Second Life, the 3D virtual world favored by furries and the digital departments of ad agencies desperate to convince clients how cutting-edge they are, is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year. In that time, little has changed — the same poorly-rendered polygons and textures move through the same largely empty world, where quite honestly the most innovative users have been the griefers who turn up at any of the arranged publicity events featuring corporate shills and politicians desperate to convince anyone how cutting-edge they are. Linden Lab may shuffle on like a zombie, but that doesn't change the fact that it's time for a post-mortem.
A quick check of Alexa shows that traffic to the secondlife.com — where new users sign up and download the software — is flat if not down, and still well behind worldofwarcraft.com, which is nearly as old and far more popular. While Second Life allows you the freedom to do anything, and I mean anything, you want, consumers have made their choice when it comes to virtual worlds, and they've chosen manicured gardens and not libertarian free-for-alls populated by flying penises.
Sure, my avatar's screwed around in the virtual world once or twice, but that's generally about all any of Linden Lab's reported 10 million users have done. I'm sure for those suffering from autism it's a magical experience, not to mention those suffering from a lack of PhD thesis ideas and technology journalists looking for something to playfully mock. In the end, it's that latter that I'll miss about Second Life most as it slides into the dustbin of history. People just don't laugh at punchlines about Goreans like they used to.
What doomed the virtual world? The lack of graphics development, for starters. The engine has improved little since it started, and it certainly won't attract any new users used to the finely rendered worlds in today's high-end console and PC games. Crappy American broadband didn't help, since every change of viewing angle required a whole new batch of data to be downloaded. And trying to attract business from advertisers in order to shill to the occasional transhuman passerby, as opposed to support robust development of things to actually do beyond gambling and ponzi schemes, didn't help make it a sticky experience.
I don't blame most of the folks at Linden Lab, who seemed to suffer a shared delusion inspired by one too many readings of Snowcrash, possibly too much MDMA and certainly the cultishness founder Phillip Rosedale fostered. I do, however, blame the boosters from without who took every usage statistic and brave new world vision that came out of the company's Barbary Coast offices seriously. Sorry, but Valleywag told ya so. (Image by Torley)