Archive for September, 2007

h1

Web 3.0: a reality??

September 26, 2007

As if last week’s big reveal – Metaplace – wasn’t enough, this week rumours circulated that Google themselves were working on a virtual world/avatar program to be released later this year. Ars Technica probably has the most detailed account of what might be going on (remember nothing has been confirmed yet, other than that a ‘major internet company’ is beta tesing a new product that is in some way related to ‘3D modelling, videogaming’ and ‘virtual avatars’). Admittedly all the evidence points to the major internet company being Google, primarily the ASU connection and the gmail account question. But what form will this virtual world take? Metaversed states that ASU students have been testing a virtual world by the bame of ‘My World’ since last year, but don’t give any more details than that. The article emphasises the fact that Google Earth CTO Michel Jones stated that GE “would always remain true to the real world and not dive into the type of fantasy world that Second Life has become” leading to the question – so what’s the point?

However, ‘My World’ is not the same as Google Earth even if it makes use of it in some way. Everyone with any experience of virtual worlds knows that avatars, no matter how closely they are based on ‘real life’ selves will incorprate a degree of ‘fantasy’ even if it’s simply because of the stylistic limitations of the software used. More important then the form the virtual world will take, however is the relationship it will have to the broader online world. Metaplace will quite literally break boundaries by making all in-world objects and characters compatible with the web and vice versa (another great video here) making virtual worlds as portable and accessible as the web is now. Vastpark, which is just about to go into beta, is doing something very similar, although it is less apparent what degree of interoperability it will have with the rest of the web.

Google has always made it clear that its services are interoperable so I think it’s reasonable to expect a ‘My World’ link above the search box on your iGoogle page. The question will be: how far will Google take the interoperability? Will Google searches now come up with matches in ‘My World’ or at least give you the option to include or exclude this option? Will My World be a collaborativevirtual world allowing users to give access to world building tools to friends and colleagues? Will Chat be operable with Gmail and across virtual worlds (if it isn’t one huge virtual world)? If any of these feartures turn out to be available then the whole web 3.0 concept that once threatened to be no more than a parody might actually be a credible proposition.

New World Notes asks if MMOs will swallow the web or the web will swallow MMOs? To me it looks more like a Yin Yang with the boundaries between them being grey at best. If a virtual world is part of your Facebook page and your Facebook feeds part of your virtual world then whos’ to say what’s swallowed what?

h1

MMOSpace or virtual worlds 2.0: my thoughts on Metaplace

September 20, 2007

I wasn’t going to write about this week’s breaking news, Raph Koster’s Metaplace, but having seen this Youtube video I feel in a slightly better position to comment.

It’s only a short video, but if the tools are as easy to use as Raph implies then MMOs really could become the next phase of the socialnetworking trend, following in the footsteps of Myspace, Facebook etc. One of the examples Raph shows is an ‘apartment’ where “you can have friends over to chat” which immediately reminded me of the ‘miniroom’ in Cyworld, which, let’s remember, has 20 million users over in South Korea. This link is to the US version so you can see the similarity more clearly.

The language Raph uses to describe some of the features is intentionally lifted from web 2.0 lingo; when he demonstrates how to set up a virtual world he uses the term ‘style sheet’ “it’s a lot like a theme for a blog” he explains then he goes on to describe how you can import photos, music, video etc. Although the term UGC has been used to describe Metaplace, this is not the free form and slightly intimidating UGC of Second Life where items and environments are generated from scratch, but has more in common with the ‘bricolage’ of a Myspace page.

Admittedly if you look at the video carefully you can see that the page with the ‘stylesheets’ on is tabbed and the tab Raph focuses on is entitled ‘noob’, the next tab up is called ‘bring it!’ and the last tab ‘hardcore’. So we can surmise that Raph is showing us the ‘easy’ option, and the ‘hardcore’ option may be closer to the Second Life UGC model, if you check the Alpha sign up application form it does ask if you have any programming skills and if so what they are.

Clearly the real clincher in terms of web 2.0 similarities is the web-like capacity to build feeds through in-game items and link in-game items/spaces to the web through widgets and the like (not to mention the free movement of items between the virtual worlds in Metaplace itself). While Raph suggests that users can build their own ‘World of Warcraft’ if they wish, the obvious benefit is the simplicity of the platform which sounds no more difficult then setting up your own Facebook or Myspace page. As you may have noticed many brands/companies have their own Myspace/Facebook profiles not just because they’re seen to be an essential online presence but because they are cheap and easy to set-up and maintain, something that can’t be said for a Second Life presence, for example. Together with the web compatibility of Metaspace’s virtual worlds with the rest of the web, meaning that companies could have their users embed widgets into other personal web spaces, it seems like a done deal.

Of course, Metaspace isn’t unique in this capacity, as Alice Taylor points out there are other companies planning similar services, and there are companies like Koinup who are building social networking tools based on existing virtual worlds/MMOs, but Raph Koster’s ‘celebrity’ will certianly carry a lot of weight in bringing virtual worlds to the masses. We’ll just have to wait and see if these metaverse ideas bear the fruit they promise.

h1

4 Things Meme

September 19, 2007

Sean over at Lost in the Grind has ‘commanded’ me to complete the ‘4 Memes’ and who am I to refuse?

4 jobs I have had in my life (not including my corrent one)

  • Paperboy
  • Fruitpicker
  • Data inputter
  • Market researcher

I’m just glad I didn’t have to write ‘call centre worker’.

4 films I have watched again and again

  • All 6 Star Wars films (yes all 6)
  • Excalibur
  • Clash of the Titans
  • Indiana Jones series

predictable or what?

4 places I have ever lived

  • Anfield, Liverpool
  • West Kirby, Wirral (check the map!)
  • Winchester, Hampshire
  • London

4 programs I love to watch

  • Robin of Sherwood (best TV series ever)
  • Heroes
  • Countryfile (don’t laugh)
  • Peep Show

4 Places I have been on vacation

  • West coast of US/Canada (almost the whole thing)
  • Paris, France
  • Florence, Italy
  • most of the Lake District

4 of my favourite foods

  • cake (esp. cupcakes)
  • sweets (pretty much anything that isn’t purple)
  • crispy duck
  • cheese on toast

4 favourite drinks

  • tea
  • smoothies
  • water
  • milkshake

God, I sound boring don’t I.

4 places I would rather be right now

  • Azeroth 😉
  • the Lake District
  • a more comfortable chair
  • anywhere with my girlfriend

4 peopl I command to do this

h1

Great ‘ad’: Halo 3

September 19, 2007

halo 3 ad

 

While I think the Halo series is slightly overhyped, this ad/piece of marketing, call it what you, like is genuinely amazing. Maybe it’s my inner Games Workshop geek coming through, but it’s hard to beat a good diorama, especially one that’s interactive. Being made of polystyrene, miliput and so on it also has a grittier edge to it than polished computer graphics, something that helps capture the nastiness of warfare, undoubtedly this feeling is aided by the haunting piano music that accompanies the ‘video’.

 

 

h1

For Love or Money? Making MMOs pay

September 18, 2007

Glad to be back after a very busy month. So what’s new…?

Virtual Worlds News has a whole series of blog entrieswith transcripts/notes from the Austin Game Developers Conference (AGDC) which are very interesting to read. This discussion of MMO subscription models managed to cover a whole host of other fascinating subjects so I recommend reading the whole thing. Personally, I feel that there are plenty of opportunities to do MMOs without the monthly subscription fee and the monthly subscription model it seems is becoming less of a norm. For example the up and coming online FPS Kwari will be buit around micropayments for guns, equipment and ammo, in return players receive money for succesful hits, the discovery of special items, and the completion of quests. Hellgate: London has opted for a standard free play option and a ‘premium’ option that requires a monthly subscription fee that gives better customer service and access to ‘elite’ items, new quests, monsters, areas etc. Both these approaches are very interesting, but clearly are as yet unproven (both games are in beta, I believe). The ‘success story’ for the conventional MMO is Guild Wars, which offers a free to play service following purchase of the initial game, with revenue built from the purchase of expansion packs. Although Guild Wars is rarely included in discussions of ‘successful MMOs’, Xfire’s recent data publication put it at the number 2 spot for MMOs, compared to Eve Online and Lord of the Rings Online at number 6 and number 8 respectively.

Raph Koster’s list of successful non-subscription based MMOs unsurprisingly focused on the less graphically superior examples, aimed at children, tweens and teens – Barbiegirls.com, Club Penguin and Habbo Hotel. All three have been very successful, with Barbiegirls.com registering over 4 million sign-ups in just a few months, Club Penguin being snapped up by Disney for $350 million and Habbo Hotel claims to have 7.5 million users. However, all bar Habbo Hotel are relatively new and their subscription models are in the long run unproven.

Beyond revenue, what is it that players of these games are actually getting out of them, are we seeing similar levels of blogging, forum chatting and machinima that are associated with an MMO like World of Warcraft? One thing I feel that Raph overlooks is that to engage with the most interesting features of many of these MMOs players need to pay a subscription fee or make some other kind of payment. A $6 subscription fee in Club Penguin will allow you to buy clothes for your penguin, and according to this article from 2006, 850,000 of Runescape’s 5 million user base pay the £3.20 for access to new areas, monsters, skills etc. that non-paying accounts don’t get.

If I understand this article correctly, Barbiegirls.com requires users to have purchased the MP3 player to access most of the important content which at approximately $75 (Canadian), the price of a boxed retail game, and with the promise of $9.99 accessory packs ‘free’ goes out of the window really.

While I appreciate Raph’s insistence that the typical computer game developer isn’t really clued in to ‘web 2.0’ themes, so far the players seem to have made up for that gap in the business model through UGC mediums, especially machinima. It might be fair to say that the models used by Barbiegirls.com and Habbo Hotel have more in common with web 2.0 practices but that may be out of a necessity to develop a business model that depends on players who, in the majority of cases, don’t own credit cards.

The big question concerning the success of these MMOs will be their response to the use of their IP outside the game environment. Runescape RMT abounds and there is plenty of Runescape machinima on Youtube, and Club Penguin seems to have a strong tradition of machinima that doesn’t seem to have slowed down following its purchase by Disney, but how will a home-grown IP like Barbie work in this kind’ve context. I found only one or two examples of Barbiegirls UGC on Youtube, which used stills rather than ‘action’ footage, but it will be interesting to see how it evolves and what Mattel’s response will be should any video cross into ‘unsuitable’ territory.