The Department of Homeland Security was an early adopter
of virtual tech in Second Life, and NASA continues to be a dominant
presence in the Metaverse. But now the Army is doing what it does best:
dumping a whole bunch of money into virtual worlds.
There's only one problem: Second Life may not reap the benefits of the latest cash drop.
The Federal Virtual Worlds Challenge seeks to develop virtual arenas to
advance "The ability to explore the global collaboration concept as a
procurement strategy for future training and analysis needs," according
to the FVWC website.
Also on the agenda? "An opportunity to explore
possibilities for using virtual worlds that have not, and may not
have ever been considered by the Government."
In short: Find us some uses for virtual worlds that mix nicely with
our real-world goals. The only real requirement is that the virtual
world used for construction of Army facilities be "free" and "open" – code for Second Life. How do I know? Here's a clip from the official FAQ:
Q: What if I don't have a place to develop my submittal?
A: We have an area is Second Life set up as a sandbox. The location is – http://slurl.com/secondlife/VADER/118/102/29
It's change you can believe in.
In a change-up for stodgy government suits everywhere, the Army is happy to consider applicants under 18 years old so
long as their parents sign a release. We could see an army of teenagers
developing state-of-the-art virtual visitors centers and training
facilities for American military institutions. There's just one problem…
The Bait and Switch
Here's the problem: Second Life isn't a terribly secure world, as we saw in 2006 when the program was hacked and user information compromised. NATO's flatly declined Second Life's bid to be the home of its virtual office due to security and adaptability issues, opting instead for the Nexus platform. The Army will likely have similar needs.
If Dusan Writer is right about what the Army needs in a virtual world, Blue Mars might be a better development platform:
Second Life had a few things running against it, chief among them the
licensing restrictions of the platform, the inability to import mesh
objects from external 3D modeling programs, and clumsy ways of
integrating external desktop programs like PowerPoint or Acrobat
If the Army opts to deal with another developer instead of Second Life – don't let the sandbox get your hopes up – the lack of industry standard development tools and security issues may well be the reason. Submissions are due by mid-November, with a final decision due March 2010.