3D Virtual Worlds vs. MMORPGs

I have spent 9 years exploring 3D Virtual Worlds, and 8 years playing MMORPGs.  For the longest time they felt like two different experiences.  3D Virtual Worlds are a creative outlet, while MMORPGs are a mostly cooperative gaming experience.  It seems that recently they have been merging.

I have not been adding many new virtual worlds to my master list lately.  While I am probably missing some, the main reason I have not been adding new ones is because there haven’t been any.  This is probably due to good old capitalism.  The potential market just isn’t as big as people thought, and the market that is there is covered really well by Second Life, IMVU, and OpenSim.

In the last couple of years, the growth in 3D gaming has been in free to play MMORPGs.  Not only do they attract a crowd with new gaming experiences, they have co-opted the social model of the 3D Virtual Worlds, creating central meeting places, and free “bases” you can decorate and host private gatherings.  They also have special interest groups you can join in game to meet like minded people.

Basically, everything that makes 3D Virtual Worlds popular, can now be found in MMORPGs too, except user created content.

This is why I now believe that if a complex “Metaverse” like OASIS in Ready Player One is  ever built, it is more likely to be in the form of an MMORPG rather than a 3D Virtual World.

We then must ask the question: How important is “user created content”?  Well, I learned early on during my 9 years of exploring that “content” is vitally important, in fact it is THE most important factor in the success of a 3D Virtual World, and in truth it is also one of the most important factor in MMORPGs, too (“playability” slightly trumps it however).  Allowing user created content is the fastest way to get content, but it is a two edged sword, because the vast majority of user created content is junk.  That user created content has to be loaded on the fly via asset servers which slows down and weakens the user experience.  So if a 3DVW or MMORPG can provide enough “content” without resorting to the user created variety, it is a better experience for the player.

On the other hand, creating the “user created content” is in and of itself the thing that attracts many to 3D Virtual Worlds in the first place.  It is one of the things I have enjoyed most about Second Life and There.com.

The truth is that content creators are seriously outnumbered by both socializers (especially since most content creators are also socializers), and gamers.  Now that MMORPGs are working to appeal to both of the latter groups, it is only the content creators who feel that 3DVWs are the better way to go.  For everyone else, there is simply more things to do in an MMORPG.

As far as “content” goes, competition between MMORPGs is fierce enough that the newest ones are constantly raising the bar on the amount (and quality) of the content they offer.  The thing that triggered this post is my exploration of “Lions Arch” in Guild Wars 2.  I have posted a lot of reviews of 3D builds, but I would say without question that the new “Lions Arch” is the most beautiful 3D build I have ever seen in any game I have ever played, regardless of genre.  It is a true masterpiece of the art form.

As I stated in a previous post, 3D Virtual Worlds are in a slow decline.  It is the competition with free to play MMORPGs that is doing it.  The MMOs are incorporating the stuff that makes 3DVWs popular.  If they are to survive, the 3DVWs need to start incorporating what makes MMOs popular.  They are just starting to do that.  The merging of the two genres seems inevitable.  I for one am looking forward to that, because it is only going to get more awesome.

3D Virtual Worlds Are In Decline

Catching up with the news on 3D Virtual Worlds, has been getting a little depressing lately.  Bottom line: they are all down in traffic.

Lets start with some news on the LL/SL front:  Linden Lab announced two weeks ago that they bought an interactive fiction company called LittleTextPeople. The small company develops 2D interactive fiction for play on mobile phones from what I can tell.  The group will develop new products under the Linden Lab roof, but they will not be associated with Second Life.  In other words, Linden Lab is finally diversifying its gaming line up.  This is what happens when you hire a game developer as your CEO, you start to develop new games.  Not reported anywhere is that one of the 3 developers at LittleTextPeople is Richard Evans, lead AI programmer for The Sims 3 who no doubt worked with LL CEO Rod Humble when he was in charge at EA/Maxis.  The other two are Emily Short, writer/programmer of text adventure Galatea, and Andrew Stern co-creator of a really cool experimental 3D interactive game called Façade.  Both are available for free.

So from the sounds of it, Linden Lab is looking to get into the mobile app market with interactive fiction.  Based on my minimal level of research, the project(s) that LittleTextPeople are working on are pseudo menu driven graphic interactive fiction. (since typing things on a phone/tablet is an annoyance to begin with).  Looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

But that is not all from the Linden Lab front. It seems LL has stopped publication of statistics for Second Life. The unanimous consensus is that the reason for no publication is that the numbers are way down.

Lets put these two items into perspective.  Linden Lab is diversifying their product line towards mobile apps, while Second Life is dropping in traffic, land sales, etc.  Linden Lab is looking to a future without its signature product.  I said before that I believe SL will close its doors when it stops being profitable, and we seem to be close to that point it sounds like.

I decided to take a look at other 3DVWs and see how they are doing.  IMVU is seeing lower numbers these days too.  There Inc is not seeing the huge influx of returning customers it was hoping for when it reopened its doors. It seems that maybe the age of the 3DVW is about up.

Some of the smaller ones are doing OK: NuVera is finally out of beta, and it seems a lot more stable. Avination says they fixed the sim crossing problem for vehicles in OpenSim.  InWorldz is now big enough to start holding a conference in Las Vegas. Onverse is still expanding with new lands and content. Despite some small time success, I am not hearing about any new ones lately, not even new OS grids.

What’s driving people away from the big 3D Virtual Worlds? Probably boredom, social networking, and the influx of “free to play” MMORPGs which are learning to incorporate the social aspects that used to be exclusive to 3DVWs.

I’m not expecting a lot of closures though, just the usual 3 or 4 a year. These things have long tails, and can get by for quite a while with loyal fan bases.  But the “golden age” is behind us.

 

Three New Second Life Builds for 2011

Crystal Palace 1

It has been a while since I have done an SL Explorer post, in fact, this is the first I have done all year.  First stop is one that caught my eye over at SLU, a new store in the shape of the famous “Crystal Palace” built in 1851 for the London Great Exhibition.  This has not been the first time I have pointed out a build of this historic and no longer existing building, but the old one no longer exist, as has according to the builder two others she has seen in the past.  So while this is not the first Crystal Palace in SL, it is the only one in existence today as far as I can tell, and actually, it is better than the last one I saw, especially with the historically accurate fountains and pools.

Crystal Palace 2

This one hopefully will be around for a while, it exists as a store, and stores tend to pay for themselves.  This build by the way is brand new, just opened today.  You can go there: Crystal Palace SLURL.  You can also learn more about the project from the builder here.

From bright and beautiful to dark and dangerous.  Next stop on the new build tour is Hell House, based on the Richard Matheson novel of the same name.  This is an ADULT haunted house, lots of naked ghosts, and gory images, so keep the kids away.  You can get there with this link: Hell House SLURL.  More info and screenshots are available here.

From the introductory notecard: Hell House is an immersive, fully interactive, 3D experience, so be sure to take your time as you explore its many rooms and myriad terrors. There are many small clues in drawers, on table-tops, and in cabinets, so be sure to “zoom in” on small objects and Click on anything you can if you want to find out more about Belasco and his horrific legacy. And allow plenty of time. Keep in mind — to see ALL that Hell House has to offer will take between 2 to 3 HOURS, so you may need to make more than one visit to experience each of the myriad apparitions and numerous paranormal events.

Finally, from the gory to the whimsical, “Through the Lens of Dreams” is an imaginative build made mostly of sculpties and meshes.  It has a “hand drawn” cartoon feel to the world. Through the Lens of Dreams SLURL.  I should point out that this world took a while to load (as did the first two mentioned in this post) but it is worth it. There is plenty to see here.

From the introductory note card: “Through the Lens of Dreams” is an exploration of the transformative nature of dreams, where each new setting may emerge from the last and seems continuous while we’re experiencing them.  The only truly consistent part of a dream is the viewer, that’s you.  Thus as you walk through the installation you help complete the piece, good work.  The piece is more a series of doodles that flow from each other than a single large composition so it seems somewhat sprawling and busy.  Just relax and enjoy your own little piece of the whole.

I don’t explore SL as much as I used to.  This is partly due to other distractions.  Many of my favorite builds are sadly gone, but I’ll keep my eye out for new ones and post about them when I find them.

Metaverse in Transition

I have not written anything in a couple of weeks because I have been busy working on the sequel.

Meanwhile…  There are many little things going on in metaverse land worth bringing up.

First, is the fast decline of Worlds of Warcraft. They are losing net subscribers at a rate of about 100,000 a month.  Currently they sit at 11.1 million and falling.  They are still the number one MMORPG out there by a long shot, but the declining numbers indicates a change in the market I figured would eventually come.

Let’s just say it: World of Warcraft is getting old.  It’s “look” is dated, and people are more attracted to the much better looking new releases like Rift and Aion.  Competition from the “free to play” games is getting tighter too.  At this point, adding new content will boost numbers some, but each “expansion” will be less and less effective.  Developing new content is expensive and time consuming, and at some point you just have to say,  “Time for a new game.”

Speaking of which, I’m getting excited for Guild Wars 2, which unfortunately still has a “sometime in 2011” release date.  November is packed for new game releases, and I hope it does not get lost in the mix.  GW2 and Skyrim are the two games I am most looking forward to.

And speaking of “dated”, There.com is now taking preregistration for their re-release.  Right now they are opening the ThereIM client “by invitation”, and you can reclaim your old account if you remember the login and password, you are over 18, and willing to pay $10 a month.  As nostalgic as I am about my There days, I am not feeling enough desire to go back in.  I wish them good luck in their re-release, but I think I’ll be watching from the outside.

Meanwhile in Second Life, the very long awaited release of mesh is getting close.  They released a “beta” viewer dubbed 3.0, which is the same as 2.0 but with mesh integrated in it.  Second Life has been growing a bit stale lately.  Many older great builds, stores, designer, etc. have been leaving.  I believe the “mesh” age will be a renaissance of sorts, and I am definitely looking forward to new builds and new stuff to see on the main grid when it finally goes live.  Be warned that only paying members will be allowed to upload mesh objects, and the prim cost of having mesh objects in world is higher than expected too, so those will be limiting factors.  I totally understand the first restriction as it is necessary to prevent a rash of copyrighted mesh objects from other games flooding Second Life.  The second restriction can change in the future.

Still, mesh has yet to reach the main grid.  Open Sim already has it, as long as you are using a mesh enabled viewer.  The sooner it gets to the main grid, the better.

Seven Years in Second Life

A thread at Second Life Universe put up a challenge to show the evolution of your avatar.  I decided to participate.   Even though I first did this three years ago on my 4th anniversary, I thought it was worth updating.

2004: Creepy system avatar.  Some would call this a “classic” SL avatar.   For me it looked ugly, which is why I spent most of 2004 playing There and City of Heroes instead.

By 2005, we could really customize out avatars with attachments and custom skin.  Unfortunately, this made us look like we had too much makeup on.  On the bright side, we could also use custom animations, like he sitting pose I have here.

2006: Vast improvements in skin and hair. there was now full prim hair available.  The world started to look normal by now.

2007: Yet another upgrade to skin and hair, and also eyes. Hair was flexible now so it moved in response to your movements.

2008: Windlight environments, reflecting and distorting water effects added much needed realism to the world.

2009: Sculptie prims made for better looking hair, and hats!

2010: Wide screen monitor, even better sculptie hair.  And cleavage with bouncing boobs. 🙂

2011:  While shadows have been around for a couple of years, the code is now stable enough to leave on all the time without crashing, making the world even more beautiful.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to post a picture of a mesh built SL and an improved mesh avatar for 2012.

The State of the Metaverse

So with a lot of State of the Union, and State of the Nation, and State of the State speeches the last week or so, how about a quick view at the state of the Metaverse?

Growth: None

Second Life has seen no real growth at all in the last calendar year.  This according to their last quarterly reportIMVU seems to still be growing but not at the pace they were a year ago.  Other promising 3DVWs like Twinity and Blue Mars are still barely populated, despite massive increases in real estate to explore.

Open Sim News

The past few months have seen a bit of new stuff in Open Sim.  Version 0.7 was released, proving to be a major improvement.   Open Sim will probably support mesh within days of SL’s support of mesh (whenever that happens).  Some new branch projects are being developed, primarily to work on physics.  Then there is the NASA education project that decided Open Sim was better than SL.

Client News

The push is on to get rid of clients that still run on version 1.  Linden Lab is doing their part by blocking search on version 1 clients.  Open Sim is doing their part by implementing the 2.0 client features like web on a prim.  The Third Party Viewer community is doing their part by making 2.0 compatible viewers that have significantly more features than either version 1 or the official viewer.  See this video demo for the latest Phoenix viewer.

Second Life Given Back to the Role Players

The Tesla Room in the soon to close France3D futuna sim

So I spent a  fair amount of posts devoted to what seems to be a battle of “visions” going on in Second Life.  A string of posts starting with this one I wrote a year ago.  I have written so many I just decided to create a new sl visions tag. Click to see all the related posts.

So here is the story in a paragraph.  There have been three competing “visions” of what SL should be: The role-player vision, the merchant vision, and the 3D Facebook vision.  Since the resignation of the last CEO Mark Kingdon, the temporary CEO Philip Rosedale has systematically disassembled the 3D Facebook vision, largely because it is unworkable (as I predicted).  Because of the resources spent, changes requested by the merchants have not only not happened, but actually they are worse now.  Merchants continue to quit with profits way down.  That leaves us role players basically in charge, and if you have seen the latest re-design of the main Second Life page, you will see, that SL has recognized it as well.  We are back to “Your World, Your Imagination” again (though not in those exact words).

Now a lot has happened under the brief Rosedale administration:

  • Second Life Enterprise Grid – Gone
  • Basic account support – Gone
  • Premium support – once 24 hours, now limited hours
  • Non-Profit/Educational Sim discounts – Gone (or soon will be)
  • Avatars United – Gone
  • X-Street, soon to be integrated into game, currency exchange Gone
  • Teen Grid – Gone (or soon will be)
  • Community Gateways – Gone

Now many of these I am sad to see are disappearing, while others I say good riddance.  What they are doing is simplifying the whole thing.  Simplifying, always a good thing.  The general philosophy is now a “hands off” policy, meaning they are giving us players more autonomy.

Meanwhile, check out where their current development efforts are focused:

  • Mesh
  • Display Names
  • Voice Morphing
  • Wearable Avatar Physics
  • Havok 7 support

Here is what they all have in common:  They are all good for us role players.  If you are in SL because you enjoy pretending you are someone else, whether that is a formal role player in a community, or an informal role player pretending to be someone you are not, then SL seems to be catering to you again, after a couple of years where they weren’t.

Here’s the cloud to go along with that silver lining.  Philip Rosedale has stepped down, and Linden Lab is once again looking for a new CEO.  Furthermore, there is good evidence that the remaining employees don’t really seem to “get” the whole RP vision thing.  Here is hoping they hire someone who does.  Unfortunately, I am not that hopeful.

Wither the Merchant Vision

So there are now two different visions left about what Second Life is, or should be. What vision you are apart of is largely based on what motivates you to play. I call these visions “role play” and “merchant” as a short hand way of understanding them.

There are builders who build for fun, they are part of the role play vision. There are builders who build for profit, they are part of the merchant vision. There is a lot of mixing and gray area obviously.

We can all see that SL has plateaued, and will likely decline soon. This is very bad for the Merchants. It is possible that Mesh could revitalize the market, but I am leaning to the idea that it will radically change the market so much that it is unlikely to help the current merchants.

Most of us Role Players have accounts in other places, especially many open sim grids. When SL closes, we’ll probably spend a little time mourning, then we’ll be elsewhere.  Us non-merchant types will likely move on to Open Sim and start building there. Heck, a lot of them already are. Similarly the various role play communities would move and rebuild as well.

The Merchants don’t have many other places to go.  With no currency, no theft protection, no one to file a DMCA complaint to, the merchants have no desire to move to Open Sim, even if there were no SL.  The market place in SL is one of a kind, the closest is IMVU, and it is about a tenth of the size of SL.

The RPers may have built SL, but it is the merchants that made SL popular, they provide most of the content we RPers enjoy.  We non-merchant RPers are better off with the merchants around, which means we are better off with SL around.

I believe that when SL eventually closes, there will be a new virtual goods market somewhere, innovation abhors a vacuum.  Maybe not of the same nature as SL, but I see other virtual good markets, like Renderosity and various app markets, succeeding in other similar venues, so it is only a matter of time before there is another virtual goods market where creative people can make a few bucks.  This is another topic I have already written about.