More Browser-Based Virtual Worlds: The Electric Sheep Company Releases WebFlock

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Sibley Verbeck is moving past Second Life. The CEO of the Electric Sheep Company has made a lot of money creating virtual islands in Second Life for big brands such as CBS, Showtime, and Intel. But now he is ready to bring those virtual worlds to the Web in regular browsers. Today, he is releasing WebFlock, a Flash-based 3-D virtual world application he is offering as a hosted software service.

WebFlock worlds are private-label virtual environments targeted at big brands who want to have a 3D presence online that is more accessible than worlds like Second Life, which require a separate software download. Although we’ve seen $345 million invested in virtual-world startups so far this year, there is a definite trend of those worlds moving into the browser. For instance, recently launched virtual-world startup Vivaty is all browser based, and Google is experimenting with Lively, its own browser-based virtual environments.

None of those other efforts, though, are Flash-based. They only work on Windows machines (because they tap into ActiveX). WerFlock worlds are viewable in any browser that supports Flash (i.e., nearly all of them). It supports 3D avatars, chat, virtual currencies, games, and embedded images and videos from YouTube and other parts of the Web.

Verbeck is offering WebFlock as a hosted service to the same types of big brands he creates virtual islands for on Second Life. For instance, his first customer is Showtime’s The L-Word, which already has one of the most popular Second Life islands (created by Electric Sheep). By bringing that same virtual environment to the browser, Showtime thinks it can reach a much bigger portion of its audience.

Verbeck took the same underlying technology Electric Sheep uses to create other virtual environments, called Aspen, and is now applying it to browser-based worlds. He envisions these 3-D worlds as standalone places integrated into different Websites. Connecting them together would make them more interesting.

WebFlock does not come cheap. A ‘basic implementation,” which includes a 3-D space, avatars, and basic features, will cost “under $100,000″ for 12 months. And he is not abandoning his Second Life business entirely, but this new emphasis shows that he sees that the writing is on the wall for virtual worlds that are closed off (or at least hard to get to) from the rest of the Web.

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