A Closer Look at Blue Mars and Corporate Content

Bluemars02 Monday's article outlining how Blue Mars appears to be setting up a content creation system tailored toward established businesses stirred up some strong reactions in our e-mail inbox.

Virtual entrepreneurs raised on Second Life's individual development environment protested Avatar Reality's "brazen sop" to large companies, as one commenter posted.

Blue Mars had its defenders, exemplified by commenter Rock Vacirca, who gave us a tongue lashing for ignoring the intricacies of Blue Mars's 'terraforming' system. Vacirca argued that the registration process discourages the intellectual property theft currently rocking Second Life.

At the prompting of readers both for and against the article, we explored further into Blue Mars's content creation plans. What we found further confirms our worries.

In Their Own Words

We took issue with Blue Mars openly admitting its world was not designed to focus on content creation by pulling this quote from their official project website

The core Blue Mars client and interface is focused on enjoying the
world through play and interaction, not content creation.

Rather than
force developers to learn new ways to create content through our own
proprietary toolset, we support industry standard content creation
tools like 3DSMax, Maya, and Flash.

In our last post, we took issue with the first part of this explanation. Now let's look at the second. Blue Mars will focus on external creation of content that is then imported into the game world. Content is created with tools like Maya and 3DSMax, which Metanomics notes are tools mostly reserved for professional content developers and designers.

What does this mean? Instead of individual users learning software together – as the Second Life prim system worked – professional developers with access to design tools will have an advantage. Maya costs over $3,000 while 3DSMax tops out at nearly $4,000. The cost necessarily restricts the base of possible content creators.

But still, you might say, users can create content if they pass the registration screening and have $3,000 laying around for professional development software and the free time to learn it. Yes, they can, but after that their options are incredibly restricted.

One of our article's critics lays this out especially well –

A City owner sets the theme for the City, terraforms it, then parcels
it into Blocks. That is his job done, unless he wants to be involved
further down the chain

The City Developer exercises a heavy hand in what their city looks like, who has the right to own land within it, and what can be sold there. For any content to be sold, it must first find a shop. These shops are given space by City Developers. It's ultimately up to either the shop owners or the city developers what is sold in their space.

Large corporations are uniquely able to fill this space by offering real-world financial incentive to keep shops closed to competing content, something corporations wished they could do in Second Life. What's more, the owner of the city can set rent for all shops, as this interview with Glenn Sanders of Blue Mars points out (be sure to scroll down!):

We don't set prices for block or shop space. That pricing will be set by the City Developer.

With this in mind, a corporation could easily purchase a city block, dispatch a team of designers upon it, and exercise a total monopoly on who sold what within their city limits. Given the resources of large companies and the registration processes involved for individual creators, Blue Mars seems prepared to open its arms to companies prepared to open their wallets.

22 thoughts on “A Closer Look at Blue Mars and Corporate Content”

  1. Again, another shoddy piece. So, let’s set the record straight.
    “The core Blue Mars client and interface is focused on enjoying the world through play and interaction, not content creation.”
    This quote is offered as proof that Blue Mars “was not designed to focus on content creation’. This is not true. All the quote shows is that there are no inworld build tools. The Blue Mars approach is to have all content created offworld, in Sandbox mode, then upload it to Blue Mars. That in no way is any attempt by Avatar Reality to discourage content creation. It is just the nature of the underlying engine, the CryEngine2.
    The next distortion came with this:
    “Instead of individual users learning software together – as the Second Life prim system worked – professional developers with access to design tools will have an advantage. Maya costs over $3,000 while 3DSMax tops out at nearly $4,000. The cost necessarily restricts the base of possible content creators.”
    The Second Life prim creation system is proprietory to Second Life. Blue Mars uses industry standard creation tools, for which there is a huge user base already. As for cost, the piece mentions the price of the two highest priced 3D apps on the market today, while failing to mention that Blue Mars also supports Blender and Sketchup, which are free. There are many more free or low-cost 3D apps, and here is a partial list:
    In addition to these, Avatar Reality also provide all the Editors needed to process content. Here is a comparison of the Blue Mars tools compared with the Second Life tools:
    Second Life provides no tools whatsoever for the creation of textures, animations, sounds, etc. that are necessary to turn their plywood cubes into anything useful. Blue Mars does, and free.
    So to say that people can only create content if “have $3,000 laying around for professional development software” is simply a lie, and a slur.
    I create exclusively in the free Sketchup 3D app, and I have produced step-by-step tutorials for others to follow.
    As for City developers: A City Developer in Blue Mars is akin to an Estate Owner in Second Life. An Estate Owner in Second Life can decide to simply terraform their regions then lease them out at a profit, allowing the tenenat of their regions a completely free hand, with no covenant. Or, they can decide to issue a covenant, dictating what can and cannot be done in their regions. The same is true for Blue Mars, but if anyone does not like the terms of a covenant in either Blue Mars of Second Life, they can lease a Block (in Blue Mars) or a region (In Second Life) from another City owner. In my case, I will be leasing out Blocks in some of my Cities with themes, with a covenant to stay within theme, and other blocks in Cities, with no covenant at all.
    Anyone can apply to be a City Developer in Blue Mars, and no-one has been refused (to my knowledge). Most City Developers, so far, are not large corporations at all, but individuals (such as myself) and Indie groups. When the prices for Cities are officially released (they are currently under an NDA) people will be amazed at how affordable Cities in Blue Mars are, and the idea that they are just for the large corporates is ludicrous. Cities come in all sizes, from those that just support a few hudred avatars, to those that support thousands, and the prices are scaled accordingly, but ground-floor Cities in Blue Mars are well within the affordability range of anyone who has bought a few regions in SL, as I did.
    As for what certain City Developers may, or may not do – “Large corporations are uniquely able to fill this space by offering real-world financial incentive to keep shops closed to competing content, something corporations wished they could do in Second Life.”
    What the author of this piece fails to realise is that there will be a huge amount of Cities for shop owners to choose from, and are not limited in any way by the policies of any one City Developer. Indeed, VSE, one of the first of the Corporate owners of a City in Blue Mars, have announced that they will not be charging any rent at all for their shops in Blue Mars (the author of this piece conveniently failed to mention that at all, or has done pitifully poor research), but will take a percentage of the sales instead. This gives content creators who wish to open a store in Blue Mars the option of a zero-risk, zero-cost start-up, and who, if their sales do really well, can exercise the option of transferring to another City in Blue Mars that has fixed rents for their stores. This offers amazing flexibility, and something that you cannot get in Second Life, where you pay U$1000 for your region, and then pay US$295 monthly ‘tier’, or pay rent for your store, whether you make any money or not.

  2. I wonder how much Rock is getting paid, since he seems to be on a first-name basis with everyone at AR.
    You’re right to point out how much the programs cost, especially when AR LISTS THEM right in their FAQ as what is required to design. I can go design a product and sell it in SL right now. With AR, I have to go buy the tech, then get permission from AR to create, then get permission from a shop to sell, then give most of my profits up the chain.
    Yeah, no thanks.

  3. How can the cost equivalent of ” a few regions” be deemed amazingly affordable
    must be the air on mars

  4. @Masters:
    It’s a pity that you seem to think that you have pay people, or be paid by them, to be on first name terms with them. That might be your world, but it certainly isn’t mine.
    As for your comments on creating something and selling it in SL. Oh really? You can design the textures for your product AND create them inside SL? Same question for the anims, sounds etc? Yeah, right. I can do all those with free tools from Blue Mars. SL provides NONE of those.
    You know the cost of a few regions in SL, as they are US$1000 each, and US$295 per month thereafter. They even charge for Openspace regions, $250 and $75/month. Do you know the cost of a Blue Mars Block (region), so you can make a comparison? I thought not. Best reserve your judgment and comment until after they are published. But just for starters, I will be charging US$0 for Openspace regions in Blue Mars.
    Damn, free stores, and free Openspace regions in Blue Mars. Just how bad can it keep getting?

  5. You can create content for Blue Mars without buying any tools at all; while AR doesn’t list them there in the FAQ, they do support Blender and Sketchup 3D, both of which are free. Where “free” means “they don’t cost anything”. So you’re wrong in that part of the posting.
    You’re right, though, that the governance model for Blue Mars is very different than the one for Second Life. It might help if you think of AR simply as a platform provider, and think of the city devs as the virtual world owners. That is, think of a city dev as playing the role in their city that Linden Labs does for Second Life, or Blizzard does for WoW.
    Some Blue Mars city devs will no doubt set up worlds where content creation is tightly controlled, and the only way to make content is by working for them, or paying them, or whatever, and the mere users can only passively experience the world.
    But some Blue Mars city devs will also, one hopes, set up worlds more like Second Life, where anyone can easily get the ability to create and upload content, and sell it to other residents without having to give the city dev an onerous cut.
    If that latter doesn’t happen, I will be much less interested in Blue Mars. But I hope that it will, and nothing that I know about the BM platform so far is going to prevent it.

  6. bottom line. Second Life is a very forgiving environment, the low design threshold hides a multitude of skills.
    The reality?
    BlueMars to look good and work well you need professional tools. To use those tools you need to be a professional designer or have a lot of design experience. It’s not just the $3,000 to $5000 for package. You also need to know how to use it, the product training and maybe even a College degree in design.
    Second Life is a wonderful hobbyist environment. Over the last year or so, the best content in SL has come from professional designers. The older designers have lost their market to the new generation. The best stuff has come from the people who use MAYA, importing them as sculpties. The next phase is mesh, which is a skill beyond the average SL designer.
    Bottom line:
    Blue Mars should be about Visiting the Space, and making it a more accessible version of SONY HOME.
    That is until SONY release Home on the PC πŸ˜‰

  7. Oh, and just to be equally annoying to both sides of the debate πŸ™‚ Rock is also incorrect when he implies that the Second Life store model is so inflexible. In fact an estate owner in SL, like a City Dev in BM, can make whatever agreement e wants with store owners; the land can be rented by the week, or the estate owner can take a cut of sales through profit-sharing vendors, or whatever. SL is very flexible also. πŸ™‚

  8. @Rock are you so far gone that you don’t even realise that YOU were the one that quoted the price equivalent of a Blue Mars City to that of “a few regions”
    “but ground-floor Cities in Blue Mars are well within the affordability range of anyone who has bought a few regions in SL, as I did.”
    So before you start spouting your better than you BS look at your self.
    You are doing Blue Mars no favors.
    As for reserving my judgement on YOUR say so
    DO ONE!

  9. @Rock. So with all this DAMN free stuff Rock who is the philanthropist supporting all of this AR? YOU?
    Ever heard of “if it sounds too good to be true- it probably is”?
    And 50% off of anyones bottom line is not free in non martian physics. Your starting to believe your own hype

  10. “well within the affordability range of” doesn’t mean “costs the same as”. πŸ™‚ It means “doesn’t cost much *more* than”. A Snickers bar is well within the affordability range of anyoneo who’s bought a house; that doesn’t mean it costs as much as a house. Rock was putting an upper bound on City cost, not a lower bound.
    I’m surprised and saddened how much of the discussion about Blue Mars seems to consist of people (on both sides) making shoddy arguments for pre-conceived conclusions, rather than actually trying to figure out what’s going on. Silly humans! πŸ™‚

  11. @Dale Silly Human here are you saying a Snickers bar doesn’t cost much more than a house or a house doesn’t cost much more than a snickers bar? If it’s the latter MARS here I come!
    Rock suggested that if you could afford a couple of regions in SL (for the sake of argument $2000 and $590 tier per month) you could afford a Blue Mars City. I was asking how THAT sort of price equivalence would make most people think it was AMAZINGLY AFFORDABLE?

  12. @steve oh: um I meant exactly what I said: a Snickers bar costs much less than a house, and is therefore “easily affordable” to someone who’s bought a house.
    In the same way, when Rock said that if you can afford a few regions in SL then you can afford a Blue Mars city, all that means is that a Blue Mars city costs *at most* what a few SL regions might cost. It’s not a “price equivalence” any more than it is for the Snickers bar and the house. See? Simple! πŸ™‚

  13. @Steve
    Because whereas in SL you get two regions for the price you quoted, and 2 x 15,000 prims; and in Blue Mars you get a City that is the equivalent of 64 SL regions in size, and no prim limits.
    And there is no philanthropy needed. A standard City is 2Km x 2Km in size, but you can ask for 8Km x 8Km if you wish, and AR will not charge any extra (they only ‘recommend’ 2km x 2km as the terrain texturing is optimum at this size), but for one of my Cities, an Ocean City, that is no problem, nor would it be for many other types of terrain. I can therefore be generous with the amount of Openspace area I can give to my Block tenants, and charge nothing for it.
    And of course paying up to %50 off your sales does not constitute ‘free’. However, the store is free of rent, and as I pointed out, this means that people who wish to open stores in Blue Mars have one option not available to people wishing to open stores in SL, and that is a zero-risk, zero-cost approach. You make no money, you pay nothing. That is an option that has got a lot of first-time virtual entrepreneurs buzzing about BM.

  14. Rock actually stated that “people would be amazed at how affordable it was’ and then gave us 2000Usd upfront and 596usd monthly cost as an idea as to how affordable it was. if someone asked me how much a snickers bar was I would hardly say “if you can afford a snickers you will be fine” or if I wanted to know how much a snickers was “if you can afford a house you will be fine” thats just a ridiculous statement.

  15. edit: if someone asked me how much a HOUSE was I would hardly say if you can afford a snickers you will be fine” or if I wanted to know how much a snickers was “if you can afford a house you will be fine” thats just a ridiculous statement.an gives no guide to cost other that what is totally obvious.

  16. @Rock
    you can make a Blue Mars City as Big as you want Rock it still doesn’t make it amazingly affordable!
    As for prim limits…Prims?
    Sadly you seem to be full of the company line and your own embellishments. I presume the amount of polys that can be used is infinite and the files can be any size? How many concurrent avatars for your 2k 595 per month? you cannot have your cake and eat it. There are limits to any technology even if you can’t or won’t see it.

  17. Getting a little bored and tired with these articles, hope your ad-sense is paying for the bad Karma you’re bringing on yourself!!
    I am a City developer on the Blue Mars platform. We have a core team of 3 with 3 more block developers, we are not even close to being a big corporation that you are talking about.
    We have built our city using Blender and Gimp and have so far paid only TLC for our city. It has been a incredibly fun experience and continues to grow and evolve as we expect to be launching later this month.
    Working with the cryengine2 is truly a treat. I am also on first name basis (can you imagine??) with quite a few people at Avatar Reality, they are extremely supportive and open bunch.
    It’s not a perfect system, of course, and for sure it’s not SL. It does take a while for the stubborn SL’er to ‘get it’, and some will never get it. Boo hoo on you!
    That being said, for those who do ‘get it’ or have already ‘gotten it’, it has brought back the excitement over virtual worlds that has been lacking for me personally in SL the last year or so.
    There is so much opportunity to learn, work, and play with the truly mind blowing features of Blue Mars / cryengine2.
    As we have seen time and time again with press over Blue Mars (and much of everything else): any press is good press.
    This seems to be something you folks understand, and makes me wonder if you have some hidden agenda in posting this kind of article that so neatly makes mountains out of molehills by quoting information out of context.
    So I thank you Pixel Policy for helping spread the word!
    P.S. if you would like to find out more about our pricing and policies please contact me directly. We plan to release more info later this month with a simple and affordable structure, if you can afford to play WOW online, than you can afford to rent a residence and shop space from us πŸ˜‰ And yes, you can make and sell whatever you want(PG-mature).

  18. Corey —
    Thanks for the comment. As you can see from my previous articles, I’ve tried to avoid being accused of cheerleading for Second Life or any other virtual world. I’ve published both positive and negative on both platforms, and the review of Blue Mars we published was on the whole a positive thing.
    I applaud you for committing to set reasonable rates with no restrictions on what content can be sold, but my concern is that this will become minimal as Blue Mars expands and reaches out to large developers – I’ll post some of what Avatar Reality CEO Jim Sink has to say about making Blue Mars a platform for large “development communities” later.
    Thanks for the spirited discussion!

  19. For many people, downloading a pirated copy of Maya or Max is a lot easier and painless than learning Second Life’s clunky internal building tools.

  20. The developer as well as community forums display staff member names. Everyone knows the Blue Mars staff members on a first name basis. Its great to see names instead of “user ID’s” of AR staff members like I am accustom to.

  21. Well I applaud Rock for supporting Blue Mars because he is spending his time trying to clear up so much misunderstanding and isn’t it strange that Masters, ho has no link attached to his name, is always there to flame him! Clearly a second Life supporter or employee!!
    Ok, so I was one of the people ripped off by Linden so I am not supporter. I will give the positives and the negatives:
    I found Second Life very restricting as a builder and without external software to create sculpties it would have been impossible to create anything of quality. Mega prims were not supported and the restriction on prims on the islands was truly frustrating. I needed Creative Suite and I needed Hexagon – both expensive. I invested over $1,200 dollars in land and paid over $300+ in tier money per month. Of the three islands, two were rental income for me approved by the Linden sales team even though they were open sims’. Three months after buying, Linden announced a 65% tier increase on the open sims because there was ‘abuse’ of the open sims. I abandoned those two islands and lost the initial payment and the rental income from them that was supporting the main project. I then was forced to sell the island where the project was at a huge loss as a result of that, because there was no rental income to support it. Do I feel bitter? damn right I do. That was money that I could not afford.
    On a positive note, the project was fascinating in that it allowed people with no experience in building or 3d animation to learn the basic skills and encouraged a wide variety of people to participate. It encouraged multi cultural interaction in a positive way and the potential, had it nurtured the arts, could have been phenomenal. But it did not.
    Blue Mars is different. I feel like it is a professional version of Second Life! This is step forward in the development of virtual communities. Yes, we can speak to the people who are working in the Blue Mars team – how refreshing is that? They are actually interested in ‘us’ and are not so above that they ignore us like they do in Second Life. Not once did a Linden ever speak to me or return my IMs.
    The writer of this blog is a third rate troll as far as I can see. He is not informed, his writing is not even good enough to be called third rate and his quoting out of contest is supreme! I am really glad that the Blue Mars team are not wasting time responding and instead spending their time more productively!
    Ok Blue Martians, back to work and let this chap get on with his little blog.

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