Monday, September 21, 2009

Online world evaluation: Utherverse

Advertising: Truthful. Utherverse doesn’t advertise very much, aside from being the world’s only 3D, virtual social network. Well, unless you count the online gaming community, they’re probably right. They do, however, advertise that one must be 18 or older to sign up. Naughtiness abounds within this 3D world.

Layout: Acceptable. Signing up and getting started is pretty easy. Getting to the meat and potatoes of interacting with virtual people is another story; after signing up for the initial account, one must download the virtual client and incur an adequate amount of patching before even opening the program. Once I opened it, it didn’t work, so I ran the ‘repair’ offered on the startup screen. Doing this engaged my computer in at least an hour of ‘replacing’ ‘missing’ files that were likely not downloaded in the first place.

Then it didn’t work again. So I ran the repair client again, and once it finished replacing files like “HF_bdsm_spread_eagle_rope.gr2”, it finally opened.

Understandably the Utherverse is somewhat surreal. There is a shocking level of detail provided to users with free accounts, and navigation in the virtual world is pretty simple, though I still haven’t figured out if there is a way to remap my keys.

Profile Information: Comprehensive. The profiles feature a broad range of questions and preferences. It’s enough to be inclusive, but not too much to be overwhelming. In the virtual world, there are a variety of different skins users can adopt to make their Utherverse counterpart look as much like them as possible, though the bodies seem to be limited to sculpted perfection.

Relationship Options: Comprehensive. The identity options cover both couples and transgendered individuals, and, despite projecting the visage of an adult encounter site, users can advertise everything from their desire to simply play in the virtual world to their search for a serious relationship. Want a fun lesson in disparaging internet lingo? They even have an option for furries.

Matching: Chalk & Cheese. Outside of the Utherverse, the matching is pretty awful. Rather than having a database of cities and being able to search by relative distance, one has to manually type the names of towns close to them to find anyone or sort through the hundreds of profiles in each state. Inside the Utherverse? Well, you simply approach people and try to talk to them. It can be bothersome that everyone can read these conversations, but if you go somewhere private, it’s just between the two of you.

Mostly Real. Leaving aside an obvious opening for humor based on the fact that the users are all virtual people, it seems as though most of them have had a person behind them at one point or another. I say that last bit because it seems like most people sign in to the parent dating site over the span of a few days before they stop using it. As for the Utherverse itself, it would be hard to expect to find people in your area, but there’s plenty of opportunity for conversation and virtual play. They even have call girls and robots if you don’t have any luck with other users.

Communication: Limited. Though free users can actively send messages to other free users, it seems that doing so ‘freely’ is limited by some bizarre form of currency that one gets from filling out their profile and doing other site activities. Inside the Utherverse, you can communicate as much as you want, but it all takes the form of a chatroom unless you pay for a feature to initiate private conversation.

Pay For: Several Features. People who pay $20 for a month membership get to exchange private messages, create an advanced avatar (the name for your virtual character), gain access to a private virtual apartment, and engage in rubbing thematically naughty polygons with other users. Trust me when I tell you the introductory video was graphic in the most hilariously disgusting of ways.

A-. The site functions should reduce this rating a full letter grade, but any shortfalls are made up by the sheer uniqueness of the experience in the eponymous program. It was interesting enough traversing the virtual world without talking to people and paying the fee seems to be a minor pittance if one were to treat it like a computer game for social networking. If virtual sex is a turn-on, then consider Utherverse. All others should stick to conventional sites.
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