Microsoft’s Virtual World?

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 URLs, I found most don’t resolve to servers, while some map to the maps/local product or the general site. But 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.


5 thoughts on “Microsoft’s Virtual World?

  1. -Hey Joe, want to hang out next weekend?
    -Yeah, what can we do?
    -Let’s do something like second life!

    Why everybody pursues the same idea? Instead of developing their very own, and being original…

    (sorry about my english)

  2. MS was in talks with MindArk a couple years back, from what I heard, but that never amounted to anything. MS has a history of getting into talks with various entities — then, turn around with their own research product. (Shock, surprise.)

    So will it surprise me if they launch into this area? Not really, as they’ve been actively ‘researching’ for a long time. The main thing with them, is that they take a while to seek-out their entry-point strategy — and once they have a lock on it, they roll with it and keep throwing money at it.

    It wouldn’t make logical sense for them to not have Xbox, Live/VE, as well as web-apps, integrating through an overall VR platform. At some point, and based on the search and ad-space characteristics that they seem to be more interested in [due to revenues they seek] — they’ll bite the bullet on how that integration will be deployed, and what it means to them in the long-run… Which is where I think I speculate the most in regards to what their form of VR integration will come to be — based not entirely on the technologies that could be integrated, but what they’re looking at in the model to generate revenue.

    So far, it looks like the most logical path — and in many ways, I see it as a necessity at this point for those segments to survive. Once they cross that threshold, however, I think those will be the most vulnerable times for them, because they could find themselves struggling with flexibility.

    Google’s also in a very similar position, I think. The one edge that MS has over Google at this time, however — is that MS is more in tune with the ‘home network’. The ‘home network’ would actually scale nicely into a VR environment, as long as tools are provided to the end-user to map their location, and keep that data and layout completely secure.

  3. Agreed, for the most part.But MS has a bigger edge over Google in that they have a gaming console and a captive audience. It’s unlikely that XBox users could use a Google World even if they wanted to.

    I always wondered how console manufacturers got away with that, in terms of the laws against bundling. I guess it’s only because there are several choices of console and anti-trust may only kick in when one is highly dominant.

  4. I guess if you pay your lobbyists enough money to influence the powers-that-be, and then whine about other companies coming into sectors where you’re actively pursuing their initiatives — and crying and whining foul — then you understand more about how the game they’re playing has been played.

    It’s fairly simple, actually. MS can’t make a move to fully bundle everything together — without another company doing the same. In that sense, companies like Google, Apple, and Microsoft are all happily skipping down the yellow brick road to Oz — brick my brick.

  5. And — if they really want to key-in and disrupt Microsoft from having any capacity for doing this… Then they’ll know not to bundle, and come at it from a different angle. MS is in the position where it appears nearly necessary for them to bundle. On the other hand, and the way that the other companies are set-up and mutually aligned, MS would be hitting a brick wall if they acted toward understand this about MS.

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