The Future of Virtual Worlds…

Reading Maria Korolov’s feature piece on Philip Rosedale’s keynote speech at the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education conference made me smile a little… After so long a period of Second Life being a ‘walled garden’ and so many other grids seeking to emulate that model, his speech basically endorses what OpenSimulator has been trying to achieve since day one – though it has to be said that this is probably what Second Life was intended to develop into long term. Of course, what was behind this acknowledgement that OpenSimulator is on the right track, is of course that great capitalist catalyst: the profit motive. Philip Rosedale is CEO of High Fidelity, which seeks to develop yet another virtual world platform. Maria states that it is unknown as to whether High Fidelity will be compatible with OpenSimulator, but given Philip Rosedale’s acknolwledgement that it is the OpenSimulator project that has shown the way it would seem to be an act of almost inconceivable stupidity to not make it compatible. Virtual worlds need to work more on solving the compatibility issues, and surely there are already more than enough different, competing, platforms as it is.

For me, the most promising of any of the existing platforms is OpenSim. From day one in Second Life when I created my first avatar there one bored evening in September 2009 I asked myself the question about the supposed 3D Metaverse that Second Life was supposed to herald, only to find that the promise remained unfulfilled, and likely to remain so. I soon discoverd that there were alternatives to Second Life, and that the most promising was the OpenSimulator project – though I didn’t understand that at the time, just that there were other grids out there with Second Life-like qualities. It wasn’t until a while later that I reailised that all these grids were based on one platform, OpenSimulator. Soon after that I discovered that it wasn’t always neccesary to create an account on a particular grid in order to visit – one’s avatar could teleport from one interconnected grid to another, and that it was called Hypergrid. OK, in those early days it was advisable to Hypergrid without hair or shoes, as it was quite likely that those items would be lost in transit, but it worked… kind of.

That there was often little to see, (apart from a seemingly ubiquitous Linda Kellie Mall) and virtually no-one to meet once your avatar had successfully arrived on that newly discovered obscure grid was neither here nor there, (literally!) it proved that the platform had a potential, but for what?

I think the idea that the metaverse will be a platform on which ot make money is seriously flawed – it might make a few people (relatively speaking) a decent living through providing content, or hosting and expertise, (the last being perhaps the most viable) I very much doubt that many will make the obscene levels of cash that were seen in the early, crazy days of Second Life.

Virtual worlds no doubt have a huge potential in the world of education, and I use the term very broadly here. Already a lot of work has gone into developing the platform for educational use, at all levels, and the flexibility of OpenSimulator allows anyone with a modicum of patience to have their own mini grid. However, one of the perceived obstacles to adoption is complexity, but this too must be put in context. In the UK IT teaching ususally comes down to brain dead click & play Microsoft Windows stuff, and as a result hardly anyone knows anything about computers. Anything like a command line results in mass panic, and here we are back to stage one: perceived complaxity. I have nothing against click & play solutions, but I also think it vital that everyone also has a basic understanding of what is happneing ‘under the bonnet’ (‘hood’ for you North American ex colonials :)).

But there is more. Most computer users are using machines that are hardly able to cope with the demands of Second Life/OpenSimulator on Low Graphics, and many users don’t seem to realise that the viewer itself is a major resource hog often way beyond the abilites of many of the machines used to attempt connceting with virtual worlds. Consequently there is a huge diasppointment factor, which surely leads to many visiting virtual worlds once and never returning. Another issue is the sheer complexity of the viewer itself, as well as the fairly steep learning curve of just doing the basics in a virtual world. It’s a recognised issue, and certainly there is a wide acceptance amongst the OpenSimulator community of the need for a browser based viewer that is easy to use. (There is also an equally wide acceptance of the need for a dedicated OpenSimulator viewer that is optimised for OpenSimulator, and not Second Life, but that is a subject for another time). Added to all this is the increasing practice of people using smartphones and tablets to do increasingly more things online, but so far none is really capable of coping with the resource demands of virtual worlds, and it’s my guess that it will remain so for a good long while yet.

High Fidelity will have to cope with all of the forgoing, and unless it is to be a niche application like the very, in my opinion, over-hyped Unity3D (which would completely defeat the object) it will not only have to successfully work on all the kinds of devices that we are increasingly being ‘forced’* to use, but also remain compatible with already existing platforms, and of all of them, only OpenSimulator offers most of what High Fidelity seems to promise. But, even then, to experience the rich, immersive qualites tentativley suggested would requitre significant investment in high end hardware that many people, apart from hard-core gamers, would be willing to invest in.

I have no doubt that Philip Rosedale is sincere in what he hopes for, ater all, we’ve all been here before with what Second Life promised at the beginning – it didn’t deliver, but it did result in people picking up the idea and going long way to realising that dream with OpenSimulator. I wish the High Fidelity project well, (and have, in fact ‘signed up’ to it) but I can’t help thinking, that like OpenSimulator, it’s a bit of a solution looking for a problem.**

Virtual worlds do have a future, and we in the OpenSimulator community are part of that future. Are most of us aware of the lack of people using the platform? I’m quite sure that we are. Are we overly concerned about that? Not really, as primarily it’s not about sociability for us, as we just want to create in peace… and affordably! Many think that all the various OpenSimulator grids are in ‘competition’ with Second Life – they are not, and in reality there can be no direct comparison. I do go on Second Life, but increasingly my time is spent using OpenSimulator, as only there can I create in the way that I wish. I am constantly asked by people in Second Life as to why I don’t do what I do in OpenSimulator there. Most do not seem to understand that even if it were technically possible, (which it isn’t) it would be fiscally impossible. I have up to 22 regions running in OpenSimulator, and to host all those regions in Second Life for a month would cost more that over 13 years of internet access, and I have a premium FTTC connection – that’s how expensive Second Life is. High Fidelity will need to address that accessibility issue as well, if it is to succceed, and this is why the project at least needs to consider being compatiible with OpenSimulator, perhaps being a fork of the software in the way that Aurora Sim is. I’m watching that space, but I’m guessing that High Fidelity will be yet one more platform that is a solution looking for a problem… a problem that, despite dubious graphics and well known shortcomings, (at the present time) OpenSimulator is most likely top be ‘best fit’ as a solution.

*’forced’: I have a smartphone, nothing fancy, (a cheap Android, unlocked bought on ebay) on which I have installed Lumiya – I sometimes use it, but it’s hardly functional. As far as smartphones go, for me, they are a bit of a gimmick, and I can see myself returning to my 1999 vintage mobile phone, which, though far from ‘smart’ is supremely reliable, and the battery lasts a week on standby, and not just a day! Until portable devices have capabilites approaching towards top-end laptops they will, to me, remain largely a gimmick.

** This is very much how I see OpenSimulator and similar projects. I’m of course looking at them in a strictly narrow, busisness sense, and it would seem that the text based web is what works best for that. I personally derive huge pleasure from my use of OpenSimulator, as anyone who knows my work will attest. It’s allowed me a freedom to create and share in ways that I just could not do in the restrictive confines of Second Life. OpenSimulator probably isn’t the best platform available, technically speaking, but, like a Model T Ford, it is accessible, and affordable in a way that all other platforms aren’t. Though it requires a certain level of technical understanding, it isn’t that hard to impart that understanding. I have personally taught complete n00bs in OS Grid, (and Windows users to boot :P) how to have regions up and running in less than 3 hours… amd that was using a strange piece of software running on a machine running a strange operating system… and they hadn’t heard of a command line, either! (I did explain that all this could be run on Windows… but they insisted that they wanted Linux, despite not ever having used it previously!).

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~ by susannahavonside on April 11, 2014.

2 Responses to “The Future of Virtual Worlds…”

  1. HI Susannah, I miss you. I loved your writings here. I hope to see you again. 🙂 Thank you so much for all your help in Virtual Worlds.

  2. Hi Susannah, How are you? I miss you and the worlds. Do you still go there? I see that Speculoos closed that is a shame. You had such a beautiful place there. I miss mine too and too bad I did not know how to save it. Even photos I had were lost when i had to reinstall windows I had no back up of it. I hope all is well with you and your family. I wish you a very Merry Christmas if you celebrate it if not a Happy whatever you do. Drop me a line sometime. I know you write I would love to read some things. Jess Relait or alanahoff@verizon.net. Thanks for all you did for me in worlds I really do appreciate it. 🙂

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