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.