Applications and Tools, Art and Exploration, Virtual World Platforms

Inside Blue Mars: Virtual World Promising Rich Content Creation Opportunities

Goddess of the Grid Bettina Tizzy has a lengthy interview with Jim Sink of Avatar Reality on the forthcoming Blue Mars virtual world. Or worlds, if I’m going to go by my discussions with Raph Koster, because each world will be self-contained with its own rules and execution of code (LUA and a casual games API), joined together by a common portal and cross-world chat.

blue mars bettina tizzy

Jim has encouraging things to say about the content development model, although it also sounds like there are some policy issues they haven’t entirely worked out yet: adult-oriented content and sex, and the use of alts among them.

I’ve anticipated Blue Mars for a long time, saying a year ago that it would raise the bar on what people expect from the visual presentation of virtual worlds. And while I’m still excited about the platform, I’m also of the belief that while Blue Mars (it’s unfortunate that the acronym is BM but I digress) may give consumer brands a home – one that they wish they had back in the hype phase of Second Life, it will be more of a competition for MMOs, console games, and perhaps casual games like Metaplace.

For a consumer brand – a Red Bull or a Coke or whatever, the ability to tightly control the user experience will be a godsend after the flying phallus days of SL. The ability to track users, their time in a space, and to provide AI ‘shop keepers’ – all big pluses.

blue mars virtual world

Having said all that, I’m now in wait and see mode, rather than “I can’t wait to see”. The demos from the conferences where Blue Mars have been shown have been gorgeous. They make all the right noises about 3D pipelines. But they face a few challenges:

- The platform is built for Vista machines. While lower operating systems can run it, they have a high initial bar. They’ve long said that they would build high and wait for the world to catch up, but they risk alienating users who find the experience less than advertised because of their equipment.

- On that note, Jim talks about educators using the platform – but don’t count on it any time soon. Teachers complain about the minimum requirements for SL….Blue Mars raises the bar higher.

- Blue Mars has been announcing a beta roll-out for a year now. Initially it was last summer. Now we’re looking at a developer sand box in the next few weeks. Whether they can actually get a beta phase rolled out this summer is definitely a wait-and-see issue.

- The content development model still strikes me as slightly strange. There’s less clarity around in-world commerce than I’d like, and the multi-stage content creation access, while practical, leaves me wondering whether having an “inner circle” (a sort of FIC of content creators, I suppose) could lead to challenges in attracting and supporting partners. If you need to apply to be on the list, then the content creators chomping at the bit to give it a run might be disappointed and decamp for elsewhere.

- And finally, it doesn’t support Macs. And last time I checked, a lot of early adopters are Mac users – as Mitch Wagner pointed out just go to any games or virtual world conference and glance around at what laptops people are using. Alienating this audience may seem like a small thing (“you can use bootcamp”) and it was a trade-off in order to use Crysis, but it might be too much of a trade-off to be able to ride an early hype wave.

But check out Bettina’s interview for yourself – there’s lots of good insight and explanation, and it’s a great piece.


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