Building the Metaverse

In Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, he creates a compelling vision of a Virtual Reality world called the Metaverse. One of the interesting things about Stephenson’s vision is that participants in that alternate reality could create their own objects, choose their own appearance, and program the behavior of the world in some significant ways.

The company I work for, Electronic Arts, is very close to releasing The Sims Online, a virtual world that embodies many of the concepts in Stephenson’s work. However, the folks at Linden Lab seemed determined to outdo everyone else’s efforts here. Their in-development product Second Life is a fully realized 3D world that will allow players to do most everything depicted in Stephenson’s Metaverse, including creating (and programming) custom objects, vehicles, and weapons for the combat areas in their virtual world. I’ll be very interested to see what their programming language ends up looking like (and who writes the first virus in their world)!

I suspect The Sims Online will be a bigger commercial success than Second Life, both because it has the momentum of The Sims PC Game series behind it, and because games that include 3D modelling and programming are necessarily less accessible than those that don’t. However, the creative possibilities are correspondingly larger in Linden Labs’ world, and I’ll be watching their progress with at least as much interest as that of my own company.