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Rights: The Royal Society, TVNZ 7 in partnership with the Ministry of Science and Innovation
Published 9 January 2012
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Co-founded by Mitch Olson and Darren Green in 2008, SmallWorlds is a virtual game populated by more than 6.5 million users. Users create avatars  that have complete lives, homes and experiences. SmallWorlds is unique as you access it through your browser and play it entirely online rather than downloading software onto your computer.

SmallWorlds is rich and intricate, with a social emphasis. Players can be as imaginative as they like, creating their own characters and spaces. They can decorate their homes right down to the art on the walls and the flowers in the garden. Darren describes the game as “like a doll house, but so much more”. Within the game, there are several non-playing characters (NPCs) like Todd, the joke-telling bartender, who are run with software created by the SmallWorlds team and who interact with avatars.

The highly competitive gaming business is more than twice the size of the film industry and more than four times bigger than the music industry. From their Karangahape Road base, Mitch and Darren have created global interest for their game, and their business is attracting attention and investment from the likes of Disney and Sam Morgan. Mitch and Darren are on track to achieving their goal for SmallWorlds to be a $100 million business by 2013.

Useful links

Find out more about SmallWorlds.

 

Transcript

VOICEOVER:
Long ago, in another temporal universe, Space Invaders was the first frontier in video games. Several decades later a kiwi team has dared to go where no developers had gone before.

VOICEOVER:
Mitch Olson is the centre of the universe.
At least ‘a’ universe. He’s the co-creator of the online habitat ‘Smallworlds’; a virtual game in which people – or their avatars – meet people, make new friends and make their own fun.

MITCH OLSEN:
A game which you play in your web browser and it’s targeted at anyone whose age 13 and above. There’s a broad range of different activities and experiences that you can engage in in SmallWorlds. And one of the things which makes it unique is that players can create their own virtual environments, create their own experiences, creating gardens, nurturing pets, creating art and creating spaces and experiences to share with their friends. There are literally hundreds of different things you can do in SmallWorlds.

Since we launched at the end of 2008 we have had over 6 and a half million players who have registered in cyber SmallWorlds and every month we have another quarter of a million players who join the world.

VOICEOVER:
But it started with just 2, Mitch and his co-creator Darren Green.
What makes SmallWorlds unique is the entire game is played online without having to download any software.

MITCH OLSEN:
That process of having to download software onto your computer and install it actually stops about 80% of potential users or players of a game.
Where it’s simply a matter of typing in a www.smallworlds.com and the game’s there all ready to run.

DANIEL KNIGHT:
It’s kind of like a dolls house but with so much more. This is my character I’ve created, this is the Cue Club so people come in here to hang out, play a bit of pool, meet other people. Everyone in here is a real person apart from this guy here, Todd.

VOICEOVER:
Todd the barman owes his life to research and development support from the Ministry of Science and Innovation which enabled SmallWorlds to create its software behind its NPCs – Non Playing Characters.

MITCH OLSEN:
Todd will talk to you and tell jokes, and interact with you in an intelligent way. Todd’s actually an NPC.

VOICEOVER:
And players can create their own NPCs.

MITCH OLSEN:
You can program or control this avatar and have it play a role, a butler or a bodyguard, an actor in a play that you’ve put together.

VOICEOVER:
SmallWorlds is free to play but you have to pay for extras, like NPCs or VIP membership.

DANIEL KNIGHT:
So we have 2 types, 2 types of money in world, tokens and gold. Tokens is something you get from experience and gold is something which you pay to get a little something extra out of SmallWorlds.

VOICEOVER:
SmallWorlds has rocketed up in value. It’s parent company Outsmart attracting investment from big players like Disney. By 2013 SmallWorlds aims to be a $100 million export earner.

MITCH OLSEN:
Gaming is the largest sector of the entertainment industry. It’s 4 and half times the size of the music industry and 2 and a half times the times of the movie industry.

VOICEOVER:
Despite its popularity in America, SmallWorlds creative hub is still K Rd in Auckland.

DANIEL KNIGHT:
We’ve got an amazing talented team of developers, it’s amazing that they’ve managed to get all these people into one place, to build what they’ve built. It’s a very sophisticated piece of software and something I don’t think many people could probably put together in the time that we’ve done it.

VOICEOVER:
It took a small team with big talent to get SmallWorlds out into the big world.

Acknowledgements:
This is part of the Innovation Stories series produced in partnership with the Ministry of Science and Innovation, it featured on TVNZ 7 during the Spotlight on Science + Innovation month in August 2011.