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Platform vs. Video Game

There's a "game" that I've been playing lately called Second Life(1), which isn't so much a game as it is a shared, virtual world.  There's no plot or adventure, unless you make your own.  Really, the best analogy/description I come to when trying to categorize it is "It's like Poser(2) meets Asheron's Call."  It can literally be a shared, 3-D development environment.

The company that runs it, though, is marketing it as a game, and only a game.  The "game" has potential, in my humble opinion, to transcend the game standard and become a platform; much the same way hypertext transcended a formatting type and became the web.

I won't bore anyone with my marketing theories, because I want to ask two questions:

One: Is it possible for a game to be a communications platform?  If you have a system that's a game, yet at the same time allows you to instant message, share files, collaborate on 3-D projects, and host things like classes(3), can that be evolved into a full-fledged platform?

Two: Is there ever a way, as a user, working from a Black Box perspective, to encourage a business to think of themselves not as a software or game company, but as a platform architect?  Has anyone ever had any luck convincing a privately owned software comapny to do something different?  Did it work?

So, anyway, in discussing it with a friend who plays it today, Joel's article of Platform Architects, or was it Software Astronauts, came to mind.  The similarities between what Joel said about Groove and my internal gumblings about Second Life seemed to parallel.  Perhaps I'm giving myself too much credit in making the comparison, but my questions stand.  Thanks!

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1. http://www.secondlife.com/

2. http://www.curiouslabs.com/article/productlist/48/?df=1

3. As avatars, we've given two "Tech Talk" classes about home networking, video cards, and simple scripting; and other players have done even more classes.  Speaking as a coder/IT who works in education, there seems to be potential in Second Life for distance learning classes.

Andrew Burton
Thursday, January 08, 2004

"Is it possible for a game to be a communications platform?"

I'd put it slightly different: Is it possible for a online multiplayer game to avoid becoming a communications platform?
I have even known (very real) business transactions and executive meetings to take place on online game chat channels. Demographics of some of the games will show you quite some grey hair in power positions behind the cute nicks.
We are a social species. You might start becuase the game looks fun, but you'll stay because you have found a community.

Just me (Sir to you)
Thursday, January 08, 2004

I used Second Life during the open beta but haven't been a paying subscriber.  My guess is that they actively avoid being seen as a "communication platform" for very valid business and marketing reasons.  Communications, telco and Internet software platforms of all types are seen as a 'dead' field.  The videogame industry is seen as being a fast growing field with billions of dollars up for grabs.

Which do you think it makes more sense to be seen as when it comes to investors and such?

Mister Fancypants
Thursday, January 08, 2004

Well, I don't question their going the game route at all.  Billing it as a game, as you said, will attract investors.  Billing it as a game attracts gamers, the gaming community, and thus opens the channels of free advertising.  I'm just wondering if or how it can branch off and become more.

Andrew Burton
Thursday, January 08, 2004

The PC game industry is not known for embracing radical ideas.  One reason is that production costs have so high (often $5 or $10 million for a high-quality game) that the companies producing the games are very risk-adverse for trying anything new.  That's why the companies keep cranking out the same cookie-cutter first-person shooters, massively multiplayer online games, and real-time strategy games.  They stick with what's worked in the past, rather than try to break radical new ground.

Also, I thing there would be some pretty strong psychological resistence to your ideas.  First, describing a new game as a "business" or "communications platform" would be the kiss of death for regular gamers... people play multiplayer games to have fun and socialize, and those descriptions would make a game sound decidedly unfun.  Second, regular businesses would not want their employees to be playing a game on company time.

It's an interesting concept, though.  In the mid-1990s, there were some efforts to develop "virtual communities" that used graphical chat rooms, with each individual represented by an avatar.  [1]  It looks like one is still active, although AFAIK none of these ever achieved critical mass.  [2]

That doesn't mean that your idea couldn't work.  However, I think it might have better success if it were framed as an instant messaging client that used a "virtual world" interface, rather than a game.  That might appeal to people who like to use IM, and also meet less resistance from corporate America.

[1]  http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/4.06/avatar.html?topic=virtual_communities&topic_set=newmedia

[2]  http://www.vzones.com/

Robert Jacobson
Thursday, January 08, 2004

A friend of mine said he had a job interview using Voice Chat in CounterStrike because the phone call was too expensive and it was a VoIP app that both parties already were familiar with and had configured.

He said it started formal but by the end the interviewer was shooting him each question he got wrong and he was shooting the interviewer each time he got it right.

Richard P
Thursday, January 08, 2004

There's more than a few Avatar-based chatrooms still around.  Habbo Hotel being one.

As for Second Life, it looks like across between its competitor There.com and the pioneering Active Worlds.  The latter doesn't position itself as a game at all, as far as I can tell.

See also the now defunct Blaxxun platform, and the soon to be launched Adobe Atmosphere.  There's still life in this stuff as a platform, but as has been rightly pointed out - the gaming market is much bigger, and proven.

Tom (a programmer)
Friday, January 09, 2004

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