3 Things Cloud Party Needs to Attract Virtual Fashionistas
Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of virtual world and MMO fashion
Hamlet may be a bit smitten with Facebook-driven virtual world Cloud Party, but so far it hasn't done much to get my attention. Although I am curious to see what many SL designers will be doing on this new platform, the truth is that right now Cloud Party is just not very fashionista-friendly.
So why does that matter? In my experience, virtual fashionistas are big spenders in online economies, and the demographic overlap with avid Facebook gamers (in particular women age 30-50) means that Cloud Party could be a great platform to develop a big market of big spenders... If it can keep them interested. Cloud Party as it is right now lacks key fashionista-friendly features, making an avatar-focused online life way more difficult and way less fun than it is in competing virtual worlds (including Second Life).
Here's three features Cloud Party needs, to succeed with virtual fashionistas:
We're nearly at a point in gaming and virtual world avatar customization where sliders can be taken for granted. When even hack-and-slash free-to-play MMORPGs have sliders to fine-tune your facial features, how can a Facebook-based virtual world only have preset heads and bodies?
It's possible that sliders or shape-changing functions simply have yet to be implemented, but the current shape selection interface seems to imply that, like clothing, different shapes will be pre-set and unmodifiable. I can handle this in a generic fantasy game experience, but the more a platform tries to resemble reality (or connect itself to my real life), the more I want to be able to customize my appearance, and the less I'm willing to let slide in the name of fantasy. Shape modification is one of the most fundamental staples of avatar customization, and it's very hard for me to get excited about a platform that so far lacks even a scrap of it.
More Advanced Navigation
Cloud Party will eventually have user-made content and stores, that's a given, but every time I look at the Navigation system I get quite concerned about how exactly I'll be expected to get to those stores.
Right now you can hop from floating island to floating island, or access popular/recent locations from the phone interface. This works well for a small world, but it will need serious modifications to adapt as the world grows. I'm assuming this more advanced version of Navigation is in the works (or will be) because the alternative is almost unfathomable. For all the shit we talk about Second Life's search function, the idea of being in a virtual world without any kind of location search is practically a nightmare to me. Imagine finding a new shop and trying to give someone directions to it? "Well, go to Beginner Zone 8, then go to the island floating in the north-east, then go to the island floating on the left of the island in the north-west, then..."
3rd Person Camera Controls
I love Cloud Party's smartphone-inspired UI menu (which is about a million times clearer and more intuitive than Second Life's interface) and I think the idea of a cameraphone-like snapshot interface is absolutely adorable. This is something that The Sims has done as well, and it makes the world feel a little bit more immersive. But here's the problem: If you use Instagram, Facebook, or any other platform that exposes you to other peoples' cellphone photography, think about how often people take pictures of things around them compared to how often they take pictures of themselves. Now think about Second Life snapshots-- how often do we take pictures of just a place or another person's avatar without our own avatars in the shot as well? Personally, I'd estimate that of every 50 SL snapshots I take, 5 at most don't feature my own avatar. Sure, not everyone is a self-centered blogger like me, but the fact remains that our avatar is the center of our metaverse experiences... So including a camera mode that cannot physically capture that avatar is a tremendous problem.
You could always just take a screenshot of the window as I did for my header image, but because you can't float the camera around freely, you need to zoom out quite far if you want to fit the whole avatar into frame. One simple thing could fix this: a 3rd person mode for Cloud Party's camera; just one button that you click when you're in Camera mode that turns the lens on you, but lets you control the camera with the same freedom as you can when shooting in 1st person. Vanity shots would be fun, easy, and still maintain the same immersive smartphone aesthetic.
Fellow fashionistas, have you tried Cloud Party yet? Did it click with you, or was it missing a certain je ne sais quoi? Tell me in the comments below!
Iris Ophelia (Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.