Could Standardizing Virtual Worlds Turn Off Consumers?

3059934552_c9b5be27d9 One of the major impediments to widespread use of virtual worlds is standardization. What virtual worlds need for mainstream success, the theory goes, is unification across platforms.

One article argues that this means the ability to carry one avatar between worlds.

Pixels and Policy takes a look at why consumers may not stomach the shift.

Hosting Across Realities

From the article:

Australia’s DeepThink Pty Ltd. has launched an OpenSim hosting company, founder Adam Frisby announced today.

The new hosting company — SimHost — is a joint venture between DeepThink and James Stallings, who has been an OSgrid admin for nearly two years, with experience in maintaining and operating OpenSim-based worlds.

Price start at about $50 per region, with a $190 for a dedicated server that can hold up to 16 regions.

In a few words, DeepThink provides the space for virtual worlds while linking them with every other virtual world they host. The prices for monthly upkeep vary by size, anywhere from $25 to $495 a month for "heavy scripting" in a large world – but this is still more reasonable than Second Life's current cost structure for a private island, AND you retain access to every other business world hosted by DeepThink.

Of course, with Second Life you're paying for the premium of over 600,000 active accounts. Opening a region with DeepThink entails starting from scratch. But companies are willing to start from scratch, if the buzz surrounding Second Life Enterprise is any indication.

Carrying one business avatar across worlds remains a long-term goal of developers, though reader response to our piece encouraging one cross-world avatar was markedly less enthusiastic. The deeper we looked, though, the more we found that tepid consumer support was just the first of several major pitfalls to world standardization.

Reader opinion remained consistent that maintaining one persistent avatar cut down on the fun of character development and experience in a virtual world, and risked creating too much of a "corporatist" feel across the Metaverse. Lalo Telling authored a wonderful post outlining her concerns about moving through the virtual world with only one skin.

Players suspicious of the monetization of virtual environments into little more than corporate-backed shops feel the resulting single avatar would unfairly restrict creativity and world enjoyment.But what about the benefits of having one's real life linked to one avatar? As it turns out, there isn't much consumer call for that, either.

Avatars allow for anonymity and unrestricted creation. A player can be anyone they choose to be, though character creation tends to conform to both societal gender norms and racial preferences. Linking the choices made by an avatar to a real-world user opens up not only privacy concerns, but identity theft issues.

These are serious development issues, and world developers would do well to consider them carefully before moving down a path not supported by their player base.

2 thoughts on “Could Standardizing Virtual Worlds Turn Off Consumers?”

  1. Neither Second Life Enterprise nor SimHost are targeting consumers. Both are going after enteprise customers using their virtual worlds for training, collaboration, meetings, and other behind-the-firewall type of applications.
    Being able to teleport an avatar between worlds in this context is pretty important — or will become important. Say, for example, the sales department has a virtual world for its customers to visit. And the HR department has a virtual world for in-house training. A sales guy would want to have a single avatar that is linked to their corporate identity to use in both these settings. And if they pick up some useful materials in the training session they’ll want to be able to bring them along to client meetings.
    Then, if the customer has their own world as well, the sales guy will want to be able to teleport there — and bring his PowerPoint presentation with him and any other supporting materials. (I’m talking business customers here, not retail customers.)
    For gaming, of course, you’ll need a separate account — and corresponding avatar — for most immersive games. For a casual, pick-it-up on the fly game, however, you won’t want to go through the hassle of creating a new avatar. On the Internet, this is equivalent to those sites that allow you to play BounceOut or whatever without registering first — you’re in and you’re out in minutes, perfect for killing time between meetings. We already have this in Second Life — users can teleport in to a region, play a game there, and then go back to work (if they’re working in Second Life) without having to create new avatars. (They might want to change clothes, though, depending on the kind of games they’re playing!)
    Not all games require the commitment that creating a new avatar entails.
    — Maria Korolov
    Editor, Hypergrid Business

  2. While I greatly admire Ms. Korolov’s work on Hypergrid Business, I have a slightly more “loner” feeling towards transportable avatars. Myself, (and I acknowledge being in the minority in this regard), regard my escapist entertainment as purely escapist. If it were possible to do via legal means of evading age-checks, credit-card log-ins, and other means trying to “monetize me”, I would. While enjoying the convenience a “constant avatar” would give me in comments, blog log-ins, and the like; for my online gaming I prefer the “internet anonymity” that seems to be so out of fashion. (Or at least out of fashion to those who would try to nickel-and-dime me and add me to their mailing lists.) For purely professional meetings, school groups, and etc., I can agree with the article and the above comment.

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