Blue Mars Shifts Focus to Mobile Devices, Possible Trend-setter for Other Virtual Worlds?

In what I believe may be the start of a trend, the virtual world Blue Mars announced it would stop further development of it’s PC-based software and would shift its focus to mobile devices, specifically developing for Apple’s iOS platform.  For those of you not familiar with Blue Mars, it’s a sandbox world, similar to Second Life in that it is left open for users to create whatever places and objects they can imagine. The move to mobile platforms reflects several realities facing virtual worlds.  If you don’t believe that mobile devices like iPhone and Android will replace desktop PCs within the next 3-4 years, you should check out the Motorola Atrix, announced at this years CES.  In any event, it’s probably a smart move for the developers of Blue Mars to go mobile because that is increasingly where people are spending their time.  As far as I’ve been able to tell, the graphics engines for most virtual worlds do not appear to be increasing in sophistication, so it seems that people aren’t necessarily focused on that aspect of the world, but rather on the communities that are present there.  Just as in other non-3-D social networks, it’s the people that make the difference.  If Blue Mars can increase its user base by going where the people are, it may just find that it provides the boost they need to accelerate growth.

Questions remain, of course, how things will differ in the new version, whether PC-based user accounts will port smoothly and/or if new user agreements will be required to adapt to the changed nature of the service.  Generally, modifying the agreement is not much of a problem these days (so long as there is no ongoing obligation to any particular user, which is usually dispelled in the terms of use/service agreement), but they might want to be proactive about it.  Why might this be?  One reason the new, mobile version might be different is the obvious change in format, from a mouse-and-keyboard based user interface to a multi-touch, touchscreen UI.  That might create accessibility issues that could require attention, or it might have an effect on what people can do generally in terms of creating objects and interacting.  I would imagine it would be more difficult to chat with other users using half the world screen as a keyboard, so it might require a voice recognition program, etc.  Other issues might arise relating to how accounts will transfer.  The iPhone is a powerful device and likely to get even more powerful in future generations, but even it might strain to keep up with the demands of an interactive, 3-dimensional online service.  If changes are made to scale back the service, the company may want to make that clear up front.  Many of these issues will be tackled, I’m sure, during the lengthy development phase (they have to transition the software from Flash to non-Flash, which begs the question why they didn’t go with Android, which is now the leading mobile platform), but it would be interesting to see exactly what comes out the other end.  I’ll grab a copy of the current terms of use and run a comparison when the new service comes out.  Check back in a few months to see the difference, if any.


About Justin Kwong

An attorney in the Twin Cities and adjunct professor at William Mitchell College of Law where I teach a seminar on the law of virtual worlds.
This entry was posted in Contracts and Agreements, Mobile Devices, Virtual Worlds and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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