Those concerned with 'virtual worlds' — as opposed to 'games' — spend a lot of time contemplating the role of virtual worlds in a wider market; over at Terra Nova, Bruce Damer looks at the potential future of virtual worlds, which could be a lot bigger than most people imagine. Some potential answers to keep the industry growing? Piggybacking off platforms that are currently growing at a rapid clip, making sure virtual worlds are 'worth' something — perhaps some as of yet undiscovered little platform will be the key:
As we can see from the history of computing, it is often the case of "the small gobbling up the big, and everything else". Trivially small, lightweight yet rapidly replicating platforms often grow up to become all-encompassing solutions. DOS grew up to become Windows and along the way the PC triumphed over the time-shared mainframe, minicomputer and workstation. Could it be that there is some small world platform out there that is destined to become the standard? Dick Gabriel of Sun Microsystems has written much wisdom and books on this phenomenon (http://www.dreamsongs.com/Books.html) in which he posits that one of several ways to create a virally spreading success is to hitch your wagon to something that is already growing. Does this mean that a small world embedded in Facebook or some other social network(s) is the answer?
It's an interesting article that pulls examples from other (formerly) 'new media'; the rise and sustainability of virtual worlds is an interesting problem. I suspect even the 'big ones' will be trucking along pretty quietly — not unlike a lot of the popular free to play MMOs from abroad.