Developing virtual worlds: The interplay of design, communities and rationality

F. Ted Tschang, Jordi Comas


This paper examines the evolution of virtual worlds from the developer's perspective. What are the motivations of developers? What are the specific challenges of the governance of user-generated content? User-created virtual worlds may be characterized according to their degree of design or emergence. On one end is the 'the designer as god' perspective and on the other is the unforeseeable and perpetually emergent 'user creativity.' Utilizing a theoretically derived sample of virtual worlds, we illustrate how governance is more complex as designers contend with three major issues. In general, across all three worlds, developers had to come to grips with the limits of their ability to design virtual worlds for premeditated outcomes. Secondly, communities forming within worlds, as opposed to atomized users, are central to the (creative) building, usage and governance of virtual worlds. Developers have a range of choices for how to interact with communities ranging from arm's length monitoring to engagement. Thirdly, developers have to manage instrumentally rational aspects of their business which can lead to tensions with the design and community goals, and, ultimately, lead to the failure of a world's business model. A fuller accounting of governance will have to accommodate the complex interplay between purposeful design, emergent community, and the logic of the marketplace.


virtual worlds; design; software; community; creativity

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