SW City, one of the largest areas in Active Worlds
|Initial release||June 28, 1995|
6.2 / November 10, 2014
Windows (XP SP3 and later)
OS X (10.6 and later)
Active Worlds is an online virtual world, developed by ActiveWorlds Inc., a company based in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and launched on June 28, 1995. Users assign themselves a name, log into the Active Worlds universe, and explore 3D virtual worlds and environments that others have built. ActiveWorlds allows users to own worlds and universes, and develop custom 3D content. The browser has web browsing capabilities, voice chat, and basic instant messaging.
In the summer of 1994, Ron Britvich created WebWorld, the first 2.5D world where tens of thousands could chat, build and travel. WebWorld operated on the Peregrine Systems Inc. servers as an after hours project until Britvich left the company to join Knowledge Adventure Worlds (KAW) in the fall of that year. In February 1995, KAW spun off their 3D Web division to form the company Worlds Inc. Britvich was eventually joined by several other developers, and the renamed AlphaWorld continued to develop as a skunkworks project at Worlds Inc, internally competing with a similar project known internally as Gamma and publicly as Worlds Chat. While AlphaWorld was developing a strong cult following due in large part to Britvich's open philosophy of favoring user-built content, Worlds, Inc. favored Gamma for the company produced contract projects for Disney and others.
On June 28, 1995, AlphaWorld was renamed Active Worlds (from Active Worlds Explorer) and officially launched as version 1.0. Around this time, Circle of Fire (CoF) was formed to create content for the Active Worlds universe. This company played a pivotal role in the future of the product. In January, 1997, Worlds Inc., after failing to secure needed contracts and having spent its venture investment of over 15 million dollars, laid off almost the entire staff of the company, keeping only several employees which included the author of Gamma, now known as WorldsPlayer. Active Worlds, never considered much of an asset by the company, became an object of struggle for those close to it. Eventually, it ended up in the hands of CoF, with most of the development team joining CoF until (in July 1997) internal disagreements caused most of the team and employees, including Britvich, to leave the company.
On January 21, 1999, CoF performed a reverse merger with Vanguard Enterprises, Inc., which changed the company's name to Activeworlds.com, Inc. and, later, ActiveWorlds, Inc. In 2001, the company launched a new product called 3D Homepages. Each citizen account was entitled to a free 30-day trial of a virtual 10,000 square-meter 3D world, using their choice of layout from a selection of pre-designed styles. After the trial, the user had the option of upgrading to a larger size and user limit. These 3D Homepages were hosted for the user, unlike traditional worlds where the user would have to get their world hosted by another company or user, or themselves.
In 2002, the company, in an attempt to financially survive and turn a profit, increased the price of their yearly citizenships from $19.95 USD to $69.95 USD. In September 2002, the company was sold back to its founders Richard Noll and JP McCormick and became a private company again. The company was renamed "ActiveWorlds, Inc." On June 16, 2008, Active Worlds, Inc. released the first major update to the browser in two years, version 4.2. It included web page rendering on objects and customizable avatars. On December 5, 2008, Active Worlds, Inc. renewed over 65,000 citizenships for a period of 30 days. On June 24, 2009, Active Worlds, Inc. released an open beta of version 5.0 to the public. On June 7, 2012, version 6.0 was released. The system's registration fee was removed in 2013.
- Croquet project
- Renderware—rendering engine used by Active Worlds
- Snow Crash—novel by Neal Stephenson which inspired Active Worlds
- The Thirteenth Floor—movie that, at one point, had a simulated environment game within Active Worlds.
- WorldsAway—Active Worlds precursor
- Virtual reality
- Hansen, Kenneth. "The Design of Public Space in 3D Virtual Worlds on the Internet." Virtual Space: Spatiality in Virtual Inhabited 3d Worlds. Lars Qvortrup, ed. London: Springer-Verlag, 2002.
- Noll, Rick. "Price Plan Letter". Retrieved September 4, 2007.
- Scannell, Beth. Life on the Border: Cyberspace and the Frontier in Historical Perspective. Online edition. Retrieved September 4, 2007.