Virtual worlds will affect every aspect of everyone’s life and in the future will be central to community, particularly as live events are broadcast and spread around the world mixing and meshing with virtual events.
People often confuse virtual worlds with role play games. They are not the same. Role play games have several embedded features to them which can be copied in virtual worlds but are not necessarily part of the virtual world.
Virtual worlds are the domain of real people, who use this medium to connect with and communicate across distance. The share ideas and ideals. Meeting up and creating their own selective communities, rather than those that are physically imposed upon them by location.
Virtual World domination
At present there is only one dominant player in Virtual Worlds for adults. This player is Second Life. Recent distribution of its core software has weakened it’s position as the only platform, however it remains the dominant brand.
This distribution of Linden Labs source code was a strategic move that rebounded on them. They did not account for people’s greed and meglomania. Instead of their naive belief that developers would help to make the basic platform better. Programmers built competitors from the source code.
This meant that offspring were springing up from its flesh everywhere. Unlike other ‘open source’ offerings, the lack of competitors or a pricey market leader such a s Microsoft meant that Linden labs were perceived to be ‘the enemy’ to be vanquished by the programmers and coders.
For inden Labs, this has meant the necessity of subsequent diversification for Second Life and entry into other market spaces. This has been achieved with partnering some of it’s own ‘child’ businesses and buying out others. They have recently also entered the ‘content’ arena with the acquisition of Xstreet.
Scalability in Second Life
Other issues for Second Life are questionable scalability. Forever pushing at that 100 people maximum in a 16 acre area, it now has another apparent boundary of 75,000 concurrent users, after which logging on is a problem. Bandwidth also causes users to have a poor experience at present too and users expect a quality of service for any product they purchase or use. In Second Life this is seeming to be compromised at present.
That said, it is still the dominant platform, with more diversity than other platforms are capable of delivering and more people there too. Education is prominent with courses such as ‘Beyond Google’ by the Open University now being offered. It has become the de facto platform of choice, to challenge it, a competitor has to adopt and adapt many of its basic principles.
The main thing that Virtual Worlds offer is a user experience. Linden Labs provide an excellent and evocative user experience, good or bad, it provides stimulus for those brave enough to go through the preliminary challenge of getting to know how to use the software. People are naïve to expect to be able to use it in one hour, like driving a car or learning Windows, it takes time. Oddly enough, the excitement people feel about this experience often leads them to neglect their basic training with the software.
With experience, having gone through the learning cycle, people realise the potential of this platform to transform their lives.
People initially make a friendship, often with another newcomer and explore the ‘world’. If they continue, they find commonalities and shared interests. For some it is simply finding a cool gadget or a nice pair of shoes, for others it is finding a peer group or social connection. This usually draws them in to other people and wanting to take ownership of their own ‘part’ of this world.
The things that are important in our lives are family, friends, home and personal expression. These are all fulfilled inside the communities of virtual worlds.
Benefits of virtual worlds
Some people in these worlds are currently active because they have special reasons to exist inside their heads. Some are housebound for physical and psychological reasons, others are cut off from their peers due to their physical location. These platforms benefit these people greatly, enabling us to continue long distance relationships and not discriminate because of physical affliction or imperfection. Indeed emotionally vulnerable people can also benefit from these methods of interaction too, provided they find the right environment.
Stereotypes are dismissed or exaggerated, even played with by crossing race, gender and age. By being what you want, you can escape from what you are perceived to be by those who apparently ‘know’ you and judge you out of hand.
You can find friends with similar yet unusual interests, so having hem local is unlikely, but connecting with someone across the world is easy. Virtual worlds therefore benefit people wishing to share knowledge and create friendships with kindred spirits.
Up river from friendships are personal relationships such as witnessed in ‘Brie and Seany’, romance and sex are and always have been high in the game of technological innovation. This will never cease.
As well as virtual events. meet ups happen in the real world such as in The Greyhound in Kensington. Real and virtual friends meet up at the same time, and mix reality with the virtual experience in an unexpectedly rewarding mix for everyone. This make the difference between a separate virtual and real existence and draws both together uniting personalities and forging even deeper friendships than occur either in reality or virtually.
Communities are the mainstay of society and their extension into virtual platforms is simply as important as the railway, telephone, radio, TV or Internet. We are all interested in ‘connecting’ with one another. Humankind is forever looking to have bonds forged with each other. Virtual worlds affect real lives not because they are different, isolated, imagined lives, but because they are simply an extension of real lives, one where w can experiment in physical safety before venturing out and taking risks with our lives and expend time and commitment.