The excitement over virtual reality is reaching a new height with advances in display technology coming soon, from Oculus Rift to Project Morpheus, from HoloLens to Magic Leap. While these technologies are exciting, they are merely the gateway to new experiences — with potential to transform a wide range of industries, from games to movies, from tourism to medicine, and not least basic social interactions. When it comes to dealing with virtual worlds, no company has more experience than Linden Lab, creators of the virtual world Second Life, and that company is working towards a more compelling virtual future not just on PCs, but also on mobile. The company recently announced that Hasbro’s iconic G.I. Joe brand will be coming to Linden Lab’s Blocksworld, the popular build-and-play game for Apple’s iPad.
“Blocksworld lets players of all ages create fun 3D games, interactive scenarios, unique memes, models, and more, using a huge variety of blocks and a simple but powerful visual programming system,” said Linden Lab in a statement. “Blocksworld builders share their playable worlds in a global community and earn coins redeemable in an in-app Shop as their creations are ‘liked’ by other players. Players have already more than 2.3 million worlds in the community, from great games to impressive interactive models, and there’s always something new to play with.”
The partnership with Hasbro means that six G.I. JOE games will be available for all Blocksworld players. The games present a new storyline in the conflict between G.I. JOE and COBRA that ends in a cliffhanger, and Blocksworld players will be challenged to create and share their own interactive endings to the narrative. Of course, there will also be plenty of G.I. Joe building sets available, too, so players can create characters, vehicles, and more with their favorites from the stories. The playable G.I. Joe content can be used in any worlds the players create.
â€œKids love playing and creating in Blocksworld,â€ said Michelle Vuckovich, Linden Lab’s Director of Product for Blocksworld. â€œWhile having fun creating anything they can imagine, they’re also learning to think like programmers, game designers, and engineers – something parents and teachers can appreciate. Blocksworld‘s physics and programming system are great for lasers, explosions, and all kinds of vehicles, and G.I. JOE is a perfect fit for those capabilities and our players’ interests. Blocksworld players will love the exciting new G.I. JOE games, and we can’t wait to see the creations they share to complete the storyline.â€
The [a]list daily caught up with Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg along with Peter Gray, senior director of global communications, to talk about Blocksworld, Hasbro, the effort to re-invent Second Life, and where VR is heading.
What prompted Linden Labs to create Blocksworld?
Altberg: The origin was actually a small Swedish company that Linden Lab ended up buying to get their hands on the core Blocksworld technology. I wasn’t here at the time, but the correct decision of acquiring that company was made on the fact that they had figured out how to make construction very flexible, very scalable, and very easy. The sweet spot for Blocksworld is kids six to twelve years old. We wanted to make it possible for kids of that age to do some very sophisticated stuff without it being completely beyond their capabilities. Ease of use and power, it’s an interesting combination.
What else is in Blocksworld?
Gray: GI Joe is actually the third Hasbro brand we’ve been pleased to be able to bring to Blocksworld players. Before that we brought Transformers as well as My Little Pony build sets to our players They’ve been very popular among our users, particularly the Transformers sets. We’re excited for GI Joe — we’ve heard from our community they’re really excited about this. In Blocksworld we also have a mix of our own in-house developed IP with some building sets among different themes, like castles, spy/military themes, cars, those sorts of things. The Hasbro IP joins our own internally developed themes within the game.
Who’s your audience for Blocksworld?
Gray: Blocksworld is available globally in the App Store and we do see players from all over the world. The app is only in English, but a lot of the app isn’t reliant on language, so I think that doesn’t necessarily limit us. In terms of gender, we don’t have strong data on that — we’re very careful to be compliant the regulations about kid’s games. One of the things kids are able to do in Blocksworld is create a profile for themselves, and pick a little character to represent their profile — we call them blocksters, they can pick a little boy or a little girl blockster. The little boy tends to be more popular. We suspect, based on that and some of the content we see being created, that we probably skew a bit more popular among boys than girls.
How are you marketing Blocksworld?
Gray: We have PR efforts under way, we have ad campaigns in progress as well. We’re starting to connect with communities of GI Joe enthusiasts, we’re hoping some of them will pick up on the news and check out Blocksworld or have their kids check out Blocksworld.
Altberg: To date we’ve been fairly conservative. We believe we have an incredible quality title on our hands, but we’re spending a lot of our energy going deep on the user experience and the usability of the app. There’s a lot of things we could have done to get to a wider audience more quickly, whether that’s localization or going to other platforms like Android or PCs. But we have refrained from that, because we do have time to get it right before we start to go much, much broader with it. We’re more concerned about the engagement and happiness of the users we have, rather than just trying to throw more people in there. Once we know that this is something incredible then we’ll start to increase the reach of this app. There’s so much noise and crap in the market, we don’t want to be one of those guys. We want to provide something of incredible quality.
Gray: We’re already seeing 4+ stars in the App Store, we’re currently about 125 in all free iPad apps and 67 in free iPad games. We rank very well in more specific categories, like 5th in educational.
You’re working on a new Second Life platform, what can you tell us about that?
Altberg: We have started a huge effort, the vast majority of our people at Linden Lab are working on a next-generation virtual experience platform. We’re going to go way beyond what Second Life ever achieved. This is a large undertaking, because Second Life is the most successful virtual world of all time. There’s no other platform that has enabled users to create that wide variety of content and experiences and communities, and be able to earn $60 million last year [for the inhabitants of Second Life]. We are 200 people and profitable thanks to Second Life, so it’s been hugely successful product.
But there are a number of things about Second Life where we can’t take it further, due to business and technology reasons. So we started about 9 months ago to build a completely, from-the-ground-up platform for users to be able to create content that will provide the creators with way more scale. It will make it easy for creators to create experiences that can be consumed by thousands of people concurrently using techniques like instancing.
Also it will enable creators to sell content and complete experiences, like apps but it’s a virtual experience. We’re also thinking up front on how this will be a fantastic platform for creating virtual reality content using all this new VR hardware that’s coming out like Oculus and Morpheus. This is going to be a way you can create extremely rich, interactive, social content in 3D space without highly technical requirements.
In this day and age, wth the explosion of virtual reality that’s happening around us, and the renewed interest in things we’ve been doing for a long time — Linden Labs has 12+ years of experience operating a huge, user-generated virtual reality content with a huge economy. We want to take that experience and give users some new, high performance, high quality, beautiful, easy to use, very scalable ways for people to create these immersive experiences.