Since 2000, only a year after Second Life was first released, it’s main contender has been IMVU, another virtual 3D world that has been used mainly as a chat program with some added features. What if I told you there’s a world that mixes the social aspect of IMVU and the building aspects of Second Life, but lightweight enough to run right in your browser, on your phone? This sounds too good to be true, and it gets even better when you see how simple it is to start an account and get into it, it is called Cloud Party and is currently in Beta.
It hooks into your Facebook account so all you need to do is to go to the website, click a button, click Accept on the Facebook popup and you’re in. If you don’t feel secure enough to use your Facebook for this, you can sign in anonymously, but then you’ll lose some of the features Cloud Party has to offer.
Right as you come in, you get a tutorial on the basic operations, from moving around, to navigating the islands, to changing appearance and building. After finishing the tutorial, you get your very own home, for FREE! You even get some furnitures and other fun things to put in your brand new home.
Your friends are the same friends you have on Facebook, so there’s no random friend requests, or hunting down your friends inworld.
Some backstory about Cloud Party:
Cloud Party started in 2010 as a Facebook app by, among others, the Second Life co-founder Cory Ondrejka. In 2012 it took the step to their own servers, but retained all the Facebook connectability. It is built entirely like a website, based on the WebGL engine and utilizes HTML5, the new web standards.
Other creators behind the project is former Cryptic Studios (the creators of Star Trek Online) veteran Bruce Rogers. It is entirely hosted on Amazon Cloud servers, the preferred servers of Second Life founder Philip Rosedale. In a recent interview, Rosedale said that if Second Life was built 10 years later, he would’ve made it web based and on cloud servers instead.
All the objects in Cloud Party is made of Mesh, the same technology recently introduced to Second Life, making it easier for content creators by giving them the option to use a 3D modelling tool to create their objects.
It was initially meant to be a 3D game engine, like Unreal Engine, but for web browsers. When making the multiplayer interaction parts of it early on, they noticed how easy it is to work together and network in this environment and redesigned it to become a virtual world instead.
Even thou many persons from several companies have worked on the project, the core members are 5 current and former Cryptic Studios employees, working from a small office in California.
On each island, up to 25 avatars can interact with each other. If 26 or more avatars tries to go to the same island, a new instance of that island will spawn and they will go there instead.
Future plans include a marketplace where people can buy and sell objects made, improved movement controls and animation driven objects, such as chairs with sit animations in them.
I feel a warning might be in place thou, this is early in development and it is far from a complete world. As such, key features is missing, even if it appears to be there. For example, you have a friends list, but the only way to invite friends to the list is to befriend them on Facebook first. Another example is that you can favourite locations, such as your home, seemingly for quick access, but there is no way to find your favourites as that part isn’t implemented yet. There is a workaround, thou. Since it is a browser based world, you can make a browser favourite of the locations you want to save and then use them as landmarks in Second Life or InWorldz.
Also, since it is so closely connected to Facebook, it uses many of its polices, such as the total transparency, meaning that you can’t be anonymous and you can be tracked wherever you go. This is seen as negative for some and would never work in Second Life with all the debates about privacy there. The main concern here is that in the future, this might be used to “stalk” people in real life, as they can see everything you’ve made public in your Facebook profile in just a click of a button. This can be used either to befriend you, or to observe you. This is a minor concern thou and it’s as easy as setting your profile to “friends only” in Facebook (which you should do anyway, there are a lot of apps out there that can misuse your information).
All in all, I like the Facebook integration, it is as easy as in RL with your phone to update your friends on what you are doing, showing off your awesome builds or favourite places. Every snapshot even comes with a link to the location it was taken so your friends can visit directly from Facebook.