Sunday, May 04, 2008

Touch the virtual

I have a new word for everyone Realtuality.....

Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) and virtual worlds, such as Second Life, "EVE Online," Habbo, MapleStory and "World of Warcraft" are the next step in "network intermediated" social and economic interactions according to Andrew Burger at Linux insider.

But he missed a significant element. They are now combined with the Nintendo's Wii. Wii adds a physical element.

These developments are easy to dismiss and put into the PR no go area of Games.

As you may know, this has never been my view. Games are a form of communication and online games now allow players to interact with millions of other players round the world.

But the Wii is different. The players can interact, not only in the virtual world but in a mashup between the virtual and real dimensions.

A movement using the Wii from Stonehenge can be transferred to a movement on a screen in San Francisco and in real time and in the existing, simulated or game graphic renderings or virtual world.

David Stone, an MIT research fellow claims the motion-sensitive controller is "one of the most significant technology breakthroughs in the history of computer science." He offers the Wiimote as a key to building realistic training simulators in Second Life.

Add to the Wii and virtual worlds a huge mass collaborative development effort and you get where I am coming from.

Take Nancy Smith, president of the Sims label, who says Sims attracts creative people of all ages and both genders and have a track record of 4.5 million players visiting the Sims site monthly, and 70m downloads of player-created content including user created avatars and environments.

These are pretty big numbers and pretty active communities and they are not alone.

Corporate investment in post 2000 technologiesis already interesting. Disney bought Club Penguin for $700 million in 2007 and has at least nine more developments in train.

A study by Virtual Worlds Management, a Texas-based research company identified $184.2 million this year pouring into companies that run virtual worlds.

You can bet these will be very different and will need to include Realtuality, with its physical dimension to compete.

Intel add fuel to the flames. It say that the next generation Wii will not need controllers. Camera technology and sensors will mean they are obsolete.

The pent-up capability to create applications, the technical advances and money is now converging. The breakthrough cannot be far off.

Virtual offices, virtual homes, virtual friends and all interacting with real offices, real sports, real homes and real people stretches the imagination and yet is not far off.

Does this mean that the press conference is acted out by real people in virtual worlds or virtual people in real environments. Yes to both.

Does this mean the end of the travelling salesman, yes it does, and is supermarket shopping now a case of really walking but down virtual aisles, yes it does.

But these are pretty ordinary transmogrifications. What happens when we mashup email, twitter, VoiP and that old fashioned place of record, the website and add people being both themselves and their alter egos in dynamic activities in dynamic environments and physically involved too. Now add millions of people doing all this in full-on creative mode.

Well... Facebook is, by comparison, dull. Even the announcement by Peekaboo Pole Dancing, the company behind the Carmen Electra pole dancing kit, that they seek a partner to license a pole dancing game for the Wii is tame.

Development of new markets, new inventions and new societies already happens all the time in microcosm in these emeging worlds and at a pace that makes following twitter seem sluggish. But as these people bridge the gap to what our generation believes is mainstream, the effect will be astonishing.

Building relationships between organisations and their publics in existing games has a very new dimension and is culturally very different. Second life using a Wii is different again and adding big bucks investment and open tools and open source to both is a daunting prospect.

And what is going to drive this revolution?

I think fun and sex. These environments are novel and fun and they open up whole new opportunities for romantic interaction.

Millions, of people using open tools and open software backed up with significant investment by business angels will begin to deliver products that make the exponential growth of YouTube look sluggish.

The commitment to life in these environments will drag people from television, the cinema and night clubs to the next mashup generation beyond today's Wii and big home screens, games and virtual worlds.

The first shops in these environments will soon become the biggest mall anyone ever walked down.

Today, we think we are cool with our corporate blogs, wiki's podcasts and social media involvement but perhaps we should now begin to think of the next digital generation.