I have spent 9 years exploring 3D Virtual Worlds, and 8 years playing MMORPGs. For the longest time they felt like two different experiences. 3D Virtual Worlds are a creative outlet, while MMORPGs are a mostly cooperative gaming experience. It seems that recently they have been merging.
I have not been adding many new virtual worlds to my master list lately. While I am probably missing some, the main reason I have not been adding new ones is because there haven’t been any. This is probably due to good old capitalism. The potential market just isn’t as big as people thought, and the market that is there is covered really well by Second Life, IMVU, and OpenSim.
In the last couple of years, the growth in 3D gaming has been in free to play MMORPGs. Not only do they attract a crowd with new gaming experiences, they have co-opted the social model of the 3D Virtual Worlds, creating central meeting places, and free “bases” you can decorate and host private gatherings. They also have special interest groups you can join in game to meet like minded people.
Basically, everything that makes 3D Virtual Worlds popular, can now be found in MMORPGs too, except user created content.
This is why I now believe that if a complex “Metaverse” like OASIS in Ready Player One is ever built, it is more likely to be in the form of an MMORPG rather than a 3D Virtual World.
We then must ask the question: How important is “user created content”? Well, I learned early on during my 9 years of exploring that “content” is vitally important, in fact it is THE most important factor in the success of a 3D Virtual World, and in truth it is also one of the most important factor in MMORPGs, too (“playability” slightly trumps it however). Allowing user created content is the fastest way to get content, but it is a two edged sword, because the vast majority of user created content is junk. That user created content has to be loaded on the fly via asset servers which slows down and weakens the user experience. So if a 3DVW or MMORPG can provide enough “content” without resorting to the user created variety, it is a better experience for the player.
On the other hand, creating the “user created content” is in and of itself the thing that attracts many to 3D Virtual Worlds in the first place. It is one of the things I have enjoyed most about Second Life and There.com.
The truth is that content creators are seriously outnumbered by both socializers (especially since most content creators are also socializers), and gamers. Now that MMORPGs are working to appeal to both of the latter groups, it is only the content creators who feel that 3DVWs are the better way to go. For everyone else, there is simply more things to do in an MMORPG.
As far as “content” goes, competition between MMORPGs is fierce enough that the newest ones are constantly raising the bar on the amount (and quality) of the content they offer. The thing that triggered this post is my exploration of “Lions Arch” in Guild Wars 2. I have posted a lot of reviews of 3D builds, but I would say without question that the new “Lions Arch” is the most beautiful 3D build I have ever seen in any game I have ever played, regardless of genre. It is a true masterpiece of the art form.
As I stated in a previous post, 3D Virtual Worlds are in a slow decline. It is the competition with free to play MMORPGs that is doing it. The MMOs are incorporating the stuff that makes 3DVWs popular. If they are to survive, the 3DVWs need to start incorporating what makes MMOs popular. They are just starting to do that. The merging of the two genres seems inevitable. I for one am looking forward to that, because it is only going to get more awesome.