Virtual worlds are playing an increasingly important role in our lives. They have existed for a number of years, originally, to provide us with entertainment and escapism in the form of video games. But today, virtual worlds cover a plethora of uses, from medical training and digital concerts through to complex scenario planning and are transforming the way we communicate, learn and consume entertainment.
What are Virtual Worlds?
A virtual world is a computer-simulated environment that can be accessed by a user through an online interface. Depending on the type of virtual world, a user may explore a digital environment using a personal avatar, participate in activities and communicate with other users.
Virtual worlds make real money. They can be anything from stickers for messaging apps to clothing for your virtual avatar. The market value for virtual goods is estimated to reach USD 189.76 billion by 2025. This is predominantly driven by the rapidly growing global gaming population who regularly part with real money to buy in-game currency or tools such as swords, armour or property.
Why are Virtual Worlds so Desirable?
Virtual worlds combine two things that are intrinsic to human nature; social interaction and imagination.
Human beings are a social species that require communication to thrive and we are constantly seeking opportunities for interaction, expression and validation. It is understandable why we find social media compelling and addictive and why we have integrated them seamlessly into our daily lives.
Virtual environments also allow us to surpass physical limitations and play in a world much more exciting than our own. We can design our own reality, which is part of the appeal of Linden Lab’s Second Life, a 3D virtual world where you can be whoever you want and create anything you can imagine. Users create virtual representations of themselves, called avatars, and interact with other avatars, places or objects. Now 17-years-old, this early ‘Metaverse’ has developed its own history and unique culture.
How are Virtual Worlds Changing?
Virtual worlds are already having a huge impact beyond games.
Synthetic environments are transforming the outcomes of patients requiring urological and gynaecological procedures. The da Vinci Surgical Systems by Intuitive enable surgeons to perform delicate and complex operations from anywhere in the world with robotic assisted surgery.
The da Vinci Skills Simulator contains a variety of exercises and scenarios specifically designed to give users the opportunity to improve their proficiency with the da Vinci surgeon console controls.
Electronic music pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre wanted to take living room concerts to the next level by hosting a virtual concert which drew hundreds of thousands of views across both VR and non-VR streaming options like YouTube. Fans who were using headsets could interact through virtual avatars.
It is uncertain when it will be safe for real concerts to go ahead and with most artists turning to online streaming to entertain their fans, virtual concerts are proving a powerful way to cut through the noise.
The Coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on the future of events. Virtual events allow event organizers, speakers, attendees, and sponsors to interact remotely through a virtual environment. The first Educators in VR Summit took place in Microsoft’s AltSpace VR. Over six days 170 speakers took the virtual stage in 150 events over six days. Over 2,000 people attended.
In the future, it is likely that virtual experiences will be offered as part of a larger event strategy that combines both in-person and digital experiences.
Service personnel have a world of training environments at their fingertips. The US Army’s Dismounted Soldier Training System is the first fully-immersive virtual simulation for infantry.
Synthetic training environments like these are dramatically reducing the cost and logistical challenges typically associated with high-consequence training missions.
Virtual environments are transforming how education is consumed. Immersive VR Education has created a range of virtual experiences to educate students on important moments in human history such as the sinking of the Titanic and the 1943 Berlin Blitz.
The Apollo HD tells the story of the 1969 moon landing through the eyes of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Users can fly the command module, pilot the Eagle lunar lander and explore the Moon’s surface using a VR headset, all from the comfort of their own homes or classrooms.
What Will Virtual Worlds Look Like in the Future?
Virtual worlds are emerging as the future of social interaction online and the recent shift to remote working and social distancing has only accelerated the desire for them. However, they have yet to reach their full potential. Synthetic environments all require a vast number of connections, often across distributed geographies. At the same time, users expect these virtual worlds to be as detailed as possible and desire a more immersive and realistic experience.
The development of these worlds are currently being held back by the restrictions imposed by current infrastructure including limited user counts, and a lack of rich interactions and developers have been left searching for a way to improve the speed, scalability and reliability of distributed systems.
Hadean Simulate presents a possible solution as it creates large complex worlds that sit outside confines of limited connections, entity counts and realism. It uses a distributed octree data structure to dynamically partition physical simulations, providing additional computing power to complex regions and enabling unprecedented levels of scale and fidelity.
Today, virtual worlds are an emerging and exciting phenomenon but in the near future, if new technologies are harnessed, we can expect them to become an ordinary part of our lives.