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The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. PNN Online (USA) – MacArthur Island Opens in Virtual World of Second Life. \”The MacArthur Foundation Island opened today in the virtual world of Second Life. The island is a new laboratory for MacArthur’s two-year exploration of virtual worlds, led by the University of Southern California and the nonprofit Global Kids. MacArthur Island is designed as an alternative space to educate grantees and others about the potential for philanthropy in virtual worlds and allow grantees and Foundation partners to showcase their work and connect with new audiences. The new island is located adjacent to an archipelago in Second Life dedicated to the public good, called the Nonprofit Commons. Visitors to MacArthur Island can interact with installations created about the work of MacArthur and its grantees. They include a giant pair of 3D headphones that visitors can use to listen to stories by independent radio producers as part of Public Radio Exchange, and a map about Chicago neighborhoods through which visitors can learn about a comprehensive community development effort being carried out in Chicago. \”

2. WebProNews (USA) – Kids/Teens Drawn to Virtual Worlds, Not Marketers. \”What do you get when you cross a video-game with social networking? Virtual worlds – and they\’re no joke, particularly with younger generations who are immersing themselves in increasing numbers.
In fact, half of online kids (age 3-11) will be regular frequenters to virtual worlds by 2013, predicts eMarketer. In its new report, \”Kids and Teens: Growing Up Virtual\”, the research firm estimates that currently 37% of online kids log on to virtual worlds each month. By 2013, that proportion is expected to rise to 50%, or 8.7 million.\”

3. Multiplayer Online Games Directory (USA) – Footballvillage.net Worldwide Opening with FC Barcelona Virtual World. \”E-Calcio is Proud and Happy to Announce the Opening of Footballvillage.net. It’s the result of over 2 years of development with 150 people involved in the creation of an innovative virtual world environment dedicate to the football passion. The target it’s to give to the largest number of users a very immediate and easy to use access to the virtual worlds experience and a chance to live and share with other friends all over the world their true football passion.\”

4. ZDNet Asia (Singapore) – Virtual worlds an inroad to new generation. \”Virtual worlds aren\’t dead–they\’re enjoying a re-awakening, as marketers learn to connect both the real and virtual, say observers. Mary Ellen Gordon of Market Truths, a U.S.-based research firm specializing in virtual worlds, said in an interview with ZDNet Asia, companies expressing interest in virtual worlds such as Second Life are compelled to learn the media-consumption habits of the new generation. This marks a contrast against the initial wave of companies which flocked to Second Life for mostly publicity, and also \”during which at least some companies did not seem to take the time to really understand virtual worlds or to think about how to use them to contribute to their overall business objectives\”, said Gordon. She named some of these business needs as saving time and costs related to traveling, by using virtual platforms to carry out Web conferences.\”

5. Kotaku (USA) – Are Our Games Alive? \”Anyone who\’s played through a game like Microsoft\’s Fable II (who can forget your virtual dog?), BioWare\’s Mass Effect (with its robust roster of non-playable characters) or seen Sony\’s upcoming Heavy Rain (whose developer, Quantic Dream, promises a new type of relationship between player and character) may have wondered to themselves whether gaming, which is still in its infancy as an art form, is heading towards its inevitable Citizen Kane threshold. More than the graphics or surround sound, the latest game consoles\’ processing power are bringing to life AI-controlled characters unlike anything experienced before. But what are these sentient beings that help or hinder gamers as they explore vast virtual worlds? Are the Locust Horde who hide behind blockades and orchestrate flanking attacks in Gears of War 2 the first step in some type of real-world AI nightmare like the apocalyptic future displayed in Warner Bros. Pictures\’ Terminator: Salvation? Will Steven Spielberg\’s next original game for Electronic Arts, which remains untitled, deliver on its promise of making a gamer connect with a female avatar emotionally?\”

6. Hi-Tech Scotland (UK) – Scotswoman scores \’Second Life\’ Gold. \”Dunfermline businesswoman Pauline Randall’s office looks out over sparkling blue oceans, lapping around lush, landscaped gardens and she can fly to meetings in an instant – all in her Virtual World business park. This week, (Wednesday 27th May, San Francisco) it was announced she is the first, and only, Scottish company accepted into Linden Lab’s Gold Solution Provider Program in recognition of her experience and expertise in helping companies enter and operate in Second Life. Pauline runs her company, virtual-e, to recreate 3D replica offices and buildings online for organisations like Imperial College, London, Ashridge Business School, CyMAL – Wales Museums and Libraries and the University of Hawaii. In these online spaces, organisations can host virtual meetings, collaborative working, product training and demonstrations – even international conferences, without the cost and hassle of travel. Medical colleges are using virtual worlds for training young doctors in diagnosing patients and businesses find them an innovative way to manage 360 degree presentations on new products.\”

7. VentureBeat (USA) – Virtual events draw a live in-person crowd. \”Yes, these people in the picture are real. What’s weird is they’re attending a conference about virtual events. You know, the kind they have only in cyberspace where you pretend you’re at a live event. As surreal as it sounds, the fledgling virtual events industry gathered today at a first-of-its-kind Virtual Edge event at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, Calif. While other conferences have been pummeled by the recession, there were 500 people registered and an overflow crowd this morning. The reason for the interest is that demand for virtual events has skyrocketed during the recession, said Malcolm Lotzof, chief executive of Chicago-based virtual events firm InXpo, one of several companies that stage the virtual events for all sorts of customers. As companies seek to cut costs and curtail travel, they’ve come to see the wisdom of putting on virtual events on the Internet.\”

8. Mail & Guardian Online (South Africa) – A new world of study. \”There\’s not a red pen in sight when Russell Stannard marks his master\’s students\’ essays — but it\’s not because they never make mistakes. Stannard doesn\’t use a pen to give his students feedback. Instead — and in keeping with his role as principal lecturer in multimedia and Information & Communication Technology (ICT) — he turns on his computer, records himself marking the work on-screen, then emails his students the video.\”

9. ITWorld Canada (Canada) – Immersive Internet technology is no video game. \”A Kirksville, Mo.-based non-profit organization providing drug abuse counseling services is taking a Second Life-esque approach to continuing to treat clients once they leave residential treatment centres. For the past two months, Preferred Family Healthcare Inc. has been running its own virtual islands on a private server where young adults who have spent some time in residential care can continue to receive counseling remotely using only a provided laptop and Internet connection.\”

10. The Escapist (USA) – PlayStation Home Users On The Rise. \”After an initial peak of interest followed by a dip in activity, PlayStation Home\’s active user base is now on the upswing, according to Home director Peter Edward. PlayStation Home has had a reputation for being the biggest budgeted ghost town of all of gaming\’s virtual worlds, but that might not actually be the case, according to Home director Peter Edward. While the feature saw very little use after an initial surge of interest following its debut, people are apparently going back Home, and they\’re staying there.\”

Weekend Whimsy

1. Para ver tu Sol

2. Pat Benatar – Hell is for Children (Second Life)

3. Cops – Second Life

Frenzoo: Avatar Style

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Although originally billed as being for teenage girls, the Frenzoo concept has proven to be of interest to a much wider audience. Even though it\’s early days yet, the site still being in beta, there\’s already a thriving community of folks participating in Frenzoo, with a wide range of ages and nationalities, and both genders, being strongly represented.

What is Frenzoo about? Primarily, it\’s about sharing style – not just "high fashion" or "mainstream" style, but whatever takes your fancy; as long as you stay within the terms of service, and your images fit into the PG category, your style will be celebrated by the Frenzoo community.

Ztylist

Your Ztylist is your avatar in Frenzoo. In addition to personalising their face, there\’s a wide range of beauty products, hairstyles, clothing and accessories to choose from to create the look you desire for your avatar. Once you have chosen your Ztylist\’s look, you can also alter the way they move (their Pose), and change the way their background (Home) looks. The Pose is a looped animation; you can easily choose when in the sequence to take an image (Snapshot) to get the effect you are after.

Shop

One of the ways to achieve your personal look is to shop for items. Clothing, hair and accessories are made by the Frenzoo team, and also by VIPs, who are able to create items to stock their shops with. Though currently somewhat limited in range, the number of items is growing daily, and the range of styles covered also continues to expand. Right now, only Frenzoo team members have the ability to create make-up, though they are always open to suggestions as to what they should add to the collection next.

Create

Of course, if the shop doesn\’t carry just the item you desire, you can always make your own. Making personalised garments, shoes and accessories is a snap with the item creation tools supplied. There\’s a stage for cutting, for making the pattern for the fabric, and for adding details like buckles, pockets and gems. Simple items can be done very rapidly – more complicated items take more fiddling and more time, but are eminently possible. The original shape of your item is determined by the template you choose initially: a ball-gown cannot be cut to make jeans, but jeans can easily be cut down to make shorts.

Right now, VIP status is gained by demonstrating your capability and interest to the Frenzoo team – look in the Frenzoo forums for the appropriate information.

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The Zoo

Under the Zoo tab, you can get a quick overview of what other people\’s Ztylists are wearing, and you have a quick link to their profile pages. Also under the Zoo tab are the Clubs, which are a great way to meet and communicate with people who have the same interests as you.

Shows

Shows are a fun and entertaining way to share your outfit creation and compilation abilities! It\’s also a good place to make new friends. Each show has a theme; past themes have included Barbie, Emo and Cosplay (Superheroes, in this case). The idea is that you dress according to the theme, and then everyone gets a chance to vote for their favourite outfit. To keep things fair, the Frenzoo team has ensured that you can\’t vote for yourself, and asks that you not spam people asking for their votes!

Share

Frenzoo has made it easy to share around the Frenzoo love – there are a wide range of banners and logos available to place on other web sites, and it\’s also easy to place snapshots of your Ztylist on blogs, Myspace, and other similar places.

Forum

The Frenzoo forum is essentially like any other forum – it contains useful information about the site, alerts users to upcoming shows and changes to Frenzoo, and is a great place to carry on conversations with other users in the community. Moderation is in place to keep the atmosphere friendly and safe – if you wouldn\’t say it to a 13 year old, don\’t say it here.

Verdict

Frenzoo is a nifty piece of work, and there are more improvements to come. It may or may not be attractive to you now, but be aware that there are many changes in the pipeline – and one or more of those might make the difference that gets you intrigued.

Metaplace impressions

At The Metaverse Journal, we\’ve followed Metaplace closely and covered its beta phase previously. Senior contributor Tateru Nino was asked to put Metaplace through its paces to ensure we haven\’t been too starry-eyed about its potential – Editor.

Still in beta, Metaplace still has some rough edges and glitches, but it is certainly coming along very nicely.  The look and feel of Metaplace mostly calls to mind the isometric 2D games of the mid 1990s. That’s very much the look and feel of much of it, though it is in a considerably higher resolution than the game titles of yesteryear.

You could be forgiven for thinking its areas as strikingly similar in some ways to the tactical maps of the old X-Com game series. It runs conveniently in a browser, and is entirely Flash-based, downloading what it needs, when it needs it.

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Metaplace is divided into worlds. Each world being more or less a variably-sized map, viewed in a variety of ways and interconnected into a larger, multidimensional abstract geometry. There’s no broader landscape, and no particularly enormous spaces. Like – say – Richard Garriott’s Ultima VII, there’s an internal sense of the three-dimensionality of objects, but it is primarily a two-dimensional experience. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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Metaplace’s strengths appear to be largely organized around social and gaming. Metaplace strongly supports the creation of spaces, particularly gaming spaces. Objects are almost trivially easy to create within metaplace, and the system actively supports a variety of relatively painless ways to get content into the system.

If you want, for example, a boat, the system will offer to take your search to Google 3D Warehouse, where you can simply select one of the available models, and Metaplace will do all the heavy lifting to import it for you. A useful variety of behaviours can be added to objects with just a few clicks, and no-scripting, and there’s support for more intricate systems as well.

\"tmj-tan-metaplace3\" Views of spaces can be customized, UI widgets can be added. There’s a great deal of support for building game-spaces, and if I were able to spare the time for making a game, Metaplace is definitely where I’d want to be doing it.

Metaplace tracks experience (‘metacred’, actually) and assigns levels, keeping track of the basic types of activities you indulge in. People can tell at a glance if you’re a socializer, explorer or builder by nature – though hardly anyone actually seems to pay attention to that. You gain metacred and presently also coins (for the economy prototype) by, well, socializing, exploring and building, basically.

Some issues still present themselves, of course.

The economy and monetisation of the platform is still in the early stages. It’s “soft-launched”, if you like, and users are still in the early days of getting to grips with the potential of the platform. Much of the content you’ll see is still under construction.

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The urge to right-click – for context menus and the like – is almost overwhelming, but of course that just brings up the options for Adobe’s Flash Player. Some of your basic tools can be a little erratic. Sometimes your mouse scroll-wheel will function to zoom in or out of a scene, and sometimes – well – it just won’t. Even left-clicking on things can be somewhat erratic.

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That said, Metaplace is still early in the beta stage, and we’ve got every confidence that its various teething problems will continue to sort themselves out. We’re definitely looking forward to seeing how the platform, the economy and the user-generated content all develop.

The first landmark in Second Life

In Second Life, I\’m a bit of a landmark hoarder, and I noticed that I had kept the very first landmark I saved when I became a Second Life resident in 2006. As was common for new residents, I\’d saved the location of the casino whose chairs I used to sit in to gain Linden dollars. Those were the days. So, I then decided to visit the landmark itself and found that the University of North Carolina at Pembroke has replaced the casino of my Second Life youth:

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It\’s hard to avoid the juxtaposition of Second Life\’s evolution since 2006 and my landmark experience: gambling, along with unregulated banking and activities like ageplay are no longer, with educators a stalwart community. There\’s both upsides and downsides to those changes, but what hasn\’t changed is the uncertainty over where Second Life will go next.

So now it\’s over to you: do you remember your first saved landmark, and if so, what was it and does it still exist? Or has something else taken its place?

Macarthur Foundation and Bartle interview machinima

Over the past few days I\’ve been sent two really interesting machinima that don\’t really fit our Weekend Whimsy slot.

The first is a detailed tour of the Macarthur Foundation\’s island in Second Life, created by Draxtor Despres. The Macarthur Foundation is a US-based philanthropy organisation working worldwide, with a well established pedigree in funding virtual worlds projects:

The second machinima piece comes from Pooky Amsterdam, and it\’s a two-part interview with MUD pioneer and games researcher, Richard Bartle. There\’s some awkward moments and some glitchy audio in the interview, but that\’s well and truly outnumbered by Bartle\’s insights into a range of topics. I found his explanation on the wider societal motivations for creating a MUD fascinating (essentially he was railing against the propensity of British society at the time to judge people too quickly and the MUD provided an opportunity for people to be themselves):

Part 1:

Part 2:

Over to you on the Bartle interview in particular – were there any new revelations for you or points you disagreed with strongly?

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Bizinformer (USA) – Entering an Era of Virtual Currencies? \”There\’s money. People (me included) carry it around in their wallets and save small pieces of it in the ashtrays or cup holders of their cars. And they buy things with it – hamburgers, gasoline, and sometimes other small things. Then there\’s checks and credit cards. We pretend they\’re money and much of the time that works for us. They\’re closely related to money. Then there\’s RockYou Pets from Hi5, Linden Dollars frm Second Life, and PEDs from the planet Calypso, in an online gaming world called Entropia Universe. How much like money are they? Some would say they are money – to the extent that you live your life in a particular virtual world. Some of them are actually exchangeable in the real world; 250 Linden Dollars is worth one US dollar. You can provide a service or sell a product in Second Life, change the Linden Dollars into \”real money\” (whatever that is now) and take it to the grocery store or the mall. PEDs can also be converted back into real money; 10 PEDs equal one US dollar.\”

2. Ottawa Citizen (Canada) – It slices, it dices … it markets to kids. \”We\’ve come a long way from the days when placing ads for toys and sugary cereals alongside Saturday-morning cartoons was the slickest way to sell stuff to kids. Marketers have become increasingly sophisticated in their efforts to expand brands with young consumers. Some present kids with the keys to the product image, allowing them to create new products. For example, media companies provide audio and video clips that young fans slice and dice to create montages. \”Advertisers and broadcasters are approaching children as participants in cultural production and not as audiences,\” says Stuart Poyntz, an assistant professor of communications at Simon Fraser University.\”

3. IntoMobile (USA) – First Look: The Sims 3 for iPhone. \”EA Mobile’s stable of iPhone games is already impressive, but it’s about to get even better. The mobile arm of famed game developer EA is putting the finishing touches on their latest in iPhone gaming – The Sims 3 for iPhone – and we’ve got the first-look scoop for all our readers! These are the same guys behind iPhone-tastic gaming titles like Spore Origins, Tiger Woods PGA Tour and Need for Speed Undercover, so you know their “next big thing” is going to be, well, big. And, after spending some time with the EA Mobile team and their Sims 3 iPhone game, we’re convinced they have a hit on their hands.\”

4. Mediaweek (USA) – eMarketer: 50% of Kids Online Will Use Virtual Worlds by ’12. \”hile virtual worlds like Second Life still represent a fringe activity in the general market, more than half of the kids who use the Internet will be regular visitors to virtual worlds in just four years, predicts researcher eMarketer. Virtual worlds — game-like Web environments where users can create avatars in a fantasy landscape and interact with other users — have become particularly popular among young children. Currently, eMarketer estimates that there are 6 million kids age 3-11 who visit virtual worlds at least once a month, representing 37 percent of that Web demographic. By 2012, there will be 8.7 million kids 3-11 using virtual worlds — or 50 percent of the entire kids\’ online universe.\”

5. New England Business Bulletin (USA) – New corporate training options include virtual worlds. \”Online options have rewritten the world of corporate training, expanding possibilities well beyond the traditional presenter with Powerpoint show. Today, businesses across the globe are using 3-D virtual world technology as a way to hold meetings, simulate business in any environment, conduct training and much more. One growing example, Second Life, dubbed a \”virtual world imagined and created by its residents,\” is an online world that businesses have begun to get acclimated with over the last year or so because of the possibilities it holds for nontraditional learning.\”

6. BusinessWeek (USA) – Studying Epidemics in Virtual Worlds. \” day after news reports about an outbreak of swine flu in Mexico, health officials in Allegheny County, Pa., huddled to discuss contingency plans. How should they respond if the virus came to their part of the world? By closing schools? With widespread vaccinations? To test different courses of action, they turned to computer scientists who had built a working model of the county. \”It helps come up with recommendations of when and how to intervene,\” says Dr. Ron Voorhees, chief of epidemiology and biostatistics at the Allegheny County Health Dept.\”

7. Popular Science (Australia) – Businesses Seek a New Lease on Second Life. \”What ever happened to the online virtual world revolution? You know, the one where everyone would spend hours every day blinging out their Second Life avatars and crashing weddings in World of Warcraft? Well, those days never quite materialized. The media fanfare around virtual worlds has transitioned from an initial wildfire of exuberance to essentially nothing, as expectations for growth and revenue failed to pay off.\”

8. VentureBeat (USA) – Second Life generates 15 billion minutes in web voice calls. \”When you think of phone companies, Linden Lab’s Second Life virtual world doesn’t come to mind. But the company is announcing today that its users have used its web-voice calling feature to talk to each other for a total of 15 billion minutes since it was introduced 18 months ago. The voice-over-Internet-protocol web calling service inside the virtual world is now being used at a rate of 1 billion minutes per month, said Mark Kingdon, chief executive of Linden Lab in San Francisco. By comparison, the VOIP service Skype has been used for 200 billion minutes in the past six years. At any given moment, 50,000 Second Life residents are using the voice application.\”

9. Gamasutra (USA) – Sixth Annual State of Play Conference Discusses Future of Virtual Worlds. \”Organizers of the Sixth Annual State of Play Conference announced that this year\’s event will be held on June 19th and 20th at the New York Law School. The conference will focus on the social impact of virtual worlds and multiplayer online games. State of Play\’s sixth annual showing will bring together scholars, games developers, industry figures, and government leaders to examine the development and study of virtual worlds. Speakers at this year\’s conference will discuss whether scholars have reached a limit in the understanding of multiplayer online spaces, and will seek to determine whether virtual worlds have stalled at a development plateau.\”

10. CNN (USA) – \’Virtual currencies\’ power social networks, online games. \”When Santiago Martinez wants to give his friends birthday presents, he buys a cake or flowers or sometimes a teddy bear. But the 41-year-old, who lives on Mexico\’s Yucatan Peninsula, doesn\’t spend pesos or dollars. He buys the gifts with an online-only currency called hi5 Coins. He also doesn\’t deliver the gifts in the physical world. They appear digitally on his friends\’ online profiles on a site called hi5, which is a social network like Facebook or MySpace. \”They can\’t eat the cake. It is an image — the thing that it represents,\” said Martinez, an accountant with a wife and two kids. \”You can send the feeling of that [cake] that you want to send.\”