As someone who was very involved in the second wave of virtual worlds on the internet (it depends if you count Habitat or MUDs as the first wave or not), I’ve watched them periodically come up and die again with amusement. It was always obvious the first time around, that it wasn’t a technology problem. Sure, Alphaworlds, Black Sun, Microsoft Virtual Worlds and V-Chat (my project) could have looked better or been slightly more responsive, but their main failings weren’t polygon counts. The main failings were all about having no reason to exist. none. They were novel, they were amusing for a short time, but they didn’t really bring much to the table that wasn’t there before. In the end it was just providing a new way of text chat. Adobe Atmosphere came out, gave me and the V-World’ers I know a laugh, and then died looking for a market.
Then came Linden Labs. Especially when the first details came out, I was really unimpressed. It seemed like a technology built by cyberhippies with nothing new to offer except some vague notions of on-line togetherness. I read some articles about it, and then ignored it, expecting it to go away soon. It persevered though and grew. They took their economy seriously and started selling real estate and making it possible for people to easily make a living within world (neither of these things was their idea, both have been done before). They started making large deals and announcing incredible usage (not profit) numbers. Of course, it is all a sham. The above article does a nice job skewering the Linden Labs numbers. Does this mean Second Life is a failure? Nope, even their (corrected) meager numbers are quite nice. Does this mean that Second Life is the first viable (long term) virtual world? Well, depends on if you want to count the on-line RPGs. Those were successful and have been around a lot longer. The question is if a purpose-less (non-game) virtual world can make it.
I guess we’ll have to wait a bit longer to find out.