The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. CNET (USA) – Start-up hopes to bridge real, virtual worlds. “Micazook, a start-up trying to bring some real-world flavor to virtual worlds on the Net, plans to publicly launch an online realm it calls Project X for now. “A beta will be out in the next few weeks,” Michael Fotoohi, managing director and one of the prime programmers behind the project, said at the Image Sensors Europe conference here. By then, he said, Project X should have a real name instead of its present placeholder. Project X attempts to overlay the free-wheeling style of Second Life over a model of the real world. The company has obtained high-resolution imagery for many parts of the world, combined it with data for where roads are located, and used it as a foundation for the virtual world. Think of it as Google Maps Street View populated by avatars.”

2. VentureBeat (USA) – Secret Builders raises $2.3M to expand educational virtual world for kids. “Secret Builders is announcing today that it has raised $2.3 million in funding for its online virtual world with educational games for children. In doing so, it has shown that it’s one of the survivors of what was once a very hot sector now littered with dead companies. The San Mateo, Calif.-based company debuted its Secret Builders web site in December, 2008. It has slowly built up to 1 million registered users, and it now has 350,000 to 400,000 unique monthly visitors from 190 countries. ”

3. Wired (UK) – Does World of Warcraft reflect real life concerns? “We can learn about the future of our world by studying World of Warcraft, a sociologist has suggested in a new book being published this month. William Sims Bainbridge argues in The Warcraft Civilization: Social science in a virtual world that the game isn’t just “escapist fantasy” but offers an insight into ” how people are going to be respectful of each other in a world in which there aren’t enough resources” – something we are already facing in reality. Speaking to Samantha Murphy of New Scientist, Bainbridge said that sociologists could glean as much from virtual worlds about human concerns and attitudes as they can from the real world. The challenge is then how to interpret the information.”

4. CNET (USA) – Don’t laugh, Venuegen’s virtual meetings can work. “My co-workers will attest to the fact that when I started reading the materials about Venuegen’s virtual-meeting-room service, I audibly groaned. I’ve had enough of companies trying to make meetings work in Second Life-ish virtual worlds. It’s too cute an idea for too serious a need. Or so I’ve always thought. A demo of the service, which is being unveiled at the Demo conference Monday, opened my eyes a bit. Built on a gaming platform but decidedly not a game or “virtual world,” like Second Life or There, Venuegen is a world of 3D rooms inhabited by human-appearing avatars with photo-mapped faces (like yours and your co-workers’), and a set of controls aimed squarely at replicating both the real-world experience of sitting in a meeting room and the unique online experience of sharing onscreen presentations and having private back-channel conversations while watching a public presentation.”

5. PhysOrg (USA) – Real criminals use virtual worlds to launder money. “Senior Law lecturer Dr Clare Chambers has just started an 18-month project to investigate whether the legal structure of these virtual worlds – where players use real money to buy virtual goods such as land, businesses or consumer items, which can then be sold on or exchanged – enables money laundering offences to be committed. Clare said, “On an average day, about £750,000 changes hands in the most popular virtual world platforms. The most recent research into virtual fraud was carried out in 2007 and this concluded that money laundering was on the increase in virtual realities. More up-to-date research is required in this area order to understand and combat it.”

6. Discovery News (USA) – Could Gamers Save Our World? “I’m not talking about the virtual worlds found in World of Warcraft or Second Life. I’m talking about Earth, our motherland, la tierra. And I’m wondering if those people who spend 16 billion hours a year tapping keyboards or jiggling joysticks can save the world. It’s not my idea. In this TED Talk video, Jane McGonigal, director of games research and development at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, Calif., suggests that if we could harness the power of video games, where players collaborate and are given the incentive to become heroes, we could solve real-world problems.”

7. Oxford Press (USA) – Miami research team awarded grant for virtual environment. “At first glance, it doesn’t appear to be an area of scientific research. With basketball hoops being cranked to the ceiling, it looks like any other big gymnasium. This place, however, is not just another gym. It’s the HIVE. The Huge Immersive Virtual Environment is located in the basement gymnasium of Miami University’s Phillips Hall. The HIVE is an immersive virtual environment in which a person wears a helmet and their movements are tracked by infrared censors. The structure is the largest of its kind, with similar structures at Brown University in Providence, R.I., and Tübingen, Germany, according to Miami psychology professor David Waller.”

8. TechCrunch (USA) – Avatar Reality Raises $4.2M For 3D Virtual World, Hires Industry Vet Trent Ward. “Avatar Reality, developer of the massively multiplayer online virtual world platform Blue Mars, has raised an additional $4.2 million from Kolohala Ventures and co-founder and games industry veteran (and somewhat of a legend) Henk Rogers. That brings the total invested in the company to more than $13 million, according to the press release. In addition, Avatar Reality has announced that it has recruited Trent Ward to join as the new VP of Design. Ward has been in the industry for quite a while, having worked as creative director for companies like Foundation9, Ubisoft and Electronic Arts.”

9. Gamasutra (USA) – Opinion: Fear and Loathing in Farmville. “GDC 2010 is now in the books, and it will be a hard one to forget because the whole conference seemed to be obsessed with one thing, which I summed up in this tweet. Or, as designer David Sirlin puts it here: “Facebook, Facebook, Facebook, Facebook, Facebook, Facebook, Facebook, Facebook, Facebook, Facebook.” Off the top of my head, here are the highlights and lowlights of this fixation: -The long-running Casual Games and Virtual Worlds Summits have vanished entirely from the conference, presumably eaten up by the new Social Games Summit.”

10. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – Law firm holds meetings, training in Second Life. “New Orleans law firm Jones Walker has been conducting meetings and training programs in Second Life, the company announced this month. “We created office space where we could conduct meetings, make presentations, provide training, and explore the applications of Second Life to the law firm environment,” said chief marketing officer Carol Todd Thomas in a statement.”

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