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Japan: Learning from the failure of Second Life

Second Life in Japan is virtually dead. While three-dimensional environments such as “meet me” [ja] and Hatena World have seen their popularity rise, the most famous virtual environment in the world has seen its virtual space steadily depopulate in Japan. When a reporter from J-Cast went to check out [ja] some of the Second Life “virtual shops” and “virtual companies” earlier this month, the buildings were apparently still there but the inhabitants were nowhere to be found.

In his December 24th post entitled “A few things one should learn from the failure of Second Life,” blogger shi3z reviews the reasons why Second Life failed to catch on in Japan:


About a half a year ago, Second Life in Japan was in a complete bubble state, but what was really striking was that everyone chose to be swayed by the trend even while they recognized that it was a bubble. Of the acquaintances I have who were involved in Second Life, not even 10 percent were serious about it, and it can't be denied that everyone, in their heart, was thinking: “This is not going to last.”

セカンドライフはCTOが解雇されるなど、完璧にグダグダなモードに入っています。それにしても、あまりにも早い幕引きだったなと思います。Web2.0はまだ成長途上にあるともいえますが、その先にあると期待されていたメタヴァース(セカンドライフ的なシステムすべて) があっさりと失速してしまったのは印象的です。

Second Life has had its chief technical officer dismissed, and has entered a completely exhausted mode. Even so, it seems to me that it came to an end much too soon. What is striking is that, while Web 2.0 may be said to have not yet reached its full growth, the metaverses (Second Life-like systems) which were expected to follow it have fizzled away so quickly.


A lot of arguments have been made in various places about the “failure” of Second Life, but here I'd like to summarize what I've personally thought for a long time, [and offer] a clue about how to think about [the question]: “How can one achieve success with Second Life-like [projects]?”
  1. サーバの処理能力が低すぎた→同時ログイン20人は21世紀のサービスとしてどうか
  2. ビジネスモデルが未熟過ぎた→良い面もあったが、悪い面も多かった
  3. システムの自由度が低すぎた→LSLは本質的になんでもできそうでなにもできなかった
  4. 急速に普及させすぎた→ブームをしかけるタイミングを誤った
  1. Processing capacity of the server was too low → As a 21st century service, 20 people logging in at the same time is questionable
  2. Business model is too immature → While there were up sides to this as well, there were many bad sides
  3. The system's degree of freedom is too low → LSL [Linden Scripting Language] essentially looked like it could do anything, but actually couldn't do anything
  4. Became popular too fast → Made a mistake with the timing of the boom


Putting aside 1 and 3, the main problem was I think the business model.




Users paid money, and then could exchange money with other users in the imaginary world.

This idea itself is great; it is an attractive plan which only makes me think that, even after Second Life, I would like to develop an identical or similar business structure.

However, the fact that users can exchange value (in this case an imaginary currency called Linden dollars) means that in order for Second Life to make money, you have to make users keep buying more Linden dollars.



When vendor users maintain plots of land for their exclusive use, and upload textures, this costs money, but all other value is value that is created and offered by the user themself.

That there are a few awkward points here cannot be denied.


At first I think that Second Life had an image of users having a house opening a store, and making real profits, but gradually as service industry-type occupations started to emerge and develop, Linden Lab confronted the reality that selling things was itself by no means enough to make money.


So as a land fee, hosting fees are levied from users who build [things]. If you think of this model as ASP [Application Service Provider], then I have the feeling that you could do well [with this]. However, the server's processing capacity was absolutely too low, so there was a limit on the number of items that could be sold in one day.


Furthermore, there is also this original LSL scripting language.
There is already a mountain of things said about this language that I'd like to say, but anyway the main thing is that there isn't much that you can do with it.




For example it's good that you can easily build a car or a plane, but to try to program something like a car out of nothing is unbelievably hard, and realistically operating it in real-time is perhaps extremely difficult.

While there are some people who can indeed skillfully use physics simulations and transformations, and who can operate things like multi-legged robots, if one looks at it the other way around, then this is actually a limitation.

However much someone might try, the performance of a car is fixed. Anybody can easily make a car in the shape of a Corolla with the speed of a Ferrari.




The fact that, in that environment, anybody can easily make high-performance [machines], means that they cannot compete.

“I went and made it. Yay!”

At this level it's fun, but to begin with the profit-making source in Second Life is value created by users, and if there is no space for glue in this value creation, then very quickly it will become saturated.



Among users, there are three types of status regarding Second Life: “People who have never tried it”, “people who tried it but stopped playing”, and “people who are [still] playing”. I think it is essential that people recognize that, except for extraordinary circumstances, “people who tried it and stopped playing” never again become “people who are playing”.



I digressed [from the original topic], but to bring things back to a conclusion, lessons that I think can be gained from Second Life (and related things that I brought up) are the following:
  1. サービスは小さく生んで大きく育てよう
  2. 多くの人の注目を浴びることよりも、やってきたユーザの習慣の一部になるサービスを目指そう
  3. 金さえあればなんとでもなるという考え方でサービスを作るのはやめよう。むしろお金を使わないで素晴らしいサービスを作る方法を考えよう
  4. ユーザ同士でお金をやりとりする方式は今後も増えていくかもしれない
  5. ユーザに与えられたシステムの自由度を高めつつ、入門者の敷居を下げる工夫が必要だろう
  6. 本当に回線が細いことが理由で普及しないのなら、そももそ回線が太くなった時代が来るまで一般公開は控えるべきだったかもしれない。存在しないくらい高性能なGPU用に作られたゲームは普通販売されない。
  1. Produce services small and grow them to be big
  2. Rather than winning lots of attention from many people, aim for a service that becomes a part of the common practice of users
  3. Stop making services with the thinking that money alone will make anything possible. Rather, think of how to make a great service without using money.
  4. The ways by which fellow users can exchange money may possibly increase in the future.
  5. As the level of freedom awarded to users in the system is increased, a scheme is necessary for decreasing the [participation] threshold to new users.
  6. If it is the case that the reason why [the service] was not popular was that [the carrying capacity of] the connection is too small, then until the age came when faster connections were possible, it might have been better to hold back from [opening the service] to the general public. Games which use high-performance GPU [Graphics Processing Unit] are almost non-existent and do not normally sell very well.


  • […] on a wide range of topics.  Some of the posts were political.  There was a post about the failure of “Second Life” in Japan.  Others focused on sports.  While there was a lot to […]

  • […] We (Leonard, Hanako and I) arrived at the conference hall early enough to catch all the presentations. First came the morning keynote addresses, by Heather Ford, Jimmy Wales, Joi Ito, and Mohamed Nanabhay. For the most part these presentations didn’t do much for me, and I didn’t take notes since they were being liveblogged elsewhere anyway. The streaming video of Jimmy Wales live from San Francisco on Second Life was actually the strangest part of the whole morning (I am not a huge fan of Second Life to begin with, wish it would just die like it did in Japan.) […]

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