I’ve been thinking a lot about virtual worlds lately. About their history. The rise and fall and evolution of virtual worlds like Fantage and Club Penguin. I guess it’s only natural to think about virtual worlds with everyone and their dog (or virtual dog? Nintendog?) talking about the METAVERRRRRRSE. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about the metaverse lately and Web3 and how everything is going to be different and interoperability and democratization blah blah blah
Me? I prefer to focus first on fundamentals. And if you’re like me, you probably see a Club Penguin-shaped hole in the internet. Like me, you probably don’t care too much about fancy Web3 lingo, and just want to waddle around and play games with friends. Sure, there’s Animal Jam and Roblox and Fortnite, but they just hit a little different as some might say.
Erielle from the community asked me if I thought that Club Penguin was a metaverse. Or something to that effect. To me, the metaverse is actually quite a boring idea. It’s like metadata. No one gets excited about the ID3 tags in an MP3 file these days, especially now that most folks just use Spotify. Or if you’re uncool like me, YouTube Premium Music.
The metaverse to me is just the metadata that describes all the virtual worlds that people spend their time on while they’re online. Do I think that Zoom is part of the metaverse? Not really. The metaverse is a subset of the internet imho — just a series of worlds from different companies, non-profits, or groups of volunteers. So in that sense, Ultima Online and World of Warcraft and ToonTown and Stardoll would all be part of the metaverse.
The more important part of the metaverse are the experiences that actually matter to the people who inhabit these virtual worlds! Virtual worlds are the places people want to visit in the metaverse, and it’s kind of a niche interest.
MelonMonkey asked me what kind of team members would be required to build a virtual world. What core roles? The truth is that it truly depends on what you’re trying to make. To me, an MMO and a virtual world are the same thing. If an experience has a virtual avatar that walks around with hundreds of other virtual avatars, that’s a virtual world.
Heck, they don’t even need to walk around. My favorite virtual world was Microsoft Comic Chat, which had avatars but you couldn’t walk around. It was just a cartoon chat.
Consistency in Virtual Worlds
The fundamental roles you’d need to build your own virtual world:
- Technology – someone to build at least a front-end. Especially now that there are many backend service providers like Playfab or Beamable or Epic to do a lot of that heavy lifting for you. In our case, we’re making a full stack because I want to make it easy for our community to make their own experiences and I want to take care of the hard stuff for you instead.
- Art – avatar and environment are key. Now there are lots of AI art generators popping up, but if you want to make something special you really should have human artists. If you stare at a sea of MidJourney or OpenAI creations for a while, you’ll see just how much a human artist is needed. Many people underestimate the power of 2D, so don’t get too locked into the concept of 3D. Sure we picked 3D for the Party Parrot World, but that doesn’t mean that every world needs to do this. After all, it is much more complicated to choose 3D for the look.
Persistence in Virtual Worlds
- Producers or Project Managers – someone needs to be that annoying person who picks at things and keeps everything on-track. Without a PM or someone checking up on things, it’s easy to lose sight of how consistent and persistent you’re being in hitting your goals.
- QA – sure, you could get by without testing. But would you want to? Someone needs to test all the things to see what breaks. You could potentially ask a producer or project manager type to do this, but then you risk splitting their focus.
- Tools – you need software to keep track of things, even if that’s just a spreadsheet. Personally, I believe in setting up flexible systems that are very quick to use and very quick to make progress with. That’s why I am very bullish about Airtable, and recommended it to Lance for Box Critters. It’s great because you can adjust as you learn, and you can perform most of the key actions on mobile. What I especially like about it is that I can combine processes into a single place — asset management, project management, and reporting. Just today I sent out an automatic Status Report to a bunch of people, and it felt great!
Now the rest of your team makeup kind of depends on what kind of thing you’re making, who it’s for, and who your partners are! For example, we are designing a UI/UX that can be used for multiple worlds (spoiler alert!) So if you wanted to work with us to make a world, you wouldn’t necessarily need a designer. But if you’re trying to do everything yourself, I would recommend a UI/UX designer. If you want something less MMO and more RPG, then a writer is key. Of course there’s also social media, customer support, performance marketing, SEO, data analytics…. The list goes on and on and on
There are many other roles that you’ll need once you’re Live. In this case I’m just mainly mentioning the first handful of things you’d need to go from ZERO to ONE. Going live is all about going from 1 to 2 to 10 to 100 to 1000 and onwards. In many ways, getting started is the easy part.
There are two absolutely critical things you need if you want to succeed:
1. Consistence – just show up. Every day. Be predictable in that you’re there. Don’t just disappear spontaneously. You have to show up to do the work, even when you don’t want to do the work. That’s half the battle!
2. Persistence – there’s this old leadership adage I learned as a teenager. Yes it’s a Dr. Phil type thing, but it is powerful!
“BE committed to DO what it takes to HAVE what you want.”
Be-Do-Have is so important. You have to persist and fight for what you want and what you believe in. That doesn’t mean being stubborn. In fact, it’s the opposite – be flexible and open to perspectives. Just persist in the work.
Draw that parrot. Refactor that function. Rewrite that Word doc after you got feedback. Throw away the plan everyone hated and write the new one that builds upon everyone’s input this time. Throw those snowballs in all 8 directions from every single room and document those bugs in painstaking detail. Every little piece needs to get done, so you have to be very very persistent to get what you want.
Consistence and Persistence are the two key qualities I look for (in addition to authenticity and genuine heart.) Believing in a vision or mission is more powerful when mixed with Consistence and Persistence.
It takes a lot of Persistence if you want to make something unique. I would argue that some people are too focused on uniqueness, and aren’t thinking enough about creating value for customers or communities. For example, Apple and Facebook are not very unique, and enact “fast follow” strategies. Android tends to add new innovations that eventually end up on iOS. Snapchat comes up with temporary content, and suddenly Stories are everywhere. Regardless of your approach, you have to be ruthlessly Persistent about taking actions to achieve your goals. You have to go to the gym when you don’t want to.
My goal is to empower the community to run their own experiences without the headache of stuff like backends, COPPA compliance, marketing, App Store rejections, infosec, chargebacks, etc. I believe there are many creative souls out there who dream of making their own comics, games, worlds, stories… And I want to do everything in my power to make that a realistic endeavor for them and you. It will take some time, but that’s directionally where I want to go. To me it’s about purpose — I remain committed to the community. You’ll notice that I consistently stuck around to support the community where I could, and that I’ve persisted in talking about virtual worlds for years. We started making the Party Parrot World because the community wanted me to turn the original joke into an actual virtual world. And I’m so happy we’re doing that, because we can do something special and beautiful and memorable for one of Earth’s most endangered animals, the kakapo.
Anyways, hope this post was helpful. If you have anything you’d like me to post about in a future devlog/devdiary entry, let me know!