Three Virtual Worlds from Europe Worth Watching

moshimonsters.jpgLondon – I’m still recovering from the jet lag and energy of last week’s Virtual Worlds Forum, where I moderated a couple panels, but managed to cobble together some notes from the inaugural conference/trade show. Incongruously (but very coolly) held in a cavernous, velvet wallpaper-lined, Victorian-era building that’s since been converted into a nightclub/roller skating rink (!), it was a fascinating complement to the unaffiliated Virtual Worlds Conference in San Jose earlier this month.

Even across the Atlantic, you get the same sense of a mini dot com boom in virtual worlds, and the explosion of start-ups mainly looking to capitalize on the success of Second Life on the one hand (3D, open-ended spaces for adults) or Habbo Hotel (2D, controlled environments for kids) on the other– either as would-be competitor, middleware technology provider, or third-party marketing/services firm serving the existing market.

Since it’s based in Europe, however, the VWF gave me a chance to glimpse promising, EU-centric MMOs that will probably take extra time to reach the States:

– MoiPal: Tamagotchi-esque MMO for cellphones

There’s been a relative dearth of virtual worlds centered around mobile phone networks, surprisingly enough, but MoiPal from Finland’s Iron Star Helsinki is looking to fill that opening. Founder Joakim Achren gave a quick tour of MoiPal on one of my panels: basically, you create and foster an avatar who exists in your phone, and you send it out to accomplish tasks and interact with other avatars while you’re offline, then check updates at the game’s website– a clever integration of mobile functionality with asynchronous play.

– Papermint: MMO for hip girls

From Austrian-based Avaloop, Papermint is now being localized to English, offering a social world that’s been visualized with a quirky, hip flair. (Think Zwinky for cool kids and thanks to its look, perhaps an even larger fanbase of older players.) It was presented at VWF by lead artist Dr. Barbara Lippe, who with her cerebral background, pixie looks, and blue hair, I’m hereby dubbing the Bjork of the virtual world industry.

– Moshi Monsters: The next Webkinz-ish breakout?

I was also impressed by Moshi Monsters, from the London studio behind last year’s innovative alternative reality game Perplex City. Like Webkinz, the kid-focused MMO that counts nearly 4 million active users, you own a physical analog of a virtual pet, but Moshi Monsters seems to come with more customized controls and functionality, and the ugly-cute creatures will probably attract a larger and slightly older crossover market of boys and girls.

There were many other virtual worlds/MMOs I missed, and other tech demos I’ll probably feature in future writing. As is often the case, indefatigably great game blogger Alice Taylor also has an imminently readable report from the scene.

Image credit: Disclosure: I was a partly-sponsored moderator for the VWF– given the gut-punchingly bad exchange rate of the US$ to the British pound nowadays, emphasis on “partly”.