Saturday, October 13, 2007

Virtual World Interoperability

There's been a lot of talk recently about the need for virtual world interoperability. By that I mean the ability for a character in one virtual world system to be able to enter another virtual world system and carry with it certain attributes and capabilities. For example, my Second Life persona, Imortega Lungu, might wish to leave the realms of SL and enter Everquest II to trade in 3D models that were previously bought with Linden Dollars in SL. The prospect of such trans-world commerce is apparently capturing the imagination of representatives from several large corporations because of the sense that money can be made if player identity can move from one virtual world service to another. Exactly how that would work and how value could be captured by the creators of those worlds remains unclear - but it's an interesting notion nonetheless.

This discussion is happening because today's virtual world technologies are for the most part a series of technologically-distinct walled gardens - a bit like Prodigy, Compuserve and AOL were before the advent of the web in the 80's and early 90's. The desire to have a single metaverse that binds together all of the emerging virtual world technologies is a dream shared by many. Such a unifying metaverse would be to 3D as the web was to 2D. It would also have the potential effect of rendering today's virtual world technologies obsolete in the way that early walled gardens were rendered obsolete by the emergence of NCSA's Mosaic web browser. The problem is that the equivalent of what Mosaic was to the web has yet to emerge for 3D virtual worlds. Until it does, there will be much talk around seeking interoperability, standardization, and integration of disparate virtual worlds. Unless there are good business cases for company's to let their virtual world users transcend the walls of their virtual walled gardens, there may be little progress toward the broad interoperability now being envisioned.

1 comment:

dandellion Kimban said...

That is going to be a tough job, it is needed to be done. It came to my mind when I was thinking about the future of the OpenSim project. But, if we speak about different worlds, not only independent grids of the same system, things get much worse.

Problem is that there are too many parties who want or need to lock something. Creators want to lock their models and textures for their income; service providers will want to lock their servers for security reasons; sure, we all will crave to keep our money accounts safe.... Making the web one was, for that matter, an easy thing to do. In those days, web was mainly text, then images came. But neither text nor images were for sale. Some were copyrighted, but nobody really cared if one take the picture from the web-page and make a wallpaper out of it.

But, what about all the clothes, skins, houses... It is all for sale. And, even if the most of the creators doesn't make their living out of virtual goods, they like to be payed for them. At least, that saves them the "game-money".

Second problem is money. To have safe inter-grid transactions one have to trust all the grids involved. Or, transactions should be ompletely independent from grid operators, meaning we need third party financial institutions who will do the job. Something like PayPal for microcurrencies. Question is if there is financial interest for those institutions to get into business. It seems there is, at least since MetaCard showed up. (I am not involved with MetaCard, and not promoting them, just taking them as an example.)

Asset servers and access to them from different grids will be hell. Not only in technical sense. After making standards, after all the converting and reconstructing 3D data there will be question of security again. Will one provider bw willing to allow access to other grid to see my assets when I teleport on the other end of the metaverse? And under which conditions? I 'm afraid to imagine the user agreement I'll be forced to sign for that occasion.

Names will be problem too. Am I the only one who thinks we need independent organization which will take care of our names? Something like ICCAN? Or it is possible situation that one day I try to access some grid, find that somebody else is called dandellion Kimban there and, angry and pissed, I register as Philip Linden?

Last but not the least, commerce. It is not only the copyrights that will make problems for creators. If we examine just second life main grid, there is economic nightmare. Due to the lack of information flow you can buy the similar thing for 10L$ and for 500L$. Not to mention selling freebies. Now, what will happen when the items go over the borders?