I really did mean “MMO”

 Posted by (Visited 4731 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , , ,
Jul 142016

A lot of people, as I expected, have focused on the semantics of whether or not “AR is an MMO.” Mostly, they say “well, you really mean ‘it’s like an MMO.'”

It isn’t really “like.” It actually “is.” I think people fall into the trap of thinking that the physical trumps the virtual, but that’s not the case. The virtual trumps the physical, or as Marc Andreessen puts it, software swallows everything.

Think of it this way: the phrase “geotagging” suggests that we are applying a small bit of virtual to the real. But that’s not what is happening at all. What’s actually happening is that we are building a truly massive digital world, and attaching a tiny piece of real to it, via a DB entry with a coordinate.

Currently, there are a zillion databases that hold this sort of data, siloed from one another, but the big project that Google and others have been engaged in for quite some time is to unify them. Amazon’s ASIN is a great example of one such scheme to unify “template IDs” for as many object types as they can. Put another way: the single largest database of “object types” in the world is Amazon’s, and to build it, they basically cloned the existing UPC and ISBN and other such similar databases, plus some, and unified them. They created a metaobject type that became the parent object type, only they own the address space.

Just like virtual cash is more meaningful than real cash, a business’ virtual data trumps its real data. Its reviews, its balance sheet, its customer base, are all data. Businesses without a virtualized presence increasingly don’t exist. Businesses with a virtual presence but no physical one are on the rise. Real estate prices have been fluctuating thanks to primitive mirror world implementations like Zillow and Redfin for quite some time now. Homes, businesses — these have a whole host of disparate IDs on them already.

I even had this discussion on LinkedIn, which is basically an extended character sheet for your digital avatar. Make no mistake, what happened to objects thanks to Amazon can easily happen to people. After all, the existing databases are Facebook, LinkedIn, and your tax ID slash Social Security number (or local equivalent) and your credit report. Oh, and of course your Pokemon collection. All it takes is a meta-id sitting one level higher, and those can be unified. (Spokeo and the like certainly try to do this).

This mirror worlding process is going to swallow everything. It’s at the template id stage for objects–meaning one id for a type of object–, but Internet of Things is going to change that, and move it down to individual object IDs for instances. If you have one of those nifty keychains that connects to Bluetooth, you already assigned those an id like that, which will eventually be swallowed too. And believe me, there will be pressure to unify fictional and real databases too, because having a Pokemon gym in your house is important for Zillow to know, and so on. These are what often gets termed “layers” in these circles: basically aggregations of data that you choose or do not choose to view. In the AR contact lenses of the future, layers replace apps, and you choose to run them in parallel or individually. LinkedIn and Pokemon Go team over someone’s head, exactly like howw MMOs put name and guild affiliation.

So what we are building, in fits and starts, is a large scale spatial simulation that allows clients to connect to it, which has object types for every object in the world, will eventually track as many instances of objects (physical ones like buildings, keys, cars, shipping containers; and virtual ones like businesses, Pokemon gyms, and housing lots) as is feasible, maintains a persistent data store of all of those objects, and which includes an object type for “players” who are real people.

That is pretty much a textbook definition of what a virtual world is. And it is critical to understand that the client has never been the important part. Pretty much every virtual world ever made has supported multiple views of this simulated world: text, 2d, 3d, etc.

The fact that today “AR” sometimes means “superimposing anchored CG images over video” is pretty much the least important thing about AR. Yelp or directions in Maps tells us more about AR than most anything, right now. Because the client, the display, isn’t what matters; the server is. The database.

Also fairly irrelevant is the fact that people currently conceive of AR as geolocated to the end user. Already people have “teleport hacks” in Pokemon Go and Ingress. Yelp and Zillow are premised on “teleport hacks.” In fact, Pokemon Go depends on the player having a wider view of the world than what is physically possible. We call it “augmented” for a reason. If Niantic is smart, they’ll add long-distance ways to play with locations, and long-distance communication has already been implemented via the phenomenally popular Go Chat app (the 8th most popular social networking app on the App Store!). Amazon is already the item shop for the entire world, in large part because of its virtuality.

Despite how the Metaverse Roadmap saw it in 2007 as four segments, these technologies all converge, precisely because they basically require the same backend technology.

I wrote a little bit about this technology path here: How to Build the Scary Future Today.

And the social implications here: The World, Virtual.

And of course, in my piece on Oculus which I posted here on LinkedIn a while back, but which is here: Musings on the Oculus Sale.

So… yeah. Yes, of course there’s tons of real world impacts that are uncharted territory. But there’s no doubt in my mind, this is a virtual world we’re building, then basically moving into. In an awful lot of ways, the physical part of us is going to be the least important.

Frighteningly, the best qualified people to design this brave new world are game designers, because the social network folks seem clueless about human behavior, the product people only want to sell to them, and the GIS people tend to forget they exist altogether.

And let us not forget, virtual worlds have admins who have godlike power over you. They can see everything you do. They can erase you. They can cheat and help people. They can change the laws of physics around you.

On the other hand, it also kinda gives me hope. Most game designers are nice people who care more about having a good time than about money or power. šŸ™‚

  10 Responses to “I really did mean “MMO””

  1. I knew exactly what you meant, Raph. šŸ™‚ It’s nice… we’re actually very much more in sync right now than at various previous points in our absurdly long thought processes.

    Another way of putting “The virtual trumps the physical”, the way I might prefer to put it, is that “it’s always what’s imagined that counts”, which is something people struggle to appreciate. It’s not even just a matter of virtual worlds – even our ‘physical’ world is imagined, since national boundaries are as much a product of our social imaginaries as money. And it’s been this way a lot longer than humans have been around.

    With great respect,


  2. “In an awful lot of ways, the physical part of us is going to be the least important.”

    Except to those who value the physical. We’re already living in a time where people are so sedentary that martial skill and physical fitness are practically god damned superpowers. The few of us who value the physical (including society’s predators) will actually grow in power as a result. I can “log out” of your world. You can’t “log out” of mine. Well you can, but that’s a one way trip.

    “brave new world”

    Pretty fitting. I guess I should change my name to John.

  3. This game misses core features and is too easily hacked. It is doomed to be short lived, we’ll have to wait a little longer for the virtual world to take over.

  4. […] [1] Raph Koster’s followup Article “I really did mean MMO” […]

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