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Ask YC: Is there a market for 2D virtual worlds?
10 points by Raphael on July 12, 2008 | hide | past | web | favorite | 17 comments
So the hot trend this month is 3D virtual worlds that are embeddable on web pages, namely Vivaty and Lively. As someone currently working on a 2D virtual world, naturally I was a bit concerned. Luckily, these offerings are half-baked, spotty in platform availability and customization. However, it may only be weeks before these issues are cleared up. Their mere existence is a real motivator for me to release.

So, is there a market for 2D virtual worlds that span the web? And what types of people would choose 2D over 3D? How do I cater to them?

My advice to you is to either market it to kids and their parents, or go 3D. If you market to kids, throw in some ridiculous security, the parents are going to want to see that. If you go 3D, try to get it done in JUST Java or Flash, because that is the only advantage you will have over Google at the moment.

By the way, despite the existence of these other worlds, only Google's Lively matters. None of the others have any ACTIONABLE advantage over Google's, so Google will win. Consider Google Video vs. YouTube. YouTube had several actionable advantages, the biggest of which was the ability to capitalize on copyright infringement. So YouTube won the 'eyeballs' war, and Google had to buy them. I know, it also doesn't hurt when dad-in-law is a big shot in the Valley, but give credit where it is due. The decision to ignore IP law was decisive in YouTube's case. VWs don't have the ability to take advantage of copyright infringement in a similarly simple fashion, so in this case Google wins. If you can think of an actionable advantage then use it. That said, many have thought long on the subject and come up with very little.

The other VWs are, at this point, deciding whether to try to find a niche, or whether they want to enter the pool of VWs that will try to get bought by Yahoo. If you want to enter the 'get bought buy Yahoo or Microsoft' sweepstakes, then write your 3D engine using DirectX. Bonus points for utilizing DirectX 10 ONLY features. Of course, this means you won't be able to compete against Google. It's get bought . . . or bust. If you want to find a niche, then you had better become a game designer, and quickly. What Google's entry does is ensure that, in the future, consumers will be paying only for the gaming components. The 'stand around and talk to people' part they will offer for free. Also, I am 99% certain, that the typical microtransactions will be free as well. You know, the dress your avatar in snazzy clothes, get that cool car, and get that outdoor pool for your penthouse apartment stuff. They can do this because they have advertisers to pay for it. So your niche will need to be a game that people are willing to pay for. Think teenage boys, currently under-served on the web. Look at Jagex and RuneScape.

'To be certain you take what you attack . . . Attack only that which is undefended.'

-Sun Tzu (Military Adviser to the Emperor of Wu)

Lively is and never will be a significant competitor to the VW business as we know it now. It's an early prototype of a tiny part of the vision they have; the dipping of the proverbial toe in the water. What Lively and the other Google technologies will grow into will again be a different target market.

More importantly, a VW like that might be a hit for a year or two before people lose interest or something better comes along. But that sort of faddy thinking doesn't interest Google. They're entering the VW sector as groundwork for a service that people will find necessary in 5-10 years time.

My guess is that it'll be Maps, Earth, Street View, Android, Lively, AdWords and many more services all rolled into one big Augmented Reality (in this view it also makes sense for them to take over Wikipedia and Flickr - which they've recently incorporated into Maps).

I might agree with everything you have said. The thing is, that this young man asked what he should do. He, presumably, has very little capital, and so should look only at those places that Google is CERTAIN to avoid in the development of its 'Lively' offering. A clear area that Google will avoid is the 'RuneScape' area, or any game serving teenage boys.

Also, if we consider the possibility that you are correct, and 'Lively' will be a hit for a year or two before people move on, this young man will still have trouble. You see during that time he will need to run his own service for free. Additionally, all of Google's users will be learning that everything should be free. When they are bored with Google, they will come to him looking for free entertainment. See the problem?

No problem. If Lively becomes popular it's still not going to be in the same market space as what the OP is doing. Not all Virtual Worlds share the same market. Google don't want to take over any and all VW, they want to be the platform that VWs are built on.

Lively's just a tech demo. Google are competing with Metaplace and Metaverse, not the VWs that are built on them.

I like the YouTube analogy. I could look the other way when people start copying Zelda and Mario...

You have a distinct advantage over a 3D world if you don't need a special plugin (other than a bog standard Flash player) and it works in the most common browsers (Firefox, IE6, IE 7, Safari). Cater to what people would have installed at work, in net cafes and assume that they only have what Windows Update provides at home. That maximises your user base.

There's no shortage of 2D games at the moment - think of the success of the Nintendo DS. Your VW competitors aren't WoW or LotR Online, they're Habbo Hotel and Club Penguin.

This is where I'm pretty screwed. The current engine uses SVG. I don't see a solution for animated SVG in IE. Right now it only works in Firefox, but I'm sure a little tweaking would make it work in Safari and Opera. And that means iPhone!

SVG on the iPhone would be a big plus. All the web-based clients use flash so can't be accessed on the iphone.

I'm sure there's a SVG->VML javascript toolkit out there somewhere.

I would say both both yes and no.

No! if you are going to have the same features as in 3D VWs. Because features borrowed from 3D VWs don't look the same everytime.

Yes! if you are developing something very nice and that its going to be uber-cooler than a 3D world that already exists. The first thing is the creativity of the features in the VW. So it all depends upon your creativity.

And for the audience to cater to... It's all upto you. But since kids nowadays seem to have the statement "3D is cool" engraved in their minds, you need to develop something too coooool for them to forget the fact that they are paying something 2D. If you feel tough to do this, then I suggest you first develop a prototype with the coolest feature you think your VW is going to have and open it up to your close friends and colleagues. Ask them to play with you when they return from office or college. They might be tired and might be interested to play/hang on the VW for some fun. There starts your road to fame/shutter. It all depends how you carry it. Surely go niche first to an audience you think you can get easily(people you know) then open up.


the 3D worlds are just a fancy gimmick -- come on, you all recall criticisms of 3D games these days not having the gameplay ingenuity and values of the older 2D games which, while having less eye candy, were at their core just plain better. It's possible that a 2D world can be more popular...

Look at Habbo. It seems extremely successful an was built on shockwave in 2D.

Ask yourself: is there really a critical function in virtual worlds that an extra dimension buys you?

I've always thought about developing a mmo/virtual world set in a original nes zelda style world

It would be pretty easy from a programmatic and art level.

As long as there are kids aged 4-10 I would expect there to be a market for engaging 2D games. My kids used to spend hours playing Pokemon and stuff like Puzzle Pirates http://www.puzzlepirates.com and Horse Isle http://www.horseisle.com

Pokemon was awesome.

I would if the 2D art was nice enough, e.g. http://www.dofus.com/en/mmorpg/online/images.html?cat=4

That is pretty. Maybe I should stop working and just play Dofus.

There might be a market for selling vitual worlds to VCs. And the best bit about that business plan is that you don't need to stress over dilution :)

If you have something the others don't, there could be.

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