|January 30th, 2007|
3pointd.com reports that a Second Life server emu is out there, raising the question of what the world looks like when there’s multiple servers to log into. There’s already been some discussion of what happens to the current Linden business model on the day that there’s lots of hosting choices — sort of like a much more sober version of the issues that arose after the CopyBot scandal.
Meanwhile, MTV starts talking about launching more worlds over on Wired.com, focusing on closed worlds that they can monetize by classic methods: selling items, advertising to kids who log in, and so on. I find it somewhat ironic that There had it right all along, they just hadn’t found the right marketing partner: clearly, what they needed was a hefty dose of horny teenagers (the article reports 300,000 signups in 10 weeks).
Both articles come to us thanks to Mark Wallace. But one appears in the big corporate news aggregator, and the other in the scrappy little indie blog. Being who I am, I actually found the 3pointd article before I found the Wired one.
In some ways, that’s illustrative of the whole question of the right approach to media: newspapers versus blogs, TV versus YouTube… and now, even virtual world versus virtual world. Consider these two quotes:
Part of the value of business investment in Second Life relates to the ease of travel between properties. A host-your-own metaverse doesn’t necessarily care to be interoperable. Even if today’s property owners were able to transition inexpensively to a number of metaversal hosting services in the future, I’m guessing that some owners will become the gatekeepers of their own walled gardens, refusing to “play nice” with the rest of Second Life.
(from Clickable Culture)
“If you look at our monetization on a viewer basis for Laguna Beach, we’re making pennies a person,” Yapp says. But, he says, visitors to Virtual Laguna Beach might buy a DVD of the show, a branded T-shirt, or a virtual T-shirt for their avatar (in-world currency can be purchased with a credit card at an exchange rate of 180 MTV bucks to the US dollar). And hardcore fans will be able to get virtual crash pads and flirt via VoIP when MTV launches a $6-per-month premium service.
(From the Wired article)
Fundamentally, we’re talking here about an issue of ownership. Who’s the captive audience? In the case of VLB (and WoW, and so on), it’s about selling ads because you hold eyeballs. In the case of SL server emulators, it’s almost the reverse: the operator is the captive, beholden to the creativity of the users, who are broadcasting back, and out. Philip Rosedale has laid out the thought that long-term, SL would be in the position of network operator, not world operator.
In some senses, the question is whether you want to be a TV show or even a TV channel — or a whole cable network. One thrives on specificity, the other on variety. One is about ads, the other about monetizing consumers (as well as potentially adding advertising into the mix). One desires exclusivity, the other wants inclusiveness as long as the content carries justifies the resources it consumes.
Until now, everyone has pretty much played in the content provider area. It’s been about what you can make, and how many people you can get to show up. Part of the reason is that the sorts of businesses that networks have built have all historically been built on limited infrastructure. The phone company was able to be a powerful company because laying line was hard. Cable companies carve up the landscape into areas where they have cable laid. But in a web world, lots of folks have infrastructure (my hosting provider notwithstanding, lately).
Content is still king, of course. The network still needs the shows. But it’s an omnivorous hunger. Almost any show will do, barring radical branding conflicts. Perhaps that’s why Viacom’s new Nickelodeon world; isn’t lumped in with the MTV ones — or for that matter, NeoPets.
In the end, both bits of news point towards the growth of virtual worlds as networks rather than as shows. It’s not a new trend, given past experiments like Station Pass and the like — but perhaps it’s inevitable, given that the worlds themselves sit on top of the most successful networked technology mankind has yet developed.