M.C. Pantz

Something Bloglike

Virtual Worlds–because the Real One Doesn’t Matter Anymore

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Google Labs just released Lively, a supposed contender to Second Life. I played the latter a decent amount to see what it has become, which is mostly a desperate cry for more and more attention. People will wander about looking for someone to talk to, and run into a variety of weirdos. I predict a combination of late 90’s AOL chatrooms, IRC gaming, or any other effort at suspended reality that just feels empty and unfulfilling.

The general cycle will probably engender the following:

  • early technology adopters and cool-hunters enter the scene, encountering a vast wasteland; declare it simultaneously the next best thing and a complete waste of time
  • tweens, internet-based subcultures, and perverts invade the start inhabiting the wasteland. The first page is already filled with sex rooms.
  • the technology languishes on in limbo with Google occasionally trying to inject life into the project, only to be met with general disinterest and all-around frustration.

I should probably note that I haven’t actually tried Lively yet. There are a number of things that Lively does get right, and should probably be adapted by any future virtual worlds:

  • Separate rooms. Mind you, they could have called it something else that doesn’t make it feel like IRC, but it’s the right idea. Keeping every area of a persistent world totally active in a distributed environment sucks resources that may *never* be used.it makes much more sense to just enforce a boundary & throw up a skybox on users and make them talk to each other.
  • Browser integration. No one wants to boot up a full-screen app to just see what rooms are popular and maybe if your friends are online.
  • An offline editor. Rumors persist that Sketchup 7 may very well allow people to design objects in a dedicated atmosphere instead of trying to do so in-game, allowing people to focus instead of deal with a bunch of furries running by in morally repulsive costumes.

However, there are some other areas where it falls flat on its face:

  • Lack of user content from the get-go. Google’s Don’t Announce Anything policy does give them the freedom to drop something When It’s Ready, and the lack of user content is just going to result in a bunchor restless users who are tired of seeing the same fucking samuri squirrel run around. On another level, it does give them the ability to establish a look and feel to the program, but users may find that more stifling in the end.
  • Platform lock-in. I know, I know, most of the civilized world uses windows, but most of the world who is going to write reviews of the software does not. Especially design professionals; the ones who will actually be the cogs in the virtual market they are so desperately trying to create.

The real problem is that no one’s found a good reason to use virtual world technology in a non-gaming context. Second Life general offensiveness in getting anything done in a reasonable time in-world has turned off a number of potential users, including myself.  However, there is a lot of potential markets that a decent implementation could access.  It’s that latter part that really means something.

In the meantime however, I’m just going to curse until someone creates a virtual world that doesn’t completely mock the cyberpunk ideal.