Tuesday, August 21, 2012

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Virtual Worlds (Slowly!) Emerging from Disillusionment Trough In Gartner's 2012 Hype Cycle

Gartner hype cycle 2012

Influential research firm Gartner recently posted its 2012 "hype cycle" chart of emerging technologies, and there's a small but significant change: Virtual worlds, which were at the very bottom of the Trough of Disillusionment in Gartner's 2011 report, are now positioned at the start to the Slope of Enlightenment, and designated as being 5 to 10 years from reaching the Plateau of Productivity (i.e. when they become mainstream). At first I suspected this was just an anomaly in the infographic, but the Gartner report name checks virtual worlds as part of tech's coming trends:

This scenario describes a world in which people interact a lot more naturally with technology. The technologies on the Hype Cycle that make this possible include human augmentation, volumetric and holographic displays, automatic content recognition, natural-language question answering, speech-to-speech translation, big data, gamification, augmented reality, cloud computing, NFC, gesture control, virtual worlds, biometric authentication methods and speech recognition.

This sounds right to me. Without knowing their specific reasoning, I'd say the rise of WebGL (a la Cloud Party) and the improvement of 3D graphics in tablets (a la Myst for iPad) are two important vectors that will help this adoption (among others). However, it's also likely, I think, that what we mean by "virtual worlds" will be very different in coming years. In China, for instance, the market for MMOs is moving to mobile, and I think we're going to see a similar trend in the West -- this suggests "lightly immersive" virtual worlds that are semi-3D, 2.5D, or designed for short play sessions. Just as likely we'll see augmented reality virtual worlds, where the virtual experience is incorporated into and displayed with aspects of the real world around us.

Back in 2007, by the way, Gartner predicted that 50 million people would use virtual worlds in 2011. If you count MMOs and web-based 2.5D virtual worlds in that category, the number was actually far more than that -- closer to 100 million.

Hat tip: The excellent 3D printing blog Fabaloo.

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Brookston Holiday

BYOD = bring your own doughnuts?

Dizzy Banjo

Its good to see its still on there and progressing without becoming a red dot.

I agree that in 5 to 10 years the concept of virtual worlds may reach the plateau and that its very likely that by then they will be a very different implementation of the concept.

Just as big a difference as the difference between MUD and SL for instance.

David Davis

Just sharing: the KZero folks report 1.399 billion registered accounts in virtual worlds as of 2011 second quarter. You can view their data in a variety of formats, including some great charts like their Universe of virtual world accounts by age (http://www.kzero.co.uk/universe-chart/). I'm sure many of the accounts are actually multiple accounts held by one person (I have several) but even the fact that a lot of people have multiple accounts is relevant.

I wonder if Gartner's hype chart might be skewed by age. Looking at the differences in the use of virtual worlds by different categories of age, I can see making the argument that Gartner's chart might look different for, say, 10-15 year olds than it would for the over 30 crowd.

Just thinking out loud here.

Arcadia Codesmith

Mobile phone apps are a dead end without immersive peripherals, period, full stop.

Tablets might displace desktop systems... when their capabilities are as good as or better than desktop systems. Call me when they've got the horsepower to drive 3D goggles flawlessly.

I can see augmented reality gaining a comfortable market share, not to displace immersive VR but to augment it... allowing you, for example, to run a quick check of your holdings when you can't be at your home system.

Some days it feels like the Monty Python routine from "Holy Grail" -- "I'm not dead yet!" It's like declaring the impending demise of the auto industry because you're not impressed with the Model T.

Keystone Bouchard

"It's like declaring the impending demise of the auto industry because you're not impressed with the Model T."

LOL @Arcadia I'm going to start using that one.

shockwave yareach

Until the next generation of VW comes out which scales, permits far more people per sim, has better graphics, has simple rules to follow and people can use intuitively the first day for basic tasks, we aren't going to have the kinetic energy to get out of the valley we are in.

If video games are able to immerse people, teach people the controls and then let them have whatever fun they desire, why can't VWs?

Hamlet Au

"the KZero folks report 1.399 billion registered accounts in virtual worlds "

KZero's numbers are problematic, in my opinion, because they're counting total registered accounts (most of them discarded), not actual users. That's probably 5-10% of the 1.3B total.

"It's like declaring the impending demise of the auto industry because you're not impressed with the Model T."

I think that analogy would work in relation to desktops if car sales continued to decline years after the Motel T's peak. Desktop sales continue to decline while tablets rise, and the market for high end desktop PCs is a niche.

Jo yardley

I'd rather have a model T ford car then any car build in the last couple of decades.

Metacam Oh

Hamlet, hasn't the market for high end power pcs always been a niche? Also PCs in the recent 10 years have become much more reliable and last longer. I have a "power PC" that I bought back in 2005 to play The Matrix Online that is still kicking and working fine for most things. The only reason I have upgraded since then is to keep Second Life running top notch.

Obviously tablets are on the rise because people who never ever even would think about using a computer have one, and multiple ones are owned per household etc. My 80 year old grandfather even went out and bought an IPAD.

But is this some sort of trend where the end result is no one will ever have a powerful computer or play games that require big computing power?

Do you really think next generation games that are going to be immersive and open ended are going to be played on a tablet? Do the people who are owning and growing the tablet market even the same people who play these games or get immersed in virtual worlds? I don't think we can sit here and say that. Tablets are just a stopping stage for the next technology.

I feel bad for any company that is trying to build something immersive like a virtual world yet trying to dumb it down to fit on a tablet.

If anything the next thing is going to be Google project Glass where you dont have to hold anything physical at all and people will look at tablets like "Wow we actually carried around these things?"

Danielle

I think the tech that will make 3D virtual worlds popular is...3D. Right now most of us look at a 2D flat projection of a 3D environment, effectively looking through a window. Stereoscopic 3D, whether through Google Goggles or the right kind of monitor, would be a different experience. I don't know which kind of hardware will end up being popular for that, but right now none of them are popular. They are rare and expensive for the few people that have them. Video gamers and a few high end TV's are providing "early adopter" markets for true 3D, but they are not to the mass popularity stage yet.

Keystone Bouchard

@shockwave "If video games are able to immerse people, teach the controls and then let them have whatever fun they desire, why can't VWs?"

That's a very seriously important question that I do sincerely hope is being carefully considered by the power's that be in the VW market.

I'll say it again - we need a scratch-built triple-A, open virtual world chassis, built with the same quality and professionalism of the best video games in the industry.

If nobody's taking that quest seriously, I swear I'll spend the rest of my life building it myself.

Dizzy Banjo

I think a true 3d experience would indeed be a re-energising factor in the development of VWs if it was super easy & affordable to have and fitted into peoples lives well.

But I think the core issue with VWs is actually not technical but psychological / sociological.

I think the success of them depends on the interpretation of what a virtual world really means - specifically if that concept requires a totally separate simulation of a world.

I have doubts that any world, no matter how impressive or amazing a 3d experience, would ever succeed with the real mainstream ( at the paradigm shifting type level of the desktop internet or mobile technology ) unless total immersion / separation from reality is NOT a mandatory requirement to really 'get' the experience / usefulness.

I guess that I'm hinting towards something which can be experienced as a sliding scale of immersion, from a light augmentation of reality, through total transformation of reality to an immersive virtual world. All as one product.

However, this doesn't mean that a very high quality immersive / separate VW like the one Keystone describes wouldn't have a large user base. Just as many high quality MMOs still do. Although many of those are currently in decline.

Keystone Bouchard

I agree there's definitely a psychological / sociological challenge with VW's, but I think back to when SL was in full hype, so many people flocked in to see this place without hesitation. It was as if they had been waiting for something like this. Yet it was very clearly the goofy, awkward, clunky, limited and fragile platform itself that drove them away, not the idea of a VW in general.

If we approached a VW with the same budget and development inertia of any of the most recent triple-A game, we'd be back in business. In fact, the lion's share of those huge budgets goes toward development of content - SL doesn't need any of that.

Every industry will invariably have their own, specialized branch VW's, but the utility of a central all-purpose world like SL, with all of the opportunities for collaboration, cross-disciplinary synergies and all that good stuff is still very compelling.

James Corbett

"I think the tech that will make 3D virtual worlds popular is...3D. Right now most of us look at a 2D flat projection of a 3D environment, effectively looking through a window"

I think you're absolutely right @Danielle and I think the Oculus Rift VR headset (developer edition) is the first manifestation of that future. Now imagine the Rift 2.0 combined with the Kinect 4.0 and think of the transforming immersive capabilities.

shockwave yareach

James - after you show me ONE person actually using it to visualize a stereographic view of SL, I'll believe it does what you all think it does. All you folks gushing over stereo huds and SL haven't tried it yet. I have...

The shortcoming is in the OpenGL drivers SL uses. The Oculus isn't the first 3d HUD. It's not even the first popular one with support for lots and lots of software - that would be the Vuzix line of huds. I had that, and everything that ran on DirectX had no problems being stereographic as the driver for the HUD simply summed -4" to X on everything being rendered -- tada, right image automatically calculated.

However, everything running on OpenGL was not in stereo, but was instead the same flat 2D rendering on both eyes. The driver for the HUD didn't have any way to do the -4" tweak to everything for the right eye. And the ads said it would run SL -- sure, but not in stereo, which was the whole ****ing point.

Either SL needs a DirectX fork or the Oculus folks will have to have a stereo driver for OpenGL. I don't see either happening, so I don't believe we will ever see stereovision in our VW, even though ours is the ONE program that stereovision is ideally suited for.

I can be proven wrong. But someone has to PROVE it by running SL in stereo with drivers that tweak openGL. Everything I've encountered thus far is stereo only if you use DirectX, which leaves SL out in the cold.

Joey1058

@ Keystone: I first learned of the IEEE Virtual Worlds Standards workgroup on the MetaReality podcast. Here's a link: http://www.metaversestandards.org/index.php?title=Main_Page

I'm sure they'd welcome your input.

As for about half the items on the chart; they would possibly benefit from a more complete adoption of HTML5.

Adeon Writer

Side Note: The first virtiual world to natively support the Oculus will have my heart forever.

But I don't see everyone else having a passion for VR and head-mounted displays...

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