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  ‘There’ To Get Thin Avatar Chat Client, New Terrain, Broadcast TV  
Posted 2006-09-29 by Tony Walsh
Michael Wilson, CEO of Makena, maker of the virtual world There, gave an address on the state of There at the beginning of the week. The address included news about pending improvements to There's technology, and thoughts on MTV's recently-launched adverworld Virtual Laguna Beach, which was built on There's platform. Wilson made several thinly-veiled jabs at competing environments Second Life and IMVU. Based on the audio download of the address, I've noted and quoted highlights of interest:

  • "We are still larger than 'that other place' and will continue to be." [Wilson presumably refers to direct competitor Second Life] "Free There lowered the barrier and got us more people into the funnel and into the world."
  • ThereIM, an avatar-based chat system interoperable with There, AIM and YIM, will be available in 2007.
  • A new terrain engine aimed to "make the competition lie awake at night" is coming in 2007
  • Video in-world is coming, as a result of MTV Viacom's Virtual Laguna Beach (it was paid for and tested in VLB). LOGO's "New Now Next" will be aired in There.
  • Makena is outsourcing customer service duties to the Philippines.


We hired a PR firm. I went to find a cost effective PR firm, because I didn't feel like spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in PR… other companies spend enormous amounts of effort and money out there getting little articles in the paper--I'd rather spend that time… working on the product and working with customers… You are the best PR. Our community is the best PR. Not little one-off articles about some stunt."

We get lots of inquiries. Lots of people want to be our partners… Out of all of them, two made the cut: One was Groovenet and the other was MTV Viacom. Groovenet is basically an experiment in putting our toe into Asia. We built a There world for the Phillippines, using some spare servers that were laying out there. It has a very different economy, a very different social structure and customs, a very different set of payment mechanisms—basically credit card fraud is so bad in the Philippines that nobody accepts credit cards… They have a very different user base, in fact they operate mostly out of cafes…. We're trying to see if it takes off.

[MTV Viacom] came to us in April with basically a bone-crushing proposition. They said 'Help us build this world in four months, using outside developers' which had never been done; There tools have never left the building. They wanted video in the world, which had never been done well… [I]t's huge credibility for the brand… the things that you helped us [build]… they looked at There and said we want that for us. All the technology we've built [for MTV's Virtual Laguna Beach] comes back into There, so the video, the performance improvements, all that comes back into there… [the VLB developers] tested it for you… those poor people were getting new clients, full downloads, twice a week… now that it's all right, we're going to start folding it back into our world…. [B]asically we got to test all kinds of stuff on their machines...The other thing it brought us is revenue--we didn't do this for free. The results? Well, you guys all seem impressed, I mean, it's amazing. We're getting great traffic, because a lot of people, you go into VLB and they say 'Where can I find more stuff to do?': Go to There. It's all connected. I know that many people are concerned us spending time [on VLB]… it's a separate set of servers, The Electric Sheep Company runs the events for them, and again, everything we do [in VLB] comes back to There… we do maintain a balance, and I think it's paying off.

We are actually going to be building a brand-new terrain engine for the product… we're actually working with the guys at Forterra [former There-makers] to build a new terrain engine from scratch… One important objective I gave them was 'Make the competition lie awake at night.' They are being paid to deliver it by the first quarter of 2007. The terrain engine we have today is just bad. They are going to rebuild it from the ground up.

[ThereIM is a lightweight avatar chat client with no terrain or physics, with all the buddies and clothes from There] It is interoperable with There world, so you could be talking to somebody with this client to somebody in-world. You can move in and out of There world. It's going to be AIM, Yahoo!, and Java interoperable. It's built on QT, which is a Trolltech standard… It will be portable to other platforms [such as Apple's OSX]… This is not like other avatar-based chat products where there's nowhere else to go. [Due late Q1 or Q2, no voice options yet. ThereIM is a direct hit against IMVU, created by There founder Will Harvey]
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Comment posted by rikomatic
October 2, 2006 @ 1:58 pm
There has SL beat on basic user playability. If they come out with a thin client that allows for more than just chat, SL is going to have some stiff competition.
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