A new virtual world is in the making. Karlsruhe, Germany based startup StageSpace is working on a virtual world with the same name. The alpha version was released last month and it got already some wide coverage in german blogs as well as an in-depth discussion on the Second Life XING forum.
What is StageSpace except being unpronouncable?
StageSpace is a Java based virtual world which gets invoked by the Java WebStart technology which makes it portable and usable without installing it first. The downside is of course that everything first needs to be loaded from the server which is right now ok but might be different if more and more content is used. The upside is of course that no updates need to be installed.
The alpha version consists of three rooms to which you can teleport but which are not connected otherwise (no open world). You click on the map and teleport there. Avatars right now are very basic, move slowly and are hard to navigate, chatting is done via chat bubbles over your head. As additional feature you can move around some furniture but I haven’t found a way to interact with them more, e.g. sit on them.
So as you can see it is all still very basic (and unstable) but StageSpace CEO Fabien Röhlinger promised a 1.0 version for September which is supposed to be much better. There will also be additional communication tools such as VoiP, group chat, webcam etc.
A difference between StageSpace and other virtual worlds is though that they make your realname mandatory. According to Adina Tkatsch of StageSpace AG this is done because StageSpace’s focus is on the real person behind the avatar. Behind every male avatar there is a male person (not sure how they want to verify this). That way, Mrs. Tkatsch says, “communities profit because they get more information about the their users” (thus she means community providers I guess) and “added value in form of being a pioneer and having increaed possibilities of interaction”.
Asked about user generated content he said that it might come in the future but most likely only a special group of users will be able to create new items as their main intent seems to be to keep the environment controlled.
And that’s also part of the business model because the StageSpace version you can see on their website is only a demo. The main idea is to manage individual branded virtual worlds for their clients. They will manage hosting of the server, billing, registration and the like. Their clients will get a controlled and branded environment in which members of their communities can interact. If there is an existing community already they will also provide a single-signon method so that users can log into the 3d part with their normal username and password. They claim that they can setup an instance for one of their clients in 2-4 weeks depending on integration work.
Will this work out?
For now I guess it will. As Web2.0 and all that freedom is not yet really understood by many companies there is still much demand for controlled environments (or walled gardens). It still seems very scary to many companies to open up their communication (of course there are exceptions like e.g. Coca Cola who even opened up their trademark for Second Life). So right now the business model might work and Mr. Röhlinger also said that soon some big cooperations will be announced.
One problem I see right now: Loading the world was quite fast when I tested it the first time but since then it seems content has been added and on my mac it takes approx. 2:30 minutes until I am in-world. Second Life might not be faster but with growing content I see this time more and more increasing (mostly it’s loading the assets). And here’s also a downside of not installing it because you have to download all that stuff every time.
And I see some problems on the horizon:
- If more and more seperated virtual worlds come up it will get very annoying to join them. It’s not like Second Life where the next community might be just a teleport away. And multiple accounts are already a problem with all those web2.0 apps these days. Editing your profile, finding and inviting all your friends again will be joined by customizing your avatar as nobody wants to look like a noob. This also might get costly I assume.
- With seperated virtual worlds you miss the advantage of visitors popping in by accident or who might take part in some tour. There is a much bigger barrier of entry.
- Kaneva just announced their program in which you can run an instance of Kaneva on your own server for just US$100,-. This will not be the last one and Kaneva is besides all it’s issues more featurerich than StageSpace.
Asked about the problem of having multiple accounts Fabien Röhlinger said that they are able to connect their users between instances but clients probably would not want that. Additionally Andreas Schreiber dreams about a StageSpaceStandard which might connect all of them.. but I guess this is very unlikely because if you start out with a very much closed approach I doubt that this is the real effort to get a standard going.