5 Top Issues Holding Back the Virtual Online Experience

Day 2 here at the MetaMeets conference in Dublin and some ideas on the future. While we are seeing millions and millions of people jumping into Facebook games, the uptake on 3D Immersive Online is more or less flat. Why?

1. Wrong Target

While SL defined a kind of virtual online experience, the Virtual World as a consumer offering is not scalable.  The "land" concept benefits mainly the platform operator and not the content creators--who pay more for that resource than in general they can recover (ok, some people beat the casino, but most don't). The fetish about being a "land owner" or the belittled role of being a "resident" are not compelling to mainstream audiences.

virtual welcome 01

2. Persistence is Wasteful

What people will want is content on demand -- not a false "land-centric" view of content that can only be accessed via pushing your avatar into a crowded (=laggy) or empty (=lonely) area. I think a more interesting target is "Placeness" which helps people understand content and consume it. But Placeness does not have to be persistent and can be delivered to multiple instances and even allow variance. So rather than have people queuing to enter a virtual area like King Tut's tomb, we can provide that on-demand in whatever configuration a user wants. As well, if virtual content is not needed it is not rezzed and consuming server resource. It would sit in a database and be called when someone needs it.

3. Online Integration Needs Context

While people will want an immersive experience online, they don't want to be cut-off from the web threads or have to register a new account. Facebook already bridges a lot of this. But the main point on integration is from a user experience perspective--in that you do things on the web or on mobile and they are seamlessly pulled into the virtual or push back out.  The virtual experience should not be some isolated experience.

4. Technical Hurdles

It still isn't that easy to get into a virtual online session and move around. We still see a lot of issues with people trying to use wireless and laptops and getting in, but then having crashes, lag etc. A wired connection is a lot more stable.  School environments have a lot of firewall issues as well. We have a new Unity-based browser viewer that may address some of this, but not without some issues.

5. Lack of Compelling Content

We have about 8-10 hours of content on Heritage Key now which is very engaging, but of course it is not that vast or varied. In fact no one grid can ever be enough to meet the interests of the entire online userbase.  And content will need also to be more complex and high-quality to justify getting paid for it. There is also an issue here about what platforms to build new content for. I don't see how anyone can make big investments in closed platforms where the created assets are not easy to archive or repurpose. Further content creators need clear copyright control over their work.

A Vision of the 3D Web Future

Our vision of the Virtual 3D Immersive Experience that should be more compelling might be described as (ok this is still a work in progress):

* 3D = not 2.5D

* High fidelity = photorealism for content including Avatars (of course this can be styled, but point is about quality and detail)

* Immersive = makes you feel like you are in a place. So actually if this is right the idea of having a virtual experience embedded in a browser is not that important.

* On-Demand = how you want it, when, where you want it

* Avatar-centric = built around user experience and social interactions. Avatars also need better, more fluid controls and be reactive to users in a rich manner.

* Useful = adds value to tasks, transactions, processes that are needed. I think this is a hard challenge to meet and in general it is difficult to deliver. There are a lot of opportunities for making entertaining education content, but this market is difficult monetize. So, beyond shooter games what will consumers find interesting?

* Pay-to-Use =Better Monetization Strategies. If making money on selling "land" is not scalable then what is? Advertising is obvious, but will need the scale that is missing at this stage. Paid to play will hit the quantity/quality challenge. Yet, pay to play is working for kids online and of course WoW makes it happen.

* Federated = thousands of interconnected grids all opt-in and controlled by their own grid owners. Moving between these grids should be seamless and secure.