There's a lot of buzz about Second Life at AGC. A lot. In fact, the two titles peppering almost every conversation here are WoW and Second Life.
I'm not going to go so far as to suggest that one may be supplanting the other, since even Linden Labs acknowledged in a panel on Wednesday that they're going after a very different demographic. According to Linden's COO, Cory Ondrejka, their demographic is "50/50 male female, most in their mid 30's.WoW is obliterating a narrow segment. Second Life is everybody else." But the fact is that Second Life is growing by leaps and bounds, which is the opposite of the usual subscription model for MMOs, many of which experience an initial boom in popularity when they're released, and then slowly fade away.
Second Life is also making money. Not only for it's developers, but for people using it to make and sell stuff to other users. According to Ondrejka, and $1.7 million of the in-game "Linden Dollars" per month are currently making their way into the US economy as real dollars.
All of which only serves to fuel the debate over what the future of MMO gaming will be; whether it's user-created content, whatever come next from the minds of the people making high-concept entertainment, like Blizzard, or so-called "indie" developers, working outside of the main stream.
"Blogs and podcasts: Are they 'user-created' content, or just 'content?'" Asked Corey Bridges, co-founder of Multiverse, a company founded by Netscape veterans which aims to create a virtual world framework through which users can "browse" multiple online game worlds. According to Bridges, there are currently 100 development teams using the Multiverse technology to create virtual worlds. He's a proponent of the idea of "pro-sumer" development teams, rejecting the idea that user-created content will be the future of the gamespace. "You don't learn to be a pro journalist by blogging," he said.
Cory Ondrejka would seem to disagree. "Many of us learned to program because we loved to play games," he said, pointing out that many of the game industry's current visionary leaders were once the equivalent of the journalist/blogger; enthusiasts with a dream and the will to make it a reality.
I think the real answer may be that both forms of content will play a major role in the future of gaming, as will content created by the current gaming powerhouses, and leaders from other sectors. But I don't think the future of gaming has anything to do with games. As Ondrejka said, "Second Life is not a game." And neither, I think, will be the next wave of successful online time-wasters.
Expect more insights gleaned from this panel and the rest of this show in the days to come.