How attached are we to the open world and Euclidean space?
In an earlier post, “The sci-fi Metaverse is bad (and you need to leave it behind)“, we talked about some of the notions we inherited from science fiction which shape our thoughts on how the Metaverse should exist. One such item is the open world concept. Another notion is of a single large contiguous (Euclidean) three dimensional space. These are romantic notions of the Metaverse, but do we really need them?
Second Life is an interesting example of both an open world and a contiguous Euclidean space. (This is the classical view of the Metaverse.) Land is a virtual resource in Second Life which is sold to players; it must be purchased in order to be used.
In Second Life, location can be important. The size to which your land can grow can be important. Sure, your avatar can teleport to almost anywhere on the map, but if you are so inclined, your can probably fly there as well. In 2011, almost 80% of the company’s revenue was from land fees. With revenue based on the constraints of real estate, Euclidean space makes a great deal of sense here. It is baked into the design, and with reason.
I find myself very attached to an open world. Sightseeing is a great Metaverse activity, even if Second Life has shown is that it isn’t enough to keep users engaged. I think the need here may be psychological. Without an open world, will we start to feel more trapped than empowered? Even though I can’t fly off the surface of Second Life and onto another planet, I don’t feel trapped. How open do we need? Perhaps there is a basic threshold which needs to be met.
What about contiguous Euclidean space? In the countless virtual worlds of video games, we’ve been exposed to teleporters, portals, vehicles, and gateways which magically transfer us from one region to another. In many cases, they are the only way to travel to another region. Is this a problem for us? Not so much. An exception might be in those devices which only offer one-way travel. I think we instinctively want an open world, but as long as it is navigable, we don’t need contiguous space to get us there.
Euclidean space may not be a real-world constraint that we need. For example, let’s visit a movie theater that you might manage in the Metaverse. If you are showing 50 different movies, do your really need 50 virtual floors to accomplish this? (I have to admit, one cool concept would be for a building to physically grow and shrink in height to dynamically create unique spaces as needed. In this scheme, a building’s height might represent its popularity. Navigation would have to be carefully considered, however.)
In Euclidean space, the number of seats inside each of the rooms would be limited. If you have a popular movie, do you need 20 theater rooms to seat all the avatars who want to watch that one title? Can you even manage the requirements of virtual space, and will your visitors accept that? If not, do you constrain yourself to only handle a fraction of the titles and a fraction of the people who might want to see them?
If you are selling movie tickets as content, you want to be able to sell as much as you can. You want convenience; your patrons go to the ticket counter, and they walk into the showing which is always on the first floor (or perhaps the grand theater on the second floor). You want them to always be in the same room as their friends (or perhaps consolidated with a large crowd of strangers to reinforce the idea that their decision to see this particular movie was a popular idea).
On the other hand, Euclidean space might be a real-world constraint that we conditionally want. If you are selling scarcity, you want Euclidean space. You might be an exclusive venue, and you want only the top movie to show in your establishment. You might want the theater to be sold out. You might want to use scarcity to support an image for your theater or to charge for the venue, not the content.
If you use non-Euclidean spaces in your design, be sure to keep in mind what kind of indirect message it sends to a user. If you deploy unique spaces nearly everywhere, then an area without one might read as common, or perhaps unimportant. An area that has a non-Euclidean space that doesn’t need one might read as personal, exclusive, or high-end — or it could just read as unpopular, lonely, abandoned or a one-off. Non-Euclidean spaces (or the lack of them) can be used to shape user impressions.
How do you fit tens or hundreds of thousands of staterooms on a virtual cruise ship? Surreal Adventures planned to used non-Euclidean space to solve that problem.
The choice of where to use and not to use Euclidean space is going to be a core design factor in a Metaverse. We’ll revisit this issue later. In one such post, I’ll touch on this as one of the design choices dealing with complexity, scale, and back-end resources. Non-Euclidean spaces can also be a great way to handle some of these issues — if used thoughtfully.
- Augmented reality
- Data Collection
- Intellectual Property
- Science Fiction
- Second Life
- Virtual home