Kaneva: Not Enough Fantasy?

"Second Life Lite" is how Kaneva, a virtual world currently undergoing closed beta testing, bills itself, and it does a pretty fair job at filling that role: The process of creating an avatar is much simpler than in Second Life, and every user is given his own space in the virtual world to decorate and customize (using pre-created furniture that can be textured with picture uploads). Kaneva also has a social networking platform built around it, so that users in-world can have out-world profiles to connect with.

Making a virtual world that's accessible to the mass market is a worthwhile goal. Anyone who's created an SL avatar knows the world can be difficult to navigate. Blizzard's World of Warcraft has had heretofore unheard-of success by taking a successful game -- Everquest -- and making it easily accessible to a mass market.

But there is a fundamental problem with what Kaneva is trying to do, and it's a trap that other virtual world developers are falling into. During the demo of the product, one of the Kaneva execs said the aim of the combined social network and virtual world was to have players make virtual copies of themselves to inhabit the world of Kaneva. Those copies can then visit other players' homes, go to the mall to shop, see concerts -- more or less, do things you can do in the real world.



Second Life, despite its steep learning curve, offers its denizens something unique -- the chance to be something that you are not, offline. By putting limits on users' creativity, by shackling users to their out-world identities, Kaneva kills a key part of the player fantasy that makes Second Life popular. And any game developer will tell you, fulfilling player fantasies is vital to the success of a game.

There is no doubt that virtual worlds will be a key part of the Internet's future. IBM currently is devoting the efforts of hundreds of researchers to exploring the future of "the 3D Internet." But it will be a long, long time before seeing a concert in the virtual world has the same appeal as seeing one in the real world. Until then, developers have to understand that the appeal of the virtual world is to create things that are impossible in the real world.

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