Page last updated at 12:04 GMT, Monday, 6 October 2008 13:04 UK

Escaping into virtual PC worlds

Millions of people across the globe are turning on their computers and entering virtual worlds every week - with games such as World of Warcraft, Second Life and Entropia Universe proving ever more popular.

Players interact with each through their avatars - a digital representation of themselves used in the game world.

BBC Scotland has been probing the opinions of one expert from Kinross on the growing popularity off logging out of real life and into computer worlds.

World of Warcraft
Games such as World of Warcraft are played by millions of people

Brian Baglow has worked on games such as Grand Theft Auto and Body Harvest and now promotes companies involved in the interactive, mobile, online and entertainment industries through the PR agency he founded called Indoctrimat.

He estimates that between 50 and 60m people are involved in virtual world gaming.

He said: "There are as many different types [of virtual game] as you can think of different movies or television and surprisingly it started back at the beginning of computing, when computers were all fundamentally linked together.

"You didn't have your very smart PC on your desktop but they were all in universities and they had huge fire-proofed rooms with something the size of a house in there and all you had was the keyboard and the television screen and some of the early games actually turned into multi-player worlds.

"If you want some of the jargon, they're called MMORPGs - Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Games."

Mr Baglow believes the attraction of the games could be the bond formed between players.

"It's the ability to interact with other people - real people all over the planet regardless of where they are or who they are," he said.

Brian Baglow
Brian Baglow promotes firms involved in interactive and online industries

"There are a lot of people out there now who have formed life-long friendships.

"Some people have got married after meeting in virtual worlds."

However, Mr Baglow recognises there could be problems with such games.

He said: "There is a security issue - you have to be very very careful about who you're agreeing to talk to and it's something that a lot of the social networks - Bebo, MySpace, and that kind of thing suffer from as well."

And there were accusations that some people on Second Life were buying sex with those posing as child characters and even had links to real child pornography.

Mr Baglow said: "Most virtual world games have a point to it - you have to go in, build your experience level, you have to win quests, you have to do things.

"Whereas Second Life was more of an experiment in creating a virtual world where people can do as they please - they can meet people, they can build a house, they can do anything you can do in the real world essentially - and it is open to the same problems that the rest of the internet faces.

"But for a lot of the games you're far too busy either blowing up space ships or destroying parties of orcs to worry about anything else."

Second Life screenshot, BBC
In Second Life players can socialise and trade with each other

The virtual gaming world brings in a lot of money - but how do companies make their cash?

Mr Baglow explains: "Most of the games support themselves through monthly subscriptions, so you're actually paying to take part, but within each of these worlds they have some sort of economy.

"There's a fantastically complex game called EVE Online which comes out from a company in Iceland and they've been going for several years now, and they've actually recruited an economist and are voting people into positions of power, into a government, democratically, within this world and a large part of that is to do with the resources and the actual economy within the game."

Mr Baglow believes the industry will continue to grow in the future.

He said: "More and more devices that you now own are becoming connected and connectable, everything from your mobile phone and your home video games consul, through to your PC.

"So it's going to be entirely possible to take these worlds with you regardless of where you are and you can log in from your phone, you're going to be able to find out what's going on through text up-dates, so I really think it's quite exciting."

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