The Immersive Talks: About Virtual Worlds, Part 2

Hiperia3D News proudly presents a series of conversations with one of the driving forces in Web3D. He is an early pioneer in virtual reality, and someone that is admired by many of the 3D community as an example of enterpreneur, developer and researcher: Tony Parisi.

In the first chapter we were talking with Parisi about virtual worlds and related technologies. Here comes the second part on this topic, but stay tuned, as many other conversations are to come, and will be published every Monday. 

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grossbeeren tower exit
Photo by extranoise
- In the last times mobile devices (iPhone, iPad, PDAs, smartphones, hand-held PCs...) are becoming more powerful in their hardware capacity. How do you think this may affect virtual worlds and 3D solutions?
- Apple's devices have awesome 3D capability. I have seen and played countless iPhone and iPad games that were very engaging and made great use of the 3D pipeline. I can see big potential for virtual worlds there - assuming a company can build a business on it based on ads or virtual goods. I also think that Android-based devices will slowly build to a competitive, if not dominant position. It is not as clear whether those devices will all have enough 3D capability for virtual worlds. Unfortunately there is no way to tell right now, and the field is so fragmented because Android is an open platform with literally dozens of hardware manufacturers and a host of network providers. So, almost anything can happen with regard to which Android devices become popular for which applications, and what hardware/software capabilities those devices will ship with.

- Is 3D tied to virtual worlds always? We see some 2D worlds amongst the most popular ones, like Habbo and Gaia.
- No, 3D is not tied to virtual worlds at all. Habbo and Gaia are the most successful virtual worlds to date and their graphics are very primitive and 2.5D. Zynga, the kingpin of social gaming, calls its flagship games like FarmVille and YoVille, "virtual worlds" even though they are 2.5D and are not free-form worlds at all, they are highly structured games (one friend has dubbed them "hamster wheels" :-> ). To anybody who knows graphics, such "worlds" are weak graphically, and they don't feel immersive -- but this is from the standpoint of production value. Because the games are compelling, and addictive, and because there is at least a minimal sense of personalization, Zynga can rightly call their games "virtual worlds" and the experience "immersive." And their customers don't seem to be complaining about that.

tgvPhoto by extranoise

- Downloading a client software in a DSL connection just lasts seconds or few minutes. Aren't people too lazy? are lazy people future customers? too much fast and free?

- Great question. I think there is a lot of confusion on this point. This is not an issue of time or laziness. Users spend minutes, even hours, downloading iTunes updates, games, music. The real issues are two: desire and trust.
If a user wants to download software, s(he) will do it. One key is for the content providers to message the download properly to the user, e.g. "Download software X now to instantly stay in touch with your friends world wide," or whatever the value proposition is. If the web site has clear language about why a user should want to download the software, and the reason is compelling, i.e. s(he) really wants to do that thing, then the download is going to happen.
Secondly, the user has to trust the source. People will naturally be resistant to downloading unknown software from a new, unproven developer, vs. a company like Adobe for a Flash update. That resistance takes time to overcome, as the developer build brands equity and awareness.

juliusturm - spiral stairsPhoto by extranoise

- We see some virtual worlds use standalone application clients (SL, AW), and others use the web. What do you think is the way they should go, and why?

- As you can imagine, I believe this is all going to the web. Even after over a decade in this field, and my most recent startup's failed attempt to do just that, I still believe it is the right direction. The web holds all the data, the web is where the world socializes, the web is where people get their information. The web is also where millions of consumers are playing casual games, social games, Flash games. Why would virtual worlds be any different? This is inevitable; it is not a matter of if (or why), simply when and how.

- In your opinion, does it have sense the opposite: embedding the web into the client app, instead? Like pages embedded in virtual tvs and things like that.

- This is actually just word play. I see no difference between apps on a web site, and the web "embedded into the client app." Nearly all iPhone and iPad apps have some kind of networking built in, and the distinction for the end-user is blurry. What, really, is the difference between a web-enabled "rich client" like you see on the iPhone and an "internet application" running on a web site? Each has presentation, data, media, asynchronous and/or real-time communication. Some of the presentation happens with a complex client running on a phone, some in simple pages on a web site. The data is mostly in the cloud, with some data maybe stored locally on a device. The communication is all on the web. So, I see no difference between the two, and thus I imagine we will see virtual worlds represented equally well on TVs, phones, tablets, etc. as they will be on the web in the near future.

-Jordi R. Cardona-

© 2008 by Jordi R. Cardona. Link to this post without copying the text.

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Russ Kinter said...

In terms of the success of stand-alone applications versus the web I disagree. The web is accessed through HTML browsers, therefore 3D applications that use the web will always be subservient to HTML browsers. HTML browsers will always be in the position of controlling middle men that command a price of some kind -or better put- they will simply set the rules for use. The more rules there are to follow the more expensive and cumbersome the implentation. The middle men decide to change the rules and oops! -the price just went up.
The debacle with the JVMs in 01 and 02 clearly showed this. In one swoop M$ and Netscape destroyed a major capability of their VRML plug-ins by changing the rules.
Why give history a constant chance of repeating itself? In any business it always best to avoid middle men as much as possible to maximize profit. It's simply cheaper to buy wholesale than retail. If it is possible to go around the middle men and unnecessary rules and higher prices it should be done. That is what Second Life did with overwhelming success. X3D has gained very little by being boxed by html browsers and lost heavily to SL. The history of the success of stand-alone 3D applications versus plug-ins simply speaks for itself.

Jordi R Cardona said...

Linking virtual worlds and the web has its advantages: the user seamlessly enters a virtual world without having to run another application, and this gives the feel to transit between 2D and 3D continuously. Specially when standards are used, like VRML or X3D, Flash3D or others.

I agree that when you want something more than just visualization of 3D models or worlds, and specially when you want a multi-user experience like most virtual worlds and online games are conceived today, standalone seems to be better.

This is an eternal discussion, and you are right: if you make your multiuser virtual worlds solution depend on the browsers, you have to be always up-to-date, fight the bugs of the interaction with the browser and thus the costs in human work and money increase. Even more, your software quickly gets outdated or simply becomes incompatible, it forces you to be in continuous update.

Standalone solutions don't have such problems. Just look Active Worlds, that make really few updates since they appeared, but their model remains when others have fallen. Or Second Life, that was able to add lots of features because they can concentrate on it instead of removing bugs caused by the different browsers.
The solution you've developed, Russ, Deep Matrix, has the strong point of being standalone, I was surprised by the amount of new features you added and their capabilities.
Standalone means live longer, be more stable, remove less bugs.

On the other side, there is the other approach, that says that the users move seamlessly and enter the virtual world from their browsers. There are some interesting approaches that conceive plugin-less access, like 3DXplorer, and there was even some projects that conceived that the user may move from one virtual world to another with the same avatar seamlessly (I will believe this when I see it :) ).
I think the dream of a 3D interface for the web is behind this approach, the conception of it all as a whole.
If it works and one can assume the costs and sacrifices, I think it's as valid as the standalone solution.

But you are right, there are more survivors and successful solutions in standalone than as a browser plugin, so it may have the "evolutive" advantages that you say. The two approaches may be compatible at some degree, I really like to be able to visualize 3D worlds and models in the browser or inside a page, but if a standalone solutions offers me stability and features I really prefer it to a limited multiuser plugin.

Tony Parisi said...

Russ those are great points. I understand your frustration r/e the browser as application platform. But one way or another that factor must change. 3D has to get built into a browser, for real, to get to the ubiquity required to be considered a viable platform for broad use.

This might happen through Unity, it might happen through (someday) true 3D in Flash player, it might happen via WebGL. Or maybe some dark horse. But it has to happen.

I would be careful about overestimating SL's "success". Relative to VRML applications, yes, but still SL is hardly mainstream and a few million registered users doesn't come close to the Web installed base, iPhone users or even Unity's penetration at this point (they boast 30M+ downloads)

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