[Editor's Note: Contributing writer Simon Newstead is CEO and Co-Founder of Frenzoo, a startup in the 3D fashion and lifestyle space and the writer of the VR Fashion blog. He can be contacted at: simon at frenzoo dot com.]
We’ve all have heard the 1% Rule for content in online communities, as described by Bradley Horowitz. It goes something like this - within a community of 100 who consume content, there may be 10 synthesizers and only 1 true content creator.
That well accepted rule of thumb generally holds true on most community sites such as Wikipedia and Facebook.
How about in 3D virtual worlds?
With commercial incentive added into the mix, is there a much larger contributing group where more than 1 in 100 create their own content for use by themselves and their peers?
The answer is no.
The “0.1% Rule” in Virtual Worlds
In fact, “The 0.1% Rule” would be a better description. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Take IMVU as an example.
The thriving 3D avatar chat community has over 20 million users generating $US 1M in item revenue a month. This explosive growth has been driven by arguably the largest catalog of virtual items in the world, virtually all created by users:
Source – IMVU public figures, June 2008
So, in this community there is a rate of approximately 0.5% of the registered users who have become developers (having paid the $US 7.95 fee to be able to create and publish content to the IMVU shop).
Over the past month, a couple of us did an informal study with developers to try to find out what they are actually creating. Here's what we found:
Source – Polling & discussion with 50 developers, August 2008
What's striking was that around 1 in 5 in our rough poll are actively creating true 3D content. That is, they are creating new 3D models / animation / meshes / morph targets as well as textures. We're not privy to internal IMVU numbers which may be higher or lower, but the conclusion looks to be that 3D creators are in the minority of user generated content developers.
The majority, therefore, are using only 2D to create their content.
Returning to the content creation pyramid within virtual worlds, it now looks like:
3D Content Creation is Hard
An artistic sense plus at least a year of training and thousands of dollars for 3DMax or Maya present a very high barrier for 3D content creators. Even with free open source tools like Blender, the technical skill and time required to create quality 3D models or animations is significantly more than most people possess.
With such a low proportion of users in the community creating new 3D models, how does the whole system survive and prosper?
The conclusion: a well designed derivation system.
Being able to take a single 3D product from the shop and then swap 2D textures to create radically different derived items is the key to unlocking contributions from the 2D-only crowd.
With new texture and transparencies, an elegant evening gown becomes a dark gothic dress. Blonde hair becomes black with bronze highlights... and so on.
And with a robust in-game economy, there is an incentive for creators to encourage derivation of their original products. Because when the derivative products are sold, the original creators - and anyone else in the item's derivation chain - gets paid their cut.
2D makes the whole scheme work. Why? It’s simple and accessible, and there are probably over a billion people in the world who have access to Microsoft Paint. Of course, those with artistic talent will always be more successful, but almost anyone has the skills to create a simple 3D T-shirt with a photo on it.
Where Content Creation is Headed
The IMVU 0.1% example has shown that even with a small number of true 3D content creators, the power of derivation can spawn content diverse and numerous enough to feed a hungry userbase. So what’s next?
Here are three of my personal predictions for the future of content in virtual worlds:
Line Between 2D & 3D Blurs
With a few clicks and drags in the ridiculously easy Creature Creator from EA's anticipated game, Spore, almost anyone can create their own unique, animated 3D creatures. Are these classed as new 3D content?
Cheap and Easy 3D Content Creation
As free tools such as Google Sketch Up get more traction in the marketplace, the required investment of time and money associated with creating 3D content is decreasing. That said, industrial-strength 3D model creation (Maya, Max) will remain far from mainstream.
One Step Textures
Today, it’s a two step process to generate 3D derivative items. First, users must create 2D images in a tool such as Photoshop, then import and integrate those images into a tool such as the standalone IMVU Previewer. Soon these steps will be distilled into an integrated web-based tool, as is already being done in some 2D avatar communities.
What are your thoughts?