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The Watch - virtual worlds in the news

April 20, 2009

1. CNET (USA) - Second Life’s economy is the envy of the real world. “Virtual world Second Life is out with its Q1 2009 Economic Report and things are looking up. In fact, Second Life economics look much better than the real world. Users are spending much more time on the site despite a drop in land ownership. In an interview with CNET News, Linden Labs CEO Mark Kingdon estimated “user-to-user monetary transactions in Second Life may hit $450 million in 2009, up from $350 million.”

2. Animation World Network (USA) - Children’s Virtual World Company Tribal Nova Gets $3 Million. “Tribal Nova, a Montreal based developer and operator of parent-friendly virtual worlds and online educational gaming services for 3-12 year olds, announced today the closing of a $3 million growth financing round from iNovia Capital and ID Capital. “Tribal Nova is well positioned to succeed in a market that has great potential for growth,” said Chris Arsenault, Managing Partner at iNovia Capital. “Children are consuming media and entertainment in new ways these days, with a significant amount of time and attention spent on the internet. Media companies recognize that fact and are searching for different ways to engage their existing audiences.”

3. USA Today - Eco-games help kids to do good. “In Elf Island, kids enter a lush virtual world as an elf. While they can design their own elf avatar, buy it a house and decorate it, play fun minigames, and safely chat with others within this world, what makes this online game stand out from the more than 200 others is its overarching theme that being an elf means doing good in the world. The game ties the story of unlocking the secret of Elf Island to doing a series of “Good Quests” in this virtual world, which are then mirrored in real life. The current “Tree Good Quest” has kids playing games to earn seeds to plant fruit trees in the desert of Niger. Working with nonprofit Plant-It 2020 and the Eden Foundation, when the in-game goal of planting 20,000 trees is reached, 2,000 actual fruit trees will be planted in Niger.”

4. Ocala.com (USA) - Software That Guards Virtual Playgrounds. “Virtual worlds for children and teenagers — Web sites like Neopets, Club Penguin and Habbo — are a big business. On these sites, children create an avatar and, with it, explore an imaginary universe. They can play games, chat and decorate virtual rooms or other spaces. By the end of this year, there will be 70 million unique accounts — twice as many as last year — in virtual worlds aimed at children under 16, according to K Zero, a consulting firm. Virtual Worlds Management, a media and trade events company, estimates that there are now more than 200 youth-oriented virtual worlds “live, planned or in active development.”

5. VentureBeat (USA) - How I became a virtual world believer. “The media narrative about Second Life and virtual worlds is starting to get past the hype stage, past the bashing stage, and is beginning to resemble reality. VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi has covered this shift in a thorough Q&A with parent company Linden Lab’s CEO Mark Kingdon. Public misperception of Second Life and the virtual world landscape is beginning to change as we see what it means for the evolution a new global culture and economy. I can well understand the skepticism of those who are unfamiliar with Second Life, because I remember how I felt the first time I heard about it. At the time I was an investigative journalist, and I didn’t see at first how involvement in virtual worlds could be justified. I imagined it as the ultimate form of escapism from a physical world too far gone.”

6. University of Delaware (USA) - Fashion professor finds past research takes on new life. “University of Delaware professor Sharron Lennon is one of the world’s foremost experts on human behavior and dress. She has studied consumer behavior and the relationship between appearance and social perception for nearly 30 years. Her dissertation research at Purdue University focused on how physical appearance cues affect people’s impressions about each other. Recently, however, she has found that colleagues interested in consumer behavior are beginning to study consumer behavior by looking at avatars — animated characters that people create to represent themselves in computer-generated virtual worlds such as Second Life.”

7. Tampa Bay Online (USA) - Being dead is no reason to give up your online social life. “In today’s world of always-connected social media, there’s no reason to stop interacting online simply because you’re dead. A wave of new companies are starting to offer services such as virtual cemeteries where guests can visit and e-mail alerts set up by funeral homes to remind relatives near and wide about the anniversary of your death.”

8. Adweek (USA) - Virtual Shopping, Real Results. “Despite the flash-in-the-pan success of online worlds like Second Life, marketers are flocking to virtual reality — for research purposes. Computerized store simulations — in which consumers “shop” in on-screen environments that look very close to the real thing — are now standard for the larger packaged-goods firms like Procter & Gamble, Frito-Lay, ConAgra and Intel, which have been using them for years. But now there are several factors speeding the adoption of VR shopping research among other, smaller players, including better technology, lower prices, the expanded use of brainwave and EKG measurements on consumers to hone results, more emphasis on shopper marketing and the ubiquity of broadband. While firms like P&G tend to do such simulations in-house, IRI, the Chicago-based market research firm, began offering the program to clients about a year or so ago. Earlier this month, Staci Covkin, vp, consumer and shopper insights at IRI, gave a presentation on the subject at the Advertising Research Foundation’s Re:think conference in New York.”

9. ITworld - Massive server purchase likely in Chinese Warcraft deal. “Chinese online game firm NetEase.com will buy all-new servers to start operating World of Warcraft in China this year, potentially leaving masses of unused computing clusters in the hands of the current Chinese operator. NetEase will distribute and run the game in China for three years after current operator The9’s license expires in June. NetEase announced the deal with Blizzard Entertainment, the game’s U.S. owner, on Thursday. NetEase will need massive servers for the extremely popular game. Chinese Internet cafes are often packed with teenagers who chain-smoke as they play the game for full days or nights.”

10. The Guardian (UK) - Bobba: Habbo Hotel creators land on mobiles. “Alice has just reminded me that Habbo Hotel creators Sulake have released a new “pocketsize” virtual world, for mobile phones. The hugely successful Finnish company, whose Habbo has over 129m accounts registered, are currently beta testing Bobba, available for the Nokia N-series and the iPhone. At the moment, information is thin, but the screenshots suggest an avatar-led social space, in which players can create their own spaces and chat with other users.”

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