Earlier this month, Jim Sink, CEO of Honolulu-based game firm Avatar Reality, announced that the company was shifting its strategy for Blue Mars, once touted as a next-generation virtual reality environment that would challenge Second Life.
As a result, most of the employees were laid off, including Sink.
Avatar Reality is scrapping its substantial investment in building Blue Mars for PCs, and doubling down on its more recent efforts to deploy a virtual environment on Apple’s iOS platform (including the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch).
I recently blogged about Hawaii’s top game companies. Of five companies identified in an industry report, three are essentially gone, and the remaining two were Avatar Reality and sister company Blue Lava Technologies. Blue Lava Technologies was also focused on a desktop application — iLovePhotos for Mac OSX — and the project similarly failed to find a market.
Any way you slice it, this news deals another major blow to Hawaii’s small video game industry, and its technology sector as a whole.
Yet it doesn’t seem so long ago that Avatar Reality and Blue Mars were oft-heralded examples of the innovation taking place in the islands. In April 2009, Sink and Dean Sadamune were our guests on Hawaii Public Radio for a Bytemarks Cafe show focused on virtual worlds. Avatar Reality was also represented on a September 2010 show focused on local game development.
And last summer, the company hosted several geeks for lunch, offering an overview of their technology and a tour of their then-bustling offices:
Of course, I hope they all land on their feet, if not with another large software firm, perhaps as independent developers. On that front, I’ve been encouraged and inspired by some of the indie titles coming out of Hawaii.
As for Blue Mars? The servers are still online for existing users, and ongoing bug fixes are promised. Meanwhile, the company Twitter account reports that they plan to submit their first iOS edition to Apple this week. And some bloggers say things don’t look quite as bleak today as they did a week ago.