Archive for the 'MMORPG' Category

The Next Big Thing

October 23, 2006

With all the recent excitement about Second Life’s 1,000,000th “resident,” the buzz over the emergence of the 3D web is getting louder by the minute. Economist and columnist Patrick Cox compares the current state of the art to the early days of the World Wide Web, drawing parallels between the catalyzing effects of Netscape and new 3D virtual world technologies such as the Multiverse Network — a startup founded, perhaps not coincidentally, by Bill Turpin, one of the minds behind Netscape itself:

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. Called Multiverse, the company includes the same portentous entrepreneur noted above: Bill Turpin. His team includes Netscape veterans known throughout Silicon Valley, if not the world at large: Rafhael Cedeno and Robin McCollum, who built critical Netscape server technology still in use today, and co-creators of RSS; Jeff Weinstein, who coded the world-changing SSL; and Corey Bridges, Navigator product manager who then went on to launch companies like Netflix and Zone Labs. On the entertainment side, ex-physics major and film director/producer James Cameron, of Terminator and Titanic fame, has thrown his lot in with Multiverse, joining its board of advisors.

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. (TCSDaily)

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Commercial Gold Rush in Second Life

October 19, 2006

A critical mass seems to have been reached over the past six months with regards to the popular online 3D social networking platform, Second Life. Having passed through the initial word of mouth/blogosphere zone, the SL meme now makes regular appearances in mainstream magazines and newspapers from Wired to The Guardian. All this attention has solidified the virtual world’s place at the forefront of what SL “residents” sometimes refer to as “the 3D web.” In what might be the most impressive stamp of approval to date, the Reuters news agency has gone so far as to set up a bureau inside the game. As Richard Siklos notes in today’s New York Times, a mini gold rush is on amongst large media companies to establish themselves within Linden’s virtual economy:

…now, the budding fake world is not only attracting a lot more people, it is taking on a real world twist: big business interests are intruding on digital utopia. The Second Life online service is fast becoming a three-dimensional test bed for corporate marketers, including Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Sun Microsystems, Nissan, Adidas/Reebok, Toyota and Starwood Hotels.

The sudden rush of real companies into so-called virtual worlds mirrors the evolution of the Internet itself, which moved beyond an educational and research network in the 1990’s to become a commercial proposition — but not without complaints from some quarters that the medium’s purity would be lost. (New York Times)

See also my earlier posts, Realtime Performance in Second Life, and Second Life: First Impressions.

Confessions of a recovered MMO addict

October 18, 2006

The compulsive and open-ended treasure-hunting gameplay of World of Warcraft can destroy lives as efficiently as heroin. This account by an anonymous survivor is particularly harrowing:

First off, let’s go back to the time it takes to accomplish anything in the game. To really be successful, you need to at least invest 12 hours a week, and that is bare minimum. From a leadership perspective, that 12 hours would be laughed at. That’s the guy who comes unprepared to raid and has to leave half way through because he has work in the morning or is going out or some other thing that shows “lack of commitment”. To the extreme there is the guildie who is always on and ready to help. The “good guildie” who plays about 10 hours a day and seven days a week. Yes, that’s almost two full-time jobs. (The View From The Top)

Realtime performance in Second Life

September 19, 2006

Adam Nash presents some interesting insights into the notion of live performance in MMOs on his blog, Adam Nash – Realtime Art Engines – Research Blog:

This overview/review of live performance in Second Life is worth a read. I have very mixed emotions about this whole thing. On one hand, I’m very glad that the MMO space is being seen as a legitimate space for performance. On the other hand, I’m extremely frustrated that people only seem, so far, interested in recreating a real-life live music situation. They model an acoustic guitar, a grand piano, etc. That’s fine, but as somebody who’s been trying to use the native performative qualities of virtual 3d space for a long time now, it drives me nuts that performers are not doing that. Really, what is the point of modeling up a real-life-style singer/songwriter club gig when the performer’s fingers are not actually strumming the strings (if the strings are even there), and their face is not moving in any way related to the performance itself? (Adam Nash)

UPDATE: More on this here.

Chinese Gold Farmers Documentary

September 13, 2006

Ge Jin, a PhD student at the UCSD Department of Communication, is working on a documentary about “Chinese gold farmers” — MMORPG players who gather treasure and experience in virtual worlds to sell via eBay. A trailer for the video is available online here.

Tietou went from Shanghai to Amherst College in the US to study computer engineering in 1999. However, he felt very alienated in the US and spent most of his days playing online games in his dorm, often trading virtual assets on Ebay. One day in 2002 he suddenly realized that he could use cheap Chinese labor to produce virtual assets, so he quit college and came back to China to establish gold farms. Although he was very successful at the beginning, now his gold farms have collapsed because of the fierce competition in this business… (chinesegoldfarmers.com)

Nick Yee, founder of the Daedalus Project, a major series of surveys and statistics about virtual worlds and online gaming, comments on the video in a Terra Nova post entitled, “Disembodiment, Hypermobility and Labor:”

In watching the video, I am most struck by the intertwined empowerment/disempowerment that is occurring simultaneously for these Chinese workers. Their lives in these virtual worlds are brighter, but yet their interactions with American players (and associated slurs) are a constant reminder of their inferior socio-economic status. The disembodied hypermobility granted by these virtual worlds is, to a certain extent, dispelled when they are labeled as “Chinese gold farmers”. For them, it is a double-edged sword. (Terra Nova)

…to which Ge Jin himself adds a handful of evocative questions:

Is the gold farmer phenomenon a step (probably not the first) in creating productivity out of pleasure? A parallel example is how the military uses immersive games to prepare soldiers for war.

If we get rid of real money trade in the game world, the American gamers will have pure immersion and a level playing field. But many Chinese gamers will lose access to a place that compensate many things they don’t have in real lives, because they depend on real money trade to afford gaming facilities. If we consider the virtual world a public space, can we take into account the issue of “access”? (Terra Nova)

Second Life – First Impressions

August 17, 2006

Sometimes I like to pretend that I don’t have a million unfinished projects that need my attention. It’s during times like this that I think up new ideas, thus perpetuating the cycle of incompletion. I’ve been interested in machinima for a long time now, and I’d heard that the MMORPG Second Life was a promising platform for this new type of filmmaking/animation. So during one of those moments where I was pretending I had nothing more pressing to attend to, I downloaded the Second Life (or SL for short) client, signed up for a free starter account, and started exploring.

I didn’t know what to expect. The idea of a persistent online “mirror-world”, complete with its own internal economy, political system and geography, has been around for a while, but each implementation I’ve seen has been somewhat underwhelming. Popular MMORPGs like World of Warcraft have always struck me as being, well, a little boring — run across the mountains, collect an item, bring it back to a specific place to collect a reward, etc. Such classical adventure-based MMORPGs are only as interesting as their individual adventures, and the social and creative aspect seems to always take a back seat to the sword and sorcery stuff. Second Life is very much the opposite. There are almost no built-in “adventures” or game narratives; everything that happens in the virtual world is created by its participants. As one might expect, much of what happens consequently has to do with sex.

My first experience took place while I was reinstalling the operating system on my Mac. To while away the minutes, I put the SL client on my laptop and started flying around. A few minutes later, Stephanie joined me, and once Tiger was on the Mac, we put SL on there, too, and flew around together (everyone can fly in the SL world). Here’s some of what we saw:

  • A woman building a small chapel for her upcoming wedding. I asked her how long she’d been engaged, and she said only a month (and that even included a recent breakup). She told us she and her virtual lover hadn’t yet met in “RL” (real life). “Hopefully someday,” she said through the text-messaging client. “A lot of marriages in SL work out in RL, too,” she added. We wanted to ask more questions, but her sister appeared and they needed to talk details about the design for the wedding dress.
  • An amorous couple engaged in various sex acts. These two had customized their avatars to look like porn stars, complete with huge boobs on the woman and a giant erection on the man. They had sex right in front of us, and seemed to like the company. “Looks like we have an audience,” the man said as he entered his partner from behind.
  • Several more amorous couples, some of whom did not appreciate our voyeurism.
  • A group of furries, all dressed as horses, gathered in a barn on the outskirts of a more populated area. They were all standing still, staring up at the barn wall. I looked at what they were staring at. It was a slide show of line-art anthropomorphic horse porn. I watched for a few minutes as the group’s leader clicked through the slides. “Wow, that’s hot,” said one. “I’ve already got that one,” said another. It was disturbing but intriguing.
  • A friendly avatar took us to a park for a ride down a river on inner-tubes. We chatted with him as we floated down the river. He said he was from Tucson and introduced us to his friend (perhaps his girlfriend, we weren’t sure), who said she was from Pittsburgh. She later took us back to her private garden where we danced for a while to some 80s pop music. It was a relaxing end to the day.

Perhaps the most exciting thing I discovered while in Second Life was what it offers to filmmakers who want to experiment with machinima. The number of potential sets is basically endless, and there seems to be no shortage of people who could be employed as virtual actors and technicians. And the best part is, you could pay them all scale with virtual cash — “Linden dollars” — which currently exchange at a rate of about 250 game dollars to 1 US dollar.