Missing in action?
You might call Mac the neglected stepchild of the family when it comes to 3d virtual worlds.
Whilst Windows has received the lions share of developer attention, Mac has been relegated to an afterthought or at best a future roadmap item. The phrase "you can always run boot camp / parallels" is a familiar refrain for those metaversersians reading this blog on a Mac.
Where do things stand right now?
Today, only a handful of 3d online worlds run on OSX, for example:
|Online world ||Mac support |
|Activeworlds ||No |
|Bluemars ||No |
|Frenzoo ||Supported |
|IMVU ||No |
|Kaneva ||No |
|Utherverse ||No |
|Second Life ||Supported |
|There.com ||No |
|Twinity ||No |
|Vside ||Supported |
The big bright spot to date has been Linden Labs. Second Life (and more recently, OpenSim) in particular has been an early pioneer of OSX support, and despite some early hiccups has gone on to gather a loyal base amongst its Mac community.
Porting your Windows world
There.com made a splash on its upcoming Mac support last year, but as of the time of writing is still unreleased. Other virtual worlds have publicly stated intentions to release Mac versions, but few have appeared to make good on it yet.
Why? The challenge is under the hood.
Depending on technology, it can be anwhere from trivial to multi-year project to port a Windows client to OSX. One of the key factors is the choice of 3d engine. Many popular game platforms used by MMOs and virtual worlds are Windows only, as any gamer on Mac can attest to.
An example is the graphically stunning Blue Mars, which sadly for many Mac users (myself included) is Windows only. "Unfortunately, the Cryengine does not run on OS X" commented Vice President Jim Sink, during an interview on Metanomics
But are times a changing?
A surge in Mac marketshare on the back of Vista stumblings, and its stronghold in the early adopter tech crowd are causing virtual world players to reconsider the platform. Whereas a couple years ago the tone amongst operators was "nice to have sometime in the future", today it's shifted to "we really need to get support" or "this is killing us!"
It's also the "close to home" factors; the 3d artist who uses Mac at home and is frustrated she can't log in from out of the office. The community manager makes a presentation is made at an event where the projector machine is a Mac etc. The CEO's son uses a Macbook for school and so on... Virtual world developers are only human after all, and these things do weigh on decisions.
Screenshot from Onverse
A positive recent example of Mac support is Onverse, a new client-based 3d game world which launched its public beta on both Windows and Mac platforms. This clearly wasn't an afterthought - but had been planned in right at the start of the development cycle and choice of technology.
However there is an elephant in the room - a unstoppable trend that bodes very well for Mac users who also love virtual worlds...
The way of the web
The move to the cloud and web apps is now happening in the online world space.
Whilst there are many challenges in the browser such as limited cache size, in many cases it's made up for in accessibility as well as ease of integration into Facebook and other web platforms.
|Browser based, Mac support ||3D technique |
|Frenzoo ||Unity |
|Meez ||Flash, Java |
|Metaplace ||Flash |
|Nurien (coming web version) ||Unity |
|Smallworlds ||Flash |
|Vivaty Lite ||Flash |
The worlds based in flash are in 3D but often limit the camera view to top down isometric as well as going for the cartoon style of avatar with lower polygons, to maintain performance.
The exception right now is Vivaty Lite which allows free camera control and higher quality graphics but with the hard limit of only 2 avatars in a scene at one time. Most flash worlds do not allow any user generated content, preferring to go for optimized assets built in house - the exception right now is Metaplace which allows creators to import their own 3d assets.
In browser online world using Flash
Web worlds using multi-platform 3d engines such as Unity have high quality graphics and enable more realistic environments and avatars, but require installation of a browser plugin (typically a few MB). There are also some Windows only plugin engines (the full version of Vivaty being an example) however more often new games and worlds are standardizing on a handful of 3rd party engines that have support on Mac as well as Windows, and often other platforms such as iphone and console.
In browser online world using Unity
Where do we go from here?
Big picture, the trend towards the web will only continue to gain momentum in my opinion. Also longer term the support of 3d within web standards such as HTML 5 / WebGL offers a prospect of high quality graphics native within the browser.
All up it's looking rosy for Mac online world lovers :)
Article by contributing writer Simon Newstead of Frenzoo, an online world for 3d chat and creation
Picture above by Koinup user RAFTWETJewell