X|Media|Lab Melbourne: VastPark and Dotman

Dotman: Dr David Liu, Founder and President, Cyber Recreation District, Beijing

I’m going to paraphrase (heavily) Dr Liu’s presentation. The two things that I took away from his presentation is that they are creating what seemed to me to be an incubator for digital companies in Beijing – the Cyber Recreation District. This includes animators, game developers and other digital media companies. One of the words that was used over and over during the presentations was ‘eco-system’.

It seemed to be used in two ways at the conference and more widely in business. I have often heard it used in the context of Silicon Valley and the eco-system of education, talent, start-ups and venture capital that helps drive the innovation economy there. For a long time, businesses and governments have been trying to replicate the magic of Silicon Valley around the world. The Cyber Recreation District looks to be another effort to create that sort of eco-system.

The other way that eco-system was used was to describe a self-reinforcing business model around a service or a product. Fora.tv’s Brian Gruber probably put this best where competitors can become collaborators.

Back to Dotman. The business model of Dotman is a virtual world where you could also buy real world products and financial services. Brad Howarth put it this way in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Dr Liu says Dotman will be a virtual world for conducting business with fully integrated, standard commercial transaction mechanisms. Money and services can easily be exchanged between online and offline areas within the CRD.

Brad also notes that Dotman will be based on “Entropia Universe platform from Swedish developer MindArk”. Dotman looks to bridge not only the virtual and real worlds, but as Brad says, the rest of the world and the Chinese market.

Bruce Joy, founder and CEO of VastPark

Second Life has been getting a lot of media and disappointing a few people, Bruce said as he started. They will get over the issues of scalability, he added, but asked: “What happens when there isn’t just one SL but thousands? What happens when there are vast numbers of virtual worlds like blogs?” He said.

Old media has been about control of the connection between consumers and content. Now, viewers expect to have a voice. We are starting to programme our own channels. It’s about participation. It’s a discussion and a relationship. You and I can come together and form a new medium.

Virtual worlds seem a great fit for this, but most will fail. If there are millions of virtual worlds, they will have no value. Marketers should wake up. SL is delivering a ‘mall’ type experience. The user experience won’t scale past SL number 3.

He said that virtual Worlds are failing:

  • We have brought back the concept of distance.
  • We also have ‘application-itis’. People don’t want to install another app.
  • The skills necessary to create good 3D experience take time.

We see that virtual environments and user generated rooms are taking off, and he pointed to Habbo Hotel. He said:

Let’s share a little dream together. What if you could have shared realities, created and linked by users. Small is smart. It’s a viral medium. You could pass it along and recommend it. If you were a content creator or a consumer, you could have a direct one-to-one experience. Make the content episodic.

VASTPark. It is about owning your own virtual world or content. You can create a space and allow users to create rooms off of that.

He wanted to create a virtual space where it was OK to be alone. If you compare that with the model in SL, they are not that great at giving you cool content that you can play with. He compared his vision with JF Sebastian, the genetic designer in Blade Runner who created companions for himself.

VASTPark allows linking through virtual worlds. It’s scalable and it transcends spatial problems.

I agree with Bruce, Second Life has some problems, but the users of SL are very loyal. I think there will have to be an interface breakthrough that makes virtual worlds easier to use and a better development platform than SL. But it continues to be an interesting experiment.

Will SL be the VRML of the 1990s or transcend its current problems? Will one of the many competitors – like VASTPark – take advantage of SL’s shortcomings or advance virtual worlds? At the moment, SL is definitely on the wrong side of the hype curve, but it continues to show what is possible with virtual worlds.