The last time most video game players were excited about virtual reality was the 1990s. Before internet browsers were commonplace and game consoles were still actively marketed by the number of bits they could process, virtual reality held out the shimmering promise of the cyberspace envisioned by science fiction authors like William Gibson: the future was going to be accessed by way of immersive technology that would project digital avatars of ourselves into detailed virtual worlds.
The technology was excitedly talked about in techie magazines like Wired, but never quite materialized outside of arcades and college computer labs.
Instead, we all got Playstations, Xboxes and mobile phones. That is, until this year, when a small company–Oculus VR–revived game developers interest in virtual reality.Just a few months ago the company began shipping prototype versions of a new breed of virtual reality headset to the people who backed its crowdfunding campaign. Here at E3, the annual video game conference in Los Angeles that’s in full swing this week, the headset is also available on the demo floor.
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I'm just going to put this video for Microsoft Research's IllumiRoom experiement:
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The massively multiplayer game EVE Online is a siren song for sci-fi fans looking to lose themselves in a starfaring society. Those who grew up on Star Trek, Star Wars and the Wing Commander games can’t help but feel the pull of the 10-year-old game and community.
That decade, however, can act as a barrier. The EVE Universe is complex. Thick novels that detail the thousands of years of history. Massive factions made out of real players who have competed with each other for a decade. Layers of lore–that’s the gaming term for backstory–which is as daunting to some as the elaboarate continuties of comic books and Doctor Who are to others.
At least that’s how I feel about EVE.
[Read up on the transmedia strategy the game’s makers are using to combat this after the jump.]
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Michael Thomsen of Gamasutra has an absolutely fascinating look at how the developer of the science fiction MMO EVE Online has empowered part of their user base.
In 2007 CCP launched The Council of Stellar Management for its MMO EVE Online, a group of people elected by other players to represent their interests and wants to the developer. “To achieve continued success, EVE’s society must be granted a larger role in exerting influence on the legislative powers of CCP,” senior researcher Petur Johannes Oskarsson wrote, in a CCP white paper about the CSM.
The idea was inherently political: a first attempt to move beyond the autocratic design model of the past and create an organization that gave players ownership in the game’s future development. In the subsequent years, CCP’s attempt to democratize its player base has been volatile, exciting, and sometimes controversial.
While most other forms of art are released never to be changed, video games are often constantly tweaked and tuned after release. For MMOs like EVE Online and World of Warcraft, these changes are part of the business plan. Yet the real need of balancing the companies needs with that of the user base creates new kinds of problems.
In other media, fans — those deeply passionate activists for an intellectual property — vote with their wallets, and can pick and choose their own continuities. Don’t like the Green Lantern film despite the fact that you love the comics? Doesn’t matter. Just read the comics. Don’t like the Star Wars prequels? Watch the originals.
The same just can’t be true with a persistent world like an MMO. If you don’t like the direction the game is going you can’t really go and experience that which you fell in love with. You’re stuck with what the developers are trying to do. Video editors knew this feeling last week when Apple unleashed Final Cut Pro X. Pure pain and terror.
Leave it to crazy Icelanders — that’s where game developer CCP is based — to set up a democracy amongst their customers that has an actual impact on their business.
Imagine what the world would be like if “serious” companies did the same.
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