What Virtual World features have really impressed me?
ourWorld - Avatars. Anime-inspired design combined with literally hundreds of different clothing items results in a nearly infinite array of looks for the players. With so much game time spent looking at avatars, I think avatar design is critical to the success of a VW. Ourworld's diveristy is only eclipsed by sites allowing user generated content (like 2nd Life), but without the challenges that come with UGC.
Dizzywood - In game play. Most of the fun of Dizzywood happens right in the main world. Activites, both solo and group, are everywhere. Much of the action happens in plain view of everyone. If you are engaged in a game that takes place in its own window, your avatar displays an icon so the other players know you're engaged. If I was 10, Dizzywood would be my game.
Smallworlds - Missions. Until they run out, Smallworlds keeps new players busy with a large assortment of rewarded tasks. They show off the world, teach how things works, provide an income, and kill boredom. I gave up on Smallworld soon after the missions dried up.
Whirled - User generated content. I'm a sucker for UGC. Whirled does a reasonable job of sorting the stuff so the best is accessible and the worst remains obscure. While there's a community of creators, the barrier was too high for me to participate. Still, there's some really interesting stuff on Whirled that no 'pro' would ever think to make happen.
YoVille - Parties List. With a lack of real games, YoVille is essentially a big chat service. Players can always check the party list to see if there are any like-minded people hanging out. If you don't see one you like, it takes about 10 seconds to start a party of your own.
Pet Society - Avatar Games. It's simple, and there's not enough variety yet, but I love the fact that I can play ball, frisbee, and jump-rope with my Pet Society pet. The games are super simple, but it keeps track of personal bests and issues trophies and rewards for exceeding benchmarks. I think this sort of play-with-my-avatar stuff would work in a lot of other games.
YoVille, Pet Society - Facebook Apps. I can't believe how quickly games built into Facebook grow. It's nice to have them right at my fingertips as I'm always checking Facebook anyway.
Toppstown, Bella Sara - Real World Tie-In. Products bought at retail unlock Virtual World content online. I think we'll be seeing a lot of this in the future, as the potential for revenue is huge.
Most of these 'bests' are really just great ideas that other worlds haven't adopted as standard yet. Cross pollenation is inevetible, because there's no way you can ignore a great idea just because somebody else thought of it first (unless they 'own' it somehow.) Avatars, games, public and private rooms, and stores selling virtual stuff for play money WAS pretty innovative. Obviously, there's room for so much more. These worlds have already started taking those next steps. I can't wait to see what's next. Heck, perhaps I'll come up with what's next!