PEOPLE GET READY
3D + 3C = “Real” Virtual Worlds by Yesha Sivan When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking — Albert Einstein
MOTIVATION: PREPARING FOR A LONG-TERM PARADIGM SHIFT IT managers need to have a split personality: they must be both conservative and innovative. On one hand, they have to maintain older systems and keep current processes working smoothly. On the other hand, they have to continuously examine new IT technologies that can alter the business. Around 1990 a “game-changing” technology, the Internet, emerged. New businesses that embraced the Internet in innovative ways — such as eBay, Amazon, and Google — thrived. However, companies that failed to embrace the Internet early — such as Tower Records, Barnes & Noble, and Rand McNally — were less fortunate. Tower closed, Barnes & Noble missed the online business that now belongs to Amazon, and Rand McNally failed to capture the online mapping business. In the IT field, we have a technology shift of the magnitude of the Internet once every 10-20 years. Such
World of Warcraft
paradigmatic shifts can break older firms, reshape entire industries, and create enormous value and wealth. Missing such a shift, however, can be detrimental to businesses and IT suppliers alike. Consider the shift from mainframe computers to mini computers (which IBM missed and Digital captured), from mini computers to PCs (which Digital missed and Compaq captured), and from PCs to the network computer (which Microsoft missed and Google captured). I maintain that real virtual worlds will, in due course, offer such a paradigm shift. What we see now, with Second Life (SL), World of Warcraft (WoW), Club Penguin, and more than 100 other worlds, is just a beginning. I use the adjective “real” to distance virtual worlds from the gaming worlds. “Real” hints at a much more far-reaching potential. While today virtual worlds are used mostly for games and fun, real virtual worlds have the potential to alter our lives. I define a real virtual world as an aggregate of four factors: 1. A 3D world 2. Community 3. Creation 4. Commerce Using the 3D3C factors,1 this article aims to inform IT managers and industry players about the field of real virtual worlds and its potential, as well as the actions they can take to embrace virtual worlds, balancing between innovation and value.
SECOND LIFE AS A CASE OF A REAL VIRTUAL WORLD Lineage 2 Runescape
Figure 1 — World of Warcraft (WoW) and Second Life (SL) have experienced fast growth compared with two typical competitors. Note that the WoW figures measure real paying users, while the SL figures refer only to the number of people who have opened an account. (Source: Voig, Inc.). 6
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Figure 1 depicts the number of users of the leading worlds over time.2 Note first the overwhelming growth of WoW and the rise of SL. As of December 2007, WoW had over 10 million users. That is 10 million users who paid about US $12 per month. You will also observe that SL has 12 million users. The attraction of WoW was demonstrated with the release of an extension called The Burning Crusade in January 2007. Blizzard, the makers of WoW, sold 2.4 million copies of this extension in North America and ©2008 Yesha Y. Sivan. All rights reserved.
Europe during the first 24 hours of distribution. Priced at $40 per box, that is about $100 million dollars — in one day!3
DJs, club owners (who rent out rooms to visitors), land owners, landscape designers, building contractors, architects, lighting experts, and musicians.
We can learn a few lessons from WoW. First, it is technically feasible to run a world with 10 million registered users and one million concurrent users.4 Second, virtual worlds can be enormously attractive. Of course, we should remember that WoW caters to a limited audience; that is, those who like the WoW style (monsters, quests, battles, etc.). In other words, the hard core gamers. SL, on the other hand, caters to a much larger audience because it is open ended. People find and develop their own goals and reasons to engage.
What, in fact, makes SL a real virtual world? Let’s consider Pepe’s case as an example:
SL, conceived in 1999 by Linden Lab, is the first world that fully demonstrates the potential of real virtual worlds. Any user may install the software and create a 3D character (i.e., an “avatar”) for himself, adjusting features such as body shape, skin, hair, and lips. He may then choose to don a range of clothing and/or body jewelry. After constructing, dressing, and (possibly) adorning his body, the user may purchase a car, a plane, or a yacht; he may build a room, an apartment, or a castle. He can meet people, robots, or dragons.5 During the last three years, I have explored SL, visited places, made friends, reviewed technologies, and used it as a research ground.6 At first glance, many view SL as a game — a direct descendant of games such as The Sims, World of Warcraft, and Doom. Veteran users will probably recall the worlds of Dungeons & Dragons and other paper-based fantasy games. Indeed, many of the action patterns and techniques of SL resemble these games. But the rest is far more profound and meaningful, exciting and scary. The interaction of avatars, the believability of what you see, and the fact that it connects with real money all create a new level of experience, a kind of parallel world, a different world — a real virtual world. This is a world in which a person can choose her own lifestyle and actions: from a life of hedonistic leisure and entertainment to one of lucrative work and creativity (in the real world).
Pepe and the club she is working in have a 3D representation (3D). Users can zoom in and out, pan and explore everything from the texture of her shirt to the coil in the lamp that is located 10 meters above her. While Pepe moves herself, other users can roam around the room. Pepe can dance on the stage, because she belongs to the club’s group of dancers (community). In real virtual worlds, groups allow several users to act together to buy land, to work, to get certain permissions, and so on. While Pepe is at work, she uses the group of the club; when she shops at Canimal fashion store, she uses the group of the Canimal; while she studies English, she is part of a small English-as-aSecond-Language (ESL) group for Spanish-speaking people. Pepe is both a creator and a beneficiary of other creators (creation). She creates by mixing and matching her outfit, the color of her skin and her hair, her jewelry, and her shoes, all of which were created by others. She can also buy furniture for her small country house and arrange it. With the right permissions, she can also create a garden for herself. If she has the programming skill, she can program the flowers in the garden to grow, or she can just buy the already growing flowers from someone with the programming skill. All of her actions — for work, fun, learning, or relationships — rely upon an economy that connects the virtual world to the real world (commerce). She can make money by working at the club or selling flowers, and she can pay for her house and her English lessons.
Pepe is one of these avatars. She is a dancer at a nightclub. Her figure, her blonde hair, and her fluent English speech (with a Spanish accent) make her very popular among visitors to the club where she works. Pepe hired a fashion consultant, who matched her looks and clothing to her career. Thus, her blonde hair was matched with her shirt, which bears the letters “SLPD” (an inside joke referring to the “Second Life Police Department”; see Figure 2). Pepe is in the center of a human, social, and commercial undertaking, which also includes dancers of both sexes, Get The Cutter Edge free: www.cutter.com
Figure 2 — This is Pepe, a sample avatar. Is she a policewoman or a dancer? Vol. 21, No. 9 CUTTER IT JOURNAL
The combination of 3D and 3C (community, creation, and commerce) defines a new medium. As real virtual worlds become more 3D and more 3C, they will fulfill the immense potential of the medium.
THE 3D3C FACTORS Now let’s discuss the four 3D3C factors in greater depth.
3D World A 3D world is a dynamic world where viewers see objects like avatars, houses, and cars. The world has land, a sky, a sun (or maybe more than one sun), wind, gravity, water, and fire. Avatars move around freely; for example, in SL an avatar may fly up to a height of 200 meters. The user can further examine the world from different points of view (roaming camera).
Community Human beings are social animals. Unfortunately, during the past century, we gradually distanced ourselves from socializing, mainly because of television. We sat alone in front of the screen, watching passively and without much interaction. We did not react, we didn’t create, and we couldn’t see how others felt or reacted. The Web actually increased this feeling of solitude, but then Webbased e-mail emerged, followed by chat rooms, the cellular phone, SMS — and multiplayer worlds. So we are now actually returning to the community, to friends, to people. Amazon began this trend by allowing readers to review and recommend books to other readers. Later, companies like YouTube allowed users to upload video content. Moreover, we have blogs (which include comments) and social sites such as Facebook and MySpace, where anyone may create a personal site to communicate with his friends.
Creation SL’s greatest invention and technological achievement has been giving users the capability to develop their own things (or in SL jargon, “objects”). In fact, users created all the contents of SL (barring a few sample and demo objects). Objects may be constructed at several levels — first, by moving preconstructed objects from one place to another (i.e., rearranging furniture in a home, setting up a nightclub). Second, an object (i.e., a house) may be assembled from basic components (e.g., walls and ceilings), then “painted” with various textures. These basic components, called primitives, allow the construction of complex objects at a very high level of precision.7 Linden hit the nail on the head when they built a programming language — LSL (Linden 8
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Script Language) — into the world. LSL allows users with programming abilities to endow their objects with behavioral attributes. As a result, we can see fish swimming in schools, a game of golf, pistols that shoot, and even Pepe’s dancing. Largely, these are expansions of the capabilities found in worlds such as The Sims, combined with industrial CAD software packages.
Commerce Finally, Linden has created a new currency, the Linden Dollar (or L$, for short). There is a defined exchange rate between the L$ and the US dollar; in 2008 one US dollar was worth about L$265. The entire economy of SL is based on this currency. The credibility of this economy is built on two levels, one conceptual and the other technical. At the conceptual level, Linden established and operates its own exchange. Within it, Linden guarantees the exchanging of L$ to US dollars immediately and at any time. For instance, if Pepe earns about L$2,600 from tips, she could access the Linden Web site and exchange them for about US $10, which would be immediately transferred to her real account. Going the other way, if Pepe needs L$5,200 for a new hairdo, she could immediately buy them for about US $20. At the technical level, Linden has currency and commerce integrated into the world. For example, every object can have purchase-ability and price.
Integrating 3D and 3C Ultimately, real virtual worlds stem from the integration of 3D with community, creation, and commerce. In SL you’ll find a price for objects, permissions, and ownerships. The commerce is structured into the world itself. For example, let us assume that we enjoyed Pepe’s dancing and wish to tip her. We point to her and transfer money to her by clicking a button. If Pepe wants to buy a new blouse, she goes to the shop, points to the blouse of her choice, and buys it for L$2,000. The blouse is defined as a unique object in this world, and Pepe will not be able to copy it. Out of the L$2,000 Pepe paid for the blouse, the shopkeeper will receive L$500, and the blouse manufacturer will receive L$1,500 (in accordance with a previously defined business agreement between them). At the end of the month, the shopkeeper will pay rent to the land owners, also based on a predetermined agreement. In my opinion, this integration constitutes the basic allure of SL in particular and of real virtual worlds in general — an integration of a 3D world, organized and managed communities, the ability to immediately create objects and services, and a virtual commerce that actually translates to real money.
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ASSESSING CURRENT VIRTUAL WORLDS VIA THE 3D3C PRISM
the addition of reflective water and amazing skies in mid-2008 brings it one step closer to four stars.
Next, using the 3D3C framework, let’s examine a number of current worlds (see Table 1). These worlds were selected to highlight various aspects of the 3D3C definition and not necessarily because of their impact on the field.8
WoW is the most popular multiuser game, with more than 10 million users. WoW has relatively good 3D graphics. Since it is centrally created, the graphics delivery can be optimized. Creation is relatively limited; you can select your avatar and dress it, but you cannot change the environment. Real commerce is also limited. I assigned WoW one star in this category because while users cannot buy WoW gold for real money in the game, they can buy it on the Internet by paying another player to send them gold in-world. IMVU is a chat world merged with MySpace-like personal pages. It does not allow your avatar to walk around; rather you move from one scene to another. In many ways, it is a limited world compared to WoW or SL. Still, it has adequate 3D; a strong community infrastructure, with groups, group chat, friends, and “who visited my page capacity” (albeit without page owner–controlled permissions); and real-money commerce. Club Penguin, now part of Disney, is a kids’ world. It does not have 3D representation, nor is there an ability to use money. Nevertheless, Club Penguin has 12 million total users (mostly kids 6-14 in North America), including more than 700,000 paying subscribers. I mention it here to show that a world does not have to be a 3D3C real world in order to be successful. SL is a prime example of a full 3D3C world. It now rates three or more stars in all the 3D3C categories. Graphically it is less powerful than WoW, although
ActiveWorlds is a platform for creating worlds, not a world in itself. It supports 3D and some of the features needed for community, creation, and commerce, but the extent to which these factors are present in worlds built using the platform is up to the world owners themselves. Sony Home for the Sony PlayStation 3 is a new addition to the realm of virtual worlds. While at this point we do not know exactly how it will behave, early demos present superb graphics as well as an ability to create objects. It’s not yet clear whether Sony Home will offer real-money commerce or the ability to program objects. Note that if it turns into merely an arena for playing games (as some of the previews suggest), Sony Home will lose its ability to compete in the area of virtual worlds. Google Earth is here because, in theory, it can become a virtual world or an infrastructure to build and run worlds. With SketchUp, Google’s simple and free editing tool, one could create 3D objects easily. It is still missing structured community and commerce, but third-party tools — as well as Google tools such as Open Social (for community) and Checkout (for commerce) — may close that gap. (Google’s latest foray into the field is Lively, an avatar-based 3D chat system that looks and feels like IMVU. A merger of Lively and Earth could become a powerful infrastructure for real virtual worlds.)
In this initial and cursory analysis, I have outlined the degree to which each world or platform exhibits the various 3D3C factors. These factors are designed to be comparative (e.g., WoW’s 3D presentation vs. IMVU’s), relative (e.g., IMVU did not have many social features when it started but gained more as it progressed), and explorative (e.g., Google SketchUp as an option for creation). The
Table 1 — Different Worlds Viewed Through the 3D3C Prism Sample Worlds
*** (per case)
Club Penguin SL ActiveWorlds Sony Home (demo) Google Earth Key: * = Very Low ** = Low Get The Cutter Edge free: www.cutter.com
*** = Moderate
**** = High ***** = Very high Vol. 21, No. 9 CUTTER IT JOURNAL
3D3C definition is designed to be a high-level starting point for analyzing virtual worlds.
WHAT DRIVES VIRTUAL WORLDS INTO THE FUTURE? From an economic perspective, real virtual worlds enjoy both a growing supply and a growing demand. The supply side stems from more affordable and powerful technology. New advances in graphics processor units (GPUs), coupled with new interfaces such as the Nintendo Wii, 3D engines like Havok Physics, and abundant high bandwidth, are bringing real virtual worlds closer to the personal and enterprise user. At the same time, the demand is growing among both the young and the not so young. On the one hand, we have younger, messaging-crazed users, who crave interaction. On the other, and perhaps more importantly, we have the older folks who have more time, more money, and a need to express themselves.
The supply and demand forces will bring real virtual worlds to the masses in terms of acceptance, cost, and value. At that point, the 3D3C factors will continue to boost innovation in the field. The immersion of the 3D world, the engagement of the community, the ability to express oneself through creation, and — most critically — the ability to benefit from this creation economically are the elements that will propel real virtual worlds. With technology acceptance, we will enjoy a constant stream of innovations, creations, services, and products (see sidebar, “A Journey into the Future of Real Virtual Worlds”). Things like art, medicine, learning, and shopping will be enhanced by virtual galleries, home treatment clinics, learning kiosks, and familyowned stores. However, there is one major roadblock to this vision: lack of standards. On the Internet, we were able to overcome this obstacle with a well-oiled open system of standards that facilitate innovation and growth. We were unable to overcome it in the gaming world,
A JOURNEY INTO THE FUTURE OF REAL VIRTUAL WORLDS Let’s consider a few example scenarios and see the 3D3C factors in action. I will also highlight some of the IT dimensions of each scenario. VIRTUAL PHYSICAL THERAPY
John is a 75-year-old man who suffered a stroke. Since then, he has been using his virtual home as a starting point for rehabilitation, fun, creation, and productive work. Initially John was devastated. He could barely move his left arm and left leg. After two weeks of intense physical therapy at a clinic, he continued his regime of therapy at home. Using remote sensors and actuators (much like the Wii remote and the Wii Fit system), he was able to exercise his body. When he started visiting a local virtual club, treatment became fun — exercise turned into dancing to techno music. What We Need
To fulfill this vision, we will need Nintendo Wii-like sensors and actuators. We will also need better interfaces that do not involve a keyboard and mouse. Something more direct, that would be able to capture input directly from our minds, would greatly enhance the experience. We will also need recognition of the value of virtual therapy within the healthcare community. A key factor will be helping people to think about virtual worlds as places to be, not as games.
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After a few months, John met Jane. Together they developed the J&J English School. John and Jane have designed a virtual school that facilitates English language immersion. Each object in the school can “talk” in English. They designed various student-student and teacher-student experiences. They have three regular classrooms where students can sit and watch their teacher on a video screen. They also have a special testing room for the SAT. (They had to buy that room.) Each student who takes the SAT in the J&J English School has to pay them, and John in turn reimburses the College Board, owners of the SAT. With full tuition, students get their own room, which includes various items they have learned about. These rooms are often a place for conversation between students and alums of the school. In fact, there are more than 20 different J&J English Schools. They all act the same, but they are managed by different schoolmasters from all over the world. John has learned that hiring teachers is a key factor. Each teacher turns the school into his or her own. John and Jane focus on the infrastructure, while the teachers focus on the actual teaching. They share the revenues from the students. What We Need
Today, learning is one of the top industries in SL. For the first time, educational institutions of all sizes can enjoy a common place of learning, thus allowing synchronized learning. I have personally used SL to teach executive MBA courses at Bar Ilan University. Students use the virtual worlds as a simulation to start a small business, to work with technology developers, and to feel almost like real business owners. ©2008 Cutter Information LLC
where major game companies have established their own systems. There are several open source projects aimed at creating open virtual worlds (e.g., Opensim, Croquet, Sun’s virtual worlds). Linden Lab, the maker of SL, is working with IBM and other firms to allow open worlds. I personally am involved with a Philipsled project to develop MPEG-V, a more formal approach to a standard for connecting real and virtual worlds.9 The future of virtual worlds will depend on the relative success of these efforts.
Nevertheless, most experiments fail — BMW, AOL, ING, Adidas, American Apparel, and Starwood were all early entrants that didn’t make it.10 Key reasons were unrealistic goals, SL limitations (40 avatars per island), demands on end users’ machines (SL calls for a higherthan-normal graphics card), and the limited number of active users in SL (I estimate that fewer than 200,000 SL users log in at least once a week).
ACTIONS TO TAKE NOW
So what should IT do about virtual worlds? The first stage is passive interest: reading, attending conferences, and setting a Google alert on “virtual world [your industry here]” will do the trick.
By now, you should be aware of the status of the field: very promising and still immature. Many firms have started to “play” in SL. Starting something in SL requires relatively modest investments. Essentially, you could have a reasonable presence for less than $10,000. Firms choose SL because it is a semi-open system, with high grades in all four 3D3C factors. In that sense, it is currently the best place to experiment.
The second stage is active research (see sidebar, “10 Days of Proposed Active Research on Virtual Worlds”). In this stage, you will need a partner from the business side. This might be an HR executive who wants to recruit support staff, a marketing executive who wants general PR, or a line of business executive who wants to test new products. There are three types of things you can do in virtual worlds:
A JOURNEY INTO THE FUTURE OF REAL VIRTUAL WORLDS (cont’d) Note that the commerce factor is critical for the J&J school system. Right now, the ability to run a franchise — where the firm maintains quality and standards and the local managers own the customers — is still missing. Classic ERP firms such as SAP, Oracle, and others will need to fill this gap. VIRTUAL CONCERTS
Once every two to three months, John and Jane enjoy virtual concerts. Recently, Live Nation Vcon hosted Madonna. John had to wait in line for two hours to get a ticket. Of course “wait” has a different meaning in the virtual world — “experience” is more like it. In line, John was able to meet old friends and view clips of previous concerts. What is unique about Live Nation Vcons is the fact that you get to experience the concerts with your friends. In essence, a Vcon allows up to 100 people in the same place. The concert lasts eight hours, beginning with movies, earlier shows, and a simple gettogether. The concert itself is streamed to various virtual halls. Each visitor gets to pick one song as part of the ticket price. Together John and Jane have already accumulated 24 Madonna songs. John has traded old Bee Gees songs for some Madonna songs that he missed. His collection is proudly exhibited in his summer home in Vir Italy, Toscana Island. What We Need
This vision sounds like the next step of iTunes. We are still missing many technologies here. First is the ability to have more than 20
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people in one place: today this is a major problem in all worlds. This problem is a very difficult one, because each additional avatar requires the streaming of its data to all the other avatars, which means exponential growth in bandwidth and computation challenge. While there are some theoretical techniques for solving this (such as turning crowds into flat backgrounds and calculating their look and feel once in the server), they remain theoretical solutions. Another set of challenges stems from linking mirror worlds (such as “Vir Italy”) and fantasy worlds (the place where J&J English School resides). Both Google and Microsoft efforts in this space are quite impressive. CONCLUSION
You will notice that some of the scenes presented here can be done today. In fact, some companies are already doing so. The difference is cost of integration. To accomplish the above scenes today, one would need heavy investments in infrastructure, servers, clients, user training, partner training, and so on, all of which would probably make the effort a theoretical experiment. However, assuming the infrastructure is already there — the 3D world, the community tools, the creation ability, and the built-in commerce — the cost versus value equation starts to make sense. The key is the integration of 3D and 3C in the same system. When we accomplish this standard level of integration, opening up businesses, setting up services, and enjoying virtual worlds will be as easy as setting up a blog site today.
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1. Internal services: collaboration between people, product rooms, and design centers 2. External services: PR, exposing a product, interviewing people 3. New products or services: developing products relating to the virtual world’s media (loans in virtual currency, etc.) Selecting the focus of the active research stage will be an important part of the process. IT and its business partner will need to strike a balance between focusing on the right investment and preparing the organization for virtual worlds in general.
CONCLUSION As IT managers, when we face a new field such as virtual worlds, we have to decide how to deal with it.
We must assess at what point we should move from “reading about it” to “small pilot” to “capability we need” to “system we manage.” These steps, their urgency, nature, scope, and timing, take different shapes as a function of several parameters:
Specific industry. Some industries will be affected by virtual worlds sooner than others. I assume that entertainment, health, and retail will be affected sooner than transportation, automotive, and pharmaceuticals. It is best to see what peers in your industry are doing so as to gauge the level of this parameter. Maturity of the field. Today real virtual worlds are just starting. There are no common standards to allow worlds to operate together, there are no full-scale development environments (IDEs), client hardware is relatively expensive (which means not many people can actually run virtual worlds), and so on. Maturity
10 DAYS OF PROPOSED ACTIVE RESEARCH ON VIRTUAL WORLDS Here’s my 10-day recipe for a good active research stage for virtual worlds: 1. Setup (1 day). a. Select an internal service that connects people in the organization. b. Plan for at least a six-month period. c. Appoint an IT project leader; make sure you have a business leader. The IT project leader and the business leader should meet weekly to manage the project. 2. Explore worlds (4 days — 1 day per world). Open an account in the following worlds: a. IMVU. Buy credits; get the adult pass. Join some groups. Buy items. Hire a designer to create a shirt with the logo of your firm. Buy IMVU credit from alternate sources (e.g., www.imvu-credit.com/). b. Lively. Create a new personal room; make some friends. Build a larger room with videos about your firm. c. World of Warcraft. Play a bit. (Just a bit — this could be addictive!) d. Second Life. Go through the training island. Visit NASA, a club (any), and a furniture store (any). Buy land in the main land and position a small house. Furnish it with things you have purchased.
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3. Start exploring the 3D3C factors (4 days — 1 day per factor). a. 3D. Use Google SketchUp to build a sample home; use Blender to build a small 3D logo for the project. b. Community. Open a user account in Facebook. Organize an event for employees using Facebook. Appoint officers. Understand Facebook infrastructure, as well as Open Social (Google). c. Creation. Find a 3D tool for Facebook, such as SceneCaster, Mini Life, or Lively and create a 3D space for yourself. Read about how open/joint development works. d. Commerce. Explore PayPal and eBay; buy and sell something. Explore various payment methods: credit cards, store cards, SMS, and phone. 4. Share experiences and brainstorm for pilot internal projects (1 day). a. Prepare a brainstorming day. Gather lessons learned and initial ideas. Invite both business people and IT people. Prepare to show concrete demos of what you have done. Encourage people to come up with their own creative suggestions. While I have heard many ideas, I’m still surprised by the creative concepts people generate when presented with virtual world opportunities. b. Conduct the brainstorming day. Generate several options. Do both a business analysis (what should be done) and a technical analysis (how it could be done).
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affects both what can be done well and the level of investment needed to gain value.
IT innovation. Do you and your organization have a tradition of starting new things? The ability to harness people, applications, and inside and outside energy and know-how? Do you have relationships with business people who start new things and/or the budget to allow one person to spend four months testing new things? If you don’t, you may need to wait a bit before jumping onto the virtual worlds bandwagon. Impact of change. When you estimate that the potential impact of virtual worlds on your business is big, IT should “attack” the issue earlier, even if it is not mature.
In conclusion, we should consider real virtual worlds as a new medium that is crawling and advancing — and preparing to pounce on us. It will be a medium that combines entertainment, learning, and work into one experience, and it will have a profound effect on our lives. As communications theorist Marshall McLuhan once noted, “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” Real virtual worlds bring a special challenge to IT managers in terms of the innovative/conservative balance. The potential of the field calls for innovation. Its lack of maturity calls for caution. Flawed experiments may lead to wrong conclusions; early experiments that fail may cause the organization to miss the potential. At the same time, an excess of caution may allow competitors to capture market share in the new medium. Addressing the need for both innovation and sustainability will help firms harness the potential of real virtual worlds at the right time and at the right costs.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to thank Raz Hyperman, CIO of Direct Insurance, Israel; and Gil Bickel, CIO of SAP Labs Israel. Special thanks to my long-time friends at STKI (the Israeli affiliate of the Cutter Consortium), Dr. Jimmy Schwarzkopf, Research Fellow and Managing Partner; Galit Fein, VP and Senior Analyst; and Einat Shimoni, VP and Senior Analyst.
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ENDNOTES For a more extensive review of 3D3C, see: Sivan Y. “3D3C Real Virtual Worlds Defined: The Immense Potential of Merging 3D, Community, Creation, and Commerce.” Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2008.
For a review of numbers of users in virtual worlds, see www. mmogchart.com/charts and http://mmogdata.voig.com.
Miller, R. “65% of WoW Users Bought ‘Crusade’ in First 24 Hours.” Virtual Economies.net, 23 January 2007 (www. virtualeconomies.net/2007/01/23/50-of-wow-users-boughtcrusade-in-first-24-hours).
In April 2008, WoW reported one million concurrent users in China. However, these users are divided among many servers and are not considered full concurrent users. See Miller, D. “WoW Hits 1 Million Concurrent Users in China.” Economics of Virtual Worlds (blog), 11 April 2008 (http://economicsofvirtualworlds.blogspot.com/2008/04/ wow-hits-1-million-concurrent-usejrs-in.html).
Note that all avatars in SL represent real users. There are no computerized avatars, as in games such as WoW.
Sivan, Y. “The 3D3C Metaverse: A New Medium Is Born.” In New Media and Innovative Technology, edited by T. Samuel-Asran and D. Caspi, Ben-Gurion University Press, 2008, pp. 133-159.
For example, see the making of folk rocker Suzanne Vega’s SL guitar, which is constructed out of more than 100 primitives (www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQL8_HB1HtQ).
An earlier version of this table was first presented on Metanomics (virtual broadcast), 27 December 2007 (www.dryesha.com/2007/12/video-of-3d3c-metaversemetanomics-talk.html).
Sivan, Y. “The Birth of MPEG-V (MPEG for Virtual Worlds).” Metaverse1 (blog), 16 February 2008 (www.metaverse1.org/ 2008/02/birth-of-mpeg-v-mpeg-for-virtual-worlds.html).
“BWM to Leave Second Life.” Virtual World News, 30 July 2008 (www.virtualworldsnews.com/2008/07/bmw-to-leave-se. html).
Yesha Sivan is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Software Engineering at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat-Gan, Israel. Dr. Sivan is also the founder of Metaverse Labs (MVL), a leading think tank focusing on linking virtual and real worlds. His professional experience includes developing and deploying innovative solutions for corporate, high-tech, government, and defense environments (e.g., the Harvard 9 Keys for Knowledge Infrastructure). He has published numerous papers in the areas of knowledge, 3D3C virtual worlds, and standards. Dr. Sivan received his doctorate from Harvard University. His avatar is Dera Kit, and his blog is www.dryesha.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vol. 21, No. 9 CUTTER IT JOURNAL
Published on Sep 5, 2009
While today virtual worlds are used mostly for games and fun, real virtual worlds have the potential to alter our lives. I define real virtu...