If you build it they will come......but then what?
I have spoken with hundreds of virtual world residents in all kinds of platforms and most express a similar problem, nothing to do. A growing consensus that I think the virtual world operators need to address. 3D chat and Feng Shui'ing a space can only hold so much excitement. Personally I feel it is not about the number of unique visitors or account sign-ups, but the return patrons. Imagine if World of Warcraft had no quests, PVP, or story line. Just create an avatar, move/animate in various 3D spaces, and chat. Would their numbers still be over 10 million copies sold? I think not and most would agree with me. Even a world as rich with interactivity as Second Life has a hard time keeping the masses coming back on a regular basis.
I have been a fly on the wall during several recent virtual world launches, and the chat boards fill with, "This is cool, but what is there to do?" Guess the virtual world by this employee's answer,"You can meet up with friends, customize your own space or avatar, visit other 3D spaces, embed media, and dance". The answer....... most of them. So what is the incentive to join a virtual world that offers the same basic features as the other fifteen I am in? Where are the games, interactive objects, and things to do to keep me coming back? If the platform makers are just counting on it being the community to keep me engaged, they lose already to 2D social networks. This is 3D on the web, so put more web in the 3D. Give me utility and something to do.
I have a personal network of beta testers that explore and critique the more popular virtual worlds (mostly non-gamer females) and they tell me they get bored fast. With the testers that are gamers, Entropia Universe is in the winner's circle as it has a 3d social networking side to it (property ownership, dance clubs, etc.), includes game elements such as hunting, skills building, a PVP area, and a real cash economy to help bring people back.
I am really shocked that the platforms that use the web3d open standard X3D don't tap more into the potential of the technology they are built off of. It is like wanting to win a race and having a Ferrari you only drive 55 mph. ExitReality has some game scenes now that appear in their search library (let's hope they have permission to use them) so that is a step in the right direction for interactive content and having interactive Flash as a texture does give the ability to have casual games, so high five there.
The people calling the shots at these companies need to go talk to other people's kids, and the people in their targeted audience. There is a MAJOR disconnect here. A bunch of late thirties, forties, and fifties year olds deciding what is "hip" and "cool" for tweens, teens, and early-mid twenty year olds. Surely we all remember how we felt when "adults" tried to be hip with us. This is a generation with A.D.D. You have to give them something to do, a reason to come back. More content to walk around in or decorate with is not the answer from the users I talk with. Take note of those Facebook widgets and casual games that trap all of us for a few minutes from time to time. If you build it, someone will come, but then ask yourself, why would they regularly come back?