Evaluating Blue Mars — an open letter to Avatar Reality’s representatives

Jumping into Blue Mars earlier today — while my roomie was asleep and I could use her PC, the only machine at our place that is powerful enough (and has the correct operating system!) to log in to Blue Mars and get some 8 FPS out of it — was a bit like evaluating many other virtual world platforms out there: the only interesting people I met were the Second Life residents 🙂 which, at this stage, are possibly half of the Blue Mars population, estimated 1370, based on the number of people registered at their forums — when you register for the Beta, you get also added to the forums as well. As usual, they’re the only ones with an insight on what a virtual world is supposed to be for.

Anyone who is a gamer or a tech geek will love the Blue Mars beta. The graphics are the equivalent to Second Life at Ultra + Shadows settings (although in my experience, Blue Mars runs much slower, but fast enough to get a feeling of it; others report far better performance on Blue Mars). Some things happen “automatically” without need of extra scripting — thus, you get realistic splashing effects when jumping into the water; you leave footprints on the beach and raise some sand clouds when running; and avatars can use paired animations without scripting. Hair (two styles available for females) is meshed, so it looks and feels like the upcoming flexisculpties in Second Life (which haven’t been officially released yet, although some third-party viewers already implement them since March). Animations are irritating at this stage (and females only get, uh, rather too sexy anims), but they’re quite well done, at the level of the best mocap anims available in SL. Loading a new scene is really quite fast, unlike what happens SL (I believe everything is stored locally in your disk when you download the 1.2 GByte client anyway). Movement around is relatively fluid, once you figure out that you need to click with the right button mouse on your avatar to change the camera position. Wind, clothes, shadows are at the level of what SL can provide on the latest batch of viewers; water is nicely rendered at the beach shores (yes, you get real surf!), but the rest is not dramatically different.

The rest simply doesn’t exist yet. The interface is minimalist: no IMs, no groups, no chats, no notices, no voice, inventory is limited to a few items of clothing (there is nothing else available yet anyway), and no easy user-generated content. There are just five locations to go; each varies in size and scale but are the equivalent, in terms of quantity of content, to a sim in SL (in reality, they’re larger). Content designed by Avatar Reality, the company behind Blue Mars, is professionally done, but it’s not “out of this world” (pun intended): to keep polygon count low, they simply bake textures in buildings — a trick that SL builders have been doing since the dawn of time, and similar to what all closed-content games actually do. You can get far better content elsewhere, but of course it’s very hard on Avatar Reality to compare the handful of designers they’ve got with the uncountable millions of content producers for Second Life. It’s fun to see Phobos (or was it Deimos?) on the sky during the night, but it hardly compares with what you can do with the Windlight settings. Still, in terms of overall look, it’s definitely far better than what I’ve seen at Twinity, Kaneva, IMVU, or any of the other little-talked-about VW platforms (Moove, There.com and Metaplace are lagging so much behind that they’re not worth considering; VastPark, with their sudden move to release all the code as Open Source, might indicate that their business model failed; and I’ve never tried Multiverse, so I can’t say how it looks like from inside), so going with a proven state-of-the-art 3D rendering game engine, CryEngine2, and Poser avatars, was a good choice that allowed Avatar Reality to focus on the game design and not on the graphics — even though it runs only on a limited range of computers: the top-end gamer PCs (CryEngine2 is designed for gamers, so it doesn’t run on any other platform at all). Avatar Reality is not going to switch their rendering engine, and Crytek most certainly isn’t going to port it to any other sub-platform, so the popular request to get Blue Mars on the Mac or Linux will never happen.

Of course, as a manager of a content development company for Second Life, Beta Technologies, I’m naturally interested in evaluating other platforms as well. Since any company brave enough to launch a new social virtual world at this stage will inevitably launch their product as a “Second Life killer” (not Avatar Reality’s words, but definitely the words of their most feverous evangelists), it’s important for me to keep track of alternatives. After all, I have to daily contend with customers that hate Linden Lab’s policies of allowing griefers to roam the grid, affecting the whole grid even if the customer’s regions are not open to the public and run on separate servers; on the education side, the limitation to allow adults only (based on their birth date, not their maturity 😉 ); the lack of backups; the lack of a predictable environment (the grid can be up or down, fast or slow; Linden Lab will never sign a Service-Level Agreement with a customer); and the difficulty of getting proper invoices. In some cases, no matter how good your argument is, the customer simply doesn’t want to deal with Linden Lab any more. Some, surprisingly, prefer a less stable environment like OpenSimulator, since they have more control over it.

Blue Mars might be seen as an alternative for them. However, two major issues seem to be obstacles for that to happen. First, there is no collaborative, real-time content creation. While technically anyone can become a small-scale developer (for clothes and some items) by signing a different agreement with Avatar Reality that will get them access to some content creating “tools” (which should actually be seen more as “converters”: actual content creation is developed using professional tools like Maya, 3DS, Blender, or, well, SketchUp. Avatar Reality’s tools are just a way to bring models created by those 3D modelling tools into Blue Mars), right now, you can’t really place that content on the open beta, but just on a sandbox. Or… perhaps not. I don’t know. If you think that LL’s documentation is lacking, wait until you see what the lack of documentation in Blue Mars is 🙂

Content will also be censored (although Avatar Reality’s reps cringe when they hear that word). They wish Blue Mars to be Disneyland: no mature content (apparently, you can’t even detach your underwear, just like on Linden Lab’s Teen Grid or in World of Warcraft; however, in theory at least, you can have very kinky underwear!). Well, depending on what you wish to do in a virtual world, this might be a bane or a blessing 🙂 Nevertheless, I understand Avatar Reality: they have a rather well-written ToS, they have seen the problems that Linden Lab faces every day, and they wish to keep away from them. In my (dirty!) mind, however, I believe that risking mature content — thus appealing to a far wider range of users; some claimed that Second Life’s virtual economy success is mostly due to adult content, and I’m not going to contest that 🙂 — is a more interesting approach. In any case, the notion that content will be filtered at some stage is going to worry a lot of people.

Oh, and of course, if you wish to have access to the development tools (which are free), you’ll have to give Avatar Reality your real name, address, and phone number. Again, this is a mixed blessing. It means that any conflicts will be quickly settled, since there will be information about your real self stored somewhere; but it also means that people like Scope Cleaver, arguably Second Life’s best architect, will never go for it.

To do some real development for Blue Mars, you need to sign a special NDA just to know the prices. This will give you access to purchase your own “city” — in essence, a region running on your private server (which will have the equivalent of several sims, in terms of SL area), which will be featured as a location to visit from the “landing hub”. So I can only imagine how much that will cost: probably hundreds of thousands or millions of US dollars per year (if they were competing with LL in prices, they would have no qualms to release the actual prices in public 🙂 ). Uh-oh. So we have figured out Avatar Reality’s business model: get half a dozen people to pay them a few millions per year, and support all the rest for free. It might work — after all, this is how Multiverse supports their infrastructure, and There.com, in spite of their outdated virtual world, is still around for the same reason: a few multimillionnaire contracts are enough to keep the company afloat, while giving away everything else for free.

Why would you need a city? Well, engaging in estate development requires having access to this special “development type”. It’s the only way you can create a new section of the world, terraform it, and hand out “blocks” (the equivalent of sims) for others to lease. Block leasers can, in turn, lease shops in their area of the city. Developers can sell their content in shops. Regular users (the name is still under discussion; “colonist” might be the winning description, after a poll on their blog, closed on Sep 1) can rent apartments from block owners, which in turn get these from city owners. So there is a strict hierarchy, from the wealthy capitalist at the top, trickling down to the regular resident which will have no way to access to the upper levels — because becoming a city owner is not just a matter of ordering a few sims, like in SL: you have to make a special application which is going to be reviewed by Avatar Reality, and might not be granted.

So this is not “utopia” or “paradise” or a right-wing libertarian society like SL (more on that on my next post). It’s a paranoid society with Puritan beliefs created on top of a well-structured social hierarchy without social mobility, governance, democracy, or appeal to justice. Hmm. In a sense, no matter how strange that might sound, that’s pretty much how I imagine that we humans would colonise Mars 🙂

Besides the political aspects, the second major obstacle right now on the beta version is the total lack of any social tools. Claimed to be a social virtual world, something seems to have gone seriously wrong with the design of Blue Mars. Kaneva, for instance, launched their social networking website months ahead of their own beta opening: their idea is that a social virtual world needs to create social bonds first, and the rest should come later. This might have been an extreme case of “pushing” people into the social networking bandwagon — at some stage, in Kaneva, before you finally got your access code to the open beta, you had to create lots of links and bonds with friends on the social networking site first, post images, blog entries, and so forth — but Blue Mars is the exact opposite. You don’t have people’s tags hovering over them, so the only way to know whom you’re talking to is to open the chat history (Blue Mars uses “chat bubbles” too, but bubbles don’t have the avatar name; they only appear on chat history really). You can’t search for friends. There are no profiles. As said, there are no groups, no group tools, no announcements, no event calendar, no notices, no classifieds, nothing at all. You can’t even do private messages, or chat to people on other cities (think of each city as a separate, self-contained environment; I understand that this will help concurrency, since “colonists” are really just logged in to a specific city and not to a contiguous world, like on most virtual worlds with the notable exception of SL; and in theory at least you could shard cities if the concurrency is hitting certain limits). None of these functions are available on Blue Mars, and there is no indication on when they are going to be introduced (if at all); even though this is just a beta version, and they could pretty much do everything with a HUD displaying HTML (it should be easy enough!), the truth is, this is not working yet. It doesn’t seem to be a “priority”.

I also have no clue how ownership of assets will work. Right now, the inventory is too simplistic, if Blue Mars wishes to have, say, billions of items for sale/exchange. We all know how bad the SL inventory actually is, but at least we have the ability to organise it with folders and search for items with keywords. Blue Mars assumes that the only items you will ever own are pieces of clothing, accessories (hair is an accessory!), and (possibly) furniture (not implemented yet), and, anyway, there are just a certain amount of possible types of clothing. So you can’t create outfits — you’ll have to fish around the inventory to look for individual pieces to wear (and no, there isn’t a search option). This will work if you have a few hundreds of items. If you own 20,000+ items like everybody does in SL (mmmh right!), this approach won’t work 🙂 I couldn’t figure out how to give someone else a piece of clothing, or even how to sell it; for that apparently I need access to the developer’s wiki, which explains how shops work. Apparently you can only buy from shops. Thus, at the bottom of the social pyramid, there are just consumers who are able to buy things and go to events (once you figure out where they are, of course), and just spend money to make the content creators happy. Which will, in turn, pay rent to make the shop owners happy. Which will pay their lease to the block owners. Who in turn will pay their lease to the city owners. See how it works?

Of course, my gamer friends couldn’t care little about all this and are just goggle-eyed with the gorgeous sexy animations of the female avatars and the coolness of the “million-polygon waterfall” that was created by Avatar Reality as a demo of what the rendering engine allows. Well, as a demo of what CryEngine2 can do, it’s naturally impressive — even though there are far nicer games to play that use CryEngine2. As a social virtual world with an in-world economy, it’s got too many artificial rules. Real worlds — and Second Life is definitely a speculum mundi — don’t work that way. For the people just seeking pure entertainment and willing to pay for it, I guess this might be enough. For the common resident in SL, who knows from the very first day that they can enter this virtual world with nothing but the willingness to create, and slowly work themselves up to become a massive land baron(ess) like Anshe Chung, Blue Mars is not the right kind of virtual world to be.

So, knowing very well that a beta version is just a beta version, and not a finished commercial product, all I had left to do was to write an open letter to the Blue Mars representatives. As a serious developer for virtual worlds, I have a lot of questions on how to push Blue Mars as an alternative platform for development. What are the good arguments for doing so?

(Open letter after the break)

I need arguments to become a serious Blue Mars developer 🙂

An open letter to Avatar Reality’s programmers and representatives:

Bear with me if all this was explained elsewhere; a link to it would be most helpful :) Or, if nothing exists (yet), who knows, publishing a FAQ on “Good Reasons to Become a Professional Blue Mars Developer” would be a good idea.

First, let’s be straighforward and direct and skip the marketing talk 🙂 The “Interview with Joe Netizen” on the BM blog (Aug. 7, 2009) was fun and entertaining to read, but besides fun, it really doesn’t present any compelling arguments 🙂 We’re all supposed to be developers here, so, well, we really need serious answers (I’m not allergic to humour, of course — it’s just that we need both, humour and some serious talk too before making a commitment).

In my real life, I develop professional content for Second Life (and some other minor other 3D environments hardly worth being mentioned). Needless to say, after five years, I consider myself being familiar enough with the environment (which is not synonymous with technology!) to understand its advantages, its limitations, and more important for my customers, the expected investment and effective return on it. There are several schools of thought underlying business models; in my case, I favour the cost-oriented school. It’s not the only way to do business. There are alternatives and I can’t say which one is “best” — however, I can say it is one that I’m familiar with.

When starting to develop for a new, unfamiliar technology, my first analysis is measuring the return on investment. While I have absolutely nothing against crowdsourcing — i.e. contributing my work and time for free for “the greater good” — it’s something I limit to, well, my free time. During my business time I naturally evaluate other technologies and tools (research is part of my business too!) but I have to do that in a cost-oriented way, too: understanding if at the end of the tunnel, after wasting countless hours in fighting against the tools, poor documentation, and bugs creeping everywhere, it was worth the effort. In some cases, research in new technologies might result in a complete and utter waste of time, no matter how well the preliminary research (figuring out the effectiveness of using the proposed technology in advance, by reading reports, going through forums, blog posts, etc. and exchanging experiences with others) was. It’s part of the risk. And since it’s always a “risk” (research might fail!), it’s important to try to minimize it as soon in the process as possible. Again, this is not a guarantee of success; just being careful.

In that line of reasoning, it was easy for me to predict the downfall of Google’s Lively (I gave it a year; it actually lasted half that time). VastPark, which has apparently abandoned the commercial aspect of licensing their software (now it’s all open source), was a bit harder to predict. Multiverse managed to find a few niche markets which actually surprised me, given the high learning curve to develop games for it (the key element of Multiverse was to allow hosted solutions, which cut down the infrastructure management costs for very small game developers). Metaplace is “kool for kids” but at this stage not a reasonable alternative. Kaneva is a big question mark, when they have such an underdeveloped graphics engine (but they don’t seem to be out of business!). IMVU works out fine if you have a very specific market in mind — one that my clients are not interested to explore — but it really doesn’t allow much programming, and that limits its use as a general-purpose tool. Sony Home, well, just works on the Playstation, and that means my customers are not interested in it. Also, getting a developer license for Sony Home might be impossible — we’re not Electronic Arts 🙂

I see some interesting aspects in Blue Mars that might appeal to some of my customers:

  • Relatively easy quick start. No need to understand how it works. Clean, uncluttered interface. Replacing the start-up login section with the clumsy “avatar face design” interface (which only produces moderately ugly faces anyway) by a selection of good-looking, ready-made avatars (that can be tweaked later) would be enough for most of my customers. I can imagine this will happen sooner or later.
  • Relatively easy to figure out where to go. The New Venice city is a good example of a simple interface: click on a number, and you get teleported to the “right” place. No need to figure out how to search for a location (of course, the “help” screen right now should say what those 9 locations are, but I imagine this will be easy to add at some stage)
  • Relatively good visual appeal, in the sense that you can actually develop realistically-looking buildings and designs. While academic research in SL showed that some “realistic designs” aren’t really appropriate for some kinds of purposes (e.g. education, where surreal examples seem to work best than “virtual classrooms”), the majority of us common human beings feels more comfortable with a “fantasy” setting than with a “surreal” one. Blue Mars has great visual impact, even if it comes at a cost.
  • A sense of “security”, meaning mostly that in “your” city you can do whatever you wish and keep people away. In Second Life, by contrast, you never know when a griefer exploits the system to enter your own super-private region; also, griefers attacking other parts of the grid with a denial-of-service attack will affect your own region, even though you’re technically “away” from it.
  • For the Puritans out there (and sadly the corporate world tends to exaggerate the need for Puritanism, but, alas, that’s how their poor little closed minds work…), Blue Mars offers a “no adult content” Disneyland, which is appealing to some.
  • At least at this stage, where AR’s servers only need to handle with a handful of avatars logging in simultaneously, Blue Mars will be viewed as a “more stable and responsive” platform (sorry for the honesty, guys, but your claims that “thousands of avatars can log in to the same region” is just corporate marketing — when you’re hosting not 5 cities but 50,000, each with a thousand avatars, then you’ll see if your technology can scale well. Ondrejka and Rosedale, on their white paper written 6 years ago, also claimed the ability to support growth endlessly. We all know the result of those claims 🙂 Nevertheless, Blue Mars, with a limited population and size at this time, does have an advantage in stability and performance, one that cannot be neglected). Scenes draw quickly, which is a plus. I understand that the underlying model is based on patching (as opposed to streaming), which should work in the early stages, but I’m quite curious to see how it works when you have not 5 cities, but 50,000. Nevertheless, while BM is still small, everything loads quickly, and as said, this is a good incentive — for now.

These are relatively good arguments to push a solution to my customers as an alternative to Second Life. However, they are not compelling arguments. In all above cases, you can do the same with either Second Life or its open source counterpart, OpenSimulator.

Notice that “compelling graphics” is hardly a requirement for my customers. They’re not gamers jumping into the latest and greatest technological breakthroughs that require them to buy specific computers just to be able to barely run a new technology; they’re either corporate or academic, two areas where the technology itself is of relatively little interest — so long as it works and enables them to create their corporate/academic presence according to their goals. The age where corporations just wasted money on “cool virtual worlds” because it gathered them good PR is now over; so visuals come as a second priority after capabilities. And, seriously, I wasn’t that impressed with the choice of CryEngine2, although I understand that to get it to run faster some features might be left out (for instance, the behaviour of the physics system to figure out where the avatar is standing is a bit strange; it feels just like ODE under OpenSimulator, which is definitely not a flattering comparison 🙂 — and all BM avatars are the same size, it will be intriguing to see how your physics engine behaves when they have different sizes and shapes).

So what are the real questions for a professional developer to start seriously evaluating Blue Mars and possibly attract some customers as early adopters to create a few cities in this environment?

  • Cost of developing tools. It’s all well said that “all building tools are for free” when in practice that’s only true if your team uses Blender and SketchUp. So there is an investment cost in 3D modelling tools that might be more appropriate for Blue Mars than others.
  • Cost of adding a new city. Right now, I understand that current developers are allowed to play on a “sandbox area”. That’s very well and exciting, but it’s something you cannot do for a customer, unless they desire a completely isolated area — most don’t. They want to have an open area to all visitors. This effectively means the ability to add content right now to the open beta environment. I would say that this point is fundamental so I should rephrase it: are content developers allowed to develop content for the open beta environment at all, or they are just limited to sandboxes and private, unconnected areas? If the latter is true, no corporate or academic customer in their sanity will have the least interest in becoming an early adopter. I’ve also seen that the cost of a private city is “only disclosed under an NDA”. In my book that means “this is the only way we’re going to make any money, so it will be insanely expensive — 100’s of thousands of dollars or even millions. This was the approach used by Lively too, and we know where it lead. If my assumptions are wrong, be brave, and tell us your numbers. Remember that you’re competing with “private areas” in Second Life that merely cost US$295/month, and you don’t have really any compelling argument to raise the prices much higher than that (if you have, let’s hear them — it’s vital for a serious developer to be able to know how to pitch a technology that costs orders of magnitude more than its competing platform).
  • Virtual economy. Where is it? How do current developers engage in it? You have already claimed that all your Blu’s will be “lost” when Blue Mars comes out of beta. What’s a developer’s incentive — and this time I’m addressing the smaller developers that are targeting consumers directly, and not corporations — to waste their time in Blue Mars, if they can sell their digital content in Renderosity, IMVU, or Second Life right now and be sure they can keep what they earn? Please revert your position on this. Although I haven’t managed to find a shop anywhere, or any information on how shops are activated (besides giving my PayPal email address, which I suppose will allow the equivalent amount of US$ to Blu’s to be transferred to my account), the mere announcement that “all money will be gone after the beta is finished” is a huge disincentive.
  • Community-building. Something I always fear from high-tech start-ups is the utter lack of interest they display in community-building, or, if they do it, they do it completely wrong. Kaneva might be an exception as a relatively good example: they launched their social networking site first, and their virtual world next. But since they handled from the beginning all in-world social activity, they soon found out that this was not their primary goal as technology developers. So, community-building has to come from the users. In that regard, what tools are specifically going to be deployed for them? Remember, people need group chats, they need a way to advertise their events (or their products), they need to have access to music (just stating on your FAQ that “streaming music will be available” is not enough; where is the box to check it? 🙂 What about in-world display of images, videos, streams?), they need a way to search for friends and people potentially interested in their activities, announce these, gather their own network, put it to work in Blue Mars as well as on all of their other (existing) social networking sites. Where are all those tools? Will they be developed in the open beta? (Hint: you could provide all that by just embedding an HTML browser in the BM client, and, with proper HTML design to allow for flawless integration with BM, that would work for everything really)
  • Real-world integration with Blue Mars. One of the little-known successes of Second Life is that it has relatively good integration with the “outside” world. While most companies coming from a “gaming” environment give little importance to that, once they realise that their most interesting customers (in the sense they’re willing to pay a lot!) in the corporate and academic areas will require integration with the external world, they might realise they have completely missed that. Sadly, the developer wiki with the pages for Lua programming are currently unavailable for my login, so I have to rely on a friendly developer with access to it to let me know how external servers can be accessed from within BM, and perhaps even more importantly, how the reverse can be accomplished. Don’t neglect the academic crowd, which will demand Moodle access; and corporates will want integration with their e-commerce systems and their own reporting tools (i.e. integrating BM metrics with their own things), as well as link simulations that run on external servers with the interface presented by BM. It’s been years since I last managed a virtual presence for my customers that had absolutely no interface with the external world — and some are almost only 3D interfaces to it 🙂
  • Agreements with partners that will push Blue Mars’ vision ahead. With Linden Lab, developers had to wait almost a decade since developers were taken seriously. That comes from the hippie approach of typical Californian companies (sorry, I couldn’t resist 🙂 ). Partnerships with developers are secondary; doing cool things with technology isn’t. Well, it’s important for any serious developer to understand how the relationship will be with Avatar Reality. Are we just “merely customers” or co-promotors of your vision? Depending on how you think about this, you’ll attract more serious developers or make them run away. An answer at this stage of “oh, we really haven’t thought about it yet” will just give the idea that you’re Yet Another Hippie Californian Company” with no clue on how real business works, and are only here to burn venture capital while you have fun developing cool things. Well, prove I’m wrong!
  • Timelines. Successful business means planning well. This also means knowing what to release, and when. Put it bluntly, if your product Blue Mars is being well planned and designed, it will have milestones and deadlines for releasing things. Where are those? When can we expect some things to be available? I might understand that at this stage — for the beta — you’re more interested in getting feedback than anything else. That’s good! But the beta period should have a limit too, or else you’ll be just like Google: remain in beta for as long as you wish, since people will use it anyway, because we’re Google and we’re good 🙂 As a professional developer, I cannot tell my own clients “oh, one day, the service you’ve bought from us will be delivered; be patient, we’ll do it someday”. I have to present them chronograms and weekly reports, and they demand from me a well-structured, planned approach for development and deployment of a virtual presence. This means, on the other end, that my own suppliers will have to give me the same amount of data, or I cannot plan ahead, and that is crucial. Taking a bad example, Linden Lab, for almost a decade of their existence, never planned things ahead, and never told their customers — private or corporate — what their plans were. Using timelines and concrete plans (not abstract wishful thinking, or merely bug fixing) was just introduced in late 2008; this year it was the first time that Linden Lab, under NDA, released some planning data for introducing new features and technologies to their partners — and even those were limited; a few believe there is more that will be done that was never released; and some simply don’t believe that Linden Lab will effectively commit to the dates they announced, since they have a terrible track record of doing so. Here Avatar Reality has a nice advantage, with a relatively “new” product, to make a difference: show us how you can plan well, let us know in advance what will be done and when, and you’ll get a huge support from the developer crowd 🙂
  • How do you collect suggestions for improvements and design changes, and how you prioritise bug fixing? An early approach to full transparency is very important. Using the forums (and a poll or two on the blogs) is a good idea for a start, but it has the disadvantage of addressing just a limited audience — the ones that have time to post on the forums. What other mechanisms will be added? It’s good to file bug reports, but how do we know we’re not filing the very same bug report that someone else already has sent? Will in-world meetings be handled at some point, between users, developers, and AR representatives? Will these be regular, or just informal gatherings where pretty much everything will be discussed?

(Since we’re at it, why doesn’t your blog have RSS feeds, separate links for the blog entries, and possibly comments and/or the possibility to add trackbacks/pingbacks? 🙂 )

In a nutshell, the big question is to figure out how serious AR is about BM, specially when compared to the competition. Who is your market? Are you addressing the “cool kids” and crowdsource their free time, work, and effort to make your company and product a success? Are you developing a platform for the mainstream user — the one that probably doesn’t have a high-end computer, spends more time playing games on Facebook than logging in to virtual worlds — or just a very tiny niche market (gamers and game designers with lots of free time that find technology cool)? When you speak of a “next generation virtual world” are you just talking about pretty graphics (which, as said, are not that impressive) or about what people are actually going to do in that virtual world? (This is mostly the question to understand: is Blue Mars a technology or a social environment? Once you can make us understand your answer, this will allow us to know if it’s worth our time to become a developer or not)

Anyway, a long post for you to meditate about (sorry about that; in my mind, if it’s worth addressing an issue, it’s worth writing about it 🙂 or else it’s just a pointless intellectual exercise). I’ll be eager to hear some of your answers.

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