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Online Games/Virtual Worlds as “Third Place”

September 20, 2006


An idea that my partner Steve Arnold and I have been brewing for a while is the emerging opportunity for “virtual worlds.”

What the heck is a virtual world? Think MySpace meets World of Warcraft (or, in other words, a mix between a social network and a massively multiplayer online game, or MMOG).

The meteoric rise of social networks shows that a heck of a lot of people out there like to connect and commune online. And the MMOG phenomenon shows that there are some significant audiences out there who are willing to spend a ton of time immersed in online roleplaying games.

Where this seems to us to be pointing is the emergence of “virtual worlds” which on the one hand have the 3D representations of MMOGS,  but need not be “games” as typically conceived (ie, “men in tights” role playing/quest based games).  Rather they are online communities where people can interact in a much more graphically represented, real-world like environment than the static profiles of the current social networks.

A good example of this is Second Life.

“Tasty Research” has a good post on this, suggesting that MMOGs are, in effect, a “Third Place,” described as “somewhere besides home or work where people can socialize and feel comfortable.”


Post a comment
  1. brian smith #
    September 20, 2006

    Everyone points to Second Life. What about Gaia Online? They’re a sleeping giant…most popular message boards on the web, just added games, just added profile pages that are much better than anything out there. New CEO just came on board.

  2. September 21, 2006

    Mike, your post is head on regarding virtual worlds and transforming existing social community environments into graphically-rich, engaging multimedia environments. Brian’s comment on Gaia Online is also a good example of how the sector is moving in this direction. Much of the activity, however, will require and include virtual representatives to take on life in these environments, or otherwise, known as avatars. Where Gaia and other avatar platforms fail to address as it relates to Mike’s original post is in the ability to integrate yet another important social feature – communication via speech, not just text. Imagine a world where you can actually interact with people in your community with a talking avatar. It’s Skype meets Worlds of Warcraft meets MySpace, all integrated into a speaking avatar. A better example may be the Company that I am at, Oddcast (, which seeks to create just this functionality and by allowing consumers to take their avatars with them in their open worlds, so you constantly have a consistent theme to carry with you, but with the ability to change and edit your avatar based on which world you happen to be at. Again, nice post Mike!

  3. September 22, 2006

    Mike – you’re late to the game 🙂

    I was on the early team at Second Life and The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg was definitely one of my influences in design. Along with Harold and the Purple Crayon, some Jane Jacobs, and a bunch of other fun design/community/civics books.

  4. November 5, 2006

    The term Virtual Worlds actually harkens back to the original title for MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and DDO — Persistent Virtual Worlds (PVW).

    I’ve been using the term as well (it sounds better than “MMO Lite”). I would certainly count GAIA amung one of its success stories (5m registered users, versus 6m for WOW and ~1m for SecondLife). What’s even more interesting in GAIA’s case is that it is essentially a virtual world for Anime fans, which means that there is potential for many other niches to be filled.

    One contention, however, is that I think a virtual world can still include game elements. I would consider Puzzle Pirates both a Virtual World, and indeed it is a game, same with GAIA or CyWorld despite their inclusion of parlor games and the competitiveness to gain better clothing and homes.

    All a “game” means in this context where players contend with each other according to a set of rules. Many people consider MySpace and LinkedIn to be “games” (collect a friend) — and Flickr started out as an MMO concept, after all.

  5. D. Scherlis #
    December 12, 2006

    Nabeel, I don’t think “Persistent Virtual World” ever really held sway to describe what we now call MMOGs (or maybe MMORPGs, but that’s a bit bulky for my taste).

    I rather liked the term, “Persistent World Game”, which Raph Koster was pushing for a while. Less misleading and more to-the-point than MMOG. Raph dropped that term when he went to Sony, for technical reasons that I regret. What’s essential to an MMOG (as distinct from a collection of casual games with avatars & chatrooms) is persistence of your position and investment in the game (read: avatar, with salient attributes), and of the game’s state and context (e.g.: story, or missions, or goals), and of essential social structures. (The world need not persist, in the literal sense of environmental state and objects, so EQ was plenty PWG for me.)

    But way back, before “MMOG,” the founders of Turbine referred to their products as “3D MUDs”. Fewer people know or remember MUDs these days, but that was the most accurate. We could revise that to “Graphical MUD,” to include Puzzle Pirates et al and the original Ultima Online. But who cares? I think it’s a bit late to argue the category name.

    So, you and I might both be in the “Casual MMOG” business, even if that name unites two different buzzwords that are each misleading, and a big annoying.

    Oh, Shah Struck, I agree that voice chat can be huge. I suggest that rich social interaction is what’s required, but for console players — innocent of full QWERTY keyboards — that does mean voice. This goes very much to the success of XBox Live.

  6. Allie #
    January 30, 2007


  7. June 17, 2009

    What about Gaia Online? Its better than simple life! 😛
    But.. yes your post is nice!

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Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Did I Miss Anything at the Consumer Electronics Show? « VCMike’s Blog
  2. Google + AdScape + Virtual World = ?? « VCMike’s Blog
  3. Virtual Worlds as "Third Places" II « VCMike’s Blog

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