Virtual worlds have undeniably taken over the entertainment arena in the past decade. MMORPGs put aside, Second Life was the most advertised 3D innovation of the past few years. Unfortunately, the place is not really fit for teens – a population of virtual worlds crunchers – and it is still not clear how popular the platform is exactly. Alternatives exist: There, Metaversum or Kaneva. There.com is probably the most threatening competition to SL, even though they don’t cater to the same audience.
There is a 3D hangout for friends to connect around virtual activities. It was founded in 1998 by Will Harvey, a Stanford computer science Ph.D. and game developer, and Jeffrey Ventrella, an expert on artificial life from MIT’s Media Lab. In 2005 the company was spun off under Makena Technologies. Michael Wilson, actual CEO of Makena Tech, joined the startup in 2001 after successfully launching eBay.
Three components of There make the platform attractive for users and commercial partners. First, There was designed PG-13, and intends to stay this way to keep attracting teenagers in their playful environment. Second, There has a strict brand protection policy: all the new products entering the There platform are scanned, and fake branded products are denied access. Third and not least, the software is a lightweight 40MB download, and even users with a 56K modem can connect to the platform and experience the fun.
Since the environment is unoffensive, controlled and accessible, There attracts a lot of brands targeting teens like Cosmo Girl, Coca-Cola, and MTV. Those brands seem to be satisfied by the rich development potential of the virtual platform, and the young engaged users that populate it.
There is a lot of shopping going on in There. Third-party developers are welcome to build cool virtual products, and sell them on the platform. Users (I don’t believe the inhabitants of There have a name, please comment) need to fill up their wallets with Therebucks to purchase goods. I traded $5 for 9,000 Therebucks. To give you an idea, the leopard string (watch the video) for my avatar was 1,500 Therebucks. The Therebuck is a fixed currency. There is no Wall Street in There. As Michael Wilson clearly explains in the video, there isn’t any power in the physical world to govern virtual financial transactions. This means virtual transactions are not protected. It is really hard to prosecute someone who “virtually” stole from you. This doesn’t mean that an economy cannot be built in a social world: As this is the case in There, brands initiate consuming behaviors in the virtual world, and then push those habits in the real world to generate sales. A virtual world is just a great mean for brands to interact with their consumers.
Personally, I am not a big fan of virtual worlds, but I really had a blast in There, as it is easy to use and entertainment-oriented.