Metaplace, building a universe full of virtual worlds

metaplace.jpgWhen Raph Koster spoke to us in December about his startup Areae, he implied that independent games had a greater earning potential than traditional studio-produced games.

Now he’s putting his money where his mouth is, launching the website Metaplace and launching today at the TechCrunch40 conference.

Metaplace, launched by San Diego-based Areae, is a site on which amateur designers can create their own games. The concept may sound familar; similar ideas are in operation at Kongregate and the Casual Collective.

The difference is that both of those sites rely on flash coders who, although they are called amateurs, have a level of specialized knowledge an ordinary person does not. Metaplace aims to enable anyone to create their own game.

The other difference is the amount of detail. When Koster showed me one of the virtual worlds his site can create, I immediately thought of the Sims; the appearance was quite similar. Games on Kongregate, by contrast, rely on extremely simplistic graphics.

Metaplace has a two-pronged strategy: Coders and designers develop gaming platforms, and users build atop the platforms to invent their own environments. They can pull in games, images and videos from other places.
Metaplace’s approach, helping star developers show off and sell their wares independently, is similar to another private venture that was just bought by IAC, Garagegames.

Although quite a few individual games have allowed users to build atop their worlds, Koster hopes that his startup will be able to grow into something exponentially larger. However, big questions remain for this company. Do people really want to mashup their worlds? Other, bigger virtual worlds like Second Life have APIs that give developers and users more options.

As of its launch today, Metaplace only has about four different templates for game creation, created by the Metaplace team. The number could someday grow to thousands. With that many designs available, users would have a nearly infinite array of tools at their disposal to create their own games.

Metaplace will open today, following the end of the TechCrunch40 conference.

Areae is backed by Charles River Ventures (previous coverage) and Crescendo Ventures.