Korea: X|Media Lab: 3D internet, virtual worlds and Mobile

I did two speeches back-to-back earlier today at the X|Media Lab and Mobile Content 2008.  In both, I gave an overview of what the BBC’s been doing on mobile; which is slightly ironic since the Koreans are so far ahead of the UK, technologically.  Hopefully I had alot to share with the audiences about the content side of things.

The theme of this X|Media Lab is “3D Internet: Virtual, Visual and Social.”  I have to admit, I don’t know a hell of alot about the 3D internet other than that it exists and has a huge audience.  Before spending last week at Crossover Nordic, I didn’t realise just what a huge audience it has but when it was put in the context that many of the big worlds like World of Warcraft and Second Life have more inhabitants than many real-world countries, my ears perked up and I realised it was time to pay more attention.  Good thing I’m here.  But what on earth was I going to talk about?

The answer had to be about how mobile and virtual worlds could overlap and complement each other.  Here’s my presentation (.ppt) and I’ll elaborate on it below, because the more I think about it the more excited I get about the possibilities.  Click to Download: X|Media Lab Presentation

So here’s what I suggested could be done:

1) Mobile can provide a persistent and ubiquitous connection the worlds, extending the opportunities for play and connection to the worlds.

Users of these worlds are ‘addicted’ to them and I suspect would welcome any opportunities to be more connected, more immersed and able to constantly participate ‘in world.’  I understand there are some Flash clients being developed for phones that will hopefully create 2D or 3D versions of the worlds.  This seems good, but like a ‘mini-me’ type of approach; and I’m not sure this will work.  Will the screens be big enough and good enough to render something useful?  Will on-the-go users really want to pay this much attention?  Or would they rather a thinner connection when the world is in their pocket at work?

On thing I spend alot of time telling people is that mobile ‘isn’t just a mini version of the web.’  Sure, mobiles access the web, but a mere copy and paste approach doesn’t always ensure success.

I think it might be cool to see if the types of services that help audiences stay in touch with their real world would be popular with helping them stay in touch with their virtual worlds.  SMS alerts sent from the worlds or text messages from or between characters in the world seem like an obvious opportunity. Imagine a guild of players in World of Warcraft texting out of the world to players in another guild to get online and help them in a battle where they need backup/support.  Texts would reach the players and they could rush from the real world back to their PCs to get in world and play.

The Twitter Fountain in Second Life is a start at this as Keren Flavell from SLCN.TV pointed out to me, but its still feels more like novelty and the beginning of something better:

And what types of web apps could provide data from the worlds to thin mobile clients, widgets or even simple mobile web pages?

2) Thinking about this type of connection and play, I wonder how these could be crossed with Alternate Reality Games.  ARGs are doing more out of home and with the crossover between real the real world and mobile and I think that this type of crossover could be replicated into the virtual world – possibly even triangulated between reality, alternate reality and the virtual world.  What a game that could make.  Can you geocache in any virtual worlds (yet)?

3) So how could all this work.  Well, I’m no expert.  But I have an idea that flexible, open web services could sit in the middle of these different ‘worlds’ (aka media) and provide the glue that lets transactions and interactions flow between them.

For example, using the Last.fm API you could (I think) create a situation like this if you built the right connections into the Virtual Worlds, Mobile Web, etc:

- I’m in a physical store and see a CD I want to recommend to a friend;

- I capture the barcode/semacode on the packaging which gives me information about the album from the mobile web on my phone;

- I could then choose someone from a list of virtual friends to recommend the track to;

- They would get notified, in say Second Life, and be able to stream the track for free;

- If the friend likes the song, they could add it to a Last.fm style playlist or even buy the track using real or virtual currencies.

In my presentation, I tried to describe it with this diagram:

To elaborate…  If we’re moving to a world where the ‘Internet of Things’ is becoming a reality, then everything around us will be connected, not just our devices.  This should apply to things in the virtual world as well.  If flexible and open web services can connect to these via mobile devices, strong connections between the real and virtual world can be created.  Behind this a strong system design strategy would be required.  Expanding from the idea that ‘Designing for Accessibility is good design’ (because everyone can use it), you could move to the idea that designing for mobile is (also) good design because everyTHING (in the real and virtual worlds) can access and use the service.

I’m obviously not going to be the only one thinking about this stuff but sitting in a room full of experts on this world has me really excited.  Neil Katz, from IBM, told me about a few examples where you can start to see this stuff coming to life in a very basic way.

The first was an IBM R&D project that echoed/emulated a Virtual World on Treo device.  Video of it here:

He also showed me this motion-aware mobile interface on a Samsung for Virtual Worlds (very cool!):

Also: Click to download my Mobile Content 2008 Presentation (similar to the X|Media Lab presentation but with a little more detail on the specific content the BBC has done)

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3 responses to “Korea: X|Media Lab: 3D internet, virtual worlds and Mobile

  1. Pingback: Interesting Stuff 2008-09-26: Weather Changes | Dom.ir Blog

  2. An interesting development I’ve discovered on QuicklyBored.com since I wrote this post: http://www.quicklybored.com/2008/09/wow-player-windows-mobile-pocket-pc/

  3. Sure, though there’s alot of legwork to be done in mobile standards to make mobile access anything highly adopted, methinks. The issue, as you mentioned, with lightweight versions of normally fat-client worlds, is that you’re forced as a designer to strip out some functionality that’s pretty essential to the original 3d experience. That being said, if you develop a space that specifically embraces the lowest common denominator of the experience, and that’s an overt part of the design, then it can totally work. Case in point may be Multiverse’s flash sharding thingie. They’re developing the first of this approach I’ve seen, wherein pc (for example) users interacting in a robust 3d space can interact simultaneously with avatars being controlled by users on mobiles, in 2d isometric (overhead) versions of the same space.

    What’s interesting, mentioning world of warcraft, is that wow is basically a 2d game… verticality, at least when I played the game a couple years ago, has no affect on actual gameplay. Sure there is terrain, but anywhere you can climb to anything else can climb to, and it works exactly the same as if you took all that terrain and just stretched it flat. The 3-dimensionality is an aesthetic element that way enhances immersion. So, you could imagine a pretty effective lightweight wow client that will obviously never see adoption unless blizzard releases and approves of it :). Currently there’s a lightweight data-based mobile wow client (will try to find link later if I can, but just google mobile wow) that simply allows you to do auction trades, maybe move your avatar from place to place, really simple stuff (you’re not about to go run an instance on it or anything, but it’s a step). And of course I was running second life on my n95 a few months ago, but the interface just doesn’t make sense currently, on so many levels. Like you said, copy and paste doesn’t work, it’s essential to embrace only the benefits of various media, and adapt where it makes sense.

    This is, of course, a common fallacy amongst virtual world idealogues… some of whom think that audiences would rather download a 300mb 3d client to stumble halfway into a synchronously-viewed youtube video, rather than just use firefox :P

    Then, regarding guild activity in MMO’s like WoW, you’ll often find that the most effective house-cleaning groups are connected via standard lines of communication like email, sms, and phone. Though i’ve never delved into guild play to that level (unless you count UO, where we took our griefing very seriously), but i’ve definitely had friends on-call 24/7. Usually, though, scheduling works the same that any work schedule would … interesting how much the mundane structures of the normal life influence and inform lych slaying :)

    Again, though, I think you’ll see more interesting development of mobile application in not-so-closed systems (MMO’s, of course, usually being highly proprietary and bordered)… like opensim, vastpark, even the second life grid… open-ended virtual spaces that lack that game structure that is such an easy sell currently (but let us not forget how silly it sounded 10 years ago)

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