Thursday, June 21, 2012

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7 Things You Need to Know About Cloud Party, The Web-Based, Cloud-Deployed, User-Created Virtual World

Cloude Party virtual world islands

Cloud Party, the web-based user-generated 3D virtual world backed by SL co-founder Cory Ondrejka and Cryptic Studios vet Bruce Rogers, has caused crazy buzz among the SL community, and among Linden Lab developers past and present. I just asked seven key questions of Cloud Party's CEO, Sam Thompson, and he gave me seven substantial replies below. Some top level takeaways:

  • Log-in options besides Facebook are not a top priority
  • Cloud Party runs on WebGL and is deployed via Amazon's cloud servers
  • Content-creation is all mesh-based
  • Local concurrency is 25 users
  • A marketplace for user-created content is coming soon, and users will be able to cash out their Cloud Bucks
  • Cloud Party is architected to (eventually) run on phones and tablets

Much more details from Sam after the break:

Why "Cloud Party"?

The name Cloud Party is a play on two things, the fact that our world is divided into islands floating in the clouds and that in the real world it is hosted "in the cloud" (on AWS servers to be specific). I think it also reflects the spontaneous manner in which several people can show up together at once and hang out on an island, since all that has to happen is for someone to post (Tweet or share) a URL and anyone with a WebGL compliant web browser can be there in seconds. Instant Cloud Party!

The client-side tech is a custom Javascript engine built on WebGL that we wrote from scratch. We're using websockets for networking and various other HTML5 tech for parts of the UI and infrastructure of the engine. The important point is that it's all built on open web standards: no plugins for users to download or single-browser support. Hopefully mobile and tablet browsers will continue to improve and adopt these standards as well and you'll be able to use Cloud Party from your phone.

Let me know if you have more tech questions, either our CTO Conor or I would be happy to talk tech all day!

What inspired Cloud Party and how did you come to launch it after Cryptic? How did Cory and Bruce get involved?

Well, we had all worked together in the past and were all interested in starting our own venture together. WebGL seemed like incredibly cool technology that had the potential to finally make web gaming interesting to 3d game developers like us, so we decided to start a company working on an engine. Actually we did not initially set out to make a virtual world, we set out to make a cloud-based game development engine and environment: think Unity or Unreal Engine, but for WebGL. We made it all networked and multiplayer from the beginning so users could work on a game, collaborate in real time, and see what each other was doing as they did it. At some point it clicked that this was much cooler than the game engine itself, and we were having more fun changing the world and showing each other the results in real time than trying to make games!

We were looking for investment and so I met up with Bruce, who was our boss at Cryptic where we had all once worked. He helped convince us to drop the game engine business and pursue the virtual world idea, and shortly after that he and Cory got us started with an investment and became advisors. Then we hired our art director Garin and started building Cloud Party! This was about 9 months ago. We're still just the 5 of us in a small office in San Jose, CA.

Besides being web-based, how is Cloud Party different in design and deployment from SL?

We've definitely pursued building this virtual world with our own vision, one that is heavily influenced by our experience in professional game development. Obviously there are similarities (as there would be with any virtual world I think), but certainly the tech is quite different. For example, there are only meshes, no "prims", though we give new users some basic wooden building blocks that are meshes. You texture by using material objects which allow you to have normal maps, masks, etc. and really take advantage of shader technology advances. And of course the user interface, build mode organization, and world layout and navigation are very different. People who have worked with 3D game engines will probably find a lot of the concepts familiar. We're working to communicate the differences to SL users and total beginners alike, and certainly appreciate any feedback for usability improvements that would help make SL users comfortable.

How many avatars can interact in the same space? How many objects can users build in the same local area?

At the moment we limit live avatars in one island to 25, past which a new instance of that island spins up and new users go to that new instance. The UI for instance management needs a lot of work, but the idea is that you might get a flash mob of thousands of people interested in riding some new roller coaster or watching some performance, and while the limits of current technology prevent all thousands of those people interacting at the same time, they should be able to all experience the island and its attractions, just in subsets of 25. That number (25) is certainly not set in stone and will be significantly higher once we add some tech to deal with the client performance impact. The limiting factor for us is entirely client-side at the moment, to support those with older hardware.

Object count is a bit more complicated. At the moment we present 3 numbers, Objects, Large Objects, and Dynamic. Dynamic is any object with physics or scripts running on it. Large objects draw from anywhere on the island while detail objects stop drawing after a medium distance. We also intend to count total triangles. The goal here is that islands should run well for any user with decently modern hardware, and so far I think we've done a good job of that. We have lots of ideas about ways we can improve that for the builder as well, but for now that's the basic idea. You can see the limits for a given permissions zone by going into build mode and looking at the top left of the view. We'll be playing with those numbers as time goes on and we get more real-world use.

What new features can Cloud Party users expect in the next few months?

Our top priority is a user-driven asset marketplace, which is mostly done and hopefully only a few days away. We're also trying to get rentable islands ready for people ASAP, which will probably come out first.

Beyond that, here's our near term focus:

  • Better movement, controls and physics improvements, and new ways to travel!
  • More initial costume choices and tools for customizing your look
  • Object-driven animations like sitting on couches or interactive animations
  • Camera improvements and general usability features
  • Graphics engine improvements

Long term, we have a lot of ideas but I don't want to get into the details quite yet. We are very interested in user feedback about what features are most important to them, and always open to suggestions.

Will you have other full-featured enabled log-in methods besides Facebook, and if so, which?

We would love to explore expanding to other social networks and other forms of authentication, but it is not a priority for us right now. Having a single social network platform that provides a lot of useful functionality really helps us as a small development team. We're also very excited about the possibilities for expanding the audience of virtual worlds with our technology, and Facebook is a great platform for that. We've received a lot of positive feedback about how easy it is to take a photo in world and share it with Facebook friends, who can then just click on that picture to be taken to that spot in Cloud Party!

What's Cloud Party's revenue model?

We're primarily focused on renting out islands (they should become available this week), but we are exploring other possibilities as well. We're also going to allow users to cash out Cloud Bucks that they make from the marketplace, but there are some more basic features we have to develop first. We'll announce pricing for islands once the tech is ready.

Much mahalo to Sam for the answers! I've encouraged him to come by and respond to reader questions and comments, when and if he has the time.

Screenshots via


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Seven Overdrive

I hope their island rentals will be affordable. I am tired of not being able to afford an island in Second Life to create with.

Botgirl Questi

It's interesting that they're taking the Amazon server approach, like Kitely on the OpenSim platform. That approach allows them to scale on a dime with a consistent utilization/expense ratio that will get better as they increase their volume. It's amazing what they've done with just a few developers.

Damien Fate

Great information Hamlet, thanks!

I can't wait to see how this all unfolds :)

Indigo Mertel

"For example, there are only meshes, no "prims", though we give new users some basic wooden building blocks that are meshes."

I fail to understand the difference between a prim and a "block that is a mesh". A prim is a mesh. Perhaps Sam refers to the enhanced texturing features of their blocks?


@botgirl Yes, very glad to hear their infrastructure is virtualized. If its smart enough to spin up 10 or more instances of the same "island" then maybe its also smart enough to shut down 1 island if no one's there. Second Life's grid is just now getting a semblance of this efficiency via region idling.

Won't praise their infrastructure too much though 'til they announce island pricing. If it's as ridiculous as tier then pfft. I somehow doubt it though because they seem fans of Facebook and no one on Facebook is paying anywhere near 300 dollars a month for anything.

Disappointing to read though that alternative authentication schemes aren't a priority. It sounds like they want to bypass having to create groups, profiles, display names, friend lists, all the things Linden Lab has implemented (and reimplemented numerous times).

I think they're either going to get the success they want with Facebook and not have to worry about the Second Life users they alienate with the Facebook dependency, or if all they end up with is mostly Second Life users their number 1 feature request is always going to be dropping or creating alternatives to the Facebook dependencies.

Melissa Yeuxdoux

@Indigo: I think they mean that, possibly aside from the blocks they mention, you don't create things by gluing together building blocks (which is what prims are); instead, you create a mesh by whatever means and import it.

(If I'm wrong, don't hesitate to correct me.)


Last year I speculated on my blog if SL would launch it's own cloud service and steal Kitely's thunder and it looks like some ex-SL developers did just that with Cloud Party in a little over a year after Kitely. They probably chose a good time to launch too since Habbo Hotel is on the rocks and SL shows no sign of dropping it's prices. But, from what I have seen of CP I wasn't that impressed other than the speed of service and ease of entry. The graphics are pretty awful and the avatars simplistic and there seems to be some similarities to Blue Mars in content delivery. As for building - hmmm!

Also, I am wondering if they are infringing SpotON3D's supposed patent for delivering VW in a browser window. Probably not since it's not floating a viewer but rather, it's using Javascript built on webGL. Still, it's a thought.

Actually, they might do ok in Facebook because it's really quite simple stuff delivery-wise. Farmville, Habbo and IMVU have done ok with simple systems after all.

JoJa Dhara

Again and again like kitely I say. .glad I can bring friends over and make them understand what I have been doing for years. Finally they meet JoJa :-) Like the easy tutorial even I am in doubt iff none virtual worlds users will under stand the concept of building with mesh. Dearly hope for the large facebook crowd soon there will be easy to take step by step mesh tutorials. ...
Looking forward to see the world grow and see the beauty of creations.... Good luck all! :-)
And thumbs up for Cloudparty devolpers!

Sarge Misfit

I popped in and it looks okay, but not worth being assimilated by FaceBorg, so I'll wait on alternate logins.

One huge problem for me is that you use mesh to build. What about those of us who don't have 3D modelling training? My biggest enjoyment is building. If I can't do that, then I don't see much point in being there. After all, all of my friends are already out and about in the Metaverse, where I can build to my heart's content.

Ehrman Digfoot

If their looking for suggestions for better movement, I would love to see implemented what has become universal in almost every VW except SL, namely the ability to press and hold Left and Right mouse buttons simultaneously to move forward while moving the mouse to direct the angle of the forward movement. I've always wished SL would provide this control scheme.


'I popped in and it looks okay, but not worth being assimilated by FaceBorg, so I'll wait on alternate logins.'

Strongly agree, Sarge. I'm not even risking 'popping in'. I don't want my machines infected with facebook's grubby spy tools. Never uploading content because facebook would then own my stuff.

Unfortunately Cloud Party is quite solidly facebook. Alternate logins won't be coming. They should be honest & say its facebook-only with facebook employee Cory Ondrejka running the show.

Charlotte Bartlett

I think they have done a sterling job and I have spent the last few days testing mesh and am sitting here waiting for Marketplace and Land.

I was musing they have taken some very smart approaches to their development so far. I hope this extends to the marketplace / income / cost model.

They will have (I expect) a high user use due to Facebook, so they have to set the model based on scale and not the ridiculous SL amounts (that will always prevent SL being anything other than a niche product - that I still love of course in it's own way).

I was also thinking about how the new Adobe model suddenly makes a lot of sense for what used to be stupid cost software but now is a reasonable cost for commercial users monthly. For 50 bucks a month I get EVERYTHING. If they could make casual islands (low traffic private hang out) small amount of bucks a month (low enough to get the casual FB user to pay up) and commercial island (content on display and whatnot high traffic) at reasonable price point but I would say no more than 50 bucks a month it might work?

Either way and my ideas might be rubbish! It's looking very positive and I am really wishing them all the best in this.

Little Lost Linden

But will there be sex?


The use of high-end 3D tools will limit CP for mere mortals among educators. We talked at length about even prim-based building in SL today. Too many of us lack time, and we hire builders. It takes a heck of a lot of dedication, when you are not evaluated on this work, to even build with prims.

But hiring folks is not a bad thing, as the builders make money.

@Little Lost, where there are people, pixelated or not, sex will follow. But the CP default avatars are pretty far from sexy.

Arcadia Codesmith

Google SketchUp looks like it's as easy or perhaps easier to use than Second Life's prims and the free version allegedly exports to COLLADA, which Cloud Party can allegedly import.

I haven't tried it myself, but I might give it a shot.


@Sarge - They have "prefabs" which work like linksets in SL - you can add multiple meshes to make a more complicated object. So for building in-world you just need a sufficient set of starter shapes to work with. They have given us a few blocks already, and it will not be long before creators add lots more shapes to play with.


I hate this current trend of Facebook only logins BS. It'll be funny when FB fades away and everyone will have to scramble for new login options.


I've been trying to get on cloud party several times a day for the past week. all I get is the thing loading to the pick male or female then the pages freeze up. I still havent gotten in. so pfffth, second life has it's down sides but at least I can get in. and please no helpful comments about how to tweek this or that if I need a computer degree to get the thing working on my computer it's so not worth my time.


make facebook page for avie (1 minute)
download thor
nobodys watching u

Vivienne Daguerre

I am dying to have a look at this, but cannot load it from Facebook, or from their website as an anonymous user. Whenever I try, I get "Server not responding." If someone finds a solution to this problem, please post it!

Arcadia Codesmith

I think "server not responding" is just the usual Beta hiccups. They may take the server down frequently for tweaking, because that's what the Beta is for.


"Server not responding" may have something to do with your browser and websockets.

You can echo test here: if you can connect, send and get a response then your browser isn't the issue, it's Cloud Party.

If you get an error there though I'd alternate between latest releases of Firefox and Chrome.

Hitomi Tiponi

I'm intrigued that they claim this is their own vision when so much has been based on SL - even down to their revenue model. They even use 'Outfits', that SL uses, but in CP it is just like a wardrobe, so they use SL terms that are inappropriate. But I suppose 'yes we ripped off the best bits of SL and made it better for WebGL' may result in a lawsuit.

Having said that it is an excellent piece of software and I love the way they have done much of it, not least the tutorial/homes thing. It has real promise and I look forward to the developments they are talking about - especially improving the lousy build camera!

Key Gruin

This sounds promising as a new outlet for content creators given the huge userbase already in place, I am looking forward to how the marketplace pans out.
For those having trouble logging in, I have heard accounts of only Chrome working reliably, even Firefox will stutter and forget IE at this point.

James  OReilly

Join Crowd Party in Facebook

We meet in Kitely World Cloud Computing

and get the scoop about Crowd Funding...

Immersive World Crowd Funding

Troy McLuhan

Last week, it was revealed that Facebook's CTO, Bret Taylor, is leaving Facebook. Two people are taking his place: Mike Vernal and Cory Ondrejka. Cory will be in charge of mobile; his hands will be full.

Crowd Party is a cool idea, especially their decision to stick with web technologies.

Betting on WebGL is a bit risky. Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) browser doesn't support WebGL natively and Microsoft might not support it for years, if ever. They cite security concerns. Also, almost none of the mobile web browsers support WebGL.

WebGL is basically a JavaScript API for OpenGL ES. There are other ways to get at OpenGL ES functionality in the browser and on mobile devices.

Key Gruin

After I became established through Facebook, was able to login direct to the CP site with a full browser screen for inworld, and yes I had full build rights too. Not sure if they meant to allow this or not...

James  OReilly

What about Vendor Lock-in, and compliance with Immersive Education Iniative iED requirements and specifications for an Education Grid?

-Vendor Lock-in

- Education Grid Requirements Specification

- “Create Once, Experience Everywhere” Video

- In 2010, Second Life was de-listed by the Immersive Education Initiative, and replaced by Open Simulator and realXtend, for the following reasons

Pussycat Catnap

"But will there be sex?"

- You don't need something with good graphics or even 3D for that crowd to show up.

As soon as news media gets wind of this, the sex will arrive - if only in the form of journalist alts doing things so that the journalist's main can be shocked and offended on camera.


Anything that's new and shiny is where I wanna be.

Mesh is a smart idea to remove any meaningful creativity for the average person and allow them to concentrate on the more important aspects of spending money and real-time socializing in a pre-established hierarchy based on age, social status, and appearance.

I think the people who have the most to gain from this will be unmonitored teens.

Troy McLuhan

@James OReilly:

The Immersive Education Initiative seems to think that anything that's not "open and royalty-free" is evil and should be avoided.

By those standards, Windows and Mac OS X are right out, as are iOS, PhotoShop, Microsoft Word, Final Cut Pro, MATLAB, and tons of other software that people all over the world use every day. A school or university would be crazy to adopt such standards: their students would end up ill-prepared.

Tateru Nino

@Troy I don't expect MSIE to ever support WebGL. Microsoft committed to OpenGL back when, as a part of a unification of OpenGL and Direct3D.

All seemed to be going well, then Microsoft panicked, buried the deal, and has categorically refused to have anything to do with anyone else's 3D API standards since. This allergy seems to extend to all cross-platform 3D APIs.

Seren Seraph

Where is flying? A very large part of what I love in SL and Opensim is flying.

Timo Gufler

Looks like there is a lot of innovation in this new virtual world. Since I like sailing in SL, I wonder, how would that be possible in Cloud Party...


MS doesn't support WebGL because some issues about security.

Sepp Schimmer

Had a quick look, very nice tutorial indeed. Unfortunately I wasn't able to try building because that required me to login on Facebook which is close to impossible since I don't have any account on Facebook and would never consider getting one either. Too bad alternative authentication "aren't a priority" for CloudMe.


Hmmm... So, you need a Facebook account. And Facebook requires real names. Does that mean you have to use your real name in Cloud Party?

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