Part of the future is being prototyped in gaming. As it always has been, play is always innovation at some level. But at the massive level, part of the future is playing itself out today.
My last post took an unexplored tangent off of Raph Koster's insight into Second Life's Copybot, exploring the arbitrage opportunity when content production costs are increasing, but it was too generic. See Raph's comment and his deeper thoughts on the future of content. He clarifies that he thought rising production costs applies to the content industry, not end users. I'd say that platforms will emerge for end users to have their day.
Second Life is actually the closest to this, which makes it interesting. Can you imagine an end user demanding a VCR that doesn't copy, but only plays? Or wanting a CDROM that doesn't burn? Perhaps when the tools of production are evenly distributed, but the culture doesn't follow.
Part of what I guess is happening in SL is distorted rates of change. See, I remember when I first met Raph at Supernova and he said something to the effect of, "we gamers are evolving faster than you n00bs." People believed intellectual property rule of law was established, and then the game changed. Only the Marxists would be happy with this.
Or the people, like Raph, that realize that the physics have changed. Better yet, that there are no closed systems.
Joi first for me and most naturally realized that MMORGs don't adapt to the real world enough. The business is still perceived as a content business with a captive audience. Where users are not content generators, but accumulators. SL, to Philip Rosendale's credit, breaks this mold where content is pre-dominantly generated by users. It also breaks the mold of embracing an open economy with other economies. But how much of the mold is broken?
The former could be broken more. Where is the standard that allows me to create a 3D representation of a character or object that is portable across worlds, even if rendered and with different attributes? Where is the accessible scripting language, the HTML of worlds?
A long time coming. While I believe Virtual Worlds will eventually be part of the web, not just the internet, the walled gardens are profitable and defensible in absence of alternatives.
The current view is due to capital costs, in a hit or miss business that harkens to Hollywood, content production is in the hands of vendors. I hope SL gets through this successfully, because at the level editing level, they enable a user-generated alternative. In fact, they have their first SL Millionaire. Wonder how she would play with inevitable erosion of digital property rights. Is she creating experiences, or just playing a spot market amidst DRM countermeasures?
If you want to see the future of content creation, a controversial glimpse of it is in this documentary. In it, the entrepreneur who manages a gold farming venture that resembles a college dorm (until his PayPal account connection is terminated) provides the insight that it is simply a service business that transcends distance and privilege.
Warcraft makes user-generated content globally accessible. And despite efforts to the contrary, the result is a service industry in support of the game. Second Life affords a role, but favors a different kind of player that relates to other players.
These are only two datapoints that could make up a rich ecology. But today the ecology is not there. There is an ecology of shared experiences with gaming, and a far greater potential with non-gamers. And most game design provides negative incentives for what is outside worlds.
Sometimes I wonder if anything like the Web will happen again. It was a glorious triumph that such interop and culture happened before it was taken disruptively. Today almost every game acts as though it has its own monopoly in its own world. But I have to think that users have had a taste of how things should work, even if not rich in experience, and even with the limitations of how portable identity, relationships and content are in the web today. And the next disruption could force worlds to collide.