Accessibility of online worlds
Yesterday I tried to participate in a large corporate event (from a very large corporation) on Second Life. Second Life (or SL) has become recently popular as a place to hold online events, partly because it fosters things like users creativity, uploads of material and has even a real-currency-based economy.
Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go before it stops being an exclusive club. You see, I quit after ten minutes in disgust, plagued by UI issues, permission problems and the general amount of people waving their hands trying to understand was going on. Yes, I was invited. No, I was not given any token to present or anything, so I simply did not see or hear anything. And nobody gave me any instructions on how to proceed. There was not even a simple help file - not that I could've necessarily found it: running around a virtual world and picking up virtual pieces of paper to find a manual is about as pleasant and pointless as trainspotting.
It has been said that "World of Warcract is the new golf". That is more apt in more ways than one: both are rather exclusive sports. A WOW server will get full, and if you're not playing on that server, you're out, and you just can't get in anymore. Or your playing experience will be ruined by long waits and terrible lag. Not to mention that you need to own a powerful computer and broadband. And have the money and time to spend in there (though this is mostly a prioritization question). At least WOW you can play on a Mac, too. But Linux users are left out.
The same goes for the other online worlds: they are very exclusive places. I can't fathom a blind person playing World of Warcraft, for example, or to participate in Second Life - at least without help. (If anyone who actually happens to be blind knows better, please correct me.)
A lot of this new stuff is simply just inaccessible to a lot of people, yet they are touted as the "next big thing". But the thing is, in a limited customer space the market saturates pretty quickly. There can't be thousands and thousands successful "World of Warcrafts" out there, simply because there are not enough people to play them to keep them running.
How do you break this exclusivity? How do you bring online gaming to the masses? I have no idea. I've lately scaled down my participation in World of Warcraft (my guild was disbanded without warning while I was on holiday) been playing Travian, which is a browser-based online massively multiplayer game in the spirit of Settlers of Catan (I'm on server 7, BTW). It's certainly fun, and possibly even accessible. And it's primarily a game, not a social event :-)
(Oh yeah, if you want a reason to check out SL, Jonathan Coulton is giving a concert in Second Life on Thursday.)
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