A few weeks ago, we reported that start-up company Vollee is set to bring Linden Lab's Second Life to mobile using its VolleeX engine, which streams games running on the company's servers to mobile handsets, theoretically enabling you to play any PC game you like on your phone.
It's an intriguing idea, with as many potential pitfalls as striking selling points. We were curious about how, and how well, it works, so we asked Vollee's head of business development Julian Corbett and Linden Lab's VP of platform development Joe Miller to fill us in.
Julian Corbett: Through the VolleeX engine, we can take full PC games, MMOs or even virtual worlds and stream them to any 3G enabled handsets. This means that you can now access games or full persistent online worlds right from your mobile handset. It's a real step forward for mobile games as you can now have meaningful connected experiences on your handset.
You've already stated elsewhere that you don't need access to source code to stream and modify games. How much creative control does this give you over the games you stream, and how involved do publishers like to be?
JC: Well, our proprietary technology has the ability to manipulate the graphics within the game. This allows us to adapt a game for mobile and focus on creating an adapted experience. We can make text larger, call out key elements, such as in-game maps or other factors to make it fit the form factor of the device.
We work closely with our publisher partners, to ensure that the experience on mobile is as great as the original game or virtual world.
Can you tell us which publishers (aside from Linden) you're working with, and can you give us an idea of what games will be available?
JC: The partnerships we have announced so far are Activision, Codemasters and Encore, as well as Linden Lab. Very soon we will be announcing new partners and specific properties that will be brought over using the same streaming technology.
And Joe, how involved has Linden Lab been with the development of Second Life's mobile presence through companies like Vollee?
Joe Miller: We at Linden Lab have taken a very hands off approach with regard to third-party application development. In January of 2007 we took the first steps at open sourcing Second Life's code, starting with the client software. So while we haven't been directly involved in the development of mobile applications, it's a direct result of our open sourcing efforts.
Back to you, Julian. Since Vollee is working with Activision, could we see the long-rumoured mobile World of Warcraft?
JC: We can bring all MMOs and virtual worlds to mobile. We've been approaching the major developers and publishers with the idea of enabling all of them to benefit from VolleeX… The possibilities are limitless.
The uncertainty continues, then. Moving on, do you perceive any risk in making Second Life available to a broader user-base, in terms of things like security or the more general well-being of the Second Life community?
JC: It's no different from playing from your PC – you're accessing a remote PC from your phone and there is end-to-end encryption on that connection. The current model is extremely secure as a Resident will simply log in using their current Second Life account and we never see any username of password information on our side.
JM: I think there probably always exist slightly increased security risks associated with bringing increased openness to any technology platform. Ultimately, it's a necessary part of innovation and forward movement, and you'll find echoes of this in all successful social technologies. In our view, this progression is ultimately a positive for the community at whole.
And what opportunities do you think it presents to Linden Lab and the end-users?
JM: As an economically and socially vibrant community of users, a broader user-base exponentially increases the prospects for commerce and social interaction. A large, diverse Second Life community is an absolute win-win for Residents.
Julian, at the moment it seems Vollee is heavily involved with Linden Lab and Second life. Will virtual worlds and MMOs continue to be a focus for Vollee? How selective do you intend to be about the games you make available?
JC: We want to ensure that the quality of the user's experience remains high, so we're making sure to bring over the right titles.
We do plan to continue focusing on MMOs and virtual worlds, because we believe that connected cross-platform content is what is most relevant for mobile and lend themselves to mobile quite well. People want to be linked to their community, even when they are not in front of their PC.
One concern that consumers may have is cost. Will Vollee's service be strictly for those with unlimited data tariffs? If so, do you see this as a major hurdle?
JC: The Vollee service is a streaming one, so we suggest an unlimited data plan, much in the same way as one would have for a mobile TV or music service. We are seeing more carriers offer such plans, especially in the US, and more and more subscribers are signing up.
And finally, Joe, how big a part of Second Life's future do you think its mobile presence will prove to be, and do you have any intention or desire to bring the licence to any of the major consoles?
Mobile presence in its many forms is obviously an incredibly hot area at the moment and will only continue to grow in importance. What I foresee is tighter integration between mobile devices and functionality within Second Life, though not necessarily meaning a full, in-world presence. This may take the form of mobile chat or some other form of limited interaction that's perhaps more suitable to a mobile device.
Our thanks to Julian Corbett and Joe Miller for their time. You can register for the open beta here. It starts at the end of May and rolls out during June, so if you have a compatible phone you'll get the chance to download the free client then.