Almost every week for the last few years, it seems, I've gotten a press release or a pitch touting some company's great new Facebook games network or kids' virtual world.
And why not? Companies like Zynga and Playfish are making money hand over fist with their collections of massively popular social games, and 2D Flash games aimed at children like Club Penguin, Webkinz, Habbo Hotel, and others have garnered vast amounts of virtual world investment dollars in recent years.
But to someone who cut his virtual world teeth on more immersive, 3D environments like There and Second Life, these never-ending announcements of new companies trying to jump on the social gaming bandwagon have left me with one nagging question: Where is the innovation?
To find the answer, one has only to do what investigative journalists were always trained to do: follow the money. But while Facebook games like FarmVille and Who Has the Biggest Brain, and social worlds for kids or teens like Gaia Online make financial sense, they aren't all that satisfying intellectually.
After all, while Second Life had no end of technical problems and was about as inviting to mainstream audiences as obscure European philosophy, it had a complex economy, a deep social structure, sophisticated politics and always seemed, to me, at least, as the jumping off point for truly groundbreaking technology.… Read more