Can Virtual Worlds Support E-Collaboration and E-Commerce? A Look at Second Life and World of Warcraft

Can Virtual Worlds Support E-Collaboration and E-Commerce? A Look at Second Life and World of Warcraft

Ned Kock (Texas A&M International University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-676-6.ch017
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Recent years have seen the growing use of virtual worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft for entertainment and business purposes, and a rising interest from researchers in the impact that virtual worlds can have on patterns of e-collaboration behavior and collaborative task outcomes. This chapter looks into whether actual work can be accomplished in virtual worlds, whether virtual worlds can provide the basis for trade (B2C and C2C e-commerce), and whether they can serve as a platform for credible studies of e-collaboration behavior and related outcomes. The conclusion reached at is that virtual worlds hold great potential in each of these three areas, even though there are certainly pitfalls ahead.
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Virtual Worlds

Virtual reality technologies (Briggs, 2002; Pimentel & Teixeira, 1993; Sherman & Craig, 2003) and artificial worlds created by such technologies may seem now radically new and cutting-edge to many e-collaboration technology users. Yet, virtual reality pioneer Morton Heilig developed an immersive virtual reality technology in the 1960s called Sensorama (see Figure 1), one of the earliest examples of this type of technology (Packer & Jordan, 2002; Ryan, 2001). Among other unexpected features for its time, Sensorama simulated odors.

Figure 1.

Sensorama virtual reality system

Also, several virtual environments have been conceptualized, designed and used since the 1960s and 1970s for a variety of purposes, notably for online learning. Those early virtual environments were definitely low-tech when compared with more modern ones, and even modern ones present a great degree of variability in terms of their technology sophistication and features offered. Strictly speaking, the courseware suites that emerged in the 1990s to support online learning are in fact virtual environments, but fall short of the features that characterize virtual worlds.

Virtual worlds are defined here as virtual environments that incorporate most of the elements of the real world, even if those elements are presented in a stylized and somewhat unrealistic manner. Thus a virtual world would have a terrain, animated things, gravity, and would impose some laws of physics. For example, users could be allowed to fly in the virtual world without the constraints of gravity; but they could also walk, which requires gravity. Two objects would not be allowed to occupy the same physical space at the same time, which is a common requirement for virtual interaction. And so on.

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