Friday, February 22, 2013

Linden Lab Releases Versu, But Are They Going Too Fast?

By Bixyl Shuftan

Last week, Linden Labs introduced it's latest product, "Versu." Subtitled "Living Stories," Versu is an interactive fiction application. The press release described it as "an interactive storytelling platform that builds experiences around characters and social interaction." Versu differs a bit from other "choose your own adventure" platforms in that the applications artificial intelligence allows for characters to react differently based on the reader's choices. Characters react with emotions as well as actions.

The artificial intelligence was designed by Richard Evans and Emily Short. The two designers, Evans was noted for his work on "Black and White" and "Sims3," had founded "Little Text People," which was purchased by Linden Lab last year. There are plans for the platform to allow users to write their own interactive stories in the future, of which the writers can either make them available as free or for sale. In the latter, Linden Lab takes a percentage of the sale. Versu is available at Apple's iTunes App Store, and has four interactive stories available, including a short tale intended as a tutorial. 

In Gamasutra, Rod Humble had in mind what he saw as lacking in games, "when you go into a bookstore or look at an ebook reading list, the top sellers are almost invariably romance and drama. And then you look at what games make, and there's no romance, no drama. … Romance is going to be a mainstay in the games business. Someone is going to do it, and I'd sure love it to be us."

New World Notes' Iris Ophelia took a look at Versu. Describing herself as a fan of interactive fiction, the ability to act and react when she wanted to appealed to her, calling it "the choice to choose … it contributes to a much stronger sense of agency, which is the whole point of interactive fiction …" She thought it had the potential to be a great tool to use with children and teenagers, "as a teacher or parent. It's the sort of tool I would personally look for any excuse to work into a lesson or activity because it has a lot of potential to engage users with the content."

The problem, Iris felt, was considering that Linden Lab had released Versu so soon after Dio, which did many of the same things. She wrote, "it feels like one more clever and creative little thing that just isn't going to go anywhere, even though it absolutely could and should." While there was a market for interactive fiction, interest "probably higher now than its been a decade and a  half at least," there were already numerous devices and applications out there with devoted followings. And with Linden Lab seemingly "throwing things out to see what sticks," she felt Versu and Dio would not be able to attract sizable followings.

At the end, Iris wondered if Linden Lab might have been better off concentrating their efforts with Second Life, "If they're going to keep launching these indie-esque projects and just leaving them to rot without fostering any of the functionality or community endearment that makes all the other projects like these that came before actually work, they are probably wasting their time." 

Hamlet Au took a look at how much Versu, and Linden Lab's first of it's apps Creatorverse, had been downloaded. Versu's had a good start so far, but not many are buying the pay books yet. If the trends of Creatorverse are an indication, it may be in trouble. It began as among the top 5 downloaded apps, but "has since dwindled to ranks in the mid-hundreds."

Among those commenting on Iris's article was Shockwave Yareach, "The Lab wants to operate like Ford and give their dealers the job of interacting with the customers. Trouble is, the dealers don't have the powers they need to be able to do that. And quite frankly, Linden Lab sells Yugos instead of Fords." Also commenting was Ciaran Laval, whom thought it was too early to say where Versu was headed, "it's not unusual for a new player to enter an existing market and prosper."

Sources: Linden Lab, Gamasutra, New World Notes 

Bixyl Shuftan

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