Virtual Context Based Services - Definition, Description and Utilization of Context in Virtual Worlds
Supervisor(s) and Committee member(s): Prof. Dr.-Ing. Ralf Steinmetz
The importance of virtual worlds is steadily growing both in general as well as from an economical perspective and they register increasing member counts. The virtual worlds observed in research most often nowadays are the very popular gaming worlds of Multiplayer Online Games (MOGs). They are among the most popular collaborative applications and are often referred to as cutting edge in cooperative online worlds. In virtual worlds of Multiplayer Online Games, millions of gamers from all over the world meet and establish social networks. Multiplayer Online Games are the core of a complex, networked, technical and social structure with interaction being a fundamental aspect. This includes cooperation, community, exchange and learning with specifically informal learning being of great importance. Mixed collaborative spaces, as they are provided by Multiplayer Online Games, are also suited to provide a common platform for other areas like interdisciplinary research.
The interaction of gamers is central in Multiplayer Online Games. Cooperation between gamers evolves and gamers create groups. Gamers and especially groups of gamers interact not only inside the virtual game worlds, but also outside of the game, in the community formed around a game.
This thesis is based on the observation that different information and functions are used in addition to the game. This happens because corresponding information and functions are not available inside the game and thus gamers need additional services. Around the game, a game environment is formed which is maintained by the community of the game, including different applications and artefacts. For example, the organization of groups partly takes place outside of the game, because most games do not support this sufficiently.
Services in the game environment are provided by different independent internet applications. In order to use such a service, switching from the game to the respective application is required, causing an interruption of the game experience. A comprehensive support of gamers inside virtual worlds contributes to an improvement of the game experience. Thus the goal of this thesis is to make a comprehensive user support in virtual worlds possible. This support will be enabled by the integration of external services into virtual worlds.
To achieve this goal, we conduct a comprehensive analysis of virtual worlds. Based on the findings of this analysis we transfer the concept of context, as it is known in the area of context aware services, to virtual worlds and introduce and define the concept of virtual context. Other results of our analysis include the development of a generic interaction model for virtual worlds and the definition of virtual context information based on virtual parameters. In order to capture virtual context and make it technically usable, we develop a description language for virtual context. Based on the findings of the analysis we introduce and define the concept of virtual context based services that allows for a situation-dependent user support in virtual worlds.
The connection and integration of the external services into virtual worlds is enabled through the realisation of an information exchange between virtual worlds and other internet applications. This information exchange is based on the concept of virtual context based services and enables the controlled forwarding of information from the virtual world to applications in the game environment. This information exchange includes the acquisition of virtual context information, its distribution to external services in use, as well as the integration of the resulting service data into the virtual world.
We conceptually develop, implement and evaluate a middleware-architecture for the provision of context based services and the realisation of the information exchange. The middleware comprises of components for the capturing of context information in virtual worlds, for processing and dissemination of context and for the provision of external services in virtual worlds.
The evaluation of the implemented middleware shows that the developed concept of virtual context based services is valid and that the developed middleware is a successful implementation of an architecture for the realisation of an information exchange based on context based services. With the definition of virtual context, its description and its utilization, based on the concept of virtual context based services, this thesis lays the foundations for situation-dependent user support in virtual worlds and the integration of external services into virtual worlds.
The research area NetworkedGaming includes the different aspects which emerge around networked computer games. We are focusing on the underlying communication networks and on the possibilities which arise from the interconnection of the players. Furthermore the activities of game communities that besides documentation and analysis of the games also have influences on the development and evolution of the games are an important factor.
Our work in the area of NetworkedGaming ranges from basic state-of-the-art considerations over the analysis of technological basics or tools and communities of multiplayer online games, over analytical work about interaction, cooperation and conceptions for the support of the users and the influence of game communities to practical issues for example for voice communication or the development of methods to implement game mechanisms into P2P systems.
In the centre of NetworkedGaming are the Multiplayer Online Games (MOG's). Around those games different approaches have been developed to improve and support the interaction of the users. The current internet technologies are used alongside the game to enhance the opportunities for the users to interact, e.g. discussion forums, data collection and cooperation tools.
The research goal in the area of NetworkedGaming is on one hand the fundamental description of the theoretic interconnections as well as the opportunities which evolve out of it. This includes the relevant properties and parameters inside the games (ingame) and those of applications related to or surrounding the game (outgame) as well as the game communities. The second aspect includes the development of concepts for supporting the users, the community and the developers and is based on the different interrelations. Of main interest for the research are for example the integration of services into the games, the use of ingame information, the connection of the games with their surroundings or more generically speaking the provision of extended services and interfaces.