The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Vancouver Sun (Canada) – SEE Virtual Worlds™ Purchases Virtual Property from MindArk for $6 Million USD. “SEE Virtual Worlds™, an entertainment company developing a virtual reality universe of connected planets tied to licensed franchises, and MindArk, the company behind the virtual 3D environment Entropia Universe, today announced SEE Virtual Worlds has procured the rights to Planet Calypso, the first planet in the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) Entropia Universe, for $6 million USD. Taking place in a distant future, Planet Calypso is home to a human colony working to establish a new virtual civilization. The planet has been successfully running since 2003 with more than 950,000 registered accounts from 200 countries and territories with $428 million USD processed in player-to-player transactions in 2010. Additionally, SEE Virtual Worlds’ has acquired the assets of First Planet Company, a subsidiary of MindArk.”

2. Tolerance (Canada) – Video Games – Virtual Worlds Not So Far From Our Own. “During my winter holidays this past December, I visited friends who had just received the Nintendo Wii for Christmas. At first I made fun of them – grown adults playing games after all! But after a few days of watching them play, I was intrigued and had to try this out to see what the big deal was about. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed myself. That winter morning, as I simulated playing tennis and boxing, I realized that I was quite good at it. Moreover, it was great exercise, and even an interactive activity, since I was playing against my friend. This was quite a revelation for me – as an adult female who just doesn’t “do” video games. ”

3. Digital Spy (UK) – Power Up!: The Gamification of Life. “In As You Like It, the great bard William Shakespeare famously penned: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” But in the modern world, that would possibly read more suitably as “all the world’s a game, and all the men, women and children merely players”. In just 40 years, the video games industry has grown from a niche world of bedroom enthusiasts to a multi-billion-dollar behemoth, snapping at the heels of the traditional entertainment industries, both financially and creatively. Perhaps gaming’s most incredible feat, though, is to extend its tentacles into everyday life via an intriguing phenomenon known as gamification – the application of gaming principles to work, education and day-to-day existence. Digital Spy investigates the growing groundswell of support for gamification and asks what dangers there may be in making life one big game.”

4. Detroit Free Press (USA) – At $1 a square, people get to use imagination. “Jerry Paffendorf has taken the popular concept of virtual worlds – where you can be anything or anyone you want to be on the Internet – and given it real roots in Detroit. For seven months, Paffendorf has been selling square-inch-sized pieces of land in the city for a $1 a square inch. Now, he has sold out of inches. This spring, he plans to put down the grid, so buyers or “inchvestors” from as far as Australia can do what they want with their tiny property. “If you can stretch your imagination … this small space can be as big as you want, ” said Paffendorf, 28, who moved to Detroit in January.”

5. The Independent (UK) – Reality is Broken, By Jane McGonigal. “Engaging with the argument that gamers are our future feels a bit like a game itself. It’s one in which I pit my wits against the California-based alternative-reality guru and academic Jane McGonigal and her characters, the Super-Empowered Hopeful Individuals, while she tries to slay my avatar, the cynical layman reared on English circumspection and gloom. It might not quite be Mortal Kombat, but McGonigal’s treatise is an epic read and, as a non-gamer, I am a prime target. The book describes the kind of experience gamers get from virtual worlds, such as that of the interstellar wargame saga Halo, and the all-encompassing, inclusive feeling that people need from real life. That they aren’t getting the latter is in part, the author believes, because of a focus on extrinsic rewards that promote an inward spiral of unhappiness.”

6. Los Angeles Times (USA) – Significant layoffs at Disney’s Interactive Group. “Disney Interactive Media Group laid off a “sizable” number of employees Monday as part of a restructuring of the money-losing digital unit, according to people with knowledge of the situation. It is unclear exactly how many people have lost their jobs in the reorganization. Cuts include “minimal” job reductions at Junction Point Studios in Austin, Texas, the development group within Disney Interactive that created the top-selling Epic Mickey video game, a company spokeswoman said. She declined to say how many employees were let go at Disney Interactive’s eight development studios, or how many people work for the digital group.”

7. Minnesota Daily (USA) – From EverQuest to Afghanistan: Army, U teach teamwork. “When she started analyzing video games three years ago, Kyong Shim wasn’t taken very seriously. People questioned the idea of learning from the games. Now the U.S. Army is on board and is one of many groups looking to use the massively multi-player online role-playing game (MMPORG) research to advance training for soldiers. The Army will use the teamwork aspect of MMORPGs to improve communication and work toward a common goal, said Shim, a doctoral candidate at the University of Minnesota.”

8. Mother Jones (USA) – Wii Shall Overcome. “In February 2010, Jane McGonigal completed another level in her quest to become America’s new guru of gaming. She delivered a talk at TED, the annual California conference that’s an obligatory stop for anyone peddling a Big Idea, from Al Gore to Bill Gates to David Byrne. McGonigal’s was that video games can fix the planet’s toughest problems. It’s a bold, appealing proposition: Game-addled kids, who spend an average of more than 10,000 hours fiddling with consoles and controllers before they turn 21, could wind up stopping climate change with their PlayStations!”

9. Search Engine Watch (USA) – Beast Wars: The Bunny People vs. The Horse People. “Often, people tend to doubt that there’s real money at stake selling virtual goods. Despite estimates that virtual goods will become a $10 billion industry this year, it often seems fantastic that people are willing to spend real money on products that don’t exist in the physical world. But they do. Just like in any other business involving real money, there are real lawsuits involved. In this case, we have something that sounds almost ludicrous: the Bunny People (a.k.a. Ozimals) vs. the Horse People (a.k.a. Amaretto). To date, the battle still rages on. But as silly as this might sound it’s really only about what any other civil lawsuit is about: money. Very real money.”

10. The Epoch Times (USA) – New Video Games Played With Living Organisms (Video). “A new discovery could make “Tron”-like battle grids a reality for unwitting microorganisms, with the unveiling of “biotic games” in the journal, The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). Games include remakes of classics like “Pac-Man” and “Pong,” only they’re played with living, swimming microorganisms, complete with a hand-held controller. Developing the games borders on scientific research. “The details of biological systems are not completely understood, hence the realism is limited by the game designers knowledge,” states the report.”

Latest Quarterly Briefing available

Just a quick heads-up to our infrequent / casual readers that the latest quarterly briefing is now available. You can view it here or sign up to receive them automatically via email each quarter. For the dedicated virtual worlds observer the briefings may not have much new but the feedback we get is overwhelmingly positive from those who have a more fleeting grasp of issues in the field.

As always we love feedback, so please do contact us if you’d like to see other publications come on line.

One final thing – our 2011 Virtual Worlds and Business publication should be completed and available by mid-February 2011. If you’re a vendor with a good virtual worlds solution for business, now’s the time to pitch it so we can include it in the roundup.

Blue Mars on iPhone: testing underway

A brief post from Australian fashionista and Blue Mars insider Estelle Parnall, has a shot of some testing she’s done of the iPhone version.

The shots (pictured left) aren’t really different to the ones released when the announcement of the iPhone version, PC version halt and staff layoffs were announced a fortnight ago.

That said, those limited glimpses do show promise, it’ll be interesting to see the progress made in coming months.

Disclosure: Estelle advertises with the Metaverse Journal.

Second Life metrics Q4 2010: stagnation and Hong Kong comparisons

Linden Lab have released some limited (extremely limited if you compare to say three years ago) statistics on Second Life’s performance for the fourth quarter of 2010. It’s a snapshot of stability really, or stagnation if you expect some signs of growth in a platform of Second Life’s longevity. Average monthly repeat logins are up slightly whilst total user hours remained the same, meaning that on average people spent less time in Second Life. Web sales of SL merchandise continue to grow, albeit at an expected slower pace than previous quarters.

One regular point of fascination for a lot of people is how big Second Life is. Coming in a little over two thousand square kilometres now makes it around the size of the Maritius. Linden Lab equate it to two Hong Kongs. Either way it’s a pretty pointless but fun comparison.

On the economy I’m going to directly quote colleague Tateru Nino:

Now, the currency supply. It seems that after a long time, Linden Lab is finally selling L$ on the market again. The money supply is up, LindeX trading volumes are likewise up, and the value of the Linden Dollar (relative to the USD) improved. These are all good economic signs. It’s too soon to call that an economic recovery, but it is certainly looking promising. 100,000 fewer accounts paid or received Linden Dollars by any means than in Q3, following a decline that started at the end of Q1. So, fewer economic participants, but an apparent improvement in the economy for those that are participating. Any data that might contradict this is just not available.

So overall? There’s nothing in here to get excited about and arguably there’s some aspects to be suspicious about due to the dearth of information provided now. The touted ongoing user experience improvements will take a while, even after being implemented, to affect these numbers. That said, pessimism would probably be an overreaction to these figures, assuming the non-released data is as stable.

Keeping in touch in a long-distance relationship

One thing I love about tech innovation competitions is some of the cool things thought up by young and/or inexperienced entrepreneurs. One such example is Pillow Talk.

Conceived by Joanna Montgomery, the concept is fairly simple. A sensor is worn by both individuals and then…

Apparently the idea has won some investment money, so expect to see some glowing pillows in a bedroom near you. It seems a potential winner to me.

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Signal Connections (USA) – Game On for NATO Virtual Training. “NATO’s innovative arm, the Allied Command Transformation (ACT), demonstrated a new way to improve the alliance’s military effectiveness using virtual worlds. Developers from the command presented a game called Boarders Ahoy! at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC), and the program received the People’s Choice Award for the Best Serious Game. I/ITSEC is a venue for showcasing cutting-edge games for business, government and academia. Developers were challenged to create technologically sound programs that solve problems and provide users with a rewarding experience. The top 12 games, including Boarders Ahoy!, were presented to conference attendees and evaluated based on problem solving, technical quality, and playability and enjoyment.”

2. Department of Defense (USA) – ‘Virtual World’ Helps With Post-traumatic Stress. “The Defense Department is using virtual-world interactivity to educate and help warfighters and others who are reluctant to seek more direct care to deal with post-traumatic stress, said an official at the National Center for Telehealth and Technology, also known as “T2.” The welcome center for the T2 Virtual PTSD Experience, based in the internationally populated virtual world called Second Life. This immersive, interactive learning activity is a public site designed for warfighters and their families. It educates visitors about combat-related post-traumatic stress and offers resources for seeking help. During a recent telephone briefing from the center’s headquarters at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Wash., Greg Reger — a clinical psychologist and acting chief of the center’s innovative technology applications division — said the kinds of immersive experiences available in virtual worlds, such as the internationally populated virtual world called Second Life, are designed to appeal to tech-savvy service members and their families.”

3. The State Press (USA) – Professors hold class in ‘World of Warcraft’. “Instead of logging onto Blackboard to complete homework this spring, students in one class will enter the “World of Warcraft” and “Second Life” to study the culture of online virtual environments. “Discourses, Community, and Power in Virtual Worlds,” or ENG 654, is open to students of all majors and interests. The course intends to adapt to an increasingly technological environment. “We want them to get the experience of playing together with different characters that have to take on different roles to really get an experiential sense of how complex game play is in that environment,” said English professor Elisabeth Hayes, who will teach the class with law professor John McKnight.”

4. WoW Insider (USA) – The Lawbringer: The lessons of globalization and gold farming. “Back in 2008, I wrote an article for The Escapist titled Crossing Boundaries, a piece all about globalization as the greatest issue facing video game developers and producers at the time. Guess what, ladies and gentlemen? It’s 2011, and globalization still takes the top spot as the prime issue challenging video game development and production. Rather than rewrite an article on the effects of globalization and the problems the phenomenon causes for the video game industry at large, I thought it might be fun to use globalization as a rubric for discussing the very global industry of gold farming, especially when it comes to the legal nature of things, whatever things may be. We will talk about the lack of predictability in the global market, gold farming as globalization, and the problems with fighting the good fight against the grey market. Won’t you join me?”

5. St Louis Today (USA) – Our love affair with technology is one-sided. “One of our most intimate relationships is often our most unexamined. In a book for anyone who has compulsively checked a Facebook page, felt tethered to a phone, spent hours online that passed like minutes, Sherry Turkle has taken apart our affair with technology and shown us how one-sided the love really is. Turkle, a professor of the social studies of science and technology at MIT and founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, is also a clinical psychologist. This book, a result of 15 years of research with children, robots, digital pets, teens, social networks, adults and virtual worlds, is beautifully written; the prose clear and accessible, but also poignant and moving.”

6. TechNewsWorld (USA) – Study: One in 10 Young Gamers Could Become Pathological Addicts. “rantic parents concerned about their children’s digital habits have found a new ally in the form of a study by U.S., Hong Kong and Singapore researchers, published in the latest issue of the journal Pediatrics. Roughly 10 percent of young video gamers suffer a pathological addiction to their games, the research team found. “We aimed to measure the prevalence and length of the problem of pathological video gaming or Internet use, to identify risk and protective factors, and to identify outcomes for individuals who become or stop being pathological gamers,” explained study co-author Albert Liau, Ph.D., a psychology researcher at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.”

7. The Parthenon (USA) – Marshall engineering professors use new 3-D technology. “The Power Wall: a 10x17ft 3-D projection screen four times more powerful than an HD TV. It may come as a surprise, but this technology can be found in Marshall University’s Engineering building. Professors of engineering are using the power wall along with the organic motion stage markerless motion capture system to develop technology that will allow people to create and manipulate avatars without the use of markers on their body.”

8. ABC Technology (Australia) – MMO Games, your boss and succeeding at work. “For many people, politics, corporate strategy and philosophy are the sort of topics that lead to thoughts of using a cheese-grater on an inner thigh. If you’re a cubicle jockey in an office, or someone questioning their existence in the meatspace, then Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) games like World of Warcraft, Everquest and Guild Wars may be able to help. For the sake of this discussion and because most of my experience comes from WoW, I’ll be mentioning it specifically – but it’s only one of many options.”

9. Mashable (USA) – Why Video Games Are Scoring Big for Social Good. “Cultural historian Johan Huizinga suggested that play and games have always been learning tools, key to the development of culture and civilization. Today, as the multi-billion dollar gaming industry continues to soar and begins to embrace social good integration, Huizinga’s theory reigns true. From FarmVille calling on players to support Haiti to an onslaught of environmental, educational, and corporate social responsibility initiatives being driven by games, the fastest growing segment of entertainment is evolving into a new force of digital activism and facilitating social change.”

10. Xconomy (USA) – Say Hello to My Avatar: Bob Metcalfe Gives First UT Innovation Lecture Using Avaya Web Interface. “Internet tycoon Bob Metcalfe, who recently moved from Boston, is giving his first lecture as professor of innovation at the University of Texas at Austin this afternoon. I don’t know exactly what he plans to say, but what’s particularly interesting is how he’s delivering the talk—to more than just the people in the room, through a virtual collaboration interface from Avaya, the New Jersey-based business communications firm. The technology is being led by an Avaya group with a strong presence in Boston. Metcalfe, the inventor of the Ethernet local-area networking standard, founder of 3Com, and partner at Polaris Venture Partners, moved to Austin for the faculty job earlier this month. He has been a mainstay of the Boston innovation scene for the past couple of decades.”

Make your own (de)motivational posters

Thanks to this website, you can easily make your own motivational posters. It’s as simple as uploading a pic and coming up with some text, like this:

Go get creative and please feel free to post a link to yours in the comments.

The Hitler Downfall meme continues

For those unaware, there are now hundreds of short pieces on YouTube using the Downfall movie as a basis – a movie I need to add is well worth buying in its original form. Each parody addresses a contemporary issue. Although a meme that’s been pretty much flogged to death, I couldn’t resist making one that addressed yesterday’s milestone of 10 billion apps downloaded on the Apple App Store. It takes a swipe at Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Apple in fairly equal amounts.

Have a look for yourself:

Queensland Flood Relief in Second Life

Two years ago, a number of Second Life vendors got together to raise funds for the Victorian Bushfire victims. Thanks to another bunch of dedicated people, coordinated by Brisbane-based Kat Johnston, there are a range of things you can do to raise money for the Queensland Premier’s Disaster Relief Appeal.

It’s all under the banner of Extend A Helping Hand (EAHH), and there’s two large ways to make a difference:

1. Attend some of the great events planned, including a 24-hour concert featuring Australian artists on Australia Day (26th Jan)

2. Go shopping at the EAHH Market, which has an enormous range of items you can buy, with most contributing 100% to the appeal – the lowest ratio was 75% on a handful of items. There’s some top notch fashion, house items and body shapes for starters – you can view a list of vendors here.

At time of writing nearly 1.2 million Linden Dollars had been raised – around US$4,500, with the bulk of events still to come. So if you can, jump in and check it out for yourself in-world.

If you’ve got your own fundraising activities organised, post a note about it in comments!

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Government Computer News (USA) – How far can virtual worlds go in improving the real one? “Computer simulation models are great tools for layering massive amounts of data into visual form, and they are becoming incredibly fine-grained, providing high-def views of both the forest and trees in our surroundings. But can they make people omniscient? That almost seems to be the goal of the recently announced Living Earth Simulator project, which seeks to take global modeling to a new level. Simulations now produce detailed models for everything from climate research to astrophysics. But the Living Earth Simulator is aiming for the whole enchilada, from financial systems to entire societies, all in one model. If all goes according to plan, it even could predict the future, in terms of financial crises or pandemic outbreaks.”

2. BlogHer (USA) – Interview: Laurina Hawks, Making Films in Virtual Worlds. “We speak with one of the most remarkable female avatar who works making movies in Second Life. Her machinima productions will let you without words. With a personal style, her “trade mark” is quality and good stories. Ready to enjoy and learn about machinima? let’s go on!”

3. Search Engine Watch (USA) – Second Life: New Year, New CEO… Big Mess. “Happy 2011, gang! I hope everyone had a terrific break and a wonderful new year. It seems like it’s back to business time and the past two weeks have not been idle in the wacky wonderland of virtual worlds, so let’s do a little catch up baseball. Two days before Gothmas, Linden Lab announced a new CEO, (Rod Humble) who is coming into this new position from a VP slot at EA Play. After the round of jokes about his name settled down (it took a while), the speculation began in earnest about what he was going to bring to the table, having come from EA. I’ve now read a fair bit, and my conclusion is wait and see, since there’s no clear indicators at all as to what his plan is going to be. Frankly, I don’t think he can be much worse than the mess we had in 2010, so I’m willing to be cautiously neutral on the topic of his appointment to the job. Besides, he wasn’t going to be taking the reins until after the new year anyway (using the vacation time as the last calm before the storm, I’m sure.) so he hasn’t even done anything yet.”

4. Gamasutra (USA) – Reality is Alright. “Jane McGonigal’s new book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World is destined to be one of the most influential works about videogames ever published. The book is filled with bold new ideas and refinements of old ones. It’s targeted at a general readership, but game designers, critics, and scholars will learn plenty from the book too, thanks to the new twists it takes on familiar subjects. The ordinary reader will perhaps be most intrigued by McGonigal’s claims that games can save the world (part III in the book), but those of you who would think to read my review are probably already primed for that idea. Instead, I predict you’ll be most struck by Jane’s bold redefinition of the Alternate Reality Game (ARG), which comes in part II of the book (part I is about why games make us happy).”

5. The Journal (USA) – Next Stop: OpenSim!
“Don’t tell Kyle Gomboy about any depression in the real estate market. That may be the case in the terrestrial world, but out in the cloud Gomboy is moving virtual property like never before.
The CEO of virtual world hosting service ReactionGrid, Gomboy and his team currently operate more than 100 private regions for educators in the ascendant virtual environment platform OpenSimulator, and, Gomboy says, are renting out space to three to five new schools each week. Why all the new settlers converging on OpenSim? They’re part of a wave of K-12 educators packing up their 3D content and moving away from Second Life, long the dominant virtual world. The mass migration was prompted by parent company Linden Lab’s announcement in August that it would be closing the Teen Grid, an area within Second Life reserved for 13- to 17-year-olds and home to hundreds of learning projects belonging to teachers intent on engaging their students through the 3D environment. A second blow came in the fall–the ending of the half-off educator discount, meaning property rates in Second Life would be doubling for K-12 institutions, from $150 a month per region to $300 a month.”

6. Massively (USA) – Free for All: Is free to play turning our kids into Vegas pirates? “I think it’s the hair. In fact, I know it. The constant flicking — it drives me nuts. How in the world did wearing your hair like 60-year-old businessmen become such a fad? I’ve now had my groceries bagged by 16-year-old kids with eyeliner on and dual piercings in their lips. When did looking like a Vegas pirate become so popular? The flicking of their hair — it does something to them. Justin Bieber, in a recent interview, said that he was crazy. He insisted on it. Of course, his agent wanted to push this tiny public cry for help off as some sign of genius, but we all know what Bieber meant: “This hair is *flick* driving me *flick* flat-out bonkers.” What also seems to be an issue with the youngins these days is an unfiltered access to the internet. I’m not kidding — next time you’re at the mall, ask the kid with the 30 Seconds to Mars t-shirt on who the vice president is. Then ask him to spell “lose.” See, on the internet and inside any number of free games, he doesn’t need to know this information. After all, the only time he might be worried about “loosing” anything is when he is busy PvPing.”

7. Wall Street Journal (USA) – Postings of a Troubled Mind. “Last May 9, at two in the morning, Jared Lee Loughner typed a question to a group of about 50 online gamers located around the world: “Does anyone have aggression 24/7?” He was back at his keyboard the following night. “If you went to prison right now…What would you be thinking?” he asked. A trove of 131 online-forum postings written between April and June 2010, which were viewed by The Wall Street Journal, provides insight into Mr. Loughner’s mind-set in the year leading up to Saturday’s shootings in Tucson, Ariz. He stands accused of killing six people, gravely wounding Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D., Ariz.) and injuring 13 others. The online postings paint a picture of a disturbed young man trying to impress his peers and struggling to find a purpose to his life. They range from prosaic chatter about weight lifting to nonsensical philosophical ramblings that left some of the gamers who read them wondering whether he was using drugs or had a mental disability.”

8. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – VirtualU integrates 2D, 3D conferences. “Companies looking to hold virtual conferences first have to decide whether to hold a Web-based conference – normally some combination of streaming video, live chats, slide shows, and social media – or one in an immersive environment. The immersive conference allows avatars to walk around inside a three-dimensional virtual environment, but can be more difficult to use than a Web-based platform. But it doesn’t have to be an either-or decision. One vendor, Jamestown, NY-based Digitell Inc., offers a virtual conferencing platform that allows visitors to attend the same conference either by avatar or in 2D via a browser.”

9. MSN (Singapore) – 10 signs you may be a gaming addict. “Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, Halo, and Starcraft are now all names as recognizable as Avatar and Star Trek, especially to the new generation. There’s no doubting that video games are here to stay. They are a multi-billion dollar industry whose games can now claim production budgets rivaling that of Hollywood movies. In fact, video games are such a big part of modern life that they’ve evolved to include people who you wouldn’t traditionally call “gamers”. With the advent of social gaming, everyone and their mothers all play a game, even if it’s something like FarmVille. While having entertainment available for everyone is cool and can be great fun, there’s also a sinister side to gaming. After all, games can take over your life, overpowering your desire to do anything else in the world. To keep you from sliding down that slippery slope, we’ve compiled a list of signs that you may be a gaming addict. Heed these warning signs well, for if you don’t, you may be forever lost to virtual worlds. ”

10. Massively (USA) – Second Life competitor Blue Mars drops PC development for Apple’s iOS. “If you were hoping that Blue Mars was going to rise to directly challenge Second Life’s virtual world dominance, you may be in for disappointment today. In a letter to Avatar Reality’s fans, CEO Jim Sink announced that the company is restructuring and dropping Blue Mars’ PC development to focus solely on Apple’s iOS. As a result, Blue Mars is now Blue Mars Mobile.”

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