Thursday, November 27, 2008

Real Virtual Worlds SOS (State of Standards) Q3-2008

In the latest issue of the Journal of Virtual Worlds I had the opportunity to capture the essence of our work on standards for virtual worlds, why they are so important, and how we are going about it.

The purpose of this think piece is to call for inputs for an emerging worldwide effort to develop standards for virtual worlds. Such inputs will go into the build up of MPEG-V (Moving Picture Experts Group Virtual Worlds Standard) in the next three years. The MPEG group is part of the International Standards Organization (ISO). (This is a short summary of a presentation I gave in the Virtual Worlds London conference in October, 2008).

The entire paper is here.

Here are my assumptions from the paper:

1. Virtual worlds are destined to become big, in the sense of meaningful, influential, and making money for various current and new players. Every aspect of our lives will be affected by virtual worlds. Virtual worlds are not only going to be part of our lives, they are going to enhance, improve, and better our quality of life. Much like the Internet, virtual worlds will allow us to do “older” things more effectively, and do other things anew.

2. Real virtual worlds are defined as an integration of four factors: 3D view of the world, community, creation, and commerce (3D3C). The more we have in these factors the closer we get to real virtual worlds. In that sense IMVU, Second Life, and Entropia are more real virtual worlds than Club Penguin, World of Warcraft, and SIMS online.

3. Standards, as a concept and mechanism, are often misunderstood. People often link standards with competing concepts: open and free on one hand, propriety patents and limitation of creativity on the other hand. Like many other human constructs, standards are not inherently good or bad – it is what you do with standards that gives them value, be it good or bad. (see my model for standards).

4. Currently the virtual worlds industry operates more like the computer gaming industry than the Internet industry. Each developer, be it private (e.g., Linden, Forterra) or an open source (e.g., Sun Darkstar, OpenSim) is developing its own server, client, and rules of engagement. The inherent rationale of these efforts is a combination of “we know best” and “we will conquer the world.” While this may be the case (see Microsoft Windows, Apple iPod, or Google Search), the common public good calls for a connected system like the Internet where different forces can innovate in particular spots of the value chain.

5. On a personal note: I have a specific take on this work that should be disclosed. I am part of the EU based Metaverse1 project. It is a consortium of 35 organizations mostly based in Europe to set “Global standards between real and virtual worlds.” This work will feed into the previously mentioned MPEG-V effort. Having said that, the efforts to develop standards for virtual worlds are just starting. It will take time. At this point, we are defining the path. We have a long way to go.

The entire paper is here.