By Paul Philleo
A wise saying goes something along the lines of, “It’s sometimes wiser to look
for the right questions than the right answers.”
The Metaverse U Conference, which
was held over the February 16-17 weekend on the Stanford University campus,
generally followed that philosophy. This was a mash-up conference bringing
together academics from Stanford and other universities, veterans of the game
development scene, Web 2.0 adherents and everyone else in between who might have
a stake,voice or idea about the present and future of the
In all, most of the voices who shared their vision at this event had something
meaningful to add to the discussion of virtual worlds, metadata and metaplaces.
We’re going to distill it to the speakers who covered topics who may most impact
your virtual worlds experiences in the gaming context.
We’ll start off in the deep end of the pool with Mike Liebhold, a senior
researcher for the Institute for the Future, explored augmented reality in his
“Blended Realities – A Work in Progress” presentation. Liebhold delved into the
specifics of location-based technologies and the role they play with blending
virtual worlds with reality.
Right now, the technology just isn’t there for incredibly accurate positioning
with GPS or Wi-Fi, limited to 5-20 meters around us. By 2015, however, Liebhold
predicts measurement accuracy will be narrowed down to under 1 meter in
real-time. As data can be more exactly pin-pointed, more data-rich applications
will be possible. In fact, GeoRSS allows web developers to use a customized
coding language to pinpoint data using physical coordinate systems, like
longitude and latitude. For example, it’s already possible using GeoRSS to
locate the subject of a game blogger’s RSS feed. If he or she is watching a LAN
tournament and posting about it, it may be possible to tag the location with
pictures and a link back to the article, using a tool like Google Maps. In one
month of using GeoRSS, one million photos were geo-coded to a map.
Companies like KnowledgeWhere
are already using GPS technology in simple online multiplayer gaming in the
mobile space. With increasing accuracy and data mash-ups, location-based gaming
experiences should expand beyond the basic Pong-style experiences offered now.
On the entertainment side of the virtual worlds realm, Liebhold discussed a
next-gen application on the market in private beta testing, the
futuristically-named Planet 9
Raygun. This particular application allows users to interface and track each
other in 3D environments, using a web interface, phone connections and avatars,
with real-world locations as the playground.
“To me this (meta data overlay in the real world) implies an enormous
opportunity for both games and sports,” Liebhold stated.
While “the sensor technology is not precise enough yet”, as Liebhold laments,
there are other test bed projects for metadata overlapping with real world
information on the fringe of the entertainment and gaming space. Nokia’s Mobile
Augmented Reality Applications project is attempting to demonstrate that with a
camera-enabled mobile phone you can use the lens as a positioning and locating
device, which according to the project’s website “uses accelerometers in all
three axes to determine orientation, a tilt compensated compass for heading, and
GPS for positioning”. The viewfinder screen then represents the camera data and
can overlay information about those real-world objects on the screen.
There are risks, of course, to exposing people’s privacy through reality
augmentation, Liebhold mentioned as a cautionary note. In China, there’s a
governmental plan to tag and track, as many real-world objects in China in
virtual space, which has the very real potential to be used to squelch freedom
rather than broaden it.
Liebhold, enthusiastic and optimistic, believes we’re due for a breakthrough
“very soon” in virtual worlds and augmented reality. Perhaps, then, it may even
be a game that shows us how real-world data and virtual world data can
Mike Liebhold enthusiastically explaining metaverse possibilities of the
Planet 9 Raygun visualized in the presentation
Fielding questions from the audience