Business in Virtual Worlds, Second Life, Virtual World Platforms

NATO Awards Virtual World Development Project to Nexus

Image via Massively by way of NATO

Insiders indicate that NATO has awarded development of its ‘virtual campus’ to Florida-based company Engineering & Computer Simulations. The company specializes in military simulations built on the government off-the-shelf (GOTS) software US Nexus. The winning bid, at $100,000 USD, will see the development of two scenarios: one, a replica of key buildings at the NATO command in Norfolk, Virginia, and the second a representation of Afghanistan.

The bid ends weeks of speculation over whether NATO was serious about including Second Life as one of the three platforms of choice, the other being Forterra. However, NATO made clear in their responses to vendor questions that Second Life was definitely on the list.

One can only hypothesize as to whether NATO went with a low-bid option as specified by the RFP, or whether “value” considerations came into play. If the latter, then the move is a feather in the cap for the GOTS approach to virtual world development: virtual world software developed and licensed for use by government agencies.

I can’t help thinking that Second Life had a few things running against it, chief among them the licensing restrictions of the platform, the inability to import mesh objects from external 3D modeling programs, and clumsy ways of integrating external desktop programs like PowerPoint or Acrobat Reader. With Nexus, NATO will be able to draw on a robust database of third-party 3D libraries, pre-built “military avatars”, and will be able to easily replicate real world buildings using standard architectural modeling tools. While Second Life has a deep database of content (terrabytes of it), it would be interesting to parse whether replicating real locations is easier in 3D applications than using prims, with far more portability, data back-up, and integration with other systems due to server-side code access.

Finally, the NATO RFP requested ‘advanced technical characteristics’ that included bots and artificial intelligence, avatars customized based on real life photos, and other features which are not easily executed in SL at the server level. NATO’s decision to exclude OpenSim as a platform option adds one final lesson to their bid process: some organizations are clearly judging that it is not yet “ready for prime time”.


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