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Build your own World, design your own Avatar

Just about everyone who journeys into virtual worlds asks the same question: how can I build my own world and design my own avatar? Well, new tools just made available and included in this book make it possible. This chapter will give you plenty of guidelines to building virtual worlds and some tips about developing a strong community within them.

You may have already built your own home page on the World Wide Web and probably know how this can help really show the world your creative side and your interests. Well, building a home world in virtual world Cyberspace is more work but is that much more rewarding an experience.

Your Guide to Building Your Own World and Designing Your Own Avatar

Introduction: Designing Worlds People Will Visit and Visit Again

World Building Tools

Avatar Designers and Methods

The Experts Speak Out on Avatar Design

Links to World Building and Avatar Designing Resources

Introduction: Designing Worlds People will Visit and Visit Again

Designing, building and managing a virtual worlds and the communities that emerge within them has got to be one of the most challenging tasks in computers and the Internet. You might think that building and maintaining a Web site is hard enough, but you must realize that a Web site is just one small aspect of a virtual world. So before rushing off design your own virtual city like some eager postwar land developer, let us ask some of the hard questions.

Why do you want to build a world: the hard questions

Everyone seems to have their own reasons for building a virtual world that can host avatar visitors. I know someone who has the vision of building vineyards and giving wine lessons in a kind of virtual Napa Valley. Another person told me that their dream is to use virtual worlds to create shared spiritual experiences. A Hollywood producer told me recently that he is developing virtual worlds so that big name stars can reach a large Internet and TV audience at the same time as "avastars". You can see from the previous chapters in this book that there are about as many ways to use avatars and their worlds as there are users of those worlds. To aid you in your decision making process, I have provided the following checklist of hard world builder's questions.

A checklist of world builder's questions

Before you set out to put in all the work to design a world of your own, you might want to ask the following questions:

You might notice above that I listed the real technology decisions last. The technology choices should be made only after the other questions have been addressed. We can become blinded by "cool" technology and want to build things with it for its own sake. All through this book we have been visiting worlds that were successful for many different reasons. Some worlds had large numbers of users without using "cool" 3D technology (e.g. The Palace) while others looked and sounded really good in 3D but had only a few visitors (like OZ Virtual). This goes to show that a virtual world does not need to be built out of the latest "cool" technologies to successfully attract users.

Your Community Plan

Your plan for nurturing and managing your community is perhaps the most important factor influencing the success of your virtual world. The preceding chapters in this book are full of numerous examples of what keeps citizens coming back to a virtual world. These chapters should give you a primer in virtual community design and hosting. For a more in-depth treatment of virtual worlds and community hosting, I recommend you take our on-line Advanced Course at Avatar University found on the companion Web site at Pay special attention to the section called: Netiquette and Community Hosting.

What kind of society will users build in your world? Mark Pesce, cyberspace visionary and co-creator of VRML gives us something to think about in the following quotation:

[starting quotation from Mark Pesce:]

ìThe same social mores that exist in the real world persist in cyberspace! That all the pathologies present in the real world are present in cyberspace by virtue of the fact that we are the agents of the pathologies! And when I say "we," I mean the part of us that can squeeze through the keyhole into cyberspace. That's the very interesting point, that cyberspace, I call it the mirror of the third eye, because boy does it show us what you really are! Because if you look in there, and you see dragons and demons and devils, then I know what you are full of, because what you are doing is you are seeing yourself.

Mark Pesce, Florence Italy, June 1996

[end quotation]

For World and Avatar Designers

In this chapter we give you an introduction to virtual world and avatar building. This topic area is so huge that it could take up far more than one chapter (it probably needs several more books). In addition, world building tools and methods are changing just about as fast as the avatar social scene. To address these two problems, we have included extensive resources on building worlds and designing avatars on the companion book Website. I recommend looking at the following for more background:

What is the "killer application" of virtual worlds?

Everyone is fond of asking: what is the killer application of virtual worlds, what will make a lot of people want to visit these worlds? Well, what makes any place worth visiting? One answer might seem obvious: places full of people are often visited. You visit a place mostly because of your affinity with the people and by the quality of the interactions you experience there. Other places are visited because they are not full of people. We go to the woods or hike into the back country of the Sierra because there is life there and it is not all human life. A third kind of space we visit because there are things there (not living, but perhaps once living), such as grocery stores, malls or cemeteries. There are some people who detest visiting places of things, but would certainly visit places of people. So, the upshot is that different kinds of people will visit different kinds of virtual spaces.

What does all this mean for the designers of successful 3D environments? It probably means that the 3D cybermalls will be soon boarded up if you design them to be navigated alone. It means also that we ought to pay close attention to how people interact in groups (a hard pill to swallow for computer geeks like me, easier for you creative social folks with Anthropology or English degrees).

Several of the virtual worlds documented in this book had a large number of people coming back to them for the following reasons: to communicate or play with other people or to leave their creative mark on the world. Perhaps there really is no "killer application" of virtual worlds. Perhaps like any other new medium that people use to interact, virtual worlds are on a long development curve to becoming an indispensable tool. Telephones were few and far between in the early days and people had a hard time justifying why you would use one over just sending a letter or dictating a telegram. It was only after decades of development of infrastructure and the emergence of new generations that would accept a "telephone culture" that the lowly 'phone became completely intertwined with our daily lives. And yet a significant part of humanity has yet to make a telephone call. Recent statistics show no more than one percent of the world's population has regular access to any kind of computer connected to the Internet.

Go and build a better avatar mouse trap!

All these sobering facts seem to say to us that the use of virtual worlds as a part of our daily lives is quite a long way off and that we have a lot of experimenting to do before that time. This is why you, dear reader, are such an important part of this new medium. Because you have got this far you probably have what it takes to build some of your own worlds and push the medium a few steps forward. Like an inventor tinkering in his or her workshop, you could come up with a few key new pieces that will make a big difference down the road. So go out and build that better avatar mouse trap!

© Copyright Bruce Damer, 1997-98, All rights reserved.