Cloud Party: the new kid on the block

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.

Perhaps the biggest bump in the road for Cloud Party is in the use of WebGL. As I’ve already noted, Microsoft will not natively support it in IE, and Apple have opted to leave it out of iOS 5, decisions which may cause Cloud Party at least some problems in terms of user adoption, even allowing for the popularity of browsers like Chrome and Firefox. Then there are the more technical question around WebGL – how well does it actually handle geometry; what pre-processing is required, and so on.

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.

Visiting a castle – note the shadows

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.

I see cloud people…

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.

A Cloud Party residential island

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16 thoughts on “Cloud Party: the new kid on the block

  1. It is one of many (and better than some) attempts to move beyond LL/SL.
    I still maintain that what holds most of us here is our inventories and the wide variety of creations available. LL would have to REALLY piss me off for me to move.
    LL definitely needs to pay attention to the tablet/cell phone/wireless trend; but without leaving the serious desktop gamers behind. I, for one, paid a lot of money for a machine that would allow me to see SL to it’s full potential.

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    1. It’s funny – there was an exchange on Twitter where precisely the same point was raised – and I agree. One of the biggest ties people have to SL is the amount they have spent on their inventory. Unless or until their friends all opt to up and move or LL do something so incredibly idiotic they manage to drive people from their doors, then the majority of people who have spent time and effort in SL will always prefer to look at their inventory, consider the expenditure it represents and stay.

      The mobile device market offers interesting challenges which some – such as Alina Lynette with the Lumiya client – are working towards cracking. It would be nice to see SL gain the capability to run on portable devices like tablets and mobiles, and it’ll be interesting to see how Cloud play pans-out once it is available for the likes of smartphones.

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          1. I don’t have a Windows 8 running on my PC or notebook, so can’t say. I’ve heard others are running SL on it successfully, however. Potentially the place to look for news is on the SL forums.

            Tablets-wise, Lumiya is – as far as I’m aware – the only client available (on the Android platform) that offers a reasonable SL experience, given it has basic in-world rendering which allows movement and actions as well as seeing the world around you, and provides core inventory access (with more functionality coming). It’s still a long way behind the technical complexity of the viewer (unsurprisingly), and doesn’t support building, etc., but the speed with which it is being enhanced is impressive.

            There are a number of text-based apps for Android and the iPhone, but how well these run on tablets, I can’t say (although I assume they work without issue); I’ve never actually used a tablet, mush less owned one! :).

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        1. Again, agreed – to a point.

          Cloud Party doesn’t have the content – yet. However, with due respect to all other VWs, none of them come close to SL in terms of the volume of goods that are available – but that actually hasn’t impacted their growth per se. As such, I think it is fair to say that from a consumer (rather than creator) perspective, the barrier to “jumping ship” has far more to do with how much money people have invested in their SL inventories than the availability (or otherwise) of goods elsewhere (alongside the fact that SL is “where their friends are”, obviously).

          So while a lack of goods can be an initial issue (and one all new VWs face), it isn’t something that cannot be overcome. Indeed, in this respect, Cloud Party may well have a major advantage over existing VWs. It is specifically geared towards mesh, and it would appear from initial experiments that mesh content initially created for the likes of SL (and elsewhere) readily uploads into CP with few issues and potentially far more easily than is the case with importing models in SL.

          Ergo, and assuming this remains the case, if Cloud Party can put together an attractive enough commercial proposition to 3D content creators (both those already involved in SL and other VWs and those who have yet to dip their toes in the water) and demonstrate that there is a viable and real means for said modellers to gain revenue from the platform, then the lack of appreciable content within CP might actually be very short-lived.

          Obviously, there are other issues around this point (and I’m deliberately only touching on questions of in-world economy and potential revenue for modellers in passing, in world to keep my points relatively succinct :)). Not the least of these is showing that the CP avatars can become sophisticated enough to have widespread appeal and are actually capable of supporting things like mesh clothing and attachments. There is also the inevitable issue of building a user base willing to actually buy the goods and float an economy within the platform.

          Both the creation of content and the need to build a user base are somewhat hand-in-glove, obviously. However, while CP may well be able to turn to to content creators already activity in SL and elsewhere in order to help build the required content, it isn’t necessarily tied to other VWs when it comes to growing a user base (although obviously the initial pioneers are more likely to come from SL and elsewhere).

          As I pointed out in the article, CP is sitting on the doorstep of the biggest on-line user community in the world, and are specifically geared towards getting that community into their world and doing things quickly and easily. If they can market themselves and their product in such a way as to get just 1% of that user community (or even just a half of one percent) engaged and involved in what they are offering, they actually don’t need the likes of you and me yo help turn their wheels (which is not to say they wouldn’t like to have us as well!).

          Inventory and content is fascinating, because right now there are so many unknowns. Again, as has been touched upon in Twitter exchanges – the fact that CP is largely spurning in-world content creation tools and capabilities might even aid Second Life and other VWs, simply because there could – will, perhaps, be users coming into CP who do want to create and build without having to go to the lengths of learning 3D content creation, and thus may gravitate to other VWs in order to do so.

          This is what makes Cloud Party so fascinating, assuming it does find its feet (and we should remember that it is a little over a week old in terms of the open beta) and that the developers can enhance its capabilities to a level of “game-like” sophistication, then things could go in so many directions, for the good of Cloud Party and for the good of grid-based VWs as a whole.

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  2. The language is said to be Javascript all over the [expletive] Internet. Could be really interesting from a programmer point of you. BUT… FaceBorg… Bleh! The [expletive] censorship… (Kill me [expletive] now!) And the avatars… Can I have Ruth instead? ROFL And the name is as [expletive] bad as SecondLife but for other reasons. “Cloud” is really used and abused in every way nowadays. Just don’t count me in. I’m going back into my “niche” with my flexi tail.

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    1. Yup. I questioned it, as I don’t have any build rights, etc, having an anonymous account, and people were actually questioning whether it was JavaScript or JavaScript + something else during my visit…

      The avatars need work, sure…but I actually prefer them overall to the old Ruth ;-). As stated, I’ll be watching CP to see where it goes.

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  3. There is a lot of ‘right now’ functionality that’s missing, dealing with things that are happing around you and presenting that. Social controls, interacting, sharing and collaborating.

    Saying the beta shouldn’t be judged for lacking these and other items is perhaps not very fair and misses a fundamental technical limitation.

    This runs in a a browser. The only upside is the quick access and they are already pushing the envelope.

    There is a limit on the amount of stuff you can do before the performance drops off, and that flight ceiling so to speak, is a lot lower then you might think. Sure there are plenty of very heavy weight web based applications around, but they all suffer the same problem, they are horrendously slow (and none of the examples I can think of try and render a 3D world).

    The more UI you add, the more tools you add, the richer you make the avatars, the more complicated the scenes, the faster you hit the critical hard limit. It might run on a table or iDevice now, give it a year and a bloat load of user generated content. Not a hope.

    With what’s been said by the creators and by cory, it looks like CP will not be changing in any drastic way between now and launch. There will be a market place to buy and sell content for your home, there will be homes and island spaces to buy.

    The are not social enough for the mass FB user base, they are not technical enough for the SL users, if There.com ever manage to pull off the same stunt, CP just wont stand a chance.

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    1. There is a lot of “right now” functionality missing for those who have the exposure to VWs and expect a lot of additional capabilities, yes. Collaboration is a big hole in things as that doesn’t seem to play a role in CP’s development – and I do actually think that is something they are going to regret if things stay that way.

      Does it miss a fundamental technical limitation? I’m not so sure. Frankly, without a clear roadmap, we don’t know where CP is going and precisely what the technology will support – and the broad indicators that have been given so far are just that: broad indicators, nothing more; they’re certainly not a definitive roadmap.

      Certainly, there is a technical limitation – we have the same within SL, where performance is constantly an issue (for vastly different reasons, granted, but it amounts to the same thing) – and users live with it. Providing it doesn’t become too much of an onus on CP, things could go the same way there.

      It’s an open book right now, with unwritten pages, and we simply don’t know. If I’m honest, I have doubts about CP’s longevity – for some of the reasons I’ve mentioned (revenue model, not sufficient enough differentiator to pull-in a sufficient critical mass from other VWs to encourage content development and more widespread use elsewhere, and so on. Even so, I’m not writing them off yet – and I think it potentially unwise to dismiss them so thoroughly. Other VWs have found a niche with as little to offer and even if CP fails to offer sufficient attraction to pull in hordes of FB users, there is not reason to say they cannot also find their niche placement on the basis of what we’re seeing right now or on the basis of the broad brush strokes of future direction the company has provided in statements to date.

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