The Metaverse Wannabees
Now it’s time to return from the flat, two-dimensional world, back to virtual worlds 🙂 As you all might know by now, two new players are trying to steal Second Life’s isolated spot as the dominant virtual world for the upcoming Metaverse. The first is the long-awaited, years-in-Beta Metaplace from Raph Koster, one of the most influential people in the MMO area. Metaplace deserves a much longer article of its own, but it shall suffice to say that, in my not-so-humble opinion, it’s a good idea that comes about two years late: a Flash-based, web-embedded virtual world, with a look like Habbo Hotel, but with user-generated content. Like hi5 teens are supposed to “grow up” and go to Facebook, kids “graduating” from Habbo Hotel will probably love Metaplace, where they will have the ability to change the whole world to their content (pun intended!).
Personally, I think that Metaplace totally misses the point. It’s an answer to the early 2008 media pressure that believed that the market would be kid-oriented, Web-embedded virtual worlds (like the one Electronic Sheep Company has created; btw, ESC’s “Webflock 1.0” looks way better than Metaplace, although, of course, to take a peek at it you have to shell out US$100k first 🙂 ). Google’s Lively was precisely that, and silently died after 6 months. So why should Metaplace succeed, with avatars that look even uglier than Lively’s, although the navigation and the chat are slightly easier to do? (also, you don’t need to “download” an application; Flash is enough). The answer is simple: because Metaplace has Raph Koster behind it, and that’s enough to give the whole project credibility — and enough funding.
But we’d be in poor shape if the “Metaverse” would look as ugly as this.
Avatar Reality’s Blue Mars is probably at the other extreme of the spectrum. Although it’s announced as a “type of game”, it’s not quite that, but another type of user-generated-content social virtual world. It uses the massively powerful CryEngine2 rendering engine, which puts LL’s unreleased Shadow Viewer to shame. However, all this comes with a cost: the FAQ specifies that it was “built for Vista based machines with dedicated 3D graphics hardware”. Uh-oh. Knowing how powerful a PC has to be to run Vista, and specifically mentioning that “it requires dedicated 3D graphics software”, it means you’ll have to sacrifice your annual income to get a powerful enough machine that does a handful of FPS — or so claim some of my friends who actually have logged in.
Comparisons with Second Life will be inevitable (unlike Metaplace, which targets a completely different market — the one Lively was after 🙂 ), since the early adopters, most of them hard-core gamers with a social streak, will be logging to it as soon as the Beta opens to the public — just because of the glitz of the super-powerful rendering engine.