Gaia Online (http://www.gaiaonline.com) is an avatar-based online community aimed, for the most part, at teenagers 13 - 18 years of age. It was created on February 18, 2003 by Derek Liu (username "Lanzer"), Josh Gainsbrugh ("L0cke"), and Long Vo ("VO") under the domain name "Go-Gaia.com." Originally it was intended as an anime-themed website and many of the visual aspects were based off of the MMORPG, Ragnarok. In keeping with that theme, the site has created several NPCs to play host in the site shops and games, and several times throughout the year (most notably during holiday events) will update a comic in which these characters play a part.

Since its inception, Gaia has gone through many changes and no longer is a small forum based community of anime fans, but instead has a host of interactive media such as chat based "towns," several casual games, and most recently a built in instant messaging interface. However, the forums still remain one of the most popular forms of communication among regular members.

Avatars:

Every registered user has a human-based avatar that is meant to be customized to their liking. The site offers thousands of different clothing items you can buy with the site's fake currency of gold to dress up. Things such as eyes, skin tone, and gender can also be customized.

Avatars show up next to your post in the forums, or appear as a movable character in certain places such as Towns (which is for the most part an interactive chat) or other environments. In their upcoming MMORPG, the user's avatar is what shows up as their game character.

Forums:

Gaia has several different forums to cover a range of topics users may be interested in. Computers, art, role-playing, movies, and even the site itself are only a few of the topics available for discussion.

A big problem the forums continually face is trolling, and certain forums (most notably General Discussion) have made it the norm to post troll worthy topics "for the lulz."

Monthly Collectibles and Gaia Cash:

Monthly Collectibles are items that can be bought with real money meant to support Gaia's maintenance and costs. For every $2.50 someone sends in to the site, they receive a Sealed Envelope which will open on the 15th of that month. The user then receives a special item for their avatar only obtainable through this system. Often these items, especially older ones obtained back in 2003, are associated with a sense of prestige in the community. It also can lead to attracting beggars, better known as users too lazy to work for their items.

Gaia Cash is a system that allows you to buy special points that can be used to buy items for your avatar with actual money as opposed to the site's virtual economic system. Gaia Cash can be bought online with a credit card or through PayPal, or using cash cards that can be bought in certain stores such as Target or Wal-Mart. It is most popularly used to buy evolving items which are items that gain new poses and "evolve" over time.

Marketplace:

In order to get items for your avatar from the many "shops" found on the site you must "buy" them using virtual gold you can earn by posting in the forums, playing games, or just surfing the site. Because this can take a long time, there is a virtual marketplace which allows users to sell items they no longer want to create a profit. Many users have used this system to become very rich (e-rich, that is) by playing the market much like someone would play the stock market. Some users also will buy items using actual money and sell them back on the site to gain a profit in gold. At this point, however, you might want to admit to having a problem.

zOMG!:

zOMG! is the name of Gaia's long awaited MMORPG. The name was selected through a contest where users were asked to think of a name that would best represent the game. Considering the staff has been promising a battle system since the site was created, as strange as the name is it probably well explains how users felt when the staff finally released screenshots of what the game would look like.

Gameplay is based on a ring system which allows you to activate certain powers instead of using physical weapons. This route was most likely chosen because the game character is your avatar from the site and it would be too difficult to sync the items your avatar is already holding to a weapons system in the game.

zOMG! is expected to come out in 2008 and is currently in beta. The official release date is still unknown.

 

Sources:

http://www.gaiaonline.com
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaia_online

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