Thursday, September 16, 2010

Seasick in Avaya

Someone posted a link to Avaya, which seems to be windowed virtual world for  business meetings - as long as you are on a windows PC and don't mind voice chatting with strangers on the internet.  This is what I wrote on LinkedIn, in review of the world:

I'm always game for a new thing, so I downloaded the client and had a look. The fact that there is a download of a client may be a disincentive for people to try it out casually. I found the avatar customisation easy, but the control of the world and the interface was short on explanation in world - there is a basic overview on the website etc. Having to use W and the mouse to control the avatar's movements and the camera is vomitous - I'm used to navigating virtual worlds, but the fact that the camera swings about as you are trying to see where you are is a big disadvantage.

It took me some time to work out that the focus had to switch away from the world in order to use text chat - and it means that it is very difficult to get a meaningful interaction between avatars. Most people don't want to voice chat with people they don't know - this is risky behaviour in terms of the internet... people will often do the virtual world equivalent of showing you their penis (as in chat roulette). I don't know whether the people who were in the room with me at the same time were able to hear my text chat - they didn't respond if so.

"Voice chat is always on" says the quickstart guide - but this wasn't obvious to me at first having downloaded and entered the world, and would have been a huge barrier to me trying it out, if I had understood this to be the case, for the reasons above. For the demo online with strangers, it would be far better if this were an option and not always on.

The letterbox size of the window makes it seem very enclosed and restricted, and the seasickness effect of the camera movement makes one disinclined to move about much. Most of the areas around the central area seemed to be restricted access also, which seems like a big mistake to me... to invite people in, and then tell them they can shuffle around a central area, but can't access the upper levels or the rooms around the central room is likely to antagonise the very people you are trying to impress - it's a very unfriendly act. It would be better to block off entirely and not have visible, the places you don't want them to go. If you are expecting it would make them curious... I just felt resentful, that I couldn't go upstairs - particularly as I could see other avatars already up there.

Finally, the fact that it is windows only, is a big problem. You can't always guarantee that you will have everyone on a windows PC, and a lot of people in creative industries, will be on Macs. Excluding anyone on a Mac is going to be a big issue.

I certainly wouldn't choose to us this over Second Life for a business meeting, simply because of the sea sickness effect. I would fix the camera at the avatar's eye level, unless the avatar releases it to pan the camera around - that would at least make walking around a more comfortable experience? I would switch off the always-on voice, and give people more guidance in world.

It's interesting, certainly.