Today Koinup blog meet Mirko Caspar, co-founder and one of Metaversum’s Managing Directors. As CMO, Mirko is in charge of marketing, sales and strategic partnerships. Before co-founding Metaversum, Mirko worked as Senior Director of Business Development for Universal Music and as Managing Director of Universal’s direct marketing subsidiary. We meet Mirko and talk about the state of art of Twinity and the launch of Virtual London.
Twinity, as you probably know, is a 3D online virtual world created that offers accurate virtual versions of real-world cities. After Berlin, Singapore, they're now launching Virtual London. We invite our readers to explore real city with their avatar and have a look at the Twinity world!
Q. Mirko, basically the concept of Twinity is completely different from the ordinary virtual world based on escapism. How and when you came out with the idea of the mirror world?
A. We had the idea of a virtual world for real people based on real cities in late 2005 and founded the company mid 2006. During the evolution of social networking, the real identity of users became more and more important – just look at the development of Facebook, where people and their friends have always used their real names and identities, vs. MySpace, which was much more based on nicknames and fictional identities. At that time, 3D-worlds were just fantasy environments. We saw an empty field and wanted to occupy it.
Q. I read on Wikipedia, that you open the beta in the fall of 2008, so we're at 1 year of open activities. What's the state of the art of Twinity, now?
A. Building a mirror world is quite a vision, and it takes time to complete it. We went into Beta very early, we had a new product concept and wanted user feedback very early on. Since then we followed our user’s advice and wishes. We have launched Singapore and London, built a Virtual Berlin Wall museum based on a time travel feature, and allowed uploading of user generated items based on the Collada standard. We have improved usability and performance and will continue to do so. Thanks to all the valuable feedback from users and partners we have now a solid roadmap for the first half of 2010. Performance, stability and usability are top priorities, followed by improving the first 30 minutes of in-world experience and adding more casual fun activities.
Q. One of the plague of virtual worlds it's the low retention rate. Of the people that register, only a few % stick around. The large part of the people give up after some attempts. Are you seeing such a trend in Twinity, and if so, how to you think to fix this issue?
A. Virtual worlds are, per definition, very open environments. Compared to games they provide little user guidance. So, if you don’t already have a mission, you want to accomplish, such as, building your virtual home, opening up a club, promoting your gallery, etc, you might feel lost and without a sense of purpose. In addition, a fully 3D immersive environment is still a challenge for many in terms of usability. That holds true for builders and users. So as the industry matures you will see the usability improving thereby lowering the barriers to usage for many. Also many virtual worlds are experimenting with casual game elements and light weight social game mechanics. We are still in an early phase, but as virtual worlds progress, they will become more useful for the general public. That will naturally increase retention.
Q. If though some media continue with the statement that Second Life is dead or desert. It seems that Second Life still has a wonderful and loyal community. How do you look at this confusion? Have you some ideas on why media love to criticize Second Life (and virtual worlds, too)?
A. I see that as a typical hype cycle phenomena: Linden Labs was and is a visionary company that – probably unwillingly - managed to create enormous expectations for Second Life. While they are a successful startup, with sound user activity and revenues, they haven’t attracted a mainstream demographic yet. As a result they lost many advertisers. That was enough for some media companies to write them off. I sense a more reasonable expectation towards Second Life and Virtual worlds now, and consequently a more balanced picture is emerging in the media.
Q. User generated contents were a mantra last year, today instead attention is on social networking. But virtual worlds that thrive (Second Life, IMVU) are hugely based on user generated contents. What's about Twinity, what are doing in that area? Some plan to reveal?
A. We believe in user generated content. We already allow users to upload 3D models based on the Collada file format, but haven’t put the word out as yet . We are still testing and optimizing the system, but as a matter of fact, the basic functionality is live and many of our members are already testing it. The same holds true for geo-referenced content (texts, photos, links). We have silently launched geo-tagging and want to experiment with it, a bit more.
Q. Talking about Twinity, one of the complaints of the members is the huge download you request to use the clients? Are you doing something to ease the use of the client?
A. We have brought down the client to roughly 45 MB. After all – a virtual city and virtual world is content rich. You see us continuously improving download size and process, but improving technology and broader bandwidth will also help. Those barriers to entry will shrink in the near future.
Q. What are the user demographics on Twinity?
A. On average our user is around 30 years old – so we seem to be a world for grownups. However, the member base does stretch from late teens to 60s and above. Our gender mix is pretty much 50-50.
Q. Have you recently launched Virtual London, what are you doing to drive people to visit it and enjoy their stay in London?
Right now we are focusing on the early adopters and online pioneers that want to stake their claim and build their home or business in Twinity. We support them, wherever we can, with great virtual real estate offers or technical advice – whatever is needed. But there are also plenty of exciting events from quizzes and quests to live concerts. As the core community grows we’ll also deploy more traditional online marketing.
Q. Give to Koinup readers some hints on your plans for the next months. What will happen to Twinity in 2010?
A. You’ll see more cities on the one hand, and more community, social, fun, and viral features on the other. And we’ll always improve stability, performance and usability.