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.