Mar 052017

I have put up a page containing both a slideshow and a PDF download of the talk I delivered on Friday at GDC 2017.

I think it came out a bit more somber than I had anticipated, certainly more somber than the sample slides I submitted. We shall see what the long-term reaction is, as I pulled no punches in describing the awesome responsibility people have in building online communities.

I was also losing my voice, so it was very much a deliberate and slow presentation compared to my usual “high speed brain blast” as one attendee once described my usual speaking style.

Not only was this in the afternoon of the last day, but I was opposite the Experimental Gameplay Workshop, which is one of the best-attended sessions at GDC usually. So the room was definitely sparser than usual. That said, there were several old virtual worlds hands present to confirm what I said, backing me up during the Q&A period, and there were also a number of current developers of both social VR worlds and even social AR games like PokemonGO. (In fact, I heard a few members of that team were in the audience, and I hope I didn’t offend by picking on their game so much).

The session was filmed, so hopefully video will be forthcoming; once it is, I will post a link to that as well.

High Windows

 Posted by (Visited 4311 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , , ,
Jan 172015

Almost exactly seven years ago, I gave a keynote at the virtual worlds-themed Worlds in Motion Summit at GDC. I was supposed to talk about why games people should care about virtual worlds. But I just couldn’t warm to the topic.

I was in the midst of wrestling with Metaplace, which was the culmination of ten years of dreaming about the potential of virtual spaces. We were trying to put into practice the ideals embodied in things like the Declaration of the Rights of Avatars, the loftiness of hopes for general empowerment thanks to the newly interactive Web. But at the same time, I was watching tens of millions of venture capital dollars flow into kids’ worlds, virtual worlds about McDonalds and by teddy bear companies and tied in to bad reality TV shows and more.

So I took my qualms to the stage.

Continue reading »

Are virtual worlds just for kids?

 Posted by (Visited 35749 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: ,
Jun 032011


  • Virtual worlds have gained great popularity among the younger audience, dwarfing their popularity for most adults.
  • Virtual worlds take a lot of time to engage in.
  • Virtual worlds for adults have become less and less like worlds and more like single-player or multiplayer games.
  • Adults use virtual spaces regularly, but with a very different form of identity control largely focused around real-world ties.


  • Richard Bartle is correct in saying that virtual worlds are about self-knowledge. (“Virtual worlds are about identity” — Designing Virtual Worlds, p.433).
  • The Laws of Online World Design (in the humbly named “Koster’s Theorem”) are right that “Virtual social bonds evolve from the fictional towards real social bonds. If you have good community ties, they will be out-of-character ties, not in-character ties. In other words, friendships will migrate right out of your world into email, real-life gatherings, etc.”
  • Child psychologists the world over are right that youth is a time of identity formation and experimentation.


  • Users grow out of virtual worlds. They may grow out of one of them, or all of them, if they achieve sufficient self-knowledge.
  • Users might fall back into them if they lose their community ties or sense of identity, or have high amounts of available time.


  • Kids find virtual worlds, and being at the prime age for identity exploration, dive headlong into them.
  • Then they grow out of them, and don’t need them anymore.
  • Most adults don’t need that sort of identity exploration anymore. Some do, and some just enjoy identity exploration in its own right.
  • The virtual world boom was about those that did discovering this tool, using it, and then moving on.

A thought I have had for a while, but was brought briefly to mind by this post on NWN… basically, the question is whether it is in fact an inevitable destiny of the medium that it gravitate towards being for kids because of social and market pressures. This would make me sad — not because kids’ worlds are bad, but because they cannot fully express the power of the medium.

Jan 062011

New World Notes calls our attention to Avatar Kinect, which basically brings graphical chat rooms to the XBox Live platform.

This is indeed a powerful development. The Kinect has been selling like hotcakes (8 million of them in sixty days), and as a result, there’s now a pretty substantial install base that could get into this.

It’s clear to see the potential for sales of virtual goods and the like; right now, they offer scenes in which you can conduct your chats, but over time, adding in the features to make those into virtual apartments is not at all hard to picture. Add in robust enough objects to buy and the ability to customize your space, and you start getting something that feels like, well, or Second Life with voice chat and kinesthetic controls. But for now, it’s more like IMVU or Lively, probably, and we shall see how it goes.

One thing that is interesting is that Live is centered on avatars that are pseudonymous but strongly identifiable; there’s an intrinsic extant reputation system there that this system will effectively plug into and leverage. This may reduce the amount of prurient chatrooms and the like (which something like the Kinect surely invites!). It is also telling how little the video centers on technology and how much it centers on women.

Given the connectivity, I cannot help but ponder why avatars as an intermediating technology, rather than video chat.

  • Avatars intermediate; this lets you put all participants in one environment, rather than stitching together disparate couches and living rooms
  • There may well be plans to leverage the pseudonymity into synchronous social game experiences
  • The avatars do allow for a more radical expression of personality that video would, essentially making for a richer profile; I can’t have my weird pet from Limbo cavorting around me in a video call, but I could here.

All in all, an interesting development; I look forward to trying it out.

One BIIIiiiillion

 Posted by (Visited 8480 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: ,
Oct 012010

There are now one billion registered virtual world accounts, according to KZero, with 350m of them gained in the last twelve months.

More telling is the areas in which the growth has come. Around half that billion is in kids’ worlds (ages 10-15), which now boast many worlds over 10m users, including some shockingly large figures like Stardoll at 69m, Girl Sense at 18m, GoSupermodel at 18m, Neopets at 63m, and Club Penguin at 47m.

Universe chart Q3 2010: 10 to 15 year olds | KZERO – Blog.

The 15-25 bracket has the monster Habbo of course, at 175m registered. KZero picks this segment as the one to watch in terms of innovation. Meanwhile, worlds for ages 25+ have not seen nearly the same level of growth, but still have basically doubled in total registrations since Q1 2009.