Trend: Virtual world software could soon be crossing the tipping point on the Internet.
Patrick Cox at TCS Daily describes a potentially killer app for the Internet — a virtual world platform that would make developing applications much less expensive and allow players to use the same tools in different worlds. People who don't have kids under 30 may be unaware how big this marketplace is. For researchers, simulations of real world events will be easier and more useful.
Forces are coalescing that will produce a shift comparable at least to the spread of broadband. This change will have enormous financial, cultural and political repercussions, and the most interesting aspect of the coming transformation is that it will not be some new and unexpected thing.
Rather, the Web for many will become the cliched 3D virtual reality that has been so overused as a literary and cinematic device that most of us have forgotten how compelling that vision was when it first appeared. Before describing this evolutionary leap, however, we should spend a little time thinking about the key event that led to the last one: the Internet you are using now to read these words.
There seems, ironically, far less discussion of VR today than there was then and the very term has a distinctly cheesy ring to it now. VW for virtual worlds, in fact, seems to have replaced VR among serious researchers
...WoW is a particularly important development in VWs and MMOs as it gained five million subscribers in only a year's time. The initial $50 fee for the software needed on a player's own computer would have represented significant revenues by themselves but there is a $15 monthly subscription fee as well. With over 6 million players, WoW's developer, Blizzard, earns around $1 billion in subscription fees annually.
WoW has already become much more than a fantasy VR role-playing game. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of people are using the realm for a multiplicity of non-game purposes, including political rallies and virtual church services. There are dozens of other successful MMOs, and hundreds are trying to attain that status. America, however, is not the world center for MMOs, that being Korea where online gaming has its own television channels with ESPN type coverage for top games and gamers, as well as its own courts dedicated to online crime. Millions of "gold farmers," mostly third world techies with a low cost of living and a high degree of game savvy, are making their livings by manual labor, "grinding" to earn assets that are sold online to wealthier and less patient Westerners.
...Like AOL and CompuServe a decade ago, virtual worlds exist as a relatively small number of isolated, walled-off realms, each requiring the user to download separate software. Just as the Internet did not become the social force it is today until Netscape tore down the walls separating Internet fiefdoms, virtual world technology is currently limited.
There is, however, something going on that has the potential to change that, and quickly. Not coincidentally, a team of core developers from Netscape's early days is now developing the equivalent of a virtual world browser for MMOs....
Their plan is to provide virtual world creators the client, server, and development tools to create an MMO world. The entire technology platform is free for non-commercial use, so academics are paying nothing to create economic, architectural, sociological and other simulations. For-profit enterprises would pay royalties, but only when their games or other applications collect money from consumers, not before.
This is significant because, until now, creating a complex virtual world required tens of millions of dollars in initial development costs alone. The Multiverse technology, currently in beta-testing, claims to lower the cost of virtual world production to a fraction of its current stratospheric level. For many purposes, such as personal online spaces, there would be no cost at all.
Most importantly, however, all these Multiverse-based worlds, and many are already in development, would be compatible. With the Multiverse client software, users will be able to access any virtual world built using the company's technology. Virtual worlds will become, in effect, ubiquitous. The Metaverse.