Universe-Hopping for Avatars?

Universe-Hopping for Avatars?

Coinciding with the Virtual Worlds Conference and Expo opening today in San Jose, IBM and Linden Labs—the folks who run the popular virtual world Second Life—have announced they intend to develop standards and technologies which will enable world users to move seamlessly between virtual worlds, taking their precious avatars—and, of course, all their virtual commerce capabilities—with them as they go.

“As the 3D Internet becomes more integrated with the current Web, we see users demanding more from these environments and desiring virtual worlds that are fit for business,” said IBM’s VP of digital convergence Colin Parris, in a statement. “IBM and Linden Lab’s working together can help accelerate the use and further development of common standards and tools that will contribute to this new environment.”

The virtual world business is seen as being ripe for growth: omitting Disney’s acquisition of Club Penguin and Intel’s purchase of 3D and physics developer Havok, the industry pulled in about $200 million in investment capital in the last year. (If you include those two major acquisitions, the figure tops $1 billion.) Businesses are increasingly looking to virtual worlds as a way to foster community and customer loyalty, encourage ecommerce transactions both for real goods and in-world “virtual” goods, and enable new forms of user and customer interaction.

Specifically, IBM and Linden Lab plan to work together to create standards for “universal” avatars which can move between different virtual worlds, including not only details of appearance (clothes, hair, features, etc.) but confirmation of digital assets, identity, and other commerce-related attributes. IBM and Linden Labs see a universal avatar as an important step toward creating an interoperable 3D Internet.

The companies also plan to collaborate on secure asset exchange between virtual worlds (so assets, media, and other items can be exchanged between worlds), platform stability, integration with existing online commerce systems, and open standards interoperability.

Of course, if you were to take your tattoo-touting, machine-gun-toting, leather-clad, sword-slinging, half-robot super-biker avatar into (say) a Hello Kitty virtual world…we’re sure Linden Labs and IBM won’t assume responsibility for what might ensue.

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