Crystal Ball Musings

I’m not very good at predicting ‘THE FUTURE’. You know – what will be a hit, what life will be like in 3 years, much less 10 years. I have a mom’s sense of the future: if you try to carry all those things at once you’re going to drop something. My vision tends to be personal and short-term. I really thought virtual worlds were about to burst into the big time. I was lining up my career to be a part of it. I guess I was blinded by the light of my love. Not only didn’t it happen, but it seems to have receded nearly out of sight (for me). I think about this chain of events and wonder, as so many others do, why it hasn’t happened. I still believe that one of the major issues is that there are no tools (or almost no tools) available for the business or corporate user to access in SecondLife or OpenSim. Things may have changed, since I am out of touch, but if the applications were present, I think I’d know from (1) blogs/Twitter/chat and (2) Virtual Worlds would be gaining positive publicity and hype. Obviously, other people have other ideas as to what is and isn’t happening and why.

A little while ago, many in the SecondLife Premium User community were introduced to a new SL offering called Premium Wilderness. I was involved in my own personal issues at the time and didn’t head over there but I read several of the posts and tweets about it. As you would expect, easily 50% of the comments hated it and 48% of the comments were neutral and I will guess that 2% dared to like it. But one of my favorite things to do in SL is go to sims where someone has taken the time and effort to make rides and interactive environments – like going to an amusement park. Or – perhaps more similar – like the interactive computer books and games my son played when he was a wee little thing. So I took a quick trip there. It has possibilities. Having been in SL now for almost 4 years, I have to say that I think some of the effects were very nice. Others – not so much. It could have been me, but not one of the objects on which I tried to sit had a pose that fit. That was disappointing. I did really like the sound effects. 🙂

I understand the frustration of folks who think all of LL’s efforts should be on improving their existing product. I have to tell you – software development doesn’t really work like that. My group – oops, my former group – has been successful through 3 major take-overs because we were NEVER just working on what we had – we were ALWAYS developing the NEXT thing. We (they) are here and many many others who started with us are not here. Yes, it’s very, very hard to fix bugs, add enhancements and design new applications. But that’s what the good software developers do. I was liaison with support and with the clients – I DO understand the client experience and emotions.

Quite soon after the furor over Wilderness Experience was quieting down, Arianne Barnes (who I consider to be one of the most insightful virtual world bloggers around) posted on 3D Virtual Worlds vs MMORPGs. Arianne hit on one of the factors that SL devotees believe is KEY: User created content: “Basically, everything that makes 3D Virtual Worlds popular, can now be found in MMORPGs too, except user created content.” She goes on to say: “The MMOs are incorporating the stuff that makes 3DVWs popular. If they are to survive, the 3DVWs need to start incorporating what makes MMOs popular.” This makes a great deal of sense to me. I DO recommend you read the entire post, not just my excerpts here. Arianne is pro-3DVWs. She is not one of the many crying “the sky is falling, the sky is falling”. As a matter of fact, she points to LL Realms as a way Linden Lab is incorporating the popular MMO features. Virtual worlds are big enough for all of us – content designers, socializers and gamers.

While I have been pondering on how I wanted to approach this subject, Tateru Nino (another of my favorite bloggers and sources of information) posted about two MMOGs that ALLOW for user created content. It’s not quite the same as how it is done in SL, of course, but it’s happening. Maybe this is the mirror-image for Wilderness Experience? Of course, it may be late for both MMORPGs and 3DVWs – Facebook is neither of those and yet somehow the same (for some people. NOT me. DO NOT shoot me, folks). Facebook is pulling more people into their phones and off their powerful computer graphics cards. Prokofy Neva posted recently that Facebook is not only harming television, but that “The mobile phone is the new virtual world.” Prokofy mentions that Facebook pulls in those people who do NOT like being an avatar (my manager was among those) and people who do not like being anonymous and faceless (many of my engineering/scientist coworkers were among that demographic).

So where are we going? I don’t know. I still think that virtual worlds are going to become more mainstream, that corporations will utilize them more than is done in the present. I think that what we have now, however, is not going to be what becomes mainstream. I think we are evolving. I don’t think that “The Future” will be a hybrid of Facebook/3DVW/MMORPGs replacing all 3 of those constructs. I think there will be some other sort of synthesis – 3DVWs and MMORPGs. But of course, as I’ve already said – my crystal ball is usually opaque. *grin*

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