E-Collaboration and E-Commerce in Virtual Worlds: The Potential of Second Life and World of Warcraft

E-Collaboration and E-Commerce in Virtual Worlds: The Potential of Second Life and World of Warcraft

Ned Kock
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-976-2.ch019
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Virtual worlds can be defined as technology-created virtual environments that incorporate representations of real world elements such as human beings, landscapes and other objects. 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 article 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 ecollaboration behavior and related outcomes. The conclusion reached 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 and artificial worlds created by such technologies may seem now radically new and cutting-edge to many e-collaboration technology users. Yet, Morton Heilig developed an immersive virtual reality technology in the 1950s called Sensorama (see Figure 1), one of the earliest examples of this type of technology. 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.

Many virtual worlds exist that can be used through the Internet, each offering different forms of interaction. The underlying technologies are still evolving. Therefore, it is difficult to place virtual worlds into clearly defined categories, and most classifications likely would not be useful for a long time. Still, there seem to be some clear differences between virtual worlds that attempt to replicate elements of the real world to enable concrete applications, and those that are designed with the goal of making people forget about the real world. The former seem to be designed with more practical purposes in mind, such as to facilitate commercial transactions, while the latter are designed to serve as multiplayer computer gaming platforms.

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