Raph Koster finally reveils what Areae is all about: Metaplace.com

19 09 2007

There have been many rumours about what MMO pioneer Raph Koster‘s new company Areae is all about. He had very strong opinions back then in an interview with Reuters in Second Life about what Second Life eventually might do wrong. He was not reveiling anything about their product though.

So now it’s out. At TechCrunch 40 it was reveiled and it’s called Metaplace (the site is right now slashdotted and a bit slow). According to GigaOM it is not a new online world but instead it seems to be more of a framework of standards based components with which you can create your own world quickly. Raph calls it “A Web browser with virtual world capability”.

What is Metaplace?

So there are some parts of the system as I understand it:

  • A tool kit for building virtual worlds as well as a community/marketplace for selling your own components such as templates, scripts, objects. This marketplace is hosted on the Areae network (this is apparently for developers)
  • A way of creating your own instance of a virtual world. Thus it is not a contigous world such as Second Life. The Metaplace web site is then the place to collect all these virtual worlds and instead of e.g. having videos on the YouTube homepage you will have virtual worlds on the Metaplace homepage. According to the homepage you can make a world in 5 minutes.
  • Worlds can be interconnected via “doorways”. You can also stick your world as a widget into MySpace or Facebook.
  • Right now there are only clients for all sorts of 2D game graphics but 3D will come.
  • It is an open standard for interacting with servers. According to the website everybody can write a client (no word about a server though and it seems not to be open source).
  • Part of Metaplace is a scripting language called Metascript which is based on Lua


So how will Areae make money from that? Creating worlds seems to be free but they will be charging eventually for heavy traffic sites. Also it will allow for sponsored worlds, for some adsense-style network and more.

So it’s all a bit blurry at the moment what all that really means and there is not much to see right now. There is a signup for an alpha test on the homepage but such signups do not really look that open. But Raph Koster is of course an important figure in game development and has quite a bunch of contacts so there’s a huge chance for Metaplace to gain momentum if these people in the scene will start using it.


As for the openness I am also not that sure as it still seems to be very much centered around the Metaplace website. Also there is no word of open source nor seems the open standard yet to be published somewhere.

The big question is also what it means in relation to Linden Lab’s recent plans to create an open, standardized architecture for virtual worlds. And this is also where Raph Koster in the GigaOM article is maybe wrong when he states that Linden Lab just wants to make one world and cram everybody into it. With the new architecture discussion this point seems not so valid anymore.

But how this evolves needs to be seen. Fact seems to be that more and more people are now trying to create virtual world/metaverse standards and it looks like some sort of VW war is coming up. Hopefully they will talk to each other and try to cooperate. This will help us all in the end.

PS: More information can also be found at Virtual World News.

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3 responses

19 09 2007

The virtual standards war has been going ever since Koster and Rosedale declared it on X3D/VRML. Out with the old in with the new, same old story, same old song. Silly Valley Eats Its Young (apologies to Parliament Funkadelic).

You don’t know what a legitimate professional standards process is, what a participation agreement is, and how to organize agreements for the benefit of both customer and contributor. Until you do, this is a kids-at-play game regardless of the cost of the car parked in front of the condo.

But this will be fun to watch.

19 09 2007

I don’t get it..

19 09 2007

Standards are like roadsters, Baba. They are one part performance, one part replaceable parts, and no parts that only work on the car you happen to be driving. Specifications, the kind say the W3C or IETF make, for new technology can be blown glass from top to bottom with no hope of every replacing any broken parts. They can fail or succeed but they don’t have a legacy so they don’t have any promises to keep.

Koster complains today’s VR is based on 20 year old technology. He’s right. What else was that true of: HTML, DHTML, XHTML, SVG, XSLT, XML and more. The trick is that by the time something is ready to be standard, it is usually approaching or ending the middle cycle of age. That means it is roadworthy and there are lots of users who can benefit from the smoothing effect of standardization. It also means that initial burst of money from being the new kid in town is already earned and possibly spent. VC firms don’t like standards and they like monopolies even less. On the other hand, the market has been convinced to only buy standards-based technology.

This is where the dogs of the open sourcers unleashed early in the web history come back to bite the hands that held the leash. A VC wants open source because it is a cheap startup AND they want IP because if they can get a market lock, it is gravy money for years to come. They want standards to help them do that. That these are mutually incompatible positions bothers them not at all because they believe and have been shown that with the right combination of buzz, personality and paid placements, they can convince the public that their new entry in the market is *ta da!!*: standard. The truth is few people are actually professionally qualified to do real standards work. Thus ISO. They hate ISO.

So it is a good idea to evaluate Koster’s offering in terms of what it seems to be technically: the VR version of DotNukeNet except probably not BSD licensed. The first part of that will be a good thing for the types who build private business sites and don’t need to-the-metal handcrafted worlds, or for the newbs who just want a party house on the web.

Ultimately, however, the VR business is yet-another-data-center. The profits are in server space and services. The 3D stuff is just ‘onset cue simulated presence’ and while fun, not a big change. The right way to analyse offerings such as Areae once past the hype is to look at the services mix and determine which customers will pay for that and what they will use it for, and will they take over more IT responsibilities over time.

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