Yesterday I was reading a Clickable Culture blog entry about a pop music-oriented virtual environment called "The Lounge," developed by "adverworld" creators Doppelganger. I decided to go check it out.
To enter The Lounge, you have to download a fairly small app (about 60 Megs, Windows only naturally) and register with a unique name and email address. No credit card required!
Upon logging in, you are asked which Lounge you want to drop into. There is a big map of the world, but the only two options are Paris and San Francisco. Paris was empty, so I went to my hometown of SF.
Once in-world, the first order of business is dressing up your avatar, which looks about 15 years old. There is only one basic male and female body-type, which can vary by height but not weight or shape. You can play with your avatar’s skin tone, eye color, hair color and style, and that’s about it for physical characteristics. There appear to be three basic postures you can choose from: "preppy" (stick up your butt), "indie" (slouchy),
and "hip-hop" (golem-like stance).
Beyond that, you get a small assortment of youth-oriented clothing, from skater shorts, to Adidas-y shoes, to various colors of bandannas.
After choosing your appearance, you are dropped off at the edge of a water-side urban environment. It’s nighttime, the lights of the city shimmer, the water ripples and shines, pop music emanates from your speakers. A blimp lazily circles overhead, while an elevated train whizzes by in the distance. Avatars looking more or less like you rezz in-world everywhere, then hussle off.
In the left lower-corner of the window, info about the currently playing song is helpfully displayed. Clicking on it brings up the corresponding buy.com web page where you can purchase said song. Billboards display images of various pop artists, notably the girl-group the Pussycat Dolls, the original sponsors of The Lounge. (BTW my girlfriend, who is not 13-years old, actually really likes the Pussycat Dolls, even though apparently only one of them can actually sing.)
The world, so far, is pretty small. There’s a little zen garden, a graffiti-filled alley, a hot tub, a store with Pussycat Dolls virtual merchandise (with links to their e-commerce site) and a couple of clubs and bars. So off to da club I went.
There are several little loungey areas where you can display your poor posture and pout. Very little seems to happen in these spaces, but then that’s what real world lounges are usually like. You sit around with a drink with lots of pretty people and bob your head to whatever is playing. This is called fun.
I decided to hit the dance floor. Some guy seemed caught in an endless windmill breakdance move. I hit the "emotives" button and check out my options: I could "top-rock," "heyman," "handsup," "tamjam," "turtle," "101," and "the bot" and a few other moves.
I didn’t see any partner dances, which made me sad. Somehow swing, waltz, and foxtrot didn’t make the cut. Maybe those will get added after Beta. For now, I will have to settle for my King Tut impression.
Chatting in-world looks almost exactly like any other chatroom dominated by teenagers. Except some of the teenagers were French, writing in French slang instead of English. I tried my Alliance Francaise French on them, and they ignored me like I was speaking Mandarin.
Check out the scintillating dialogue.
I guess that’s just how the kids are talking these days.
There is lots to criticize, but let me conclude with some of the good points of The Lounge adverworld:
- The user interface is dead simple to learn.
- It’s a quick download over broadband, and doesn’t require the latest computer.
- It’s free.
- The marketing doesn’t hit you over the head. There are a few scrolling bill boards, pop background music, that’s about it.
- It looks very polished, with a nice blend of real-world textures and anime-like imagery.
If a similar client could be used to venture into certain sims in Second Life, I think that would be tremendously helpful in growing the user base. And if this is the shape of an advertiser-supported virtual environment, I’m so far fairly impressed. Hell, I might go buy a Pussycat Dolls CD now.