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May 22, 2004

Not Enough Revenue, There

There just announced that they're scaling back their consumer service to focus on their technology platform. The basics of the pullout are on their official boards:

"Today I would like to announce that There is changing its strategic direction to focus on our technology platform.
We will continue to run the consumer service, but will need to make changes so that we can better align our costs and run this service profitably. As we go forward we will continue to evaluate the consumer service and our ability to meet our financial goals on an ongoing basis."

Presumably There will be continuing their work with organizations like the US Army. Though they make it clear that this isn't a shut-down of the consumer world, it can't be good news for the development of virtual worlds beyond the typical D&D-inspired; MMOGs.

Posted by Dan Hunter on May 22, 2004 | Permalink

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» There Throws in the Towel from Clickable Culture
Terra Nova tips us off to the decline of the multiplater virtual universe There. Has There's contract with the US Army proven more lucrative than consumer ventures? Seems [Read More]

Tracked on May 23, 2004 9:45:06 AM

» Not The End Of The World from iay@there
It has been a few days now since the announcement that There, Inc. would be shifting effort almost entirely from providing the consumer service — running the world we've come to know and love, in other words — to working... [Read More]

Tracked on May 27, 2004 2:12:35 AM

Comments

"Though they make it clear that this isn't a shut-down of the consumer world, it can't be good news for the development of virtual worlds beyond the typical D&D-inspired; MMOGs. "

Really? I am not so sure about that. The first time I read about There, the concept behind it and related, I felt something was missing. I though it was a graphical chat client with some other few elements but not much more (I am sure it is more but that it what my impression was and is).
Now if we consider what was invested till now (even if it is difficult to know what hides behind the "technology platform") it was difficult for me to see how they could get enough revenues just with There to cover the massive investment of 37$ million . Or it is also possible that the business possibilities with public contracts (like the one with the DoD) is a better market then the consumer service. Is that a surprise?
Do we see the birth of a new market? Or just one of the many ends of the not so successful MMOGs?

Posted by: Luca Girardo | May 22, 2004 8:54:16 AM

Can you add a link to this announcement? I couldn't find it after a couple of minutes of searching on there.com.

Posted by: Christopher Armstrong | May 22, 2004 9:56:51 AM

I have searched too but it looks like the There boards are for subscribers only. I have found a copy of the announcement on There fan site :
------
Today I would like to announce that There is changing its strategic direction to focus on our technology platform.

We will continue to run the consumer service, but will need to make changes so that we can better align our costs and run this service profitably. As we go forward we will continue to evaluate the consumer service and our ability to meet our financial goals on an ongoing basis.

All of us at There have poured our heart, soul, and in many cases, significant financial investment into There these last few years. We have been inspired watching you, the community, also pour yourselves into making There great and unique and so incredibly fun. We believe that virtual worlds like There will continue to evolve, and want There to continue to play a key role in this evolution. By focusing on There as a platform, we believe it can play a role in any number of virtual worlds, including the one you’ve helped to build.

Effective today, these are the changes we are making to the consumer service:

1. We’ll be open the same hours we are now, and we’ll continue to offer customer service through Live Help and email. (We haven’t determined if customer service hours will change, but will let you know if they do.)

2.We’ll also continue to have in-world moderation to help control griefers.

3. We’ll still be accepting developer submissions, although the approval time may take a bit longer.

4. We will still accept new members (monthly subscriptions only), and you’ll still be able to purchase Therebucks.

5. We will no longer be making regular updates to the software, and we will not be fixing bugs.

6. We’re not sure yet how we’ll handle There Central, but will get back to you when we do know.

7. We’ll likely have some kind of newsletter, but it may be sent out less often than the twice a week it goes out now.

8. We’ll be updating the Terms of Service soon to offer a 30-day money-back guarantee on membership fees.

9. We will no longer be sponsoring the Mentor or Event Host Credit (EHC) programs, nor will we be paying Refer a Friend bonuses.

We will be posting a Q&A; which will hopefully address some of your questions shortly.


Michael Wilson
VP, Community

------------
and a FAQ about the topic:

Important Changes at There, Inc. : Q&A;
Here are some Questions which we anticipated you may have, and some answers:

Q: Will There be reducing it's open hours?
A: No. There’s service hours remain the same.

Q. Will it be harder for me to reach customer support?
A. It shouldn’t be. As always, the best channels to reach us are email to help@there.com, and Live Help.

Q. What about griefers? Will you be doing anything about griefers?
A: We will continue to offer in-world moderation, and will do what we can to help control griefers.

Q: Who will help users in-world with problems/training considering cuts to community helpers?
A: We hope that our Mentors will continue to greet new members, although we will no longer be paying them in Therebucks.

Q: How will There change now that the company is focused on building out the platform?
A:We will run the service across the same hours, we will still have customer support, and we will still accept and approve developer submissions. We’re not yet sure how we’ll handle There Central updates. We do know we will no longer be updating the software regularly, and will not be fixing bugs. Our engineering resources will be entirely dedicated to building tools and functions for our technology platform. In general, we will really be turning over the There experience to our members – its actually you who have been driving the bulk of the experience for awhile now.

Q: Is There going to close?
A: No. The company has just received new funding and will continue to operate; only we will now be focusing most of our resources on building out our platform.

Q: What happens to my account if There shuts down the consumer service?
A: Again, we plan to continue to run the consumer service, and will be evaluating its financial performance on an ongoing basis. If at some point, we determine that we can’t run the service profitably, we will at that time notify you of any changes, and will let you know the status of your account.

Q: Are my Therebucks at risk?
A: As long as the service continues to run, you’ll be able to use your Therebucks just as you do right now.

Q: Is There being set up for acquisition?
A: No. The board of directors and the management team are all very positive that we have created a valuable technology platform, and that we can remain independent as we continue to strive toward our milestones.

Q: Why is the membership only finding out now?
A: This change is a business decision, and we’re sharing it with you just after it was shared with the employees.

Q: Is this going to turn into a situation like other online worlds which have closed recently?
A: There is already succeeding on numerous levels – financial, partnership, technological and commitment levels. We will continue to develop our technology platform, and will continue to keep our eyes open for the best opportunities for us in the consumer marketplace.

The official post on There boards is located here

Posted by: Luca Girardo | May 22, 2004 11:06:07 AM

Couldn't find this info on the there site, but assuming it's correct, it certainly begs the question as to what effect the Dept. of Defence had on this decision given its likely discomfort with the in-game anti-war rallies, i.e. Polygons for Peace etc.

Posted by: Peter S. Jenkins | May 22, 2004 11:08:26 AM

One interesting thing is that also very successful MMOG companies seems to have problems entering new market segments like Sony Online Entertainment with the EverQuest title. Some days ago SOE announced that Macintosh EverQuest server is to receive no further bug-fixing or development support.
I found an interesting news as EverQuest, the most successful US MMOG was unable to successfully penetrate a new market segment with a brand like EverQuest. How do we explain that? Do we see again the effect of the same problem with MMOGs in general just targeting a niche market segment and Macintosh users not matching that particular user grourp? For sure it was not the excessive business competition.

Posted by: Luca Girardo | May 22, 2004 11:17:11 AM

Already the announcement has caused the price of Therebucks at Gaming Open Market to plummet.

I'm not surprised There Inc have taken this action. Their revenue from in-game purchases never quite really managed to take off, and has been falling recently.

On the other hand, having played Lineage 2 recently, I found myself wishing the There.com engine could be used in a MMORPG, which is a little ironic since I loved There specifically for not being 'just another MMORPG'.

Posted by: Tessa Lowe | May 22, 2004 11:25:41 AM

Peter wrote: "Couldn't find this info on the there site, but assuming it's correct, it certainly begs the question as to what effect the Dept. of Defence had on this decision given its likely discomfort with the in-game anti-war rallies, i.e. Polygons for Peace etc."

Hmm I doubt about that. I suppose and hope for There that the revenues from offering an improved technology platform (commercial, goverment?) would be higher than the current revenues from the commercial side.
An interesting article I saw about There.com and the military involvement can be found here . It is not an impartial article but still it has some interesting background info.
I suppose that the new contract they got to simulate the whole Earth is bringing more revenues then the commercial service.
would be higher than the current revenues from the commercial side.

Posted by: Luca Girardo | May 22, 2004 11:50:08 AM

Okay, I guess it's safe to express this opinion in print now: I was always a little suspicious of the concept of an MMOG that so heavily de-emphasized the "G". There was a 3D-chat space with almost all of the game attributes deliberately left out, and no larger context except for the induction of real-world brands. Ultimately, it was a reflection of a *marketing* vision, the virtual space where people not only paid to display branded merchandise, but didn't even get a shirt to wear out of the deal.

Frankly, I hoped that the market would reject it, because if it was even halfway successful it would be an irresistable business model suited only to marketing, with nothing resembling "vision" and the entire development staff relegated to the status of custodial workers.

--Dave

Posted by: Dave Rickey | May 22, 2004 12:02:09 PM

Luca Girado>The first time I read about There, the concept behind it and related, I felt something was missing.

The fact that something was missing was their USP; it was a virtual world for people who didn't want that (to gamers) "missing" piece.

The main thing that surprised me about There was its development costs. For that price, they could have had 4 or 5 virtual worlds. What did they spend it all on?

This is either good news for SL or bad news. Good news, because now SL is the only major social VW in town and will presumably take all the players that would otherwise have been in There; bad news because now all eyes are on SL watching to see if it's going the same way.

Richard

Posted by: Richard Bartle | May 22, 2004 2:06:48 PM

Richard wrote: The main thing that surprised me about There was its development costs. For that price, they could have had 4 or 5 virtual worlds. What did they spend it all on?

Depends when they start to work on the new military market segment. It could be part was invested in the creation of the alpha of the giant multi-user earth simulation also known as Asymmetric Warfare Environment. The question is if There is developing that or it is developed by the US Army’s Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation (PEO STRI) based on the There engine, or most probably developed by There under the supervision of PEO STRI.

An interesting reading is the past interview with Andy Donkin on Gamespot:

GS: Getting a juicy defense contract is considered the Holy Grail for many businesses. Do you see collaboration with the government as a major new revenue source for There?

AD: It's a revenue source, and, as a small company just starting out, we are happy to be involved. But we aren't counting on the military to be a significant revenue source. We want to keep our resources focused on building the US business and then expand from there (no pun intended).

I suppose they found their Holy Grail after all.

Posted by: Luca Girardo | May 22, 2004 3:38:33 PM

>From Dave Rickey:
>Okay, I guess it's safe to express this
>opinion in print now: I was always a little
>suspicious of the concept of an MMOG that so
>heavily de-emphasized the "G". There was a
>3D-chat space with almost all of the game
>attributes deliberately left out, and no
>larger context except for the induction of
>real-world brands.

There has a "game" of sorts, an economic one where players sell their designs to other players. (Distantly related to crafting in MMORPGs.) I suspect this economic game is There's USP.

Uru Live (a 3D-chat space and adventure game combo) was cancelled a few months back. Maybe an expensive virtual world takes more than just a "G" to be successful... maybe only certain "games" have a large enough player market to be viable.

>From Richard Bartle:
>The main thing that surprised me about There
>was its development costs. For that price,
>they could have had 4 or 5 virtual worlds.
>What did they spend it all on?

I just read (someplace) that they have team of 80 people. Using the simplifying assumption that all of them were hired in 1998 (6 years) = 480 man years. 480 man years x $100,000 per head (burdened cost) = $48M. (Of course, several million went into ads and server/bandwidth costs.) This is close enough to $37M for a guestimate.

Don't forget, the project began circa 1998, when money was easy to get for anything that had "internet" in the business plan. How many IPOs in 1998 generated $100M-$1B for startup companies that ultimately went bankrupt in 2002? (Your mutual funds hard at work making Therebucks possible.)

However, it is a bit difficult for me to envisage a small company spending that much without the warning bells going off.

Large companies produce massively overbudget products all the time though. All it takes is a project with a 2 year schedule that turns into 3 due to slippage. 2 1/2 years into development, upper management doesn't like the product, so it gets redesigned and another year gets tacked onto the schedule. Repeat a few times. It happens all too often.

Posted by: Mike Rozak | May 22, 2004 8:10:28 PM

Ironically, Andy Donkin was laid off in January of this year.

From looking at the video of There's Military software from TechTV, it's really just There with some different textures and vehicles. They didn't even bother to change the animations for getting in a vehicle.

There is not thinking, every move they make proves this.

I've been hearing rumors that Baloo (Bruce Boston (That is his name, right?)), who posts on TN, was laid off yesterday as part of this 'change of direction'.

I've been reading the official There forums, and people are using this to muster up 'nationalism' (if one can call it that). People actually think that if they keep bringing their friends to There and make revenue for There, they will change their minds. What I want to know is, why would you actually advise your friends to play a game that you KNOW is dying? Some friend you are...

Posted by: James Miller | May 22, 2004 8:12:53 PM

Mike: The information I have is that they had a team of 80 *marketers* working mostly on bringing in the sponsoring brands, and about 30 actual developers. And only the most senior game developers make anywhere near $100K, although I'm sure those marketers were well-paid. The games currently dominating the market were developed for between 4 and 10 million dollars, I'm quite confident that with $48 million you could crank out a six-pack and have at least a few do well (NCSoft is pretty much doing exactly that).

Uru was technically a game, the problem was that it wasn't a game that needed to be an MMO. It was puzzle games with a thin wrapper around them and almost no persistance to *anything*, and ultimately multiplayer puzzle games like that poison their own fun (there's always one guy who knows exactly how to solve the puzzle, which eliminates the fun from solving it together). I never expected it to do well, although I was a little surprised it did so poorly they killed it in early beta.

--Dave

Posted by: Dave Rickey | May 22, 2004 10:54:16 PM

Dave wrote: The games currently dominating the market were developed for between 4 and 10 million dollars, I'm quite confident that with $48 million you could crank out a six-pack and have at least a few do well

Hmm, 4$ million?
I doubt nowadays it could be enough also to get the alpha out. Not to speak about the final game.
It is interesting to see that the DAOC had an estimated budget of 2,5$ million but can you create today a successful MMOG with less then 5$ million?

Posted by: Luca Girardo | May 23, 2004 1:34:28 AM

>Dave Rickey posted:
>Mike: The information I have is that they
>had a team of 80 *marketers* working mostly
>on bringing in the sponsoring brands, and
>about 30 actual developers.

Sorry, must have misread the number. The financial hemmoraging was impressive then.


>And only the most senior game developers make
>anywhere near $100K, although I'm sure those
>marketers were well-paid.

Yes, but the annual "burdened" cost of employing someone = salary + 7.5% employer-paid social security + benefits ($10K-$15K) + office space ($5K-$10K) + equipment ($5K) + emplyee morale + etc. At Microsoft we'd assume that a headcount was approximately $100K.


>The games currently dominating the market were
>developed for between 4 and 10 million dollars,
>I'm quite confident that with $48 million you
>could crank out a six-pack and have at least a
>few do well (NCSoft is pretty much doing
>exactly that).

I'm not saying that the $37M was well spent. It's just that given the long schedule, bad things happening, and potential mismanagement, it's not that difficult to spend it. To break out of games and into movies, just look at Waterworld (with Kevin Costner), costing well over $100M but looking like it was a $10M mad-max film.


Posted by: Mike Rozak | May 23, 2004 1:46:27 AM

Do we have a source for the costs? Or is this based just on estimates of head count etc?

Posted by: Ren | May 23, 2004 11:32:21 AM

The best source is There itself. On their company info webpage they write:

1998, Will Harvey, a Stanford computer science PhD and successful game developer, began working with Jeffrey Ventrella, an expert on artificial life from MIT's Media Lab, on developing a next-generation "metaverse." With more than 80 employees, There, Inc. brings together deep experience in online community building, consumer marketing, PC games, telecommunications, and e-commerce from major companies, including CNET, eBay, Disney, Electronic Arts (EA), Cisco, Colgate-Palmolive, Lucas Arts, Yahoo! and Sony.
Since its inception, There has raised approximately $37 million - including $20 million from employees, and $6 million from Sutter Hill Ventures, a respected venture capital firm founded in 1962 with investments from Stanford, Princeton and Yale.
$11 million has been raised from prominent angel investors, including Trip Hawkins, founder of EA and 3DO; Halsey Minor and Shelby Bonnie, founders of CNET; Kevin Ryan, CEO of DoubleClick; Steve Blank, founder of Epiphany; Bruce Leak, president and co-founder of WebTV; Chris Larsen, CEO of E-Loan; and Jane Metcalfe and Louis Rosetto, co-founders of Wired magazine.

Posted by: Luca Girardo | May 23, 2004 1:24:52 PM

Ah, much thx.

Posted by: Ren | May 23, 2004 2:21:26 PM

Wow, $48M.

So what was their business model? If we build it, they will come, and then we'll figure out how to monetize our thingamajig?

Posted by: Mark Asher | May 23, 2004 4:06:10 PM

You have to remember that, for better or for worse, There.com was made up of some extremely smart people -- spend time talking to Will, for example, and you will come away very impressed -- who had been successful enough in previous ventures to put their money where their collective mouths were. Spending your own money frees you from a lot of oversight, which can allow you to experiment and to explore in ways that conventional companies can't. The down side is that without criticism from folks who aren't drinking the Kool Aid you can lose focus and wander off of the path.

I may not have agreed with There.com's specific approach but I have tremendous respect for their vision and audacity in trying do everything big from the start. I suspect that we will see more from them in the future, both from There.com directly and from their many alums.

Posted by: Cory Ondrejka | May 23, 2004 5:10:34 PM

City of Heroes was in the $5-7 million range, and I understand from NCSoft that all of their current generation of titles were around there. The first generation had effective budgets of $2-3 million, and spent another couple of million on false starts and dead ends (except Camelot). The current generation was mostly in the $4-7 million range but without the false starts (with the exception of Horizons, which was really a first-generation game delayed until it was competing with the second). The *next* generation is going to cost in the neighborhood of $10M.

I do understand the difference between salary and total cost of employment, again, only the most senior game developers cost $100K in the industry at large (SOE and Sigil's bidding war has changed that in the San Diego area, but that's still only a local phenomenon). And the Borg also pays better than the standard rates.

As far as Waterworld comparison goes, the axiom of big-budget movies is "Make sure your budget gets on the screen". There doesn't look or feel like a $37M game, even visually is barely holds even with games that had a tenth of the budget.

--Dave

Posted by: Dave Rickey | May 23, 2004 9:37:20 PM

As someone who tried There and even subscribed (though for only 2 months) I can tell Them exactly why they aren't getting the amount of income and subscribers they had hoped for: They need to be open 24/7!! Where would Everquest be if it was only available on certain days between specific hours???

Posted by: RayB | May 23, 2004 10:29:06 PM

Cory wrote: You have to remember that, for better or for worse, There.com was made up of some extremely smart people

That is right. And that is why the failure of the commercial service of There.com has a large relevance. How could so many talented and expert people fail? And if they failed, how many chances do have other less skilled and talented developers? It is scary situation. On the other side we have seen that there are exceptions, so MMOGs that can be launched successful. But what makes them successful? Just a note, there is an interesting posting by Gordon Walton on the topic on the IGDA forums.

Posted by: Luca Girardo | May 24, 2004 12:47:30 AM

I think There's new business direction is the right business move. Getting a few big clients is easier than getting lots of smaller clients, so they are naturally focusing their limited resources on their biggest clients. They can then leverage the investment in the business/military sector in the consumer sector.

I think this is the right direction as I had a similar business plan based on a MMO platform for primarily government, charity, and educational uses. My rationale is that getting government or NGO contracts with defined objectives is must easier than pleasing the consumer market.

With the investment in modelling the Earth or even the Solar System, educational packages could be developed that allow rural schools to take their students on a virtual tour of Washington D.C., Egypt, or Mars. Setting up a computers with access to this 3D platform in disadvantage areas becomes a a key push to even the tech divide between rich and poor nations and is a great PR and new item for CNN. (Just yesterday on CNN I saw an segment about online gaming that highlighted a mother's interest in Sim Online and There with a brief interview with a founder of There.)

Once the government and NGO business is stable, you can begin to leverage the tech and experience on the consumer market. You can host an Amazing Race online, Disney themeparks online, host the Olympic Game website or run an Apprentice reality show. It becomes the next entertainment network and platform that CNET, Yahoo! and other key industry investors are waiting for.

The initial push into the consumer segment was probably wishful thinking on the readiness of the market for such services or an interesting focus group for the marketing staff.

Frank

Posted by: magicback | May 24, 2004 3:09:13 AM

The initial push into the consumer segment was probably wishful thinking on the readiness of the market for such services

Agreed, Frank. The relatively high system requirements probably didn't help either. Gamers have 800MHz Pentium III's with the latest ATI Radeon cards but most of the mainstream audience weren't up to speed yet. At least not yet. I had to go out and buy a new computer to access There. A great many friends that I recommended it to were interested but most were disappointed to discover they didn't have the minimum system requirements and couldn't get in.

Anyway, it's too bad. Although I can see how There was never a gamer's cup of tea, I always found it to be a fun and friendly place. Specifically it was an extremely rare case of an MMOG environment that was both female-friendly and queer-friendly. It was nice to find a virtual world that offered non-violent virtual activities for those of us with no interest in spending our virtual time killing and slaying and whatnot.

And now this technology will be used for military development. Ah, the irony.

Posted by: Betsy Book | May 24, 2004 6:48:37 AM

It seems to me that There may have taken a logical evolutionally step into the B2B market place. How long before we see their technology platform licensed through various companies and service brands?

I have tried to read between the lines of the official announcement, I am still trying to grasp the extent of what ‘no development’ means in terms of customer service and long-term support? Does this actually mean There is being phased out, or just not developed further?

At the end of the day, it’s a sad day for us all. There and Second Life both supported the VW market place; there was plenty of room for both, they attracted two different crowds. Now one voice has been snuffed out, it makes the single voice left struggling to be heard above the din of metal on armour.

I have to agree with Cory, it’s sad to see such smart visionaries original vision crushed under the jack-boot of government contracts. But then again, they do have to pay the bills.

As a sad epitaph There won a Webby Award last month, three cheers for the ones who dare to be visionaries!

The upshot of this is Second Life, who still have a great vision and a wonderful fervour for the VW marketplace.


www.spacethinkdream.com
www.riversrunred.com

Posted by: Fizik Baskerville | May 24, 2004 9:51:36 AM

IN regards to the cost of decveloping the There software. Costs for There.com are a lot higher because unlike other companies that have been around a while There.com is indipendant. THis means that processes and procedures have to be recreated.... money has to be invested into things other companies already have (callcenters, phone switches, computers, telephones, networking equipment, etc) since established companies have most of this stuff already it costs them a significant amount less to create software. additionally There.com built their entire software from the ground up including the 3d engine. This took a lot of time.

In regards to whatno more development means it means this. There is now a company of about 40 -50 people. Only a handful of them are engineers. Thier focus is going to be on further developing the Army software becase they already have a fixed amount of money. This makes it easy to establish a budget around it. Additionally in regards to the comment of every 3 months they will reevaluate the product. The conswumer product is being evaluated for profitabilitiy quaterly. If they find the product is not making any more money (through sales of therebucks ect) then they will remove the rest of the customer service department (now down to about 14 people). This is being hypothesized to happen because of a shakeup inthe consumer market because people no longer believe that There is goingto be around a while. The comapny is doing nothing to quell these fears so they will just continue to grow.

Posted by: There Insider | May 24, 2004 10:14:31 AM

I'm a veteran MMORPG gamer, I've played pretty much all of them. I can tell you what was wrong with there...

1) Graphics engine was a dog. I remember the first time I logged into my free trial. I was literally shocked. I haven't seen graphics like that in a game in a long time. I realize There isn't a "game," but the comparisons will be made regardless.

2) No clear understanding of what the "point" was. You'd log in, people were friendly enough, and let you go drive a 5 polygon toy around a deserted island. You could chat with people, I guess....

I guess, when I went in, I thought this might be some hybrid of IRC chat and The Sims, but in the end, I left after my trial just confused as to what it's purpose was, how they expected to attract anyone with extremely dated graphics, and why on earth I'd pay for this.

Customer service was FAR beyond anything I've seen in a game, but supporting a product that has no real substance, well, I just didn't "get" it.

Posted by: Pete | May 24, 2004 10:22:58 AM

I agree with others here that what There seems to be lacking are reasons to be There. One nice thing that the "Game" element of MMORPGs provides is a goal structure. The best example I've seen of this is the profession system in Star Wars Galaxies. While you are pursuing your chosen professions doing profession-related activities, you can socialize with other players, team up with them, comiserate, teach eachother and more. The profession system gives players something around which to interact. Without that something, I think players get bored.

Also, SWG's profession system provides for players who don't want to kill things to have fun too. For example, by choosing the entertainer or medic professions, players can gain xp and money by healing other players who do like combat. The cantinas are an excellent place for socializers to hang out as they pursue dancing or music.

However, I do think There does some things better than most MMORPGs. The social interaction system is more sophisticatedi in a lot of ways. For example, posting chat messages on a word-by-word basis makes managing conversational turns and topics much easier and more natural. And putting goggles or headsets on avatars while players are using menus or instant messaging enables you to "see" if other players are busy before you decide to initiate an interaction with them. These may seem like small things, but they make social interaction in There much more manageable than in other systems (including SWG). When will MMORPGs catch up in this respect?

Posted by: Bob Moore | May 24, 2004 12:28:38 PM

I never understood why There wasn't open 24/7, or at least close to it. O well...

They have a fantastic platform (as i've posted on this topic before), that could succeed in other areas outside of the commercial space it's currently been operating in. Obviously, they are finding success with the military. I'm still occasionally knocking at their door with some educational opportunities, which will (hopefully someday!) turn into some action items to explore (Robert, if you happen to be reading this, I have something There related to show you...I'll give you a buzz next week).
-Bart

Posted by: Bart | May 24, 2004 2:16:48 PM

It's true that for many MMO players the Game is an important social motivator. Even if I only played for friends, my uninformed opinion is always why would I go There when I can socialize in a environment that was, well, fun. I like hanging out with friends, but doing fun things with friends is even better, even if my only goal is to bond.

I've always felt pure VWs were overly motivated by the intellectual and creative quest of creating the Metaverse, and less by giving consumers what they want. Let's hear it for visionaries, but unfortunately they'll probably only live on in the nastalgia of players paying for games that actually made it.

What's next: Government oppresses free will by offering money to small business. ?? Get a grip.

Posted by: Staarkhand | May 24, 2004 3:57:36 PM

I agree with many above that There was a brave attempt at a noble goal, that of creating a generic metaverse. That said I also agree that they spent an obscene amount of money trying to achieve that goal, and that their investors would have been better served by a more narrow focus on product(s) that had a more compelling experience for users, i.e. games. I believe that right at the end of their consumer development they realised this, and the last ditch attempt was to build in board and card games.

Fizik Baskerville wrote:
> As a sad epitaph There won a Webby Award last
> month, three cheers for the ones who dare to be
> visionaries!

Umm, no they didn't, we did. They were nominated, Puzzle Pirates won the award. So there.

Posted by: Daniel James | May 24, 2004 5:31:14 PM

Rock! Congrats Daniel (I voted for you ;)

Posted by: Stewart Butterfield | May 25, 2004 3:03:08 PM

There.com was doomed to failure from day one. They had little to no understanding of the business model they were trying to employ, and ignored the people that told them so. The tail end of hubris is usually pretty darn nasty.

--matt

Posted by: Matthew Mihaly | May 25, 2004 4:56:49 PM

There is an interesting article on Gamespot about There and what is going to happen in the next 90 days.

Gamespot article: "Is There going nowhere"?

Posted by: Luca Girardo | May 26, 2004 8:25:59 AM

While the news is bad, I'm sure there are good things we can borrow from the There experience and carry forward. Anyone care to venture?

I for one was fascinated by the chat camera self-positioning itself depending on the people talking and how your avatars would join and leave conversations with **gasp** body language cues.

Posted by: DivineShadow | May 26, 2004 6:37:42 PM

I think that several of There's technical achievements were head and shoulders above most MMORPGs: chat camera and emote handling, having a generalized physics modeling capability, and so on. However, it was at its most fun before it got very popular. It was a great playground, but suffered ever increasing grief problems, precisely because it was so open-ended. Second Life is having some of the same difficulties, though I think they have a more solid revenue model.

I'll be very interested to see what comes out of the Army contract. In my day job, I work on a large contract that my company has with PEOSTRI, and they have a very big wish list. They're very enamored of virtual and constructive simulation, especially for training. But doing government contract work is very different from doing commercial development, and there are many ways to get derailed and go flaming off the cliff for completely non-technical reasons. Contracts are not a panacea, nor are they a quick fix to a revenue shortfall: at a guess, virtual worlds for the Army being used for more than VIP demos is probably 6-10 years away.

Posted by: Amanda Walker | May 27, 2004 11:19:11 AM

There update:

There is an interesting interview with Will Harvey on Gamespot about There.

-------
Luca Girardo

Posted by: Luca Girardo | May 29, 2004 6:48:57 AM

Update on There

Well, the news of just a few weeks ago took many of us, both inside and outside the company, by surprise. I had been watching the numbers closely and in the last 3 months figured that some things had to change, but even so I was quite surprised at the current direction There has taken. But, such is the business world; in fact, when I was in the auto industry I saw similar changes. That said, I wanted to give a brief update of what other changes have transpired since the announcement.

As some people may know the company was split into two groups, a platform group (the main) and a consumer group (focused on the community side business). Over a dozen others and myself have found ourselves in the consumer group. As our first order of business, we have been working hard internally to define what it would take to keep the consumer business running, and what it would take to get it back on track. We have received a preliminary commitment that as long as we are covering our costs (mainly salaries/bandwidth) we will be keeping the consumer service up and running. We have even been given some hope with the possibility of taking excess revenues and using them to contract for updates and bug fixes in the future.

Expectantly, the economy has been in great flux. But, in many ways I think the turmoil may be overstated, as the majority of the economic data is coming from GamingOpenMarket.com and ThereDaq.com, and there are a number of congruent changes that have a tendency to blur the true effects of the current transition. In the case of ThereDaq.com, their reporting system is calculated when auctions end, and several weeks ago There lengthened the max auction time from 2 weeks to 2 months, and so a number of 'buy-now' auctions have yet to close and be reported. In the case of GamingOpenMarket.com, one major factor that is blurring the data is the fact that houses are now auctionable. This feature was long awaited and there was a huge backlog of houses that people wanted to both buy and sell. Properties are currently selling for US$35 to US$150 for the ‘right to rent’ and as such, there is a large amount of Therebucks now changing hands via GOM. (note: rental contract sales are also not being reported on ThereDaq.com at this time.) That said, it is also clear that a number of developers that were holding large cash balances have decided to unload their excess cash reserves, which is adding to the currency flow. On the otherhand, while internal sales of ThereBucks have slowed a bit, they are still selling well at 1787/US$, and I think that in 30-45 days time you will see the ThereBuck trading at a much different level on GOM than today.

Again, to maybe be more open than I should, the task of maintaining profitability is not an easy task by any means (even with the reduced staff numbers). But, we still have a few tricks up our sleeve, and the team will be working with members over the upcoming months to come up with a few more. Additionally, after looking at the economic numbers for well over a year, this week was the first time I have seen breakeven goals that I felt were very obtainable. In fact, in a service that wasn’t expected to be 'profitable' for another 6-18 months (per some original business estimates), this week is looking very good and the task is no longer about reaching profitability, but maintaining it.

-Bruce Boston

(note: in no way am I making this post in any official capacity for There, inc, and any information contained is purely the opinions of my own)

Posted by: Bruce Boston | Jun 3, 2004 4:09:30 PM

Cheers, Bruce. Best of luck to you and the team.

Posted by: Betsy Book | Jun 3, 2004 6:43:15 PM

Bruce Boston>the task of maintaining profitability is not an easy task by any means (even with the reduced staff numbers)

Are you still getting newbies at the same rate you were getting them before (or better)?

Richard

Posted by: Richard Bartle | Jun 4, 2004 6:33:13 AM

I'm right with ya, all the way, Bruce!

Posted by: Hula | Jun 4, 2004 10:45:11 AM

Hi Richard,

Depends on who you classify as a newbie. We are still seeing a good number of trial accounts, and maybe I'm being more open than I should be again, but I think it's safe to say that the new membership numbers have dropped. It's hard to make the announcements that have been made and have the loss of confidence in the economy that we are seeing, and not have new memberhip numbers drop.

My guess is that it will be difficult to get the 'new membership numbers' back up for another 45-90 days. Part of that is waiting for GamingOpenMarket to return to trading at around .90-.95 per block (30-45days), and people feeling like the economy is more stable. The other half will be maintaining current member confidence. Overwhelmingly most memberships come from current member's referring friends, and I think it will take some time to get the levels of trust back up to where members really feel safe recommending There to their friends. Again, I don't think anyone thinks it will be an easy task, but I think we are well aware that newbies are the lifeblood of any community, and the heart of most consumer economies.

-bruce

Posted by: Bruce Boston | Jun 4, 2004 1:25:24 PM

I just got a message from There containing a bunch of reassurances about the longevity of the world and promises of new features. When I attempted to log into There Central to check out the advertised "portahomes," I got nothing. The site is down again.

This is typical of the decay There has suffered over the last several months and is the reason I never really log in anymore.

If There is scaling back support personnel I pity the remaining players -- support was next to impossible to get in-world as it was. I haven't seen There Help on IM in ages, either. This company shows every sign of going down in flames if you ask me.

Posted by: Adam M. | Jun 8, 2004 12:38:57 PM

Worldsaway/Dreamscape went down in flames too. But some hardcore members managed to feed on hope for a few months, then on ashes for several years. Avatar resiliency is both sad and inspiring.

Posted by: Herve Eulacia | Jun 8, 2004 6:31:41 PM

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