Nestling somewhere in between MMOs and social networking, virtual worlds are a virtual sandlot for millions of kids worldwide. Think avatar-based chat and mini-games alongside other kids of the same age range and interests, and you'll catch the appeal of these kid-friendly destinations. While a gaming parent might consider virtual worlds mere training wheels for games still to come, kid-friendly virtual worlds seem to fit the attention spans, chatty nature and niche-y interests of kids to a T.
The sheer variety of worlds appealing to children makes it easy for kids to find a spot where they'll want to hang out. As of early 2009, kids could choose from 112 virtual worlds designed for children and teens, according to Engage Digital Media, with more than 80 new worlds under development. The numbers of kids who've found a virtual home in these worlds rivals even the fat figures of MMO big dog World of Warcraft. Research firm eMarketer estimates that in the United States alone, 8 million kids hung out in virtual worlds regularly during 2008; that number is projected to swell to more than 15 million by 2013.
"Gaia Online has defined the social web experience for millions of teens and young adults," said Rob Seaver, CEO of Vivox. "And voice is the ultimate social glue. By adding voice chat to zOMG!, Gaia Online proves, again, its commitment to providing a truly social experience for its players."
Vivox voice chat is live in zOMG! now for players to "gab to your heart's content using the power of your own face-hole, saving valuable keystrokes for more efficient monster bashing," according to the zOMG! monthly newsletter. True to form, zOMG! has added their own twist on it as well: players can purchase voice fonts in the storefront to give their voice a unique twist. Congratulations to Gaia Online and Vivox for their partnership!
zOMG! is a Flash-based browser game marketed primarily to children and teens. Players earn Gaia Gold by interacting with the Gaia website and can then spend said gold to customize their avatar. If you're interested in trying the beta or just looking for more information on what it's all about, check out our First Impression of zOMG!.
Gallery: First Impressions: zOMG!
The name was chosen out of hundreds of submissions from Gaia regulars. Said Senior Producer Dave Georgeson to Wired: "it captures the spirit of our users." Those users are mostly teens. Until now, Gaia Online has simply been a casual games portal and forum community. zOMG! is an MMO built on that foundation.
If you're not familiar with Gaia Battle -- err, we mean zOMG! -- it's a browser-based game that will run on any computer that plays nice with Flash. Gameplay involves combat -- which centers around upgradable magic ring items -- and minigames. Social networking type stuff is laced in as well.
Gallery: Gaia Online MMO
The week-long festivities end on July 27th. For more information, go check out Gaia Online's event site.
A couple of tidbits: the entire game is Flash based, much like Dofus; they've done away with the need for wearable armor; and there's an intriguing methodology in place for dealing with player overcrowding that can be summed up in one word: landshark. All this and more once the game launches near the end of Summer. We'll keep you apprised!
Gallery: Gaia Online MMO
VentureBeat talks with CEO Craig Sherman and senior producer Dabid Georgeson about the new MMO world and the challenges of turning a fabulously successful social space with millions of users, into a succesful MMO. Is the world ready for another Runescape? Look for Gaia Online -- the MMO -- when it launches this summer to find out.
And not just likenesses. Metaverse developer Millions of Us intends to market likenesses, hair-styles, catchphrases, dance moves, signature moves, clothing lines, furniture collections -- you name it -- based on well-known celebs all under the banner business name of Virtual Greats. These appearances and digital accessories would be sold in dozens of virtual worlds, though you'll probably see them in Gaia Online, Habbo and Second Life first.
Deals have already been done with Justin Timberlake, Elvis Presley Enterprises, Snoop Dogg, Paris Hilton, Raven Symone, Marvel (for The Incredible Hulk), and Tila Tequila, and more are in the works.
However, similar integration of virtual world-like elements in MMOs has so far remained off-spec. Chat aside, games like World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, and City of Heroes don't have features like profiles with integrated blogs for players, or spaces in which one could post photos and media for others to enjoy. Is this something that might change as the Web 2.0 landscape evolves? Are MMOs better off remaining "pure"?
And if you like to dance -- and by 'dance', we mean 'dance in front of your webcam for the delight and derision of all' -- then submit your video to Gaia and you might be chosen for Internet fame! If you have lingering memories of your prom that keep you up at night, wash those horrors away with Gaia Online!
Whether you're talking about Club Penguin, Gaia Online or Second Life the truth of the mater is that these "worlds" are here to stay and they all share similarities -- social interaction. Not only are they here to stay, but they've only just begun to grow as a market. Which is why this panel was all the more interesting. The panel includes Erik Bethke (GoPets Ltd), John K. Bates (Mindark/Entropia Universe), Craig Sherman (Gaia Online), Rob Lanphier (Linden Lab/Second Life) and was moderated by David Elchoness (Association of Virtual Worlds).
Gallery: ION 08: Game Conference gallery
As Gaia Online prepares for its closed beta, we're getting a bit more of a glimpse into what this MMO version of the current virtual world is all about. In a recent interview with Dave Georgeson, he explains why they're making that transition from a virtual world to an MMO and why it will be beneficial for existing players, as well as new players.
Building an MMO from an existing fan-base is a helpful first step, just look at WoW and LotRO, but is it enough to make it last in this still-not-officially-named MMO? With over five million current Gaia Online players, you'd think an instant audience is a good thing, but the problem becomes more an issue of keeping those current users satisified with their new MMO shell, and simultaneously drawing in new players.
Panel topics include " Asynchronous Games on Social Networks", " Building Communities and Social Interaction In and Around Games", and "What Makes Games Fun?" We'll be on-hand to cover the discussions and maybe speak with some of the presenters. If this sounds like your cup o' joe, June's not far away; best register today!
They're also offering other prizes, such as an in-game Angelic Halo, Gold cards (worth varying amounts of Gaia currency), and a limited-edition ring for use in the MMO to attendees of the Gaia Panel at 5:00PM on Saturday, April 19th. Full information at their site.
If they manage to convert their existing playerbase to their MMO, they could be seen as a serious contender for size, right out of the gate. We'll keep our eyes open and our ears to the ground for more info on this as it gets released.