Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Metaplace is Official

Raph Koster and company have made it official: Areae unveils Metaplace, Web 2.0 with a bit of MMORPG mixed in.
Hello, everyone, and welcome to Metaplace.com!

It has been incredibly hard keeping quiet about this for a whole year. Everyone here on the team is really excited about what we're making. And we're really honored to get to launch this site as one of the TechCrunch 40.

Right at the outset, when we launched the original Areae, Inc. website, we told everyone that we were out to reinvent virtual worlds, and to make them work more like the Web does. We also told everyone that the cartoon on the website was our business plan. It's been amazing to watch the speculation out there about what exactly we meant, but now you know: we meant it completely literally. Metaplace works how the web does, just about top to bottom.

Our goals are sort of idealistic. We think there are all kinds of things on the Internet that would be improved if anyone could have a virtual place of their own. Right now, there aren't enough good games, for example, and they all seem to be about elves in tights or soldiers in battle armor. Metaplace allows more diversity. Right now, there are lots of people who want to use virtual worlds for research, or education, or business, but it's just too darn hard to get one going. Now you can create a world in just a few minutes and start tailoring it to your needs. Basically, we wanted to democratize the process of making online spaces of all sorts.

As part of that, we also committed to an open markup standard for our network protocol - anyone can write a client for any platform they want. We decided to use Web standards for everything we could, which is why you can have a game world that is also a website, or use Web data to populate your world. The scripting language (we call it MetaScript, of course) is based on Lua. You get the idea - no "not invented here," no closed proprietary approaches.

We knew it was all coming together when one of our team made a game in a day and a half. And then stuck that game on a private MySpace profile. You can inherit someone else's world (if they let you) and use it as a starting point. You can slurp whole directories of art and use them as building blocks. Cut and paste a movement system or a health bar from one world to another. Use an RSS feed for your NPCs. We made puzzle games, RPGs, action games... and set up doorways from one to the other. Basically, coming to work in the morning is a lot of fun.

This isn't all hypothetical, either. We fully intend to be customers of our own product. We've already started work on our first big game - a "worldy MMORPG" with what we hope will be a ton of fun game play. What's more, we figure that some of you who have been looking for a game like that might want to help us build it.

We have a lot of plans for the future, and we hope you'll check back every week to learn what we're cooking up. As you can see, we're taking alpha applications. We expect to ramp up the number of testers a lot over the coming months. So keep an eye on the site - it will be growing a lot.

Overall, I think what we are most looking forward to is surprises. We can't wait to see all the amazing things you will build with the Metaplace platform. It's time to see what the world really wants from virtual worlds.

We'll be updating this blog at least once a week. In the meantime, see you in the comments thread!
Right before leaving work, my co-worker and I discussed what was potentially coming from today's announcement. We both agreed; this is pretty much what we and many others expected. Areae is building a better Second Life. A Second Life that makes sense. A Second Life that doesn't treat players like caged chickens.

I guess the real kicker is that this is more of a service, than a game. So, it is a bit hard as a gamer to get any excitement out of this announcement. Until I get to see some of the games in development for the service, I will have to hold comments on the gaming potential.

What worries me about Metaplace, is the fact that most user generated content is just absolute junk. I've played Neverwinter Nights 1 & 2. I've played countless MUDs that allow for user submitted content. I've played countless video games where players could make and contribute something to the community. I can count on one hand how much of that content has actually been worth my time.

It's the whole signal to noise thing again. How much crap will Metaplace members have to shovel through before getting to the good stuff? I honestly don't see many people, myself included, willing to pay "meta dollars" for the chance to play a crappy game. Early adoption is going to be a tough hump for "armchair designers" to get over. Then its a fight to make sure your ideas don't get copied/stolen and sold for a lower price.

So, thats my negativity on the announcement, but don't let my jaded gamerness overshadow what Metaplace could turn into. Afterall, as stated, we still haven't seen the games :)
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