Is Latest UCI Virtual World Study Grant 'Waste' or Boon for Business?

Here we go again. The 49-page report "2008: Worst Waste of the Year," which U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) compiled to expose examples of "outrageous federal spending," included the National Science Foundation (NSF) having given UC Irvine a $100,000 grant to study the differences in how gamers from the U.S. and China play the popular online video game World of Warcraft. Well, UCI just announced it has received a new $3 million grant from the NSF for a study involving gamers and the virtual worlds of WoW and Second Life.

Sen. Coburn, you can start filling out your 2009 waste report now. 

But Richard N. Taylor, director of UCI's Institute for Software Research, argues real-world applications will likely arise from his three-year study on "how emerging forms of communication, including multiplayer computer games and online virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft and Second Life can help organizations collaborate and compete more effectively in the global marketplace."


"Many technologies have come out of computer-based games, and their concepts appear to have real potential," Taylor tells PC World. "This grant will determine how emerging technologies can be used or modified to support serious group work."

In other words, instead of launching a new initiative in the real, physical workplace, it can first be tried out in the virtual world, where the c

ollaboration among gamers who are physically hundreds and even thousands of miles apart can be studied and applied to workers in different offices hundreds and even thousands of miles apart.

Even without the study, ne

w communication technologies have had real-world impacts, such as online or video-based conferencing saving corporations tons in business travel costs--and costing the airline industry an estimated 2.1 million seats annually by 2012.

PC World "Game On" columnist Matt Peckham

writes that, for instance, plugging real-world engineering specs into Second Life for developing and testing personal rapid transit systems may not be as "pie in the sky" as it sounds. He notes having written in 2007 about a Toronto-based software firm that builds Sims-style applications for businesses, allowing employees to role-play business ideas they might otherwise be too shy to in real-life meetings. In December, PC World carried a story on the various ways games from America's Army to Forza 2 have been used as recruiting, teaching and corporate "relaxation" tools, and just last week the site carried a column about real-world performance profiles--such as "team player" and "problem-solver"--being matched to video gaming analogues.

The UCI team, which will also explore applications related to social networks and file sharing, will partner in the study with the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana and organizations in the aerospace, telecommunications, transportation and electronics industries that are already experimenting with new technologies for training, group planning and decision making.


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