Is Google’s Lively A Second Life-Killer?

It’s almost a year to the date since I decided not to move forward with my virtual world startup Yoick. We were building what many fervently hoped would be a Second Life killer.

But our approach had been more focused on creating cosy spaces that were interoperable between 2 and 3d. The vision also involved an open-architectured platform with a closed commerce engine so users could buy and sell virtual and other digital goods through our system (Facebook‘s F8 Platform launched some months after we had constructed the blue print for this architecture and has become a great proof of principle for this model).

It was a hard decision to make, but considering the trends and the trajectory we were on I knew we would intersect the timeline at a point that wasn’t sufficiently ahead of the market to be a winner.

You see, many of the big corporates were diving into the virtual world arena, many with the wrong approach, but a few, the few that really mattered were chasing the same space we were.

Today we would have been venture backed, have built up a head of steam and burn rate that required refuelling and yet still have been too early to have released enough of a product to ensure sufficient traction to see us through a true gorilla entering the market moment.

Stage right: enter Google with their cosy spaces,
virtual world product – Lively.

The LA Times has a good write up:

Unlike popular virtual worlds such as Second Life, Lively doesn’t require you to download new software. All you need is a browser plug-in. The service is also more distributed than Second Life: Its rooms will live on Web pages on Facebook and other sites, so you might stumble across them when browsing the Internet. Rooms can be private spaces, with entry by invitation only, or open-topic rooms, where you can meet people interested in discussing topics you love, like Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston or Google. It also ties into other Google services. You can stream YouTube videos into your virtual living room or post your Picasa pictures on your walls.

It’s definitely not a Second Life-killer. Sorry Michael Arrington, I totally disagree that this sucks for Second Life. It is a completely different genre — for one this is not a single, charded or otherwise, virtual world and for two it is targeted more at a mass market audience.

It does suck however for the other startups who were targeting this space. Many of them will have to totally rethink their go to market strategy. The glass half full view is that Google’s entry legitimizes the genre, but this will not be sufficient to assuage follow on investors…

Announcing MySpace devJams across Australia

Following on from an awesome devJam in Sydney on June 5th, I’m pleased to announce that I’m going to be hosting a further three events in Australia in July.

These events are a must attend for everyone who codes and has an interest in building social media apps.

There will be door prizes and the opportunity to head over to San Francisco and/or Tokyo – read more about these opportunities and each of the events from the following links:

We are working on rolling out similar events in other major cities across Australia.

I’d like to thank the guys from Mitchellake for providing us with their uber cool offices for these events.

User Generated Games: Group Intelligence Rocks

One of the key points to come out of the User Generated Games Panel at the Social Gaming Summit in San Francisco is that users never cease to amaze. Core to this space is the concept of group intelligence: users watch what others are doing and then build upon it to create and do things that the game designers would not have thought of themselves.

Forums are a key enabler for this group intelligence. The panel pointed to Gaia Online’s successful growth of a 5 million strong user base – growth that can be attributed to having robust forums.

It’s also worth noting that this group intelligence does not necessarily mean a compounding of complication. As Daniel James from Three Rings pointed out it is often the simpler things that people enjoy the most. Constrained environments trounce multiple features.

Cary Rosenzweig of IMVU noted that they have 1.6 million items in their virtual goods catalogue. This is leading to real monetization with the top developer making $1M in revenue last year.

Cary did make one total non compute for me. He mentioned that IMVU has been in stealth mode for the past four years. When questioned on this he said that they hadn’t issued a press release, in like…eva.

OK cool, but this does not equate to being in stealth mode. Anyone not seen an IMVU ad on the web? If we follow his logic every social media company that has moved beyond the press release is in perpetual stealth!

Spore Gets More Social

Will Wright’s much anticipated game, Spore, has already had a Web 2.0 makeover even before its release.

As Wagner James Au points out, this re-tooling was designed to create a phenomenon that extends far beyond the normal game boundaries.

Take for example the Creature Creator, which as I’ve mentioned before, is being released next week – months ahead of the actual game. This advance guard approach will ensure that an ecology of user-created content (this is a simulated evolution game) is ready for sharing via each player’s MySpore page, and that there will be a critical mass of Spore Creatures keen to friend one another.

YouTube video creation is seamlessly embedded into the Creature Creator software. There will also be an embeddable Spore widget, comment tracking and RSS feeds.

In a move beyond pure Web 2.0, and more of a melding with the growing funware genre, content-sharing will be integrated into the gameplay. Players will be able to import their friends’ creatures through a “Sporepedia” buddy list.

Wagner notes:

The game tracks creatures’ meta data, and deposits them where appropriate in the game’s evolutionary timeline. You can even set preferences for the kind of creatures you prefer in your game, and Spore will search the player-made database for appropriate species and send them to your computer. (Sort of a TiVo for monsters.) Bradshaw [Lucy Bradshaw, Executive Producer] told me Maxis is hoping to publish aggregated creature data on its site, showing which species are most popular and successful. It’ll be fun to see what creatures thrive in a kind of crowd-sourced simulation of Darwinian selection.

Mobile Virtual Worlds: Android Takes Over Second Life

Tokyo-based Eitarosoft has developed a 3D virtual world service running on Google’s mobile platform Android.

Called Lamity, this virtual world can be accessed via any Android-mounted mobile device. In addition, up to 400 users can simultaneously access the same space on Lamity. This is more than ten times the number who can hang out together in the same place in Second Life.

Eitarosoft’s shareholders include tier one Japanese investment groups such as Japan Asia Investment, JAFCO, Mitsubishi UFJ Capital and Nomura Securities.

They have a strong background in mobile 3D, having developed the first i-mode application to display 3D graphics in 2002.

Lamity includes multiple and dual chat features. It also allows for web pages to be viewed simultaneously and stream video through a built-in movie function. A trailer for the movie “Vantage Point” was distributed through this feature ahead of its February premier.

Appspace: $15M First Round Funding For Social Gaming Network

The creators of social network game apps like Warbook and Jetman, Social Gaming Network has raised a weighty $15M in first round funding. The previous highest first round in this category was $10M, which went to Mark Pincus’s Zynga Networks.

Spun out of Freewebs, SGN has located itself in Silicon Valley and is led by Shervin Pishevar. He’s secured this round from Greylock Partners, Founders Fund, Columbia Capital and Novak Biddle Venture Partners.

This funding comes on the back of some healthy installs and DAU rates across Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and hi5. To date, SGN has attracted over 1 billion page views, 54 million installs and almost 1.1 million daily active users.

Wagner James Au spoke with Shervin:

While Social Gaming Network’s low-graphics games aren’t likely to be confused with a next-gen title, he told me, they’re successful enough. “Small is the new big, right?” Games like Warbook can be made with a low budget, he noted. “Even having a 100,000 daily active users is good revenue.” (At peak usage with a sponsorship deal, he said, Warbook was making $100,000 a month.) “We’re much more about engagement and retentions than virality,” Pishevar told me.

Over the next few months, Shervin Pishevar and his small team will be working on several top secret games that’ll leverage advertising and virtual item sales for revenue. While still relatively low budget, he’s working with developers to give these new titles more polish. The goal, said Pishevar, is to transform Social Gaming Network into “the Pixar of social games.”

[Disclosure: metarand’s Randal Leeb-du Toit is an advisor to MySpace’s parent company, Fox Interactive Media and Chairman of app developer, Creative Enclave, which has released the massively multiplayer game, Imperial Galaxy on Facebook]

Atari Releases Roll Your Own Game Adventure Editor

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Atari has released the D’jinni beta adventure editor, which will allow users to roll their own adventures within The Witcher, a role playing game based on the universe created by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski.

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Players are put into the role of Geralt, a professional monster slayer who exists on the fringes of a complex society troubled by the kind of problems more commonly found on the front pages of newspapers than in a fantasy universe. Taken as a child, mutated, and trained in the arcane ways of the witchers, Geralt is a reluctant hero, who nonetheless finds himself all too frequently in the heat of battles that are not his own. In this world there is no right or wrong, only decisions and consequences.

Users can create new stories, cut-scenes, graphical effects, dialogue and gameplay actions.

Very cool stuff. Kudos to game creators CD Projekt.

Twofish: Plugging in Gameplay Economics

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Redwood City-based Twofish has announced a solution to one of the major headaches facing game developers: building an economic engine into their games.

Commerce engines have been around for a while now, but it is still no trivial matter to plug the following elements into a game:- microtransactions, asset tracking, account management, multicurrency systems, transaction flexibility and robust trust and security modules to name but a few.

Lee Crawford, CEO of Twofish, explains the value proposition of his product:

“Microtransactions are here and now. But they require a whole new level of sophistication for the games industry.”

“Developers understand storytelling and character development, but most lack experience with financial markets and retail optimization. Twofish Elements fills in the knowledge gap, giving developers a robust solution that they can implement in weeks, rather than spending a year and millions of dollars to develop a partial solution on their own.”

It will be interesting to track how the Twofish Economic Engine is deployed. While they’ve provided the tools, it is still very much up to individual game developers to determine the economic algorithm they want to introduce into their titles. Over time I am sure that a wealth of economic gameplay data will emerge.