Republished: Games vs Virtual Worlds

Posted on 6 February, 2008

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This post originally appeared on Dan’s  Glass Houses blog on November 29th, 2007.

Sparked by a debate about whether Second Life deserves coverage at massively.com (a site mainly dealing with massively multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft) I’ve been pondering the direction of MMO games, casual games and virtual/social world spaces.

Firstly my response to the above article was a resounding ‘Yes – Second Life should be included’.  Second Life might not be a game as such (and I have no intention of opening any philosophical debates on that) but it is what it means as an emerging platform that is of significance to the gaming community.  The point of the massively post was that much of the public, press, games players and virtual worlds users make a clear delineation between game worlds and ‘other’ virtual worlds.   World of Warcraft, Everquest, Tabula Rasa and Maple Story all fit in the first camp, Second Life, There and Kaneva are firmly in the second (note: I clearly won’t even attempt a complete list).  But how long will this distinction remain?

Second Life has a number of sims (areas of land) that are owned by avid games makers.  Using Second Life as a technology platform these individuals are free to create games that are instantly available to the community as a shared, social experience.  The tools to build and script are built right into the client (you just need a little knowledge and a healthy slice of patience) and the hardships of distribution and networking (amongst others) pretty much vanish.  Second Life is a prime example of a technology that crosses, and arguably blurs, many boundaries.

And others are taking note.  Earlier this year Sony announced “a new era of connected network gaming in which community and user-generated content play a huge part.”  Using the power of the Playstation 3 the online networked community named ‘Home’ is visually far more appealling than Second Life, as can be seen in this video.  Again though this ‘social virtual world’ is inevitably going to become far broader. 

I see Home, Second Life and other technologies on the horizon, not only as social worlds but doubling as 3d portals to game spaces.  The idea of a metaverse where a single avatar strides between disparate worlds might be some way off, but it’s certainly the direction things are heading, and how Sony, Linden Labs and others ring-fence their territory in such a space is a debate for another day.  However in that future lays great appeal.  Not only could the social world act as a central hub to activity, what if you could bring ‘stuff’ back from the game worlds that branched off that hub?  For instance if your Tauren Hunter has spent an age collecting every last piece of the Beaststalker armour set would it not be nice to wander around that social space clad in your finest armour?  This “bleed through” from the game to the social space would likely result in few avatars comprehending the potential significance of every ‘detail’ around them, but it would certainly lead to an eclectic, vibrant and colourful world of the avatars own making.

Add to that the fact that the social space itself will feature any number of casual games (.ie. it’s not just a portal, it’s a games space/engine as well) and the dividing lines between one type of world and another rapidly disappear.

So Massively.com have made the right choice with the inclusion of Second Life, and readers of the site must prepare themselves for the inevitable inclusion of more and more virtual worlds.

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