Virtual Worlds: more mainstream by the day

The US-based Technology Intelligence Group have released a report titled “Virtual Worlds Industry Outlook 2008-2009”. It’s a really well written document that both looks back at the past year and makes some solid predictions for the coming year.

The standout observation for me is the ‘mainstreaming’ of non-gaming virtual worlds:

Stanford SUMMIT has been leveraging simulations built on the Forterra OLIVE platform to train doctors on key critical thinking skills with trauma patients, 18 of the top 20 educational institutions own land in Second Life with many using it to teach courses, McDonalds has created a Happy Meal virtual world to reinforce their well known brand, and customer and staff meetings are being held by enterprises across multiple platforms.

There’s no doubt that virtual worlds are becoming more mainstream, something that was driven home to me earlier this year when I was asked to consult on a film project (there’ll be more information of that project later this year). The point is, the film in question has a story line with no direct relationship to virtual worlds. One part of the film will feature Second Life – not as a novelty, not in a high-tech context, but in an everyday (rural) life scene. It’s those increasing references in popular culture that will increase the mainstreaming momentum.

The report also states some confidence around the graphics issues besetting virtual worlds:

the current slate of graphics challenges associated with virtual worlds may soon be remembered in the same vein as 64k computers.

If ‘soon’ means in the next year to two years, then there’s another aspect of momentum building because at present the average ADSL broadband customer with a PC older than 18 months or so is still encountering great challenges.

Not surprisingly, the education session is seen as a continuing driver of widespread virtual world adoption:

The training and education market will continue to drive widespread adoption of virtual world technology, as the broad experimentation within Second Life demonstrates. Universities and other teaching institutions that initially experimented with Second Life are in the process of standardizing platforms for virtual classrooms, which will be a boom for companies that are already well positioned in this market, such as Proton Media and Forterra Systems.

The power of virtual world add-ons for traditional websites is emphasised – Google Lively is the high-profile recent example:

The frictionless nature of a ‘go to the meeting room’ button on a web page will lower the barriers to adoption


There’s certainly a growing convergence of forces that increase the likelihood of virtual worlds reaching the mainstream. As always, there’ll be plenty of attrition, some conflict and a great deal of uncertainty. In that respect it’s situation normal.

The legal section of the report also makes fascinating reading with a number of precendents only starting to be established. You can view the report in full here.

What are your thoughts – does the report provide any surprises for you?

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