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Summary:

In the future, everyone will be in the virtual world business for fifteen minutes. UK game industry pub MCV reports that Atari, the venerable company that launched the videogame industry, is now developing a user-created online social world of its own. With Atari’s announcement, there are […]

Atari logoIn the future, everyone will be in the virtual world business for fifteen minutes. UK game industry pub MCV reports that Atari, the venerable company that launched the videogame industry, is now developing a user-created online social world of its own. With Atari’s announcement, there are now at least eleven upcoming virtual worlds which emphasize user-developed content, or at least cite Second Life as a role model.

For those keeping track: Atari is joining an already overflowing roster that includes Sony’s Home, Viacom’s as-yet-unnamed world, along with start-ups Areae, Croquet, HiPiHi, Kaneva, Multiverse, Ogoglio, Outback Online, and Whirled. (SL blogger Onder Skall just posted a marvelously helpful guide to most of these worlds and more.)

With the market so crowded, nearly all of these projects are almost certainly doomed to fail, or just as likely, modestly succeed as niche metaverses. And why are three major multinational media corporations trying their hand in this upstart genre at all?

Used to be, the term “user-created” gave game companies hives, terrified as they are with legal liability. And Second Life, while popular, is still far off from having the numbers of paying customers that companies like Sony and Atari (now a division of EU publishing giant Infogrames) are used to dealing with.

What we’re seeing, I think, is game publishers slowly learning to apply the logic of Web 2.0 on their own medium. Creating content is expensive, and with the sole exception of World of Warcraft (8 million users and still growing), involves an increasingly futile struggle to retain subscribers. Traditional online worlds require a large team of designers and artists constantly adding new content, for fear that players will quickly churn through the existing experiences, get bored, and leave. (Subsequently, most MMOs spike in growth, then quickly plateau and begin declining.) Going the user-created route means new content on a regular basis, produced by subscribers, with the company only spending money to foster and police it.

That aside, the next question is whether these companies will allow their customers to retain IP rights to the content they create. While young and hungry startups can dare to do that, a la Second Life, major corporations are institutionally unwilling to cede any rights. Then again, with the competition already so fierce, they’re likely to start rethinking that assumption soon.

(Hat tip: Raph Koster.)

  1. [...] para que los usuarios de la PS3 puedan tener su propia dimensión virtual. Pero hoy hemos sabido [GigaOM] que el venerable Atari planea algo parecido… o superior. Un mundo social en línea en el que [...]

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  2. It’s a little misleading to glom together those projects and companies. Areae is a company with an unannounced product while Croquet is a 3D operating system. The Ogoglio project is exploring online urbanity for creative work while Kaneva is basically MySpace + VW. Multiverse is a multi-vendor network with a loss leader toolchain while HiPiHi is… very HiPiHi.

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  3. John Thacker Monday, April 16, 2007

    Heck, it’s a little misleading to refer to the current Atari as “the venerable company that launched the videogame industry,” considering how the original Atari basically ceased to exist, but the IP and brand name lived on.

    Infrogrames, which owns the current Atari and bought the rights to the name and IP, is fairly venerable itself, though.

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  4. i think its the trend in interactivity, not the similarities of features that are being illustrated here (maybe james?).

    yeah, there’s confusion around the recipes, and yeah its a mess and yeah wallets will bleed. certainly. but what’s common is that these efforts are (mostly) 3D spaces tending towards a (mostly) metaverse goal.

    so maybe console games (like splinter cell) gave us a preview of what online games (like WoW) became, visually and in terms of many gameplay mechanics. online games, meanwhile, developed the formulae for the social architecture that social media (like MySpace) then rips off. …

    and what’s cool to watch is how consoles are now picking up behing the social media trends. wii gives you a lot of the capabilities that you get on MySpace. for example.

    that’s the basic trend that i see as gluing these together – interface / mechanics / social gaming.

    (1) console games build interface –> (2) online games adopt it, make it social –> (3) social media then throw out the interface and adopt the social architecture, spinning it one step higher. (1b) console games integrate social architecture.

    ?

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  5. [...] “With the market so crowded, nearly all of these projects are almost certainly doomed to fail,… Posted on April 16th, 2007 in Interesting [...]

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  6. i think its the trend in interactivity,

    That, and some form of user-created content in a 3D space. Believe me, among technologists, Croquet is spoken in the same breath as Second Life, as is Areae. The different intents and business models (or lack thereof) are less important than the similarity of medium. I only fudge a bit by including Home and the Viacom world, since the creators of each have cited SL as an influence, though it’s pretty clear neither will have much in common.

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  7. Perhaps I’m too close to the projects referenced, but I just don’t see a common story between (for example) Croquet and Whirled in either user created content or 3D. The Croquet project is not going to create a private currency any time soon while Whirled probably will offer one at launch. Croquet’s P2P simulations are experientially different than Whirled’s page based worldlets.

    We are headed for a collapse of business models and technologies, so let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

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  8. [...] in the dark: it’s primarily designed for teens. But with online worlds all sizes and styles poised for an explosion, you’ll almost certainly hear a lot more about it [...]

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  9. [...] in the dark: it’s primarily designed for teens. But with online worlds all sizes and styles poised for an explosion, you’ll almost certainly hear a lot more about it [...]

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  10. [...] to online games, with some ambiguity on how to count revenue from the numerous virtual worlds on the market or about to be launched; many are social hangouts or user-created collaborative spaces, and not games in the strict sense [...]

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