Multiverse has built its own technology to allow anyone, as the founders say, to build a virtual world. "If you've got the Multiverse World Browser installed, you have access to any virtual world on the Multiverse Network," said founder Cory Bridges at the 2008 Worlds in Motion Summit.
The platform is free to use, the SDK is downloadable without costs and, Bridges says, worlds built on the network can be used for any purpose. They monetize based on revenue share once a developer starts to earn money from the project.
"What we learned from our time at Netscape is, what really brought the web into mainstream adoption is this universal browser, this one program that lets consumers access all content on this particular medium," Bridges explains. In the early days of the internet, the different domains of CompuServ, AOL, Prodigy and others were like "walled gardens," which kept the market fragmented.
This is, according to Bridges, an issue we're currently having at this stage for the virtual worlds industry. "That tends to hinder adoption of this new medium," Bridges says. "It keeps the market fragmented, and to create a universal browser for whatever medium you're talking about, the best way to do that is to embrace open standards."
And not merely open standards, but industry standards, too, Bridges says, pointing out that building content in Second Life requires use of the in-world tools, requires users to learn a scripting language that is only useful in that world. "For critical mass, unleash the masses," Bridges says, explaining that the reason Multiverse is structured for as broad a variety of purposes as possible.
"The point here is that flexible technology is the key," added co-founder and CTO Rafhael Cedeno. "We wanted to create a technology that allowed a lot of flexibility, so that you can use a single browser and a single server to have all sorts of different worlds. You have people used to modding the Unreal or Quake Engnine -- can you really make a single client or a server that will run any kind of virtual world?"
Bridges and Cedeno demonstrated several different types of worlds that have been built on their platform, and, true to their explanation, the purposes of these products ranged from sci-fi MMORPGs to business simulations for employee on-boarding, to replications of real-world places such as Times Square. Ultimately, Multiverse says that open-standard industry technology that supports as many different types of worlds as possible and allows full UI control is the key to evolving virtual worlds beyond the "walled gardens" phase and into much broader adoption -- the same maturation process that the web went through.
The pair have learned some lessons from their experience that they highlighted for the attendees: Virtual worlds must be fun, Bridges says. "You go to all the trouble of making a 3D client and all you do is sit there and talk?" Even for developers who aim to build a social space or an educational environment, Bridges says, game-like content is important. He notes that many people in the industry see "game" as a bad word, but suggests they might be more amenable to the phrase "structured interaction."
What does a platform have to do with fun, however? The Multiverse platform comes pre-configured with a variety of mods, such as combat, to allow developers to make those choices, Cedeno explains. Otherwise, he says, users will not remain engaged -- they'll arrive for a week or two, customize their avatars, and then leave.
The presentation concluded with a demonstration of the virtual Times Square -- which, as the writer of this article can attest, was an eerily accurate representation, right down to the signage and the names of the stores.
"A lot of what we do is give the right tools to put a world like this together, but a lot of what we do is also leveraging those tools," Cedeno says. "I think that a lot of us are used to, or have been ingrained with an idea of what a virtual world would look like, and yet it's not the type of quality that you see when you pay $60 for an Xbox 360 game."
Finally, the pair concluded, virtual worlds should be accessible to everyone. "You want anyone with a computer to be able to access that," Cedeno said, and advised aiming for the right balance of high-quality, polished looks created using technology that can run on as many machines as possible.