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Metaplace: MMOs By Everyone

We at RPS like the PC because it gives us a big mess of stuff. There’s more things to play out there than you can fit into a lifetime, and it’s growing, non-stop, like a formidable fungus. We must therefore applaud those people who want us to make even more stuff. Well done you.

Some fun, yesterday.

One such gentleman is bearded theorist (and occasional practitioner) of fun, Raph Koster. He’s the man who directed the development of Jedi-vending system, Star Wars Galaxies (the first time around), and then wrote a book. Koster has decided that all this virtual world stuff needs to be centralised and exploded at the same time. It doesn’t need Second Life, instead it needs a “virtual place” on the web. We don’t want a single, all-encompassing world, says Koster, we just need an appropriate, networked toolkit. We needs something like a Blogspot for virtuality.

And so mr Koster’s company has announced Metaplace – a net-based virtual world toolkit for making mini virtual worlds. You won’t need the equivalent of Second Life or World Of Warcraft clients installed on your machine if this takes off, you’ll just need Metaplace. Anyone will be able to make an online world in five minutes, and dropping in and out of different online spaces will be as easy as surfing web pages. It’s Internet II: The Revengening taken to its logical extreme.

Koster announced this today, the internet went wild, the Metaplace website stopped working, and we all agreed that it’s exciting stuff. Too exciting.

Sceptical, me? Well yes, obviously. As Koster himself admits, the idea is wildly idealistic. Not only that but one look at Second Life tells you how crappy most online user-made content is going to be. But it does nevertheless offer some awesome possibilities to those of us owning a PC: not having to ever use Second Life again, for example. It also means that, if the tools are good enough, tiny boutique MMOs will be springing up all over the place. (Hey, it’s MUDs 2.0.) Small groups of amateur coders who long for a Hello Kitty MMO will be able to set their palette to pink and get to work. Want to make that Deus Ex MMO? This will do it. Just want a well-furnished chat room for friends and relatives? Again, this will – backbone and persona talent permitting – provide.

Like those free blog services, Metaplace is only going to start charging if your MMO is generating lots of traffic. At that point you might want to buy a licence and make some money for yourself. Or, of course, appropriate advertising could fund your world. It’s lucky people still have actual stuff to sell, eh?

Metaplace might just be the future of the web. And the future of the web will be loads of truly terrible World Of Warcraft clones embedded in MySpace. (Sorry Raph, but you know how it is.)

For more, GigaOM has a brief interview.

Destroying the traditional walled garden: An MMO accessible through Flash apps, 3D clients, cellphones, etc.

Up to now, most MMOs have been “walled gardens”, requiring an extensive client install. Metaplace, by contrast, is “A Web browser with virtual world capability.” And it’s a browser that comes with its own tool kit, for people who want to build worlds, and a community/marketplace where developers can give away or sell their templates, scripts, and so on, hosted on the Areae network.

Thanks to the underlying HTML-style code by which Metaplace defines each individual world served by its network, you can literally copy and paste attributes like graphic appearance and user interface from one Metaplace world to another. In the demo, Raph showed me a Habbo Hotel-style living room (Metaplace will launch with this 2D isometric graphics view as standard), but Raph and his team expect the variety of worlds to grow with their tools, eventually accommodating hardcore MMOs like World of Warcraft—or even a new Second Life.

Yeah. On that virtual worlds thing: I was chatting to someone in Eve the other day who’s making enough to go on holiday for two weeks a year from selling furniture and flying cars in Second Life. Wasn’t it agonisingly boring to make all that stuff? Sure, he said, but now it was running there wasn’t too much work, and his other half seemed pretty happy about it. I sighed, and wished that somehow all the time I’d disgorged into World Of Warcraft and Eve Online had some kind of similar payback. I know that there are hundreds of other people thinking the same thing – which I think is one of the reasons why virtual worlds have had so much press. Suddenly there’s a secondary motive: games aren’t just about happily wasting time, they can be productive too, profitable even. Where games were only interesting to the mainstream press as nerd oddities or a massive modern industry, now they can write about the people who got rich by “playing” games. Money is involved and ears prick up. (Because designing prefabricated houses in a glorified online CAD engine counts as playing.)

Anyway. To the future.

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Jim Rossignol

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