Metaplace – Pools Closed Due to Lack of Traction

by Alphaville Herald on 06/01/10 at 12:16 am

by Pixeleen Mistral, National Affairs desk

Pools closed

Tizzers Foxchase got in the last word in Metaplace Central -  “POOLS CLOSED DUE TO AIDS” – and seconds later Raph Koster’s user generated virtual world creation service closed permanently last weekend. What went wrong – and how did the end of the virtual world affect the community?

Informed analysis has been in short supply since Koster announced the end of the virtual world. Eager to file stories and get on with the holidays, Metaplace tourists role-playing new media pundits shook their heads sadly and offered superficial analysis – Metaplace is teh fail because the avatars weren't realistic enough! 2.5 D fixed perspective is not immersive enough!!  Flash based games are everywhere – and Metaplace was too late!!! Blue Mars!!!! Farmville and YoVille on Facebook!!!!!!

Perhaps this is the best that can be expected with the less than exquisite timing of the December 21st Metaplace announcement and New Years day apocalypse. Players seriously engaged in Metaplace scrambled to establish alternate connections to preserve the community and salvage what content they could from the platform. Meanwhile, those with minimal connections to the world indulged in a bit of smug Schadenfreud.

SL fanboi and drive-by pundit Hamlet Au's Metaplace world had exactly one visitor in 7 months – Hamlet

I  joined the Metaplace closed beta in February 2009,  intent on watching an incomplete world grow, and spent a quarter of my virtual world gameplay time in Metaplace as the world morphed from a promising game-creator-centric environment dominated by creative adults, to a community struggling to assimilate a wave of 11 year olds pretending to be 14 year olds mostly interested in going on e-dates with teh hawt nu bf / gf they <3’ed based on avatar style and SMS-text speak convo.

Had Raph Koster’s company underestimated the impact of the e-party and e-dating scene?

I didn’t see much of an immersion problem for the teen crowd – and given the visual style of the world, a wave of young teens was to be expected. Once in open beta, Metaplace was apparently trying several promotion strategies and ad placements to attract players, and some were surprisingly successful at attracting girls desperately seeking e-boyfriendz. MP Central suddenly became a very social space – but not necessarily in a good way.

It is hard to believe that Metaplace was not positioning itself as an alternative to the 15 million player strong Habbo. But to get there, the company would need both content consumers and creators. The tensions between these two groups played out in Metaplace Central, the meeting space where new players entered the world and where old players compared notes and hung out with Metaplace staff.

Once Metaplace went into open beta, the e-libidos of the kids washing through Metaplace Central grew to became a powerful force – at times it seemed that the game gods had lost control of the user experience in their showcase town square. Where was the Metaverse ModSquad when you needed them? How could Metaplace afford to police MP Central 24 x 7 and continue to develop the platform?

Mp sit in 

level 101 players holds a throne sit-in at the beginning of the MP farewell celebration

By summer it was clear the Metaplace staff would need the help of volunteer moderators to keep things from getting entirely out of hand in MP Central after the game gods went home – but there was a problem. The volunteer moderators came from the ranks of the content creators who really should have been creating more compelling games and worlds to draw in a larger community to their own worlds and promoting Metaplace on their own – the sort of viral growth VC’s dream about.

With volunteer player moderators in place the swearing and chat spam was brought under control, but cries of “I’m bored – I need a boyfriend” from avatars with names like HotBabe11 or CuteGirl1998 were still all too common. The MP game gods tried appeasement with a dating game called PerfectMatch which gave the kids a way to see how compatible they were – and move them out of the center of the town square. The balance of power in MP Central was restored.

Mp end 

New You store drama: "what happened 2 ur girl she waz my best friend r u cheating on her?"

PerfectMatch was a fun game – by answering a fast paced series of questions your compatibility with other players was ranked. But players who wanted to earn money from their gameplay wondered why the MP game gods were creating more games for Metaplace Central instead of improving the avatar system for user-generated pixel clothes and avatar adornments to drive the virtual world economy.

Volunteers entrusted with kick and ban powers grew restless – when would they be able to monetize their work and get away from policing tweens? Where was the in-game RMT? While experience point-based “coins” could be used to purchase goods from a web page based store, Metaplace staff had promised a second in-game currency that could be converted to real money, but this was delayed by security concerns.

The original in-game XP “coins” were – for a short while – directly transferable between players, but an upgrade removed this capability with the promise that it would return later. It never did – although a player named KStarfire refused to update his Metaplace world, which then became the only place that person-to-person coin barter was possible.

Mp bye bye 

I finally buy my pink spaghetti strap tank top on the day Metaplace closes

On the day Metaplace was to close, I went on a totally self-indulgent shopping spree at the New You store where game god designed clothes were sold for XP-based coins – my clothes shopping lust set free after KStarfire gave me 1 million coins. I finally bought the pink top I’d had my eye on and could be buried in style – but why weren’t there any UGC clothes for sale? From this girl’s perspective, pixel clothes should the first priority in an avatar-based world and more fashion choices are always a good thing.

Hearts, minds, and wallets of content creators

Developing for a new platform takes a leap of faith, and for those motivated by something other than platonic love of creating virtual art, money plays a role – as does hedging your bets.

Metaplace sold high concurrent access user worlds  for special events or popular games. For the company this made sense – free worlds give players a taste, but the more advanced would pay for premium service. However, without an in-game micro-payment system or real money trade there was no easy way to set out tip jars to or charge admission – so the “make real money in the virtual world” dream that Philip Linden flogged in Second Life was not an option in MP. Without tip jars to help pay for streaming audio feeds, it was difficult for most musicians and DJs to justify playing Metaplace. I enjoyed some great concerts by J9 and Raph Koster, but the economics were an issue for most of the music community.

Without a clear picture of when they might see some income, DJs, musicians, and content creators who were not true believers sat on their hands, true believers were pressed into service as game moderators, and the viral growth remained out of reach. Had the venture capitalists funding MP set too short a timeline? Was the weak real world economy to to blame – or the lack of an in-world economy with RMT?

Money makes the world go round - j9 

J9 sings money makes the world go 'round – LunarRaid says money ends the world when you run out

For those who bought into the Metaplace dream, tools allowing anyone to create worlds were a compelling goal. If virtual worlds and online social spaces are the new media, democratizing the tools to create and understand the rhetoric of these spaces is a worthwhile pusuit – and necessary to allow the diversity of viewpoint that is unlikely to emerge from mega-media conglomerate dominated environments. Sadly, we will never know if the Metaplace I lived in for almost a year could have been viable, because despite the best efforts of the MP game gods, the incomplete world did not tip into viral growth fast enough.

Will the next iteration of Metaplace fare better? Freed from running their virtual world service, the Metaplace crew now head back to the drawing board, stranding players’ creations in the doomed environment. The lesson for virtual world content creators is to keep your assets mobile and beware of monopolies and centralized control – the plug could be pulled with very short notice.

Pix and Uri 

I console Urizenus as he contemplates the demise of his multi-media egghead mashup world

Mp burial
saying goodbye to the Mary and Mary bots and shuttering the Metaplace Herald offices

11 Responses to “Metaplace – Pools Closed Due to Lack of Traction”

  1. Senban Babii

    Jan 6th, 2010

    I was never a huge fan of Metaplace personally because I think it tried to position itself as one thing but in reality became another, much as you’ve said here.

    On the final day of Metaplace, I did log in for a couple of hours. I wanted to try to get some sensible discussion with some of the old hands regarding how they felt rather than just read a lot of childrens’ OMGing and wailywailing. As you can imagine, the place was largely deserted but I did find a few residents and even a moderator who were able to give some sensible thoughts on the closure. I asked them whether they’d saved copies of their work and so on but only a few said they’d bothered – they just didn’t see the point. The general feeling was one of despair if anything. Even as we were talking, residents were wandering past who were openly pointing out that they were ten years old. The moderator gave them a taste of the banhammer 8D

    I actually wanted to go to the big final party and asked the residents I spoke to what time it was starting. Every one of them had a different idea of when it was due to start and when they realised that there was a lot of confusion over even this issue, many of them basically just said “screw it” and logged.

    I think if anything, the end didn’t happen with a bang or even a whimper but perhaps with just a general feeling of bah.

    It’s a real shame when any virtual space fails for any reason because ultimately, their fortunes are all interconnected to a degree. My only hope is that the current spaces and those which will come, will look at Metaplace not so much as a failure but as an evolutionary stage of the whole and learn from what they did right as well as their mistakes.

    Also, Tizzers’ final comment +3 with extra cheese 8D

  2. JustMe

    Jan 6th, 2010

    One minor correction … a tip jar had been available .. free . from the Metaplace store for many months. I had it set out in my Metaplace world. It was easy to set up and was basically a link to my PayPal account. By clicking on it, the user got a PayPal window and used it to send me a US dollar tip from their PayPal account.

    This wasn’t an “in world” currency system, obviously, but worked very well for live performers and for people like me who provided a Metaplace world with special features (mine provided a Metaplace location to listen to DJs on an Internet Radio Station).

    Bottom line on Metaplace .. it was too simplistic… the 3D experience and avatar realism are both necessary components for any VM at this point, and MP just didn’t have those.

  3. rikomatic

    Jan 6th, 2010

    an excellent analysis. Thanks for sharing this.

    I didn’t notice the kiddies too much. But most of my friends were part of the initial wave or SL friends already.

  4. lolok

    Jan 6th, 2010

    Hey really MP completely let down the content developers who trusted the platform from its earliest stage, and NEVER delivered the necessary tools for them: the second currency, cashing out, in world buying, and other tools which they always said -Cuppycake always said that- were coming. They were simply too desperate to make a profit and thought that would be from the teens. There even was a meeting early on where the issue of the sudden wave of dating teens was discussed between the experienced users (including developers) and staff (Raph and Cuppycake) where they explained that they were trying to bring more people in and were happy with the results so far. Their discourse was hey guys bear in mind that them (the teens) will be the ones buying your creations and paying to play your awesome worlds. orly? So people believed that they would actually be given the opportunity for that to happen, which according to what they had announced would have happened BEFORE the time it turned out to be the closure of the site. Actually at that time there was already the paypal tip jar, which have been made by another (very experienced) user, which itself had to be the topic of another discussion: FRAUD PREVENTION. Basically staff went oh yeah we think its cool but we dont want you to use it as it can lead to fraud. So they did not only not provide an option to make money, but they asked the users to stay away from the only option, the paypal tip jar. The reality is that they stopped introducing significant tools for content creation. What they did instead??? OMG Voicechat!! Meh. No world i know used it (it was available for free to everybody). What else?? Oh yeah the new you!! Not necessarily bad, but again aimed to the consumers and not the developers (whom they said would be later given the opportunity to make their own clothes. Ohyh sure) again to quickly start making a profit (at that point they had just introduced the option to buy the play money), and what would teens would care more about than their appearance???? profit!! Not really. You could easily get the play money in world, which really meant doing boring stuff, mostly repeated clicking. Final attempt at getting paying users? Throw in everything you can think of to the main world. No thematic continuity, narrative connection, just pile things up man! The music venue?? Suddenly turned into the dating game, even if the art remained unchanged. Lol. The result was that you felt at a random, improvised place. But I think this change in MPCentral did bring in a few more players, that you could see wandering around doing things, if still random.

    So the problem was they didnt know what they were really doing. Provide the tools to create or generate content themselves. Thats why it failed, and very inelegantly btw, on Christmas holidays, with a ridiculous short notice and absolute hermetism on the future of the service. To the extent that some users still believe that the service is just temporarily closed and to reopen soon (have a look at ) and asking what happened and why it failed. Cuppycake has tweeted: Someday I’d like to post a “biggest misconceptions about Metaplace” post. Many great posts on MP right now, but so much inaccurate info. 12:43 PM Dec 25th, 2009

    I say talk or don’t. And maybe by the time she does, NOBODY will care about it.

    A few observations about the article: surely the external moderation team you speak of would have made no difference, I dont even think theres a point to that service. Only a few of the mods in metaplace were really content creators (3 of them, if top creators though) but Im sure they were not short of people interested in being mods, and with the right profile. No doubt that would have changed nothing. And KStarfire’s world was not the only one where you could exchange coins, and I think that saying he “refused” to update his world is a bit misleading, since we all had the option on each of our worlds to get or not automatic updates. His world must have been set to not update automatically and he then realized was a good idea to keep like that. But it wasn’t like we were being forced to update and I doubt that anyone from staff pressed him to do it. He simply chose not to update, as other people didn’t either.

  5. chooseareality

    Jan 6th, 2010

    There were two different PayPal solutions that were made, I made one of them and yes we were asked to not develop them any further months ago and like the good testers we were we didn’t.

    About a month ago we got word that the RMT systems had been delayed once again and several of us had decided that it was time to start bypassing the system again using PayPal and other solutions. Before we had anything put together and on the market the closure announcement was given and with that we obviously stopped developing on the platform.

    I stuck around to say my good byes, kept moderating so Central wouldn’t turn into a highschool cafeteria, but ultimately it was an extremely sad and depressing two weeks.

    Did I save my assets? Yeah I did thanks to another user making a tool so we could get our content off our worlds. The methods provided by MP were not acceptable to many of the long time testers with dozens of worlds and luckily this user knew enough without the locked down wiki to create the tool.

    The support died the minute the announcement was given and it was very apparent that instructions were given to do as little as possible to support the testers, some that had been actively testing the system for a little over 2 years. It was disappointing, but really I don’t think it would have mattered how it was handled, we lost a unique platform that doesn’t have any replacement on the market.

    Most of all Raph lost his dream of bringing user created virtual worlds to the hands of the masses.

    Devoted Metaplace Tester and Content Creator: Nov. 2007 to Dec. 2009

  6. coco

    Jan 6th, 2010

    It was all about a portfolio/resume builder for Raph. Content makers were never going to make a penny. Play and pay for a game someone creates and sells, NOT for a pyramid scheme platform sold for a VC egotrip to the BANK. Second Life’s non sustainablity at the cost of it’s “passionate” content makers should have been enough warning.
    LOLOK has it right on.

  7. IntLibber

    Jan 7th, 2010

    Lack of fungible inworld money: EPIC FAIL
    Lack of salable e-land: Epic Fail
    Lack of immersion: Mega Fail
    Crappy build tools, poor import quality: Serious Fail
    Seriously now, really? Easy conclusion.

  8. Mary Elizabeth

    Jan 8th, 2010

    So, what will be the next great thing that is supposed to outgrow SL?

  9. Yezoma

    Jan 8th, 2010

    talk all you want, it was a great platform until the kids arrived, and the wrong turn was made :(

    I had a dream myself about building a teaching platform and that announcement shattered me and my dream .. I was paying and if they had kept to attracting adults and encouraging us to spend more cash then it might of grown while kids just bring grief and extra unpaid for bandwidth usage:(

  10. Ledomaylnosti

    Sep 30th, 2010

    I have a confession.

    Seeing Metaplace Fall reminds me of another event I’ve been involved with…

    I accidentally caused the downfall of another unique idea.
    This was an open market for trading virtual world currencies and auctioning off in game gold to the needy.
    I was the one who suggested the late GOM add runescape to its portfolio leading to someone scamming them with a paypal/runescape combo for US$5000.

    My bad.
    …at least I warned them Linden would betray them. It did of course.

    Closed due to lack of capital/starting money to buffer the inevitable blows a business must be prepared for.

    Based on my understanding of venture capitalists/business. (which is as much as worm-tongue understood -what- he was holding the candle over in LOTR).

    I will give you the reasons Metaplace did not succeed…

    From most significant to least:

    1. Starting Capital/money + low expectations
    and a realistic contract with venture capitalists guaranteeing 3 years of reasonable freedom and no pressure to turn a profit with realistic milestones to be reached.
    The same money needed to make a massive full 3d conventional MMO.
    Which they will make to provide income while waiting for player made content.
    Complete set of tools needed is a must before open beta. (Never got out of alpha, but said it did.The Beta is a lie).

    2.*Exciting for Potential Developers*
    Credibility/professionalism and ‘image’ crafting. Welcoming-Page gives the impression that 3d games & diablo2/starcraft clones can be made here. (not just ponylove-rpg)
    This will attract the greatest quantity and quality of developer/artist breeding stock..
    I commented on the look early on, (as some did) but hearts were set on cute n’ cuddly vs *Exciting for Potential Developers*.

    “Their hearts were filled with too much love, and not enough gold.
    When their creditors asked meta-team to find it in their hearts to pay them….they only had love to give…
    and the hopes and dreams of many decent Internetites”

    3.Starting content/Monetization.
    Only release beta when we have enough value to offer in exchange for ‘real’ money.
    *’Habbohotel’ dating world, fully functional
    with micro-payments.

    *Topdown realtime 2d shooter/slasher MMO.
    Every time you pk someone you win 5 cents real money from them.

    *Players buy Meta$ (subscription/deposit) which can be used in any game/world, and to buy land of their own.

    *RealMoneyTrade marketplace for ingame currencies, they take a 5% cut of every sale.

  11. Sarahgrace

    Jun 8th, 2011

    Lol! A picture of me and Cullen56, wow I remember that drama xD
    Metaplace was terribly fun, a great game to role-play and no matter what you say, it was a great FREE platform. It was awesome to build, import from google, create worlds, find eggs.

    Can’t believe I stumbled on this page to find an image of when I first started and went to New Look. That shows an awesome memory, thanks :)

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