Why Virtual Worlds shouldn't be Businesses

Virtual Worlds

Soon after the appearance of CRPG's (Computer Role Playing Games), a similar concept appeared, to present Multi-user CRPG's, what were to be called MUD (Multi-User Dungeons). In 1978 appeared MUD1, a platform to build MUD's: Virtual Worlds full of monsters and users willing to slaught'em. The concept evolved, and, besides the appearance of different types of MUDs, several other Multi-User Virtual Worlds appeared, with different focuses other than MUDs (like, for instance, Talkers or MOOs). In 1984 appeared "Islands of Kesmai", the first MMORPG (heavily inspired of MUDs) to be explored commercially.

Let's forget all the technology advances made on Virtual Worlds: while a good use of graphics, sounds and other technology advances might enhance the experience (specially embodiment) one has in a Virtual World, those aren't a part of the Virtual World per se: the Virtual World is the concept, not its implementation.

Business Models for Virtual Worlds

"Islands of Kesmai" had a business model quite similar of those we usually see nowadays on Virtual Worlds, including MMOGs: at the time users were paying $12 per hour. There isn't much evolution on the "new" business models, and while a lot of research is being made on that field, there are basicly three possible business models: the Time-Based Subscription Model, the Virtual Currency Model and Second Life's Virtual Real Estate Ownership Model. Some new models are being purposed and appearing both in research and real implementations, but they're always inspired by these three, and can be seen as simple derivations.

Defying Virtual Worlds' business models

The problem with the actual Virtual Worlds business models is simply that we are building Virtual Worlds as businesses, and thus modelling that Virtual World in such a way that it can optimise the results of its Business Model. While it's easy to understand the need for a company that decides to create a Virtual World to do things this way (and it's comprehensible if his objective is to make money), we're seeing the problem in the wrong perspective. Users don't want to be a part of a business - they want to be in a Virtual World. The implied limitations of these kind of Virtual Worlds are obvious when you see the difficulty in creating your "virtual persona", your avatar, that isn't just "your avatar in world xx" but is simple "your (ubiquitous) avatar". The need to fix that is seen if you take in consideration the creation of some "structured virtual ubiquitous societies", like the NationStates. So, while there's no wrong on having companies building businesses by the use of Virtual Worlds, taking the Virtual World itself as a business is what is really stopping the evolution in this field. Not the technical stuff (like better graphics, less lag) but the design of the Virtual World.

Building a better Virtual World

"So, if all the well-known VW's are wrong, how could them be right?"

Imagine a World Wide Web where, instead of being just a protocol running on top of a network (the Internet), each website had its own protocol, made by a company, and you had to have that websites client program (the browser), made by the same company, to go there. Cnet's browser would let you visit Cnet's website; Amazon's browser would let you visit Amazon's website. Cnet was making money by selling its browser, as well as Amazon by selling its see-a-list-of-books browser. Insane, right? Well, that's what's happening with VW's nowadays. So, how to fix it?

Well, we could use the parallel between the Web and VW's and say that what we need is to use a network where each node knows each other and that give us the chance of having each node linking to each other, and use that to define space. With it, and using a standard and unique protocol, it would be trivial to map from one layer to the other, and, with it, to have a "Virtual World Framework". Think of Neal Stephenson's metaverse, think about what is needed to reach that kind of ubiquity. Simple, isn't it?


  1. As a MMOG gammer, i tottaly agree with you. I played WoW for a year until i realized how much it sucked as a game.

    Currently, i am not playing any MMOG. I am waiting for my "kind of MMOG" to appear. And that is one where you can impact the world, where the world can impact you (maybe even kill you! what's wrong with that?) and one where players can impact each other (building a real societies).

    In Games like Entropia Universe or SL you will never have this kind of game play immersion because of their business model, since you can put "real money" inside the game (and the other way around). This is quite obvious for me. Can anyone back-me up in this statement?

    As for that virtual world platform thingie, yes, that's a good idea! It is such a good idea that i am making one, but don't tell anyone -shhhhhhhhhhh!
    But that would be great for MMOGs. If people were able make a MMOG more easily, the industry would be able to mature and much more games would appear... and between them, maybe my kind of MMOG :)...

  2. As a matter of fact, the problem with your implementation is that you don't rely in an open existing network, but you're designing your own.

    Meaning that:
    1) any VW that would use your platform would be, still, just "yet another VW";
    2) any effort in evolving VW's, in your scenario, has to use your solution. Vendor lock-in? Thanks but no, thanks.

    What I'm suggesting is to use a decentralized, already-existing network (something like GNUnet, for instance), and develop a standard protocol that runs on top of it, and that can be used for virtual worlds. I've actualy already wrote about something similar here.

  3. Oh! I forgot to conclude that "my kind of game" will be a subscription-based game. I can't foresee any other way it could happen.

    That simply cannot be done. A MMOG has network requirements that GNUnet is not prepared to deal with. Gil (my co-worker) is deeper in those problems, i should probably ask him, but i think that in a MMOG, you need:

    - A faster indexing system;
    - You are distributing the simulation, not files;
    - You need persistence!! Even if there is no one in the game, its simulation but be kept running;
    - Lots of synchronisation problems...

    If our priority was to use currently used standards, we would go faster to a Distributed Virtual Reality or HLA (high level architecture). But our objectives are different. We just want to create a framework to build and distribute Online Games. We don't want to build the metaverse, not a second Second Life. We want people making and playing online games. :)


  4. That simply cannot be done. A MMOG has network requirements that GNUnet is not prepared to deal with.

    Correction: the MMOG you designed has diferent requirements that mine. See, while you think that stuff like centralization is a requirement, I have, for myself, a requirement of total de-centralization. While GNUnet hasn't the speed or efeciency you want for your VW, it has other stuff that I want for mine. Of course, this doesn't really matter for the discussion - I wasn't purposing (here) the use of GNUnet as the ultimate framework for building a VW - I was purposing that you should be using a network to build your platform, instead of bundling the network with the game.

    Oh, BTW, anytime you want to have a discussion about GNUnet, I'm here to have it :-)

  5. One thing that a lot of people have missed in this recent economic down turn is the fact that in-game money for all of the massive mutliplayer online role playing games has not been effected. I guess it just shows how strong and stable the computer game industry really is.



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