Sunday, January 17, 2010

More on Blue Mars

Written 17 January, 2010

More on Blue Mars

In my previous post I focused on my user experience while visiting the Blue Mars virtual world. In this post, I'll do a bit of analysis.

Business Model

Avatar Reality, Inc., Blue Mars' owners, feature these words on Blue Mars' home page. I think they say a lot:
Blue Mars is the premium 3D virtual world platform featuring class leading fidelity, scalability, security, and connectivity.

Fidelity refers to graphics. Blue Mars uses the CryENGINE™2  game  generation package.

Scalability means the number of users that can be hosted by Blue Mars, and in the various cities. Plans are to use a process called sharding (duplicating regions on multiple servers) to allow thousands of avatars in a single region.

Flexibility means Avatar Reality will do everything in its power to give its registered developers carte blanche to make Blue Mars into whatever makes money for them and doesn't offend the other registered developers.

Security means content in Blue Mars will be censored by Avatar Reality and the company will do its best to enforce trademarks.

Curiously, connectivity isn't mentioned on the page that amplifies the mission statement. I suppose it means grid stability and worldwide access.

Let's talk about graphics. The CryENGINE™2 graphics package can certainly make pretty pictures:

Of course, so can Second Life:

Blue Mars gives some spectacular long-range views; I found the graphics less compelling when actually walking around (see photos from my previous post). Still, a lot of people are excited about the look of Blue Mars; I've no doubt there will soon be some stunning vistas.
If Second Life were to remain unchanged, Blue Mars would far surpass it in sheer lookability. But of course, Second Life isn't static. Its look has changed dramatically over the years, from this:

Here's the photo URL)
To this:

This year should see the introduction of of mesh creations in Second Life; the effect will be huge-- even bigger than sculpties, which are only now reaching their full potential. While this won't match CryEngine, it will eventually change the look of Second Life. So perhaps we shouldn't count the old girl out yet.

Now let's talk about scalability. Blue Mars has a huge advantage here. Second Life's regions are for all practical purposes limited to 50 or so avatars-- and that many avies causes a lagfest. If four regions adjoin, a crowd of 200 or so can be assembled, but that's it for the number of avatars that can be in a single place at any one time. Blue Mars should be able to accommodate hundreds or even thousands of avatars in one location. This gives Blue Mars a tremendous advantage for concerts and promotions. The ability to reach a few thousand people will make all sorts of things commercially viable.

Second Life would have to change radically to reach this level of scalability. I've heard no rumors of such changes afoot, so we can safely say they will be years away.

What this will eventually boil down to is pay-to-play. It will cost money to go to some areas of Blue Mars, and it will cost money to play games, listen to concerts, or perhaps even walk on beaches.

Now to flexibility and security. This pretty much means a red carpet for content creators. Since there are, alas, no in-world building tools in Blue Mars, all content will have to be developed with programs like Blender and Maya and then imported. The high level of skill necessary to make such content (as opposed to the ease of making and tweaking prims) favors two groups: experienced individual content creators and design firms. Blue Mars may have good-looking items, but be assured, they won't be made by people like you and me.

This, essentially, does away with the uncontrolled and uncontrollable capitalism of Second Life and replaces it with a corporate aristocracy that will relegate 99% of Blue Marsians to consumer status-- meaning they will have almost no chance to make money and every opportunity to spend it. Those who don't spend money will be trapped in a twilight status, missing out on all the good stuff.

The content which makes it in world will be subject to approval by the parent company. The out-there stuff we love and expect in Second Life will be nowhere to be seen. There will be no freenises, XCite! asses, or avatar cannons, no bondage gear or scripted collars, no watermelon guns. Instead there will be virtual Disneylands and the bland corporate clothing stores that were such an abysmal flop in Second Life.

Because the avatars in Blue Mars are only mildly customizable (you can choose hair, skin color, facial makeup, and facial features, but cannot alter weight, height, age, or species, and cannot get naked), Blue Mars will pretty much be a Barbie and Ken society. You won't be able to be a dragon or a furry, you won't be able to be old or young, or fat, or thin. You'll have no sex appendages, you'll see no latex suits, and you're unlikely to find any x-rated animations. (You will, however, be able to shake hands and hug other avatars. Whoop-te-do!).

So there you have it-- a world that looks good and allows a lot of people to get together, but a world which restricts content and personal presentation. It will be a g-rated world. It might be one l'll visit from time to time, but you know what? My home will still be in Second Life.


Melissa Yeuxdoux said...

Check out Adam Frisby's blog, OpenSim has already run with 85 people in one sim, and his predictions for 2010 include the following: "OpenSim will be handling a minimum of 200+ concurrent users per region by the end of 2010 – likely a lot more. Dynamic load balancing becomes a hot feature in new virtual worlds. (Side prediction: with better protocols OpenSim could be looking at 2500+ users per server)"

I think that eventually a lot of people will move to OpenSim.

Cheyenne Palisades said...

Wow, Melissa. I lnew they were working toward more avies per sim on the OS Grids, but no idea they would do sharding. Take that, Blue Mars!

Anonymous said...

I have read a lot of blogs that bash blue mars, most of which are SL land barons or content creators. In these blogs they also predict the future and come up with a whole vision and image of what blue mars will be. I guess there scared that they will lose all there costumers and in a desperate attempt they try to miss inform everyone about a virtual world which has the potential of being every thing second life never was.

As for content creation any one with the determination can pick up a free copy of blender follow some tutorials and be well on there way to professional or down right wacky content creation. Just look what happened in SL with sculpties, people soaked up the skills and started making great items in a round about, way considering the limitations. Blue mars won’t have them same limitations making content creation easier when you know how, “Oh and 10 times more attractive and genius.”

Not to mention driving a car or a plane or shooting some snooker/billiards even a round of golf or bowling with your whole online social circle at the same time, will actually be realistic and enjoyable. Blue mars rocks and will be superior to second life, but that does not mean you have to abandon second life, in the same way lots of us still love to play space invaders and pac man :-)

Anonymous said...

I tried Blue Mars several months ago, but the viewer kept crashing on me. Given that it was version 0.xx, I figured it's alpha code and this is to be expected. I just tried it again today after updating to the March 31 build. No dice: It still crashes regularly, perhaps after a bit more time. I guess I'll try again in a few months. Incidentally, given all the hype, I expected the graphics to be revolutionary, but they're pretty much run of the mill when compared to any modern game or virtual world. Perhaps I have that one "special" PC on which Blue Mars happens to run poorly.