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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 March 2007, 16:06 GMT
Virtual worlds set for shake-up
Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website, San Francisco

Blades Edge mountains, Blizzard
World of Warcraft has more than 8 million subscribers
Big media firms are rushing to copy the success of online games like World of Warcraft, a conference has been told.

Millions of dollars are being spent trying to emulate the massively multiplayer online game, experts at the Game Developer's Conference said.

"We are going to have so many failures it is going to be unbelievable," said Mark Jacobs of Electronic Arts.

The panel also predicted that non-gaming MMOs such as Second Life would be prevalent in the short term.

Speaking at the San Francisco event, Mr Jacob, who is currently working on Warhammer Online, said: "There is going to be a lot of corpses, rubble all over the place.

"There is so much dumb money. Mass media is coming in and saying we want to be just like WoW."

Silly money

Warcraft has eight millions subscribers around the world and is seen as a model to be copied by the mass media, the panel explained.

"Because of WoW and dumb money and big publisher pressure there will be a lot of corpses," agreed Rob Pardo, head of game design at Blizzard, the makers of Warcraft.

Second life screenshot
The panel said non-gaming worlds will dominate in the short term

"Viacom has launched three MMOs and nobody noticed," said Raph Koster, president of Areae and the former head of Star Wars Galaxies.

He added: "Anybody who is not watching how big media is moving into this space is missing a major major story."

He added: "We are about to see a truly massive explosion in the quantity of online worlds of various types."

Daniel James, chief executive of Three Rings, said: "You are about to see, and this is happening already in Asia, many different kinds of games that are massively multiplayer and less based on role-playing games."

He added: "This medium is going to destroy TV - and it's going to happen in short term."

Beginning of the end

MMOs are one of the most popular forms of gaming - and are seen as attractive to big media companies because often they have a subscription revenue model and continue to make money after the game is first released through virtual economies.

Star Wars Galaxies screenshot
Many more MMOs could soon join games such as Star Wars Galaxies

The panellists agreed that the types of MMOs would continue to expand beyond the traditional notion of fantasy-style games and science-fiction adventures.

"The definition of MMO will change - the line will blur," said Mark Kern, president of Red 5 Studios.

"It will be really hard to tell what is and what isn't an MMO. There will be a lot of experiments in convergence between social networking and MMOs.

"Five years from now a social networking site without a 3D universe will look like a dinosaur."

He said there was a lot of similarity between how a social networking site cultivated and grew a community and the work done in MMOs.

Some on the panel predicted that World of Warcraft would not always be the world's most popular MMO.

"WoW will have its day and it's nothing to do with how smart they are," said Mr Jacobs.

"It won't be for a while but it will happen."

Sony's Home and other social networking games compared

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