Last night, the Google blog announced the end of Google Lively. This may rank as the shortest lived 3D virtual world ever, less than 6 months.
The first sign of trouble was the sudden jump in popularity, followed by the fairly consistent drop in popularity within a couple of weeks after release. It never picked back up, and apparently there is a ton or never released content waiting in the wings. The second sign was Google shutting down its offices on the ASU campus that served as the primary development location of Lively.
So what happened? How did the internet’s biggest developer release a cool product like this and fail? And what does this say about the future of similar projects like 3dxplorer.com, vivaty.com, exitreality.com, justleapin.com, scenecaster.com, and any other 3D worlds designed to work in 2D browsers?
(And may I also note, this is not the only high profile closure I am aware of. Cyworld is closing its US operations to focus on its Asian business. I wrote about it a couple of years ago, but heard diddly squat about it since then.)
I posted earlier that I thought Google Lively had the potential to be the progenitor of a 3D internet. Guess I was wrong. In fact, this may require a rethink of the whole concept.
Here is my rethink: The idea of a 3D internet built to work in a 2D browser shall never succeed beyond the “novelty” phase. There will be the “ooh thats cool” exceptions that some advertising team does for some product, but the die has been cast. The concept is a failure. Lets move on.
Furthermore, and let me change to bold type, The failure of Google Lively puts the last nail in the coffin to the idea that any 3D virtual world can succeed under the same business model as 2D virtual worlds.
2D virtual worlds that run on 2D browsers are doing very well, but the additional overhead and useability of 3D kills much of what makes 2D virtual worlds successful. In 2D worlds you can buy a room and decorate it with purchaseable pre-designed items. The fact that is only 2D means that it is so simple a young kid can figure it out, and young kids love these 2D worlds.
The added dimension to 3D makes things harder. To build stuff in 3D requires understanding perspectives, camera controls vs avatar controls, size, yaw/pitch/roll, 3D texture mapping, etc. The people that cope best are experienced 3D gamers which instantly limits your audience. Then any useful 3D virtual world is going to require a seperate client download, which limits the audience further.
The successful 3D VWs (Second Life, There, and IMVU) allow users to create their own content and sell the content to others, something even 2D virtual worlds don’t do. This is the fundamental difference between 2D and 3D.
Google lively attempted to bridge the gap. They succeeded in creating a 3D web embeddable viewer, They made building and arranging your “room” amazingly simple and offered a large inventory of free stuff to put in the rooms. That, and the fact they are Google, offered the best hope of bridging the 2D and 3D gap. But, ultimately the useability wasn’t satisfying to the 2D crowd, and the lack of custom content wasn’t satisfying to the 3D crowd.
Hence the end of the experiment. The 2D and 3D virtual worlds are likely to evolve even further apart now that they have proven incompatible.