Cory Ondrejka, who was a cofounder of Linden Lab, makers of Second Life, and is now a visiting professor at the University of Southern California, in Annenberg, has been testing Metaplace’s system in its early stages. He says that Metaplace is betting that the Web will continue to evolve increasingly better capabilities for real-time interaction, such as 3-D capabilities for Flash, that will allow it to continue improving its system. At heart, Ondrejka says, Metaplace is a lightweight protocol for lightweight communication through the Web, and one of the ways that he sees designers using Metaplace is as a way of letting users experience each other’s presence online. “Anything that causes the two of us to know we’re both on the Web together makes the Web a better place,” Ondrejka says. “A big part of what makes interaction in virtual worlds so compelling compared to the Web is the fact that we both know we’re there. It isn’t the same as leaving bread crumbs on a blog to show that you were there.”
Ondrejka says that at this point, Metaplace gives users far simpler capabilities than those in worlds like Second Life. “But simple doesn’t mean bad,” he notes. “Simple can mean approachable.” While Ondrejka says that Second Life gives users far more design power, he also says that Metaplace could allow a great deal of flexibility: Metaplace worlds can be anywhere on the Web, or even within Second Life.
Koster doesn’t intend Metaplace to only be used to design games: he says that he intends it to be used to build virtual places, and that users and designers can choose what activities will be hosted in those places. While he wants the worlds to be capable of including games, Koster says that they could also be used for training, education, and other activities.
Metaplace expects to make money by charging designers for premium hosting services. The system is currently being tested in a closed early release, but Koster expects to open the release to more people by around April. In the meantime, he says, it’s possible that the company may make certain features, such as the client that allows people to play games built with Metaplace, available before then.