The BBC has a great article up today on the current push by big media into virtual worlds:
Of course the article mentions World of Warcaft multiple times, and how all of the developers and big media execs want to be the “next big thing”, just like WOW. But the article goes into a fair amount of detail about this new push. Comments are taken from attendees of a Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco.
Here are a few of the more interesting quotes:
“There is so much dumb money. Mass media is coming in and saying we want to be just like WoW.”
“Because of WoW and dumb money and big publisher pressure there will be a lot of corpses,”
“Anybody who is not watching how big media is moving into this space is missing a major major story.”
“This medium is going to destroy TV – and it’s going to happen in short term.”
“Five years from now a social networking site without a 3D universe will look like a dinosaur.”
This is an excellent article, and I encourage you to go and read the entire text. They did an excellent job of reporting this story.
I have some general observations on this trend based on my 25+ years of experience with online games and virtual worlds:
- World of Warcraft is the game of the day “today”. It will have a very difficult time holding that position for more than another year. The Burning Crusade expansion came out a lot later than many would have liked, the level cap of the new expansion was first hit by a player in 27 hours. The graphics were “cartoony” at launch, and are not keeping up with other games in the market. Just like the previous ruler of the MMO market, Everquest, something else will come along to dethrone this King.
- MMO players are a fickle bunch. The key to success in these MMO’s are the social groups, guilds in most cases, that bind large groups of players together on a regular basis to play (the time commitment being equal to a second job in many cases). It only takes a few “guildies” wandering off to try a new game to weaken the hold of the previous environment. Players are committed to their guilds, not to the MMO. A few guild members fragmenting their time between games will often cause others to “check out” the new platform. The free 10-day previews often grease this track for many to move. Usually, once a subset of a guild joins up in a new MMO, the newness of the world drives the pressure on other “guildies” to come over and try it for themselves. This is a self perpetuating cycle that eventually relocates the guild to the new MMO in relatively short order. Only the hardcore players of the previous platform that are too deeply invested remain in the old MMO trying to repopulate their old guild to its former glory.
- Lord of the Rings Online is about ready to launch. It is very similar to World of Warcraft and has the potential to bleed off players from WOW. These players will at first pick up LotRO as a second game, but may end up spending more of their time there than in WOW simply because of the rich mythology of Lord of the Rings, a new virtual world, and a new variety of players who will come to LotRO because of the subject matter as “first timers”. This new MMO could potentially bring a whole new user base into these virtual worlds, the Tolkien faithful. Just look at how popular the movies were.
- Multiverse is about to launch. This platform will allow Indie developers to produce niche MMO’s at very low cost. The kicker is that one client will get you into all Multiverse universes. One of the first will be Arden, an MMO based on the works of William Shakespeare. Here is a FAQ on this project that is being built by students and faculty at Indiana University.
- Every person I know that plays an MMO, or who spends time in virtual worlds, has reduced their time watching TV and movies. That is the one facet of daily life that is expendable for most people. TV is a passive technology, whereas MMO’s and Virtual Worlds are active, participatory and social. You can’t cut back on time with your family (unless you get your kids to play the MMO with you, then you can actually increase your playtime<bwg>). It won’t take long for the mainstream media to catch on to this trend and start spawning their own micro-MMO’s and virtual environments to try to hold their viewers. Virtual Hills and Laguna Beach are perfect examples of this (obviously MTV has figured it out).
- James Cameron is planning a movie called Avatar. He has expressed his intent to create an MMO in the Avatar universe, and allow people to live in that universe prior to the release of the movie. If he can pull it off, this will be a very innovative new approach to building a fan base for a series of movies in parallel with growing a userbase and monthly revenue stream from an MMO.
The pundits and critics can argue all they like about the future of 3D immersive environments and entertainment. The masses can dig in their mice and try to hold onto their 2D web as long as they like. The future is 3D, and it’s virtual. We’ve only begun to see the possibilities. Once large numbers of participants become involved, and the demographics expand beyond the niche fantasy markets of today, there will truly be an explosion of development and investment in these platforms.
Is it any coincidence that large High Definition displays are making their way into the majority of American homes? With the launch of Vista and high end consoles like the PS3 and XBox 360, the stage is set for these virtual worlds to take center stage in your family room. Add to this the open sourcing of clients like Second Life, and the increasing power and storage of mobile devices, and you will be able to keep up on your virtual selves while on the go.
The next boom in social networking sites will be based on virtual avatars and virtual lives. These social networks will emerge in support of MMO’s and virtual world envionments. The IM features will allow you to communicate in-world while “out of world”. Webcams in your virtual spaces will be steamed to your social site page for others to see. The lines between reality and virtual life will begin to blur.
I don’t know about you, but I’m holding out for those long promised holographic projectors for my entertainment center. As soon as their available at Best Buy, I’m going to hop in my flying car and go down and get one.