How the Enterprise Colonized the Virtual Worlds: A Sort-of Science Fiction Short Story by Craig Roth

March 27, 2008 at 1:15 pm | Posted in Fun, Gaming, virtual worlds | 1 Comment

Comin and goin

I don’t normally indulge in fiction writing in this blog, but maybe just once wouldn’t hurt. Besides, it’s not really fiction – it’s just a tongue-in-cheek way of describing what I see as the past generations and future generations of enterprise virtual worlds. I won’t go so far as to say these are definite predictions, but simply a description of a likely path (well, all except that last paragraph) for how large organizations will make serious use of virtual worlds.

So, how did it happen? The rise of the virtual worlds and their colonization by the Enterprise and everything that happened afterwards?

Well, no one knows exactly when the virtual worlds began. It was about 2006 when the adults began to notice that their teenagers would go into their rooms and disappear for hours at end. They would emerge only for food, squinting in the full light of the kitchen, and mumbling about “avatars”, “griefing”, “furries”, and “rezzing.” College students had disappeared too, but everyone just thought they were at class. Little did the adults know, but the virtual worlds were being built and populated from portals in their own homes.

Some of these adults worked in the Enterprise – large organizations and corporations where they attended meetings, designed products for customers, and tested out ideas. They wore woolly uniforms and had a confusing array of titles, although most of the ones with computers were called “infoworkers.” During 2006, some of them took a look at the virtual worlds through their telescopes, located at the end of hallways of fuzzy cubes at the top of their well lit, climate-controlled buildings in suburban office parks. What they saw was strange creatures – cat-men, flying faeries, naked inhabitants. There were people bumping repeatedly into walls or flying into buildings while others stood still for hours at a time typing on invisible keyboards. The infoworkers of the Enterprise thought the world they were viewing was bizarre and of no use to them, so they decided to stay away. Besides, they had work to do attending meetings, designing products, and testing ideas.

But by the end of 2006 the Enterprise had sent the first wave of intrepid colonists to the virtual worlds. It was a small number and conditions were harsh for the colonists. They didn’t know a lot about their environment and encountered griefers at every turn. They mostly came from high tech companies or those with youth-oriented brands. They came from IBM, Cisco, Sun, Intel, Reebok, American Apparel, Adidas, Toyota. The high tech companies sent evangelists back to the real world, telling about the wondrous things they had seen and done in the Enterprise virtual worlds.

Back in their fuzzy cubes and breakout session rooms, the infoworkers listened intently and the evangelists finally got them to go back to their telescopes and look at the virtual worlds again. They saw something that amazed them. They looked at the virtual worlds and saw their customers. Then they looked a little more and saw their competitors there too, sometimes talking to their customers. That was all they needed to see, so in 2007 the second wave of colonization began.

Oddly enough, as the second wave of colonists was traveling to the virtual worlds – virtual construction engineers and brand consultants in tow – they noticed some colonists from the first wave passing them on the way back. A few of them, from American Apparel and Wells Fargo, had already decided to pack up and leave. Some complained that the worlds were empty wastelands without a colonist in sight. Starwood was towing an entire hotel called Aloft with them. They seemed happy though, saying their time on the virtual world helped them design their hotel. Wells Fargo, towing Stagecoach Island behind them, was just traveling to another virtual world rather than heading back to Earth. The climate on the world they first colonized was too wild and unforgiving, but they had heard of tamer environs farther away and were off to colonize other worlds.

Some of the virtual world programmers went underground and decided to work on creating infrastructure that many worlds, each to meet different needs, could be built off of. Being able to control their environment and what the people in it could do made the Enterprises feel more confident that the risks involved were not too great, so they colonized new places where the virtual worlds, not just the islands and buildings in it, were built to their specifications.

With more controlled environments available by 2009, a third wave of colonization began. The Enterprise sent many of its best and most creative infoworkers – programmers, designers, and even marketing product managers. The term “resident” gave way to “visitor”, because the virtual people were there to visit, not stay, just like on websites.

As the customized virtual worlds could be created and owned by the Enterprise, they created worlds much like the secure websites they created for partners back home. Rather than everything being public like in the old virtual worlds, these could be controlled and only accessible by visitors the Enterprise wanted there. But putting private information in the virtual worlds caused the Enterprise security forces to become nervous. So, in 2010 a shipload of lawyers arrived. “Who invited them?” asked some of the frightened programmers. But the leaders of the infoworkers stood up and said “We did! Playing around and experimenting is fine, but if we are going to make this mission critical and confidential, we need them to make this world safe for the Enterprise.” And with that, the lawyers drew their pens and fired termination clauses, retribution clauses, service level agreements, latency warranties, confidentiality clauses, information privacy warranties, and hosted service warranties. Terms like “furries” and “rezzing” gave way to discussions of “code escrow” and “bonding.”

In 2012 standards came down from Earth and permeated the wild frontier of the virtual worlds. It became easier for colonists (now called residents after living there so long) to bring their belongings with them when moving to another world. There were more laws to regulate business transactions (but thankfully not taxes until 2015 as a last grab for revenue before an election).

By 2014 the virtual worlds had become accepted and even boring. Infoworkers who had decided long ago that they shouldn’t show up to work in a bunny costume determined it was probably inappropriate (even though possible) on their enterprise virtual worlds too, except on Halloween. In fact, they no longer felt like a wild frontier, but just another place for the Enterprise to use when needed. They didn’t replace much of what the Enterprise did in their fuzzy cubes. When the enterprise felt a virtual world was the best way of collaborating while attending meetings, designing products for customers, and testing out ideas, they visited them. When they felt other, more archaic communication and collaboration mechanisms were better, they used the old mechanisms. The portals, which were awkward at first, became better as virtual browser technology improved and standardized. In fact, virtual browsers and web browsers combined in 2016 as the separation between virtual content and web content became meaningless. Now they colonized in force.

That’s right about the time a band of real aliens happened upon the Earth. They found everyone – the teenagers and the adult workers – sitting around their portals to the virtual worlds and decided they could invade and be done before lunchtime. All the adults, now weak from a lack of physical exercise and blinded by the sun, were now no match for the aliens who took over the Earth, had a quick snack, and continued along their way.

The end.


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  1. […] to channels, chat modes, presence, mail, and emotes.  I also wrote a “short story” on How the Enterprise Colonized the Virtual Worlds: A Sort-of Science Fiction Story to illustrate how virtual worlds may conquer the […]

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