Army Virtual Worlds Challenge May Pass Up Second Life

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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 Setup

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
Reader.

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.

6 thoughts on “Army Virtual Worlds Challenge May Pass Up Second Life”

  1. Good points.
    Just to clarify, Second Life is not a “developer” it’s a platform owned by the company Linden Lab. The Lab is not itself a developer or content, they are the managers of the technology and the owners of the servers that the technology runs on.
    The developer would be some other third-party using the platform for the purposes you mentioned.
    The 2006 argument about data security is a bit dated at this point. LL has been heavily focused on getting enterprise-level applications, including document sharing, working in their platform. But other VWs certainly have more bullet-proof security setups.
    Some online collaboration tools don’t need to have extremely high levels of security, such as demoing of new software or getting public input on new programs. It’s certainly secure enough that existing armed forces that have a presence in SL have been meeting there in the Coalition sim.

  2. I have to agree with you Rikomatic, and rather have the government stay out most things of Virtual Worlds.

  3. (I should have expanded that….)
    In my post I say nothing about security. Security requirements were REMOVED from the RFP and were not the basis for the decision.
    I hypothesized in my post that if NATO made a low-bid selection, then the lack of mesh imports in Second Life may have had an impact on the ability to price competitively, and I made the argument that Second Life needs to address this as well as MediaAPIs in order to be able to compete effectively against Nexus and by extension Forterra and Protosphere.
    I also made note that OpenSim didn’t even make the list of approved platforms. And nowhere have I stated that Blue Mars is a better development platform, although I realize you’re making that connection yourself.
    Much like your post on Henk Rogers, these posts are starting to feel a lot more like they’re written to drive traffic by being provocative rather than thoughtful discussions based on fact which help to shape our understanding of the policy issues and opportunities of virtual worlds.
    Do you even know what Coalition Island is? Have you been in touch with Scott at the Lab? Do you have an idea how large the Army builds are using Nebraska which are securely behind the firewall?
    Don’t mean to be too snarky but did want to set the record straight.

  4. Dusan,
    Thanks for the comment. I thought it was clear from the article that I was making the comment about Blue Mars being am able development platform on the basis of my own research. As far as writing posts merely to drive traffic, that’s just untrue. But I thank you for taking the time to read and critique the piece!

  5. I’m so glad to have discovered this post. I’m just sorry I’m coming in so late in the discussion. I’m Tami Griffith. You could call me the mama of the challenge. Some excellent points are being made here and I’d like to accentuate some of them.
    First, one of the things I love about virtual worlds is that we don’t HAVE to dump a whole bunch of money into them to get a great product. Isn’t that what everyone wants, more efficient Government. I know I do. 😀 First place in each (non Government/Non Government Contractor) category will be $1000, second place is $500, third is $250 and the winners will receive travel accomodations to Orlando for the GameTech conference. Also, there will be a $25,000 award for any submittal deemed to be such a great advancement as to potentially lead to additional future Government investment.
    Another point I liked on this discussion is that Government training does NOT have to be done behind the firewall. There is so much that can be trained publicly. For those things that must be behind the firewall, there are quite a few options for solutions. I’m hoping the submittals will open some Government agencies eyes to what is possible and if additional development is necessary a contract will be negotiated with the developer that will take into consideration the appropriate platform.
    Hopefully developers see this as a great opportunity for free press. Their products will be seen by MANY Government folks who may already be considering the use of virtual worlds. Its a win-win for everyone!
    Thanks!
    Tami

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