April 21, 2004

Getting started

In May, 1990, Randy and I gave a talk at the First International Conference on Cyberspace, which we entitled “The Lessons of Lucasfilm’s Habitat”. In it, we presented the work we had done creating Habitat, one of the first big online virtual worlds. We talked about the things we had learned, the mistakes we made, and gave some advice for others who might be traveling down the same road. (The written version of the paper was published the next year in the book Cyberspace: First Steps, the procedings edited by conference organizer Michael Benedikt.) The attention this generated surpassed our wildest expectations. It seemed we had struck a chord with a lot of people. We were invited to talk about Habitat in numerous other venues. Electronic copies of the paper were widely mirrored, first on FTP sites and then on the Web (even today, a Google search on an exact quote of the title will yield hundreds of hits). This all lead to a consulting practice and ultimately to a remarkable company, Electric Communities.

This year, the organizers of the 2004 Muddev conference invited us to give a “fireside chat” presentation, updating the multiplayer games developer community on our experiences since the publication of The Lessons of Lucasfilm’s Habitat. So, on March 27, we gave the original lessons a critical reappraisal, talked about the projects we’ve worked on during the intervening years, and then put forward a batch of new lessons based on our more recent experiences.

You can find a copy of our PowerPoint slides from that presentation here. However, we promised the conference attendees that we would render the presentation into a somewhat less elliptical form than a set of slides that only make sense together with the words that were spoken. At the time we made this promise, we expected to be writing another paper, but, upon discussion, Randy and I both realized that we wanted to do something a little more adventurous. Since the presentation is part history, part sermonizing, part prognostication, and all very subjective, the different pieces did not seem like they wanted to go together in any sort of traditional academic form. We’ve been talking all these years about the unique capabilities of the electronic realm. And lately we’ve been preaching the virtues of incrementalism. Plus there’s a lot of good stuff that we just didn’t have room for in the talk. Plus there’s a lot of good stuff out there that other folks have been doing that we’d like to direct everyone’s attention to. So we decided it made more sense to do something on the web, something a little more dynamic and open ended than just writing an academic paper and posting the PDF file. Hence this site you are now reading.

This is an experiment. It’s going to be part weblog, part document repository. In the coming months we hope to fill in some history, document some cool technology, explain some ideas, offer some advice, pontificate wildly. And we want to look forward as well as backward. There are many cool and wonderful things remaining to be done out there.

Watch this space!

Besides virtual worlds/communities, Chip and I have also done work in the area of reputation systems, online-moderated negotiations, and e-commerce systems. If it’s about building systems for people to interact online, we’ve either done it, or have an educated (but sometimes unfounded) opinion on the subject – but so have you.

That’s why we’ve started a blog. :-) It’s not just about two old farts pontificating; it’s about sharing our thoughts and learning from each other. We expect this to be a dialog, with you.

For now, all we ask is to keep a civil tone, and to stay on topic.

This should be fun!


I’m pleased that you guys are doing a blog!

Any chance that you can make a full RSS feed available? Currently you only have a short summary RSS feed.

Chris, I’ll look into it. Give me a few days — I only just got started learning to configure Movable Type about a week ago :-)

Great…looking forward to reading this blog. Habitat was so far ahead of its time. The very idea that a graphical multi-user virtual world existed in 1985 just blows me away. I remember when I first heard about Habitat I thought 1985 was a typo and the correct date must surely be 1995 . It was truly a visionary project.

In addition to learning more about the history of Habitat I’d also love to hear what you think about the MMOGs of 2004. What are your top 3 favorites and why?

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, your comment may need to be approved by the site owners before it will appear. Thanks for waiting.)