Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Yet Another Second Life Wannabe

Better graphics, faster, less lag, more options, lots of avatars in the same island, better support of your hardware (so long as it is a 2007-built Windows PC, of course) — that's what all the new "SL wannabes" claim. They all have state-of-the art graphical engines, feature content upload, lots of avatar shapes and handle concurrency much better.

They also have a nice webpage and two blog entries on it:

But... it's the latest rage, since Scoble talked about it. So join in for the beta... or should I say, give them your email so that they can sign you on their newsletter! Because, really, that's all what they have to offer:
Outback Online provides an easy, free way to have fun with friends while creating 3D virtual worlds together. It combines a fun social environment like MySpace and Cyworld, a peer to peer communication network like Skype and a user-generated service like YouTube into a seamless 3D platform, that is infinitely scalable.
Oh, and don't hold your breath, either. Early alpha will be ready by summer. Who knows, when Outback is ready to launch, Linden Lab might even have started to integrate Mono and in-world HTML and the 5th attempt to use Havok 3.0...


  1. Which reminds me, do any of you SL-Megaminds have any idea when areae might move from vaporware to (virtual) reality?

    The keyboard-clattering classes of the technorati are expecting great things - but all I see is a fairly mundane website.

  2. Area just started, i doubt we will see anything substantional soon.
    But since it will be merging of web 2.0 and MMO, changes are the webpart will be available much quicker.

  3. With respect, who are "all the new 'SL wannabes'" you are referring to (outside of Outback, obviously)?

  4. Hi Tony, I had the same question so I did a bit of poking around:

    HiPiHi - Chinese only right now. Hard to tell how good this is going to be based on very limited releases, but it seems like a customizable virtual world with integration with web, Flash and mobile technology is all built in. We know very little right now, but they have made it to the closed beta stage. The graphics seem smooth, the vehicle stuff looks very cool, and terraforming looks like a snap. Still, it might be a bit cartoony for the SL crowd and we have no idea how much customization you can really do (uploading content, etc). You can see a promo clip on YouTube.

    The Sims online - Works well, obviously, but has limitations. Movement around the world is locked down, communication is difficult, and creativity is limited to the objects and textures they provide.

    There - It's pretty good, although last I'd heard it was PG only and there was an approval process for anything you uploaded. Also, I'm not sure how liquid "Therebucks" are.

    Metaverse - More of a developper's platform than anything else. You use this to create fully-formed MMOs, and user-created content isn't currently an integrated function. Big things to come here, but nothing quite yet that's made us all agog.

    Activeworlds - A commercial version of Metaverse, basically, but they take care of the hosting and manage it so a user can bounce from one world to the next. They claim 1000 unique "worlds", but to give you a sense of scale: "Rick's Café" is a "world". Also, no real economy...

    Weblo - Not a 3d environment at all but a glorified Ponzi scheme that exists entirely through a website... nothing to do there but try to play the market. Most people don't get it and just namedrop it next to "Second Life" in the hopes of being among the first to find "the new thing".

  5. Tony, you might start taking a look at this list:

    But there are even more!

    Sun's "Project DarkStar": Sun is now a big player in SL, thanks to MoU, and there have been some rumours that LL might "port" Second Life to DarkStar. We can only speculate on what a Sun/LL partnership might produce.

    Virtual Universe (which also uses Java) can be found at

    A few more obscure "candidates" include Dotsoul (an artist's paradise: you can create content collaboratively without needing to pay for land or worry about prim limit), the OLIVE Platform (,
    the Virtual Object System ( or the intriguing world of Kaneva ( Kanela is interesting because in order for you to join the game at all, you have to work hard on a Friendster/MySpace clone to get high rankings and a lot of traffic and attention by participating on their "communities", so that you get an "invite" from the developers to join it. Interestingly there is a community for SLers as well (obviously), and on other communities, people regularly post the pictures of, Second Life, or IMVU avatars ;) But... it seems to be a growing virtual world of perhaps 20,000 users or so. I can only wonder how many of those have actually joined the game at all :) (It does look nice though, a mix of SL-like environments with cool texturing and ugly, low-polygon, avatars)

    So, something that is common to most of the above virtual worlds:
    1) If they're available now, they're of very low quality.
    2) The more they're hyped (ie. better graphics, better technology, better better better), the more probably they haven't opened their "alpha testing" yet.
    3) The more they compare themselves with existing technologies, the less information they have on when they're actually going to launch, although they provide references to media articles, speeches, conferences, etc. on how "good they are".
    4) If they're none of the above three cases, they're usually academic/research platforms with an insignificant userbase, although they might even work and look rather good.

    I hope you can notice my ever-increasing scepticism. I mean, in the golden days of the Internet Bubble, I could grab a copy of Torque, sit together with a couple of programmers and an excellent 3D graphics designer/modeller, cough up a working demo in about a week, and go straight to the next VC or business angel to get some funding. You'd show a "working" demo (not too hard to do these days) and set up a fantastically cool site done by your three unemployed friends who are Flash gurus and hope to get a promise of employment as soon as you get some money to finance your venture.

    And then you'd leak to the press something like "pssst, I have a team developing the 'SL killer' — it'll launch only in the summer for closed alpha, but make sure you tell your readers about it!"

    People are so eager to finally see some real competition to emerge that I can imagine that this scenario will continue for the next few months. And, who knows, a few of those wannabes might even launch "something".

  6. Thanks for the examples, I wasn't aware of a couple of them. I don't agree that many of them are trying to compete directly with Second Life, but I would agree that they are indirectly competing. I'm interested in any statements these firms have made that explicitly indicate their intention to compete with SL.

    I'd add IMVU, There, Virtual Hills / Virtual Laguna Beach, and The Lounge to the list of indirect competitors.

    Gwyneth, I love the example you cited with Torque and VC -- that's pretty much what Doppleganger seems to have done with "The Lounge." It's built on Torque, and seems to have an inordinate amount of funding for the product its launched.

  7. I expanded a bit on the theme on on my own blog. There is so much to say about this! :)

  8. Oooh and I just read who is behind Areae... LOL. Yes, I have a few bones to pick with Raph Koster :) So I'm actually eager to see what he's up to this time. One thing is for sure: he'll have better technology, more sign-ups, and a solid business model. He'll also be as agressively anti-SL as he can.

    Hmm, Bartle and Doctorow on Areae's board of advisors... that's very interesting indeed. It looks like an attempt of the pre-SL virtual world Terra Noveans to come back and grab a bit of the attention again. Once you're a celebrity, you'll regret having lost the spot in the limelight!

    Most of the people behind Areae will have legions of fanboys (and some fangirls) flocking to "their" virtual world, which will be done by "proper MMORPGians" and not "physics graduates who just happened to have invented streaming". So it'll be something completely different from SL :)

    You know, actually, thinking a bit about it, what makes SL different is that Philip has no real "gamer" background, but more a "online communication" expertise — in the sense that audio (and later video) streaming over the Internet changed the way we think about communicating to others. Of course, you can't say the same about the rest of Philip's team — they're hard core game developers — but there is indeed a difference. Were Raph Koster the CEO of Linden Lab, SL would just be a huge MMORPG where people could add content. It would be compared much more with WoW and much less with the World-Wide Web. I guess that's what Raph & his team of virtual world luminaries are going to do.

    So it'll be something that will contrast to SL. They will appeal to gamers and MUDdians and glorified content producers and artists — just like LL did in 2003. However, LL does not grow because of those anymore. The trick will be to realise that the mainstream are not hard-core gamers, but people looking for a glorified 3D chat where they can bring about self-expression to the ultimate degree.

    Still, the MMORPG market is, as said, 15-30 million people big. The social Web 2.0, however, has at least 150 million people. I would bet on the latter — specially when the gamers start to understand that the technology will always be better "elsewhere". The social Web, however, is more faithful to an on-going "community" (or "communities"). After all, MySpace is ugly, but it still has 150 million users :)

    Repeating myself over and over again: I remain a sceptic. "Replacing" SL will come eventually, if LL utterly fails to convince their investors that they're on the right track. Once SL is out of the picture (heaven forbids!), there will be breathing room for everybody else. Until then, what will happen is that things like Kaneva will be compared to MySpace, and things like Areae will be compared to WoW. They will claim to be different — but, again, the platform is what people joining it makes out of them. SL, however, has changed quite a bit since the early days. It started as a "demo of virtual reality hardware", then was launched a "platform for game developers to create quick prototypes", then moved on to "a tool for ultimate self-expression", then to "a virtual country", and now... well, it's probably all of those in the same place :) and the best description is: "it's the 3D Web".

    Newcomers to this market will need to pay close attention to be as open minded about their products, and willing to change their goals as quickly as possible, once they see the "shift". Well... let's be honest... Bartle publicly states that text-based MUDs are the ultimate immersive technology (and graphics distract from that immersion), and Koster is not exactly the most open-minded person in the world ;)

    So, we'll see. I expect that the Sheep will be eager to develop content for Koster. In fact, they might already be doing that ;)

  9. Just to round out the list: Qwaq, FlowPlay, Tixeo, Whirld, Hive7, WeeWorld, Zwinky, Sony Home, and of course the Ogoglio project.

  10. As a recently arrived SL resident with extensive RL 3D graphics chops it took me a while to grock SL. Then in a moment of clarity it all clicked: Man, I grew up with this shit. See, I was born and raised in NYC. Manhatten. Greenwich Village. SL is The Village on a Saturday night. SL is Washington Square Park on a Sunday afternoon. SL is the three card monty guy (complete with shills) hustling tourists up on 5th during the summer.

    SL is a Red Grooms painting come to life.

    Parliment/Funkadelic should be the default soundtrack to SL.

    SL has that oh so rare quality of raw, accidental, real-time just plain weird/wonderful funky stuff (jaggy polygons and blurry textures, who cares!) that is very very difficult to replicate elsewhere.

    At it's best SL is about as direct a connection to pure real-time expression (warts and all) that we have in a global shared media. Nothing comes close.

    Don't get me wrong, there are fucked up behaviors in SL that I wish weren't there. However, the same goes for dear ole Greenwich Village.

    Doug Turner
    Second Life: Douglas Douglas
    skype: dduuggllaa
    email: douglass dot turner at gmail dot com