Virtual Worlds, Change, and Exploration

I’ve been working with Virtual Worlds since 1993, when I worked for daVinci Time and Space (references here, here, and here (note the MTV connection)). In those days, it was called “Interactive Television”, which ultimately led to it’s demise because, as we know, Interactive Television never really happened despite the best intentions of cable operators and set-top box providers alike.

We also learned a lot about children and television, children and advertising, and the FTC. Did you know the FTC has the good sense to prohibit, for example, running ads for Backyardigan’s toys on the Backyardigan show?

After thinking about MMORPGs (like World of Warcraft) and Virtual Worlds (like There), I’ve decided that one important aspect about retention is change in the world.

In this context, “Change” means “the world is different today from when I last visited it”.

In a MMORPG like WOW, the world changes because, as you progress, the quests you have to do change, which (usually) cause you to engage new enemies, and explore new areas. That’s change, and as long as you’re interested in the quests and new places, you’ll keep coming back. I know that sometimes I’d do nothing but explore, using techniques like corpse rocket to explore high level areas I had no business being in.

(There are also larger, more cataclysmic changes when they revise the game as they will with Cataclysm, but that doesn’t happen enough to keep you engaged on a day to day basis).

MMORPGS also change if you play with others: either in casual groups, or with a guild. Either of these up the “rate of change” because of the human factor: people change from day to day, they talk about different things, they perform differently in world, etc, etc. If you don’t play in groups, the world still “changes” for you through gameplay.

In There, this wasn’t the case. The only way the world changed was if:

  • You visited a PortaZone (PAZ), Funzone, or Neighborhood which had changed. While most changed a lot during initial construction, they also eventually became more static as the owners found a configuration and look they liked.
  • You found a new Quest.
  • You met friends in world, who, by their very nature, changed because the circumstances of their life changed.
  • You became aware of new merchandise in the world, either by perusing the catalog or auctions, or meeting someone who was showing off something you hadn’t seen before. Of course, you would have to have the money to buy that new merchandise if you wanted it for you own
  • You went to one of the many regularly scheduled events in the world.
  • There added new neighborhoods or islands

That sounds like a lot, but if you weren’t very social, that’s actually not a lot of change. Although the There environment was beautiful, it was always the same. Like many virtual environments, new content was expensive to build, especially professionally produced content. Our experience was when we introduced new areas people would swarm to them initially, but for the most part eventually got bored and went back to their old hang-outs (which we usually no more complex than a bunch of logs around a fire).

If you had an established community of friends you liked to hang out with, or were comfortable with meeting new people constantly, this was all probably ok. But In Real Life it proved not to be. Not enough members fit this demographic : most new members signed up, explored a little, and eventually never came back. You could say this was because There didn’t do a good job of introducing people to each other, but judging from Twitters repeated attempts at a Suggested User Life (people you might like to follow) this isn’t an easy problem to solve, especially in an environment where people value their privacy.

The other issue There had with it’s content was Teleporting. Since it was essentially effortless to get anywhere, you could “burn through” the content very quickly by teleporting around, or having people summon you places. “Burning through content” is a very real thing : Game Developers talk about “how many hours of gameplay” a game or environment has on release, there’s no reason it’s any different for virtual worlds. Unless you have an active developer or activities program or other ways to get new content into the world, people will burn through your content, and they will get bored.

Second Life avoids this problem to some extent because of it “easy” building tools: You (or anyone) can build anything in world with the wave of a mouse, whereas in There, you had to produce most things outside of the product, run it through submissions, wait for it to get accepted, etc, etc. So, in Second Life, new “content” (some of it of questionable quality, some of excellent quality) was constantly appearing, which made exploration even more interesting.

Very, very early on (I think it was like 2001), Jeffery Ventrella developed a prototype of growing plants. It never went anywhere because we had a few thousand other things to worry about at the time. Shortly before we had to close There, the CCO (Chief Creative Officer) and I developed the idea for Grow which was, frankly, much like Farmville for There (with a bunch of cool social elements thrown in).

I actually think that something like Grow, and Autonomous Animals (like dogs, but wild) would have for solved some of the content problems and retention problems for There. If you could come back to a world which was constantly changing or doing something unexpected, each visit could become more unique, and more interesting. If you knew your property would do something while you were away so you’d have something to look forward to catching up on, you’d come back more often. And, if you knew your friends could help your little plot, or their little plot, or a community plot, evolve, it would be a whole new experience.

Think about it: Wouldn’t your There experience have been more interesting if you each time you came back you knew the world would be different, or if you might see something unexpected (aside from “activities” like “Buggy Bombing”)? It would certainly give existing members to talk about, and might keep newer members coming back to see what they could discover.

This wouldn’t be a competitor for Farmville or their ilk: It would be an enhancement to the environment which would make it more alive and interesting. There would even be a developer component, where developers could add new evolving or autonomous items.

Keep in mind neither of these are trivial items to produce: Autonomous animals would require modeling, new “brains” (AI) (deer that acted like There dogs wouldn’t work too well), zone awareness, you name it. “Grow” would require all kinds of things including modeling, growth and dieback control, zone awareness, etc, etc. If you’ve watched the evolution of Farmville-like products or autonomous animals in WOW, you can see that it takes them many iterations.

I think there would still be the problem of it being expensive (time wise) for you to “check in” on the environment since you’d have to log into the world, find your way to the environment or plot, and check it out. With the web-based games, you basically just click on a link, and you’re there. Maybe it’s a good thing since it might discourage behaviors like this.

A strange side affect of all this would have been that the servers which were constantly running to simulate sectors with no one in them (at the time) now could be busy simulating virtual plants and wild animals. Not sure that’s an improvement, but it would give them a sense of purpose.

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  1. #1 by Aradriel on 2010.10.05 - 11:45 pm

    I love this post! It’s great seeing some thoughts on what could be changed to enhance a 3D environment, and ensure better member retention. As regards MMORPG’s however, while they do have changing content as you continue gameplay, one thing that frustrates me is how stratified the community is based upon your level and guild. There’s a huge amount of elitism that seems to arise from the gameplay. I’d never played an MMO until There shut down; I tried my first one hoping for a good experience after it closed. I’m finding the environment not at all conducive to a close community of people; I suspect I’ll leave the MMO soon in light of this. It doesn’t even compare to the welcoming, fun, friendly attitude of there.com. What a great idea you were developing about “grow” and the possibility of “wild” animals! My imagination goes crazy thinking of how that would have looked in There! 🙂

    Perhaps if the issues with distributed physics could be resolved — so that There isn’t so expensive to run — maybe there might be a better chance of making it financially viable.

  2. #2 by Ken on 2010.09.30 - 4:51 pm

    For me, There was always fascinating.
    I didn’t need a new Island or area to explore although I did that.
    It was all about learning one game and doing it as well as I possibly could.
    There will always be a few that master one of the games so well that they end up ranked in the top 10, NOT ME! 🙂 Those people almost always got bored with winning and leave game or move to some other place or part of There, which left room for others.
    While exploring was fascinating for awhile, eventually I got bored and started building. When Building got boring I went to Zephyr which got me started in Paintball.
    It all started out in Zephyr when someone griefed me the first week I arrived. As it turned out he was a fixture in Zephyr. Apparently I annoyed him when I repeatedly hit him with my loaner buggy after he shot the hell out of me when I had no idea how to turn my forcefield on. Pretty funny now LOL
    Looking back on it, I was just a noob but swore I would get even with him. Over the next several months I was aided by several of the better shooters in Zephyr. As I learned the “tricks” of Paintballing, he was not as big a threat as he originally was. After about a year he was no longer a threat but I discovered he was one of the minor players involved in Paintball. It took me another year, with coaching from some of the best in game before I could even start to compete with my coaches.
    There is a point here gang .. I believe that Paintball was not promoted nearly enough in There. It is a fascinating and ever changing game. What makes it so fascinating is that every player brings his own idiosyncrasies to a match. Even the topography of a place like Zephyr or a PB zone plays a part in how every good player shoots. Every match is different. Every match is a new learning experience.
    Paintball, Buggy racing and the other sports need to be promoted a lot more than they were.
    When I mention Paintball and There.com to people I meet in RL, they sat “WHAT”?
    Part of the problem might be media exposure. You mention Second Life or World Of Warcraft to people and a lot of them know about those Virtual Worlds.

  3. #3 by Crystal_lyn1 on 2010.09.27 - 10:56 am

    Well I am patienly waitng for there.com or if its another name to come back again…in the furture it will be the biggest thing on internet..virtual reality..but the economy had to imrove beyond what it is not…jobs etc…they I am sure new tech. will come out to make it possible..the thing is everyone will be on the band wagon..So don’t drag you feet or be afried to continue..It will be back in one form or the other..

  4. #4 by Rebecca McArthur on 2010.09.27 - 8:56 am

    http://www.atitd.com/

    And what about A Tale In The Desert? If you’ve never taken a look at that game, I strongly recommend it. I played this years ago and it was literally supported by a very tiny group that wrote it. If there was a problem, you could literally call this guy up at his house to reboot the server or whatever. That is one small operation! 😉

  5. #5 by Taelos Katran on 2010.09.26 - 5:25 am

    Game mechanics which include “growing” things was a part of Cyan’s “Uru, Ages Beyond Myst” a.k.a URU. Successfully completing various puzzles granted you the ability to put trees, grass and other things in your home area (called a Relto). Over time these would actually grow. Indeed this particular game feature inspired the following poem of grief written post one of the numerous Uru service closures:

    “Remembering Uru”
    Each second is wind singing in every tree.
    Not real wind. Not real trees.

    And my Relto is mornings stretching on forever.
    Not real mornings nor that real forever.

    A seed went into the ground. A tree rose from it.
    I saw that seed. I saw that tree.

    They were real. But ended in one fragile moment
    that sent us away.

    We remember the trees that sway
    that were cut down long ago.

    Taelos

  6. #6 by SassyBeMe on 2010.09.25 - 4:19 pm

    While on facebook have you checked out vineyard or island life from Metaplace? Vineyard is doing well since constant change draws their attention. Where Island life stays the same with small amounts not willing to give it up. (boring, but nice) Just the same nice combination of both social and task driven. 🙂
    I kind of like the balance now with contest, task, and wants to log in for rewards. My only complaint has been amount of help needed to build villas. All in all, interesting for a facebook game.

  7. #7 by asdf on 2010.09.25 - 1:54 pm

    i am addicted to farmville

  8. #8 by dakotaman on 2010.09.21 - 10:57 pm

    Fascinating read! It struck me that the success of WoW has a lot to do with the success of the myriad of FaceBook games: ie: measured progression to access new content along with the requirement of cooperation amongst players to achieve the ‘goals’. The difference being that with World of Warcraft, that social interaction needed to progress through the game is based upon shared goals and never reaches the depth of interaction (even when using voice communications like Ventrilo) that a more social world (like There) achieved without such goals. Indeed, with the FB games, there seems to be this ongoing ‘peer pressure’ to continue, because others’ success is so dependent on ‘bringing others onboard’.

    It’s a massively complex equation. I guess I tend to agree more with Meret’s model above when looking at a social-first world like There.

    dakotaman

  9. #9 by SassyBeMe on 2010.09.21 - 9:17 am

    I promised myself I would do this no more. 🙂 Fail!

    Can’t please every one huh? There didn’t always change enough with goals. I find most seem to need task or leveling goals in just about any virtual play. Not always about social. Yes, I’m glad your seeing this.

    Just as you use farmville as a comparison. OR an as if. Even though Farmville tries to force random acts of kindness. There are those that use cheats in farmville that end up being removed from friends list. Just as many would seclude themselves in a hood or paz due to others behaviors. So to just base on social would fail. Even though all those hoods looked nice, was nice for the builder. The amount of hoods against server made it almost unbearable to travel to visit.
    I also felt often there were to many members forcing others out. Some getting hired, which turned me into a thereian hermit. POINT is, why customer service cost goes up. Yes, you know. 🙂

    It would have been nice to see more items in shop change. Like how after sponsors shop items increased. Even your 2D artist could have changed seat colors for you. I can’t see any disagreement about free range animals. Their such a plus in any worlds enjoyment. Yes, and so much troubles with developing bugs and such. But easier isn’t always better. Just more complaints as * who stole what from me* cries. Not an easy balance. Sure would not want your headaches.

    As much as I have liked other worlds for different things. Just such a shame you can’t work this into There and revive it. I Know y’all are cleaver enough. I’m just going to keep the faith that you do in time reopen. If it wasn’t worth it, then there wouldn’t have been other worlds trying to copy There. 🙂

  10. #10 by Brandyn_1 on 2010.09.15 - 10:30 am

    Hi MW i was Brandyn_1 in There.com i never got to see you in world but i heard a lot about you i came in world in 06 and when i had first came in my friend had told me and was walking me through it. At first i was like “ehhh it doesn’t really make me want to stay you know.” and then i came back 3 times before i came back for a long while. Some things in There.com just didn’t stand out to me you know? it would of been better in these ways in my opinion, There.com i think would have been better if it would of had building Like Second Life maybe not just like it but you know the basics of building it would have drawn in A LOT of people in my book because i wanted to get in to the developing in There.com but honestly to me 3DS Max was very hard, I guess you really needed to learn about it more than i did but anyways another reason is, I know we all loved our Buggies in There.com but honestly if it would of had different Vehicles like the Scion cars it like maybe a truck or something different it would of made the people go crazy and would of made you lots in my understanding. There.com would of been a lot better with some changes with it but you know There.com was so unique just by the graphics and the whole world being Connected. Honestly i know in ways it would of been bad but it might of saved There.com is if you would of said look unless we make close to (this amount) or we get more Sponsors There.com can no longer go on. I honestly think people were wrong for saying the mean and hateful words they did to you and they should be grateful that they got that last week. I know asking a month would have been a lot. Honestly i think if you were ever to think about opening There.com back up i think it would be a bad idea. But what would be a good idea is to make a different World and use the Basics of There.com like go from the 2004 Beta severs and take it from their you must know everyone’s opinion on what would of made There.com better but honestly bringing There.com back would make it Horrible for the staff that would work for There and everything. I know its going to be Millions to do this but i know you must of got some Sponsors when they got the news. But you had to turn them down. But i think if you would of made it for 15 year olds it would of made a differences it would of brought There.com more money i think because most 15 year olds already have a job or about to. I’m pretty sure you have thought this over in your mind before but i dont know im just a Therain that misses their home as much as everyone else. I would like to Email you a little but i know your a busy man. if you could send me an Email at Brandyn_2011@myspace.com!

    -Brandyn_1

  11. #11 by there_forever on 2010.09.15 - 9:54 am

    Very interesting websice MW! The first thing I searched for was ‘Makena’, ‘There’ and ‘OLIVE’ but I didn’t find anything. That was disappointing but other than that it has a lot of useful info for anyone who is interested in virtual world platforms and not only!

  12. #12 by there_forever on 2010.09.14 - 7:57 am

    It is clearly obvious that you know exactly what went wrong and lead to ‘There’ shutting down. I’m sure that when the time is right, you will reopen ‘There’ again, making all the changes needed in order to create a brand new avant garde virtual world that will still have the ‘magic’ of the old ‘There’. I hope that time comes soon and I wish you the best of luck when it happens. I’m also sure that once the word is out that There.com opens again, thousands of ex Thereians will be back to support you in your new adventure.

    • #13 by Michael Wilson on 2010.09.14 - 9:55 am

      Unfortunately, knowing what’s wrong and being able to correct it are two different things. We priced out the development time to correct those two things, and it was a pretty expensive proposition.

      Developing and running a virtual world is expensive, though the costs have come down with off-the-shelf engines like CryEngine and Unity 3D. Unfortunately, these are only the 3D component, and don’t include things like Commerce, Events, Clubs, Chat, Voice, Developer environment, moderation, to name a few. Thank goodness we already had all those bits, and more.

      P.S. If you want a list of Off-The-Shelf 3D engines, here is an excellent resource. I restricted the list to “Production/Stable” engines and got 14 pages of them.

  13. #14 by Rebecca McArthur on 2010.09.14 - 3:58 am

    While at PAX Prime recently, my husband & I played one particular MMO quite a bit and were excited about it. We were later interviewed by the guys in the booth about the game and our thoughts on other MMOs we’ve played. We’ve been lucky enough to attend PAX (Prime and East). We play, or have played, a very broad base of games including FPS, RPGs, action games, puzzle games, strategy, time management, MMOs, and social worlds (we met in There!). We also play table top from time to time. We each have gaming rigs that my husband custom built. We have XBox & PS3 console systems. We have a PSP and a DS. We spend quite a bit of money on gaming. Overall, I’d say pretty hardcore gamers with a high disposable income.
    We have also played WoW (on and off… who doesn’t?) since Beta, which we both played as well. We have 3 copies of every expansion and pay for 3 subscriptions every month; one for each of us and one for my youngest son. Just think about that for a second, this is an exceptional amount of money to spend on a game. This means that we’ve provided an income stream to Blizzard, in our home alone, of more than $2,700 in user fees and more than $540 in software purchases (we actually also own at least 1 collector’s edition, and 2 of the WOLK, of each copy and I haven’t included that in this calculation). This doesn’t even begin to include the micro-purchases like server switches, gender switches, class switches, account transfers between our family members, and extra content like pets. For just our home, over the years, Blizzard has made in excess of $3,200. Think about that over their entire customer base. It’s crazy. No wonder it is so difficult to compete with them. Other games don’t have the revenue streams to constantly reinvest in the content. Their base falls off, usually quickly after release, and there just isn’t money to bring people back.

    The question is WHY is WoW getting so much of our money. I do think change is part of it, but I also think WoW contains the essential ingredients to keep people in world and spending money. WoW has change, achievement, progression, and obligation all with a very low barrier to entry. Gaming is a niche market. Social worlds are an even slimmer piece of that pie. To appeal to the largest possible base of gamers, I think you need all 4 of the above and I may have missed some other essential ingredient(s). I’m not a sociology professor. 😉 Of course WoW gets boring. But Blizz constantly reinvents the world by releasing expansion packs. They have concentrated on end game to keep the most hardcore WoW fans spending money. They have designed a lot of their game around social community building so that you feel obligated to your friends to come in Tuesday night to attend the raid and their newest expansion will take that even steps further. They can do these things because they have the dollars to spend on their world. It is a huge investment. The barrier to entry for new MMOs is extremely high and takes enormous capital. To overtake WoW in the market would require the game to include all the elements while at the same time being different enough from WoW that members would spend money in the new game INSTEAD. This is a difficult recipe indeed.

    • #15 by Michael Wilson on 2010.09.14 - 9:58 am

      Here’s what people don’t realize about WOW. Prior to the multiplayer release, Blizzard had release three standalone versions of Warcraft, not to mention Starcraft, so they had a huge technology and art base to draw off of. Even with that, it took over $80 million dollars for them to develop it, and it was actually cancelled twice and then resurrected.

      So, they’ve been at this for a long time. And know their stuff.

  14. #16 by Matt on 2010.09.13 - 1:19 am

    “It’s not the game. It’s who you play it with.”

    You can’t really compare something like There.com with something like World of Warcraft. That would be like comparing a zebra with a fish. There.com was a social virtual world, and world of warcraft is leveling, questing, monster killing, etc..

    I don’t think there was a problem with introducing people. It’s not like you can force someone to introduce themselves to others anyway. What I did find a problem with was finding where it was possible to meet likeminded people with similar interests.

    A new member didn’t know how to teleport somewhere let alone knowing how to find someone in the huge world that was There.com.. They were simply dumped into this new member welcome walkway place which barely had any activities. I think it was a shame that the many great activities were not promoted to these new members. All I noticed was the several dance parties that the Island Guide team did.

    I tell you, I never would have found out about buggy racing if I had not been told about it and shown where I could get into a race and how to get there. And so I didn’t see much promotion of such activities to new members. People didn’t know there were things to do other than socializing and dancing. I think it was just a lack in marketing and promotion of the different activities around the world, which can explain why racing died down and never grew any larger.

    It was hard to find out where people were. I’d see “hot spots” and “high activity” spots on the map but when teleporting there, nobody was around. So if that’s what There’s idea of a hot spot was, then there must not have been anyone online in the world. That’s what I would have thought as a new member.

    As far as the new areas being added with high activity for awhile then they returned to their old hangouts, that can be blamed on the idea that there was really nothing to do at these new areas. There weren’t any new landmarks, no interesting places to see, no funzones with activities like buggy racing, etc.. Sure, there were neighborhoods and portazones, but not much you could really do in those except just look at the places other members built and go “ooooo, that’s nice!” What fun is that?

    One thing I know for sure is that There.com made it easy to get into the community and easily get to know others, but only after learning how to get to those active places and how to find the people. Having some way of finding where people are with similar interests may have helped greatly. Or even finding the active places.

    There’s more I could say on this subject, but I will have to end it short as I am about to fall asleep here on my keyboard. Goodnight.

    “It’s not the game. It’s who you play it with.”

    • #17 by Michael Wilson on 2010.09.13 - 9:53 am

      My intent was to contrast MMPORGs and There.com, not compare them as they were alike. Sorry for the confusion.

  15. #18 by Jack on 2010.09.12 - 3:39 pm

    I agree that compared to most MMORPG’s, There didn’t have a lot and some people took it for granted, but once There went, everyone realized how much they loved it. Not just because of the people, but just There.com itself. It was like a home. No matter how bored you got, after a few years on There, you learn to love it no matter what and accept it the way it is. I mean, if you didn’t like There.com, you’d quit within a few days, right? Most of us were on it for years. It’d be cool to have some small, but entertaining things, like fishing and what not; perhaps more card games and emotes with friends, but all in all, the people were a major thing that made There what it was. I’ve met the best people ever on There, including my best friend/girlfriend! Once There closed, it felt like our home vanished. I’m on Second Life now with my Thereian friends, but it’ll never ever have that same home feeling that There.com did. On Second Life, there’s TOO much to do. No one socializes and most people aren’t all friendly. On There, you’d have groups of people just talking and getting to know eachother or just generally having a good time.
    If I had to choose between Second Life and There.com, I’d 110% choose There.com, always. A lot of peoples lives have changed because of There. I might have gone on a bit, but it’s really what me and a lot of my friends think.
    If it’s too expensive to run, why not just keep one island open? (A bit of a fail question, but hey… Gotta try, right?)
    I’ll always hope that There re-opens. Do you think it ever will sometime soon? As you said above, “it’s not possible at this time.” I really really really wish it does… If it did at Christmas, boy would that be amazing…

  16. #19 by Emma Jean on 2010.09.12 - 8:42 am

    I lived, played and worked in There.com for over 6 years, and what kept me going back was friends and to explore… I loved quests because they might you look at things differently, they made you notice things that you would not normally notice.. like the lamposts on the tucked away road to big boulder, or the crates & posters inside an welcome area (like the at kantana point). If the new islands were designed with small areas of interest, like the mushroom forest or the lost camp, the exploration would have been outrageous! I still remember when Motu Motu was added the only way to get there was to run or drive.. if you were lucky enough to have a car. I had my free hoverboard. i spent hours and hours just flipping over and over those mountains.. the excitement i had when going over a mountain and running into the area with oro lounge.. wow. it still excites me. the fog, the bamboo, and a building with no working door. it was like stepping into a different world.
    I would have gladly paid a fee to have voice, to see my friends and to explore… i loved the new environments, i loved a change in the sounds, plants specific to one area, statues hidden in certain areas. and friends to chat with everyday.
    now I live in real life, i play in wow, and i work.. well I have enough to do tutoring my son through high school and being a mom. I love exploring in Wow, although i am such a noob! The friends i made in there are there to help, and we have fun banding together to kill the enemy! I will continue to go where ever i can have adventure.. to pay or not to pay… is it worth it.. yes!

  17. #20 by DrChisel on 2010.09.12 - 8:11 am

    I just have to say i spent a part of my morning reading this page, I have a desktop icon to this blog and its nice to just click and see if there is a new interesting post.I will always enjoying reading extensive article and comments like this. Thank you for that.

  18. #21 by Meret on 2010.09.11 - 10:12 am

    After all these years of on-line services, my opinion has not really changed much. I believe the basic answers are still.

    1. The strongest and most lasting reason people continue to log back in to any service is to meet and interact with friends they have made and continue to make.

    2. The primary reason people even try these services in the first place, they are looking for something to do or looking to connect (i.e. they have free time in their real lives, they are lonely or bored)

    3. Proximity to others must exist frequently

    Activities of any type must be sufficiently varied, entertaining and rewarding enough to fulfill point 2 for long periods, but more importantly, they have to lead to making long lasting connections, point 1.

    Point 2 is the hard part. Many services offer various cool things to entertain us, but they fail to result in point 1 or 3. Activities generally cannot sustain people over long periods of time by themselves. Second life for example is struggling right now as they attempt to go beyond a user base that solely enjoyed point 2 (i.e. building). Making new friends in SL is harder than most services due to the lack of inter-personal connections the main activities produce. Their world is even more spread out than There.com eventually achieved (which hurt it) making it even harder to just happen across other people. Most people by nature don’t respond well to strangers or random people showing up without an understandable reason.

    There.com couldn’t fill point 2 sufficiently over time (ran out of things to explore, insufficient ways to be self-creative to show others, insufficient ways to be competitive, the world became too large. minimizing proximity, etc) which reduced the creation of new friends or the loss of old friends that got bored.

    We could debate point 2 activities for ever. There is no one perfect design except that a sufficiently diverse and entertaining set exists that always targets and supports points 1 and 3.

    The perfect service is one that would keep us entertained, challenged, etc when we are alone while continuing to create regular but optional opportunities to meet other people.

    So a more living world where people could create their perfect space would be cool, but only if it also promoted interaction, showing off, trading, group achievements, etc. Card games while not for everyone obviously is an almost perfect example of an activity that meets points 1 and 3 (assuming there is a way to find open games) as it acts as an ice breaker to new people, it has a low obligation factor when around new people, and maintains proximity for sufficient periods of time to be meaningful.

    Btw, There.com started it’s decline imo when the world space expanded faster than it’s ability to maintain proximity of people through other means.

  19. #22 by jonathan on 2010.09.11 - 6:16 am

    Hi, sounds good…

    the question is that, do you plan on opening there.com as a social website again?, some of us are getting bored with SecondLife and theres not much we can do! I late joined there.com in 06 and travelled around and then got used to it… We love paintballing…

    can you bring this back? again?

    • #23 by Michael Wilson on 2010.09.11 - 6:30 am

      Sorry, it’s not financially possible to re-open There at this time.

      • #24 by Dogyday725 on 2010.09.18 - 5:25 pm

        Michael,
        Is there any way in the future you can reopen there.com?

  20. #25 by satarell on 2010.09.10 - 5:34 pm

    It would be fun if we all had a porta zone attached to your avatar that you could take out and a plant would be in the middle of it and the plant would grow according to your activities such as, if your a big explorer there would be many limbs to show your many expeditions, or if you where very social it might have flowers to show the number of friends you had. The container of the plant could change too. Or if you where frequently inactive your plant would have brown patches. You couldn’t just water away the brown patches you would need to be active to see them slowly turn back green.

    • #26 by satarell on 2010.09.10 - 5:54 pm

      Of course as I finish typing this I am heading to wow not to fight or explore but to fish 🙂 it is one of my favorite thing to do in wow. Makes me thing of fishing in there setting along a dock just listening to the ambient sounds that I can hear even now just from memory. How fun that would be most of the time the catch could be small or unlucky like a empty drink 🙂 or dog treat bag but every now and then with just the right timing and luck i might catch a t shirt that says I love fishing in there 🙂 Saturday morning tournaments, personalized lures and polls bate shops where you can customize a lure for a small fee just a simple little rattle type with color change options.

  21. #27 by Richard Hallock on 2010.09.10 - 3:42 pm

    Thank you for posting this. It was a fascinating read. I have heard you speek so often, that when I read it I could almost hear your voice.

    Hard to tell on the casual word game if it would have sold or not, as it was only released for members to buy after it was announced the world was closing. Frankly I thought it was an amazing, fun, social and mildly educational sort of game. Even during those hectic dying days I managed to find time to play quite a few games of it! While some older members wanted more cards games, I believe the request for more was probably based on the ‘you have made one, changing it a bit would be easier than asking for the wheel to be re-invented’ principal. There was attracting younger and younger members as time went on. I recall the day when There was moved to the kids section of Virtual World News. Most of these new members were not interested in playing card games, though occasionally I would welcome someone to There who was interested enough to ask a few questions about them.

    Perhaps the “Grow” project might have brought a different group of members into There.com. There do seem to be a lot of people stuck in that ‘compulsive loop’ these days. Though most MMO’s and even Facebook games have specific goals. There did have some skill ladders but aside from the racing ones, most of them were pretty much ignored. There always seemed to lack group challenges (aside from some member made obstacle courses for individuals) most of the more successful MMO’s are based around group challenges. Perhaps that was why the There Games always seemed to be so packed with attendees. I guess grow would have been a great incentive to go rent a there.com made house, if that was where you had the space to garden. I think the release of all these interactive objects for developers to make was making the world an exciting place. We only had 2 weeks to work on interactive signs before there announced the closure. I think it was a shame that so many great things seemed to be coming our way right at the very end. Still it was cool to get to play with those!

    Then again Lord of the Rings Online just went free to play (following the FTP change in Dungeons and Dragons Online last year) and their gardening system (one of the skills you players can select from) lets members plant, grow, harvest, and refine cops in a sort of mini game. If you have not tried it yet, it is one of the more social oriented MMO’s, though gardening is limited to specific areas in world.

    Your comment about a There dog/deer was so amusing! That really made me laugh. I can just imagine one now flopping all over the place on long legs! I think birds would have been great too.

    I suppose if “grow” had been finished the members could have held a There County Fair to show off prize winning crops and had grow-offs or something! Now that would have been a real social online hootenanny!

  22. #28 by Thereian Fan on 2010.09.10 - 3:33 pm

    As I am reading this, it got me thinking…How cool would it be everyday when you enter into There, the world would have something new each time. One day you sign on and they added cats into the world, than the next day you would find out that you can go on a roller coaster and ride on it. Wouldn’t that be cool? If I re-call wasn’t There planning a roller coaster in the beta times? I am not sure why it never got finished, but if it did, I bet it would have looked nice. In There when you send a friend a teleport, you wouldn’t have any trouble to head to your friend unless that sector was full or too many avatars in that neighborhood/Porta/Fun zones. In Second Life, if you try to teleport to a Sim, you would sometimes receive a error saying failed teleport. But, I think was this world is better than any other world, is not only the graphics and vehicles, but it was the technical support, and live chat support we received. Even if you were basic member, you could receive full tech support, and live chat. In Second Life, you are limited in technical support and you cant get live chat. I think that is one great thing about There.

    When I first enter There.com, I came from a 2D world CokeStudios into a 3D world. What was very different from a 2D world into a 3D world, the graphics were outstanding. The avatars body were in a 3D shape, you could see 3D plants and objects which were outstanding. From CokeStudios you were limited in certain locations and you didn’t have anything to make in a 2D world. They gave all the products to the members. Seeing what the members could do in a 3D virtual environment is something interesting. Also, every time when you skill and reached a new level, you not only receive a gift, but you get to see new land that you never heard of. Everyday, even before There closed, I found new and outstanding landmarks that I wish I had more time in.

    When I tell my friends I am on a virtual world, they think I am nuts, which I might be, but seeing how what you can do in here and not in the real world is something cool. The virtual worlds are still new now, they haven’t been in our world since the early ’90s, and look out now, you had varieties of virtual world! Do I think it’s too late to build your own now? No, I think if someone wants to build/create there own virtual world, it’s not too late. It’s still in its early stage and my feeling is with each year we will be seeing more virtual worlds as the time goes on. What is ironic, is today my professor was going over the history of computers and how we use them today. It feels like yesterday the first computer was invented, and look at now, we have the ability to create our own virtual world. The computers haven’t been in long much, and it just surprises me how much accomplish we made in it. Now a days, many businesses, and Universities are now using the virtual worlds for educational purposes. I think that’s a great thing, because you don’t need to take your car to the university, and waste gas, and put more CO2 in our Ozones, you have the ability to pretty much do the same thing that you would do in the classroom, that can be done in the virtual world. So thinking how everything is going, I do have this one question and it came to me during my professor teaching, “Are we moving to fast with technology, or are we on the right path?” Up to now, I don’t have a straight answer for that. Hopefully, in the future when I see how the technology progresses, I might be able to answer it.

    • #29 by Michael Wilson on 2010.09.10 - 6:31 pm

      The reason the roller coaster ride was never put into There was that it was built by a group of outside folks in a way that turned out to be completely incompatible with the current land and property model in There (this was just after Black Friday). It was very disappointing when we got it, because we invested a lot to have these outside consultants build it, but the result just didn’t fit. By the estimates of the Producers at the time, it would have cost at least as much to get it “finished” as it cost to develop it.

      The other issue was that the cost of producing the individual pieces was as high as any other professionally produced art piece. That would have made it prohibitively expensive to expand the line without charging an arm and a leg for pieces.

      • #30 by Thereian Fan on 2010.09.11 - 9:07 am

        Oh I see what you mean. Each piece would talk a long time to developed. A good example was DavyRocket’s Buggy Coaster. It took him a long time to develop each piece and making sure the lod’s and the invisible walls were in-place, to make sure that when people would drive too fast they wouldn’t fall off the coaster. However, if the roller coaster was never going to be used, what was the reason behind it for? Why make it if it was never going to be released? I know it’s a shame that it never been put in world to be used. I can see how much it would have cost to put it in production, and making sure that every piece of the coaster was correctly in place. It would have left a hole in the wall. With the new interactive objects that were being developed before There closed, do you think it would have helped a bit in putting the coaster in world or it wouldn’t make a difference in it? Also, my main question is, if you could go back in time to tell your former self that There is closing March 2010, what would you do to prevent it from There closing?

      • #31 by Michael Wilson on 2010.09.11 - 1:40 pm

        Yes, you have that correct, each piece would have been too time-consuming, and expensive to produce (professional 3-D artists aren’t free, you know).

        Aside from that, my other comment about it not being compatible with the existing code base was most discouraging.

        No, the interactivity wouldn’t have brought that roller coaster any closer to existence.

        Finally, in retrospect, I’d have to go back to 2001 to make There viable. It had two flaws I would have fixed: The freaking art path – what it took to get art, be it from our in-house art team, to 3rd parties, to developers – was horrible. I don’t see sometimes how our developers did it, especially with the iteration costs of resubmission. Second, I would have made it so that Distributed Physics, the patented thing which helped make There “There” – optional. You don’t need distributed physics to stand and chat, so you shouldn’t have to pay for the servers to support it.

        I’m sure I would have other things fixed. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe There is far better technologically than many things we see out there today, or will see for the next year or so. It just had some problems which made it difficult to operate economically.

      • #32 by Michael Wilson on 2010.09.12 - 2:27 pm

        I think we probably agree, though we’re saying it in different ways.

      • #33 by Thereian Fan on 2010.09.13 - 2:48 pm

        Yes, I do agree with you. Although, it still wonders me, what was the intention of using it? I did recently found out that there were go-carts on there as well. I’ve spoke to a thereian who was with There since beta and explained to me what some neat stuff, but did explain to be that it was not connected with the same servers as There was and was running something else. The developing in There wasn’t so bad, it could have improved more, but overall it wasn’t bad. What could have been done, if your going to submitting more than 20 pieces, no matter what the cost is, you could have made it a one rate deal, or have some submission sales.

        Example one: I am submitting a buggy today, now instead of paying lets say 12,000tbux or whatever it would cost, giving a small discount about 3,000 tbux off for a certain amount of period would help the members. When you total up the amount of people, that submitted you would see an increase in revenue. Also, the idea that imvu has when it comes to buying clothes or stuff, they had promotional code where if a seller wants to give 5 dollars off if you spend 20 dollars or more, it would have been nice to have instead of checking how much each person spent with your email address.

        Example two: With submitting every piece of a object like DavyRocket’s Coaster. It cost him a lot of money for every piece being sent. Why not give a flat rate. Let’s say, if you submit 50 objects you have to pay 64,000tbux or something like that (random number). It would make it easier for the thereians and the submission people as well without having to go through every submission ticket.

        What I did noticed in there that sort of lacked that could have been improved on was layers. I am aware how the layers work, but the issue that got me was, if Mackie hosts an event in CC Metro Chandler Park, in order for the layers to work, Mackie would have to cancel the event. I think what could have been invested a little was trying to find a way where even though a event was being hosted, you would be moved up another layer automatically. Having that option would have made it easier to send out more invites to the place, and being teleported to an area that wasn’t full.

        You are correct and agree with you with the roller coasters. Nice thing to have and would have worked wonders in There, but with money issues, it would have took a toll some point in time.

      • #34 by Michael Wilson on 2010.09.14 - 9:47 am

        On the intent was to use it, but we had no idea the result would be unusable in the There context. To tell the truth, I wasn’t in charge then, so I just go to observe this from afar. Right after we took over There in 2005, we looked into it with “fresh eyes”, but the conclusion was sadly the same.

        That being said, there are still some good ideas which we paid for in there, and therefore it’s an asset of the company, just not one we’re using right now.

      • #35 by Thereian Fan on 2010.09.17 - 11:37 am

        Thank you Mr. Wilson in answering my questions.

        I understand now the full extent of There and the issues you were having. Hopefully, as time goes on, and the economy gets better we might see a chance that There might return.

  23. #36 by BigD26 on 2010.09.10 - 1:44 pm

    It was great to see the new card games come it, like myself some people didnt inderstand spades but when gin and hearts came in it was great… i didnt play cards till those games came into world and i was pleased they did as it gave us something to do while we talked our friends.
    I can see why some of the older players didnt buy into the tables at first and some new ones, i remember when you could not sell them on so if you brought 5 spades table you was stuck with them for life…. some didnt want to buy the new tables because of not having the resale abilty.
    But as soon as you guys made it possable to resell the tables i had noticed people was buying more of them for there events and casual gameplay…
    One problem i found with hearts and spades was you needed more than 2 players to play them, and with different timezones it wasnt easy to get a willing player, but when gin and motu motu came it was a god send…i think i spent more time playing cards with my wife when they came out than i had ever done… but i also wished there was a one player card game too, sometime people would log in knowing they had a event to goto but had an hour spare…but not really wanting to go buggy lapping or get into something that was going to be time consuming….they would have loved a one player.

    As for the word game i only saw it twice so im not sure how it really worked out, but im sure it was a fun game.

    The games where promoted well in world and in the there central pages, but things like the quests where popular with alot of people as they could be done alone or with a group just like the cards.
    I would have liked to see fishing in world ran along the lines of OzWorld its something that could have been done alone or with a group…
    I would have liked to have seen TUV tracks or the option to race TUVs in a funzone like they had in Vmtv. Pool game maybe like they have in playstation home….i think activitys that can be done in groups or alone work well…

    I never knew VSide before but i have been in since there closed, i have found it ok ish, im not a fan of the comic reel avatars or its transport system, im mean who wants to catch a train to go and visit a new place. I like the fact it has some fantasic games, like twister and pillow fights i like it has in world video…..but as you say it has a niche market, and from what i can see is its a world based soley for the teenagers the way the clothes are and the music thats promoted in there….but that niche has a problem.
    Its great offering this for teens but teenagers dont have disposable incomes, they may have alowences but most teens want to spend there money on console games and clothes and music…without an adult player base there is no income for a 3d world.

    Onverse is aimed at the younger teens i guess but its totally free to use, but if you want things in world you have to hunt different things to gain coins, and then you use them to buy items, again you can also add real money to the game but there is really no need to, unless you want a premium house or play a premium game.

    Teen Secondlife (when it wasnt closing) had teen players whos family members played the adult version of Secondlife, and because of that the players were able to add money into the teen version, but those who dont have family who use 3d worlds do find it hard to add money into them..
    Now the teen version is to be closed and merged into the main grid Secondlife will have everything to offer all ages, Adult areas for adults only and pg13 areas for those who want a normal eperience.

    And i think thats the key, offering something that appeals to all age groups, something that and adult is going to want to spend money on and and also offer somthing that a younger person is going to want to play and want there parents or family to give them money so they can play it.

    like some people (myself included) used to add money into world so they could design and so i could have there toys, now my children also played and wanted toys too, and as i was a player already i was happy to place money on for them. If something can be offered to adults thats going to make them want to pay for it, and its also can offer things for younger people too, then players will stay and pay and get there friends to play too.

  24. #37 by BigD26 on 2010.09.10 - 9:52 am

    Wouldn’t your There experience have been more interesting if you each time you came back you knew the world would be different, or if you might see something unexpected (aside from “activities” like “Buggy Bombing”)?

    I would have loved to be able to plant trees and plants in my neighborhood and see them grow day by day, and see random things happen, but for me each day was always different, yeah sometimes i did the same thing, but i found that even tho i was a member for 4 years i would find random there landmarks that i had never ever seen….and it was nice to know i was in a world where not everything was ever the same as the day before. I thought i had traveled the islands that well that i thought i had seen it all…i know folks who had been there 7 years and have also found new places that belonged to there.com that they never knew about before…

    There was a fantastic place to be, if you wanted to be alone you could, but if you wanted to see people you was never too far away from them.. If you wanted to see new things you would just jump into a buggie and off you go..

    Places like secondlife just dont have the same feel as there.com had, yes you can teleport places or be summoned to see new things….but most places i have seen in secondlife worth visiting have been empty, no one to talk to, and the places you do go where folk are the people dont want to talk or are afk….not a very new member friendly place i find secondlife.

    When i was new to there.com the only thing that kept me coming back for more was the people i met and the way i was treated by everyone, the other things like hoverboarding and buggies was just a bonus…
    What makes me goto secondlife is there.com closed and my friends log into secondlife to socialize with old there.com members, if those people wasnt in secondlife i would not be logging in….i would be in there.com…

    So yes change can be good, but its not what virtual worlds are all about….most are about the people..

    • #38 by Michael Wilson on 2010.09.10 - 10:06 am

      I agree that, ideally, it is mostly about the people, but the sad fact is that people alone won’t give you sufficient mass to be economically viable.

      If you go all the way back to the days of “private clubs” (I’m thinking of men’s clubs, but I’m sure there are other examples), they had to be subsidized by high entrance and membership fees to support the infrastructure.

      The reason that There invented paintguns, buggies, and other group activities is that we discovered early on that people needed to do something together to keep them entertained. Just building a world and counting on socialization doesn’t cut it – this is something you learn from running a world for a while and observing it, not observing the finished product and drawing conclusions from it (not that I’m saying you are doing that, I’m pointing to other “views” on the topic I’ve seen).

      • #39 by BigD26 on 2010.09.10 - 11:19 am

        I guess that was my way of how i saw things to be.

        But you are right. You have to have things that people are going to use and enjoy for a long time, a world or game has to have some sort of gameplay hours, its no good having 1 activity that only lasts 2 hours per day and then thats it with nothing else. People are not going to come back or spend 8 hours using the world or game if that was the case.

        For me there.com had all sorts of great activities that could give a player hours of gameplay, i loved the choice of things you could do…and liked knowing i had the choice of when i did them.
        Yes it was nice to see that new games and activitys where being developed and it was exciting to see them when they came into play….it never bother me if i had to wait a year to get a new card game or a new place to visit, it was just nice knowing things where being worked on in the background.

        I think if people knew before hand and as soon as they logged in on what there was to do and see in a world or game that would plant the seed for them to return. Like when Rockstar games release a game you always see commercials and magazine reviews before its released and when a player buys the game, is says on the box or insert the things you can expect to do in the game.
        Yes that all costs money but it if done well it it can pay off.
        Blizzard advertise WoW in alsorts of places inorder to gain more players and to some extent so does secondlife…..People always asked me what there.com was, and i would tell them and get them to try it, but they always asked me was there.com like secondlife? these are people who have never played a 3d world, they only knew about them because a seed was planted by way of adverts on the web.

        So i guess things should work out like this…

        Advertise (show what its all about)
        Plant seed (by showing what can be done)
        Get people to try it (offer free 45 days trial with basic privileges, but limit 1 username per email address)
        Offer a welcome area with the chance to meet people and a chance to use full member items.
        Offer a membership fee (say $9.95 per month)
        Regular updates on what people can expect to see in future releases.
        Offer premium activitys that are only open to full members, but something that a trail member would want to do.
        And make the activitys something that is going to keep people coming back for more….and want to do with there friends.

        Maybe im wrong, but yes people like to do things with there friends, but once people had been shown in depth on what can be done, they really do want to come back for more. Ive found most people entering there.com for the first time are happier when they have seen what you really can do in the world, if they not shown they dont seam to stay long.

      • #40 by Michael Wilson on 2010.09.10 - 12:39 pm

        Good ideas. We did try all that with the new card games (we focused on adding card games because older members asked for them as more casual activities), but beyond people replacing their existing card tables, the uptake was fairly disappointing. This was despite promoting them, putting them on the Welcome Walkway, and in all the “Newbie” areas.

        I think that reinforces the view that we came to that there was a core of users (like yourself) that appreciated those activities, the problem was that that core wasn’t big enough to sustain the business (much less recoup the huge investments made in over time). That’s why we were playing with things like causal word games at the end.

        It’s not a unique phenomena. Say what you want about VSide, but the original version had some amazing artwork, particularly their clothes, yet they went out of business in various forms not once, but twice, even with enormous amounts of traffic driven their way. Now, they had other problems too (like how did they get the Torque engine to run at such a low frame rate), but it was a world with it’s niche and it’s appeal. Just not the income.

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