Thursday, March 12, 2009

An avatar world without groups?

Possible? Of course not!

It's a topic we've spent a lot of time pondering on with our 3D Fashion Games world, Frenzoo.

Groups are the foundation for any vibrant society, be they ones built on common interest, fashion or lifestyle niche, family ties, geography or any other combination: groups give much needed identity to any community.

By community we could mean a real life one, but also applies equally and even more so in an online virtual world. In a great post on "Ways to make your social space more gamey", Raph Koster summarized the 8 important requirements for a successful social space building of gameplay fundamentals, and he rated groups at the top:

"Provide clear group identities that users can join, leave, and signal to one another with highly visual markers."

In my view Lively, Google's illfated adventure into avatar communities, struggled to be succesful for several reasons, and one was the lack of context or identity in the world.

Justin Gibbs of Vivaty pondered aloud recently whether virtual worlds need context to be succesful.

"If a virtual world lacks context does that make it simply 3D chat, a social network, or game platform? Is that enough when I can get that in many other places?"

I think the answer is truly that CONTEXT IS VITAL - to build a succesful new community, context is needed on 2 levels.

1/ The world itself needs context
2/ Within the world, members need context

1/ Unless you are Facebook or SecondLife, the days of expecting any general purpose community to take off are numbered. We see this in some of the newer avatar world, where the main purpose is just chat... but on what topic?

On the other hand, picking a particular topic and shaping your site around that automatically gives context. Whether it's robots, wizards, Asian celebrities or in our case lifestyle and fashion avatars... the main thing is that there is a theme.

Members join for a reason and they enjoy and feel tied into being part of a community that has real meaning to them. Conversations start naturally and can develop from there.

2/ Within the world, people want to identify with other likeminded members, even within the world. I agree with Raph, groups are an important way to establish ties and identity. Just witness the phenomenal success of guilds on Gaia.

We just launched clubs on Frenzoo. Whether it's a Fashion Club or one for One Piece Anime fandom, members can create and further find meaning in the community. It's early days and the club functions are sparse to start with, but even just a place for people to join and establish context and identity, that is a big step forward to build the foundation of the community.

It will make striking up conversations and forming friendships just that much more easier and fun. And don't friendships make any community tick?

I'd love your comment on this or suggestions for future topics. Feel free to leave a note.

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