As I’ve reported here, I’ve played a lot with Second Life in the last six months, mostly in the areas of land, landscaping and construction. With my team, I’m currently starting the planning for a work-related project of a much larger magnitude than I’ve attempted before. I’ll describe that more when it gets underway.
I haven’t and probably won’t talk as much about World of Warcraft which makes no pretense about just being a game. This is just for fun, but I certainly look at how they do things and the visible technical choices that they’ve made. In general, I’m quite interested in the technology behind virtual worlds, both where it was and where it is going. For that reason I try to play with at least one new world a week, though some of them send me to the Quit command a lot faster than others. While my son plays Runescape, I personally have not looked much at children-oriented VWs such as Club Penguin.
There is a reason why Second Life and WoW are as popular as they are. They are both damn good at what they do.
They, particularly SL, will continue to get better in ways that WoW won’t. While WoW might improve some of the technology here and there, it is the quality of the gameplay that will drive new and continued subscriptions. That is, new quests, new locations, new powers, new races, and so forth. The excitement comes from accomplishing tasks, attaining new levels, discovering new locations, beating new opponents, as well as the social aspect of working with others. SL shares some but not all of these.
A very important difference between SL and WoW is how SL is dynamic in its world makeup but WoW is much more static. That is, if you visit me in SL an hour from now, I might have built an entirely new house on my land that wasn’t there an hour ago. With WoW, that house you see was likely there yesterday, last week, or last month, and will probably be there next year as well. Blizzard does patch WoW with extensions and bug fixes, but these are few and far between. In any case, I as a WoW player am not building any houses. My character evolves, but my character does not evolve the landscape in which it exists.
This allows some real difference in optimizations. WoW can pre-store textures, 3D models, and a lot of information on each player’s computer. SL has to constantly download new data as you move around or teleport to new regions. This delay is obvious to even the newest SL “resident” and can be rather maddening at times. Little improvements here go a long way.
Another difference between the worlds is that everyone who is officially in SL is on the same “grid.” That is, I can IM with or teleport to anyone who is in the world at the same time as I am. WoW and many other multiplayer games have the notion of “realms.” Think of these as duplicate worlds that all exist at the same time. You build a character (think avatar) and that can only live in one realm. With a lot of trouble, you could move it to another realm, but this isn’t encouraged.
The rules of engagement are not exactly the same in all the realms, but there are just a few classes of what they are like. If they get a flood of new players, they can easily add a few new realms that are mostly focused on skill building and quests versus player vs. player competition. You can’t chat between realms and you certainly can’t teleport among them. This is an optimization since the realms are independent and Blizzard can control the population of each WoW so they don’t get too crowded or too laggy.
Lag occurs for several reasons, but it is generally a slowdown caused by delays in transmitting information between client and servers, slow clients or servers, or just too much information to process on either end. A major current restriction and complaint about SL is that you just can’t have that many avatars together in one place without the system slowing down tremendously, or worse. You can improve the way you handle all these people, or you can just not allow that many people to get together. The latter is a problem if you are trying to host a conference, a large class, a concert, or a town hall meeting in SL.
As I think about my virtual world requirements, I’m really thinking mostly along the ideas of “if Second Life were perfect (ok, better) for me, what would it look like?”. So this means borrowing a few ideas from other VWs, making up new ones, maybe changing a few things, and possibly dropping some things all together. I’m going to examine my evolving thinking about these topics within this series of blog entries.
Here in simple list form are some of the things I have in mind. I’ll extend this list and expand the discussion around each in future entries. Many of these are related to each other.
- A pure offline mode where I could build objects and then bring them inworld. This should be as close to the inworld environment as possible, but clearly without the features (such as other residents) that a live Internet connection would bring.
- A peer-to-peer model where I could link my private local world to someone else’s, and that would constitute our entire universe. Now generalize, and allow multiple simultaneous links. Finally, also allow me to link my local world into the master grid.
- A model of many planets, solar systems, and universes that could be grouped in any way people want to do so. These could be by function, by affinity, or by whimsy.
- Much better zoning and separation on non-private islands. In the above model, this might mean that pornography or other things could be grouped into their own worlds and systems and I could stay far away from them if I choose.
True story: several weeks ago I was seriously considering selling my current land and purchasing some other land that had just come online within the last few days. This new land was nicely priced and had a nice hill in the middle of it. I was thinking that it might be worth moving up to the next land tier to get this and I had all sorts of ideas on what to do with the land. As I was getting close to doing the deal, I traveled back to the land to look around. There, right next door, someone had put up three very large and very explicit sexually-oriented images. I could have bought the land, I could have blocked the images, or I could have gone the private island route. I walked away. No sale, no purchase.
There are important non-trivial, controversial, and legal issues around this sort of thing and even what constitutes being offensive. That said, things that people want separated should be able to be separated.
- Inworld secure chat. By this I mean IM or voice that is encrypted so I know that it’s not being listened to by unintended people. Now I know there are no ironclad guarantees on this, but I’m just not going to have confidential discussions unless there is more than property settings and distances to keep the discussions private.
I’m sure I’ll add more things, but what’s on your list?