Virtual Worlds Conference and Expo – October 10-11, 2007 – San Jose Convention Center
I’ve been waiting for the big Microsoft Virtual World announcement — you know the one to compete with Sony’s Home and possibly Second Life — for a while now. I’m somewhat surprised by the venue, but it looks like it might just come next week at the Virtual Worlds conference.
At the above link, there are two MS entries, Virtual Earth and a separate unnamed "Entertainment Effort." That means it’s almost certainly not avatars in Virtual Earth, though that’s always possible (see my comments on GE avatars for why it’s still premature). On the other hand, I would have thought they’d want to announce a console-based Home competitor at a big gaming show, where the appropriate press would be on hand to receive the appropriate level of spin to get the positioning just right. If MS announces a Home competitor next week, it will really need to stand out, or they run the risk of looking like an imitation.
Most of the participants at the conference are PC-based apps, which means it could just as easily be a Second Life competitor (or both). If they’re upgrading XBox Live to 3D avatars and making the PC a co-equal entry point to the world, that could be a significant enough announcement. To distinguish itself from Sony’s Home, Microsoft would also need to add something to make the on-line experience, well, interesting (sorry to my friends at Sony — nice rendering isn’t enough). 3D Chat is kind of old to most of us, and social networks are a dime a dozen these days. So perhaps they’ll move some distance into the user-generated content realm, with some design-your-own-room stuff. I’d guess it would be branded under an expansion of their Spaces/Live category.
I’m usually down on Microsoft, but in this case, they could really surprise people with a strong opening. They’ve been doing R&D on virtual worlds since the nineties, and Bill Gates has always said that VR was going to be a big component of the business at some point.
Aside: in trying out some random-word.live.com URLs, I found most don’t resolve to servers, while some map to the maps/local product or the general Live.com site. But space.live.com is alive and serves up a blank page. Is it a competitor to Google Sky? Or is it related to the virtual worlds announcement, or something random? Who knows, but feel free to speculate. It’s only a week away.