Tonight was the second public stress test of Raph Koster’s Metaplace virtual world and being there over the course of a half-hour gave up some hints of what’s to come. The local client runs in Flash metaplace1and logged-in users arrive in the lobby where they can invoke help, learn about the rules, or play the game — a simple space shooter for the purpose of this test. There’s also a chat window and a count of how many users are online. Once in the play space there’s another chat window that can be turned on or off, the stage itself, and unexpectedly rich audio effects to accompany all the shoot-em-up action (click images to see full size). The stage is about the same size as on other sites that rely on a Flash or Java plug-in rather than an installed client-side application, and while one might wish for larger it was adequate, made to feel larger perhaps by the bright, seemingly dynamic sound track.

After the test was over (in the 30 min. I was online no more than 85 users at one time, no server crashes, but some wonkiness in how user actions were articulated) I was browsing the Metaplace forums to see what people had to say and found Raph’s metaplace2notice from last week that Metachat — the first public instance of a Metaspace world — had been launched on MySpace. I clicked over and logged in to my normally dormant MyPlace account so I could check out what was going on. As soon as I had Metachat installed and loaded, I found that Raph and some of the other testers had gathered on a soccer field to kick around the results and a few virtual soccer balls too. Cool. Clearly hanging out there gives a good idea of what’s in store from the Areae crew as Metaplace comes to life in other iterations. Raph adds more detail in his blog post announcing Metachat’s release:

I know you’re tired of hearing it by now, but Metaplace is a platform for virtual worlds. There are a lot of kinds of virtual worlds – we’ve shown you a puzzle game, a multiplayer arcade game, and a chat world with avatars. Our testers are busily creating more sorts of worlds, ranging from RPGs to experimental collaborative music systems, and we look forward to showcasing some of those for you in the next few weeks.

We’re still many weeks away from letting everyone into the full tools, but the time has come to start releasing some of the individual worldsmetachat that we have made and leaving them up permanently as a “sneak preview” so that people can see the breadth of what can be done with the Metaplace platform. So today we’ve released the very first Metaplace world on MySpace: Metachat.

It’s just a simple chat app, with movie playing, soccer balls to kick around, and some other features. It only uses a fraction of what Metaplace can do, but it’s a start. We invite all of you with MySpace profiles to add the app and check it out. >>> post continues…

So what’s it all mean? First of all log on to your MySpace page, load Metachat, and get someone to metaplace-myspacejoin you. Got that? Now imagine that you were in a private virtual world or were playing a card, strategy game or shooter game you had made or modded, and embeded on your blog 0r MySpace page. Add a crowd of friends, co-workers, classmates or the general public, and you begin to see the potential for deploying custom, private-yet-public virtual spaces.

Of course Metacafe (and soon, Metaplace proper) are only two of a surge in social media mashups that are giving users tools and license to create their own games, movies and animations; the tools to share them privately or publicly; and the communications framework to grow a full-fleged online community.

So far these services are all good fun. If, however, you allow that the growth in virtual world subscriptions I talked about last week is more than a bubble and reflects public acceptance of the MMOG form. And if you trust that the authoring tools these services are developing really are fun and easy for noobies to learn. Then this surge may point the way to an ecosystem of purpose-built virtual worlds. In the serious games space, they will give professors, teachers and instructors new tools to teach, and provide students new opportunities to meet, practice and work together outside the classroom. At least that’s my theory, something we’ll debate further at the SIIA EdTech Summit in May.