As we noted last week, virtual world startups seem to be weathering the global financial crisis. There’s more evidence of that out today, as Metaplace, the user-created, web-based virtual world from visionary game developer Raph Koster, is announcing $6.7 million in Series B funding from new investors Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz. The round, which also included original investors Charles River Ventures and Crescendo Ventures, brings Metaplace’s total amount of funding to $9.4 million.
When Koster first gave me a detailed demo of Metaplace, back in September 2007, the MMO was still in alpha and the company (which he co-founded with John Donham) was still called Areae. Today the MMO moves into closed beta, and the company itself has been renamed Metaplace.
Since that demo, Koster told me in a recent interview, they’ve been working to improve the system’s usability. “The tools should not look like techie tools,” as Koster put it, “but something your mom can use.” And while the virtual world’s main building options will still be user-friendly, “if you push on the door…you get to see the guts of it and really take control.” That way, advanced players will be able to tinker and add complex scripted interaction to their works.
The improvements have already paid off, according to Koster. Metaplace is seeing impressive creativity among its users, who are building not just games, but, for instance, animated cows with an AI system that lets them do the conga, and a tribute site to a Scandanavian folk music group embedded with a Norse mythology role-playing game. Another enterprising user figured out how to connect Metaplace’s chat system to Babelfish, so avatars’ text conversations are automatically translated into multiple languages. “Blew our minds,” says Koster.
Koster from the very beginning has touted the web-centric nature of Metaplace, so it’s notable that they’re now backed by Marc Andreessen, who kinda sorta invented the web browser. Andreessen first approached Metaplace by cold-calling them, according to Koster, who believes the Netscape founder’s interest is related to his more recent venture, the user-created Ning social network. “If you look at what we’re trying to do,” Koster observed, “I think there’s a lot of similarities there.”
Metaplace is also giving out free invite codes to the closed beta to 100 GigaOM readers. The code is “MPGIGAOM“– go here to redeem it.
Image credits: Metaplace.com.