Virtual Worlds: The Next Big Thing Or Next Big Nothing? - InformationWeek

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Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
1/22/2007
01:49 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
Commentary
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Virtual Worlds: The Next Big Thing Or Next Big Nothing?

Are virtual world and online games like World of Warcraft and Second Life what the Internet will look like in coming years? A few people I've been talking to recently think so, including Corey Bridges, co-founder of Multiverse Network, whom I interviewed Friday afternoon for an article on virtual worlds. A generation of young people is growing up hacking and slashing their way through virtual worlds -- that's literally true in the case of World of Warcraft -- and they're going to expect a 3-D

Are virtual world and online games like World of Warcraft and Second Life what the Internet will look like in coming years? A few people I've been talking to recently think so, including Corey Bridges, co-founder of Multiverse Network, whom I interviewed Friday afternoon for an article on virtual worlds. A generation of young people is growing up hacking and slashing their way through virtual worlds -- that's literally true in the case of World of Warcraft -- and they're going to expect a 3-D, virtual world interface for the rest of their online interaction.

It's a compelling argument, because 3-D interfaces are just plain cool. And we're finally getting the horsepower to implement them, in the new generation of graphics cards, and high-bandwidth Internet connections to everywhere. Microsoft's Windows Vista has Aero, a 3-D interface, built in.

For a computing revolution to catch fire, it needs a "killer app." This is a nifty marketing term, referring to an application which is so compelling, it requires people to implement that technology. The Internet had several killer apps. E-mail was the first -- it's like faxing, only you don't need a fax machine! The Web enabled businesses to cut down on the cost of exchanging information by eliminating documents. And instant messaging was like e-mail, but instantaneous.

So what's the killer app for virtual world? I'm not seeing that clearly. Gaming is great fun for a lot of people. Yeah? So? Minesweeper was a lot of fun ,too, but it wasn't exactly the killer app for Windows.

And virtual worlds have been tried before -- it's one of those ideas that pop up every few years in computing, but then fails to get anywhere. I got enthusiastic about VRML about 10 years ago. Do me a favor, don't read the articles I wrote about it.

Bridges' company, Multiverse, hopes to be the Netscape of virtual worlds, providing tools for developers to create virtual worlds, and for users to navigate them. But the company also hopes to avoid the pitfalls that destroyed Netscape. Bridges and several of his colleagues were early, pre-IPO employees of Netscape.

Multiverse's vision may sound crazy, but, then again, crazy business plans have been pretty good to Bridges. Prior to Multiverse, he worked at Zone Alarm (a firewall for a PC? What a crazy idea!). He also was employee number eight at Netflix (DVDs by e-mail? What a crazy idea!).

Bridges is a passionate and articluate evangelist for virtual worlds. We talked for two hours Friday, and we could have gone longer but I had a commitment which could not be fulfilled in a virtual world -- I had to pick up my brother at the airport. I look forward to telling you what he had to say in the next couple of weeks.

By the way, I stumbled over Bridges more or less by luck. I wanted to interview at least one emerging company in virtual world. I had nothing to to distinguish among the emerging players, so I picked Multiverse, simply because I knew they are developing a game based on one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Firefly.

So what do you think? Are virtual worlds the future of computing? Or are they just a fad? Leave a message below and let me know.

Also, if you spend a lot of time in virtual worlds -- if you're a Second Life or World of Warcraft addict -- or if virtual worlds are your business, and you're willing to educate me about 'em, leave a comment below, or send me an e-mail. Be sure and leave your contact info so I can get a hold of you.

While you're doing that, I'm going to be learning more about virtual worlds by doing. I haven't had any experience with virtual worlds in literally a decade, not since I fooled around with some of that VRML stuff in the mid-90s. So, to educate myself, I'll be playing around with Second Life and World of Warcraft today. My job is torture, I tell you, just torture.

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