Posted Feb 17, 2006 0:09 UTC (Fri) by roelofs
Parent article: Toward a free metaverse
We, in the Linux community, will certainly want to be able to participate in this sort of virtual universe in the future.
Maybe, maybe not--there's participation, and then there's participation, and tens to hundreds of millions of dollars have already been lost on such assumptions. Are you certain we'll want it that badly? After all, the enabling technology for this stuff has been around almost as long as Linux itself; if it were that compelling, wouldn't you expect a little more progress by now? Heck, by five years ago?
Assuming we will eventually get past that issue, there is another, more important question to be answered: why, exactly, should we build our virtual worlds on somebody else's substrate? Even if we "own" our creations, they run on somebody else's server (which they can unplug at any time), uses their currency (which they can degrade at any time), and is subject to their rules (which they can change at any time). A virtual world which is not free is, well, not free.
Hmmm. Perhaps it will surprise you, then, to hear that these things have been the subject of extensive research and experimentation over the last two decades; it seems to be a far more complex topic than you make it sound. For example, free virtual property has been tried (Activeworlds and undoubtedly others); if you allow full delete/modify privileges, you end up with a lot of graffiti, defacement and ad-spam. If, on the other hand, you grant exclusive ownership the moment an object (pavement, wall/building, whatever) is laid down, you end up with the "coral effect," in which growth and renewal occur only at the ever-expanding edges, while the inner core stagnates and dies. If you don't enforce rules (whee, "freedom"!), you tend to end up with a bunch of "drive-by kiddies" who quickly destroy the community. And if you don't tie the currency to real money at some level, it has virtually no meaning (so to speak) whatsoever. (But if you do, then you're suddenly subject to additional "first life" laws; again, your freedom is constrained.)
Note that I haven't even touched on the topic of server and bandwidth costs, networking protocols and various forms of cheating, etc. There are as many different aspects to virtual life as there are to the real world, and simplistic expectations about how virtual worlds should work tend to collide rather painfully with reality, at least historically. That isn't to say that a truly free virtual world couldn't be made to work, but I believe it would take a lot of time, development effort, and trial-and-error experimentation, and I'm not sure the free software community has sufficient resources (i.e., interested manpower x willpower). Certainly the examples you quote at the end of the article seem to be short on both.
Here are some relevant links; they're not the complete word on the subject by any means, but they're a start:
to post comments)