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Areae's Raph Koster: Virtual world cash to go to entertainment

The Areae co-founder suggests that the immediate future of virtual worlds is an endless flow of kids' digital environments and that the "dreams of the metaverse" isn't coming anytime soon.

STANFORD, Calif.--If one thing is clear about the immediate future of virtual worlds, it's that every toy company is going be setting something up.

That was the prediction of Raph Koster, the co-founder of Areae, which has created a virtual world platform called Metaplace, at a meeting of the Metaverse Roadmap here Friday. Koster got up to speak to a group of the leaders of the virtual world community and announced he was going to be the day's cynic.

"We (were asked) to talk about what's exciting," Koster said. "But I'm pretty sure the answer is that there will be 10 more kids' worlds...How much of the investment dollars is actually going to be going to making more versions of Barbie Online?"

The point, Koster continued, is that people who are expecting any immediate implementations of augmented reality technology or any of the other futuristic elements that came out of the Metaverse Roadmap project aren't likely to see the light of day anytime soon.

"The interesting question is, how much are commercial pressures versus idealistic pressures going to effect virtual worlds in the next couple years?" Koster asked rhetorically.

And the answer, in large part, is that the bulk of investment dollars are going toward entertainment properties these days, Koster argued.

And what that means, for at least the immediate future, Koster added, is that the most development energy will be going to creating virtual worlds aimed at kids--in large part because those worlds attract big audiences, and revenue.

It's not that the technology isn't ready, for some of the best-case technological scenarios, Koster added. He said that, in fact, some of the predictions for various "lifelogging" technologies, or things that can record just about anything that goes on around someone, are ready today.

But because the entertainment companies are more interested in creating large, captive audiences, we're much more likely to see an almost never-ending stream of walled-garden virtual worlds centered around entertainment than the "dream of the metaverse" in the near future.

Of course, Koster--who does seem to be a big fan of the futuristic predictions of the Metaverse Roadmap community--couched his comments under the rubric of informed cynicism. He implied that the best vision of the technological future of the metaverse and virtual worlds is actually coming from science fiction these days.

So, he said, if you want to see the best vision of where things are going, at least on a technological level, read the novels of Vernor Vinge and Charlie Stross.