Colony City

Dateline: 6/8/98

Colony City
illustrations courtesy Colony City
Colony City is a soon to open new VRML-based community by the same people that brought us Cybertown. In this Mining Co. exclusive we take get a preview of the plans and some sample worlds of this forthcoming community.

Much of the information for this feature comes from Pascal Bauder creative director of Cybertown who generously provided the details. Cybertown started in 1995 and is one of the most successful community based sites out on the Web. It receives over 14 million hits a month, this is a big-time project!

One of the aspects the most impresses me about both Cybertown and Colony City is the highly polished and professional look to the whole world. This isn't just a bunch of hackers trying to make yet another cool world. There is a coherent visual style and it's all set with in a consistent futuristic fantasy world with a consistent framework.

An overview of Cybertown from Pascal:
Cybertown is a huge and increasingly popular cutting-edge virtual community  on the World Wide Web where people can have fun, be entertained, learn  things and explore the best of the Internet. The community is set in the  latter part of the 21st century and is off-world.  Part of the town's  creation and administration is now being turned over to the community itself  so that it becomes a self-creating and even more active community.

Every month Cybertown is featured in magazines, newspapers, books and  CD-ROMs all over the world. Cybertown also shows up on TV in many countries.  As of 1998, Cybertown has received more than 80 awards and receives more than 14 million hits a month.  Featured links to Cybertown exist on the
Microsoft Network, AOL, Prodigy and WebTV.   Cybertown has built what C/Net Central recently called "one of the most dynamic and entertaining cybercommunities on the Web."

Through magazine, Internet, CD-ROM membership, Net presence, Print advertising, Cybertown intends to increase its already broad popularity thereby developing further revenues from sponsorship links, Web design, paid entertainment access and other revenue streams.

One of the goal of Cybertown since 1995 has been to create the whole city  has a complete immersive multiuser virtual reality environment.

Colony City is that 3D multi-user sequel to Cybertown. During 1995 and 1996 Cybertown successfully experimented with one of blaxxun's first multi-user environment and although an early and limited effort it demonstrated the potential.

The Plaza  

Following are some Questions and Answers regarding Colony City, an email based interview I conducted with Pascal Bauder and blaxxun.

Q: How do you make money?
Pascal: Well as you say, we have merchants in the mall, advertising, creating web sites for other companies, percentage of sales for selling software, content creation (Graphics/VRML), has been pretty much a full time activity since 1995.

Q: Is Colony City  primarily the 3DVR chat extension to Cybertown?
Pascal: Actually, yes and no..Colony City will be quite independent. We had Colony City as a project since late 1996 because people in Cybertown were very interested to be able to have VRML apartments and interact in VR. They also wanted the capability to add their own creations to it. So for the time being, Colony City is a section of Cybertown and will be primarily the 3DVR extension chat to Cybertown for a while but we may add more worlds for Cybertown specifically (like a representation of Cybertown..the city with all its parts). But first we have to launch Colony City and even when it will be released there will still be a lot of work to do such as building more VRML worlds, adding more features, etc... A community is an evolution and it has to grow based on the feedback of the community..not just your own ideas!

Q: Will Colony City be supported by advertising also?
Pascal: Yes but also sales of software (we want to sell all the possible VRML
software in Colony City so people can create worlds too), content creation
(creating specific areas for businesses), providing the technology, etc...
Colony City can also be a showcase for other possible communities such as
communities build around specific sports or other various interests.

Q: Will people be able to create there own virtual spaces? If so will that be free or will they pay for that ability?
Pascal: Yes, people will be able to and this will most likely happen in the next few weeks after the release. So far we intend to have Colony City free for users and will provide Tips and tricks on how to create VRML worlds, what are the best programs, etc...

Q: How many VRML models/spaces are there for Colony City?
Pascal: To start with, we will have around 10 worlds such as a Plaza, bar, theater, City Hall, various houses, etc...but we anticipate the creation of at least 2 or 3 new VRML worlds a month from us after initial release and very fast you will have to add worlds created by the community itself.

Q: Who is creating the VRML worlds?
Pascal: The Cybertown team creates the VRML worlds and graphics.We may also add a few more worlds owned by blaxxun. Blaxxun is providing the technology and has also been creating most of the backbone technology for people taking residence, etc....which is a tremendous amount of work! In such an effort, content is definitely a big part but the technology behind is the bigger part :)

Q: How elaborate are the plans for Colony City?
Pascal: Colony City is a joint venture between Cybertown and blaxxun. Cybertown has an already existing community on the Internet and experience in creating content. Blaxxun has tremendous experience in technology development for multiuser applications and VRML multiuser communities. Both companies thought it would be interesting to work together on creating this project.

Creating a community is always an experience, we intend to go a long way..when it will be released you will see that we provide Java Chat rooms for people who don't have VRML capabilities and they will be able to chat with people within the VRML worlds, so we are really trying to appeal to all types of users and this will also be a perfect way to introduce them to VRML.

We also think that Colony City can be a good model for other types of communities based around specific interests..Those communities could become part of Colony City or be pretty much independent from it. A lot of work has been done in the conception of the project with its usual trials and errors, so it will be easier and faster to help others on different projects. The biggest learning experience will be when we release it and get the feedback from users.

It will be a fascinating and interesting experience and we think there is room for tremendous benefits. The initial release will be a beta and based on the feedback we will be able to evaluate how to make it grow.

The Staff at blaxxun answered the following:
Q: Is Colony City your first attempt at building a real community?
blaxxun: Cybertown obviously has built a community.blaxxun has not built a community,
but provides technology that supports communities (like Virtual Paris or

Q: Do you hope to derive revenue from Colony City or is it primarily a way of demonstrating and popularizing your technology?
blaxxun: I would describe it as a revenue-generating business. Main income:advertising, sponsoring, ecommerce.

Q: Will apartment owners be able to create bots for use in there apartments?
blaxxun: Absolutely. This is one of the first planned extensions after the launch of the beta.If members are more experienced, they can do more sophisticated things, like programming own bots.

Q: What do you expect to be the practical limit on the number of simultaneous occupants?
blaxxun: The site itself is unlimited in size. There are various hierarchy levels in the homesteading to accommodate a large number of members (i.e. over 1 million). On one hardware server, blaxxun's software can support up to 750 concurrent 3D users and thousands of chat users. If the numbers get higher, more hardware can be added.

Q: Can the blaxxun software support multiple distributed servers that share a virtual space?
blaxxun: Yes, all blaxxun server processes can be distributed across machines. The limits are mostly conceptual ones, since it usually doesn't make sense to have thousands of concurrent users in *one* space, since chat becomes unusable.

Q: Will you provide the ability for companies to advertise via bots like "Dusty" in the blaxxun home space (which is a GREAT idea) ? [ed note. Dusty is a Black & Decker Dust Buster hand held vacuum that flies around and get give you product information, as you converse with it.]
blaxxun: Yes, there will be various new and innovative ways for advertisers, from3D billboards to interactive bots a la Dusty. But also traditional banners.

Q: Will it be possible to create private rooms or rooms with password protection?
blaxxun: Each citizen will be able to have her/his personal home. S/he can define who can enter and who can read/update information in the personal area. blaxxun's technology supports access rights for objects at fine granularity and a personal home is just one example of an object that can be protected.

[End of Interview Section]

Clearly Colony City will build on the successful model of Cybertown and will most likely grow into an extremely large 3D virtual community, possibly rivaling AlphaCity. The highly polished professional graphics and design of both Cybertown and Colony City certainly differentiate it from other multi-user worlds. We will all wait and see what happens, but clearly it's an exciting and ambitious project that will serve the VRML community well if it succeeds.

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