Game talkCategories of virtual world

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Oct 022007
 

Over at the Cisco Virtual worlds blog, Christian Renaud is unhappy about the various bogus numbers being tossed around for virtual world populations (pointing out that if you blindly add up all the figures being reported, you end up at about a half a billion people, more than the population of all of North America). So far, so good — after all, I have complained about this myself.

But he, like Moorgard recently, is upset by the use of terms in the industry right now:

There needs to be an agreed common taxonomy of virtual worlds. You can slice and dice the market by 2D vs. 3D, web-based vs. client software, apples vs. oranges, but we need to find a common set of language by which to differentiate the QQ and Cyworlds from the ActiveWorlds and Kanevas from the Metaplaces and Toontowns. Until then, you have emoticon-on-steroids avatar chat in IM and Social Networking sites being compared apples to apples with narrative driven virtual worlds like World of Warcraft or Runescape. It’s not apples and apples at that point, it’s apples and orangutans.

Now, while I have no idea why Metaplace is lumped in with Toontown (OK, we get the message, we’ll redo the site’s graphics!) I have to disagree somewhat with this point… apples and orangutans, really? For systems that share over 99% of their core technical architecture? Surely at most we’re talking the difference between chimps and humans. And in practice, I think there’s a good case to be made that we’re really talking about the differences between a college professor and a pro athlete.

In contrast, Moorgard wants to make sure everyone is lumped under one label, but to my mind, he picks the wrong one:

I realize that my whining over silly phrases isn’t going to change industry jargon, and that’s not my goal. More than anything I just want people to understand that whether something is called an online game or a virtual world, it’s just falling at various points along a series of ranges and being labeled for convenience. And whether you prefer a structured experience or something more free-form, you’re still a gamer.

This statement seems to conveniently leave out the worlds used for teleconferencing, for trade shows, for education, for collaborative writing (anyone remember HotelMOO?), and so on. It is just as much a disservice to the field to call all virtual worlds games as it is to segment the field unnecessarily, a point I have made before.

To state it in another way, virtual worlds are their own thing, and they have more in common with media than with message. They are more like television than like I Love Lucy. They are more like newspapers than like The New York Times or The Weekly World News. They have more in common with 16mm film than with Casablanca or Fahrenheit 9/11.

All in all, the terms seem to leave everyone confused right now. We even got an email here at the office that asked,

In short, what qualifies the games on Metaplace as ‘virtual worlds’?

The information released about Metaplace so far makes frequent use of the term “virtual worlds,” but it’s not clear what is meant by that. Typically when people think of virtual worlds they think of 3D spaces, like Second Life or World of Warcraft.

Never mind that WoW is closer to being 2d than 3d, in most aspects of its simulation — as are most worlds, really. (And does this writer really think that Habbo Hotel or Ultima Online or Lineage aren’t virtual worlds? I doubt it…)

Here, of course, is where I point people at a few lengthy posts from the past, such as the one where I point out that client display is irrelevant to whether or not something is a virtual world. After all, Second Life with no users logged in is still a virtual world. Second Life with a statistical dashboard showing activity only in graphs and in tables is still a virtual world. I don’t know of any virtual worlds that don’t have such a client interface. And guess what, they run whether or not there happens to be a user logged in, making the sole client at that time a text-and-graphs client. Is a virtual world running in locked debug mode not a virtual world until it has a 3d client connected?

The thing that is frustrating to me (and others) is that long-standing terms are once again getting co-opted by marketing, essentially. Me, I am stubborn, so I am going to keep saying the whole field is called “virtual worlds” and the gap between Habbo Hotel and World of Warcraft just isn’t that large. This is probably a losing battle, because as the Laws say, fighting the players on nomenclature is a losing battle. But it would be a disservice to the field for it to end up with no name at all, and right now, there hasn’t been a credible alternate term (except perhaps for Ted Castronova’s “synthetic world”).

Which brings us, finally, to the the question of what the categories actually are.

These days, we have to look at the broad spectrum of social media in order to place virtual worlds on the technology spectrum. Virtual worlds exist in relationship to instant messaging, avatarized websites, persistent profile social networking, forum software, and so on. Part of the reason why it’s clear (to me, anyway) that virtual worlds are destined to become intertwined much more thoroughly with the web is because of the common feature set here, which I will now list in as geeky and technical a manner as possible:

  • graphical representations of user profiles (aka “avatars”)
  • ongoing blurring of synchronous and asynchronous communications streams
  • an increasing emphasis on locality and spatiality across all social media, particularly including increased use of spatial metaphors

In other words, we now have avatars on websites, forums in MMOs, email in blogs, rooms in chat, and so on.

The core systemic characteristics of virtual worlds include synchronous communication, spatial simulation, multiple simultaneous users, and use of publicly visible profiles (aka avatars). But there’s a lot of blurring at the edges of that, which brings things like PHP massive games or “Colorform” style apartments a la Cyworld into the fold despite the largely asynch nature of the interactions therein.

Compared to IM, email, or Facebook, Habbo and WoW are clearly “the same thing.” In fact, you could easily and profitably stick all of those things in a virtual world because the core of the virtual world has more to do with the “place” thing than with the “chat” thing.

Once you’ve established these fuzzy boundaries, we then have to consider what fruitful distinctions can be made within the field.

  • There’s technical distinctions, such as whether the world is truly persistent (aka “world state”) or whether only profiles are persistent (“character state”) or indeed whether anything is persistent — many early LPs, for example, didn’t have character persistence.
  • There’s design differences, such as whether the underlying systems are simulationist or not. Arguably, for example, one of the weaknesses of Second Life is that it began from simulationist principles, which is why every user’s sim incurs the load of maintaining a simulation of air temperature and flow granular in 8m cubes, even if what they want it for is to play Tringo.
  • Of course, business model comes into play, and is often granted more importance than it deserves, as a categorization mechanism. Really, any business model can be applied to any style of world — or indeed, any form of social media.
  • There’s the question of intended purpose, and for that matter, the purposes that users put the world to, which may not coincide — using a serious venue for playing games, or using a game venue for serious work.

The whole question of what “virtual world” means hinges on some of these assumptions. One camp says that “virtual world” largely means a simulationist game with specific characteristics. Another thinks that it means purposes that aren’t games — or maybe are games, but kinda tip over into specific other markets. Then there’s the folks who say virtual worlds don’t actually exist. Interestingly, no camp tends to make this distinction on the technical basis, perhaps because there aren’t any significant technical distinctions to speak of.

From a business point of view, it seems clear that intended user experience is the logical way to segment the virtual worlds content industry. Then we can establish that there are providers who specialize in worlds with particular content mixes ranging from serious applications to games, and subspecialties within games. And indeed, with very few exceptions, the industry has been about content providers, who created platforms incidentally and only because they needed them to deliver content.

This portrait, however, leaves out the issue of the larger business ecology. Content providers currently dominate the landscape, but the trends are towards a reduction in vertical integration of services, creating an ecology of ancillary businesses.

In other words, it’s currently the norm for the content provider to also be the platform provider, the social network provider, and so on. But as the market size for virtual worlds has grown, we saw cracks develop in that, first with community features and ancillary documentation, then the (very large and profitable) secondary market segment, and now with social networking services and even Flickr-style sites just for virtual worlds. Many of these were provided in rudimentary form by the vertically integrated providers, but at some point the smaller upstarts that specialized were simply able to do it better.

Along with this came the notion of companies that were not content specialists. This opened up the spectrum of possible businesses even wider, allowing specialization of platform companies (such as Forterra versus Makena – where There.com split originally between a platform company and a content company, but which now is really a split between two platform companies targeting different platform specializations).

Which then led to the notion of metaverse service bureaus, etc etc. Which at this point are just as happy to work in entertainment-focused worlds as in serious ones, since they are co-opting the content-creation role altogether in this new platform-centric part of the business.

Hmm, I need to make a diagram of this. :)

So, do we need categories? If we look only at content development companies, then the answer seems to be yes. And if you are a content consumer, like most people are, then sure — you want to see as many fine distinctions as you can get, so that you can find the content that is of interest to you. The niceties of LOTRO versus WoW are very important to you then.

But if you’re stepping back to try to assess the size of the industry, as Christian Renaud of Cisco was doing, way back where we started this post — well, then, I’d say that most of those distinctions are not that useful, because most aspects of the ecology cut across content providers of all sorts.

Bottom line: if we just quit trying to subdivide the field unnecessarily, or quit being myopic about what sorts of content virtual worlds can provide, the question of categories will assume its proper place: more like the aisles of a bookstore than the debate over what a book is. And then we can go on to measure the total size of the industry more accurately, because it isn’t accurate to measure solely users or revenue garnered by subscription sites, or microtransaction worlds. The industry includes the f13s and the GuildCafe‘s, and the Sheep and Ogoglio and MMOGData, and all the rest. And yes, it’s not very far from including Facebook and IM as well.

Whew, done ranting for now. :P

  39 Responses to “Categories of virtual world”

  1. Habbo and WoW are clearly “the same thing.” In fact, you could easily and profitably stick all of those things in a virtual world because the core of the virtual world has more to do with the “place” thing than with the “chat” thing.” -Raph’s Website » Categories of virtual world

  2. 1.Categories of virtual worldwww.raphkoster.com10 commentsSocialRank Over at the Cisco Virtual worlds blog, Christian Renaud is unhappy about the various bogus numbers being tossed around for virtual world populations (pointing out that if you blindly add up all the figures being

  3. Raph, as usual, has been talking a lot about virtual worlds andwhat defines a virtual world. So that got me to thinking. I decided to attempt to break down and define what I consider to be the Primary Layers of Online Virtual Worlds. Every Online Virtual World will have at least one foot in each of the Primary Layers listed below.

  4. connect–IBM sees potential for IM virtual role playing Visualizing the web Author and her Victorian creations come alive in Second Life Public diplomacy review Moving away from money and toward the heart Are you winning at Digg? The Web–hidden gamesCategories of virtual wordSerious games and virtual worlds making the news Get a Life–A Second Life webinar for educators New game genre really rocks New free-to-play online firm lands $11 million Outspark out to change online game culture

  5. A page from your business plan? (This, folks, is why Raph gets venture capital.)

    I prefer to call all games—all games—virtual worlds. I think that’s a byproduct of the explorer in me. How most people see “virtual worlds” is based on how they see their real, physical world. Sadly, that’s an incredibly narrow point of view. We all know that humans have yet to explore this galaxy and the galaxies beyond, but there’s an assumption that what we know about our world, from physics to behavior, will carry over to the next. Who says that worlds have to be persistent? Why can’t they be completely randomized, segmented by time and defiant of the physical laws we know? Why can’t other worlds simply reset at certain intervals?

    I prefer to call all games virtual worlds because how we play games is much like travelling to new and unexplored, or more often familiar, worlds. A chess game is a virtual world. A chess game has all the basic elements that we consider worldy—entities, ecology, physics. Heck, chess games even have all-powerful unseen forces that control the destinies of every… piece. That could definitely be religion. I guess you could also think of how we play games as space place tourism.

  6. So tell me: is there a Taxonomy of Internet web sites?

    Is there also a standard universal metric for judging traffic and popularity of websites?

    ok, then!

  7. As is often the case, the taxonomy will morph as investments are applied. When investors begin to question the decisions for pursuing an immersive 3D adventure versus a more casual 2D social approach we will see the adoption of certain “standards”. We experienced much of the same dilemma when everything was lumped under the ecommerce umbrella and then B2C,B2B,and the myriad of others began to emerge, details the relationships in the marketplace. So, yes there have been taxonomies for common website approaches.

    Clearly there are common VW delivery platforms being offered though interactive marketing firms which represent Barbies, MyePets, Webkinz, Bratz, and the list continues to grow… These will be lumped under a common toy-room-chat model, kind of like Cracker Jacks with the secret toy surprise inside. The everquests will also most likely be classified based upon the interaction between visitors.

    So I see it that a natural language will evolve when and an acronym is falsely used to describe a relationship between two visitors of a virtual and the investors use the acronym to tell you why they classify your world as a me-too opportunity in an overcrowded market. :)

  8. a) The fact that so many people have so much to say about the need, or lack thereof, of a taxonomy is evidence that at the very least better terminology can be useful. I was surprised to see so many comments to Christian’s suggestion (which as you state is a rehash of discussions from the recent past). Guess that’s part of the side affects of the gradual melding of various fields (gaming, web) and people with vastly different industries all looking at the same thing and trying to find something to agree on…

    b) Your breakdown to platform and content and the state of the market wrt that is spot-on. I also agree with the assertion that the application or content of a virtual world is the most sensible top-level breakdown of any sort of useful taxonomy (with entertainment/games vs. serious/business-collaboration being the obvious start)

    c) not so sure that platform providers necessarily do not care about applications. Some platform providers may want to target their platform to all types of content, others may be more narrow. Former might have a challenge with focus, later with market size and commercial agility. Classic dilemma of vertical vs. horizontal product strategy.

    d) better be lumped with Toontown than Kaneva :-). Leave the metaplace graphics alone, they are cool…

  9. [...] attempts to categorise and classify virtual worlds into myopic subcategories. Read all about it: http://www.raphkoster.com/2007/10/02/ca … ual-world/I was very tempted to ask him how we should classify Metaplace in the comments so we could account [...]

  10. So tell me: is there a Taxonomy of Internet web sites?

    Yes.

    Is there also a standard universal metric for judging traffic and popularity of websites?

    Yes.

  11. Neva asked, So tell me: is there a Taxonomy of Internet web sites?

    Do you prefer this one or this one?

  12. “Emoticon-on-steroids avatar chat” vs “narrative driven virtual worlds” – I think Christian’s choice of words reveal his true motivation. He thinks one is better than the other. It’s pretty obvious which one. There’s so many possible features that you can put in a game and so many combinations, metrics and business models that catagories are useless. Let’s just say that everybody’s game wins in some arbitrary thin category sliced so fine that it could only include your game. Certain narrative driven virtual world may not like being compared to the emoticons-on-steroids chatrooms, but tough, deal with it. The game will succeed or fail and the market will decide which one was a good investment. Habbo will continue to be compared to WOW – because it’s a really interesting comparison and it reveals a great deal about old assumptions about player behaviour, distrubution and business models.

  13. at State of Play Jeff Malpas said virtual worlds were parasitic on real ones, what surprised me most was that no one really argued with him on this, perhaps because he was a philosophy professor.

    I have a vague memory somewhere Raph talked about SWG having places, where people could know everyone, hang out, feel comfortable in. I thought at the time, ah, someone who has a grasp on what creates world-ness! Sorry if I was too hasty there.

    As to definitions, if we are to avoid every website being a ‘virtual world’ we may avoid the problems of every panorama webpage being called ‘VR’. Surely clear terminology is worthwhile for that alone!

  14. [...] Pants N…Please on Innovation in Marketing pt 2: …Scot NZ on Hey, I’m Wearing Pants N…Raph’s Website… on Virtually a Worldhellfire on Hey, I’m Wearing Pants [...]

  15. I agree with you that it seems a red herring to force the subdivision. But whether or not on the same infrastructure, this too seems like mice nuts.

    At the end of the day, consumers spend time, and they spend money. How they spend both is what needs to be counted. ARPU (including ads) seems a good metric, with some kind of measure of time of engagement.

    I was on a phone call with an exec from a fairly large game company that had exactly the opposite perspective of Christian’s. To him, time spent playing a $60 retail console game or time spent on zombies on facebook were exactly the same, and thus competing on a level playing field.

  16. Raph,

    Glad for the exchange, and thanks for the food for thought.

    I may need to go back and clarify my point, which I attempted in my post on my personal blog and then again on the Cisco blog. I agree that there is too much crossover between species to merit a rigid taxonomy (nods to Prokofy), but we do need to agree on common language in order to communicate this industry OUTWARDS. Until then, you need a decoder ring to approach this space from the outside.

    I know that many in the VW space covet it’s uniqueness and do not wish to make it larger. I am not one of those people. I would like to make it a mainstream technology as common as web browsers, if not a successor to. If that is going to happen, we need to find a common vocabulary to use with the general public. I think that common metrics, vocabulary, and eventually some interoperability between worlds is what is going to take this from interesting to mainstream. Right now, the industry seems to revel in using esoteric distinctions that have little relevance outside of industry conferences.

    And to Gene- Perhaps I could have phrased it better. I like all the species in their infinite diversity, and not just one or the other. I think they are different tools for different jobs (or different places, etc.). One model won’t fit all, IMO. Also, there are too many hybrid models emerging where you use both to say that there is one true model.

    My 2 bits,
    C

  17. Christian,

    I hadn’t read the post on your personal blog; based on that, I think we actually agree on all these issues! :) So maybe it’s just me misreading your post on the Cisco blog.

    In short — yes, we need to have an inclusive definition in order to properly assess the industry, and then we can worry about subdivisions which are more properly thought of as market segments.

    In my defense, I plead that your wording in the quoted paragraph is all about the segmenting, whereas your personal blog post is quite the opposite:

    Call it Virtual Worlds, 3D chat, Applesauce. As Randy Farmer said to me, “You don’t need to be 3D to be an avatar.” What we are talking about is people connecting with each other, either pre-arranged or spontaneous, for educational, business or recreational purposes, with everything from cartoonish-lego avatars with text to photorealistic avatars with spatial voice.

    And of course, I strongly agree regarding using uniques over a period — weekly or monthly or ideally both — as a reliable and useful metric for actual populations in these worlds.

    That said, in your post you also state,

    Lets rationalize this industry soon so we can ‘skip to the end’ of the platform wars and focus on the useful content piece. Imagine if we had debated HTML vs. 49 other options for a decade before de-facto deciding on HTML. Shudder.

    And the only thing worse than multiple competing proprietary platforms is multiple competing open standard platforms. I understand why companies keep claiming themselves as a platform, but we are rapidly approaching over-population of the ecosystem, and there is neither flora nor predators enough to sustain the quantity of fauna popping into this industry.

    I don’t think we are anywhere near standards that are universal. To start with, I think most of the “platforms,” well, aren’t. HTML won out over Gopher and other methods, let’s not forget, and it did so because it got deployed and people used it. I think the same will have to be true for any such standard in this case.

  18. There’s a long, long history of name changes for these things. We started off calling them MUDs, then some people switched to MUGs (because they didn’t like acknowledging their roots – that lasted about 5 years), then the social world people partitioned MUDs off to be the game-like worlds and went all code-based for their own worlds (MOOs, MUCKs, MUSHes), then we got MU* which to some people was just the social worlds and others the whole scene (while the game people were still using MUDs to refer to everything), then we got graphical MUDs v text MUDs, then finally MUDs came to mean entirely textual worlds and MMORPGs meant the graphical ones, except that term itself was reduced to MMOGs and MMOs, and we got a ton of other ridiculous MMO-inspired acronyms like MMOVSG, and again the social worlds (SL and There) tried to distance themselves from the game-like worlds on the grounds that they weren’t RPGs, until we got Virtual Worlds that refers to everything inclusively, only some people (this time on the game side) try to apply it only to the social worlds (referring to their own worlds as MMOs), and while all this has been going on every fresh-faced academic entering the field pulls out some new term that they hope will stick, and it turns out the term “Virtual World” has been applied to other areas already, plus that whole interface-oriented VR idea still keeps appearing from nowhere, and now I find myself having to explain to journalists that if they insist on calling Facebook a “virtual world” then could they please provide a new term for what WoW, SL, LotRO, Habbo, Achaea, Puzzle Pirates and the stuff people will make with Multiverse and Me tap lace are, because we need one and we’ll stick with it, honest, just so long as people stop trying to apply it to something else.

    This is why I like the detached view of MUD-DEV, which went for a name that was out of date at the start, apparently on the grounds that any name they did go for was only going to join it in the graveyard soon anyway.

    Richard

  19. [...] The blog entry is an interesting reflection on virtual worlds in the vein of Raph’s usual posts. I thought it was worth posting. Webbysteve dared call it a PR piece. He should known that Raph has been obsessed with virtual worlds for longer than he’s been working on Metaplace. Wendy_________________lemon-loud kaleidoscopic sensation on an infinite canvas reduced to monochrome scratchings. words. Lysianassa [...]

  20. Any biologist will tell you that taxonomies are highly arbitrary things, created for the convience of those doing the categorization. Taxonomic definitions don’t change a fish into a bird or a moth into a toad.

    Ultimately, what does it matter? Do we gain new insight from using Moorguard’s approach, or do 99% of us just read the system specs and internet reviews, then decide in which world/game/experience we’ll invest our entertainment dollars?

    This isn’t a criticism, Raph. I’m a lot like you in that I enjoy mulling over the high-level theory of gaming (amateur ludologist that I am). So I’m not about to stop exercising that part of my brain. But your analogy of books in a bookstore was appropriate. Ultimately, labels don’t matter much.

  21. Any biologist will tell you that taxonomies are highly arbitrary things, created for the convience of those doing the categorization. Taxonomic definitions don’t change a fish into a bird or a moth into a toad.

    My grandfather was this man. When he would identify insects, or even mammals since that was his first area of study, he would identify them by their taxonomic identities along with their complete Latin names. Taxonomies are clearly important to people involved in the work. Taxonomies help us understand the models of the world we create and ultimately help us become better scientists.

    Ultimately, labels don’t matter much.

    That’s how idealists rationalize their denial about life’s realities. Labels matter. Labels matter a lot. Sometimes they matter too much. Sometimes they don’t matter enough. But they’re always important. The fact is that without labels, life as we know it would simply cease to exist. The human brain is just not equipped to function properly without the ability to identify, sort, and organize data.

  22. [...] Koster agrees somewhat, irritated at seeing the user-generated worlds of Areae’s Metaplace put into the same category as [...]

  23. I should be clear that I LOVE taxonomy. (Hey, otherwise I wouldn’t have had the list of distinctions within the field). This site is FULL of taxonomic thinking. Hell, in grad school I used to get accused of overcategorization and binary thinking and (horrors!) labelling all the time. :)

    That’s why it bugs me MORE when what I see as category errors are made. :)

  24. This exchange is one of the reasons I love the word “metaverse.” Everyone seems to think they know what a virtual world is (even though, of course, they disagree.) No one has any idea what the metaverse is, so it is hard to exclude a platform that others believe ought to belong. Taxonomies are useful to communicate both within the community and to the outside, but I see little reason to restrict the scope of the universe we are trying to describe.

  25. Raph,

    You are correct sir. In re-reading my two posts, they could be interpreted as contradictory with one another. I will go back and clarify on the corp site.

    As far as metrics, you should have all seen the Cornell/Metaversed MMI announcement today on TechCrunch, which is an excellent idea to address the problem statement we seem to be in violent agreement about. They have the right idea (nods to RobertB).

    As far as taxonomy or rationalization of the space, I’d say that the MMI guys have their work cut out for them until the industry can agree on common demarcation points between implementations (which, as Richard alludes to, will most likely be obsolete as they are agreed upon). Your own Metaplace is a game changer that forces a rebalancing of the current defacto taxonomies. We haven’t even started threading in Croquet/hybrid-mobile into the equation. This reminds me of the old anecdote about the biologist Simon Conway-Morris and his infamous ‘Oh (f-bomb), another new phylum’.

    Does this august body think that there is no elusive common denominator (Outside of ‘actives in interval-x’) to categorize these worlds, so we shouldn’t pursue one? I need some clarification there.

    As far as standards, I concur that this is a premature conversation, but it usually occurs about 12 months after it is needed. Lets see what happens if we start discussing interoperability and standards while the market is in its infancy, and see if that gets us to the end result (widespread adoption, no costly wars of attrition) quicker.

    I’ll save the remainder of my ranting for my own blogs. :-)

    C

  26. Is Dear Abby a virtual world?

  27. This exchange is one of the reasons I love the word “metaverse.” Everyone seems to think they know what a virtual world is (even though, of course, they disagree.) No one has any idea what the metaverse is, so it is hard to exclude a platform that others believe ought to belong. Taxonomies are useful to communicate both within the community and to the outside, but I see little reason to restrict the scope of the universe we are trying to describe.

    I can’t say that I am a huge fan of “metaverse” (despite leveraging it for “Metaplace” of course). But it does seem clear to most that metaverse sits above the level of a single virtual world…

    I tend to think that the overall depiction of the Metaverse Roadmap gets it mostly right as far as the eventual shape of the very broad picture.

    I’d say that the MMI guys have their work cut out for them until the industry can agree on common demarcation points between implementations (which, as Richard alludes to, will most likely be obsolete as they are agreed upon)

    Ironically, the picture as regards technical implementations is actually pretty stable and has not evolved significantly in quite some time. For that matter, the overall core design paradigms have not really changed much in literally a couple decades.

    Your own Metaplace is a game changer that forces a rebalancing of the current defacto taxonomies.

    Hmm… I tend to see it as underlying the current taxonomies.

    Does this august body think that there is no elusive common denominator (Outside of ‘actives in interval-x’) to categorize these worlds, so we shouldn’t pursue one? I need some clarification there.

    Oh, I can think of many. The classic split is based on an architectural choice that also changes the scope of possible user activities, and that would be the MUD vs MOO/MUSH split alluded to by Richard.

    I even have handy graphs, though they are a bit dated now:

    (architectures)
    http://www.raphkoster.com/gaming/book/6b.shtml

    (result, scroll down to the slide after “How Are They Put Together”)
    http://www.raphkoster.com/gaming/igdasandiego.shtml

  28. “Dear Abby” lacks spatial simulation, therefore does not qualify by my definition.

  29. [...] Raph Koster blogged about the term virtual world again. This time provoked by Christian Renaud of Cisco. Personally, [...]

  30. [...] to do. We are not trying to impose our own definitions of what is and is not a virtual world. Raph Koster’s post , along with its comments, make clear why doing so would be a mistake. Our plan is to view the [...]

  31. [...] to do. We are not trying to impose our own definitions of what is and is not a virtual world. Raph Koster’s post , along with its comments, make clear why doing so would be a mistake. Our plan is to view the [...]

  32. My hunch is that the word “Metaverse” simply won’t catch on or survive, and it will be called something else. After all, developers kept trying to get people to accept this term World Wide Web and even put www into what people have to type constantly, but they could never get them to break the habit of calling it “the Internet” or just “online”.

  33. I’m not keen on “Metaverse” either. I currently lean towards “virtual web”.

    Over at VastPark, we’ve finally succumbed to having a blog and the first one is entitled “The 9 new rules of the virtual web“. I’m hoping it draws out a few friends and foes!

    I give some reasons why this current idea of the Metaverse is off-skew. I think that Metaplace and VastPark are good examples of post-SL platforms which aren’t trying to create monolithic virtual worlds but are extending the functionality of the web itself. The current difference between the two is that Metaplace has sought to solve the issues of 2D (or 2.5D) MMO first and VastPark is focussed on 3D worlds, widgets and presentation spaces first. I’ll be keen to get friendly or fierce feedback on our 9 new rules!!!

  34. I find these debates over what to call the “metaverse” or “virtual web” or whatever a little silly right now. With new technologies coming out and trying to take hold, companies want to frame the terms and definitions in a way that’s favorable to their particular approach. The reality is that there’s a platform war beginning and the first shots have just been fired. The winner will write the history and define the terms – isn’t that the way it goes?

    Virtual worlds in a web browser are already here and have been for quite a while. Currently it’s standard technologies like Flash (Club Penguin, Barbie), Shockwave (MaidMarian, Habbo) and Java (Runescape) that make virtual worlds in a browser possible. The web is simply one of many platforms with it’s own set of challenges when it comes to distribution and monetization (i.e. console, PC, mobile, web). Web based virtual worlds are real things that make real money and are played by many actual players today. For this reason I find the term “virtual web” very confusing unless it includes the current crop VWs already on the web.

    The term “Metaverse” I have no real issue with. It’s lofty, forward looking and everybody has a slightly different version of what it means in practice. The “Metaverse” is a little airy fairy and has yet to accomplish anything significant you can point at but I also recognize that some of these Metaverse ideas are setting off a platform war that will ultimately be good for the industry. My money is on the platform with the best strategy around monetization, both for the platform developer and the creator.

  35. [...] attendees to consider VWs as social media, I re-read Raph Koster’s recent well-thought out rant on the same issue. As Koster adroitly notes “…virtual worlds are their own thing, and [...]

  36. [...] Raph’s Website » Categories of virtual world [...]

  37. [...] environmentAh, the great divide of virtual/real property (arguably, a virtual reality in itself)Raph’s strategy for distinguishing between the twoIs this what they mean by convergence? [Hope not]Games are good [...]

  38. [...] Koster makes the point that virtual worlds are becoming more and more intertwined with (and perhaps indistinguishable [...]

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