SL as it stands now is always going to be a niche for several reasons:
- system requirements. It requires something approaching a high-end gaming machine to run well and look nice.
- lack of apparent "in-game goals". This throws some people and they never really see a point to it. This is closely tied to how SL looks now - because it looks and feels like a convention MMORPG, gamers expect it to behave like one.
- complexity and UI. Personally, I love SL's current UI. It's unobtrusive, yet displays a lot of data quickly, with only a few clicks or keystrokes needed. This is the hallmark of a good UI. But for a lot of people, learning where everything is and how to interact with the world is daunting and it never "clicks" for them.
As I stated in my opening line, a truly immersive, streaming 3d world that requires a lot of computing power is NEVER going to have the mass market appeal of what is essentially a flash app (I'm looking at you, farmville). If LL wants mass market appeal, one of two general things has to happen:
- SL has to change to be simpler and easier to use, as well as easier to run. Unfortunately, that would ruin the experience for a lot of us.
- LL has to created new ways of accessing their virtual world from different platforms. A huge, graphics-intensive app for high power PCs (what we've got now). A lighter-weight viewer that renders the world more simply for old computers and netbooks. Something for pocket PCs and iPhone-like devices that somehow still gives you a visual window into the world, and then at the bottom, a text-only device for cell phones.
Along with these technical-side changes is a branding change for LL and SL: instead of just a virtual world, it is a social medium that you can access from anywhere. The MMORPG people figure out it's not just a game and jump back in. The user base explodes because people can choose a way to access it that works for them.
I've seen early signs of this approach already in some blog posts and forum postings. LL has a roadmap, and they know where they're going.