Dotfriends is a new virtual world app for Facebook, created by Haveanew. The app isn’t a traditional “game” as such, but does feature a number of game-like elements, such as an in-app currency and a slight competitive element.
In Dotfriends, players start by creating their avatar, which is locked to the gender listed on their Facebook profile. Players can choose from a selection of haircuts and facial styles and are also able to spend an initial allowance of in-game currency on additional clothing items — though a problem arises almost immediately if players try to buy something without enough cash on hand. There does not appear to be a means of purchasing additional currency at the time of writing, and the game does not make it clear to the player how to acquire more funds. As it happens, additional money is earned through inviting friends to join the virtual world and them accepting, but this is never explicitly communicated to the player until it has happened once.
Once the player has designed their avatar (which can be changed at any time) they have two choices: design their own virtual club or visit someone else’s.
When putting together their own place for others to enjoy, players are able to select between several different predefined designs ranging from a beach party to a nightclub. The design can then be customized by uploading custom images to hang on the walls and linking to YouTube videos to play on the venue’s giant TV screen. Players can also name their club whatever they like and choose where in the world it shows itself as being situated — this does not have to match the player’s real-life location.
When visiting another player’s club, players look at a Google Map of the world and are then able to browse areas in several ways. Besides searching for a specific locale, players can sort places by popularity, those hosted by friends and those in their immediate area. It’s also possible for players to mark favorite places as such, allowing them to be easily found again. The app’s mild competitive component comes from the fact that every place has a “star” rating, and venues are ranked according to how well they attract visitors.
Once inside a venue, players are able to speak in a public chat channel or send a private message to an individual user. When interacting with another individual, it’s also possible to invite the other person to a couple dance animation or to share a drink. Players may also click on a link to see the user’s Facebook profile and, from there, add them as a friend if they see fit. There does not, however, appear to be any means for blocking or reporting users — an unfortunately necessary component to any online social network that allows unfiltered communication between members of the public. When creating a venue, players are able to restrict entry to friends only or by age, but this is not enough to make public rooms safe, particularly for younger users.
Dotfriends is off to a good start but needs some work if it wants to see long-term success. An interactive tutorial introducing players to the way the game works would be welcome — or at the very least, a help document. Similarly, players need to be told explicitly how to earn coins — or given the option to purchase them. And, finally, players need to be able to take full control over who can and cannot interact with them. At present, there does not seem to be an option for players to deal with abusive community members aside from simply leaving the venue they are in, which may not be a desirable option and does not treat the root cause of the problem. If Haveanew wants to make this a viable competitor to other virtual world apps/games — many of which are particularly popular with the teen/tween audience — then further safety and privacy features need to be implemented as soon as possible. It wouldn’t hurt for them to add some means of monetization, either, as it’s difficult to see how this app will make any money at present.
Offers the potential for a good-quality virtual world experience, but a lack of safety/privacy features and monetization may cause Dotfriends to struggle in the long term.