Deep Thoughts, Virtual World Platforms

It’s a Webby Virtuality: Future of Browser-Based Worlds

How should the Web and virtual worlds interoperate? What’s the role of Flash-based efforts? Mitch Olson of SmallWorlds, Keith McCurdy of Vivaty, Daniel James of Three Rings (makers of Puzzle Pirates), Sean Ryan of Meez were led through a discussion of the integration of the Web and virtual worlds by Giff Constable of ESC at this week’s virtual world conference.

The panel kicked off by discussing the difference between 2.5D and 3D, noting the range of implementation within 2.5D. The motivation for launching a 2.5D game is primarily driven on the lack of friction between the user and experience. Plug-ins, installs, client downloads are all barriers to adoption.

If There’s a Download You’re a Science Project

Sean Ryan of Meez claimed that plug-ins or downloads mean “You’re dead, a science project.” Only Flash or Java are, well, anything other than science projects. So first is whether there’s a download, and then there’s the question of whether the environment should be in 2.5D or 3D which is also incredibly difficult to execute, something to do with cameras getting lost.

Daniel James claimed that 3D graphics are not relevant because immersion happens in the head not on the screen. He noted again the issue of plug-ins and downloads and that 95% of Puzzle Pirate users are lost when the Java security “button” pops up.

Vivaty on the other hand claimed a 50% conversion rate in spite being a downloaded application, although commented that it might be the demographic or the early adoption curve.

Virtual Environments and Social Networks

Vivaty is based on the value proposition of the idea that you want to be in virtual worlds with your friends, thus the integration with Facebook and the ability to upload content into your scenes. The adoption of Vivaty is thus made easier because it can both leverage your social network and content.

James, coming from a gaming background, comes from the perspective of providing a fantasy, which implies not connecting it with your ‘real life’. The co-mingling of a game environment with ‘real life’ social circles isn’t a given, in his perspective.

SmallWorlds sees social gaming as a key driver, however. Social networks offer a way to complement synchronous experiences with asynchronous connections with your friends.

Aggregate Eyeballs
Browser-based worlds were still a major theme at the Virtual Worlds conference. But somehow, not as much as the previous one in New York. And I think there’s a reason - because while browser-based worlds are purposefully designed to overcome the friction point between the user and actually being IN an environment, that’s based on the premise that it’s the world builder who’s attracting users rather than users being attracted to a world.

Most of the browser-based worlds are based on a 1998-type premise: build it, they will come, get enough of them and you’ll eventually make lots of money.

I remember being pitched once on the idea of launching a Web portal. It was all about eyeballs, I was told: if you could aggregate enough content, spoon feed people streams of information, then eventually you could convert all those eyeballs into money.

And now we have browser worlds where it’s not the fact that it’s in a browser that’s at issue: it’s what’s there when you arrive and the philosophy on which they’re built. More than one of the panelists called their worlds “entertainments”. And SmallWorlds certainly is just that - well, first, it’s hardly a world, it’s a bunch of cartoon lobbies where the avatars sort of float there and send chat bubbles to each other but really it’s a “game portal” - we’re supposed to get hyped up by playing fancy versions of tic tac toe I guess.

Browser-based worlds don’t add anything significant to the 2D Web. They give us games. They let us chat. Of the panelists, only Vivaty truly offers something significantly different, which is in the ability to display Web-based content like your Facebook profile stuff, and then to integrate that with your friends list or whatever.

So long as browser-based worlds are built mainly on the premise of entertaining, they’re media properties not worlds. And there’s nothing wrong with media properties, it’s just that it’s very expensive to keep people entertained with the off-chance hope that in entertaining them they create social bonds with each other because you’ve built rooms around the entertainment.

Puzzle Pirates is great, but already they’re needing to shift to a newer product because you get bored. You want to move on. You’ve created some friendships but they don’t last forever - your Warcraft raiding party of yesteryear is your Conan tribe or whatever of today. And that’s fine, there can be money in that…but worlds? We’ll see - in the fight for eyeballs, people are bringing the same media models that have always been attractive to venture capitalists, maybe, but that have a hard time gaining long-term traction with users.


speak up

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site.

Subscribe to these comments.

*Required Fields

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.