Friday, May 23, 2008

Dramatic Features

As the virtual world landscape goes from Blue Ocean to rough seas, that which differentiates one world from another will become essential. The worlds that will fail will blend in and be lost. Those that flourish will:

Be first to bring a solid next generation virtual world experience to users.
Offer a unique experience, dramatically different from the majority of VWs.

While being first is great (Google, Amazon, etc.) there's only room for one at the top of that mountain. Being unique is the key if you don't want to take the longshot bet of being the top dog. To know what's unique, I want to list what (currently) makes most virtual worlds the same.

  • Avatars - 3d or 2d
  • Focuses on Kids (13 and unders) or Teens (everybody else.)
  • Game-like navigation. Sites that call themselves virtual worlds but don't allow avatars to move around in some semi natural manner are (to me) fancy chat/game rooms.
  • Chat
  • Currency (in some form)
  • Customizable Living Spaces
  • Stores - Outfitting avatars and/or living spaces
  • Gaming
    • In-World - Using Avatars in the VW setting.
    • Out-World - Game launches outside of the VW setting and may not even be related to the VW.
Many virtual worlds will have a feature or two in addition to this list, and few don't include all of these features. While the current generation of VWs seem to be sticking pretty close to this list, I think the next generation of VWs will require something that adds something unique and dramatic in order to succeed.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Forget 90% Failure - How about we ALL succeed?

Not everyone has a vision of doom and gloom. Ralph Koster of Ralph Koster's Website seems to think there's room for everyone, though his premise seems to require traditional gaming platforms being pushed into the background.

I think there will be a ton of attrition, but those that survive will establish a template for success that will last until the next generation of online gaming replaces Virtual Worlds as we now know them. I estimate that'll be about two years from now.


What Virtual World do you Live In?

I know it's way to early in this process to ask, and I doubt enough people are reading for a decent response (or any at all) but if you have an opinion, I'm crazy interested.

I'd like as many of these questions answered as possible:

What Virtual World/s you are a fan of.
How much time have you spent in it, how recently?
Why do you like it/them?
Are you a paid subscriber? Why or why not.
What you'd like to see from a Virtual World that you haven't seen yet.

Just post your reply right here. Thanks!


Virtual Economies - Big Risks, Bigger Rewards

While brainstorming today, we started talking about things ourWorld members perhaps could trade. Also, independent of this conversation one our members asked if they could gift their extra items to a friend (sadly, no, not yet.) The nail in the blog post coffin came with this article stating that Webkinz now allows a form of trading.

It seems so obvious, yet there are many, many pitfalls. "Gold Farmers", scammers, phishing, and general working of the system, are all valid concerns and the reason most young virtual worlds don't allow any sort of trading.

As far as I'm concerned, the community aspect of a virtual world is the interaction between it's inhabitants. For worlds where the inhabitants are primarily earners and consumers (i.e. almost all of them) the ability to treat belongings as real belongings and trade will be essential to success. For everyone else, there's always the 90% prediction.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Virtual World Categories (least sexy title to date!)

The term "Virtual World" is already too broad a category to handle. Second Life, Club Penguin, World of Warcraft, and MUDs all fit the category, but are very different from one another. How are they different?

Age - Kids, Teens, Adults. That's a pretty easy distinction to make. Due to the concerns about safety for kids online, the distinction between what's for adults vs kids (defined by US COPPA regs as 13 and under) is vivid. Sites either cater to this demographic or they do not. Many sites like Zwinky and Maplestory simply don't allow kids at all. Others, like Club Penquin, assume all users are under 13 and conduct themselves appropriately (a genius move, IMHO.) The line between whats for teens and adults is still very blurry, and may never be clear, not counting that which is strictly for adults.

Web vs Download - Do you have to download something special to play the game, or will it run in your browser? Browser games tend to be free and designed for quick and easy play. Games requiring a download are risking being ignored, as users are dubious of downloads and they require an extra level of patience. Available technology tends to define this category, but user expectation is a critical component in deciding what will work for which option.

Game vs Social Network - Most Virtual Worlds are both, so it's a question of emphasis. How fulfilling is the solo experience? How do users spend their time? WoW is a game. Facebook is a social network (though not really a VW.)

Navigation - How players move around in a virtual world in many ways defines the world. Club Penquin, ourWorld, and Dizzywood feature worlds created by the publisher that function as an online version of the real world. Avatars moving around is a focus of the experience. Some sites, like Faketown, feature avatars but the navigation is more like standard web navigation though the avatars can move around in some portions of the site. The fundamental experience of a virtual world is determined by the navigation choices made by the developers. If it doesn't feel like a world, it's not a virtual world, it's just a website (or game.)

There's more, but that's enough for now. If I don't understand this stuff, I can't succeed at it.