A Microsoft virtual world?
As I write I’m sitting on a flight between Houston and Pheonix (I love Live Writer) and I’ve been reading US Airways’ in-flight magazine (a very very good in-flight magazine judging by the standards of others that I have read by the way) which has an article on virtual worlds such as Second Life. The article is called "My avatar, My self" and is authored by Daniel Tynan.
Here’s a few quotes from the article that got my attention:
- "Linden Labs’ Second Life [has] eight million plus subscribers."
- "Sony plans to launch Home, a virtual universe for Playstation 3 owners."
- "And let’s not forget World of Warcraft whose 8.5million members pay $15 a month." (Phew, that’s $1.53billion* a year. I didn’t know someone was making so much cash off of it.)
- "Gartner predicts that by 2011 four out of five netizens will do at least some of their shopping, working and playing online in three dimensions."
As regular readers will no doubt have realised by now I have a natural inclination to wonder what the big players like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft will do in this space. Given the numbers above I would be staggered if they are not hatching some sort of master plan for embroiling themselves in virtual worlds; they can’t afford not to. If what Gartner predicts is true there’s some serious advertising revenue to be made in virtual worlds and its much much bigger than the current social networking craze.
In order to run a virtual world there are a few infrastructural pieces that are fundamental; a network of data centres capable of serving masses of data and an authentication mechanism spring to mind. The 3 players I just mentioned all have these. They also have a number of other things going for them – mainly an established user base. Microsoft’s Live ID user base dwarves that of Second Life and World of Warcraft; Google, well, you don’t need me to estimate how big their user base is; Yahoo too have an enviable user base.
Being a self-proclaimed Microsoft-ophile I find myself imagining many many other ways that Microsoft could leverage a virtual world. They want to be integral to your home, your work life and your wallet so if we’re all going to be interacting in virtual worlds in the future then they need to be there.
- There’s an obvious synergy with XBox Live and it sounds like Sony have beaten them to the punch there. Walking through a virtual world and bumping into Master Chief’s avatar is a compelling thought for gamers I’m sure.
- They need a sales channel to combat Apple’s success with their branded high-street stores
- They need a mass-viral mechanism for getting Windows Live in front of people
- They already have a vehicle for delivering some/all of this in Live Messenger and if they make it easy to drop into a virtual world from Live Messenger then they could quickly surpass Second Life’s numbers.
- Virtual Earth is an obvious platform on which to build their own virtual (note the lower case ‘v’) world
- They could make it easy for Office Live customers to conduct business in the virtual world
- It would give them an environment in which to run all those webcasts that they conduct so many of
- Much of Microsoft’s success comes from their embracing of developers and a virtual world would provide another platform for developers to play with. Think of Facebook’s success and you see what I’m on about here.
- I speculate they might even be able to leverage Silverlight to build a virtual world that can run in a web browser – as far as I know you need to install software in order to use Second Life and World of Warcraft
So…"Microsoft Live World" or perhaps even a real "Virtual Earth" that we can walk around in just like Second Life. You heard it hear first. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Microsoft, Google or Yahoo make a serious bid for Linden labs or one of their competitors in the not too distant future.
Dave Winer suggests that 2007 has been the year of social networks. I wonder what will be the year of virtual worlds? One other thought to leave you with; the rise of social networks and virtual worlds is moving operating systems closer and closer to being merely commodities and that adds more credence to my theory that Windows will one day be free.
*That’s a UK billion by the way. i.e. 1 000 000 000