Pioneering MMO Second Life plots a comeback

User numbers up 40 per cent, 20,000 sign-ups a day.

Ground-breaking MMO Second Life grabbed the zeitgeist in the mid '00s, winning both headlines and massive user numbers with its sprawling virtual world and booming in-game economy.

Its fortunes soon waned, with numbers dropping off, in-game stores closing and newcomers put off by its general inaccessibility.

However, it seems it's staging something of a comeback. Developer Linden Labs has seen figures soar by as much as 40 per cent since new CEO Rod Humble came on board in early 2011.

"I was taken aback by just how big Second Life was," Humble told GamesIndustry International.

"To be honest, it had fallen off my radar until I got the call offering me the position. And I looked at their numbers: this is a world that has got 1 million people logging in every month, generating well in excess of $75 million a year - it's extremely profitable - and it was the kind of company and the kind of product that I had been thinking about going away and working on anyway, on my own. It was kind of a perfect fit."

Humble focused on making the game more user friendly and easier for newcomers to grasp. The strategy appears to have paid off.

"I've walked into big franchises before, and the very nature of big franchises is once you're inside the Cathedral you tend to tune out things like the rickety stairs, the door that squeaks," he explained.

"So in the first year, just because the product had been out for a long time, I wanted emphasis on usability, service, and starting to get the basics right."

"There are some UI methodologies - from the sign-up process to moving around the world - that I thought could be helpful. And they were. We managed to grow the new users significantly: they bumped up by well in excess of 40 per cent, and over the holiday period we had over 20,000 new people sign up a day. Now, that's not Facebook numbers, but 20,000 a day.... that's a lot, right?"

Going forward, Humble hopes to add "more life to the world - artificial life, things like path-finding which hadn't existed before - and then enabling a suite of tools that will allow people to make things like their own massively multiplayer role-playing game."

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