The measure of a Metaverse


Source: Cover of Businessweek, November 26, 2006

What kind of metrics can we use to measure the success of a Metaverse?

We could measure the users. How many are there? How happy are they? How engaged? How long they stay? How much content they are consuming and creating? Something like like deviantART might measure and compare their success in these terms.

In my previous post, “Discussing Second Life: It is (and it isn’t)“, I talked about the difficulty in making general statements about Second Life. Everyone is all over the map. Second Life is a failure. Second Life is a success. Second Life is still alive, but it can’t survive.

Conventional wisdom is that Second Life is a failure. But that all depends on how you measure success. Did Second Life take over the world? No. When it hit critical mass, was it able to capitalize on it? No. Is the business a going concern? Yes! They’re still in business, and they’re still bringing in new users, even if there is still an 80% churn rate in their new subscriber retention numbers. A publicly traded company that answers to shareholders might find that situation intolerable. For a private company, that might just be okay.

We can see that we can measure the success of a Metaverse is with business metrics. Do you have a reliable revenue stream? Are you able to capture revenue? Is the business growing? Are you going to be able to maximize your value and sell out to a larger concern?

When I look at Second Life, I see communication, self-expression, and exploration as three major goals that were strongly built into its design. But despite all of this, is there really much to do there? For most people, the answer is no. Why? The reason is that Second Life is too inwardly focused. How? Let me show you.

Activities in Second Life include sightseeing in Second Life, talking to people in Second Life, buying customizations for your avatar in Second Life, buying and populating property in Second Life, selling virtual goods and property in Second Life, playing simple games in Second Life. You see the connection that flows through  all of these examples, right? They’re all inside of Second Life. They’re isolated from the real world.

What you do inside of Second Life has little impact on the real world (yes, there are exceptions). This isn’t just an issue of critical mass. When IBM set up shop in Second Life, could I go there to evaluate and then pay for a real laptop? Could I enter a technical support ticket for a device driver? Apply for a job? No, I couldn’t do any of those things in any plausible way beyond opening up an external web page. The reason for this was that Second Life is almost entirely divorced from the real-world, except for the people who inhabit it. It was like it was built with a meatspace firewall.

When American Apparel set up shop in Second Life, they got some publicity, sold some virtual t-shirts which only exist inside of Second life, and that’s about it. They weren’t able to directly translate their investment into sales. Is it any wonder that when the Second Life boom came in 2007, it went away as quickly as it came? What happens in Second Life stays in Second Life.

So here is my measure of a Metaverse: impact and influence; what you can actually accomplish. A Metaverse is successful in the degree that it is able to make an impact on the real world, be it material or influential. A Metaverse with a design goal of impact should be connected to real-world systems. I should be able to browse American Apparel t-shirts in the Metaverse and then actually buy them in real life from inside the Metaverse. I should be able to check on the status of my order. I should be able to make my voice heard to others and let them know how wonderful or how terrible those t-shirts were.

Pizza Hut website

Source: Screenshot of from 1994 via the adafruit blog

There was a time when the Internet didn’t have any significant real-world impact. Then, one day, ordering a pizza online was a very geeky yet amazing thing that you could do. In the novel Ready Player One, the author described a scene where two people in two different locations could sit in a virtual pizza parlor, order a pizza, and talk. They would order a real-world pizza which would be delivered, based on their preset preferences, to their front door. They would share a real-world pizza as they talked to each other online. Isn’t that where we should be heading?

I’m interested to hear what you think is important. What do you think? Should there be an ultimate goal and the ultimate measure of a Metaverse? What should we be baking into the design?

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