Virtual worlds and metaverses have been a dominion of the teen and post-teen crowd for a long time, but Identity Play, a Venice, California-based startup hopes to change that with its new offering, Faketown. Despite its cutesy avatars and 1980s-video game look and feel, the Faketown world is focused on the 18-plus crowd. It’s not clear they’re filling a gaping hole in our adult existences, but hey, someone had to try it.
Faketown, with its virtual currency and creation tools, is a lot like Second Life, but its pixilated avatars are far kitschier and light-hearted. It’s probably more akin to Habbo Hotel for grownups – or what the Sims would be like if it got a web 2.0 makeover. (See also our recent coverage of Habbo and Cyworld, as well as Pete Cashmore’s take on Faketown).
We recently chatted with Identity Play CEO Michelle Ogata and some of her team. She volunteered to fly up to San Francisco, but we decided we may as well meet here in the virtual world her team has created. I logged in to Faketown myself and chose to explore Iceland, where my tourguides, a roller-skating girl avatar and an alien avatar, ported themselves in. “Hi Liz,” they said, and thus began my Faketown walkthrough.
Newcomers to Faketown start out stark naked, and there are no immediate incentives (except your own internal ones) to get yourself dressed. Feeling a bit modest, especially being surrounded by virtual Artic terrain, I wanted to put some clothes on.
It wasn’t incredibly intuitive to figure out I needed to buy a pre-clothed Fake ID, but co-founder Bart Yeary walked me through it. Once I chose my character – a purple-and-orange-suited pimp named Mac Cadillac – I started to feel a little more at ease.
Faketown is actually six years old, but until recently it was an Identity Play side project. After signing up a half-million users, the small team recently raised $1 million from a private individual investor in an attempt to turn the virtual world into a viable business. The new version launched mid-August, and the company plans to formally announce the product later this week.
As we walked through the requisite company details on the phone, I continued to be distracted by the site (cool, pressing A makes the pimp do a jig…wait, how do I get back to my house again?). In addition to buying pre-fabricated items, users can pay to upload MP3s and photos, as well as use very basic drawing and animation tools to create – and sell at auction – their own objects.
Yeary led me to the home of user fixel67, where a Michael Jackson avatar moon-walked past me through a garish four-story house pulsing with hip-hop and full of posters of scantily clad women (see photo). Unclothed default avatars wandering around the house gave it the appearance of some kind of swingers’ party. For comparison, I had spent about $15 in “fake coins” dressing myself, building a house and some pet fish. This user must be spending some serious cash!
Besides selling virtual currency. Faketown makes money through advertising, which is already implemented, and plans to sell mobile content, subscription fees, and in-game advertising and promotions. In addition to incentives for participating in the game, users will be compensated for ad revenue derived from their property. The feature roadmap is quite ambitious, with music creation tools, mobile access, games, and video chat in the pipeline for the next year.
To be honest, I can’t imagine myself spending a ton of time wandering around Faketown. There’s not much I’d want to do after figuring out my avatar’s special moves (press G and he tips his hat) and buying a couch. But I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun I had just exploring the site. Okay, time to go and buy that Michael Jackson avatar.