Cloud Party: the new kid on the block

Note this is a 3-page piece. Please use the page options at the bottom of the article to page through.

There has been a lot of chat recently about Cloud Party, the newest “SL-like” virtual world to come into existence – due in part to the fact that it is backed by SL’s co-founder, Cory Ondrejka, thus giving it something of a high visibility. Like Kitely, Cloud Party is hosted within Amazon’s cloud computing architecture (hence part of the reason for the name of the platform), and – again as with Kitely’s initial beta phase – requires a Facebook account in order for all of the capabilities to be used.

Unlike most traditional grids, however, Cloud Party doesn’t require a dedicated viewer or client – it runs entirely within your preferred web browser (although users of the latest flavours of Internet Explorer may have issues as Cloud Party runs on WebGL, which isn’t natively supported in IE).

Also unlike most grids, cloud island doesn’t feature the usual 256×256  metre (or larger) default land mass; instead, regions are “islands” floating among the clouds (again, hence the name of the service). The precise size of these islands is hard to judge and at this point it time it is unclear if islands can be “joined” in away way to provide larger land masses.

Islands in the sky: a typical in-world view in Cloud Play

That Cloud Party log-ins are (for the foreseeable future) only fully enabled via Facebook might also be off-putting for some. However, if you’re not a Facebook user, you can still log-in with limited functionality on an anonymous basis and at least get a feel for the app, which is what I did for several hours on Friday June 22nd.

Logging-in to Cloud Party is facilitated via the website.This offers the options of logging-in  via Facebook or anonymously. This also present you with the obligatory “click to accept terms and conditions” pop-up, and options to use either “Gamer” movement controls or “Tablet” control features and a choice of male or female avatar.

Arriving in Cloud Party – what you’re seeing here is the full UI (see below)

A pop-up welcomes you on logging-in for the first time (or if you are logging-in anonymous, for the first time since closing your browser completely), and also opens-up a tutorial on the left of your screen. The tutorial covers a couple of subjects: Getting Started, which covers the basics of moving, camera movement and chatting, changing clothes, etc., while Building introduces you to the basics of building (at least if you sign-on with Facebook; building is disabled with anonymous accounts).

The Getting Started tutorial is fairly straight-forward, and while it may appear to be teaching those familiar with virtual worlds how to suck eggs, it is a handy way of getting people started, and having it open on the initial log-in is something LL should learn to do with the HOW TO option of their Viewer, rather than dumping newbies in-world with a nice (but initially pointless) Destination Guide display.

The interface itself is clean and simple. Top right of the screen you have a button to log-in via Facebook: if you have logged-in anonymously, this will allow you to switch over to your Facebook account (if you are currently logged-in to FB), with a simply log out/log in. If you’re not logged into FB itself when you hit the button, you’ll be logged out of Cloud Party and prompted to either log-in to your FB account.

Your Cell Phone: access to additional Cloud Party functions

Next to the FB button is your cellphone.Clicking on this opens up additional options and capabilities. Again, not all of these are available when logged-in anonymously. For example, as an anonymous user, you’re not connected to the Cloud Party asset library, so you have no access to the build tools and while you can open the Outfits option, you won’t have anything to wear. The cell phone is looked at in more detail below.

Bottom left of the app window is the Local Chat tab. Clicking this opens – yes, you’ve guess it – the local chat window, which functions pretty much as you’d expect from using SL, although irritatingly, it doesn’t appear to like the apostrophe, the use of which seems to close the chat window and switches focus back in-world. You can also right-click on people’s names in the chat window and open you Cell Phone to IM them, etc.

Getting Around

Cloud Party offers two options for movement when you log in: “Tablet” and “Game”. The latter works pretty much the same as most game systems, using both “click to move” whereby clicking on the ground moves you to that point or you can use the arrow keys WASD (when not focused in chat). “Tablet” apparently allows Tablet-like screen-touches to move your avatar.

You can also teleport directly to locations or people on the current island or to other islands you can see in the sky by right-clicking on an object / person  / island and selecting TELEPORT HERE from the menu.

Right-click on avatars, objects or other islands to teleport to them

There doesn’t appear to be any privacy features available – or at least none in obvious use – as I managed to happily island-hop, jump to people’s homes (where the arrival point had been set in-doors) and so on without any let or hindrance. But again, this is an early beta, so privacy options – assuming I’m not missing them – may be coming in the future.

There’s one other means of getting around worth mentioning here, and that’s via the Navigate option on your Cell Phone. Clicking on the Navigation icon displays your “phone” in landscape orientation, with a range of categorised navigation options.

The Navigation “phone” floater with the Popular category displayed

Use the buttons at the top to display the various categories of destination available to you, and then scroll down / up the displayed lists to find a place of interest – then click the green GO button to teleport. Note that destinations in Navigate may be other Cloud Party islands or individual locations within an island, and that currently there is no means to search for a specific destination.

The default female avatar

Right-clicking on avatars, as well as allowing you to teleport to them, also presents you with options to start a private chat with them or view information about them. I’m not sure if these options are functioning as yet or whether I was unable to use them due to being logged-in anonymously.

The avatars in Cloud Party are pretty basic at present, and are somewhat mindful of early Unity 3D avatars. customisation is limited (restricted to skins and outfits, no sliders, etc. for altering shape), and they have a gawky default pose with rather a lot of rubbernecking. Those used to the sophistication on SL and OpenSim are liable to find Cloud Party avies limited – but again, this is only a beta!

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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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