Herding Cats: Taking a First Step Towards Developing a Taxonomy of Metaverse Platforms by Looking at Virtual Worlds That Do NOT Support Virtual Reality

What’s the Best Way to Organize Social VR and Virtual Worlds?
(Photo by Edgar Chaparro on Unsplash)

This evening, I thought I would start working on a task I have put off for far, far too long: organizing my comprehensive list of social VR platforms and virtual worlds (almost 150 entries) into some better semblance of order. (And, in some cases, provide an overdue status update. For example, I had forgotten to remove my note that Decentraland was not yet open to the public after their February 2020 launch.)

I hope to be able to come with a classification scheme, a taxonomy where similar platforms are grouped together. But how to do this grouping? Where to start?

Well, we could start by taking a look at the oldest, so-called “first generation” section first: the virtual worlds that can only be accessed via desktop on a flat monitor, the so-called “pancake worlds” that do not support virtual reality.

This list could further be divided by whether the virtual world was sill operating or was dead. Sometimes, you are lucky enough to get an official “Closed” sign when you visit their website, like with The Deep when you visit their website.

Some projects never are officially closed…
(Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash)

But of course, not all virtual world projects are so clear-cut as “closed” or “open”; “dead” or “alive”. Think of all those projects in between, that may be stuck in some sort of software development hell, or slowly circling the drain, or on life support at best. Let’s call those “Questionable Status / Stalled / Moribund” as a catch-all category.

In drawing up this first list, I will be removing any products which are clearly more MMO/MMORPG games instead of open-ended worlds (although the line between those is also frustratingly blurry at times). I’m also not going to bother with primarily adult/sex-oriented worlds such as Utherverse/Red Light Center, although I do know that some people do use this type of virtual world for non-sexual socializing. If it’s marketed as a word primarily for virtual sex, I’m not interested, sorry!


“Pancake Worlds” (Virtual Worlds That Do NOT Support Virtual Reality)

Still Operating

  • Second Life (now almost 17 years old, and still the most commercially successful and popular virtual world to date, with approximately 600,000 regular monthly users)
  • Active Worlds (the granddaddy of all virtual worlds, launched on June 28th, 1995, and now almost 25 years old)
  • Avakin Life (a mobile app)
  • Decentraland (blockchain-based virtual world, which launched in February 2020)
  • Dreams (a game and world-building platform for PlayStation, which currently does not support VR, although future PSVR support is planned)
  • Ever, Jane (latest update was October 2019, so it’s still operating!)
  • IMVU
  • Kitely (an OpenSim grid, which has also announced that they are working on a fork of the open-source High Fidelity software code)
  • Occupy White Walls
  • OpenSim based virtual worlds (e.g. OSGrid); here’s a list of active OpenSim grids (trying to keep track of which ones are open or closed is like herding cats)
  • There.com (their blog was just updated today; they’re still operating!)
  • VirBELA*
  • Virtual Paradise (an older virtual world very similar to Active Worlds; the latest update was in October 2019, so it’s still operating!)

Questionable Status/Stalled/Moribund

Well and Truly Dead (Amen and Hallelujah!)

  • Aether City (a blockchain-based virtual world that never got off the ground)
  • Blue Mars
  • The Deep  (another blockchain-based virtual world that never got off the ground)
  • InWorldz (This grid, which was based on OpenSim, closed on July 27th, 2018.)
  • Islandz Virtual World (the successor to InWorldz; closed in February 2019)
  • NeoWorld (another blockchain-based virtual world…seeing a trend here?)

Looking at this list of virtual worlds that do not support users in VR headsets, several thoughts on other ways to organize it come to mind:

  • We could easily pull out the many blockchain-based virtual worlds into a separate list
  • We could pull out Second Life and all the OpenSim-based virtual worlds (e.g. Avacon, Kitely) into a separate list
  • We could put Active Worlds and Virtual Paradise in their own category, too
  • Some products, like Avakin Life and IMVU, have literally dozens of similar products, all pitched at the teen/tween market (another category I do not wish to cover on this blog)

Another interesting point is that many of these “pancake worlds” are older (and some quite old), with an exception: the brand-new, blockchain-based virtual worlds such as Decentraland and The Sandbox. I find it interesting that many of the companies building blockchain-based platforms decided to avoid virtual reality completely (although, of course, many did include VR support in their products, as we shall see in the next blogpost I make about my progress in constructing a taxonomy).

Anyway, I thought I would publish this work-in-progress to the blog, for my readers to comment on. Which of the products in the Questionable Status category should be declared well and truly dead, and given a decent burial? What products were you surprised to see here, or surprised at how I categorized them? What ideas do you have about to go about the Herculean task of organizing them into categories?

Please feel free to leave a comment, thanks!

*UPDATE May 6th, 2020: A commenter to this blogpost informs me that VirBELA now supports virtual reality. Thank you to reader Alexander Grobe for this update!

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