Brink of the Clouds

I was briefly excited by the news that a test version of Skylight, the fabled browser-based SL client, was up and running; I hurried to log on, only to find that it didn’t work on my iPhone or my netbook. I’m not sure if this is due to hardware limitations, OS incompatibility (iOS4.1 and Linux) or bandwidth issues, or some combination of the three, but whatever the cause it doesn’t bode well for the promise that the project would bring SL to low-powered mobile devices. I guess I could try it on my desktop, but that would seem to defeat the purpose a bit.

It is just a beta of course, and the final version, if it ever emerges, may sort these problems out. I still think the concept has some potentially fatal flaws though.

The central problem is that it is not at all clear that enabling browser access to SL is a good thing, business-wise. The theory seems to be that lowering the entry barrier will encourage more new users, but even if this works, there is still the problem of extracting enough revenue from these people to cover the substantial hardware, power and bandwidth costs associated with server-side rendering.

Currently residents are monetised via subscriptions, land-sales and tier charges, and participation in the in-world economy. However the particular population that this new service is supposed to attract – people who will look at SL in their browser, but can’t be bothered to download and install the client – seem less likely to be sufficiently invested in the idea of virtual worlds to make a significant contribution to these revenue streams.

What does that leave? Pay-per-minute access charges? Some sort of Farmville-clone that encourages people to spend money? Advertising on the web-page? I guess that the Lindens have worked out a business model, but it’s hard to see how it adds up.

Personally, I think that Skylight’s best chance of success lies in selling it as a way of adding value for their existing customers, rather than attracting new ones. I would certainly spend more time in-world if I could do it on the move, or even from the couch rather than at my desk, and I might even be willing to pay a bit more for my premium account if it included browser access.

So, bring on the clouds

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