3D online virtual worlds are nothing new. From World of Warcraft to Second Life, people have been wandering across polygonal terrain for years, chatting with other users, selling their virtual wares, and making their avatars wave at each other for no apparent reason. But Avatar Reality, the startup behind a 3D platform called Blue Mars, thinks that there’s still a lot of untapped potential from 3D. And now it may have a way to turn their dream into something a lot of people are actually using.
Blue Mars is a platform for building 3D worlds, but it isn’t a game or a single online world. Rather, each 3D realm is separated and built by other companies and individuals — for example, a baseball team could recreate their stadium in 3D and let players and fans interact in a virtual world. Blue Mars manages the heavy lifting on the backend, including support for many simultaneous users and the purchase and exchange of virtual currencies. But up until this point, actually getting people into these worlds has been a challenge. Now Blue Mars is turning to OTOY’s powerful streaming technology to help, and it will be launching support for streaming gameplay in Q1 2011.
The problem so far: in order for someone to wander around a Blue Mars world, a user typically needs to download a hefty native client. That’s fine for big games that people want to play, but nobody is going to take the time to download and install this client for, say, a 3D world that’s been created as part of a marketing campaign. But soon Blue Mars and the companies using its platform will be able to embed these virtual worlds as part of a normal webpage, with no download needed. That’s where OTOY comes in.
We’ve been tracking OTOY for years now: the company has built technology that can offload CPU-intensive tasks like 3D rendering to extremely powerful clusters of servers, then stream the result back to the user’s computer or mobile device. In other words, your CPU and GPU are up in the cloud, and instead of needing a powerful gaming rig to run a hit game like Crysis, you can run it on a much less powerful device, like the iPad (if this sounds familiar, it’s because OnLive is a gaming service with similar technology).
More important to Blue Mars is the fact that there’s no plugin required to use OTOY. You hit a webpage, and you’re in the 3D world, with no download. And there’s support for nearly any device with a modern web browser — you can wander a Blue Mars world using OTOY on an iPhone if you want to. This solves a big part of Blue Mars’ distribution issues. Of course, it isn’t a given that Blue Mars will be a success — it still needs to get companies and websites to build out these 3D worlds (and then they need to get people to actually use them). But this is an important hurdle for them to clear.