So why are so many users migrating to graphically simple in-browser virtual worlds like Metaplace?
Pixels and Policy looks at why increasing graphical capability is no longer the biggest deal in online gaming.
The Rise of the Browser Game
In financial terms, subscription service games like World of Warcraft, Lineage II, Everquest and EVE Online still hold a lion's share of the virtual world revenue stream. World of Warcraft is estimated to hold around 60% of the MMORPG market, and its vast profitability brought in a good chunk of parent Blizzard Entertainment's $517 million operating income at the beginning of last year.
But don't forget about the expanding world of "free-to-play" browser worlds like Runescape, Evony and Mafia Wars. These graphically-simple worlds bring in most of their revenue by selling currency, game items and in-game perks through microtransactions. They're also eating up an increasing chunk of the online gaming market, with Mafia Wars developer Zynga topping $50 million in revenue.
Now browser games are taking the next great leap forward by taking advantage of website embedding technology. Worlds like Metaplace already support embedding, and other virtual worlds are currently working on the technology. The process is simple – just place the provided code onto your blog or website and you have a Metaplace window available to all of your readers.
It doesn't take a lot of thinking to see why this is a potentially lucrative development not only for the creators of virtual worlds, but also individuals and businesses. Embedded virtual worlds allow websites and blogs to provide instant visual conference rooms, improving the sense of community associated with blogs and providing a real-time gauge of how successful a website is at encouraging user involvement.
Have Metaverse, Will Travel
The Metaverse Journal astutely notes that services like YouTube gained rapid publicity due to the ability to embed videos in websites – could the same stand true for worlds like Metaplace? Metaverse Journal thinks so:
A range of uses have already been identified (integration with Google Maps anyone?)
and the virtual performance one in particular should gain some serious
traction. Without wanting to sound like a slobbering fanboy, Metaplace
to date haven’t put a foot wrong and it’s hard to see anything but some
serious success ahead for the platform.
If Internet success is considered in terms of accessibility, embedding virtual worlds greatly expands the opportunity for previously unacquainted users to familiarize themselves with emerging virtual technology. It helps that the Metaplace control scheme is easy to understand, as complex controls have been a major stalling point for worlds like Second Life.
In fact, embedding virtual worlds makes simple controls and easy-to-load graphics a downright necessity while emphasizing gameplay mechanics. Metaplace allows both limited world creation and an active community of chatters, and even though it isn't up to par with the graphics of a world like Blue Mars, its ease of use could help it become a staple on MySpace pages.
It's unlikely that free-to-play virtual worlds will achieve the financial power of subscription services any time soon, but moving towards embedding simple virtual spaces is a great step forward. We may be moving towards a schism in virtual technology: Those worlds (like Warcraft) that are standalone environments, and those that hitch their carts to websites, blogs and the mobile Internet.
Instead of competing, what if these two environments carved out distinct niches? Leave us your thoughts on where you see the embedded Metaverse by the end of 2010. We'd love to hear.