Looking at Multi-Platform Virtual World SmallWorlds

SmallWorldsSmallWorlds, a 3D virtual world created in 2008 by a New Zealand-based development team, is more than just a Facebook game: it’s actually present on multiple platforms, including MySpace, Bebo, Hi5 and its own web portal.

What makes SmallWorlds different from other virtual worlds is this cross-platform distribution — it reaches out to a wide group of users, and doesn’t require a software download, as so many virtual worlds do. And for a social network-based virtual world, there is a surprising amount to do, so much so that it can feel overwhelming.

SmallWorlds has the same objective as most virtual worlds — to interact with other users and emulate reality. Players start out in a small new-player area, which launches them into a tutorial of the basics of movement and transportation around the world. The different areas in the world are almost like 3D chat rooms, in the sense that they’re not usually “connected” to one another. Rather, players warp about Star Trek style, loading each new zone independently.

ShoppingAfter the basics of movement are explained, SmallWorlds introduces the player to their own virtual home and the basics on buying and decorating, with the help of stores that sell  items ranging from ancient Egyptian relics, to modern appliances, to outdoor gear.

But it’s the social interaction that is the heart of SmallWorlds. Beyond chat (which is stylistically accompanied by a gibberish speech sounds), there are many emotes that also come with sounds. Players looking for friends have a variety of locales to visit — stores, beaches, clubs, resorts, and so on — many of which have synchronous activities.

Arcade GamesBesides talking, there are other activities to engage in, the simplest being board games, like checkers. There are also a myriad of arcade games (with tournaments) powered by companies like Mochi Media and Kongregate. Less competitively, there’s an entire gallery of digital paintings by users, and many open canvases for players to draw on.

More in-depth multiplayer games involve teams and are found in an area called Arena Central. These competitive games include capture the flag, collection, and shooter concepts. Each one is decently fun to play with some virtual friends, but they are all very simple and because none of them are the focus of SmallWorlds, they do feel a bit clunky.

Arena CentralAll the same, it’s a good idea  to participate in anything and everything you can. Many activities grant Tokens and Citizen Points. Citizen Points are basically experience points, which earns a player“Citizen Levels,” which in turn earns special titles, exclusive items, and so on.

Exclusive items are worth noting because they can be used to add pizzazz to your avatar. We’ve seen space men, fairies, skater punks, and any number of animal people. Many higher level players have virtual pets in tow. This is a whole other mini-game, as players can adopt virtual critters and teach them “Pet Dances” that range from the basic (beg, stay, jump, etc.) to the more advanced (Thriller, Moonwalk, etc.).

Pets and AvatarsIf this sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. That’s our only complaint with SmallWorlds. There’s so much, it often feels unfocused, not to mention that after the tutorials the game doesn’t do a great job of walking players through anything. There are a lot of tutorial text boxes everywhere and even the occasional video, but most players aren’t going to want to read every ten seconds. There is a nice mission system, though, that acts as a kind of guide. Still, we’d like to see a few more simple, interactive tutorials to get new players started.

Overall, SmallWorlds is a pretty solid social virtual world, and one that has found some success on Facebook, with 120,306 monthly active users. That’s not too bad, for a genre that few dedicated social game companies have been willing to experiment with.