Thursday, February 01, 2007

Are All 3D Worlds Games?

Clay Shirky again, is not a fan of VR but having been challenged in his opinions, he keeps mulling the problem over, and not being a dumb guy, he zeros in on the issues. This one is better reasoned. It supports what some have been saying: games are a category of real-time 3D, a genre, and the genre has special qualifications that make this category different from VR. Equating all 3D with ‘games technology’ as some do isn’t a very good categorization and the analyses resulting are flawed.

I concur. On the other hand, I think his magic circle analogy while correct misses the obvious unstated fact: the engine of immersion is positive and negative feedback, all that ANY human interface requires to achieve immersion, and it is the same engine driving search technology. Games simply narrow the rules and acceptance of the rules like the suspension of disbelief in dramatic presentation is the crucial buy in. Shirky is actually trying to diminish the status of real-time worlds such as Second Life, but he is stumbling around the right concepts at last, and that is progress.

3D, unlike the naive Wladavsky-Berger comparison with broadband, is not a push technology: it is a pull technology where the database is the human brain. Shirky is almost there in what he is saying but missing the critical distinction that any interface can be made to pull. 3D is quite a bit better than some alternatives and this isn’t limited to sexual expression. He is being male and somewhat childish there. A good looking avatar works for many applications and as fascinating as that is, it can be combined as sex has always been combined in marketing advertising with other stimuli for different tasks.

Still, he is making a good case that low-feedback VR worlds don’t compete well even where MU. Determining ahead of the design what the rules are and what the buy in has to be by the user to accept those rules is crucial to good design.

The SIMS inventor has some good points about GUI design in these worlds that ought to be reviewed by everyone, particularly, that the first tasks on entering a world should teach the rules for navigating it. I am surprised but humbled by the fact that most people I demo for don’t know to press the left mouse button, hold it down, then push it in a direction. Then when shown that, they are very bad at it for the first five minutes. Then they get proficient and if I try to correct anything they do, they resist me and keep whacking away. That is a good thing. They are getting hooked by the struggle and the need to prove themselves. Only after I show them how to follow Kamala and that she leads them to cool presentations do they start to notice the music and actually get hooked into the content the world is wrapping. Then they ask me if they can ‘fly’ and I show them the right-click menu. Then they ask me about having an avatar of their own, and I show them the choice on the right click menu. Then I sit back and watch.

Will they come back? Maybe, maybe not, but I built the world to sell the music, not the other way around. Once they buy it; I'm done. :-)

So there is an aspect of game in every world we build but how we emphasize it and how we get past it, those are the delicacies of our craft.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Trading in Virtual Goods

Business Week writes that we are on the cusp of another web shakeout as the frictionless business mavens discover the difference between a 'science experiment' and a going business. The cost of the prototype is less but the constants required for scaling remain the same, employees, machines, insurance, marketing, customer service, and so on.

The only economy that seems to evade inspection is the black market in virtual goods being reported at CNet. eBay banned sales of virtual goods but gave Linden Labs a pass because it is supposed to have a virtual economy that translates to the real economy. There are two problems with that:
  1. As reported in the last blog, ValleyWag analysts show that the LL virtual economy is a Ponsi game.
  2. Second Life is a closed system. Owning or selling something there doesn't mean you can actually take it anywhere else.
I could understand a market for virtual goods where you can actually move the goods into a different world. Like the market for used car parts, you can actually put that on a different car if it is standards-compatible. As no such thing exists for Second Life or World of Warcraft, one wonders if this is yet another frictionless economy love child that assumes something has a value just because it can be displayed to more than one person.

One gets the feeling that there is some kind of weird shakeout and wakeup call coming in this market. The pundits who have been promoting it will be there to tell they saw it coming all along. And so it goes.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Life IS A Do-Over At Least Virtually

Just as the most brilliant economic minds gather at the World Economic Forum and ooh and aah over the alledged invention of the most important technology to come along in years

Second Life

an independent researcher confirms what the real pioneers in the field have been saying for some time now. Yes, friends, Linden Dollars are a Ponsi scheme (aka, pyramid).

The problem for the rest of the real-time 3D genre vendors will be to be at sea when the wave crashes and not moored to the dock waiting. That means building markets not reliant on SL-allied community efforts. It is actually not difficult to do but don't be perceived as an SL cognoscenti when it happens. Pick another genre or prove why your implementation is NOT like SL at least where the content economy is concerned.

Between the tempest over Microsoft paying a very real expert, Rick Jeliffe, to edit the technical contents of a Wikipedia article, and the self-selected experts for VR like Daniel Terdimann at (Fox News by another name) who have yet to build a world in a field they say they are experts about and point to their Wikipedia bio to justify that claim, one begins to ask if the web has simply devolved into a British tabloid where the facts are as suspect as their Prime Minister's sharable military intelligence and the taste is the same as their cooking.

Next time we go to war, let's take London and give it to the Aussies.

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