One of the major impediments to
widespread use of virtual worlds is standardization. I like to think of
the hundreds of virtual worlds out there as early Italy – a dozen
little empires going about their business more or less independently.
What the virtual world needs is unification, one avatar to rule them all.
As several sources have
been reporting, the desire for one unified avatar is growing, and
worlds interested in capturing e-commerce may find they have no choice.
The age of the persistent avatar may be closer than we think.
Attached to Avatars
Hamlet Au of New World Notes had an interesting chart on his blog the other day: According to a Rez Magazine survey, almost 30% of new Second Life residents chose their Second Life name based on the names of avatars they'd played in other worlds. They formed a connection with the character in another place, and (I suspect), want to keep those fun times in mind as they enter into a new world.
Interest in creating a persistent avatar for cross-world virtual play remains high, both for reasons of ease in registration and for maintaining the personal connection with – and reputation of – the player's avatar.
A top-ranked World of Warcraft player is known by her avatar, but none of that respect follows over to EVE Online if the avatar's name is drastically different. Even then, there is no way to show proof that the two players are the same.
Similarly, a Second Life resident like Zak Claxton has a financial interest in keeping his avatar's reputation clean. For some, avatars are a name brand with significant financial appeal. The financial interest, it turns out, isn't restricted to individual entrepreneurs.
Which World Will You Visit Today, Gatsby Crumb?
A great article by MIT's Technology Review outlines why companies are interested in allowing a player to maintain one avatar across multiple worlds. Among the best reasons:
Dan Farr, president and cofounder of DAZ 3D, says that a lot of people
want to move characters not only between worlds, but out of worlds as
well, so that they can illustrate the character in higher resolution
than most virtual worlds allow.
The MogBox would allow users to take
that representation in and out of virtual worlds, he says, and could be
used to give people a consistent avatar designed to suit them.
If a player is linked to his or her avatar across multiple worlds, it then becomes much easier to market highly-targeted items to the avatar. Developers will almost certainly have a record of where the avatar has been previously – and the reputation they left the world with – so players of a certain style will find content marketed directly to their favorite specialization, class, or race.
Linden Lab is leading the way in the discussion towards virtual world interoperability, and any shift towards porting avatars between worlds certainly stands to benefit the Lindens and their sprawling dominance in non-fantasy online environments. Players committed to one virtual world because of the time spent on their avatar would suddenly be able to migrate without impediment.
Progress is slow-going, but the idea of being able to shift content between worlds – and to use industry standard technology from one world to design content that will be used in Second Life – is compelling and should be investigated further.
What do you think? Will virtual worlds eventually become a seamless Metaverse? How far off is the Avatar Singularity?