Google broke new ground again, sort of. This time, its achievement is called Lively, a Web-based virtual world.
The application is closely integrated with social networks including Facebook and the OpenSocial standard, with a MySpace integration coming soon.
This means that, if a lively user is signed into Facebook, you don’t have to sign in to Google to use the application, which is an approximately 10 megabyte download, and works with a PC that has either Windows XP and Vista installed.
Essentially, each person using the plugin will have their own avatar and virtual room which they can design and their friends can visit and chat in. People can leave you notes and add things to your room, and all of the rooms are connected.
It’s about time virtual reality went mainstream. I’m frankly tired of a 2-D Internet based around words on a white screen. It hurts my eyes. I also want to create a lizard-headed avatar in a pantsuit for day-to-day business operations. Call it a backlash against years of looking suitably demure while trapped inside of a cubicle.
According to MediaWeek, I’m not alone in wanting to be part of a VR-based Internet:
(Research company) Gartner predicts that 80 percent of active Internet users will be members of virtual worlds by 2011.
The first online game with an economy I heard about was World of Warcraft. I avoided it like the plague. Warcraft III—now ancient by gaming standards—was so addictive that I chose to become a Metaverse fossil instead of spending the bulk of my life battling Orcs and the Undead. Which I would have done, guaranteed.
Since then, times have a-changed in a major way. MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online Games) have become economic tools as well as recreational pasttimes. Google’s leap into the MMO fray proves that the Internet will grow more avatar-oriented in coming years. When Google publicizes a product, it’s no longer for niche use.
Can Lively live up? Here are 11 of the main players Lively is up against. I chose the first five, which are described in more detail, based on age, popularity, and demographic user variety. The last six, however, are also prominent:
Setting: The first major virtual world, Secondlife “Residents” create trade items and services while socializing and participating in other activities.
Traffic: 13 million registered accounts. I couldn’t find a unique monthly visitor number for SL, but total user hours in May 2008 were nearly 32 million. (If someone could steer me towards a source that cites unique monthly visitors, please comment and I’ll add those numbers.)
Virtual currency: Linden Dollars (L$, named after game creator Linden Lab) can be used in Secondlife’s online marketplace or exchanged for real-world currency.
Profits from: Selling off virtual property, supply of which is infinite.
Setting: Chat rooms in the form of virtual hotel rooms. Each room has user pages linked to it. User avatars are called “Habbos.”
Traffic: 100 million avatars on the site; 8 million unique visitors per month.
Virtual Currency: Users buy credits with real-world money, then buy virtual hotel-room furniture, user-page stickers and other upgrades. The company makes a profit off this.
Setting: 3-D chat and instant messenging in various environments.
Traffic: 20 million registered subscribers, with 600,000 monthly active users.
Virtual Currency: Users generate items to upload to the IMVU catalog. Once they receive credits, they often sell them via third-party websites.
Profits from: Sale of virtual currency and embedded banner ads. The company makes about $1 million/month in revenue.
Setting: Like an old-school plastic Barbie playhouse, but way cooler.
Traffic: 13 million registered users; 2.3 million monthly active users.
Virtual Currency: Earn money (B Bucks) by interacting with the online world, then spend them on accessories, pets, and other perks.
Profits from: Monthly subscription (a VIP account is $5.99/month) and ads.
Setting: Teen hangout/chat space with message boards, multiplayer Flash games with group chat, and forums.
Traffic: About 2 million unique visitors per month.
Virtual Currency: Gaia rewards subscribers for exploring the world, posting on forums, uploading content, etc. Gold is then used to buy items for avatars.
Profits from: Selling rare and unusual avatar items for $2.50 each, twice a month. Gaia also profits off ad campaigns run inside of its virtual world.
Kaneva: Participation awards and credits bought with real money run this virtual world aimed at giving real-world people a social networking tool (rather than a game).
There: A hangout spot where avatars buy and sell with Therebucks, which have real-world value and can be exchanged for real-world currency.
Active Worlds: Users build their own virtual reality worlds (as opposed to rooms) using all kinds of imaginative specs.
World of Warcraft: Users trade in gold, just like the good old days, while battling the Undead. Unless they are the Undead.
Cyworld: This kiddie-friendly site trades in acorns.
Red Light Center: The name says it all.
If this video on Marketing Pilgrim is a good indication, Lively has a long way to go before it catches up with some of the players on this list. But Google is a distribution monster with a big name.
I’m excited to see how Lively will liven up the landscape of the Web.