Metaplace: beta impressions

We first mentioned Metaplace over a year ago, and that year has been spent working toward a public beta. In the past week I received a beta invite and I’ve spent a number of hours using Metaplace. Overall, this is one impressive virtual world platform with enormous potential. It makes offerings like Google Lively seem just a little underdone to say the least.

My impressions of Metaplace so far:

1. Orientation as it should be

Any virtual world lives or dies on its initial impression to new users. Metaplace have obviously learnt from the mistakes of competitors by providing a highly integrated sign-up process. It looks slick but it flows nicely as well. The ‘Metaplace Hub’ is the central gathering point and it’s easily accessible at all times given the ever-present web interface.

2. Content creation is king

Second Life is arguably the best platform for unique content creation. Metaplace has some significant parallels but with a much simpler interface. From observing some of the chat amongst beta users there’s a lot more under the hood than initial impressions, but that simplicity is great for the inital learning curve. The tutorials are well integrated and The whole creation interface reminded me strongly of The Sims. For me the standout is the ability to directly import textures (tiles) from either your hard-drive or via a web image search courtesy of Yahoo – the imported images then merge seamlessly into your overall library.

Building structures is also fairly self-explanatory, with good preview functions. For users where content creation isn’t second nature, the interface will help them get started and hopefully more motivated to take on the deeper learning curve. Scripts, plugins, sprites and sounds are the key components you have to play around with once you’ve got a little more familiar with things. I’m no scripter so it’s hard to know how much complexity is built into the scripting options.

3. It has rewards hooks

From the moment you sign up to Metaplace, you start earning badges for standard activities like rating another user’s world or sending a private message. Metacreds are the currency of choice and they can be used to purchase virtual goods for your world. I don’t want to be repetitive, but the integration of the rewards gets a thumbs up. I also enjoyed the fact the rewards weren’t intrusive – it’s more an added bonus.

4. The user community is strong

Although by its very nature a beta means a smaller community, the one that exists seems strong. In the half dozen times I’ve logged in for an hour or so, there’s a constant stream of chat – mostly people answering questions from newer users on more complex content creation tasks. The web interface makes keeping in touch easy and a fairly standard ‘friends’ functionality exists.

5. Great Web / 3D integration

I’ve mentioned the integration aspects a few times, and with good reason. Because Metaplace runs within a standard web browser (I’ve used it successfully on both Firefox and Safari), it makes accessing the world so much simpler than say Second Life. Of course, there are trade-offs for that simplicity such as the graphical complexity of the world and arguably the degree of scripting that can occur. On the up-side, there’s good social networking tools, including the ability to follow any other user’s discussions via an RSS ‘Metastream’.

Another notable for Metaplace is its speed. Initial login takes around the same time as Second Life – the same for movement between areas. Managing private messages, rewards, profile info, avatar customisation and accessing tutorials all occur from the 2D web interface. It’s plain easy to use.

The sum up

The work put in by the Metaplace crew over the past year is really apparent. As a beta version, this is already an impressive virtual world platform that provides some meaty creative options for casual users that don’t want to spend days or weeks creating their space. If you haven’t signed up for a beta invite, consider doing so if you’re looking for something new in the virtual world space. If Metaplace had reached this stage of development 12-18 months ago, their success would have nearly been assured. In the explosion of new worlds under development now, competition is much tougher. That said, the quality of this offering is likely to win a lot of hearts and minds in the casual worlds space, whilst still intriguing the more hardcore content creator.

What do you think? Is Metaplace the sort of world you can see yourself spending significant time in? Does it open up options that other worlds currently can’t?

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