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To Game Or Not To Game

Virtual worlds are certainly nothing new. Science fiction writers from Ray Bradbury to William Gibson have long imagined them. Early denizens of the Internet experimented with them in the form of “multiuser dungeons,” or MUDs-fantasy role-playing exchanges acted out through online text messaging. Cartoon-style chat worlds like the Palace and Worlds Away had a go in the mid-1990s but never quite caught on.

More recently, massively multiplayer online computer games, such as EverQuest and Asheron’s Call, have picked up the slack by emphasizing team play and community. Participants meet in these fantasy-themed online worlds not to compete but to hang out. As a result, one of the missing links that caused earlier virtual worlds to crumble seems to be emerging: an audience. According to the technology research firm IDC, 87.3 million people will be playing online games in 2004. Around 400,000 are paying $13 per month to play EverQuest, by far the most popular pay-to-play game. And these online games have become the training wheels for virtual worlds.

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