Red says:

I wrote this article at the beginning of last June and posted it in a personal blog. With all the buzz going on about immersive worlds, particularly those that utilize player created content, I thought it would be apropos to put a copy of it in here. What buzz, you ask? Well, there’s Sony’s “Home,” and Raph Koster’s “Areae,” to use some of the big names. It seems to me that people are still trying to figure out exactly what our technology driven community is going to look like, and how to steer its virtual representation.

Metaverse: June 08, 2006

I recently read Cory Ondrejka’s, “Power by the People: User-Creation in On-line Games,” an article he wrote on Linden’s vision of the metaverse. (Massively Multiplayer Game Development 2, Charles River Media, 2005) In it, he gives many compelling arguments for players owning their created content, then swings that argument around to support Linden’s land owning model. The connection felt forced. His argument was that creative people with a vision and no outside funding frequently mortgage their houses as a source of funding, therefore the metaverse must have land that people can own in order to create content. This vision of ownership seems to go against the ToS statement that, “You agree that even though you may retain certain copyright or other intellectual property rights with respect to Content you create while using the Service, you do not own the account you use to access the Service, nor do you own any data Linden Lab stores on Linden Lab servers (including without limitation any data representing or embodying any or all of your Content),” since the account you use is directly related to the land you “own”. On top of this, “ownership of land” is the quantitative measure of how much you get billed to play – all of which more closely resembles a real life rental than property owning.

The property that players own is actually their created content. Linden does allow all players to retain the copyright for any content that they create within the game; with a clause that allows Linden Labs the right to use your content, free of charge, however they see fit in their on-line world, and for real world advertising.

The current game design fad that Second Life currently spearheads, which is to build an all consuming metaverse, ala Neil Stephenson’s vision, doesn’t take into account that we have our metaverse. The Internet, in all it’s vastness, and in it’s connection and application to our real world is the metaverse which humanity came to out of need. Just as our submarines differ from Verne’s Nautilus, in accordance to the needs and limitations of our world, so does our metaverse differ from it’s fantasy counter part. Our metaverse is not avatar based because we as people do not need avatars for most of our interactions with our Internet. Where and when a representation of ourselves is necessary, we have allowed ourselves the option to create a venue specific avatar according to who we need or want to be in that circumstance.

In our metaverse, we own all the content we create, and we own whatever land we want to, in the form of hardware and servers. What Linden had created is another fantasy, no different from next week’s top sci-fi writer’s version of a submersible ship. There is nothing wrong with new fantasy worlds, and there is a proven market for them, but the concept that one company can embody the metaverse is ridiculous.

Daniel James, CEO of Three Rings inc., has recently written a pair of blog articles which wax poetic about the potential of game environments to mimic collaborative societies such as Burning Man. While I don’t think that one game can become the new Internet/metaverse, I do think that all games are a part of our existing metaverse, and that the very existence of this virtual world (the Internet) which connects our real world to its self and plays havoc with space and time is the beginning of a societal change which will move us toward a consenting interdependent and creative community akin to Burning Man. All games become, in essence, themed camps that one can visit, participate in, and learn from within the over-arching metaverse. Unfortunately, the vast majority of games on the market teach outmoded values and lessons which apply to our real world less and less, and to our metaverse almost not at all. The value of games such as Second Life, with more interactivity or player created content, is not that they are the metaverse, but that they are games for our new world, ones which teach us how to think, invent, and interact, rather than hunt and lead. In a world where we are already taking steps toward a new social order, these games are classrooms and subverses wherein we will learn how to exist in our new metaverse.

One Response to “Metaverse”

  1. Gwyneth Llewelyn Says:

    There are a few assumptions on your article that are based on several unfortunate points that sadly are misleading:

    1) Linden Lab is actually not the best entity to talk about the metaverse, since they’re necessarily biased. In effect, Cory’s allegation that “the metaverse will run on land that we sell to customers” is plain and simply wrong. What Linden Lab does is way more simple: they host 3D content on servers. They took almost 7 years to understand what their business model actually is. So in effect claiming that they’re more than one (of many possible!) 3D content hosting providers is ridiculous — and, in fact, Linden Lab has abandoned that claim over time, understanding that it simply is not going to be true.

    Put into other words, not even Linden Lab really believes that they will have (say, in 2016) the monopoly on 3D content hosting. They will be one of many. What they might push for is a metaverse communication protocol, ie. becoming the leading entity defining how to have 3D viewers integrate with 3D content hosting servers, since that’s an area where they have some experience (although, granted, there are far better ways to do things beyond their own protocols used in Second Life).

    In effect, by publishing the “Second Life Protocol” and to a degree submitting it to a peer-reviewed “standard”, as well as open sourcing the client (the server software will shortly follow), they’re very well on the way to promote what ultimately will be the “Metaverse communication protocol”. It certainly will go through several iterations until it’s widely adopted. However, their experience in the past four years of running a metaverse (the only one, though), will give them a strong position in any future “Metaverse Foundation” that might be created like the World-Wide Web Consortium.

    2) The Linden Lab ToS is the most ludicrous legal document ever provided. It’s invalid in all countries where Second Life’s biggest userbase comes from — the European Union (over 50%). But even in the US, recent rulings by a court have decided that the Linden Lab ToS includes several clauses that are also invalid in the US as well. So Linden Lab’s legal department has to rethink their own terms of service, and that will happen sooner rather than later. In effect, if they really wish to be granted carrier status — de jure and not only de facto — there is a lot of work to be done on that area.

    Again, Linden Lab’s own claims as how they think they can enforce their own terms of service are pretty much utopian. They are even right now the first to break their own ToS by publicly stating that their micropayment currency, the Linden dollar, has “value” (contradicting what is stated on their own ToS!), which forced them to shut down all wagering and gambling venues in Second Life. This is the first of many other self-contradicting decisions recently taken by Linden Lab. In the future, they will very likely simply issue a disclaimer (“do whatever you wish with the software, but don’t blame us”) and that will be all.

    Still, the time is right to encourage them to get rid of their ToS as soon as possible, and to redefine — clearly and precisely — their simple role as a 3D content hosting provider and nothing more. Sadly, even their own mission statement (“To connect us all to an online world that advances the human condition”) needs to be changed.

    3) Like the mainstream tries to equate “the web” with “the Internet” — the subtle difference is that the Internet is just a networking protocol, the “Web” is an application developed on top of the Internet — you seem to fall for the fallacy of equating “the metaverse” with “the Internet” as well. The metaverse can simply be described as “an online, 3D, immersive, virtual world environment where people live, socialise, and conduct business, and where all content is created by the users of the metaverse” (where obviously “gaming” is a form of socialisation, and one of its many applications, so it can be subsumed and not explicitly stated). Second Life, in spite of claims otherwise, is not “just another game that has user-created content” — there is a long list of games with user-created content, many who are technologically far more advanced than Second own Life’s outdated and struggling technology.

    No, Second Life might not be “the cornerstone of the metaverse” in, say, 2015 or so, but whatever replaces it will certainly share a lot of its attributes. It will be, first and foremost, 3D. Secondly, its major use will be for user interaction — for meetings with customers and partners, for calling up your friends and family, for watching a movie together. Part of that user interaction will, of course, be pure entertainment — socialising for fun and at your leisure, or playing games — but it won’t be the major use of the metaverse (like most people, nowadays, mostly use email for online business, although they still use it for their hobbies and for fun and entertainment). And finally, all the metaverse will be created by its own users (just like blogs are written by their authors, or forums have posts by a plethora of authors, or Flickr has pictures submitted by their users, or YouTube has movies… and so on).

    So, I think that “limiting” Second Life as some sort of “prototype” on how people will “learn to think, invent and interact” is really underestimating what is really going on in an environment that has a population bigger than several countries and a GNP already surpassing many undeveloped countries. Second Life is so much more than that. It’s not a “learning” environment; it is a metaverse, even if a crippled one. In essence, it is the analogous of things like the text-based email applications like elm or pine which allowed people to send emails (and thus interact online in a new way of instant online communication). They worked well for the ones using them. But we had to wait a decade or two until email became easy to use, graphically appealing, and having lots of fancy features to make sure that almost everybody in the developed world has an email address.

    However, I should stress out that I also agree that Second Life is far too clumsy and cumbersome and unscaling in 2007 to be able to deal with a mainstream of a billion users in 2017. Either Linden Lab will dramatically push their technology into the second decade of the 21st century — or someone will do it for them. In effect, like Netscape replaced Mosaic, Second Life might be replaced by something better that does the same job, but is easier to use and has less technological issues to deal with. However, if you could get hold of an old copy of Mosaic these days, you’d be surprised at how much you could still do with it (sure, perhaps not upload pictures to AJAX-enabled websites…). Mosaic gave “birth” to the World-Wide Web and a new way of doing business, of retrieving information, of keeping in touch with people, and also of personal authoring and content production — so we should not underestimate Second Life, which, on the future infrastructure running the Metaverse, will find its place in history.

    However I should stress that I seriously believe — after seeing so much hype about “other projects” that all failed to start (where is Raph Koster’s “Areae”? Where is Sony’s Home? At least Multiverse managed to go out of beta… but it has a completely different target, audience, and business model, they’re in the games development industry), I remain skeptic about how “easy” it is to create a whole new metaverse from start — instead of starting with a working one, and improving it.

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