Monday Oct 06, 2008

Beyond con-calls

I have been looking at ways of making virtual meetings easier, more effective and fun. As part of that I have looked again at secondlife, and one of my new correspondents pointed me at "The future is virtually here". This, despite being published last August, and while containing two fun stories about EVE Online, tries too hard in my mind to use language which proves the author's Yoof credentials. Also quoting IBM and World of Warcraft as the exemplar's of using virtual worlds is to my mind lazy. Many companies use secondlife as a virtual store front, although I admit that IBM's virtual data centre, (see also my blog report on the IBM virtual data center) is a quite a cute toy, but a number of people are on the trail of WoW, and its monthly subscription is high for school students.

The killer app. for virtual worlds seems to be training. Sun has just launched its "Solaris Campus" on secondlife, but its the truly compelling case for virtual training is where the where real life exercises are either very expensive or very dangerous, such as the US Marines' use of Doom, and its growing use in urban disaster relief planning. Its certainly dangerous training soldiers realistically. I have argued before that game fan forums helped develop remote collaboration techniques and the games world is now offering a lot to the infrastructure providers. Besides Sun 's very own Project Wonderland, it would be worth checking up on Torque, a science toolkit, & maybe Gaia Online, one of the virtual worlds. (Now in my del.icio.us feed, tagged virtualworlds). Another interesting arrival is Runescape, a british FRPG written in Java, with a free to play subscription option. The science engines are important as they potentially enable the extension of virtual worlds beyond social collaboration into prototyping problems for real world designers.

One interesting aspect about the juvenilsation of games is that actually it also seems to be true the 16-20's aren't there; they're busy 'Getting a First Life', however it could be an indicator that Dave's theory of Youthful Conservativism is true. Today's 16-20 year olds adopted their technologies before the virtual worlds came out, and they see no reason to use the virtual worlds because its too new, and offers them little beyond messaging. Another inhibitor for this age group is that these worlds don't have phone hosted clients yet. (Although iphone has a secondlife client.)

I know there is a lot of knocking copy about Second Life in particular, but con-calls often don't work any more, and training is a different application to e-commerce. Perhaps its only the virtual shopkeepers who are unhappy.

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Friday Mar 14, 2008

MMORPG, making them massive

During the meeting, we considered the opportunities around Project Darkstar. This is a shardless gaming platform operating environment, written in Java, and inspired by Sun's extensive experience in building mission critical enterprise computing platforms.

MMORPGs seem to be even more popular in some of the far-eastern countries than in the west and its possible that by offering a programming platform Sun can create new conversations with game authors. Make no mistake, Darkstar is a game author's offering. One of the more interesting derivations of Darkstar is project wonderland, built on top of 'Looking Glass' an experimental three dimensional desktop, which has led to the creation of a business/collaboration orientated networked virtual world. This allows us to offer lessons from mission critical computing and its efficiency and predictability requirements, not to mention an understanding of the difference between a game world and business collaboration. It should be noted that networked virtual worlds are seen by both the EU Commission and Gartner as important computing platforms of the future.

The Darkstar code has been published under the GPL v2.0 and talking and thinking about the implications for developers with my colleagues led to my considering Bioware's experimentation with post royalty licenses. This interests me because together with the second life license which explicitly ensures that authors own their intellectual property, they both illustrate that the lawyers (or license designers) can ensure that licenses explicitly target both collaborative and and monetisation behaviour and reinforce the business models of the original license authors. The GPL uses sharing as a gatekeeper condition, while as noted above Second Life license protects author's intellectual property, hence encouraging the development of virtual property within the "world". The Bioware Aurora license ensures that purchaser's of the bioware games get the free right to use all community content. Bioware's Aurora license with which they licensed Neverwinter Nights and its kicker modules ensured that any user created content had to be distributed under the Aurora license. This ensured a no-commerce clause, for the binaries, and the requirement to run the modifications using a licensed version of the runtime. This both protected Bioware's license income and meant that external authors created additional demand for the original game, tools and runtime. N.B. These are not distributed separately.

There is a growing economic theory about the "optimum welfare price" of software and/or information, which I have promised Dominc Kay that I will write up. Copyright and monopoly ownership are legal distortions that inhibit this price occurring in a market. It is however generally the case that most inventors/authors intellectual property rights are fully asserted and freedom only licensed. However, the economic theory is for another day.

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