Avatar Reality, the company behind the virtual worlds platform Blue Mars, released demos showing how virtual worlds created on the platform can be rendered in the cloud and used in a browser and on hardware such as office laptops, Macs, smartphones and tablets – basically on everything which can handle video and which gets on a broadband connection. Avatar Reality uses OTOY’s streaming technology.
More videos on the Blue Mars blog. We mentioned Otoy in a previous post about the possibilities of “gaming in the cloud” for immersive journalism. Blue Mars will be rolling out the new service during the first quarter of 2011.
As Jason Kincaid on TechCrunch says, Blue Mars still needs to get companies and websites to build out these 3D worlds, and people to use them. It’s obvious that by making access to a graphically very rich 3D environment as easy as surfing on the web, more people will be pulled into this experience.
It’s also important to realize that Blue Mars is not one particular virtual world. It’s a platform where people build virtual worlds, and they can build them for gaming purposes, for business collaboration or for conferences and education… They will have to decide to use (and to pay for) the cloud based service or not, whether to charge for it etc.
Second Life (which also tries to get into a browser) struggles with the fact that for now new users need to have the right hardware and firewall configuration, but also with the experience those new users have of arriving in a new city without knowing where to go. On Blue Mars one could create a world with a very specific purpose, and integrate that world into a familiar web environment – solving not only technical issues but also answering the question “what am I going to do here.”
I love playing Pocket Legends from Spacetime Studios on my iPad (my avatar is the courageous but clumsy Wilbear). The game has all the characteristics of the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft: quests, group action, contests between players and player groups etc. It’s pretty good graphically speaking, but don’t expect the actual World of Warcraft graphical wizardry.
But then again, this game may get some competition very soon, maybe from World of Warcraft itself and from even more high-end games. Dusan Writer mentions the Gaikai cloud service which may do just that: enabling players to immerse themselves in pc- and console games right in their browsers. Which also means enabling the game companies to reach potential customers without awkward downloads or distributing physical stuff: one click on almost any device as long as there’s a decent broadband connection. Yay for cloud computing!
Now, this is a real revolution for the gaming industry. Giving players and potential players direct and effortless access to the games also helps the game developers and designers to instantly analyze how people react to the games. Of course, it’s bad news for those living from the physical distribution of games – even though it may take some time before that distribution will be extinct (we’ve the same conversations about print news media of course).
Talking about news media: this development would eliminate yet another hurdle for using immersive journalism techniques. Now we had examples of immersive journalism in Second Life such as this project about the Guantanamo detention center:
Other possibilities for journalism include talk shows with a virtual audience, inviting people who would be difficult to get (or rather expensive) in the physical world (Metanomics is a nice example, they’ll have Noam Chomsky on October 12). Or you could simply convene a meeting with community members for an open-ended discussion, more immersive than when using a traditional text chat (have a look at the We Are the Network meetings in Second Life, but there are many other examples).
The problem: not many members of my newspaper community for instance are ready to download the Second Life client, and those willing to do so could run into problems because their computers are relatively low-end or because they are behind some corporate firewall. All those problems could be solved if projects such as Gaikai really succeed in bringing Second Life, OpenSim, Blue Mars (working with another company, Otoy) on any device, anytime and anywhere (always assuming there is decent broadband!). There is also OnLive – which is already up and running in the contiguous US – but which seems to need a limited download (which can be too much asked for office environments).
Once virtual environments are accessible in one click the mainstream audience could unlock easily the possibilities for immersive journalism and immersive storytelling. It will give journalists and storytellers new possibilities to interact with their communities and will make methodologies used in software development even more relevant so as to keep up with news stories and the requirements of the community. This in turn could inspire citizen-journalists or non-professional storytellers to go deeper and create content themselves, knowing that there is a big and relevant community out there to explore their work.
Message to journalism institutes: this makes ‘serious gaming’ and virtual environments even more relevant for your student-journalists. Help them to explore content, network and business opportunities of this development!