IDEA09: Making Virtual Worlds

by Luke Wroblewski September 16, 2009

At the IDEA09 conference in Toronto, Thomas Malaby's Making Virtual Worlds: Games and the Human for a Digital Age presentation talked about the similarities between games and virtual worlds including how people interact with them.

  • Games are architected for a specific purpose but less for social interactions than you might initially suppose
  • Engrossing games feature first person perspective, high resolution environments, apparent physics, and require skill & mastery to play. These kinds of games are very good at contriving open-endedness.
  • Virtual Worlds are often games but they do not have to be. The reflect a change in what games could be because they are persistent. The removal of the end conditions of games began virtual world gaming.
  • Virtual worlds are persistent and open ended so their results can accumulate: relationships, credentials, commodities, competencies, cash, etc. This is why they start to look like everyday life. They contain lasting things that stay around.
  • A lot of virtual world games are not constructed to be social though they have the tools built in to be social. PLayers often have to work together to accomplish things.
  • In World of Warcraft, leveling allows people to advance together until they hit the end game. Once you get to the end game, WOW becomes more about individual performance. A lot of people with individual goals group together to get things they want.
  • Great players point to numbers to show how well they play. Performance monitoring systems prompt individual mastery (mini-maxxing)
  • In WOW, you need to group with others to gain personal incentives. So its not all that social.
  • In Second life persistence, open-endedness, stakes that accumulate, and the ability to create things in the virtual world exist. However, there is are game objectives.
  • Users are given identity creation & content creation tools. Anyone who makes something owns the IP of what they make. In Second Life, users are supposed to make things.
  • How social is Second Life? What kinds of activities are possible in it? What kinds of things are architected to be possible in the design?
  • People started to create groups in Second Life and exclude others. This was a surprise for Linden Labs. They had to think about content as more then the things people made.
  • In Linden Labs, authority (top down) is challenging. Everyone was in denial that vertical authority existing. Real interest was in trying to tap into the aggregate wisdom of many individuals. Way to tap that wisdom was through games.
  • Norbert Wiener: during World War needed to innovate quickly. He didn’t know what needed to get done. Had to get people to work together to figure things out. Individuals and people seeking to master systems. Can gain mastery of tools, once everyone has access to technology.
  • Not all games are about individual mastery of complex systems.
  • The idea of man the player is there online. Users in Second Life are seeking to master system can make stuff.