One of the very first sessions kicking off the 2006 Game Developers Conference was a keynote for the Serious Games Summit, which deals with game development in the areas of education, government, health, military, science, and corporate training.
In it, Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale, in a talk named 'You Can (Not) Be Serious' offered some fascinating opinions, both on the future of virtual worlds and the way in which his own company's efforts are helping to stretch boundaries.
Firstly, however, Serious Games Summit chair Ben Sawyer introduced Rosedale, noting that there are over 100 different research-oriented projects within Second Life, and indicating that it could be an interesting future. Linden's CEO started with a Ted Turner quotation of no little piquancy: "Life is a game. Money is how we keep score", before moving on to some interesting introductory remarks on how he came to found Second Life.
A number of interesting stats for the virtual world were then rolled out. At 32,000 acres, the current virtual size of Second Life, which has more than 160,000 users, is bigger than Boston. The service currently carries more than $5 million dollars per month in goods and service transactions, and there are 10 million in-game objects, including 15 terabytes of user-created data.
The game uses 2 teraflops of CPU power for the simulation, and 230,000 discrete, differently named objects are sold or traded monthly. Some of the other major stats noted during the presentation - 43% of all users in Second Life are female, with a median age of all Second Life users of 32, and 25% of all users are international.
Interestingly, Rosedale suggested that a a certain level of consumers in terms of population is really necessary to have any virtual world thrive, noting that a lot of virtual games picked on "your favorite brand world" can fail, and there's a "certain critical mass that you need to make things like that take off". Since Linden opened up Second Life so that members can join for free, though renting land still requires a monthly payment, membership has thrived.
[NOTE: This initial write-up covers the essential details of this GDC lecture. Gamasutra will have a full write-up from the key lecture, including details not revealed elsewhere, in the near future.]