People wonder why Google pulled Lively after such a short run. After all, it couldn’t have been too expensive to run, at least not compared to Google’s monthly income. And at least some people were using it.
As a learning sandbox, I thought it would actually last longer, providing valuable intelligence and insight into if, how, and why people use virtual worlds to interact and spend time.
In the end, I’d speculate that’s why it was killed. They learned that griefing sucks. They learned that teenagers only hang out at the mall because it’s where their friends go and–let’s face it–they have nothing better to do. And they learned that user behavior in a semantically-limited virtual world can’t easily be mined for clues as to which ads will make the most money.
People wonder whether this withdrawal signals a downturn for virtual worlds. I hate to break it to you. The economy signals a downturn for virtual worlds — at least for those companies that require cash to operate. Google could have afforded to let this experiment run for 1000 years. But Google, like most companies, probably likes to focus on fundamentals when they anticipate a material change in the bottom line.
Google did, after all, announce they’d focus on their core businesses well before Lively even launched. There was apparently a sense that too many diverse projects were pulling the company in too many directions. I take it that on-going projects at least got to finish and maybe launch. But the bar got that much higher for the more speculative projects, I figure, which frankly happens at companies like Microsoft too…
From my perspective, the time to invest in speculative projects is exactly during a downturn — but only if you have the cash. This is your prime advantage if your competitors are stuck making ends meet or failing. Why take a pit stop if you have the gas? On the other hand, when your competitors pull back and slow down, even the leading forumla-1 car might ease up and coast for a while.
Bottom line, and just to be clear: virtual worlds do have a future. Unfortunately, it’s still in the future. Those that find their niche to survive deserve kudos. But no one — no one — has yet cracked the code on making virtual worlds ubiquitious and, frankly, useful, in the sense that cell phones, sneakers, or even shoe laces are.