Tuesday, July 20, 2010

GoJiyo, Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

I was hopping around the Metaverse today and found myself in GoJiyo, a Unity3d-based virtual world from the Godrej group based in India. The Godrej group is a diverse company, selling everything from soaps, appliances to warehouses and is now apparently venturing into branded virtual worlds to target the Indian youth market.

Like every other new virtual world, GoJiyo has been compared to Second Life. In a blog post dated April 10 2010, Nikki Gomez outlines the primary differences between Second Life and GoJiyo as she sees them, providing some interesting observations. Some of her points are arguable (or perhaps we could just refudiate them) but I think they are cast in the light of some common virtual world memes.
a. Access
1. Second Life needs to be downloaded once (approx 50 MB) and then you run that 'viewer' software to enter the world each time. It is not accessible through your browser.
GoJiyo is accessible directly through a browser, where it loads. Most other virtual worlds involve a software download. GoJiyo is designed for an Indian broadband bandwidth- to work on an actual download rate of 60 kbps. This means each time you go to Gojiyo.com the world downloads, but it has cached the first time, so subsequent downloads are quicker. Our research tells us that Indians wouldn't want to download a large piece of software. Which is perhaps why Second Life and other virtual worlds haven't really taken off in India.
GoJiyo works on Unity. This gaming engine has been adapted by our Dev team to a multiplayer virtual world environment (it’s usually used for uniplayer gaming environments like EA’s Tiger Woods game). It means the graphics can be great, there is some level of physics, and also it’s quite small to download! The Unity plugin is also slim at only 3MB.
2. The graphical user interface of the Second Life Viewer has, up to now, been pretty difficult to use, to quote one of the team, “we are Linden Lab after all” and most Second Life users have had to be quite tech savvy to be able to use it to its full potential. (We’ll see how the new Viewer changes their user demographic).
GoJiyo was designed to be very easy to use in its interface and with simple and fun functionality for less tech savvy users. Aimed at those new to virtual worlds (a step up from Farmville in immersive environments).
b. Features  
Second Life is much bigger than GoJiyo- it's absolutely huge with loads of regions built by users, there's sophisticated location-based sound and lipsynching of avatars to their voice etc. Avatar customization is much more developed than GoJiyo's too, because it’s user generated, so the team of developers is much larger. You can be a non-human character for instance!
Gojiyo has 6 Regions only, which will refresh continually- Solaria- a beach city; Mauryaavaas - a recreation of the ancient Mauryan Empire, Noom- moon colony; Rejanm - where you can be reborn; an underwater world and an arcticland. Some are very Indian concepts. There is voice chat but GoJiyo is 25 days old compared to 7 years old ad so its features are continually developing. Like with any good software product, features will keep being added continually.
2. One of Second Life’s core tenets is giving creativity to the user though allowing them to create their own content (UGC). Users can create their own regions by buying land and building on it. The tools to build are out there to create everything from avatar clothes to gestures and more.
There are no gaming elements to Second Life really.
GoJiyo on the other hand, has many mini-games, to name a few: you can go bunjee jumping, surfing, skydiving, fight asteroids falling on the Moon and soon speed date in 3rd Century BCE Mauryavaas. Users can also engage in longer quests like finding who’s stolen all the artworks from the city and restoring them; planting algae to save the moon from running out of oxygen. GoJiyo has a points and currency system- Mios and Jios which earns the user rewards online and in the real world and there’ll be more links with Godrej and other products. For instance you can win a real trip to climb Kilimanjaro with some of your GoJiyo friends.
3. In GoJiyo there’s a friendship engine that tracks your behaviour in GoJiyo, say you like doing adrenalin type activities, it will suggest similar new friends for you to meet, from the GoJiyo Tribe. Second Life doesn't have a feature like that. In fact you can't import friends from other networks, it is your world apart from the rest of your online life.
Yes in both worlds you can party at clubs. And in both your avatar can fly and teleport.
c. Audience
Second Life’s audience is more Western-centric- the majority of Residents are Americans and Europeans, with 7% from Japan and Brazil. Indian user figures are negligable. But 12.1m Residents over the 7 years of operations. A virtual world is, after all, simply an architecture until filled with people. GoJiyo is aimed at young Indians, who are populating it (at time of writing 72,000 avatars in India had been created in 25 days).
d. Business Model & Reason For Doing It 
Second Life’s mission is “To connect everyone to an online world that advances the human condition.” It seems Linden Lab are focusing much more towards UGC and customization of the world- you make what kind of fantasy world you want to inhabit. Virtual meetings between people, including companies, through their Enterprise Grid is another growing area. The exchange rate, Linden dollar to USD also mean Linden have a strong business model for this product.
GoJiyo is a branded environment- Godrej and other brands will be present; but it is not a business Godrej is entering, simply a communication platform for the brand. The aim is to build a conversation with a younger target group than it currently has. And give to them some new, hopefully unique, experiences online.
I'm leaving. It's not you, it's the interface.

One thing I noticed straight away is how curiously close the GoJiyo interface is to Second Life's infamous Viewer 2.0 (minus the SL menus to access all the things that GoJiyo doesn't feature such as land, build, etc.). Have a look for yourself.

The green buttons at the top right allow you to access: My Wardrobe, My Friends, Voice Chat, Help, Key Controls and Activities. Pressing them loads the panel along the right hand rail.

The gray buttons along the bottom of the window include Fly, Local Chat, [ the chat window ], Gesture, Snapshot, Universe, and Map. Pressing them does precisely what they do in Second Life (except I can't find my snapshots) with the exception of Universe.  The Universe seems to open up a list of parallel worlds, or shards.

When music is available on the land parcel, the Music buttons appears and you can press Play to play the stream or Stop to stop.  When you play music, a local chat bubble opens that tells you what is currently playing. I am not fond of the lack of volume control in these browser based worlds.

Along the bottom is a pink bar for system notifications. Right now it says: Note: In an endeavor to improve, this site is constantly being developed and enhanced, so keep sending your suggestions. This might be a helpful consideration for the next iteration of the SL viewer.

Entertain me

The one thing about programmed worlds is that in order to stay interesting, a lot of work has to go into developing new content to entertain the residents. There are "things to do" in GoJiyo including games and quests, but it will take an ongoing effort to keep the world vibrant and interesting - especially with the limited number of places to go.

I haven't spent a lot of time in GoJiyo yet, although I'm convinced it will be a burgeoning success since I was hit on by a demanding chap named Napolean on my initial landing in the welcome area. That could be because I was the only female avatar there at the time.

My second journey to the welcome area a chap apologized for his comments noting "oops, gal here  i thought this was a bachelor party  please accept my apologies". Apology accepted, but not before the Unity3d plugin crashed.

Oh well.

Bring your real friends or we'll harvest you some new ones!

GoJiyo has integrated the popular Facebook connect feature so that you can harvest your social graph and bring your real friends along for the ride. (I love the medical metaphor here, don't you?). Built into this is also a "friendship engine" that tracks your activities and suggests new friends for you to meet from the GoJiyo Tribe, and voice and text chat elements that allow you to interact with them which I find simultaneously intriguing and creepy.

It seems a bit like Amazon's recommendation engine for people which seems limiting to me, but then again one of most precious things about virtual worlds for me is meeting people you would otherwise not meet, talk to, or have anything in common with, etc.

I think we should focus on extending our social graph, not harvesting them, but connecting the real and virtual worlds is becoming a meme du jour. I'm going to post about this soon so I won't go into it much here.

If for nothing else than the interface and ease of use comparisons, GoJiyo is worth a look.  Have a go of it yourself, good luck on your journey and please let me know what you think.
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