Playable Worlds’ Raph Koster on why avatars traipsing across the metaverse are a major tech challenge


Virtual worlds… how the eff do they work? Playable Worlds’ Raph Koster has an idea or two, and he’s dishing them out in a new blog series. The first focuses on the technical hurdles for building MMOs and the “metaverse,” and as usual, Koster emphasizes looking back into the history of game development for the answers to why things are done the way they are – and why things that seem so obvious haven’t been done yet.

Koster breaks down the way data and art are shunted between the servers and the client and whatever translation machine reads the format. Formatting turns out to be a major sticking point for MMOs, as are decentralization and decentralization.

“One of the common daydreams for metaverses is that a player should be able to take their avatar from one world to another. But… what format avatar? A Nintendo Mii and a Facebook profile picture and an EVE Online character and a Final Fantasy XIV character don’t just look different. They are different. FFXIV and World of Warcraft are fairly similar games in a lot of ways, but the list of equipment slots, possible customizations, and so on are hugely different. These games cannot load each other’s characters because they do not agree on what a character is. Moving avatars between worlds is actually one of the hardest metaverse problems, and we are nowhere near a solution for it at all, despite what you see on screen in Ready Player One. There have been attempts to make standard formats for metaverses before. I’ve been in meetings where a consortium of different companies tried to settle on formats for the concept of ‘an avatar.’ Those meetings devolved into squabbles after less than five minutes, no joke.”

As messy as all this is, Koster says, it’s “actually the simplest part of the entire equation,” but of course we’ll have to wait another week to hear why.

Further reading:

More coverage of Koster's writing and games
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