With the rise of augmented reality as a viable marketing tool and the limited availability of virtual worlds like Second Life on mobile devices, one can be forgiven for thinking the virtual world singularity is almost upon us.
But according to some research by Pixels and Policy and an article in the Irish Times, your world is likely to get even more connected in 2010. The always-connected Mobileverse is getting ready to make its grand debut.
From Metaverse to Collaborative Mobileverse
Moving virtual communities onto mobile devices and simple, netbook-accessible browsers will do more than expand how often you can primp your avatar's beehive hairdo. The growing ubiquity of browser-based interactive environments, both big hitters like Onverse and the horde of up-and-coming amateur projects, means gamers have more opportunity to communicate with each other than ever before.
Installing a bulky client is no longer necessary for a graphically engaging, large population social experience. Second Life proved the staying power of worlds where social interaction - not Warcraft-esque questing - was the main draw, and now developers are making strides in creating expansive MMO worlds that scale down to an iPhone screen.
The rise of portable Mobileverses brings not only the opportunity for entertainment on the go, it also enables social media to easily integrate multiple mobile worlds into their growing stable of services. The Irish Times makes a great point:
The future is about aggregation – the merging of existing types of social network sites and services into even larger communities of offerings.Larger players like Facebook have been buying in new features, acquiring services like Friendfeed this year. New on the scene is Google Wave, a collaborative space that can bring together personal and work conversations, projects, feeds from other sites and many other services.
We already see social gaming hubs integrating a wide spread of features - anyone with an XBox Live Gold account can now update their Facebook or check out movies from Netflix via their gaming console. The Nintendo Wii comes with an Opera browser capable of streaming worlds like Runescape. Some video game developers are even producing phone-based "minigames" that transfer winnings from a phone to a standalone console.
The question is, how long until social networking titans like Facebook move beyond simply aggregating a surprising array of services and move towards making all of those services available on mobile phones? Zynga already makes several Facebook games available on the iPhone, but even the iPhone's Facebook app is limited in functionality compared to the real thing. Now social media developers are racing to duplciate the ease and accessibility of a desktop browsing experience on the virtual screen of a phone.
What the Mobileverse Means
The Mobileverse is already growing, as Habbo Hotel can attest. Over 110,000 users leapt into Habbo's mobile virtual world back in 2007, and the project proved successful enough that Habbo's developers are looking for a leap into the iPhone to further expand their project's user base. The long-term viability of a gaming Mobileverse is difficult to gauge, especially given the boom-and-bust nature of retaining long-term users as new technology emerges. But it's a start.
Expanding the number of opportunities for social gaming also expands chances for social interaction. The jangle of Facebooks, Twitters, and Zyngas that surround us will only become more integrated as social gaming technology spurs new friendships confirmed by phone. We already see this via Facebook Mobile, but a graphical MMORPG would almost certainly add to our social sphere by putting us in regular contact with questing groups and guilds.
The Mobileverse will also change the way we conduct work, as social gaming entrepreneurs give way to social business developers. There is a vast potential in company-issued cell phones, including the possibility to load up virtual meeting software so that employees outside the office can participate fully in projects. One company, FUZE, is already pioneering mobile meeting software on the iPhone. Others will almost certainly build on and refine the FUZE model to create a seamless connection with the office regardless of geographic location.
Does the Mobileverse - both for play and for work - threaten to make us too connected to everyone else? Once the iPhone can run Second Life, patch you into an ongoing client meeting, allow you to catch up with a friend's Flickr feed and order your movies from Netflix, will anyone want to power down? Fear not. Just as the ubiquity of online gaming hasn't stopped millions from knowing when to focus on something else, the rise of the Mobileverse will, in the end, provide more convenience than headaches.
What are your thoughts? When will the Mobileverse really hit its stride with fully-graphical business and entertainment worlds? Have you used a Mobileverse product? Leave us your thoughts in the comments section.