The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Department of Defense (USA) – Government Invites Public to Solve Challenges. “The federal government has a lot of problems to solve, and a new website it launched this week will give average citizens a forum to discuss and potentially solve those problems while vying for rewards for the best solutions. Bev Godwin, director of the U.S. General Services Administration’s Center for New Media and Citizen Engagement; Brandon Kessler, founder and CEO of ChallengePost; and Tami Griffith, science and technology manager for the U.S. Army Research Laboratory’s Simulation and Training Technology Center, discussed the new site — Challenge.gov — during a “DoD Live” bloggers roundtable yesterday. Godwin oversees the site for the government. Kessler’s company designs and builds “challenge” sites for different clients. Challenge.gov is an extension of President Barack Obama’s Strategy for American Innovation, which opens government solutions to the general public.”

2. The Independent (UK) – Comment: The Virtual World Conference is the shape of things to come. “On 15 September, the Open University, in collaboration with the Serious Games Institute, will host a 24-hour conference. Opening in Hong Kong, the focus will shift to Europe as the eastern evening meets the UK morning, handing over at our sundown for a final eight hours on the US western coast. Despite crossing many time zones during the day, conference chairs and delegates will meet at a single location, and never have to leave the comfort of their own armchairs.”

3. Christian Science Monitor (USA) – A virtual world that breaks real barriers. “Thus far in the relatively short existence of online worlds and virtual communities, less than flattering stories typically float to the surface. The Internet is rife with tales of bad behavior: antisocial “trolls” posting inflammatory messages; players addicted to fantasy role-playing games; and marriages ruined by spouses staying up half the night to flirt in virtual spaces, even proposing marriage to people they’ve never met in the flesh. Given the power of negative thinking, it’s worth repeating: Not all that happens within the digital realms of monsters, quests, and virtual dollars is evil. Much of the zombie-shooting amounts to people having fun or finding an escape. But some online communities embrace a more lofty mission. They’re forging new relationships across the chasms of nationality, religion, and language – long the unrealized dream of some who hoped the Internet could bring us closer.”

4. Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) – Go with the flow. “I am a sucker for physics simulations, especially in games. The last half a decade or so has brought us advances such as Havok, PhysX, and Euphoria, all of them technologies that help to make our virtual worlds a little more believable. The only thing I love more than physics in general is liquid simulation, and right now is a good time to be a fan of virtual fluid dynamics. Three games are on the horizon that play with realistic liquid simulation in very different ways. Probably the first we will get the chance to play will be Hydrophobia, a 3D survival adventure that takes place aboard a slowly sinking ocean liner. The game’s developer, Dark Energy, has spent three years just programming an engine that can model realistic water movement.”

5. Virtual Worlds News (USA) – Sulake Reports Best Half-Year Results To Date. “Virtual worlds publisher Sulake announced its best half-year performance in the company’s history, earning approximately $37.9 million in revenue. This is a 20% increase year-over-year. Sulake credits the jump in revenue to reducing costs, improving operations, and a continued focus on development of its Habbo Hotel virtual world. Sulake expects its revenue growth to continue in the future.”

6. NewScientist (USA) – Avatars learn gestures to match your tone of voice. “Avatars in virtual worlds provide a richer way than email or chat to communicate online, but despite better graphics and sound quality, they still can’t rival in-person meetings. Now new software may help virtual characters appear more lifelike by imbuing them with realistic body language. Rather than assign physical gestures based on the literal meaning of a person’s spoken words, the program focuses on prosody, the combination of vocal rhythm, intonation and stress. To assemble a library of gestures associated with prosody features, Sergey Levine and Vladlen Koltun at Stanford University, California, used a motion-capture studio to digitise the movements that an actor made as he spoke.”

7. Computerworld (USA) – Second Life should be more iPhone-like, says CEO Philip Rosedale. “One of Second Life’s biggest problems, says CEO Philip Rosedale, is that it’s not enough like an iPhone. From the moment you open the box on an iPhone, it’s fun to use, and in playing, you learn how to use it. The whole process is pleasurable. Second Life is nothing like that, learning to use it is a long process, and painful for many people. I talked with Rosedale three weeks ago, when he’d been back as CEO of Linden Lab for two months. Rosedale is founder and chairman of Linden Lab, the company that created and operates Second Life. He stepped down as CEO two years ago, and returns to find the company battered and troubled.”

8. The Toronto Star (Canada) – Techno-porn: how the sex industry drives mainstream technology. “Patchen Barss might well have called his first book Hard Drive. After all, the central thesis of The Erotic Engine is that pornography has almost always powered human communication, all the way from dirty cave paintings to Google. The cover shows a couple of computer mice in a compromising position, an illustration reflective of the wit the 40-year-old Toronto author has brought to his research. Today, the international pornography industry is estimated to be a $25-billion business, and, technologically, it’s driving all sorts of things that nobody would ever connect with one-handed typing.”

9. VentureBeat (USA) – LOLapps thrives as under-the-radar Facebook social game maker. “You probably haven’t heard of LOLapps, the maker of social games on Facebook. But the company has quietly become one of the leaders of the pack among hot social game companies that are still independent. The San Francisco company has more than 100 million users. But almost nobody has kept track of that. On AppData, which measures Facebook traffic, LOLapps is listed as having about 10 million monthly active users, which doesn’t even put it the top-10 developer list. But if you consider the 100 million number, only Zynga and CrowdStar are in the same ballpark. The undercounting happens for a simple reason. The company’s two top apps, Gift Creator and Quiz Creator, have many more users than are shown in the official stats. That’s because users create their own quizzes and gifts with those apps, and are then counted as the developers of apps; LOLapps doesn’t get credited or recognized when its users create apps that spread virally on Facebook. In that sense, LOLapps is a lot like CrowdStar, another leading Facebook social game company whose quiz games don’t get counted much.”

10. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – Sex world recruits Emerald team. “The adult-themed Utherverse virtual world platform is in discussions with former developers of the controversial Emerald Viewer for Second Life, the company announced. Prior to recent scandals involving an alleged distributed denial of service attack, privacy violations, and a Second Life ban this Wednesday, the Emerald viewer was primarily known for a nicer user interface than Second Life’s own official viewers — and for its “breast physics.” But bouncing boobies wasn’t the only factor that caught Utherverse’s attention.”

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