Monday, January 7, 2013

Future of Virtual Worlds

This post is an answer, or a complement to a few other posts. The excellent post of Botgirl Questi ("Virtual worlds is dream over") which summarizes things very well, the also excellent post of Tateru Nino ("That's just plain embarrassing") which launched in the last few days a debate on the "game" aspect of Second Life, and how to classify it, and my own post ("Shrinking of communities in Second Life"), which was intended to be polemical (or at least not fully "politically correct" by being the "Devil's attorney" and mentioning that users too may be somehow guilty of the shrinking of communities in Second Life).

As Botgirl described it extremely well in her post, there is a serious loss of hope in people who were dreaming of a "Metaverse". This came due to two main phenomenon : 1) The numerous issues with Second Life, and 2) the fact that none of the other alternative Second Life-derived grids got enough power to attract a critical mass of users which would be enough to launch a real global movement.

As I wrote in the previous post, it is more than just an issue on platform, it is a way deeper issue, which is: how do we want the Metaverse to be shaped?

What made the success of Second Life was the fact that nobody needed to be a programmer to enter the virtual world, and to become part of it. Sure, some communities of builders emerged, and some individuals did truly amazing work as “builders”, “fashion designers”, “SL photographers” ... but the vast majority of users did not. They simply “lived” their Second Life, rather fully (which explains also the extremely high number of “Adult” oriented SIMs). And what was amazing in Second Life is that NUMEROUS independent communities were co-existing in relative harmony. I believe there is nothing like a “SLebrity”, but there were a lot of “community SLebrities”. Some people in Second Life got famous among some circles (sometimes hundreds, or even thousands, of people) for “blogging” about SL and the Metaverse, but were vastly ignored by a majority of users. Some people from some very strong communities, let's say for instance, the Gorean community, reached a similar status of “Legend”, and were known or heard of by any people in SL Gor, but there name was never mentioned in other communities. In Star Wars Role-Play, some people were known by all (for instance the former leader of the Hutt Council, Darmutta the Hutt), and their words were extremely respected ... but if a Hutt comes into a non-Star Wars SIM, people would probably laugh at him a lot.

This superimposition of various communities was I think a key in Second Life's success. Second Life reached a lot of people. It was revolutionary because it succeeded to reach a lot of people.

The new platforms are not succeeding that so far. One issue I think is that they are mostly doing the same thing than Second Life. Less expensive, more open ... anything goes ... but it is still very similar in a lot of aspects. And, some are less “user-friendly” that Second Life used to be. Without any experience of virtual spaces, you could navigate your way in Second Life almost intuitively. Without previous experience of Second Life, it is in some platform rather complicated to build something …

But the Metaverse is not linked to a single platform. We already had such a discussion few months ago on this blog ("Metaverse, Hyperverse, Cyberverse"). New tools, such as augmented reality, human-machine interfaces ... the possibilities are endless.

An issue still is the “democratic” aspects of virtual worlds. A problem I see in the current avatars of the “Metaverse” is the existence of an “elite” of people travelling from one platform to another (in “platform”, I include blogs and twitter too), very active and very involved. But I fail to see a democratisation of the Metaverse currently. A true Metaverse will emerge and exist only when (much) more users will come and join. A lot of attempts to use the Metaverse for something else than just being there often failed (I think particularly about education ... a lot of places tried to have courses or lectures in Second Life, to conclude that it was easier to do it in normal class or in tele-conference). That does not mean that virtual worlds can not be used for educational purposes. Just, we need to think to that differently (I say that, but I am not claiming to be better than the others nor to have the magical answer on that). Virtual worlds have potential for education, but we did not sized it fully yet. Same goes for a lot of other applications.

So, if the virtual world of Second Life may be not giving us too much hope, in no way would I say that the Metaverse is over. Virtual worlds are the future, I am rather sure of that !


  1. Why? I don't wanna be a pessimist, I love the idea of SL, virtual worlds, metaverse... but thinking of the discussion itself, I have to ask: why are you sure that virtual worlds are the future? And how do you know that "virtual worlds have potential for education, but we did not size it fully yet"? I, myself, believe it has a potential for education, but I can't explain much further - why do I believe it? Don't misunderstand me, I'm just trying to think of it more clearly.

    1. Sorry, my mistake. Virtual WORLDS may not be the future, but virtual SPACES are for sure. Now, having said that, virtual worlds are just specific case of virtual spaces ... but in the context of the discussion, virtual spaces is more appropriate, especially if we take into consideration augmented reality (even if in this last case, the virtual space become a virtual extension of the real world, so, maybe not a bona fida virtual world, but more than just a space as well ... Regarding education and virtual worlds : as I mentioned, so far, attempts had mostly mitigated outcomes : it is at the end easier, cheaper, and more efficient to do distance learning using video-conference rather than using a virtual world platform. But mostly because we think "education" in a classical "class" format. And indeed, in such case, the most efficient way (which is at the end still the primary way of human communication) is the spoken language. But several attempts have been made using different ways (e.g., virtual museums, even if again with mitigated outcomes). So, any "educator" or "teacher", or simply explorer of virtual spaces can feel that there is a potential of virtual spaces for education. But the exact modalities to make education in virtual worlds a "marketable" outcome (see please the post of Botgirl, this was related to what she wrote) are still unknown. Hope it clarifies a bit things.