Yes, the avatars are pretty rudimentary at present – as are the options for customising them – but in all honesty, that’s no reason to decry the platform, and they don’t currently appear to be a barrier to people trying-out the platform.
Of course, the flip side to this is that people do expect a certain level of sophistication – and while Cloud Party does offer rather a lot even in this nascent form, it cannot be denied that elements of sophistication are lacking in terms of the overall look and feel. This is exemplified in the numbers of comments made by others during my time there on how much Cloud Party resembles “early” (circa 2003 through 2006) SL in terms of its broad looks. And it is fair to say that there is much that is there already that needs improvement – the camera controls, for example, are annoying; especially if you are using any specialised type of pointing device – like a trackball.
But at the end of the day, none of these issues – the lack of sophistication, the camera controls – are show-stoppers. While it might be argued that they could have been dealt with prior to the beta launch, the fact is that someone hard to draw a line somewhere and say, “OK, this is where we go public,” and what is presented at this point in time does give a good feel for the platform and gets people using it. What is important now is how the company responds to constructive critiques and addresses issues.
That Cloud Party is run on Amazon’s cloud capabilities does ease one major sticking point: that of scaling. As with Kitely, the use of Amazon’s cloud effectively makes Cloud party infinitely scalable. The limit of 25 avatars per instance of a region may well need addressing in the future (despite the ease with which additional instances of an island can be spun-up – people are going to want to be where their friends are), but for now this does not seem to be an issue.
However, one thing that cannot be ignored is that, beta or no interface differences aside, there is actually little in practical terms that differentiate Cloud Party from Second Life and all the rest. Even the proposed land revenue model and (one assumes) income from the planned marketplace is a case of “more of the same”, rather than offering anything in terms of a substantial – and attractive – differentiator. Of course, it’s a tried and trusted model, so one can understand Cloud Party adopting it and we have no idea precisely how it will be pitched; but even if the model is comparatively cheap, it is still likely to leave Cloud Party with something of an uphill battle in attracting existing VW users away from their existing homes, friends and inventories elsewhere.
But then, Cloud Party perhaps doesn’t have to appeal to existing users for its success. It’s hardly coincidence that Cory Ondrejka is both an investor in Cloud Party and the director of mobile engineering in Facebook and that Cloud Party uses Facebook as its means of user authentication and has eyes on mobile devices. With a users-base of some 500 million people world-wide (a deliberately conservative figure, given the fuss over declining numbers, etc.), FB alone provides Cloud Party with a massive potential market it could tap into. Even if they only capture 1% of FB’s active users, that will still give Cloud Party the potential for an active user community of some 5 million people – which isn’t exactly chump change. So it’ll be interesting to see how Cloud Party is actively promoted to the global Facebook community – and how successful that promotion is.
Of course, use and growth are both predicated on the content being sufficiently engaging to warrant people doing more than simply hopping in for an exploratory look around. Given that the platform is aimed more towards the upload of content rather than in-world creation capabilities, this may actually work against Cloud Party. A a major part of the attraction with SL and similar platforms is the fact that people can create and play using the built-in tools without the need for specialist skills or 3D graphics tools and capabilities – but Cloud Party is effectively closing the door on this. Will it instead be able to attract the kind of people it needs in order to create the kind of in-world content required to captivate and retain users and generate the levels of interest that are going to feed its proposed land revenue stream? A lot hinges on this question, both for Cloud Party and for potential content creators, which is itself worthy of an article.
As it is, this is an interesting beta period, one in which the platform can be tried out and, I rather suspect, those behind it can test the waters of public reaction and see where their possible future direction may lay. Will it purely be a social platform (as it appears aimed towards at present), or will it be sufficiently appealing to the educational sector and elsewhere enough to warrant time and effort in order to make it even more attractive to those sectors? Is the name itself “Cloud Party” liable to become something of a barrier to the platform being taken seriously? Right now, it is far too early to say.
For my part, I enjoyed my explorations. Yes there were issues along the way, but that’s to be expected when dealing with a beta product. Truth be told, none of the issues I encountered – odd “disconnects” on busy islands which I could only resolve by closing the application tab (logging myself out of Cloud Party) and then logging back-in or witnessing some avatars as clouds on busy islands – aren’t exactly unknown when using other worlds. They didn’t really interfere with my enjoyment or meanderings.
Leaving those issues to one side, and while admitting there is current not enough within Cloud Party to drag me into creating a FB account as yet, this is a platform that has in a very short period of time shown itself to be accessible and usable. There is still much to be done – but that equally makes it a world worth watching, and I’ll be endeavouring to do just that.