social on Facebook) and plenty of under-performers.

5. Media and societal acceptance

The coming year will see increasing focus on how we interact in virtual environments. The Microsoft Kinect is already receiving a lot of attention, and the media are likely to latch onto the theme of improving physical activity whilst highlighting the odd case of severe addiction/injury. Nothing new there really – the difference over time however is the growing acceptance that these developments need to be incorporated into society’s thinking on a range of issues. Key educators and policy-makers have known this for years but that widespread acceptance (if not understanding) is certainly taking a big step during 2011.

Pass – although measuring this one is difficult. The Kinect certainly did create a lot of interest and acceptance and overall media coverage of virtual environments as a novelty has decreased dramatically. The continued growth in use of social gaming worlds and rapid uptake in smart phone usage has further embedded virtual worlds into the developed world mindset in particular.

6. Government

The momentum with virtual worlds at the US Government level is significant, driven primarily by intertwined military and health-care needs. Beyong that 2011 seems a pretty arid zone on the government side. Although there are potential cost-savings in the longer-term, most European governments aren’t in a financial state to invest heavily in ‘cutting edge’ work. In the Asia-Pacific I’m always surprised at the lack of overt work in the area and don’t expect 2011 to be any different. On the home front, the national political scene is favourable only from the viewpoint of the National Broadband Network rolling out. Government 2.0 initiatives are at a fairly early stage and virtual environments aren’t playing any active role in that anyway at this stage.

Pass – the US Government continue their predominantly military focused work in the area, but most other governments haven’t progressed dow the road far, if at all.

7. Browser-based evolution

Like it or not, people want the ease of a browser-based virtual world without losing too much of the complexity. This year will see that trend continue with some good new options emerging. Using Second Life as an example, development is well underway both at Linden Lab and externally. What you definitely won’t see this year however is a browser-based experience as good as the standalone offering. That’s well over 12 months away but it is coming.

Pass – excellent progress has been made, but still lots more work to do. Kitely was one offering demonstrating that this year., but there are plenty of others.

8. Gaming Worlds

2011 is actually a huge year for MMOs. The key event will be the launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR). We’ve been following it pretty closely and so far it’s looking like it’ll be successful. There’ll be a lot of talk about SWTOR being a World of Warcraft killer. That’s a lot of hyperbole (for 2011 at least) but expect it to pick up a very significant user base in a short time. To be more specific, by end of 2011 I’d expect subscriber numbers to be sitting between two and three million minimum.

World of Warcraft itself will see fairly steady or slightly declining numbers maintained by the recent Cataclysm expansion, with continued dominance of the market for the coming year.

Pass – World of Warcraft has dropped some subscribers but easily maintained its dominance. Star Wars: The Old Republic launch just this month instead of April, but has already hit a million subscribers a week after launch.

9. Business

Absolute status quo: there will be no increased level of traction with business beyond some further acceptance of virtual meeting solutions. The ROI equation for business till isn’t clear enough, making adoption of virtual worlds technologies an exception to the rule. Good research (see Point 10 below) will be crucial for this to change.

Pass – sadly.

10. Research and Development

The number of virtual worlds research projects will continue to increase, with a particular focus on areas such as simulation and the neuropsychological aspects of virtual reality. The simulation research will be pivotal in building solid cases for business, non-government and government adoption of the technology. In an environment where more and more human services professionals are needed in an ageing population, simulation makes huge sense and will be a key driver in the medium term.

Pass – virtual worlds research continues to grow in a range of areas. I can personally vouch for this with my own studies, as I monitor weekly any new research and its frequency continues to increase.


8.5 out of ten this year, although a couple of the predictions were pretty safe ones. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the year that was, or to post links to your own review of predictions!


  1. most excellent post and i think you did a fine job on your predictions =)

  2. I might have mentiond Minecraft at number 8. Gaming Worlds its still  in  beta or just out of it and has a fenomenal following already  considering its a new game and they  have done no advertising so  the signups is due to word of mouth

  3. Thanks Ener 😉

  4. You were only just pipped at the post re Linden Labs as a gambling provider. Only last week after delays has the Internet Gambling laws for the US been ratified.

    This will almost certainly turn into one of the new “linden realms” in 2012. It would have been sooner if the act had ratified sooner.


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