Applications and Tools, Business in Virtual Worlds, Deep Thoughts, Virtual World Platforms

Virtual Worlds: The Future is in Video Games?

My first virtual world was SimCity. Stuffed at the bottom of a drawer somewhere is a printout of the city I created – printed on a dot matrix printer of course, and I figure I still have the MS-DOS floppy disks somewhere. And sure, it didn’t have avatars or presence, but it was the idea of interacting with a world that was persistent whether I was paying attention to the screen or not (when I’d get the right set of conditions there was nothing finer than to let the PC run all night and come back to find the city thriving), and that while it was run on code, the code formed a sort of policy backdrop against which you were still in control.

So the Second Life world comes along, and I had no idea what it was, booted it up expecting some sort of SimCity kind of thing (as I’ve said before, I stumbled across Second Life because it was in the top 20 search returns for Spore, and I was looking for the release date).

Lately, we’ve been talking about tipping points, or tipping points that didn’t happen, and the breakthroughs that might get us a little closer to the Metaverse, and a lot of the conversation has flipped over to education and business collaboration, and that’s all fine but in the meantime there’s some serious work being done over in gaming land, and there might be more clues over there for how this might all come together than in comparing VastPark to Second Life…they’re just platforms, after all, and we’re still waiting for the content that’s going to attract the masses.

At the Virtual World conference in New York recently most of the talk was on kid’s worlds – Habbo Hotel, Club Penguin, Virtual Barbie. And the astonishing numbers, in the millions, participating in those worlds. But again, over amongst the gamers there’s a whole different scale of work going on, and Steven Spielberg has thrown his hat in the ring, and his first title through EA games is a puzzler game, kind of a super-hyped up Tetris, but it has characters and towns and who knows what else.

Image from Kotaku.

His second title is under wraps, but is briefly described:

Players will apparently follow the story of an ‘ex-special agent’ as he tries to protect a computer-controlled woman that displays her emotions by changing the colour of her skin. The state of mind of the female character then affects the how well she’s able to help out the protagonist along the way. Spielberg describes the main challenge is to question whether, “the game [can] have an emotional impact on players while they are actively manipulating the world?”

Emotional impact while manipulating the world. Hmmm.

See, I’ve been trying to track Google and Microsoft a little too closely. They’re all about mirror worlds, after all, and who knows how close they are to bringing avatars into city maps, but I’m more interested in those other bits of the Metaverse Roadmap, the ones about life logging and immersion. So maybe I’ve been looking in the wrong place?

EA Games Says that User-Generated Content is the Way to Go
The Imagina conference in Europe brought together Electronic Arts with BMW, a conference devoted to things 3D, from urban planning to games. Glenn Entis, senior VP at Electronic Arts said that the commercial future of the company would be centered around creating games that rely on user-generated content, such as the soon-to-be-released Spore (sure, it’s kind of like waiting for the soon-to-be-released open source SL, or soon-to-be-released light viewer). he said:

“If you create a platform that is exciting for people to build their own content in, then that is a good business strategy,” adding that when users buy the game, they’ll play in a platform that is enriched by the millions of worlds that can be created and explored by players. “That’s value for money. There are also limitless possibilities for micro-transactions and subscription-based games in the future.”

That sounds a lot to me like Philip Rosedale talking. Only thing is, Philip Rosedale doesn’t have Will Wright or Steven Spielberg on staff. He has coders.

Even Microsoft Sees a GameSpace Slice of Virtual Earth
But maybe we shouldn’t discount the Microsoft folks so quick. After all, X-Box is hardly a minor player. But it continues to intrigue me that Microsoft bought out Caligari, adding to a little ecosystem that includes the 3DVIA folks and their 3DXML and other gadgets. So Caligari creates virtual spaces, including one called GameSpace, and following the announcement the CEO said:

“I was challenged to increase the scope of our vision (by Microsoft)” and he said was convinced that the Virtual Earth team has “a significant long-term commitment to the 3D Web”.

Over at Sony
We’re still waiting for the relaunch of Home, the virtual world platform by Sony that will provide an environment for gamers to socialize, find fellow players, live in cool little condos (um, well, maybe) and swap/buy/get neat stuff.

Ran across an interesting article on their popular Uncharted game in which the developer comments:

We don’t currently have any plans for downloadable content – instead, we included all our bonus content as unlockables right on the game disc. We’re excited about future integration with Home, though, and are looking forward to supporting Home with additional content when we’re able to.

And while on the subject, have a look at this for the PS2…a 3D camera somewhat in line with Emotiv or maybe Mitch Kapor’s 3D camera for Second Life.

The Metaverse Arriving
On the heels of the Virtual Worlds conference there was a lot of discussion over what it would take to make the Metaverse real. Sibley of Electric Sheep says there’s technology work to do. Others say the platform isn’t ready for prime time, that education and business will drive it to the next level.

Meanwhile, behind the walled gardens of game titles and platforms, there’s a lot of talk about multi-player social environments, the importance of great stories, stellar (and stable) technology, user-generated content.

Second Life is not a game. But with all the worries and dread about being mistaken for a game, it seems like the games aren’t quite so precious, and it might be time to think about whether there’s lessons over there amongst the joystick crowd.


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