A virtual world by any other name?

What do you mean by a "virtual world"? While on the one hand, it is unlikely we can (or even want to) pigeon-hole our virtual world experiences and visions into neat (and irksome) boxes. But on the other hand, it is still useful to calibrate ourselves once in a while. So. What do you mean by a virtual world? What are the basic features you require of a "virtual world" to be one. To get the ball rolling, consider Richard Bartle's delphic words (Designing Virtual Worlds, New Riders Publishing, 2003).

In this context, a world is an environment that its inhabitants regard as being self-contained. It doesn't have to mean an entire planet: It's used in the same sense as "the Roman world" or "the world of high finance."

So what about the virtual part? Not to get too philosophical about it:

Real. That which is.

Imaginary. That which isn't.

Virtual. That which isn't, having the form or effect of that which is.

Virtual worlds are places where the imaginary meets the real.

At TN we seemed to have tampered with the edges of this meaning. For example, we have collectively agreed to limit our virtual worlds to ones with (lots) of human players. Accepting this for discussion here, let me ask:

Now the extra-credit question. If you believe in the "MM" (as in MMORPG) requirement - what about instancing? Take it to an extreme. Is Diablo (Blizzard) on Battlenet a virtual world of 40K players? And what about City of Heroes, what if you logged on one day and everyone was on an (instanced) mission? Would you still believe?


Comments on A virtual world by any other name?:

greglas says:

It's a good question, and a threshold question to thinking about VWs as a discret field. I'll be curious to hear what others say.

Mark Poster, Marie-Laure Ryan and others have played with defining the word "virtual," by you can't get too far by just looking at the two words in the case of VWs -- the term reflects the phenomenon, not vice-versa.

I don't think there's much consensus on the term beyond that. I think we mostly use it here because it seemed to be the most settled term that we were *all* using -- and Richard's book kind of cinched it. (Our original page included all "realms of emergent collective reality" as I think we phrased it) :-)

On our about page, we say that virtual worlds are computer-generated, persistent, immersive, and representational social platforms. Some of that is redundant -- e.g., I think immersion requires representation. But I think that the remaining factors listed there are are essential to limit the VW field to the core issues. Some degree of persistence is key (just so we can rule out Pong), some degree of immersion is key (just so we can rule out chat rooms), and the social dimension is key (just so we can rule out Morrowind). It also captures MUDs.

Of course, while I wouldn't put them in the VW field, I think that thinking about Pong, chat-rooms, and Morrowind will illuminate aspects of VWs.

I think the main split in VWs (and the most interesting split) is between game-like worlds (most all MMORPGs) and the social worlds that Betsy specializes in exploring like There, Second Life, Active Worlds, Habitat, Habbo Hotel, etc.

It's a big cultural split in VWs, just like the MUD/TinyMUD split. And -- caveat that this is crystal ball gazing -- I kind of think the split will persist, but that we'll see the set of social VWs become more prominent as time goes by, just like the social MUDs became more prominent. I think that will happen as txting and chat grow richer -- witness Yahoo! Avatars.

Anyway... -- I'm very curious as to other thoughts out there about what is a virtual world.

Posted Jun 7, 2004 7:19:59 PM | link

Edward Castronova says:

For me terrain is a critical feature. I like the term 'synthetic world': crafted terrain.

However, just lately I've been meditating quite a bit on Tolkien's concept of Secondary Worlds. His focus on immersion and suspension of disbelief is powerful to me, maybe the main thing that attracts me to virtual worlds as a user. But the more I re-read his comments (primarily in 'On Faery Stories'), it seems that Morrowind is the only thing in digital technology that comes close to being a Secondary World, and that any place with more than one real person in it actually cannot be a secondary world at all. It is just an extension of the primary world. In consequence, anyone looking for immersion, fantasy, and the consolations of escape in MMORPGs is ultimately going to be disappointed, leaving the social worlds, which are effectively just extensions of the real world into a different communication space, to rule the VW universe, much as greglas predicts.

Posted Jun 7, 2004 11:24:16 PM | link

Cory Ondrejka says:

I've been using "digital world" in recent writings since "synthetic" has negative connotations. Definition that I used in a recent talk:

A digital world is a place that allow many simultaneous users to experience consistency, persistence, complex player interactions and many forms of player expression.
- Consistency, whether driven by stage magic or simulation, allows players to predict the consequences of their actions
- Persistence means that players’ actions have meaning over longer time periods than their individual sessions
- Complex interactions include communication, combat, and trade
- Players express themselves through creation, player and environmental customization, their behavior in-game (including griefing), and roleplaying, plus activities outside of the game

It was intended to be a fairly inclusive definition.

Posted Jun 7, 2004 11:54:02 PM | link

Tobold says:

I have recently started to play .hack//Infection on the Playstation 2. In this game you play the player of a MMORPG. The computer controls not only the mobs and NPC, but also simulates the "other players", talking about the game and their real lifes. You not only have the opportunity to play inside the MMORPG, but you can also "log out", and read your e-mail or the news on the internet.

A virtual world inside a virtual world. Now that should throw our definition of vw into some disarray.

Posted Jun 8, 2004 1:15:30 AM | link

Luca Girardo says:

I was recently reading a thread about the definition of Virtual World on the "Emerging Communications" blog.
They adapted a definition from William J. Mitchell’s City of Bits that I found quite interesting:
..It is quite broad and describes the “software ‘there’”, which can be one-dimensional, two-dimensional, three-dimensional or even n-dimensional (“a place in an abstract data structure”) (p.22). ..

Posted Jun 8, 2004 1:23:03 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Tobold>I have recently started to play .hack//Infection on the Playstation 2. In this game you play the player of a MMORPG. The computer controls not only the mobs and NPC, but also simulates the "other players", talking about the game and their real lifes.

There was a version of MUD1 written for the Commodore 64 that did this (it was called "MicroMUD"). You played the basic MUD1 as the onlu human player, but other "players" would log in and do stuff while you were playing. Unfortunately, the game took a year longer to develop than it was supposed to (there were only two people working on it) and the market for text adventures crashed in the meantime. I'm not even sure whether it eventually made it to the shops or not.

Richard

Posted Jun 8, 2004 3:04:33 AM | link

magicback says:

Nathan,

I don't have strong opinion or definition for you, but I do have some comments about instancing.

Instancing is just finer way of segregating worlds. If you already have separate parallel servers, does separate parallel dungeons makes a difference?

Moreover, if you are going on an instanced dungeon by yourself, is it not in essence a single player game?

Alternatively, you and your friend are both playing a single-player game worlds like Morrowind, does that distinction matter?

I think the only measure I can use is the intent of the creators and users. Do we create and use the world to be an online chat, a 1-dimensional hack & slash game, or a dynamic world?

VWs have to be 'virtually' a world (using the normal meaning of the world), so if the intent is to create a Secondary World then the result is a Secondary World. Tolken's idea of how Middle Earth was create indicated that this is his way of thought too.

Frank

Posted Jun 8, 2004 3:09:20 AM | link

Luca Girardo says:

Frank wrote: Moreover, if you are going on an instanced dungeon by yourself, is it not in essence a single player game?

Can a single player game become a virtual world? Does a virtual world imply we need multiple human elements or just one? Or none?
Virtual worlds as a mixture of Massively Minimally Multi-player Online game seems to be the future of the next generation of Virtual Worlds: you can choose how much human interaction you want (with the possibility to have near no interaction with other humans if you just use instantiated areas where only the single player has access to it).

Posted Jun 8, 2004 3:22:02 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

It seems that the debate over what to call these things we study is never-ending.

As I say in "Designing Virtual Worlds", we've had this nomenclature problem for decades. Technically speaking, MOOs, MMORPGs, MU*s, PWs etc. are all just MUDs, however there are large segments of players of each of these that regard a "MUD" to be something else (MOO players think that MUDs are combat-oriented, MMORPG players think that MUDs are textual, ...). I'd really have liked to have called these things MUDs in my book, but it would have sent too many people the wrong signals. Besides, I have a conflict of interests over that name, since it glorifies my own position as co-author of the first one.

I therefore wanted a new term for what are properly called MUDs that would be acceptable to all. I knew it would be naive to hope that this would become definitive, but I was hoping that it would have a reasonable lifespan as an umbrella term before people started chipping at the edges. I didn't have any trouble deciding on "virtual"; for me, the main conflict was whether to say "world" or "environment". I eventually chose the former because it was more encompassing: it's easy to see how you could have several environments within a world, but not so easy to see how you could have several worlds within an environment. Also, to me at least, the word "world" seemed to imply some degree of habitation, whereas "environment" didn't.

The same applies for "virtual". "Digital world" and "synthetic world" both sound to me like they would encompass single-player only places such as Morrowind; "virtual world" implies a place having some commonality with the real world (ie. players).

Unfortunately, VW shares an acronym with Volkswagon. Oh well.

It's fair enough if you want to call these things virtual worlds, synthetic environments, MMORPGS, MUDs or anything else, so long as you realise that no matter how persuasive you are the term is going to be challenged, fragmented and assigned to a specific kind of what you see as a general class of objects. Maybe 20 years from now it'll have settled down, but for the moment you're pretty well wasting your breath.

Richard

Posted Jun 8, 2004 3:28:41 AM | link

Tobold says:

>> Maybe 20 years from now it'll have settled down, but for the moment you're pretty well wasting your breath.

Do these terms EVER settle down? Even the much older term RPG hasn't settled down yet. You can still read the same discussion on every message board of every MMORPG whether "role-playing" implies talking only in character or not.

I like the term MMORPG, in spite of it being long, cumbersome, and maybe not totally correct in the "role-playing" part. But the term virtual world is wider, as it encompasse both MMORPG, and the worlds that are not really games, like There and Second Life. Those are more like "massive multiplayer online role-playing toys" MMORPT, a toy being a game without a well-defined goal.

Posted Jun 8, 2004 3:50:10 AM | link

Cory Ondrejka says:

Tobold> a toy being a game without a well-defined goa

Now we can have the "define a game" discussion :-)!

Richard> I'd really have liked to have called these things MUDs in my book

We talked about this at MUD-Dev, how people have "MUD = text" hardwired in their brains.

Posted Jun 8, 2004 7:10:23 AM | link

weasel says:

Well wasn't MUD originally Multi-User Dungeon; 'Dungeon' as in, the original name for the text-based classic, 'Zork'?
As such, I never had much of a problem with: "MUD == text". It always seemed fairly appropriate. My brother however, refuses to use any term other than 'MUD' for what I prefer to lump together as 'persistent worlds'.

'Virtual Worlds' includes a set of spaces that are well beyond my personal level of interest. An internet session of NeverwinterNights meets all the traditional definitions for Virtual World -- but the fact that the space only exists while the handful of preordained players are connected, makes it more akin to a single player space.

It's only when we make a virtual world persist that it becomes more interesting in and of itself IMO, and as such I restrain myself to 'Persistent Worlds'.

My minimal set of requirements for a persistent world:

Persistence
The world is there, even when you are not.

Multiple users
I don't find any sort of lower bound for users necessary to define. A MUD with 40 users is functionally much the same as a MUD with 100 or a commercial, graphical MMORPG with 2000. (link goes to MMORPG acronym/definition rant)

Interactivity
I feel that being a 'world' requires an interface through which users can interact with each other and the world itself. TV/Radio Channels and static web pages are persistent and multi-user; yet their lack of interactivity keeps them from being true 'worlds', imo. Unless of course, you expand their influence to include the interactive spaces where their 'users' interact. But then you've simply managed to locate the interesting world, as seperate from the non-interactive catalyst.

To be honest, I also have a strong bias against any Virtual World with limited interaction. An IRC Channel, a battle.net chat, or a web discussion board (no offense intended) are much less interesting to me - even though they meet my definition. Even though I readily concede that many of the behaviors of the worlds discussed here can be seen in these spaces.

I suppose I could finagle that into: Interactive, Multi-User, Persistant World... but the acronym confusion in this field is starting to be a bigger headache than it's worth. The point of using a field-specific acronyms is to quickly and clearly refer to complex item precisely. Since so few of our acronyms are clear or precise - and as the most popular one cannot be said quickly - I'm not about to toss another one out there. Particularly not another one that conflates such an interesting field with a perennially socially rejected pass-time.

Posted Jun 8, 2004 8:10:11 AM | link

Estariel says:

Would a live-action RPG count?
Its interactive. Its massively multiplayer. Its a persistent world.
Almost all the same issues around game design, ingame economics, PvP, etc apply....

Posted Jun 8, 2004 8:52:41 AM | link

Luca Girardo says:

Richard wrote: I didn't have any trouble deciding on "virtual"; for me, the main conflict was whether to say "world" or "environment". I eventually chose the former because it was more encompassing: it's easy to see how you could have several environments within a world, but not so easy to see how you could have several worlds within an environment.

What about taking it a step further and moving from World to Universe? That would allow having several similar worlds in the same universe, just in a different but parallel time dimension (allowing a simple integration of the “shard concept” too).
The virtual universe would be everything that exists in a one-dimensional, two-dimensional, three-dimensional or even n-dimensional place located in an abstract data structure.
That raises the question if human beings and anything else from the “real universe” could also be part of the virtual universe. Personally I would say no. Real things/beings cannot be part of a virtual universe at the same time no virtual things/beings can be part of the real universe. That seems to contradict the fact that we can participate in virtual worlds, we can trade virtual properties for real currency. But are we really part of the virtual universe when we act with our avatar in the virtual universe? Or the avatar, the “virtual being” is just a representation of a “real being” in the virtual universe?
Assuming “real things” can only exist in virtual universes through a virtual representation and the same being true for “virtual things” in the real universe could be also a first step to clarify the concept of transactions between real and virtual universes. But I suppose that it out of topic. Call it virtual universe, virtual world, MMOG, MMORPG, Mud or … anything else, the name should not hide the fact it is something new and fascinating waiting to be explored. And probably having several names for the same concept shows how complex the concept is and on the other side it is possible to explore the same concept with different approaches and each approach let us discover a different facet.

Posted Jun 8, 2004 8:58:32 AM | link

weasel says:

Estarial>Would a live-action RPG count?
Its interactive. Its massively multiplayer. Its a persistent world

I'd be skeptical of the persistence of a LARP, but it's certainly possible. After all, the things that interest me with regards to persistent virtual worlds can easily be logically achieved in meatspace as well.

With a LARP though, are they truly persistent? Or does the game world enter a point of stasis when everyone 'goes home'? I can see how the world could persist even if a few actors miss a session, but during the time between sessions, isn't it 'on-hold'?

Again, I can see how it could certainly be persistent, but from my admittedly limited experience with LARPs, they don't seem to be. Most seem mechanically similar to a pen-and-paper gaming campaign -- that is, time in the game world is not immutable.

Posted Jun 8, 2004 9:39:15 AM | link

magicback says:

weasel,

Some LARPs are persistent. Most do go on "hold" until the next event. Some keep the passage of time in real-time while other games warp time to fit the gameplay.

LARP maintain persistency and relativity to real-time by using other mediums of gameplay during the regular scheduled events. For example, a session on Neverwinter Nights may be sanctioned as official part of the continum.

MMORPG, like EQ, can also extend outside of the digital realm by having a live action event during a Fan Fest and deemed the event offically part of the game continum and integrate the event into gameplay or story.

So, we can go from Virtual Worlds to Virtual Universes and then maybe back to the old Virtual Reality term.

VR would never be confused with Volkswagon :)

Frank

Posted Jun 8, 2004 9:57:25 AM | link

Alan Stern says:

Luca's post above had me flashing back to some of my favorite concepts, namely (Marvel comic book fans may remember this) the Marvel Multi-verse (multiple Marvel universes connected in some manner - not necessarily parallel) and the Hitchhiker's Guide assertion that mice are only the 3-d projection into our universe (and its inherent limitations) of vast, hyper-dimensional creatures.

I mention these two because they seem (to me at least) like fair analogies to points Luca makes.

I agree with the projection point, that we do not literally exist in VWs (Virtual Worlds, not Volkswagens). Avatars essentially are projections of ourselves into these spaces. I'm not sure I would agree with the opposite, that VW things can be projected back into meatspace. Lacking degrees of corporeality, autonomy and control seems to indicate the opposite, the absence of such a bridge.

As for VW vs. Virtual Universe, for no particular reason I prefer VW. Perhaps because I'm already indoctrinated in the "VW = Virtual World" mannerism. (Or maybe because I just think "VU" would like funny?)

Shards aren't actually connected in the VW-space. Without such a means of movement, they are independent entities and should not be named as anything otherwise. Once a bridge is established between them, perhaps then an encompassing term will be merited. At that time, and in the spirit of the omniscient and omnipotent Stan Lee, I vote for a new term of art - the "Virtual Multi-verse."

One additional question regarding the literal definition of VWs (or whatever we're calling them now): Might we want the definition to include some reference to technology? Every MMORPG or VW that I know of exists because of the internet (or its predeccesor/like/ilk). Should this be reflected in our current understanding of what constitutes a VW?

On a mildly-related tangent, might this be a clue that we should be looking for other modes to accomplish the same end? (i.e. Non-internet-like methods of establishing VWs.) The last seems a little farfetched given our current state of technology but perhaps the day will come when technology has advanced to the point that the VWs can be accessed independently, without additionally needing internet access itself.

Posted Jun 8, 2004 10:29:00 AM | link

Staarkhand says:

I'll avoid being philosophical since I really don't have anything non-sophomoric to add, and just answer the questions.

A virtual world is a freely shared space that everyone chooses to be a part of to play by a similar ruleset. Somehow the idea that I'll see both familar faces and complete random strangers is important to me - you could have a VW of 10 people, but a LAN party isn't a VW.

When I post here I usually say VW to be politically correct although I in fact mean MMORPGs, just because things like TSO, SL, or There have no interest to me outside the academic.

To specifically address Diablo: having been a member of that community for a good amount of time in the past, and as a current member of a community which initially formed in Diablo II, I can say it sure feels like a VW. Hanging out in chat rooms feels just like hanging out at the Britain bank or the gothi in Uppland. You might be there on business, waiting for the action to start, or you could just be standing around people watching and showing off your new gear. The game spaces aren't there when you're not, but they feel like they are since you can go to them whenever you want (you'll fail to notice that they're "random"ly generated after about 2 days of playing). Looking for a good game feels just like looking for a good group. Besides, how do I know that zones in a persistant world actually exist when I'm not there? Maybe I've studied too much quantum physics, but they really strike me as a tree falling in the woods. The important thing is that I can still log on any time of day and sure enough, the "world" is still there, with trading, chatting, people forming groups, spamming, being ignored, complaining about the latest patch, trolling for free gear, or possibly having meaningful discussions about rl issues, all of which just about sum up the online experience.

I think the persistance of the avatar is more important than the persistance of the world. Hence Diablo is a VW, while Starcraft isn't.

Posted Jun 8, 2004 10:57:23 AM | link

Jerry says:

For quickly and broadly conveying what I mean by "virtual world" I like to use the acronym SPEF:

Shared space -- the digital environment hosts many users at once ("massively multiplayer")

Persistence -- the world persists in your absence and will be as different when you return as others (or the program) have made it during that time

Emergence -- the unscripted interaction of individual users produces complex markets, cultures, institutions and other higher level "hive" organizations

Feedback -- exchange exists between the VW and RL as expressed in (what I call :) Castronova's Law: "The minute you wire constraints into a virtual world, an economy emerges. One-trillionth of a second later that economy starts interacting with ours."

Posted Jun 8, 2004 11:31:27 AM | link

weasel says:

Frank>Some LARPs are persistent. Some keep the passage of time in real-time while other games warp time to fit the gameplay.

Well then, I'd say those LARPs certainly fit, and present a fine analogue to digital persistent worlds and behaviors.

Alan>Avatars essentially are projections of ourselves into these spaces.

We can also cast more than one projection of ourself into these spaces; and in a slightly more bizarre case: several of us can cast a single projection. Not that this is necessarily irreconcilable with higher dimensional projection in common terms, but just an interesting note.

Alan>I'm not sure I would agree with the opposite, that VW things can be projected back into meatspace. Lacking degrees of corporeality, autonomy and control seems to indicate the opposite, the absence of such a bridge.

I wouldn't exactly dismiss the idea of a lower-dimensional property having higher-dimensional influence. The ideas of "time is money", "information economy", and "intellectual property" being notable examples. People exchange meatspace value, and alter meatspace behaviors due seemingly inanimate intangibles all the time. The ability of such 'virtual' things to influence our meatspace has been well established - even if they don't appear to do so of their own volition.

Alan>On a mildly-related tangent, might this be a clue that we should be looking for other modes to accomplish the same end? (i.e. Non-internet-like methods of establishing VWs.)

I've lately been toying with the concept of leveraging short range wireless mobile networks and meatspace locality in a 'persistent world' sort of environment.

Imagine having a simplistic Second Life-style customizable personal environment and avatar on a mobile device with wireless connectivity - say, on a Gameboy or PDA. Then, different devices could establish a temporary connection when two users are in the same vicinity - allowing them to explore, collaborate, adventure, share content, etc between their spaces.

Even as a personalizable graphical interface for sharing audio/video clips with relative strangers, I think it could be fairly compelling.

So long as a user retains control over their space and their avatar (access control, etc) - having a central authority wouldn't be necessary.

Although, I cannot seem to wrap my head around how, what, or whether persistent-world-like community, attributes, and behaviors might manifest.

Posted Jun 8, 2004 11:34:21 AM | link

Luca Girardo says:

With a LARP though, are they truly persistent? Or does the game world enter a point of stasis when everyone 'goes home'?

Do we have really a "virtual there" (going to try different acronyms) that is persistent? There are some virtual worlds/universes/environments that ran several years (does anyone know what is the record about longevity of virtual worlds/universes?), but it is a fact that soon or later they will end. No virtual world guarantees an unlimited persistence. We could also say it is a virtual persistence as in the real universe you cannot guarantee the unlimited persistence of a virtual world. So persistence is relative. That is also something that should influence our perception of virtual assets I suppose.

Alan wrote: (Or maybe because I just think "VU" would like funny?)

It would make Vivendi Universal very happy 

>Shards aren't actually connected in the VW-space.

Aren’t they? Near everywhere where you have a commercial MMOG using multiple shards, you can now transfer virtual items, avatars and other things/beings to different shards. That means there is a link between the different shards. Lets take the UO example. With the exception of the necessity of a real currency transaction to buy a transfer code, the whole transfer between shards is going to be done through your avatar. The avatar with its belongings is transferred to a new shard. Is a new avatar? All the skills and possession are still available (with some exceptions) and what is most important also the character name is not altered (important as it is an identifier).

> Every MMORPG or VW that I know of exists because of the internet (or its predeccesor/like/ilk). Should this be reflected in our current understanding of what constitutes a VW?

When players gather to play a table session of AD&D, are they not sharing a single VW? A VU where they interact through their character, where other laws are in place (game rules)? That “virtual there” exist as long the session is going on, with the information saved on paper (characters sheets, logs and the DM adventure log). And it session after session again alive. You do not need a computer or internet to create a virtual world . Paper, rules (at least for a multi player), imagination and some good friends should be enough.

Posted Jun 8, 2004 12:23:50 PM | link

Euphrosyne says:

Interesting musings, Edward. This conception of primary and secondary worlds seems to be for a single player type (author) and their goals; Tolkien was not a "socializer". In Morrowind, all the characters are NPCs, and are there in a sense strictly for your use. Other personalities in that game will never break character, and will always have a good reason for not talking to you and answering your questions.

That seems a bit too escapist as an ideal for the future of gaming for my taste, but there is burgeoning movement toward allowing the player more control over the type and amount of (other) human-player contact they get. Even the non-social worlds today have an unavoidable major social component that, when playing with strangers, means that real world social artifacts will exist. When viewed against There, EQ or SWG feels immersive enough. But against the deep immersivity of Morrowind, EQ can feel more like a RL costume party. How developers manage to narrow that gap in the near future should be very interesting.

Anyway, I'll go read that Tolkein essay now, and see what horrible misassumptions I've made..

Posted Jun 8, 2004 12:35:01 PM | link

MM says:


First, I'm with whoever said VW=MM. Any world that matters has a lot of people in it.

I don't think I can agree about games such as Diablo being VW's though, because of persistance. That this persistance is not more obvious to us is a design issue. Though I do admit to recognizing Staarkhand's feeling that Diablo-like games can 'feel' like VW's because of the community. But to me, they are like squash. Squash looks and taste a smells like a vegetable, but it's not. It's a fruit. Same for VW's that don't persist. I'll play just the same, but you've got to have real persistance to qualify as a VW imo.

Posted Jun 8, 2004 12:46:41 PM | link

Staarkhand says:

I'll push back on that just a bit for the sake of discussion.

What's less persistant about Diablo than any world that uses different shards/servers? The areas are still there every time I look for them. I can stay as long as I want. "I" may not be in "your" version of the world, but I could be (if you gave me a game name). When I log out the world continues without me, if by world you mean things that matter like people and experience and economy and reputation and interactions.

And when I rescue Deckard Cain, next time I log in he's still rescued, how about that. Seems like it's more persitant than most games.

And again, if no players are in a certain zone of a "real" persistant world, does it still exist? Or is there just the code that could allow it to exist? Meaningful existence could be contained only in interaction with players, in which case Diablo doesn't look that different.

Posted Jun 8, 2004 1:20:17 PM | link

weasel says:

Luca>but it is a fact that soon or later they will end. No virtual world guarantees an unlimited persistence.
I don't know that any real world guarantees unlimited persistence.

I've been thinking about my innate resistance to labelling a LARP as a persistent world, and I'm beginning to think it isn't about persistence at all. The more I think about it, not even the segmentation and mutability of the timeline in a LARP is a problem.

I'm beginning to think that if a LARP (or any meatspace roleplay within an imagined space) didn't qualify as a 'persistent world', it would be because the shared space doesn't qualify as what I consider a 'world'.

Persistence is a helpful qualifier in seperating a session of counterstrike or diablo from a 'persistent world'. No matter what changes are effected to such 'instanced' spaces - they are always undone and reset anew. My issue with 'virtual world' as an identifier is that it includes such temporary spaces - and those spaces are much less interesting.

A 'world' by my reckoning should be a shared space where any one user can effect change or progress according to the rules of the world, and those changes are not subject to the approval of any other particular user, census of users, or superuser (storyteller/imm/GM). Such changes or progress, likewise, do not require the presence of any other particular user, or critical mass of users.

If the state of the environment can not, or does not go forward without some certain critical mass of users, or the approval of certain users, I don't believe it should be considered a 'world' in the 'persistent world' sense. Without such a qualification, any reasonably complete shared ideaspace could be considered a 'world'. But such a broad definition wouldn't really be helpful.

Posted Jun 8, 2004 1:53:45 PM | link

Alan Stern says:

Luca, I completely forgot about those games that offer character transfers across shards, such as UO. (Largely I forgot because I've never played in one that has allowed such activity.) However, when I think of shard-connectivity I picture something akin to a land bridge, a la the one that connected Siberia with North America (rusty geography here) millions (?) of years ago. A freely accessible means for transporting one's avatar from one shard to another at will. The current character transfer services don't quite fit that bill, especially given their monetary expense (which can be prohibitive to travel). My theory is that true shard-connectivity will result in a multi-verse of similar worlds with similar content and free travel between them at will. Then we would have a true super-entity beyond merely "the shard" categorization.

I too disagree, AD&D should not be considered a VW. Some of this is a visceral response, however the lack of persistence cries out to me like a forlorn cat. The world may be "saved" when you stop playing but it does not "persist" in your absence. No action takes place in that world without someone's express direction at a subsequent time. If I start up a single player game and a friend joins me but we run out of time and save our progress - no one would mistake that for a VW.

The "Diablo should be considered a VW" argument rings VERY hollow to me. As a dedicated D2x player (I like to think I'm well-experienced in all forms of Blizzard Diablo games to date), the VW-definition just doesn't fit.

Staarkhand: When I log out the world continues without me, if by world you mean things that matter like people and experience and economy and reputation and interactions. And when I rescue Deckard Cain, next time I log in he's still rescued, how about that. Seems like it's more persitant than most games.

When you log out, the people, economy and reputation do persist. However, the literal gaming environment does not in the absence of a presence. That would be my definition of persistence -- The environment continues to exist in the absence of any player presence. (Granted, this definition does not account for server down-time but servers never go down.. right?)

Furthermore, in Diablo 2, monsters do not spawn as you play. When the area is generated, the mobs are there. As you play, new ones do not pop in next to you. The environment is preset and you affect it. If you kill all the monsters in the game, no more appear. If you log out and log back in later, any game you create will have all of those monsters, including the Bosses, ready for you to kill. Therein lies the issue -- You create the game, you don't join it as it exists independent of your presence. ("We now return you to your regularly scheduled program, already in progress.")

Posted Jun 8, 2004 2:41:59 PM | link

Staarkhand says:

I'll let the persistance of D2 go with one final observation. According to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics, reality is created only when I observe it. In a very literal sense, I'm not referring to numerous philosophical arguments that have a similar flavor. Tidily saying "it goes away when I'm not looking" seems frail to me.

But either way, I would classify D2 as a VW even without that point because I think emergence is more important that persistance, and the economy, the meta game of level based meritocracy, etc., all do exist. I fail to see how monsters' spawn mechanisms are all that important.

Weasel, I know we're not happy about it, but in what games can you really affect the world in a meaningful way? I'd say most commercial MMORPGs don't measure up to your requirements for a virtual world. That may be a valid stance, but then we just have to re-ask the question of what do we call these things that we talk about?

Posted Jun 8, 2004 2:58:47 PM | link

Richard Bartle says:

weasel>Persistence. The world is there, even when you are not.

This would rule out "groundhog day" worlds that reset periodically, during which time no-one can access them.

Luca Girardo>What about taking it a step further and moving from World to Universe

I wanted "world" as in "the Roman world", ie. a reasonably self-contained whole. To call it a universe would be to imply there was nothing beyond it. I'm comfortable with calling a MUD set in Alcatraz a "virtual world", but a "virtual universe" is overstating it somewhat.

If on TV I saw a commercial for a country music CD, I might expect them to say, "welcome to the world of country music", but I would be surprised if they said "welcome to the universe of country music"; that has completely different overtones (and I don't mean the ones that make your ears throb).

Staarkhand>When I post here I usually say VW to be politically correct although I in fact mean MMORPGs, just because things like TSO, SL, or There have no interest to me outside the academic.

Then again, some people would classify SL and There as being MMORPGs.

Jerry>For quickly and broadly conveying what I mean by "virtual world" I like to use the acronym SPEF:
>Feedback -- exchange exists between the VW and RL

Hmm, so the F part of the acronym is recursive, as it has to reference the concept to which it is referring (ie. VW, ie. SPEF)?

weasel>A 'world' by my reckoning should be a shared space where any one user can effect change or progress according to the rules of the world, and those changes are not subject to the approval of any other particular user, census of users, or superuser (storyteller/imm/GM).

Yes, that sums it up very well.

Richard

Posted Jun 8, 2004 3:30:28 PM | link

Jerry says:

Richard>Hmm, so the F part of the acronym is recursive, as it has to reference the concept to which it is referring (ie. VW, ie. SPEF)?

SPEF is just a checklist of notable VW attributes that I concocted in an attempt to pass "the mom test"--ie. moms can understand it, and maybe even remember it (even though we all know it's *so* uncool if our parents can decode our secret languages :)--so I wouldn't be too logic nazi about it (not that you are) since it’s supposed to be more expressive than Rigorous. I intended “F”/“Feedback” to simply mean that types of trade ping back and forth across the digital/analog VW/RL divide. The most significant aspect of virtual worlds, to me, is exactly that they can function as extensions of RL rather than self-contained diversions away from it (which is why my definition tangles). That march away from diversion towards extension seems to be why so many of us (here and elsewhere) are following and contributing to this dialogue, and it is certainly why I myself am. So I include it in my definition because, well, if it weren't there I'd walk away from the whole thing!

Long time reader, first (er… second) time poster. I like it very much here. You all make me happy. :)

Posted Jun 8, 2004 6:14:08 PM | link

Flatfingers says:

Apparently what this thread really needs is for someone with a background in Marketing to come up with a short, meme-like term that the masses can glom onto...

...or would that be the Beginning of the End for what's fun about this field?

I'd propose the term "digiverse," as that's pithy and encapsulates the features of virtualization and a coherent place/culture, but a quick search on Google turns up a bunch of sites that are already using the term.

But then I'm not in Marketing.

--Flatfingers

Posted Jun 8, 2004 6:54:02 PM | link

Betsy Book says:

Great topic! I've been doing a lot of thinking about this myself recently, as my latest all-consuming VW related project has been the creation of a chart that includes all visual social and gaming worlds, both 2D and 3D, that launched between 1994 and 2004. When it's further along I'll share it here and we can continue to obsess about this together.

It's funny...when I began working on my site in early 2003 I racked my brain trying to come up with a good general term for the social worlds that would be easily understandable by newbies while differentiating them from the MMORPG worlds and at the time "virtual worlds" was the best choice of all the terms I'd seen in publications up to that point. And then Richard's book was published! LOL.

Now my own definition of the term has shifted as a direct result of my interaction here and while I'm still more personally interested in the social worlds I want to bone up on my knowledge of the MMORPGs as well. Richard, your book is my bible for this task. I can hardly believe how much information you crammed into that one book. It's truly a wealth of knowledge.

As far as general definitions go, weasel's "Interactive, Multi-User, Persistant World" and Jerry's SPEF both work for me.

Posted Jun 8, 2004 9:40:46 PM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Betsy Book>the creation of a chart that includes all visual social and gaming worlds, both 2D and 3D, that launched between 1994 and 2004

Is that because it's a 10-year chart? Or did you pick 1994 for other reasons?

Posted Jun 9, 2004 2:32:49 AM | link

Raph says:

The definition I have been using for a few years now is:

A virtual world is a spatially based depiction of a persistent virtual environment, which can be experienced by numerous participants at once, who are represented within the space by avatars.

This excludes Diablo, which does not have a persistent virtual spaces (it has persistent virtual characters, and it has persistent virtual environments that are not followuing a spatial metaphor, but the "center" of the experience is a lobby that is not spatially depicted; all the spatial metaphor areas are instanced).

cf http://www.legendmud.org/raph/gaming/book/4c.html

It does, however, permit Groundhog Day muds, which are merely a service interruption on what is still a totally spatially-based environment.

Note that in this definition, stuff like "avatar" is fairly broadly defined as merely a persistent profile (which may be as slim as a handle).

Posted Jun 9, 2004 3:20:52 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Raph>Note that in this definition, stuff like "avatar" is fairly broadly defined as merely a persistent profile (which may be as slim as a handle)

Doesn't this mean that "who are represented within the space by avatars" might as well be "who are represented within the space"?

The important part about being represented in the space is that representations can be uniquely identified by other participants and have a reasonably persistent bond with the player at the keyboard. Pseudonimity is fine: you don't need to know who is behind a representation, just that it's the same person who was behind it last time you saw it. Whether the representation itself an avatar, a handle, a signature tune or a particular shade of green doesn't particularly matter so long as its distinguishing features are not hard to detect.

Richard

Posted Jun 9, 2004 6:14:44 AM | link

ren says:

Richard > Doesn't this mean that "who are represented within the space by avatars" might as well be "who are represented within the space"?

I suppose there needs to be some consistency to the representation i.e. if your represented differently each time then there is no identifying characteristic; though the representation itself does not need to be persistent or unchanging, there just has to be some line of change such that the representation of the same thing can be tracked over time (basically borrowing here from the persistence through time discussions in the philosophy of identity).

Posted Jun 9, 2004 6:28:12 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Jerry>I intended “F”/“Feedback” to simply mean that types of trade ping back and forth across the digital/analog VW/RL divide. The most significant aspect of virtual worlds, to me, is exactly that they can function as extensions of RL rather than self-contained diversions away from it (which is why my definition tangles).

It sounds to me like your SPEF system is describing your ideal kind of virtual world, not virtual worlds in general. For many people, trade between a virtual world and the real world makes that virtual world "too" real. In other words, although all VWs "can" function as extensions of RL (in that the software can't stop them from doing so), a significant number of players would prefer it if they "couldn't" (in that the VW's management banned anyone who did it).

Example: in some of the intensely role-playing MUSHes, the whole point is to involve yourself in the story that emerges from the interactions between the characters, not between the players. If you liked a character so much you wanted to be that character, and you bought it using real money from the person who was playing it, that would almost certainly lead to sanctions (you have the character, but not its social capital). Thus, although such a MUSH "can" function as an extension of reality, it can only be what it is because it doesn't function as such an extension. In that sense, it "can't" function as an extension of reality without losing its integrity and becoming something else.

We need an umbrella term that applies to role-playing MUSHes just as much as it does to UO, Lineage, LambdaMOO, SL, ATITD et al. Currently, "virtual worlds" works, but it won't indefinitely.

We also need definitions for sub-groups within the overall umbrella term, which is kind of what Nathan was getting at with his original posting. Now your SPEF approach does identify a subset of virtual worlds, except that you originally introduced it by saying "For quickly and broadly conveying what I mean by 'virtual world' I like to use the acronym SPEF". I realise that now I AM getting logic Nazi about it, but this seems to imply that you feel anything that falls outside of that definition isn't a virtual world. That being the case, what umbrella term do you suggest that would include what you mean by "virtual world" and what you don't mean but that includes things like MUSHes, educational MOOs, the US army's use of the There engine and so on?

Richard

Posted Jun 9, 2004 6:38:32 AM | link

Betsy Book says:

Richard wrote: Is that because it's a 10-year chart? Or did you pick 1994 for other reasons?

Aside from Habitat (1985) which was a very early pioneer, I haven't found any examples of worlds with a visual component that launched before 1994. There may be a few I haven't found yet though, particularly on the RPG side. I've been systematically googling all the big ones listed in Ch. 1 of Designing Virtual Worlds and so far it looks like anything pre-1994 is text-based.

In any case, I think it's safe to say that things really didn't get rolling for visual vw's until around 1994 - 1995.

Posted Jun 9, 2004 6:42:02 AM | link

weasel says:

Richard> We need an umbrella term that applies to role-playing MUSHes just as much as it does to UO, Lineage, LambdaMOO, SL, ATITD et al. Currently, "virtual worlds" works, but it won't indefinitely.

Why not?

Granted I'm not too interested in all the types of worlds that could possibly be lumped under that nomicker, but I don't see where such a term is facing any sort of expiration.

Richard>We also need definitions for sub-groups within the overall umbrella term, which is kind of what Nathan was getting at with his original posting.

If we can define subgroups under 'virtual world', doesn't that give 'virtual world' a bit more of a lease on life? If only the handful of people interested in the wider subject of social study in 'virtual worlds' are the ones using such a broad term, then those in any other situation simply won't be using it. I would think a less-used term, particularly one that will be less-used amongst laymen, wouldn't be subject to as much pressure to be catchy, unique, or poignant.

As for GroundHog Day MUDs... I suppose the reason I don't have a problem with their exclusion - is that I'm having a tough time seeing where they diverge from, say, Counter-Strike. And if some sort of character advancement persists on the avatar, it seems to be right in-line with Diablo. I suppose, though, that those could be desireable to be considered under the umbrella of 'virtual worlds'.

Now if we're going to try to name subgroups of Virtual Worlds - wouldn't we first have to identify the attributes of such subgroups? And wouldn't the inevitably overlapping results present a serious headache for its taxonomy?

Though such classification could make for some intriguing studies by segmenting our data. (E.g. economic activity in worlds with a treadmill vs economic activity in worlds without, etc)

Betsy>I haven't found any examples of worlds with a visual component that launched before 1994.
Is the graphical attribute key for the study?

Posted Jun 9, 2004 8:19:53 AM | link

Avi Bar-Zeev says:

Book said: In any case, I think it's safe to say that things really didn't get rolling for visual vw's until around 1994 - 1995.

A few of us were building virtual worlds in the early 1990s for entertainment and for many other things. Military VWs go back to the 80s. Most were visual, some were even multi-participant, and a few were even as richly detailed as typical games today.

I'm not sure why people here seem so focused on things evolved from GMUDs, FRP, and FPS for their definitions. The real world is much bigger than all that.

Regardless, the definition I've been using since the early nineties is broad enough to remain valid in the current context, but may be too broad for some of you here:

def. Virtual World: [from "virtual" meaning: in effect but not in substance; and "world" referring to any domain, state, or individual experience.] 1. A mental model created by people as a representation of a reality (actual or fictional) for contemplation and communication (e.g., a story, telephone conversation, or movie); 2. An information model maintained by a computer for computation and subsequent communication (e.g., simulation, animation, or algortithm); 3. The Shared region where human and computer meet; where their respective worlds coincide.

It's a term that has much more meaning than the typical "metaverse" definitions I'm seeing here. It would be a giant shame for it to get so narrowed.

Posted Jun 9, 2004 10:15:30 AM | link

Avi Bar-Zeev says:

By the way, I have some pictures to go with that definition:

http://www.realityprime.com/gloss.php

Posted Jun 9, 2004 10:19:51 AM | link

Nathan Combs says:

weasel>
Now if we're going to try to name subgroups of Virtual Worlds - wouldn't we first have to identify the attributes of such subgroups? And wouldn't the inevitably overlapping results present a serious headache for its taxonomy?

I wonder if it is easier to work to identify the important / discriminating attributes to characterize worlds first. Then worry about classifying and grouping the worlds. E.g. +economic_treadmill, +persistent +shared_space etc. whatever...

I think we could spend a lot of energy (productively) just trying to identify (and define) the right feature set.

BTW, a related idea I recall from somewhere was to cluster games (worlds) based on subjective associations. For example, ask participants in survey-fashion, a set of questions such as whether they thought "Diablo was more like Deus Ex or EQ" etc. Ask for all combinations over the population and cluster based on results. There are a number of problems with this, including controlling for answers based comparisons based on features you are not interested in (themes, graphics quality etc). Also, even if it worked, wouldn't identify the underlying feature set explicitly. But may be a useful means to corroborate analysis.

Posted Jun 9, 2004 10:25:45 AM | link

Estariel says:

Most MMORPGs persist and carry on without me, when I log out. But what about the chatforum of my MMORPG clan/guild. When I talk IC there, am I in the VW or not? My actions/words there will surely become part of who I am seen as, when I am actually logged into the MMORPG.

Similarly, the chatfora for a LARP give a measure of persistence and evolution to the LARP VWs between uptime events. And if I dont attend the next event, then the uptime LARP VW will move on, and be changed by the next time I do attend.

Perhaps a LARP is like a MMORPG which just has very poor server uptime. 25 days a year, instead of 360. The one I attend has some characters and social institutions which have persisted for 14 RL years, although more like 300 days (x16 hours)of actual uptime.

Its events are only slightly more scripted than, say, EQ, and definitely more amenable to players changing the world. Deckard Cain is rescued many times a day in D2. Rallos Zek still gets killed every week in EQ. But Scaflok, Demon of War only ever got killed once in the LARP world of Erdreja, and that wasnt in any script.

Posted Jun 9, 2004 12:59:16 PM | link

weasel says:

Nathan>I think we could spend a lot of energy (productively) just trying to identify (and define) the right feature set.

Well then, let's try to productively identify distinctive attributes of virtual worlds that might lead to classifications.

All respect to Avi and his excellent reference, but I'll defer attempts to identify the attributes of the mental and non-interactive virtual worlds to those who work with them.

That said, I'll jump right in and put up my quick thoughts just to get the ball rolling:
(I apologize in advance for my game-centric examples -- no subtext is implied except the desire to cleanly convey concepts)

Avatar Persistence - as per Raph's definition: as thin as a consistant handle from session to session.
E.g. TerraNova and Counterstrike do not guarantee Avatar Persistence.

Free Communication - the ability to freely communicate with other users.
E.g. Toontown does not offer Free Communication by default.

Static World - the world state does not permanently reflect interaction with the user.
E.g. Everquest has a static world.

Interactive World - the world state permanently responds to interaction with the user.
E.g. Ultima Online offers an Interactive World by allowing player-buildings to be created in the shared space. Diablo offers an Interactive World by not respawning monsters in the midst of a session.

Persistent World - the world state persists from session to session.
E.g. Second Life offers a persistent world, whereas CounterStrike does not.

Iterative (repetitive?) World - the world state resets to a defined 'start state' when a preordained event occurs.
E.g. Diablo and Groundhog Day MUDs offer an Iterative World. Diablo 'resets' when a user chooses to create a new private space. GroundHog Day MUDs 'reset' at the end of their temporal cycle, or at the triggering of an appropriate event.

Shared World - the same interactive space is shared amongst the set of participants.
E.g. Everquest has a Shared World.

Private World - the interactive space exists at the behest of, and under the control of, a given user or cooperative subset of users.
E.g. Diablo's gamespace consists of Private Worlds, Battle.Net itself provides a limited Shared World.

Instanced space - a Private subspace within a shared space, created for a given user or set of users.

Property Persistence - objects within the world can be possessed by an avatar, and possession is retained from session to session.
E.g. 'There' has Property Persistence, CounterStrike does not.

Avatar Interactivity - users are allowed to interact with one another according to world systems to effect change in each other's Avatar's status.
E.g. Toontown online does not offer Avatar Interactivity -- not even beneficial changes (buffs)

Avatar Interactivity Consent - whether the world allows users to effect change in each other's avatars with or without consent.
E.g. Everquest's standard ruleset servers offer Consensual Avatar Interactivity. Ultima Online's original ruleset allowed Non-Consensual Avatar Interactivity

Property Interactivity - users are allowed to interact with each other's property to effect change. (i.e. trading, looting, destroying a keep, etc)

Property Interactivity Consent - whether the world allows users to effect change in each other's property with or without consent.
E.g. Ultima Online originally offered Non-Consensual Property Interactivity; the property of one avatar could be stolen/looted by another without consent.
Everquest offers Consensual Property Interactivity, by allowing consensual trading between avatars.
Dark Age of Camelot offers Consensual Property Interactivity, limited by faction: Celts can trade with other Celts, but cannot trade with Trolls.

User Capability Progression - the interactive capability of an avatar is restricted to the capability of the user with a constant set of tools.
E.g. Second Life has User Capability Progression

Avatar Capability Progression - the interactive capability of an avatar increases via an advancement system which exposes more and different sets of tools.
E.g. Everquest has Avatar Capability Progression

Limited Economy - the set of resources within the world is constant.
E.g. A session of Starcraft offers a Limited Economy, because the quantity of resources available to the users is constant.

Unlimited Economy - the set of resources within the world increases over time.
E.g. Everquest's economy is unlimited, because resources are created from nothing every time a monster is slain.

Clearly I'm missing alot - and many of the definitions hinge upon restricting interactions to those that can only take place within the world. E.g. Ebaying erodes the concept of Avatar Persistence, as the player may well change.

But I'm just trying to kickstart the conversation in this direction.

Posted Jun 9, 2004 1:45:01 PM | link

Andrew Burton says:

What about RPG Communities over on LiveJournal?

They're persistant: Even when no one is posting, the entries stay there, ready to be added to. Even if all the players get bored and leave, the "world" still exists and could be resumed at any time -- picking right up or skipping ahead.

They are affected by users more than devs: Story lines progress and change as characters develop. The LJ people can change and alter the way LiveJournal works, but the "world" exists and changes based solely on how players play.

The characters are static: Because you use a LiveJournal account, everytime you post have the same name, history, etc.

There are rules: Characters have "meta" discussions, deciding how story lines will go, what characters can do, etc. much like game rules/code define what characters in-world can do. The "meta" rules do not define how the game any more (or less) than a physics engine affects the way a 3D game evolves and changes.

They aren't graphical, this is text I'm talking about. No images outside of an user icon or an embedded image into a post. However, it is a Role Playing Game; unlike a table-top AD&D session, it is not imperative that people interact simultaneously, it is pervasive, and it is a world unto itself -- players often have their own journals that the game extends into.

Would these count?

On another note, regarding VW/SPEF/VU/MMORPG's/digiverses/metaverses being reliant on the Internet... The Internet is just a communication system that automates a lot of systems that could be handled in other mediums...

You could have a Virtual World run over a telephone chatline if you had enough people interested. As long as two people were on the line at any given time, the world could exist. Round-robins and RPG's (Legend of the Red Dragon, specifically) used to exist on bulletin boards. There was no percieved end to those, users affected the world, and it didn't use TCP/IP.

If you really, *REALLY* want to go out on a limb, you could consider a television show as a virtual world. The world exists even if no one watches it. The world is affected by viewers, ratings and call-in gimmicks affect a show. The world is pervasive, not counting Dynasty (or was it Dallas?), I don't know of any show that has ever reset itself to a previous stage in its development. Shows have no percieved end, they grow and develop until they are no longer profitable, much like E&B.

The Internet is just the most direct, effecient, and speedy tool we have right now to work with Multi-User Virtual Worlds.

Posted Jun 9, 2004 3:22:28 PM | link

Betsy Book says:

I wrote> I haven't found any examples of worlds with a visual component that launched before 1994.

To which weasel responded:
Is the graphical attribute key for the study?

Yes, for the time being. And just to be clear, this isn't really any kind of formal study. Just a little chart project I'm doing for fun.

Looks like there are some post-Habitat pre-1994 visual worlds out there (thanks Avi - do you any speficic names w/ launch dates?).

Also, Alan just let me know (thanks Alan) about Raph's online world timeline which appears to contain many more useful nuggets of info about online world projects between 1937 (!) and 2002. Mostly RPG stuff but I see a few social worlds in there too.

Posted Jun 9, 2004 6:07:29 PM | link

Avi Bar-Zeev says:

Betsy wrote: Looks like there are some post-Habitat pre-1994 visual worlds out there (thanks Avi - do you any speficic names w/ launch dates?).

I'd suggest Disney's Aladdin VR Ride for the "released in 1994 slot," though the work went back 1-2 years -- I only joined a few months before we opened in 94). We never showed the multi-player version, so don't count it in the "shared world" category.

The pre-1994 worlds that come to mind often weren't "launched" per se and it may be you want to keep to the overtly commercial work. Many were built on Sense8, Superscape, and other toolkits, often for museums, trade shows, etc.. and a few were at least minimally MP. [I can't recall much more on the specifics right now, as I'm fried from packing for a cross-country move.]

I give a lot of historical credit to the military sims that solved or at least adressed many of the technical issues with multi-user graphical worlds. For example, iirc, SOE acquired RTime which got its start solving network latency issues from those military sims.... I don't think I could do justice to that extensive list, nor am I sure you'd want to count worlds with closed user bases for studying the social aspects of VWs.

Anyway, I'd include the multi-player graphical games like NetTrek that had a quite strong sense of spatial awareness (2D), if not full-on presence. Networked BattleZone was pre-1994, pre-doom, iirc.

Posted Jun 9, 2004 6:47:14 PM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Betsy Book>Aside from Habitat (1985) which was a very early pioneer, I haven't found any examples of worlds with a visual component that launched before 1994.

So what have you got against Habitat that out of all graphical virtual worlds you choose not to include it?

As for other pre-1994 graphical VWs, well I suppose you can omit IOK on the grounds that its graphics were ASCII art. The first NeverWinter Nights, Kingdom of Drakkar and Shadows of Yserbius were all graphical, however (at least if you count stuff like this as graphics - and that's the updated look!).

Richard

Posted Jun 10, 2004 4:05:40 AM | link

Staarkhand says:

I was going to mention Shadows of Yserbius. My first MMORPG! Such as it was.

Posted Jun 10, 2004 12:29:12 PM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Staarkhand>I was going to mention Shadows of Yserbius. My first MMORPG! Such as it was.

You don't have any screenshots of it anywhere, do you?

Richard

Posted Jun 11, 2004 3:45:46 AM | link

Hellinar says:

I would much rather use the term Online Worlds when referring to digitally constructed spaces, rather than Virtual Worlds. “Virtual” seems to carry the message that digital objects are not “Real” and therefore not significant. But to my mind, my “Drums of the Beast” in EverQuest is as real as my bank account. And both have a higher significance to me that some random empty pop bottle on street, even though the latter is physically constructed.

As I see it, digitally constructed worlds increase the space of creative possibility in people’s lives, and that is where most people will chose to live in the next few decades. Just as most people choose to live in cities, because they offer more possibilities, people will choose to live in digitally constructed spaces.

As with city dwellers, nostalgia for our roots will likely mean people plan trips “offline” but often don’t quite get around to it. When modern city dwellers go “back to nature” they take a big chunk of city with them. Clothes, tents, packaged food. Very few people go naked into the woods and hunt for berries. People going “offline” will likely take an array of communication devices with them to maintain a connection to their “normal” environment. I’m thinking the next generation will find not being able to “instance” their environment when they want to is too much of a restriction for a “normal” life. Just as a modern American would find having to walk everywhere an intolerable restriction. Though it is nice as a weekend hobby.

So I see the categorizing “virtual worlds” as separate spaces as a rather finger in the dyke endeavor. Digital control of physical objects, and convincing digital replicas of physical objects are likely to blur the line beyond easy distinction.

Posted Jun 11, 2004 5:48:59 PM | link

Staarkhand says:

Sorry Richard, I think those went away with my 486DX/33.

Posted Jun 14, 2004 10:44:12 AM | link

weasel says:

So no takers on trying to identify the discriminating attributes of virtual worlds?

Posted Jun 14, 2004 12:50:14 PM | link

Betsy Book says:

Sorry for the delay, RL's busy this week.

Richard wrote: "So what have you got against Habitat that out of all graphical virtual worlds you choose not to include it?"

Habitat is the grandmama of all social virtual worlds and as such has my deepest respect.

And just for YOU Richard and Avi, I'll expand the chart to include pre-1994 worlds. :) If you think of any others let me know.


Posted Jun 17, 2004 6:26:48 AM | link