Second Life, Virtual World Platforms

Blizzard vs Linden Lab: Who Wins in Graphic Improvements?

Philip Rosedale recently explained that Second Life is a far cry better than browser-based worlds like Google’s Lively by comparing it to Warcraft:

“In a browser you can’t render a 3D environment with sound, lighting, shadows, the actual sort of World of Warcraft like…you know uh most people have seen that…the real 3D rendered experience.”

3D Rendered Experience: Windlight-less?

But as Warcraft rolls out graphic enhancements that take advantage of new graphic chips only in expansion packs, there’s a difference even in those um, sound-filled, light-soaked, shadowy rooms. asks WOW lead game designer Tom Chilton and production director J Allen Brack their thoughts on graphic enhancements and the reply is: sure, and you’ll pay for it with each expansion pack.

When asked whether the platform needed to keep pace with graphics, the response was that at least as far as WOW is concerned looks might not matter:

“I mean for us it’s never been a priority to have the highest tech game on the market. It’s never been a priority. For us usability is a lot more important. We want to make sure that our game runs very well on low system specs.

The Industry Standard picked up on the story, comparing the approach at Blizzard to that of Linden Lab:

“Virtual worlds Second Life and World of Warcraft (WoW) seem to be compared against each other on a regular basis, and have some crossover when it comes to userbase. However, in light of recent discussions of future improvements to WoWs game graphics, it’s clear that the overall direction and operation of the sites couldn’t be more dissimilar; the only thing they have in common is the concept of a “virtual world.”"

Their take? Linden Lab wins because their roll-outs of new graphics and you can lower your graphic settings as new improvements are deployed, they win:

“There is an obvious difference in culture between Blizzard and Linden Lab, and while both are certainly interested in improving the user experience, it seems greedy to promise graphic upgrades only to those willing to spend even more money for expansion packs they may not otherwise be interested in. When it comes to a more customer-driven focus on system upgrades, however, it looks like Linden Lab wins.”

Well. Hmmm. It’s certainly an interesting take: Linden Lab’s model of rolling out graphic improvements is free, but it doesn’t solve that nagging question of whether they place the right priority on usability (although lately they seem to be trending positive in that direction).

All the pretty pixels in the world won’t make a difference if you can’t figure out how to move, and the day the Lab started charging for the latest Windlight update is the day they could kiss the Grid goodbye - it’s not keeping people, like in Warcraft, that’s the issue - it’s getting them past the first hour, and on usability, Warcraft wins by a mile.


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