This past weekend there was an academic conference in World of Warcraft. When I first heard about the conference I was intrigued by the concept. The topic of the use of virtual worlds for research was intriguing, but even more so I was intrigued as to how the conference would work
As many of you know I have attended more than a couple of conferences in Second Life so the opportunity to explore a conference in another virtual world was right up my alley simply from the point of view of comparing the technologies and the experience.
Unfortunately I was only able to attend one day of the conference, so my observations are limited to how it ran on the very first day. I will post links to other blog posts reviewing the event at the end.
Looking at the content of the conference, the session I was able to attend was more discussive than instructive. Certain questions were presented and the group shared their thoughts and experiences, some backed by fact some backed by intuition. Although less structured than a standard conference session it was an interesting round table discussion.
My personal recommendation for future sessions would be a little more focus, and a glossary. I asked a number of dumb questions, "Can you define what you mean by x," and after each question a number of people whispered to me that they had had the same question. That said, with the question and answer format it is harder to keep control of the discussion and it is hard to know what exactly would need to be in the glossary.
From the technical standpoint it was very different from the experience of Second Life. Although I recognize the focus of this conference was one that would likely appeal to people who already have experiences in virtual worlds I am going to look at the experience from the perspective of the challenges of holding a conference in a virtual world. (Yes, I know that WoW is not designed for it. This is merely looking at the challenges given the design of the world.)
In World of Warcraft there are no ways to limit who can enter an area, kick people out of an area. This presents a considerable level of risk to a conference. You can try to pick a remote location but a horde of people with the same group tag heading in a general direction (with the initial starting place announced in a public place) is pretty easy to track. If someone wanted to they could have rounded up a gang and entered into battle with the attendees which could have been pretty disruptive, unless we all decided to hang out as ghosts for the duration of the conference.
Another challenge was getting to the conference. Luckily I had been in at the beginning and had been added to a group for the pre-conference raid. This meant I had indicators on the map indicating where the people in my group were which allowed me to find the location. Without teleport (in general) or an easy way to mark and travel to coordinates on a map getting to a location or directing a person to a location requires that they have a reasonable ability to follow directions, as in go east along the hills and then turn north at the tree.
One thing that they did that was clever was to use the guild chat (think group IM for those familiar with SL) for the conference. This meant that even if a person was not present they could participate in the event. There was no remote viewing of any presentations, but then there is no way to bring a presentation in to World of Warcraft so this was not a problem.
Over allit was a very good first experiment with holding a conference in World of Warcraft. Although a conference is not the standard fare for how people interact in World of Warcraft it is not completely beyond the pale of reasonable interactions. We often see people using applications in different and unexpected ways. I would say that holding a conference in World of Warcraft is not for the faint hearted, but as a place to gather and play and discuss I think a lot of benefit can be found.
More on the conference:
Stereo Left, Right, Centre on the conference
A flickr group of photos
If you were at the conference I'd love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to comment below.