News on the wire indicates that one of the major social worlds, There.com, will be shutting its doors a week from now, at 11:59 pm on March 9. The corporate owner of There.com, Makena, cited the overall economic downturn as a primary factor in making the decision. This marks the second world closure in 90 days, after MetaPlace folded on January 1. It is difficult to say whether this trend will continue until the economy turns around, although, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising. Everyone is feeling the pinch these days. One could argue that the massive growth in VWs over the last decade might have been an extension of the economic optimism many felt in other markets.
I, for one, am very interested to see how the closure is playing out for customers. One of the issues that I address in my class is the way companies structure their EULAs and Terms of Service with respect to potential closures. Most of these are worded so as to give the company maximum legal flexibility, which makes sense from the legal department’s side, but less sense from the business department’s side. Obviously, a closure is pretty bad news for the company, but it makes sense that they would try to limit the damage by giving players time to wrap things up as best they can. There is generously offering to refund Therebucks purchased since February 1, 2010.
Interestingly, on the There closure FAQ page, it mentioned that the world would not be merged with another or made open-source. I understand why the company wants to protect its code in the hope of spinning it off into other products, but I still wonder if portable avatars would be a boon to business or if they would accelerate the demise of a world once it started to slump. Thoughts?
Lastly, I’m curious to know what you, dear reader, think about the future of virtual worlds. Will we see an expansion of simple, Flash-based games through Facebook or more augmented reality games using smart phones or a reversion to scripted, subscription-based games like WoW or something new altogether?