The Evolution of Virtual Worlds, Part Three. User Generated Spaces
We’re already up to part three in our series exploring how virtual reality will drive the future direction of the virtual worlds sector. Part one laid out the foundations of the market and part two explored Social Virtual Reality. Also, here’s a Slideshare presentation. In this article we’re diving in (literally) to User Generated Spaces.
Starting with a definition:
User Generated Spaces are virtual environments created by individuals for their personal use and enjoyment, accessed and explored using virtual reality.
This is a sector that is already massive in the browser, driven greatly by UGC VWs such as Second Life, IMVU and Minecraft. Interestingly, UGC activities in virtual worlds is popular across all age ranges. Minecraft has a user sweetspot in the tween and early teen bracket, IMVU appeals to late teens and the average age of a Second Life resident is late thirties.
Platforms and applications that have UGC functionality as a core mechanic are very engaging places due to two key activities, namely Crafting and Sharing.
‘Creating stuff’ takes time. People take great pleasure in crafting objects and environments which leads to session lengths measured in hours as opposed to minutes. And the output (i.e. what they create) is limited only by imagination. A quick Google image search using ‘Second Life’ or ‘Minecraft’ demonstrates the breadth of creation in existing virtual worlds. This includes real-world buildings and places right through to re-creations of movie sets. Basically, UGC allows people to create things they’re already interested in, as well as imagineer.
Another key element of UGC is sharing. People want to show-off their creations to their friends as well as let them explore and enjoy their creations. This builds the social element of UGC and in turn stimulates collaborative creation (users building things together).
A key factor in the success of Minecraft was the ability for users to upload videos of their creations to YouTube. This in turn activated a whole new genre of user creativity with UGC creations actually made specifically for YouTube. The music video genre is a great example of this. Many of these creations have received tens of millions of views on YouTube, such as this parody – “Don’t Mine At Night”.
So what does all of this mean when you throw Virtual Reality into the mix? Put simply, it means an already highly engaging and hugely popular activity becomes even more enticing and enjoyable.
The added benefit of Presence puts users directly into their creations allowing them to ‘craft from within’. This is something that really has to be experienced first hand to fully appreciate – and we’ve seen some early evidence of this already. One of the comments made by people experiencing Minecrift (explained further in the next section) is scale. Being inside a UGC environment using VR generates a sense of being small next to large structures – something not achievable using a browser.
Although the creator of Minecraft (Markus Persson) has gone on record saying he will not create an official Oculus version of Minecraft (more on this later) there is an unofficial ‘mod’ called Minecrift that allows the Oculus Rift to work with Minecraft. Here’s a video showing Minecrift in action.
Why are User Generated Spaces important for the future development of the Virtual Reality sector?
Content is the answer to this. Allowing users to create their own environments and objects means the total amount of accessible content available to other users is exponentially larger than the amount of content a VR headset manufacturer or a platform owner could create themselves. Exactly the same argument already applies to browser based virtual worlds. This means more content, more environments and more things to do for the owners of VR headsets.
Who is going to create platforms for Virtual Reality User Generated Spaces?
Companies already providing UGC based virtual worlds is a good place to start, with the main contenders being Second Life and Minecraft – both of these companies have millions of UGC assets and active users and Linden Lab is currently running a beta for an Oculus Rift version of Second Life. Minecraft on the other hand has opted to not develop for the Oculus Rift. In the medium term this might be a bad decision but of course this doesn’t prevent Mojang from potentially working with other manufacturers of VR headsets. Time will tell.
The manufacturers themselves could also be looking at creating their own UGC platforms. This has the benefit of being a natively-build application as opposed to a mod (in the case of Second Life) meaning the virtual environment would be created specifically for VR use.
An additional upside here is ‘software’ revenue over and above hardware sales. UGC virtual worlds typically have higher ARPPUs and lifetime values than VWs without UGC. Oculus VR may well have been creating a UGC platform prior to the Facebook acquisition. Whether or not the MMO mentioned by the Oculus CEO contains UGC remains to be seen. Either way, a native UGC application for headset manufacturers makes sense.
Brand-new entrants into the UGC space that are headset agnostic or tied to specific manufacturers is the third company type. These would be companies seeking to exploit the popularity of UGC activities and create new styles of user creation and virtual world interaction. High Fidelity could be a new contender in this market. In terms of visual style, the ‘block’ approach of asset creation is already well-served so perhaps we’ll see new UGC methods come to market offering more realistic ways to craft and build.
What are people going to do in these virtual reality User Generated Spaces?
Chat, play, build, hangout – basically whatever they want. Use your imagination.
Finally, to offer a glimpse into the future of User Generated Spaces, here’s a video called World Builder. It presents a vision of what these spaces could be a few years from now.