Friday, January 16, 2009

Games vs. Virtual Worlds for Nation-sized Problems

3D Shooters are the most prominent form of game system and environment in the consumer and the defense space. These portray conflict, combat, and deadly threats. They immediately plunge the player into a simulating environment with urgent problems to solve. They also mirror some of the most important engagements that real people and real societies engage in. However, these environments are extremely limited in time and space. The battlefield is a relatively small area – usually just large enough to contain a specific vignette, and never so large that the players can wander far enough to miss the entire point of that piece of the world. These vignettes and geospaces are linked together in such a way that the player can move immediately from one “hot spot” to the next. There is no room in these for intervening relationship building, downtime learning, AAR, or planning for the next engagement. For entertainment this hot-spot-hopping is exactly what you want. But as a venue for wrestling with real problems, this is a very small and single-focused experience.

MMOGs create a much larger space in which player spend more time wandering, conversing, building relationships, and joining clans that will participate in specific battles. It includes spaces for combat, socialization, trade, and exploration. This size and diversity enables a much broader and somewhat richer experience of the world and the other players in it. Specific battles may still be the focus for many players, but they can also plan, rehearse, and regale in stories surrounding these as well. The algorithms that determine engagement outcomes, but battle and trade, are simple – often just subtracting and adding points to a player’s health.

Virtual Worlds create an world that can be smooth and continuous like the real world. They can create context, connections, and history that is similar to what exists in the real world. But in their current state they are only slightly different from MMOGs. Second Life, and others like it, are unique in that the content is created by the users, not by the development company. This begins to allow the users to shape the world to meet their needs. But to really become distinct and useful, these spaces need to allow the users to upload/link their own models into the world. The VW needs to provide an infrastructure that can accommodate heterogeneous models provided by users and allow these diverse models to interact with each other. Business and Government problems cannot be represented by generic one-size-fits-all models provided by an entertainment company.

Each game designs a set of models that meet the needs of that game. The preference is to create sparse models that are computationally inexpensive and that fit together to allow interactions across all of the objects in a space. As virtual worlds are adopted to the needs of real government and intelligence customers, there is going to be a need to (1) add much more complex models that require more computational power, (2) bring together a very diverse set of models that were not originally meant to work together. A government Virtual World cannot align these models one at a time, that is an N-squared problem that will very quickly become impossible to manage. There needs to be an infrastructure that allows heterogeneous models to be integrated into the world and to work with the existing models without requiring customer model-to-model modifications. This would be a big environment with an underlying software infrastructure that present real value to the government.

For the complete briefing see:

Labels: , , ,