I suspect the next big thing down the road of websites will be virtual environments. VRML took a nosedive a long time ago and these java applets are not anything to brag about. Many gaming worlds are actually becoming successful on there own. You have Ultima Online, Final Fantasy, Everquest, World of WarCraft, The Sims Online, Starwars Galaxies, Second Life, Project Entropia, and the list just goes on. All these are self contained worlds that have proven that they can sustain the support of operation and profit. They are “virtual worlds”. They just are not VRML.I suspect that in the not too distant future, we will begin to see worlds open up to each other. They may not be the existing worlds we play in today, but other worlds later may do this. In this mannor, you can travel from one online gaming environment to another.
In some ways, these worlds are already loosly coupled. My wife and I use a server to do voice chat with other friends of ours. I mainly play a game called SecondLife while I’m in chat. My wife goes back and forth between World of WarCraft and SecondLife with a few of the people on the chat. Although these are different accounts she logs in with back and forth, it is this one voice chat server that ties the two worlds together and lets her and her friends stay in touch.
The steps will be small like this in the beginning. But eventually, you may have game servers exposing API’s to get data about characters, transfer gold and products, or get some statistics about the server itself. Later on, you’ll probably start hearing about companies going into a joint venture to allow accounts from one world be valid for another to login.
The real tricky part is avatars. These are the characters that represent you. How would you transfer an avatar from one world to another? And how would you keep the avatar from not fitting in with that worlds environment and storyline? Inventory and Guilds are an additional worry.
The easiest way to solve these problems is to just ignore what you have an build a new framework for the world with these goals in mind. The primary objective would be to have a standard and open API that other worlds outside of your world can adapt to easily. If you have an open API, then you may worry about competition, but just remember that anyone leaving your world for another can come back just as quick without having to install another piece of software.
Let’s look at web servers for a moment. I manage a web server and I can choose if I allow just anyone on the internet in, or if I make them validate with a username and password. Some companies have even gone so far as to let you validate accounts against there own membership database (Such as Microsoft Passport). So security shouldn’t be too much of a problem since it’s already been done over. You can deny characters from certain worlds if you don’t like those worlds. In summary, I’m thinking that if an API is open enough, you can let people come and go with or without authentication just like we do with websites today.
Inventory is another matter. Where does it exist? How do you let someone create an object in your world that is originally from another. Each piece of inventory has to point to what world it originally came from and where that data is. It’s almost like a whole web address.
Anyhow, I think games are going to merge together. This is where the ideas of “Virtual Reality” will start to become real. Of course, the futures virtual reality is not going to be anything like what we used to imagine it as. Don’t expect to put on any funy helmets any time soon.