2007 Tech Trends No. 4: Virtual Reality

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Fourth in a series of posts highlighting Tech Digest’s pick of big technology trends for the second half of 2007…

Sadly, old-skool virtual reality isn’t going to make a comeback anytime soon, despite the joys of heading down the arcade to put on a big visor and flail about while a sniggering crowd looks on.

It’s all about online virtual worlds experienced through a standard monitor nowadays, with Second Life at the top of the pile. Linden Labs’ world enjoyed unprecedented press publicity in 2006 and early this year, with big brands falling over themselves to get involved. The big question is, what happens next?

Second Life looks set to continue as the most popular virtual world, with us Europeans its keenest users. But the really interesting thing in the next six months will be what effect all the hype from the last year has on Second Life itself.

Will hundreds of thousands of new users flooding in change the community, or irritate existing Second Lifers causing a world-threatening culture clash? And is there a danger that Second Life could become overrun by brands, all keen to get a few column inches for seeming cutting-edge get seriously into virtual marketing.

The latter is a big question too. There are tons of brands already in Second Life – people have even mapped them out. Expect dozens more in the next six months – including some innovative uses, following the likes of Vodafone’s virtual mobile network, which was announced earlier this year.

But Second Life might not be the most hyped virtual world in the second half of 2007. That honour is likely to fall to Home, which is perhaps Sony’s most ambitious project for its PlayStation 3 console. Currently in closed beta, the basic idea is similar to Second Life – a virtual world with branded zones – but with extra multimedia gubbins, such as the ability to play music and video to people when they come round to your virtual apartment.

According to Sony’s roadmap, August will see an open beta, in advance of the world’s October launch. And Home isn’t even the only games-related virtual world on the horizon.

Electronic Arts has teamed up with TV firm Endemol for another planned virtual world, called Virtual Me, which will see users creating avatars and competing in online reality shows. Hopefully launching this year, it’s not clear yet whether this is purely a PC-based thing, or whether it’ll be made available for console gamers in some way.

For all the media coverage of Second Life in recent months, virtual worlds are still a niche affair. Can they become more of a mainstream pursuit? The next six months will give plenty of clues.

THE BIG QUESTIONS

1. Do any of the brands paying not-inconsiderable sums of cash to have Second Life zones built for them actually make their money back? And if not, does it matter?

2. Will people who’ve bought a PS3 to play games on really be interested in strolling round a virtual world talking to people, rather than nudging them into a cliff-face in MotorStorm?

3. Could Second Life launch a low-res version that actually works on less-than-ninja computers?

4. How many brands will decide that they’d rather get someone to create their own virtual world, rather than sit within Second Life?

THE FULL TECH TRENDS LIST
1: Telly 2.0
2: Green Gadgets
3: Blu-ray and HD DVD convergence
4: Virtual Reality
5: Touchscreens
6: Mobile social networking
7: Lifecasting
8: Bluetooth music
9: DRM-free music
10: Wi-Fi personal media players

Stuart Dredge

One thought on “2007 Tech Trends No. 4: Virtual Reality

  • I think in the Second Life vs. Brands creating their own metaverse SL had one big advantage: the avatars we use are not quickly created to join a certain event, … . Most of us see them as a part of our own identity, something you would not have if a brand creates his own virtual world wherein you would have the choice between 10 custom skins, 2 genders and 5 sets of clothes.

    As for the less-than-ninja computers: mine is three years old, still works (although it was ninja back then 😉 and I hope that this time they are planning on fixing the memory leak, so also PC’s with less RAM can digest Second Life fine. 😉

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