Off the Beaten Path

From the “It’s not always about WoW” department, here’s a heads up about several interesting worlds that came onto my radar while adding them to the Virtual Worlds Review lineup this year.

Dreamville is an English-language social networking site created by a Korean company based in Malaysia.  I was excited to find Dreamville because it offered a non-Korean-speaker like me a glimpse into the setup and structure of sites like Cyworld. The heart of Dreamville is its “hompy” network - homepages combining photo galleries, blogs, friend lists, and a whole slew of other features.  The virtual world piece, called Theme Park, is sort of tacked on almost as an afterthought, but much like the web site it’s practically exploding with anime-inspired eye candy. While Dreamville offers pre-made avatar outfit and background packages for hompy pages, users can receive higher “score” point totals along with higher social capital within the community for original combinations in monthly avatar contests.  As mentioned in my review of Dreamville, there are some usability issues related to poor IA design and the use of two separate currencies for item purchases.  Still, it’s an interesting attempt to merge a VW element with a social networking offering.

Netherlands-based whyrobbierocks is a flashy fashion-themed 2D world chock full of avatar selections based on Hollywood and Euro-sport celebrity culture, even offering specific celebrity avatars in the store area.  (Witness the Justin Timberlake av which is offered along with a Cameron Diaz girlfriend.) But rather than using the celeb avs strictly as offered, WRR users tend to poach elements from them to customize their own avatar creations.  Another interesting thing about WRR is that these tailored avs are also meant to be used as identity signifiers outside of the world as well, with tools to help users convert them to email signature files, mobile wallpapers and MSN icons. Forget elves and jedis. Now you know where to go should you ever feel the need to incorporate a little JLo or Paris Hilton into your next avatar look.


Sora City piqued my interest because it’s the first virtual world I’ve heard of that exists entirely in mobile space. That’s right, all interaction in this mostly-text/some-graphics world takes place through players’ mobile phones.  Sora City has incorporated a few basic social networking features like friendship groups called “crews” and character blogs. Curiously, Sora characters regularly post their own blog messages, leading to the odd feeling that your little virtual mobi-av has been possessed by a young sassy stranger.  Sora City is described as a place where you can “be yourself … or who you’ve always wanted to be” with identity selections such as DJ, socialite, athlete, and geek.  This description succinctly captures the social-vw phenomenon of avatar identities as idealized and often stereotypical RL personas, and it certainly speaks to the way in which the drama of everyday social interaction is the game in these worlds.


Comments on Off the Beaten Path:

Gene Endrody says:

For Off the Beaten Path have a look at MaidMarian.com. We’ve developed a whole series of surprising 3D virtual worlds that run in your browser. Moon Base is based on the Apollo missions to the moon and lets you drive a lunar rover, use a rocket pack and dance with other visitors. Sherwood is more of a medieval hack-n-slash style 3D chat room. Considering the client runs is less than 800k and runs in Shockwave, the innovation is in the level of 3D graphics possible with web-based delivery.

Posted Sep 21, 2005 6:33:19 PM | link

Lisa Galarneau says:

Betsy said:

I was excited to find Dreamville because it offered a non-Korean-speaker like me a glimpse into the setup and structure of sites like Cyworld. The heart of Dreamville is its “hompy” network - homepages combining photo galleries, blogs, friend lists, and a whole slew of other features.

This integrated community approach seems like it might be a bit of an Asian trend. One of my Japanese publisher informants recently told me that they're approaching their MMOs as part of a larger community strategy involving social networking, IM, matchmaking, blogging, etc. So someone creates a community on a Mixi-like site, and that community involves itself in a range of activities, including MMOs or social worlds - but the MMO or VW isn't central. It really made me think about how I tend to segregate these activities, because they represent entirely different groups of people to me. Sure, I have gaming friends, and I might move from game-to-game with them, but they're not the same people I'm hanging out with on IM or the social networking sites. Yet from what I understand, the Japanese, at least, approach social networking sites as places to develop intimate friendships for discussing dating, work, problems, etc. ('cosy friends'), whereas the West considers them primarily business networking tools. So as part of a community development effort emphasising intimate relationships, perhaps the games or forays into VWs represent a type of productive activity that binds or deepens relationships within a pre-existing community (the virtual equivalent of shooting pool or playing golf while BS-ing with friends), rather than a mechanism for creating community, or from which community emerges as a by-product of play.

Posted Sep 21, 2005 11:31:27 PM | link

Lisa Galarneau says:

I also just happened upon this Business Week article about CyWorld - interesting how it uses the metaphor 'three-dimensional homepages' to describe what we'd call a virtual house. Another example of how the paradigm is being turned inside out, but converging nonetheless.

Posted Sep 22, 2005 1:15:19 AM | link

csven says:

Lisa said: "Yet from what I understand, the Japanese, at least, approach social networking sites as places to develop intimate friendships for discussing dating, work, problems, etc. ('cosy friends'), whereas the West considers them primarily business networking tools.

While this may be the case now, i don't believe there is any question the West will adopt similar attitudes. Asia in general appears to have an enormous appetite for technology which has pushed them to the leading edge, whereas many in the West still seem a little shell-shocked by all the technological changes that have come about in the last 10 years or so (the others are perhaps wary of the virtual world hype after the first disappointing round in the 1990's). And there's not been a compelling reason for many Western consumers to be early adopters (e.g. cell phone technology was less necessary in the West due to the existing infrastructure). More and more those reasons will present themselves. The only questions imo are how deeply will it penetrate (because there are significant societal differences) and how soon. In the meantime i figure Betsy is going to be increasingly busy documenting these spaces (and thank you for that)... at least until it all merges into one big, interconnected hairball.

Posted Sep 23, 2005 11:13:16 AM | link