19 September 2007

My Kind of (Meta)Place

I'd noted the growing excitement around Raph Koster's new company, Areae, but even I was surprised by the scope of the vision his recently-revealed Metaplace displays:

Our motto is: build anything, play everything, from anywhere. Until now, virtual worlds have all worked like the closed online services from before the internet took off. They had custom clients talking to custom servers, and users couldn't do much of anything to change their experience. We're out to change all of that.

Metaplace is a next-generation virtual worlds platform designed to work the way the Web does. Instead of giant custom clients and huge downloads, Metaplace lets you play the same game on any platform that reads our open client standard. We supply a suite of tools so you can make worlds, and we host servers for you so that anyone can connect and play. And the client could be anywhere on the Web.

And to do this, Koster is building on openness:

we also committed to an open markup standard for our network protocol - anyone can write a client for any platform they want. We decided to use Web standards for everything we could, which is why you can have a game world that is also a website, or use Web data to populate your world. The scripting language (we call it MetaScript, of course) is based on Lua. You get the idea - no "not invented here," no closed proprietary approaches.

The consequences of adopting this approach sound amazing:

We speak Web fluently. Every world is a web server, and every object has a URL. You can script an object so that it feeds RSS, XML, or HTML to a browser. This lets you do things like high score tables, objects that email you, player profile pages right on the player -- whatever you want. Every object can also browse the Web: a chat bot can chatter headlines from an RSS feed, a newspaper with real headlines can sit on your virtual desk, game data could come from real world data... you get the idea.

So I wasn't completely wrong when I wrote that his new project "sounds like a system of interconnected, perhaps standalone virtual worlds to me" - I just underestimated Koster's ambition.... (Via GigaOM.)


Anonymous said...

This concept really blows my mind. I hadn't heard of it before, but now I'm buzzing it. I'm so glad that I saw your article here in time for the Alpha sign-up! Thanks for posting!!

Glyn Moody said...

A pleasure - that's what we're here for....

Anonymous said...

While Koster's concept is amazing and Metaplace promises to make 3D spaces more ubiquitous, it's hardly the open system that's advertised. First, they will not license the technology. While the technology will be base on Web-based standards, if you build spaces using these tools you will also use the Metaplace tools which, by extension, means that moving these spaces if you choose will NOT be as easy as switching ISPs.

Metaplace is advertising itself as being the "Net-version" of 3D spaces, painting a picture of an open system of shared standards and protocols.

Second, Metaplace will allow users to build, script, etc. using open standards, but there are still walls around this garden. First, while users will be able to sell content or make money from the worlds they build, these transactions will be mediated by Metaplace in a currency that they develop (and, perhaps, are able to manipulate through floating or devaluing the currency ([thus avoiding MOOflation?])

In order to turn your currency into "real" money, you will need to convert it only through service providers approved by Metaplace based on their agreement to abide by a Terms of Service that includes monitoring for legality - thus, conversion of Intellectual Property into money will be arbitrated by third parties who will have the theoretical power to determine whether your content is legal or not.

(Example, a game that offers a prize for top score - maybe that's an illegal lottery? Sorry, can't convert your Metabucks into cash).

It's also currently unclear whether there will be true interoperability. For example, if you create objects using Studio Max 3DS or maya, it's not currently certain whether these will be easily importable into Metaplace or conversely OUT (for porting into another gaming platform, for example).

I think Metaplace fills a greatly needed space - allowing users to create games, environments, education sites with less skill than currently needed. I find it troublesome that Metaplace goes on about how open this system is, when their stated business model seems to clearly show that this garden is walled.

I wrote at length on this topic here if youre interested:


Glyn Moody said...

Thanks for that analysis, and for the even fuller one you link to. I was interested to see Koster's lengthy reply to your points. Even if he doesn't solve all the problems you raise, he at least provides the rationale.