Defining the future of virtual worlds is difficult when clear guidelines for what they are and what they can do have not really been established -- hence, the formation of the Virtual Worlds Roadmap Special Interest group
, which plans to have its first formal workshop next month in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The group, which is formed by high-placed members from a variety of technology companies, aims to meaningfully define what is required from virtual worlds in a variety of social and technological contexts, hoping to grow the nascent space beyond just a group of children's online hangouts (like Habbo Hotel
) and game-related MMO applications (such as World of Warcraft
In a Worlds in Motion Summit session at Austin GDC named 'The Future of the Metaverse', The Electric Sheep Company CEO Sibley Verbeck summed it up: "the vision for virtual worlds is much broader than games."
Though no truly 'mainstream' virtual world applications have yet debuted, Samsung Electronics technology vice president Victoria Coleman explained that her "personal frustration, and I think all of us share that, is that we see a huge potential in virtual worlds and we so many people not getting it, somehow. Somehow we have not found, yet, that vocabulary to make it clear to the wider community."
One major goal of the SIG is to develop a casebook, hoping to move forward by defining why past virtual world attempts failed to hit the mark. The group is platform-agnostic, and aims to deal with information that has multiple applications and can be propagated across many development platforms.
The group intends to produce a slate of documentation, in a process that will begin to take shape at a forthcoming Virtual Worlds Roadmap workshop on October 14, 2008, in the San Francisco Bay Area (final location TBD).
This includes an executive summary which delineates the future uses of virtual worlds, case studies which show where virtual worlds have been so, far and a specification document which will incorporate statistics like performance benchmarks and technical characteristics and can provide a future vision of virtual world technology.
The SIG will form subgroups for individual sectors (e.g. medicine) that need to be addressed. There are no planned fees to attend the group's workshops and meetings, except to cover the costs of the events.
Discussion of the project, by its nature, led to the panel trying to define the very nature of the virtual world concept, and the key issues that they see as relevant to the SIG's efforts.
Verbeck provided a standard definition: "We have some general sense of character-based, multiperson simulated environments," he said. The game industry may have forged ahead with MMOs, but the strength of virtual worlds lies in the fact that "people can feel they are together."
"Any time a new communication becomes available and becomes mass adopted, the world changes, for better or for worse, and I'm excited to be a part of that."
When it comes to tech, Intel principal engineer Mic Bowman said, "The whole idea of the Virtual World Roadmap is to create a set of common usage models that we all understand, that has the potential to lead back to some core technologies. The question we asked is, 'What are the common building blocks? What are the pieces that are required consistently?' Everyone builds their own so it's hard to understand."
One of Coleman's comments summed up the need for the SIG. "The purpose of this Roadmap is to reach out to many different constituencies that need to come together to make this happen." If you're interested in participating, more information can be found at the SIG's official webite, virtualworldsroadmap.org