Raph Koster’s going to host a panel at SXSW 2010 that discusses how Virtual Worlds collide with the Web.  While I think we have different implementations of that ideal, I think he and I are of the same mind that it should happen.  Metaplace is his example, Ages of Athiria is mine.  For me, Metaplace is too open and in that regard it is Metaplace’s biggest strength.  You can literally do anything with the technology.  I like to think of it as a web enabled Second Life with a significantly lower creative barrier to entry.  Unfortunately, the lack of initial context leaves the user to do a lot of legwork to establish a unique space in the Metaplace virtual community.  The can do anything but they literally have to start from a blank piece of virtual land.

For Ages of Athiria, I want something different and I eluded to this on his blog post in the comments.  Metaplace is a virtual world platform.  Ages of Athiria is a virtual world.  Metaplace is a virtual world development tool inside a web based social/marketplace virtual world.  Ages of Athiria is simply a virtual world.  Both offer or will offer piles of web integration.  Though neither is really like the other and that’s what I hope his panel explores.  Metaplace is one example of how to integrate with the web.

When I think about Ages of Athiria, I do not see just a 3D client connecting to a login server and eventually a world server.  While this aspect will exist, I’m betting that it is not even the most popular way to access the game.  Web sites, mobile phone applications, SMS messaging, and more have always been part of the plan for the game’s release.  Through the use of a robust web service API, we’re making every possible part of our game accessible to any subscriber that wants to connect a client to it.  In fact, the bulk of our 3D client simply uses these same web service APIs to do its work.  From where I stand, I want to give our players access to the world from anywhere at anytime and on any device to make switching from our game to another game, that much more difficult.  I’m not going to gloss over it, subscriptions require retention and retention is all about getting the hook into the user and keeping it there.  If that means, I have to create the coolest tools on the planet for you to access our game, then great, let’s do it because we all win.  You get access to the game whenever you want it and we keep you as a customer.  That’s what I call a win-win.  That’s the level of integration I’m coming to expect for any new online game.  Now, I know that this implementation will bring a whole host of problems to the surface that today’s walled gardens do not face but that doesn’t mean they are not solvable.  In fact, my experience building web based applications tells me that the problems we’ll encounter all have solutions that were tackled or are being tackled by industries outside of the game industry.  With that in mind, I’m confident that we’ll succeed in developing an open web service API to the Ages of Athiria game and that’s how I see massively multiplayer games colliding with the web in the near future.