It’s Dead, Jim!

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With Jim Sink’s restructuring announcement that Blue Mars would wind down development for the PC platform and move to a mobile-based phone/tablet centic environment Avatar Reality have placed the final nail in the coffin of mass-community virtual worlds. So what went wrong?

With respect to Blue Mars, it appears that they were severely under-capitalised and forced to release way too early. While it generated enough buzz for them to garner a further $US4.2million in funding from venture capitalists it caused the relations with the virtual community to sour due to the lack of even the basic tools (avatar personalisation, personal messages, voice, etc) that are associated with a well-organised virtual world. Even developers were left to fend for themselves with poorly coded development tools and minimal or non-existent documentation. Some of these problems were eventually rectified but not quickly enough nor executed well enough to counter the initial impressions that Blue Mars was a beautiful but very incomplete virtual world platform.

Added to this was the high technical requirements needed to even utilise Blue Mars. Even my high-end gaming laptop struggled beyond the basic configuration. Eye candy is great but few want to be forced to upgrade their year old computers in order to use it.

Then there were the policy decisions that added to these already colossal barriers to wide acceptance. Anyone that wishes to develop a virtual world needs to acknowledge the fact that much of Second Life’s initial success can be attributed to their laissez fair approach to business and moral issues. As unpalatable as it is to admit without the red light districts of sex and gambling Second Life would never have approached the peaks it reached. Without these or a viable alternative any new platform is going to struggle. On top of this was the jaw-dropping decision to slug business with a 25% tax on all earnings. This on top of the monthly tier fees. How attractive a business proposition is a near empty world, filled with avatars with minimal money and high taxes to boot?

All of these were not insurmountable issues, however, had Blue Mars had a clearly defined purpose. But any purpose was blurred from the outset. Unfortunately, while Blue Mars seemed to have so much potential all it’s architecture did was to, as Honour MacMillan so succinctly, put it put wall between residents. Even the decision to move to mobile is poorly conceived and will most likely fail. The fact that they are targeting the iOS platforms and completely ignoring the others is indicative of the lack of forethought in past decisions. Hint: Android outsells iPhone 2 to 1.

So, why does Blue Mars’ demise signal the end of mass community virtual worlds? These monolithic environments cost a lot of money to develop and operate. While their communities generate some return the real money is in enterprise application. Unfortunately, as I keep saying, virtual worlds offer a solution to a problem that most enterprises don’t have. With Linden Lab’s problems and restructure, and now it’s only real remaining competitor looking down the barrel, attracting enterprise to these sort of platforms now appears extremely risky, if not foolhardly.

Ultimately we may see these sort of platforms replaced by Augmented Reality overlays mixing elements of reality with a virtual environment and allowing global avatar-based real time communications. However the infrastructure for that is probably 5-10 years away. Presuming Linden remains financially viable we’ll see Second Life and its community around for a while longer yet. Sadly, the same can not be said for Blue Mars.

About the Author: skribe

Based in Perth, Australia, Antonio Barimen (aka skribe) is a writer, digital media consultant and social media producer.

He is available to help you develop social marketing and digital media strategies, improving communication between staff, partners and suppliers or just increasing the number of fans on Facebook. He has developed successful digital and social media projects for clients including CBS, Evian, Procter & Gamble, Discovery Networks, Pernod Ricard and American Express.

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Post Under Social Media, virtual worlds January 16, 2011
  • As I said on Tat’s blog, to me, I consider myself a person that gives any new technology a fair go and keeps it for far longer than most layman users. I want to see new stuff succeed.

    But I had to go to a hotspot to download the client because I’m on a limited download mobile broadband connection. Then I had to suffer a lagged-top instead of a laptop because the client is so ponderous. Then I noticed how much bandwidth was pouring in and out because of the cloud-based rendering and stuff. And then I uninstalled the thing and never glanced back…

    Now seeing them develop for a niche market, I can’t help but think that they aren’t serious about anything at all. Anyway – I have first hand experience with mobile broadband, and guess what, IT’S EXPENSIVE. Whether I use a USB modem or a handheld iphone, it’s wayyyyyyy too expensive for me, and I’m sure no-one else would want to pay upwards of $100 a month just to be in a world that’s not got a lot to commend it.

    I agree, @Skribe, about developing for Android, and I have to say that for a company to make so many totally counterproductive and destructive decisions they must have the PHB at the helm. Pity that some companies are like that, more pity that investors aren’t smart enough to know the difference… That money could have been used to do something useful like OpenGrid dev…

    • Actually, I’d love an opportunity to use all my 12G bundled mobile broadband allowance per month =). Most I’ve used is just over 1G and that was mainly uploading videos I’d created on the fly for work. iPad data plans here come with unlimited mobile BB. So, it depends on where you are located.

      As far as Android goes, there’s a real trend in business analysis developing from AR. BM was developed seemingly from the perspective that the conditions surrounding the SL hype of 2006-07 were still in-effect. They weren’t. Now the iOS decision seems to imply that it will remain the dominant mobile platform over the coming years. I feel they are looking to the past for their guidance rather than to the future.

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