Virtual world thoughts

I just got home this afternoon from a show in Toronto. It was a leg on Armin Van Buuren’s “Intense” tour. The display of music combined with stunning visuals and effects really reminded me of the power of virtual worlds and all the wonder they can bring. Armin’s shows always sell to capacity and just about everyone that attended stayed for the entire 4+ hours on their feet dancing the night away, just being present with other people. The environment is absolutely energetic and uplifting. Virtual worlds especially when combined with the up and coming generations of VR tech can bring these types of experiences to more people than ever before. So I got to wondering, what does the future look like, and how can be promote a VR future that can bring life changing social experiences into the home?

Listening to Philip Rosedale’s VWBPE keynote I hear a lot I agree with on the technology side of things. Latency sucks, and if you’re trying to create the illusion of actually being in the room with a group of people, it can’t take seconds for their avatar to respond to real life actions. Expanding on this even more, you also lose important bits of immersion anytime something happens where people have to wait a long time for something, or are forced to watch a loading screen. A study done by Akamai 8 years ago showed that 28% of shoppers would leave a retail web site that took longer than 4 seconds to load [1]. In 2009 a similar study was run on behalf of Akamai, and found that forty-seven percent of visitors expected to wait no more than two seconds for a web page to load[2]. A 3d scene is far more complex than a web page, but if we’re going to try to attract mainstream attention, people aren’t going to be any more forgiving. A user should be able to enter and begin streaming the scene right away without having to wait 40 seconds or more for it to be processed.  Latency and long delays must be mitigated.

Spatial relations are important. I believe a seamless interconnected virtual universe is key to a true immersive experience. I love the InWorldz mainland and ocean connections as well as the various large masses of private regions grouped together. You can travel to a huge landmass by walking, or flying, or via land, sea, and air vehicles and only hit a wall after crossing straight through dozens of regions. This allows people to come together and form large communities of interconnected continents that can become part of a much larger story than any one person could possibly dream up. For believable immersion, I believe you must have a choice between being “linked” to your friend’s virtual land, and walking there by having him set up close to you. I fell in love with virtual worlds because I could walk a huge continent and explore. This is so important to me that the future loading and sharding strategies I have dreamt up take care of this in their design. All I need is the time and resources to get them developed and showcased.

3d virtual worlds should not be billed as a replacement for people’s real lives. This is counterproductive to their uptake and gives a false light on what many of us really hope to accomplish, which is augmentation, not replacement. For example, I believe InShape will augment the exercise routines of its users. It is not intended to replace their routines, but rather to make them more fun. It is a shame that the name of one of the most popular virtual worlds seemed to imply life replacement rather than life enhancement. The name issue alone may have resulted in a lower number of people interested in virtual worlds that may have been otherwise. Virtual worlds allow you to connect with your friends all over the world when the distance from them, or other circumstances in your real life may make that impossible.

Openness has been an important topic as well. I have been reading way too much confusion between the openness of the protocols behind internet and web technology and universal identity. In the OpenSim landscape, any grid that does not currently implement hypergrid is considered a “walled garden grid”, and negative parallels are drawn between this and AOL before the explosion of the world wide web. This is creating a lot of tension and tribalism in a space that right now simply needs to grow and add users before it can successfully support arguments of this philosophical magnitude without fragmenting into an unworkable mess.

The first problem with comparing hypergrid to the world wide web is that hyperlinks on the web do not necessarily get you access to the content of web sites. In fact, many of the most popular sites on the web including facebook, twitter, and others require you to sign up in order to access and interact with the vast amount of content they contain. They are essentially walled gardens connected to each other by hyperlinks where eventually to get where you want to go you will be asked to log in. This hasn’t prevented the web from achieving explosive growth, nor has it stifled innovation. People still have a clear choice of what sites they want to sign up for and they don’t have to continuously log into their favorites because cookies are used to remember who they are for a while. They just click and go. The parallel to this would be not having to close the viewer to log into a new grid. You would just pick the change grid option, or type its login URI, and go.

The second problem with comparing the hypergrid to the standards of the web is that hypergrid is at its core a universal identity service akin to OpenID. It lets you sign up one place and log into any others that support the protocol. The web as it stands today lacks a ubiquitous universal ID system so there is really no comparison. Even if it had one, virtual worlds contain resources that do not map to anything comparable on the web. Carrying your inventory with you seamlessly between grids would be like automatically carrying your linkedin contacts with you when you log into facebook, or carrying your youtube videos with you to vimeo. The closest thing we have to a universal identity service is dominated by the facebook “walled garden” and it’s called OAuth.

Ebbe Altberg said something similar at VWBPE2014:

So that is where I sort-of lean in terms of priorities: make it much, much easier to use in advance of focusing on the metaverse or interconnection. Even the web today is not really interconnected; you don’t take your identity from one place to the other, and the Internet works quite well without that, and so it’s not a top priority for me. It’s not that I disagree with it, it’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just a matter of priority for me.

Finally, the comparison of a grid not implementing hypergrid to the old AOL is laughable, and I think at times designed to be intentionally inflammatory. The biggest killer of the AOL walled garden was that they charged a monthly fee for users to access their content. When news, search, and other content that AOL offered started becoming easy to access from outside of the AOL client, AOL lost its grip on subscribers that now had access to free content and no longer needed the pay for organized content services that AOL offered. The vast majority of opensim grids are free to sign up and explore for as long as you want, no payment necessary, so the “AOL” parallel is completely invalid. Having to log into separate grids is not much different than the way we have to log into successful websites today, except we don’t have to close the browser.

I think there are far too many people out there willing to make wild predictions with questionable parallels to past events than is healthy for the virtual reality community. Hypergrid is awesome connectivity tech, but using or not using it doesn’t say anything at all definitive about a grid or its potential. Concentrate on building the future and it will go where it is going to go all by itself. It’s a matter of priority. Let’s get the tech right!

4 thoughts on “Virtual world thoughts

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    1. It means that just as with any other available technology we’ll weigh the pros and cons, determine where it fits with the best interests our our residents in mind, figure out where it fits into our schedule, and make the best determination we can on implementation. Decisions like this are best made in a rational manner where all sides of a decision are discussed with our residents so there are no surprises.

  1. The term “walled garden” has always been (imo) a biased reference. I’ve been sucked into using it myself… but it’s difficult to consider something “walled” that has free and open access at the simple step of registering and entering a password. One is free to come and go as pleased, build, create, store inventory, attend events, interact. How is that “walled”? Tranq’s post is right on the button and his statements regarding hypergrid spin is true. Hypergrid is fine. It has a purpose. Unfortunately part of that purpose is to try and point to non-hypergrid systems as somehow undesirable. This is simply not true– as seen by the success of Inworldz (which has a more active population than the next 5 grids combined… including OSgrid).

    Inworldz is an OPEN grid that requires registration, just like every VR grid. That it doesn’t instantly connect to other grids is irrelevant; it is not alone in this. I don’t feel any need or priority to travel to other grids. I could visit and totally explore three regions a day on Inworldz and need a YEAR to complete the trip. I would hope that VR has not so totally taken over one’s life that they require more than that. The main point Tranq makes is the point: the time now should be used to promote VR, not segregate it by attitude. The only thing really “closed” is one’s mind. That can be opened by personal decision. : )

  2. Facebook is so popular because it extends and “enhances” real life social interaction. I watch my daughter come out of school, chatting as she walks home with her friends, then switching seamlessly to texting as their paths diverge, and then logging in (while still texting) to meet them on Facebook or another social network. This is not a series of separate activities for their generation, it is simply technology extending and improving existing activity. Just as I believe that “augmented reality” projects like Google Glass will ultimately find a much bigger market than “virtual reality” headsets will, so I believe that virtual worlds that drive towards “augmenting” real life will find much bigger audiences (and arguably improve “quality of life”) far more than those that just want to be better at being virtual. And quite honestly I want to be part of it 🙂

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