Second Life Played More Than World Of Warcraft… No! Really! Sex May Be Involved. Oh Wait, We'll Take Care Of That.

Wagner James Au weighs in with the news: according to Nielsen, Second Life pwns World of Warcraft, biyotch.

Based on audience surveys regarding a hundred non-casual, pre-installed PC games, Second Life is the most played of all, registering average playtimes of 760 minutes a week per user, nearly a hundred more than World of Warcraft, and second in total player popularity only to WoW.

No, really, there is numbers and everything:

You will also note that Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, a three-year-old middling-selling fantasy kick-em-up is more popular than Half-Life 2. You know, the engine for Counterstrike. You know, one of the most popular online games of all time. Yeah, that one. Clearly, everything you know about online gaming is wrong!

Or, more accurately, metrics are a dark art that can be easily abused, misreported (note the double entry for Civilization 4, which would place it as the second most popular game in the survey if properly collated) and gamed. Luckily, in this case, Linden Lab has always been fairly open with SL metrics and they have been tracked historically by third parties. With a peak concurrency of 75,000-80,000 users and an estimated 1.5 million active users (Mitch Wagner of Information Week quotes Linden Lab’s CEO as giving a figure of 600,000 for the latter), Second Life is pretty solidly in the top tier of Western MMOs in terms of popularity, but an order of magnitude less popular than World of Warcraft, or other free-to-play MMOs (which Second Life is properly classified as) for that matter (the ever-ignored Runescape has close to 8 million users).

But popularity figures are just that – a beauty contest. What matters is if a given virtual world/online game is profitable (well, to its publishers, anyway. What matters to its users is whether or not it’s fun, which is outside the scope of this discussion, though no doubt will be the subject of “SL is nothing but furries and phalluses” comments following this post!) And Second Life is profitable, largely because its profit isn’t dependent on maintaining the insane publicity bubble that Linden Lab managed to ride a year ago. There may be fewer articles in Time about helpful mentors giving Joel Stein a penis, but the users that remain are quite willing to give each other money – lots of money, over $350 million last year. Linden doesn’t see all of that, of course, or even most of it, but they do collect an arbitrage fees off of virtual currency conversion as well as fairly hefty server rental fees to store owners and power users. Lack of popularity isn’t going to hurt them.

Lack of community management, on the other hand, might. If you log into Second Life this month, what you’ll hear people talking about is “Adult Content”. Which is surprising if you consider both Second Life’s reputation as the Internet’s red light district and the fact that Second Life, um, is already rated 18+ only already. Yet in March, Linden announced an upcoming segregation of “adult content” (translation: everything you think goes on in SL) into its own virtual continent, called Ursula, or as named by some resident wags, “Pornadelphia”. This month, a new beta version of the SL client introduced with it content filtering, such as filtering out search terms such as “Gorean”, “bondage” and “bosom” unless your account was flagged for “Adult” (which, confusingly, is a content level above the already-existing “Mature”). Many users are fairly furious over this, less over an incipient uprooting (the move to Ursula only affects “mainland users”, or users who own land on servers, or “sims” managed by Linden Lab – users that rent their own sims are unaffected by this) then the fairly explicit scarlet lettering involved in entire adult-oriented lifestyles, which while no doubt snigger-worthy to outsiders, are an entirely valid reason for, you know, wanting to participate in a virtual world that was already labelled adult-only.

What you’re not seeing in all of this is, well, any community management whatsoever. There have been a couple of blog posts which while acknowledging the controversial nature of the subject, dismissed implicitly most of the user complaints. There is little to no interaction with community personnel on the main Linden forums, and absolutely zero interaction on third-party forums (which are far more popular, especially among the users most affected by this). For being one of the more utopian and libertarian virtual worlds, Linden has had a fairly antediluvian attitude towards community management. And in this case, it is costing them a good deal of user goodwill in the process of implementing what almost any reasonable person would see as regrettably necessary restrictions on sexually explicit content. A little more honest explanation of the why (“We can’t continue to position Second Life as a venue for remote education in a complete free-for-all environment”) along with some give and take on the how would go a long way. Yet most residents, correctly, are seeing this as a diktat from on high, with little recourse for protest or even negotiation. For a world that is explicitly owned in large part by its users as part of its terms of service, that is not a very good way to run a railroad.

If it continues, maybe next month, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic will overtake Second Life in the ratings!


25 Responses to Second Life Played More Than World Of Warcraft… No! Really! Sex May Be Involved. Oh Wait, We'll Take Care Of That.

  1. geldonyetich says:

    I shall use this comment thread for various comments!

    * I could believe that Second Life players spend more minutes logged in than World of Warcraft players. After all, how else could they earn those Lindens if not by leaving their avatar logged in AFK so people can activate racy emotes on them? Hurray for a world simulated without social diseases.

    * Dark Messiah of Might and Magic also uses Half Life 2’s source engine as the engine that drives it. I agree that the metrics have to be messed up to think that people play it more often, though. Sure, it simulates a fantasy RPG experience better than Oblivion, but there’s not a whole lot of content to it.

    * People are sexual creatures, I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that Second Life – being a realm where people can pretty much express what they can’t in real life – largely devolved into expressing this. It still makes people who prefer rational thought over orgasms pretty damn uncomfortable, though. It’s like stepping into a realm of solid animal-instinct-driven stupidity, and it’s this impression that is driving many people away from Second Life.

  2. Jerid says:

    I’m confuzled by the numbers.
    How can you have 46% of your time spent, and devote 653 Minutes.
    But 3% equate to 760 Minutes?

    Are they saying that 2nd Life users spend 760 Minutes in SL and 70000 total gameing Minutes, while WOW users spend 653 Minutes in WOW of 6000 total gameing minutes? (yeah I know my numbers are realllly generalized, but my Math-fu is weak)

  3. Cuppycake says:

    To be fair, community management in Second Life is a tricky business. When you give ‘residents’ ownership over their IP and the ability to run and rate their corner of the universe however they want – trying to unify community standards and have community management in any traditional sense is difficult.

    I’m running into this at Metaplace, in fact. A traditional MMO (not to sound offensive in any way) has a much more simple time of running CM. There are community rules people have to follow and enforcing them is easier. The playerbase look to the devs for communication and not each other. With something based entirely off UGC like SL and Metaplace, each corner of the space is owned by the creator. Managing their expectations becomes difficult, because no longer are the product developers delivering those expectations.

    I think it’s important to remember that they’re dealing with people who have a huge monetary stake in a virtual space (thousands of dollars for their land alone) and are running businesses that fund their lifestyles. I don’t think there is really any level of communication that could overcome blows that affect these legitimate businesses and their revenue. It’s a matter of time and evolution in the mindset of the people who call SL home. These aren’t players in an MMO paying $14.99/month, these are people living a life in a digital world. This is their real politics, their government, their careers (for some). What kind of community manager does it take to run something like that? I’m going to find out.

  4. geldonyetich says:

    Jerid :
    I’m confuzled by the numbers.
    How can you have 46% of your time spent, and devote 653 Minutes.
    But 3% equate to 760 Minutes?

    Avg. Min Per Week is the average time between each individual player.
    TMP is the percent of total minutes out of all the players who reported on the survey.

    So, basically, a whole lot more people are playing World of Warcraft, but the amount of time the average player spends in the game is less than the average player spends in World of Warcraft.

    This being Neilsen, they probably derived all this from a hand-written survey that had little boxes people can check for how many minutes they spent playing what.

    Popular survey theory has it that if you take a pool of 100 players, chances are you’ll have a fair reflection of what 100,000 players are up to.

    That these results seem so off from popular conception leads to quite a bit of questioning.

    Personally my favorite surveying method is right here.

  5. wowpanda says:

    This is their real politics, their government, their careers (for some).

    Are you serious? I know games can be addictive, but that is too much.

  6. Cuppycake says:

    wowpanda – this isn’t a game. It’s a virtual world. It’s a place where DJs, artists, performers, architects actually are PAID for their services. Even escorts, for that matter. There are educational classes held by large universities. It’s a digital version of the real world, with many RL implications. It’s not a MMORPG.

  7. wowpanda says:

    I was quoting Cuppycake on my last post.

    And to geldo, from the website, they claim it is not hand survey, it is from computer automatically collected data.

    Cuppycake :
    wowpanda – this isn’t a game. It’s a virtual world. It’s a place where DJs, artists, performers, architects actually are PAID for their services. Even escorts, for that matter. There are educational classes held by large universities. It’s a digital version of the real world, with many RL implications. It’s not a MMORPG.

    And they pay them with virtual money, which is bought with real money from LLibs? It must be a very expensive game to play 🙂

  8. Einherjer says:

    Mr. Lum, are you ill?
    Missing a chance to whack Darkfall again over the Eurogamer vs Aventurine debacle?

  9. Count Nerfedalot says:

    What? Is nobody playing any of those bazillion copies of Sims or Sims2 out there? I tried to find out what those special 100 games Nielsen chose to study were, but couldn’t find any info but the top 10. Nielsen is NOT in the same tranche as Gallup it seems, when it comes to exposing all the important information behind their sensationalist headlines.

    In addition to Lum’s points, I’m going to call three more fouls on this play.

    1. Improper elimination of important data. Leaving out web-based games is ignoring the pink elephant break-dancing in the crystal shop. It’s like studying phone usage while ignoring all cell phone usage. Any results are basically meaningless except to a very small set of special interests.

    2. Invalid variable selection. Bookworms? Nielsen’s site claims they sampled only “non-casual” games. So what’s this doing here? And where is Sims and Spore and all the other flavors of Warcraft, not even to mention many popular shooters and MMOs. Whoever at Nielsen made the choices as to which games to include in their list must have some radically different ideas about what constitutes a casual game than what most of self-described computer gamers would agree to. Without seeing the whole list to see what else was omitted or inappropriately included, the results are meaningless.

    3. Non-representative sample base. The set of non-casual PC gamers overlaps but is not congruent with the set of non-casual TV viewers Nielsen monitors. By measuring only those households who watch enough TV to be worth Nielsen’s time to monitor, they’ve automatically lost any ability to measure those who have found other means of filling their free time. Like, say, a large fraction of non-casual PC gamers.

  10. Tateru Nino says:

    Cuppycake is wise.

    Actually, I have a notion here. Looking at this list again… I don’t know about “Bookworm” at all, but I seem to recall that Nielsen collects some ratings data in conjunction with a network monitoring component. Could this list be weighted towards things that are being played online?

    Or is it just coincidence that they’re at the top?

  11. Tateru Nino says:

    Darnit. Now I’ve been playing DMoMM for hours and hours.

  12. UnSub says:

    That Nielsen’s data looks very, very fishy.

  13. Gx1080 says:

    Ha. Second Life its the most advanced adult chat room of the Internet. And WoW it hasnt done the full jump to that because the harcore are the ones that make free publicity for them.

  14. TPRJones says:

    UnSub :
    That Nielsen’s data looks very, very fishy.

    It’s Nielsen data. Of course it’s completely absurd.

    It’s no secret that Nielsen’s data quality has been shit since forever. It’s completely worthless. But no one is willing to do anything else because it’s also swamped in politics (that’s Hollywood politics, not actual politics politics).

  15. Freakazoid says:

    Second Life would be a much more interesting “virtual world” if all the adult content were shoved into some other part of the world. While some may feel that sex has not been liberated enough, it creates an enviornment where creativity is only rewarded if it’s sexual. Besides, as Ren & Stimpy has shown, it far funnier when it had to conform to an audience of children.

    I can just imagine a virtual Rudy Giuliani running around second life evicting all the porno establishments and arresting anyone who looked like a drug dealer.

  16. Bri says:

    It’s been my experience that most areas of SL that *aren’t* adult-themed appear to be part of some Twilight Zone episode. Neon lights flash, gulls wheel overhead, beautiful avant-garde architecture soars, shops open for business .. just .. no people. Anywhere. Devoid of any sort of life. It’s the most depressing thing I’ve ever encountered in a virtual world/game.

    Once all the adult content is shoved onto the same continent, I wonder where the vast VAST majority of the users will be found? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

  17. BridgetAG says:

    How is it that Popcap’s Bookworm is a “non-casual” game? It pretty much defines casual game. If you include bookworm you better include everything on BigFish games, every incarnation of Bejeweled everywhere and what about something like online poker? Mixing Bookworm in there is def apples and ornages!

  18. Yumi says:

    Just one thing wrong in your article – owners who rent their own sims are affected, because they have to choose between making the whole sim Mature (ie, can’t contain any 18+ content), or making the whole sim Adult (ie, people have to be Verified to go there). Any sim that included both types of content – eg, a sex area and a regular non-sexual content shop – will now have to either remove the sex area, accept only verified customers in the shop, or buy a second sim and split in two. This is arguably worse than having to move to Ursula.

  19. […] Playboy Themed MMO… erm… MCOG? May 11, 2009 Posted by Wilhelm2451 in Misc MMOs, entertainment. Tags: Playboy, Playboy Manager, Second Life trackback Because Second Life is getting paranoid on the subject? […]

  20. geldonyetich says:

    It’s sort of an issue with overexpansion, really. You can let players build all the content they like, and it could be awesome, but don’t expect much of anyone to ever find that content if it’s out in the middle of nowhere and buried under a mountain of crap/smut.

    Of course, Second Life itself is no super graphics engine, even the best content in the game feels extremely dated if you’ve been playing cutting edge games.

  21. mira says:

    What I want to know is: Will Linden Labs ban non-pornographic content from Ursula? “We’re so sorry. You can’t open that clothing store here in Ursula unless there’s a section devoted to selling detachable genitalia, escort ads and bondage furniture!”

    If they don’t ban PG and G-rated stuff from Ursula, I think the all the residents might/should just pick up and move there.

    What a pain in the ass.

  22. […] Broken Toys » Second Life Played More Than World Of Warcraft… No! Really! Sex May Be Involved. Oh… Confusing double subject post, but boy, those Nielsen stats are bunkum. […]

  23. invitroman says:

    Civ4 Beyond the Sword is doing better than WoW… I like this survey even if it’s not /entirely/ accurate.


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