Is the Virtual Worlds Community an Echo Chamber? Is There a Hard Upper Limit to Public Interest in Virtual Worlds?

I usually check the newsfeeds of Google News for my news highlights of the day (I rarely watch TV anymore, and I check the newspapers maybe 2 or 3 times a week, max). So imagine my surprise when, on a whim, I searched Google News today for “Second Life 15th anniversary”, just to see what coverage there was of last week’s event:

Google News Second Life 25 June 2018.png

Zip. Nada. Zilch. Not a single mention of Second Life’s 15th anniversary in any of the current news media sources that Google News indexes! (I got the same results on “Second Life 15th birthday”.)

So I sat down and thought about what this might mean. Why is it that something that was a (relatively) big deal in virtual world news got so little mainstream press coverage, despite (I assume) the best efforts of Linden Lab to do PR and get the word out?

Tie into that the current difficulties that High Fidelity, Sinespace, Sansar, and other firms are having in attracting people to their social VR/virtual world platforms, and I have a theory. Hear me out.

Could it be that the virtual worlds community is so (relatively) small and insular, that it has developed into its own echo chamber? According to Wikipedia:

The echo chamber effect occurs online due to a harmonious group of people amalgamating and developing tunnel vision. Participants in online discussions may find their opinions constantly echoed back to them, which reinforces their individual belief systems. However, individuals who participate in echo chambers often do so because they feel more confident that their opinions will be more readily accepted by others in the echo chamber.

When we talk about virtual worlds, are we pretty much only talking to—and listening to—each other? A closed community that is not listening to the outside world, perhaps thinking that it is more important than it really is? (I have noticed that I have tended to run into exactly the same people on every virtual world platform I have visited over the past 11 years.) Do we tend to stick to our own blogs and discussion groups (hello, Plurk!), and therefore become resistant to messages coming in from the outside? Are the metaverse companies (and their current customers) convincing themselves that virtual world platforms are a more vital and necessary service than the rest of the population believes? Maybe.

It might explain why Second Life never really broke through to the next level, even though it has pretty much kept 500,000-600,000 active user accounts over the past decade or so, despite the addition of thousands of new accounts each and every month.

And, even more ominously, it might just explain why the other, newer virtual world platforms are having some trouble breaking into the marketplace. What if that pool of less than a million people is the entire potential audience that virtual worlds—all virtual worlds—can attract? In other words, is there a hard upper limit in public interest in virtual worlds? Are all these metaverse companies fighting each other over a pie that is never going to get any bigger?

And if that is true, then what happens when most of those people are already happily settled in Second Life, prefer life in their own isolated little world with its echo chamber, and don’t feel the need to venture out any further?

What do you think of these ideas? Sound off in the comments…

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5 thoughts on “Is the Virtual Worlds Community an Echo Chamber? Is There a Hard Upper Limit to Public Interest in Virtual Worlds?”

  1. when i joined in 2007, there was a lot of hoopla about the metaverse which has sense died down. maybe the public is fickle and quickly moves on to the latest “fad.” and only the faithful continue to plug in. there was so much potential that isn’t being utilized, like virtual classes and curricula. there is so much talent not being realized. i, for one, will always appreciate my time on SL.

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  2. The biggest problem with virtual worlds is they are resource intensive; particularly the resource time as they don’t readily integrate into people’s daily lives like most other social media does. So in the competition for time they loose out.

    In addition they are resource intensive in other ways too as it requires a certain level of computing power available, but more important access to ample bandwidth many people don’t have. Over time it also requires access to hard cash (which some manage to generate inside the virtual world) to be interesting.

    Also the requirement to develop a persona that is in many ways not you – real self is in many ways discouraged through the use of fictional names and identities, is not a good fit for many people. Judging from FB and Instagram people like to share their selves with other real identities.

    In many ways virtual worlds (as represented by SecondLife and OpenSim instances) can be likened to the former day model railway builder who tinkered along in the basement or garage only to show off his creations to a handful other people.

    In addition there are a lot of scaling issues both at the technical and cultural level that prevents such worlds from growing over a certain size.

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  3. If you have had an avatar for a long time and a group of friends your avatar regularly associates with who happen to be in the same time zone, you will spend a lot of time inworld. If you have a job in world, that works too. If you are someone who likes setting up a home, decorating, landscaping – same, until it’s done. Otherwise – why would you stay? What virtual worlds need is a more structured experience for the rest. A solid reason to spend a bunch of time there. A killer app.

    Sansar is truly beautiful – but how many times can you just look at someone’s experience. You can make your own experience but no one can really interact with it. And when they can, how immersive an experience is that going to be for them?

    The virtual chat room will only ever attract so many people. Virtual worlds will stagnate if they don’t do something more than that.

    I recently started playing Jurassic World Evolution. It’s a sim park builder but there is an ongoing tutorial and a story-line and challenges and missions that you complete to unlock more dinosaurs and things to make your park better. The dinosaurs get diseases that you have to research cures for. They escape if you don’t provide for them properly. Their feeders need refilling. It’s engaging and it has something for a wider variety of people than if it was JUST a sim builder. It’s not for hard core gamers who desire more of a challenge, but that isn’t the point of this game.

    The time when you could just provide a space and a few building tools and expect people to just take it from there is long gone. Expecting people to build engaging experiences might happen if the tools you provide are good enough and easy enough to use, but how much talent are you going to attract when you take 15% of their money and there are 50 people a day in the world?

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  4. Like you I rarely access tradition media. For personal reasons for I have also almost halted most of my attention to virtual worlds during the past six months. I have seen no mention of the SL Birthday except in the few SL Blogs I still follow just to sort of know if there is some major change happening.

    Yes, I think you are right ☹ I also think there is a virtual world echo chamber and it does explain much about the initial growth, then almost leveling, and now current slow decline of concurrent uses of SL. The virtual world market place reached saturation and now just adds enough new users to keep itself ticking along as current users age and drift away.

    One thing that bothers me is that almost all the newer virtual worlds advertise themselves as being by and for developers. That is an even smaller group than virtual world users in general. Being a user rather than a developer that statement turns me off with a bored, “Oh hum another one”. I wonder what would have happened if in 2014 Linden Labs had built on its existing SL user base and really started development of SL 2.0 rather than starting something completely new like Sansar.

    Would this have made a difference? I don’t know but it might have spurred interest in SL rather than the slow decline it is in now.

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