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VWC Viewpoints May 2008

Classification of Virtual-Worlds Platforms

As the Technology Map notes, virtual-worlds platform is a loose technical term that can cause confusion. One problem is that “platforms” are not all alike. Some are collections of code that require a reasonable level of effort by skilled developers to create a new virtual world (but offer high levels of flexibility). Others are packaged tools with which skilled end users can create new worlds relatively quickly and easily (but with limited flexibility). Some platforms have design features that make them more suitable for consumer worlds than enterprise worlds; other platforms firmly target enterprises; yet others remain neutral. Figure 1 classifies selected virtual worlds into this matrix.

Although one can argue the finer points of where to place each platform, the matrix quickly shows key differences between platforms. For example, although Qwaq is based on the Croquet platform, the two are quite different because Qwaq targets enterprise end users, whereas Croquet is suitable for developers only and is neutral about the type of world those developers can create (consumer or enterprise focused). Similarly, one can see that the Second Life Grid and Sun Microsystems’s Wonderland are not direct alternatives because Wonderland requires more developer time and has a greater enterprise focus. Another general trend that the matrix highlights is that open-source platforms tend to be developer focused rather than end-user focused. This trend is perhaps due to the open-source community’s focus on technical infrastructure, openness, and flexibility, rather than on usability and end-user products.