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Second Life (finally) gets a direct competitor: Multiverse

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multiverse.jpgThe brainchild of several ex-Netscape execs, the Mountain View start-up Multiverse,
as the name suggests, isn’t a single online world, but a platform for creating games and other 3D experiences with the company’s development tools, which are then run on its servers. (Like Dark Horizons, a sci-fi MMORPG pictured here.) Version 1.0 was just rolled out yesterday, and though it’s too early to know how it’ll fare, one thing is official: after 4 years of being the only user-created 3D online world on the commercial market, Second Life now has competition.

The system and revenue model is markedly different from SL, however: instead of fostering user-created content in a single world, Multiverse is a network of worlds accessible by the client software. It comes with e-commerce tools built into the system, so developer’s can earn an income, while Multiverse makes money by taking a 10% cut of that revenue.

I haven’t yet had a chance to check it out first hand (the client is cantankerous with my Vista machine), but I’ll be keeping a close eye on its progress. Multiverse’s advisory board includes Avatar director James Cameron and some other Hollywood heavyweights, so you have to think movie-to-MMO tie-ins are planned. (Indeed, a Multiverse version of the cult TV show Firefly was announced last year.) What’s more, famed MMO academic Ed Castronova is already using Multiverse to develop the education-oriented MMO Arden.

My writing career has been tied up in Second Life on one level or another since 2003, so you might think I’d consider Multiverse a threat to my livelihood. Actually, I’m relieved. There are some truly impressive and popular mini-MMOs built within SL, like City of Lost Angels and Midgar, but they’ve largely succeeded in spite of Second Life, which is still far from ideal as a platform for game development. It’s never healthy for any one company to dominate a space for so long, and an active competition to attract and retain new users and developers can only benefit us all.

24 Responses to “Second Life (finally) gets a direct competitor: Multiverse”

  1. I’d like to add that a majority of people writing about virtual worlds these days are under the mistaken assumption that before SecondLife there was nothing. “…after 4 years of being the only user-created 3D online world on the commercial market…” is incorrect. There are many competitors still in this specific market, and I can name at least the granddaddy of them all – who offers the commercial equivalent of the entire SL Grid if you want it. They also have in-world building as well as the ability to import custom models.

    While not as wholly advanced as SecondLife, the platform still has a lot to offer commercial aspects, and there are quite a few businesses which utilize the platform instead of SL – purely on stability and cost factors alone.

    For all of these self described metaverse experts, one would think they would at least do their homework before writing on the subject. I read something similar on the RiversRunRed website as they triumphantly proclaimed to be the first business in a virtual environment (or something similar). It’s a disregard for history and the entire market which make me laugh at these experts…

  2. Two years later, and I still hadn’t heard of Multiverse, but they’re still around, and their technology looks pretty solid even though their popularity is still nothing to rival SL.

  3. grucidus

    after 3 years of faithful and loyal service to Secondlife, ,Linden Labs decided to renig on accepting my postal money orders or cashiers checks, they are in my opinion not intrested in my fair payment, they are only intrested in credit card numbers and bank account numbers, why? because you can’t “hack ” into a money order or cashiers check, I believe that Linden Labs are just waiting for the right time to “hack ; into its patrons bank and credit card accounts,why else would they not accept a postal money order or cashiers check ? “I’v offered them fair payment for services , and their response ir basically ” Your money isn’t green enough !” , So my final response to them before deleting my account , was” You can take this SL bubble and CRAM IT UP YOUR ASS,
    If my money is “green enough” for its “competetors, they can count me in!!!

  4. I hate virtual reality software like “The sims”. Also, thats why I dont like “Second Life”. I cant even consider it a "game". Thats why I like this new project and they will have my support; it was time!.

  5. Great post and talkback. It’s great that folks are able to discuss the nuances of what we’re doing at Multiverse.

    Just to add even more info, we don’t actually host the worlds for our customers. It’s much more of a WWW model, where anyone can download our servers, and install them wherever they like. And as noted, all of these worlds can be accessed through our world browser.

    BTW, the world browser isn’t actually changeable by anyone–not in a permanent way. We have a client plug-in system, where special functionality for a specific game can be attached temporarily to the world browser, just as custom shaders and a world-specific UI can be attached. Gwyneth is quite correct that if we let customers actually permanently change the world browser, then that would completely undo the notion of a universal client.

    Thanks again, all.

    Exec Producer, Multiverse

  6. “Multiverse lets developers create individual worlds that users may use, but which they may change no more than you can change any other MMO. Second Life consists of a single world, in which users may create persistent functional objects.”

    All respect, Mark, but I think these are system-level differences. From a potential developer/content creators’ point of view, I believe it’s fair to say they’d look at Multiverse and Second Life as competing to offer what’s basically the same value proposition– building/commerce tools and server support on a unified broader network that any user in the system can access. You’re right that instant dynamic content creation is still an edge SL has, though I imagine Multiverse could create a kind of free build “sandbox” world on the network that provides at least a partially competitive alternative.

  7. I was looking forward to this under the misconception that they would have a Mac client. Not sure why I thought that. Maybe because most people I know now in creative development are using macs these days. This is so 1999.

    It does look interesting. But even though i keep a PC for emergencies and have Parallels installed, I’ll wait until they get with the program.

  8. Gwyneth, I am an employee of Mulitverse, and you have us wrong. Our developers will provide their own servers, we aren’t in the business of selling server space. We are currently hosting Worlds in progress to give people an idea of what they can do on our platform, but that isn’t intended to be how the worlds will be deployed.

    We do have a single install client that patches individual worlds. The worlds can extend the client with their own UI using an XML based system. World downloads include the media assets the worlds use and scripts used in the client.

    The server architecture is extensible with java and python scripting. The sever architecture is very modular to allow our developers the ability to replace components with their own code, while easily maintaining compatibility with our Client.

  9. Well, I’m glad to see that Multiverse finally made it out of beta :) Hamlet, however, in spite of the name, Multiverse is not exactly a “metaverse”, but rather an application hosting provider for multiple MMOGs using the same platform, code, SDK, etc.

    You can think of Multiverse as a company providing an engine, like Torque or the Unreal Engine or something popular like that, and, instead of “forcing” you to buy your own servers and create your own grid, you can simply “lease” server space (with pre-installed software) on Multiverse’s grid.

    The “difference” between Multiverse’s approach and, say, LL’s, is that each MMOG developed with Multiverse will be “closed”. Developers can (and will!) change the default client so that it works ONLY on their particular MMOG, and not across MMOGs developed with Multiverse.

    So, what is this good for? Well, every week, over a dozen new MMOGs pop up, attract a few thousand customers, and die after a few months. Sites like track the “rise and fall” of those MMOGs. Many are from tiny companies that cannot raise enough money with subscriptions to keep afloat — paying not only designers and programmers, but also server space, licenses for platforms like Torque, and bandwidth.

    Multiverse solves all those issues neatly. It’s both a platform provider AND a hosting provider. It charges customers — MMOG developers — a fee based on their user base. If you have zero users, you don’t need to pay anything — but you can fully promote your own MMOG, announce it, etc. and make sure that people get the message and start signing in. As more and more users join your MMOG, you’ll be paying more and more to Multiverse :) So it’s a rather fair system for MMOG startups! Your only costs are with labour, not “licenses”, “hardware”, or “bandwidth”.

    Also, a MMOG startup can transfer content between their own MMOGs. So if your “Rise of Satan” MMOG fails, and you wish to create a new one, you can move all the content to a next server, tweak it, reuse the programming code, and start your “Bikers from Hell” MMOG :) This also means a lot of code reuse, ideal for startups, and all stay inside the same platform and developing model.

    All in all, this is the ideal thing for developers that are eager to launch their ideas in a 3D environment, do it quickly and rather inexpensively (and their engine is pretty good — better than SL’s at any rate!), and start attracting new customers on a short budget.

  10. Multiverse is not a direct competitor to Second Life. Multiverse lets developers create individual worlds that users may use, but which they may change no more than you can change any other MMO. Second Life consists of a single world, in which users may create persistent functional objects. They’re very different things. Garry’s Mod is more of a direct competitor to Second Life than Multiverse is.

    A Multiverse developer could create a world in which users had the power to create persistent functional objects (i.e., a direct competitor to Second Life), but all of the code allowing users to create those objects would have to be written by the developer. Multiverse itself is not such a thing. Only in the broadest, most metaphorical sense does Multiverse constitute a “world” in which users may create things. Which means it is an indirect competitor at best, and really not even that. IMO.