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Metaplace virtual worlds now blog-embeddable

The people behind the online role-playing "universe" are hoping to increase user engagement by enabling people to embed user-created virtual words in their blogs.

Metaplace is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, or MMORPG, that runs in Flash. It doesn't have nearly as many users as Second Life, nor the cult following of World of Warcraft.

But in an announcement that could go a long way in helping the service expand beyond its 6,000 active users, Metaplace worlds can now be embedded into a blog.

Once that embed is complete, Metaplace users can play in the world right on the blog. If the blog author adds multiple embeds of different worlds, the gamers can be in each of them simultaneously.

Is Metaplace really the kind of service that would make you want to create a world and embed into your blog?

Metaplace worlds can now be embedded in blogs. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

I had the chance to try out Metaplace. And although it has some issues, for the most part, the service is well worth a gamer's time.

The Metaplace experience

Metaplace boasts a unique and ultimately rewarding experience. After you sign up, you're immediately thrust into an avatar creation tool. You can modify the way your player looks and customize it until you're happy.

After that, it's time to create your own world. According to Metaplace founder Raph Koster, everything in the game is streamed directly from the server. Because of that, you can literally change anything in your world.

I was impressed by the world creation tool. It lets you create ledges, change the camera angles, add buildings, input hills, and more. You can create a world of your own liking. That said, sifting through the menus was a little difficult. It would be nice if Metaplace added a better menu option that made it more obvious how to create the world.

Create your world in Metaplace. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Once your world is ready, you can decide whether you want to keep it private and only invite friends, or allow other users to join in. If you choose to make it public, Metaplace users will rate your world, based on the experience it provides. The higher the rating, the greater the likelihood it will be featured prominently on the site's "Central" hub, which lists some of the best worlds. According to Metaplace, there are currently 30,000 worlds on the service.

It's all about the worlds
The more you visit Metaplace, the more you realize that the service relies on its worlds to keep you coming back. Sure, you can interact with other users by chatting it up in different areas, but the real value of the site is interacting with all the neat corners of the Metaplace universe.

I was genuinely impressed by the quality of some worlds. One user created a 2D side scroller, complete with cats. Another user made a world that serves as a tool for teaching Louisiana schoolchildren how to work in game development. As Koster told me, "the possibilities of Metaplace worlds are endless."

The Metaplace 2D world. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

After taking a journey through the site, I can't help but agree. Thanks to the powerful world creation tools, users can do anything. Some users have used Metaplace to set up shop and sell products on the site. You can either buy the products in that Metaplace world or be redirected to the vendor's site to complete your purchase.

Although Metaplace is still a small site, and it isn't getting much attention, its founder believes that it could become a hub for big business. Metaplace eventually hopes to see major firms buy land in different worlds, and create a Metaplace area to promote their brands and bring users together. It's a lofty hope for a site with 6,000 active users.

Metaplace will let you shop around free of charge. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

In my travels, I came across few users. For the most part, there isn't much interaction. There's very little chatting going on. And in some of the worlds I visited, there weren't any other users. On one hand, that's a problem--MMORPGs require gamers to interact to be successful. On the other hand, it's still a small site, and more users will join, if it proves to be a compelling service.

What's it about?
Although Metaplace has some basic leveling-up features, you won't find yourself engaging in missions or battles.

Instead, the site "levels you up" when you travel around the Metaplace universe, explore different areas, and build up your own world. Metaplace is more about creating another world, rather than playing a video game. It reminds me more of Second Life than WoW.

Openness, anyone?
Part of Metaplace's business strategy, which is underscored by its announcement of embedding worlds into blogs, is being open.

The company wants to be looked at as a service that will allow users to do whatever they want, whenever they want. The world you create is yours and yours alone. Metaplace doesn't own it. So, if you want to set up a store and sell goods (digital or real-world), Metaplace won't ask for a piece of the profit.

Metaplace captures Shakespeare from a different site. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Openness is commendable. But it could also lead to trouble. I asked Raph Koster about privacy on the site. I wanted to know how the service protects children from adults or ensures that they don't go into areas of the site where they shouldn't be.

Koster explained that when users sign up, they're required to input their date of birth. If Metaplace finds that the user is between 13 and 18 years of age, all "mature" worlds will be made invisible. He also said users of that age should make their worlds private so no one else can get in.

I don't think that's enough. Users looking to prey on children can easily change their date-of-birth setting to have access to those areas where children are more likely to be. And since some worlds aren't marked as "mature," predators might be waiting in general areas, looking to engage underage users.

Of course, this issue isn't unique to Metaplace. All MMORPGs have this problem. And although it's not a major issue now, if Metaplace gains a large user base, it might be one of the first issues the company will need to address.

What's the goal?
So what's Metaplace's long-term goal? It wants individuals to create a world and interact with others. The company also wants organizations to use the service to create worlds that can be added to their site and enjoyed by their stakeholders.

I think the latter makes more sense. Thanks to the new embed feature and the powerful world creation tools, Metaplace can be a spot where organizations can create worlds that have some level of applicability to their operation. Teachers can create worlds for each of their classes. Bloggers can create worlds to keep their readers engaged. Enterprise users can create a virtual social network in the workplace, where employees congregate.

Simply put, Metaplace has some promise.

If you're looking to try Metaplace out, the site is currently in open beta testing. Creating your own world is free, but if you want more worlds, more users to interact in your world, or extra room to expand, the company charges $9.95 to $10.95 per month.