Over the Blue Horizon

Why are all these people who have not spent any real time in Blue Mars, and for that matter, have no real vested interest in its success or failure, so quick to jump on their metaphorical soap box and spew forth information that is not even remotely correct? I must admit, I get a chuckle out of these know-it-alls who really seem to know nothing, where Blue Mars is concerned. And no, Avatar Reality did not choose Cryengine 2 because they “hate apple.” They chose Cryengine because it’s “smokin hot.” Doh! lol

Oh well. Schadenfreude, at its finest, I suppose…

That aside, with Avatar Reality’s stark direction change for Blue Mars, one has to wonder, what are these guys smoking, anyway? Seriously. Dress up barbies and kens for iPhones and iPad? Dolls that, aren’t, in my very not so humble opinion, particularly attractive? They’d make much more headway with the East Asian markets (I really do think east asia is their target market) if their avies were 3D anime renditions, such as Hatsune Miku, for example. Oops. Never mind, too late.

People regularly point to the first hour and how important it is, while amazingly missing a crucial element. That is, in the case of Blue Mars. The software, itself. The biggest complaint by far, that I have observed, is that people would start the download, and it would just stop. Or they would get to the install and it would forever hang. And even if they were able to download and install the client, they could not log in. Or, if they got as far as logging in, they still had to download the cities. And those downloads seemed to fail as well.

I would venture to guess the aforementioned, in and of itself, killed a good many potential visitors. If the download process does not work and software seems to be broken, then people will not be inclined to use the software. If simply moving from one city to another causes the client to hang, or crash, they will not be inclined to use the software. Importantly, their perception of the over-all platform is now tainted. I rarely went “in-world” myself. And I have not one, but two blue mars cities.

Otherwise put, the Blue Mars client was simply too buggy for my tastes. And being from tech, I tend to be extremely forgiving. In fact, moreso than your average user. In other words, this is not about client design or tough to use controls. This is not about empty spaces and nothing to do. After all, learning new GUIs is generally painful and second life spaces were no more brimming with people. That is, most of them were not. Instead, it is about a buggy client. Shoot, my client crashed twice during Jim’s meeting, and in fact, Jim’s client crashed as well.

Regardless, I think most of us recognize the “restructuring” had to do with the fact that Blue Mars was simply not getting any traction with virtual world aficionados. That, and their burn-rate was extremely high. Too high to sustain the team they had. Which brings us to the funding bit.

Jim’s original “meet and greet” was scheduled for Friday, January 7th. It was however cancelled with no warning whatsoever. He simply did not show up. The meeting was then rescheduled to Friday, January 14th. Nonetheless, during Jim’s Friday meeting, he made a comment that I found to be interesting, and I quote, “Virtual worlds is not necessarily the area that is all that popular in Silicon Valley these days.” (Jim’s talk, 40 second mark) Now, consider this. Virtual Edge held their 2011 summit in Las Vegas on January 12th & 13th. Last year’s Virtual Edge summit was held on February 22nd & 23rd. Jim spoke at that summit. A little over a month later, on March 24th, 2010, Avatar Reality announced they had raised 4.2 Million in VC capital. Where did the funding come from? Kolahala Ventures & Henk Rogers.

Okay, so… reading between the lines. I am guessing Jim (or whoever) attempted to secure funding during this year’s Virtual Edge Summit (yes, they were there). Just like last year. And they came away with less than positive results. Hence, Jim’s comment with regard to Silicon Valley and Virtual Worlds. Even so, to have a working iPhone/iPad demo, with the app ready to deploy next month, indicates that part of the AR development team were working away on the iOS client (so is the Crytek). Notably, this development is not something that occurred in a little under two days. So the mobile focus has definitely been in the plans for some time. I would suggest as early as last spring. The recent house-cleaning however may have very well been a result of a number of things, with the lack of funding pretty much sealing the deal.

Speculations aside, unlike the onlookers, those of us who have spent the last year or so in the blue mars trenches were hardly surprised by this latest turn of events. There were simply too many problems. From a perceptual point of view as well as a technical point of view.

From the perceptual point of view, while, I am sure, they were very earnest, they used an extremely poor approach in trying to engage new users—with their burgeoning calendar of events that appeared to be targeting grade-schoolers to the “ra-ra-go-team-go” cheer leading tweets to the poorly written and misspelled blog posts that looked more like secondary school spamvertisements than informative articles. While they were, no doubt, attempting to project Blue Mars as a place for clean, wholesome fun, they instead, came across as if they thought their intended audience were a bunch of glazed-eyed, drooling, idiots.

Then again, perhaps this group, in a desperate attempt to avoid the “virtual worlds are for sex” perception that has and continues to plague Second Life, were simply mimicking their counterparts who would fail submitted items that had the merest hint of a nipple. Who really knows what drove them? Otherwise put, the general atmosphere was simply off-putting at best and insulting at worst.

Oh and. Speaking of sex? While I, personally, have been fine with AR’s “no sex” rule, others are not. And they put forth thought provoking points in response to my “Sex and the Blue Mars City” thread. Points that are well worth considering. If Henk does plan to keep the city model, I am, of course, hoping he will move toward a rating model that follows game rating. And then trust city developers to rate their cities appropriately. That is, of course, neither here nor there at this point. However, just something to note for future reference.

But, I digress.

And then, there was the fact that one of their own employees had set up a city. And yes, they were paying a subscription fee. However, there are serious ethical considerations when they were also in a position to advertise their city in the featured places of their main page. Moreso, when their hired blogger posted a glowing review of said employee’s city. Of course, the hired blogger now claims he was just consulting for Blue Mars.

Erm… okay. Whatever.

Add to that, the rather appalling fact that they were offering free shop rentals to content creators while, at the same time, setting minimum block rental limits for the city devs. In other words, you as a content creator, could rent a shop in AR owned Beach City for free. However, if you wanted to rent a shop elsewhere, you had to not only rent a block, but pay a rent fee that was set by AR. I will be nice and not name the people involved in that bit of inanity.

From the technical side, it became quite clear there was no one overseeing the overall system architecture to ensure the various “pieces” played nicely together. In other words, the system seemed to be a poorly cobbled together hack-piece as opposed to a well-thought out design. Worse yet, there was no regression testing to catch and/or correct these cobbles. Hence, with nearly every new release, something that worked before, was now broken. But hey, at least they fixed the cool golf game (that no one played)!

Obviously, these sort of technical problems could no longer be ignored. So, of course, they needed to do some house cleaning. And just perhaps, that house cleaning will shake loose a few people who really needed to go, anyway. Some, whom, I must admit, I am not the least bit sorry to see go.

No names. No matter.

Even in the face of these problems (and these are but a few, other blue mars devs are welcome to add to this list) I have continued with my Blue Mars projects. Yes. Even after I cancelled my city subscriptions in exasperation last summer. Why did I stay? In part, because I was given the option keep the cities, sans the monthly hosting fee. In part, because, to my mind, there is no other tech out there, at this moment, that beats cryengine tech. Simple, selfish, and true.

I must admit, I winced when I read they were discontinuing city fees. Not because they did so. I have long felt they should have waited until the system was reasonably stable before charging fees. No, my wince was a result of the very public announcement that would quite naturally result in content creators asking for free rent, or leaving if they could not get free rent.

And so it began. And so it was. Desmond’s Anshe Chung dream dashed in one fell blog post. I feel bad for the guy. On the other hand, he does have a strong development team. In fact, that I am aware, he is the only indie city dev (sorry guys, VSE, SingTel, IDIA lab & OnLand do not count!) that has a well-rounded development team. Thanks to his second life Caledon estates and the rich and vibrant community that has arisen from that. When all is said and done, he and his team could potentially weather this particular storm—if that is all this is—and come out on top.

Regardless, and all things considered, in spite of my harsh criticisms, I think the AR employees were very nice. Nice as they were however, I do not think they were the right people for the job.

Henk Rogers, the company’s founder (and owner, by the way), apparently did not either.

So, the question remains, can he find the right people? Importantly, what is Mr. Rogers’ vision for Blue Mars? While he could very well be envisioning barbie doll dress-ups on mobile devices, I can’t imagine that is his final goal. In this 2007 interview, he speaks of experimenting, of basically seeing what it might be like to “terraform mars“. That is certainly not what Blue Mars is today. In fact, it is far from it. Furthermore, if that is indeed his vision—and it seems to be considering his July 7, 2010 presentation at the University of Hawaii—I am surprised he did not invite various academics to simulate theoretical models of “Life on Mars.” Then again, perhaps he did.

In any event, even a dream cost money. So, blue mars will be showing in an iPad and/or iPhone as early as next month. And, if they can get some traction (doubtful imo, considering there are already over 100 iPhone avatar apps and over 50 iPad avatar apps), then just perhaps his dream child can get back on track.

And, if it does, will it become the alleged Second Life contender? This writer says no.

Then again, this writer never saw Blue Mars as a Second Life contender. It never was about competing with Second Life in the first place. Regardless of how many stated so and wished it to be. Regardless of how often Daniel Ravennest attempted to shove Blue Mars into the Second Life box, with his free prim kit, etcetera.That was simply not its goal. Whatever the final outcome, and amid all the nay-saying from Second Lifers, who, for whatever reason, seem to feel threatened by the existence of the blue planet, I hope Mr. Rogers can remember and stay focused on his vision.

As for this writer and my cities, Digital DNA and Confluence? I plan to finish up the lua framework and kinect integration, then do some final touch ups on Confluence. After all, Cryengine 3 is just around the corner!

5 Comments

  1. Comments@hypatiaa   |  Tuesday, 18 January 2011 at 00:15

    "Why are all these people who have not spent any real time in Blue Mars, and for that matter, have no real vested interest in its success or failure"

    They have a box of rocks for brain cells.

    More seriously, they're too stupid to know when to shut their mouth, as they have no clue what they are talking about. And I disagree, Blue Mars failing as a virtual world only marginalizes Second Life and the industry of virtual worlds even more.

    But we don't really know if Blue Mars has really failed, yet. It's a logical place to start with a small app, with short easy to reach goals. It's the IMVU model, clearly.

    I'm somewhat amused, because I had used IMVU as an example half a year ago.

    At any rate, another CEO bites the dust. :P Some of the situation was clearly due to the economy, and the winds of change as we go through another sea change in computer usage patterns, but that's the job of a CEO, to see the winds of change coming before a company risks getting blown into onto the rocks. ;)

  2. CommentsMicaela   |  Tuesday, 18 January 2011 at 05:37

    Blog: Over the Blue Horizon http://blog.vrhacks.net/?p=236 #bluemars #secondlife

  3. CommentsTinsel Silvera   |  Tuesday, 18 January 2011 at 07:20

    VR Hacks – Over the Blue Horizon http://me.lt/5Wlt #bluemars #secondlife

  4. Commentscubicspace   |  Friday, 21 January 2011 at 18:09

    hi. nice writeup.. but you know id agree with ya.-)
    hey recommend me for a fat salaried CEO job in Hawaii— jim didnt get what i offered him at vredge 2010.;) too late.;)
    btw- you all seem to miss writing about the biggest-" oh shit" we spent all this time and others money on this pit – group of workers on mars….this is what you call- trust me- cart before a horse—please sign check sony-here.
    http://www.virtualspaceentertainment.com/

    and syd mead again sees no habited virtual world for his genius- again ;) — i hear hes back in movies working on a new scifi film;)

    i had a meeting today that shocked me… first time in 20 years –something occured in a meeting that has to do with 3d…. but i wont tell anyone about it unless im well paid:)– but i now know exactly how the rt 3d media revolution will happen.

    -c3

  5. Commentsshava   |  Tuesday, 08 February 2011 at 02:36

    I was in early beta for Blue Mars and was one of those wimmin folks SCREAMING for clothes that covered better than a quarter of my virtual body. "Not sexist!" they insisted. Now I load up the iPhone app, and it looks phenomenally like a "hot or not" paper doll app. All women.

    At least they aren't all 3/4 nude.

    Doomed.

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