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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:

半年くらい前、国内でのセカンドライフは完全にバブル状態だったのですが、誰もがこれがバブルだと認識しつつ敢えて踊らされる側に回った、というのがとても印象的でした。知人のセカンドライフビジネス関係者で本気でセカンドライフをやっていこうとしているのは1割もいませんでしたし、みんな心のどこかで「まあこんなの今だけだし」と思っていた点は否めません。

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.

既にさまざまなところでセカンドライフの「失敗」について議論がなされていますが、僕が個人的に前々から思っていたことをまとめ、「ではセカンドライフ的なものはどうすれば成功するのか」考える糸口にしたいと思います。

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

1と3はいいとして、まず問題なのはビジネスモデルだったのではないかと思います。

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

ユーザがお金を払って、ユーザ同士が架空世界でお金をやりとりする。

このアイデアそのものはすばらしいものですし、セカンドライフ以後も、同様または同等のビジネス形態は発展していってほしいと思わせるだけの魅力のあるプランです。

しかし、ユーザが価値(この場合リンデンドルという仮想貨幣)を交換するということは、セカンドライフそのものがお金を生むためには、ユーザにどんどんリンデンドルを買わせなければいけません。

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.

売り手のユーザは自分専用の土地を維持したり、テクスチャをアップロードしたりするたびにお金がかかりますが、それ以外の価値はユーザ自ら価値創造して提供します。

ここにいくつかいびつな点があったことは否めません。

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.

当初セカンドライフは家を持ったり、店を開いたりといったことでユーザが現実の収益を上げるようなイメージだったと思うのですが、だんだんとサービス業のような職種が生まれたり、発展していくにつれて、物販そのものでは実はなかなか(リンデンラボが)お金は取れないという現実に直面します。

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.

そこで土地代として、サーバホスティング料を作り手のユーザから徴収するのです。このモデルはASPとして考えるとうまくいきそうな気がします。しかし絶対的にサーバの処理性能が低すぎるので、一日に売れるアイテムの数も限度があります。

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.

さらに、LSLという独自スクリプト言語です。
この言語に関して言いたいことは山ほどありますが、とにかくできることが少ないということに尽きます。

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.

たとえば車や飛行機を簡単に作れるのはいいのですが、車のようなものをゼロからプログラムしようとすると、とてつもなく大変になるし、おそらく現実的な実行時間で動作させるのはきわめて困難です。

物理シミュレーションと変形を実に巧みに使って多足ロボットのようなものを動かしている人がいらっしゃいましたが、逆にいえばそれが限界です。

どこまでがんばっても車の性能は一定です。カローラの形をしていてフェラーリと同じスピードの車が誰でも簡単に作れてしまいます。

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.

誰でも簡単にその環境で最高性能のものが作れるということは、競争ができないということです。

 「作ってみたぜ。わーい」

というレベルでは楽しいでしょうが、そもそもセカンドライフの収益源はユーザによる価値創造にあるはずで、この価値創造の糊しろがあまりに少ないと、あっという間に飽和してしまいます。

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.

[…]

セカンドライフに関していえば「やってない人」と「やったけどやめた人」、「やってる人」という三種類のユーザ状態があり、「やったけどやめた人」はよほどのことがない限り二度と「やってる人」にはならないのだろうということをもっと意識する必要があったのだと思います。

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”.

[…]

話が散逸してしまいましたが、まとめると、僕がセカンドライフ(やそれに関連して思い出したこと)を見て、教訓にせねばと思ったのは以下のことです。

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.

2 comments

  • […] 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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