“Virtual World” terminology

http://www.virtualworlds2007.com/

The term “virtual world” means things like Second Life, There, MTVs Laguna Beach project, etc.  It has a strong connotation of “glorified chat channel”.  It also lacks an explicit conceit- whereas MMOs like World of Warcraft and Star Wars Galaxies have some stong contextual world and story in which you play.  There and Second Life are utterly freeform playgrounds.

I don’t want that.  That is boring to me.  Well, no, that’s not true.  I find them to be quite interesting.  I just much prefer the route of starting at the “game” side and moving to the “virtual world”.  A definite game world (and conceit) provides much-needed context and a baseline from which players then develop the world.

When I say, “Let’s make virtual worlds,” I am referring to how Eve Online’s market economy allows for independent play styles (be a trader doing your own thing, but it’s economically as viable as combat, which is an explicit play style).  A “virtual world” to me implies that we allow for things like constrained player generated content.  We build things like combat systems, quests, and NPC factions, yes, but we take the next step and make those things respond somehow to what the player want them to be.  NPC factions can be eliminated, species can be driven to extinction, players can develop technology from bows and arrows all the way up to starships (in the extreme).

And a note on that player-driven technology development.  When I say, “Players can develop technology from bows and arrows all the way up to starships,” I am not referring to dev-created items and technology skills that players must “discover” in the sense that they simply earn the ability to use them.  I am implying that the developers have created a system by which players are able to truly invent items the devs never had in mind.  I am saying we should fully embrace emergent content.  All of this, mind you, is set in the context of a dev-created world, complete with seeded factional tensions, seeded player cities, seeded economies.  “Seeded” only in that doing so seems to be necessary to show brand new players what is possible, and here I’m referring to intial server boot-up.

A “virtual world” to me is not Second Life.  It’s a more extreme Star Wars Galaxies (but not in the direction of Second Life).

I can see terminology is an issue in this discussion on virtual worlds vs. games.  So, I will try to keep hammering at it.