The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) – Study’s the name of the game. “Inside a school laboratory, students gather around the bench for today’s lesson: how to create a chemical reaction. Yet instead of turning to their worksheets, these young investigators try some role play. Each budding scientist dons a lab coat and begins to experiment until – voila! – beakers erupt all over the room. Their reward? Not a mark or score but a handful of special tokens. The student who makes the biggest explosion also wins the title of professor. Welcome to the world of ”gamification”, where schooling looks less like a conventional classroom and more like a game of World of Warcraft. The concept is simple: that game mechanics such as virtual currency, puzzles and point systems could one day become as common in schools as tests, pens and textbooks.”

2. Search Engine Watch (USA) – Linden Lab Must Stop Tinkering With Our Income. “The number of times I’ve had a discussion revolving around the reality vs. unreality of virtual worlds are uncountable. You can have this discussion really about any topic. Any activity that you can do in both RL and in a Virtual World is fair game. Of course, everyone has their own lines as to what is “real” and what is alternatively, SL, VW, or “just a hyped up video game”. However, for me, the one thing that is undeniably real is the money. A virtual world economy using real money is for all intents and purposes a real economy. Since the money can be converted to real world cash, any distinction is trivial.”

3. Red Eye Chicago (USA) – Gaming gone indie. “It sounds at first like the nerdiest season of “The Real World” MTV never taped: Six guys, all recent DePaul graduates from the video game development program, stuffed themselves, some laptops, Xboxes and other worldly possessions into a modest five-bedroom apartment in North Center. Aside from exchanging dirty jokes and a few other shenanigans, the arrangement that began in July is as much about business as pleasure. “The Corral,” as they’ve affectionately nicknamed their living room, doubles as the office of Young Horses—a brand new video game studio. The mission: to finish their aquatic pet project “Octodad 2″—a wacky adventure game about an octopus that masquerades as a regular human father—by the end of their one-year lease in July 2012.”

4. Expert Reviews (UK) – Blizzard Sells Off Pieces of Its Virtual World. Blizzard Entertainment, the creators of World of Warcraft, are selling off old hardware in aid of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. The ‘world’ of World of Warcraft is actually composed of a large number of Realms – identical copies of the game world running on separate hardware. This helps to keep the load on individual servers to a manageable level so that users can play the game smoothly, but it also means that if you want to play with friends, you have to choose the same realm when you start the game. Having recently upgraded WoW’s servers, Blizzard has decided to auction off the old servers. These are in the form of “blades” – single circuit boards that contain all the hardware necessary for a server, including processors, memory and storage. Each realm is powered by a number of blades, to provide redundancy in the case of a failure in a single blade.”

5. Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) – Power of thought moves limbs. “A brain implant that allows monkeys to move an avatar’s arm and feel objects in a virtual world has been demonstrated for the first time. The animals used the device to control the arm by thought alone, and feel the texture of objects through electrical signals sent directly to the brain. Researchers built the system to help paralysed people regain the use of their arms and legs, and feel the objects they touched and the ground they walked on.”

6. Huffington Post (USA) – Spiritual Sex in an Increasingly Virtual World. “I believe most modern Americans have a very low capacity for pleasure. I don’t just mean sex. I mean being tactile, receiving touch, feeling the wind rush past your body, swimming, getting in bed at night and rolling around in your clean sheets for a few minutes. Tactile pleasure makes us more whole. I believe we all need sensual touch every day. It’s highly important for me to tune into the subtleties of sensation in my body. It’s transformational, and I can bring it into my life 24/7, from writing an article to having a business meeting. I can be present and involved, wanting to expand everything I do to its most delicate and exquisite place — because that’s what I practice during sex. As I just suggested, there are other ways to find that capacity, but sex works for me.”

7. Fast Company (USA) – Kinect TV And Sesame Street Hack The Next Generation Of TV. “Xbox is unveiling a sharp idea for the next generation of television: interactive, live-action content, produced in partnership Sesame Workshop and National Geographic. Downloadable, linear episodes run like a normal television show but give children opportunities to play simple games with familiar characters and don virtual costumes that mold to their bodies and play around with the show’s environment. A series of interactive children’s books is also in the works. Dubbed “Project Columbia,” they allows burgeoning readers to explore the otherwise static world of a picture books with games, sounds, and augmented reality.”

8. ABC News (USA) – Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 Plan Similar to SimCity’s Virtual Tax Plan. “Whether it came from a pizza box or an unnamed Wells Fargo banker, Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 economic plan is now being compared to another unlikely source: the SimCity video game. Long before the GOP presidential candidate’s plan began dominating the political discourse, a shockingly similar 9-9-9 plan was ruling the virtual world of SimCity. In the video game, residents of SimCity 4 pay default taxes that include a 9 percent commercial tax, a 9 percent industrial tax and a 9 percent residential tax, Huffington Post Politics pointed out. Cain’s plan implements a 9 percent sales tax, 9 percent personal income tax and 9 percent corporate income tax.”

9. Success Magazine (USA) – The Future Is Now: Virtual Office Reality. “The idea of stepping into a hologram for a monthly staff meeting may still seem a tad far-fetched for most small-business owners, but improvements in broadband quality and available technology are expanding virtual meeting options at warp speed. Yet, even in the virtual world, it’s best to take a hard look before you leap. Whether you’re NASA conjuring the holodek of Star Trek science fiction to train astronauts, or a fledgling entrepreneur struggling to communicate with remote partners or customers, the first step into the burgeoning virtual world should be doing your homework to find the most appropriate and cost-effective solution for you. First, here’s a primer on the available technology.”

10. Los Angeles TImes (USA) – Businesses quickly adopting augmented reality apps for consumers
. “You point your smartphone at an Italian restaurant, and diner reviews of its lasagna pop up on-screen. Or you aim your tablet computer’s camera down a residential street, and over images of the houses you see which ones are for sale — along with the asking price, number of baths and square footage. Haven’t done this yet? You probably will soon. The technology is called augmented reality, or AR, and businesses are racing to incorporate it in as many consumer applications as they can. It’s essentially the same technology TV sportscasts use to digitally paint a first-down line on a football field, adapted and updated for camera-equipped smartphones and tablet computers. “In the future, you’ll be able to point your device at anything around you and, without prompting, that device will recognize what is there, incorporate your interests, and layer on information about what you’re looking at,” said Brian Blau, research director at Gartner Inc. “Point a phone at a building, you’ll see the history, for example. Or at a flower, the kind of flower comes up.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Massively (USA) – Enter at Your Own Rift: How gold farming really hurts the economy. “Recently, Trion Worlds CCO and RIFT Executive Producer Scott Hartsman talked to Gamasutra about how gold farming is a much bigger threat than we assume, particularly because of the large amount of credit card fraud. Those who played RIFT at launch probably recall the large wave of hacked accounts early on. According to Hartsman, the hacking attempts were so quick and so intense that the game could have been “denial-of-serviced off the internet” when it launched.”

2. Tom’s Hardware (USA) – Kid Creates Games in ROBLOX, Gets Over 10 Million Followers. “For the uninitiated, ROBLOX is a massively multiplayer online virtual playground and workshop designed specifically for children 7 and over. Unlike other MMOGs where players roam various lands, perform jobs and take on hobbies, ROBLOX allows its users to build virtual worlds and games in a social, LEGO-like environment. “Each player starts by choosing an avatar and giving it an identity,” reads the official FAQ for parents. “They can then explore ROBLOX – interacting with others by chatting, playing games, or collaborating on creative projects. Each player is also given their own piece of undeveloped real estate along with a virtual toolbox with which to design and build anything desired — be it a navigable skyscraper, a working helicopter, a giant pinball machine, a multiplayer ‘Capture the Flag’ game or some other, yet-to-be-dreamed-up object or activity.”

3. 9&10 News (USA) – Camp Grayling Trains in Virtual World. “The military has turned to computers and essentially video games to train their troops for what they will encounter overseas. Camp Grayling in Crawford County is the largest training facility in the US and offers realistic and safe battle zones for their troops. Today’s troop can train in a fake Iraqi village after planning out an attack or rescue in the base’s Simulation Center.”

4. eMarketer (USA) – Quick Stat: US Virtual Goods Revenues to Reach $653 Million This Year. “According to eMarketer data from January 2011, the US virtual goods market is expected to generate $653 million in revenue this year, up 28% from 2010. The popularity of social gaming has catalyzed tremendous growth in virtual goods monetization. Game developers, virtual worlds and social network providers are driving this economy, which is projected to grow substantially in the next several years.”

5. Metro Weekly (USA) – Game Theory. “Some people play to escape. Some people play to belong. Some people play to experience virtual worlds of fantasy, others play to explore realistic recreations of history. There are nearly as many reasons to play video games as there are games themselves. But one thing is certain: More people are playing than ever. And more of those people playing are LGBT gamers. Not so long ago, if the topic of ”gay” came up in conjunction with video games, it was to focus on a negative — the invisibility of LGBT characters in games; the taunting and harassment of gay players online; the stereotypes that seemed to carry over from old entertainment forms into this new, virtual one. But that’s changed.”

6. Business Standard (India) – Gartner evaluates maturity of 1,900 technologies. “Advances in embedded sensors, processing and wireless connectivity are bringing the power of the digital world to objects and places in the physical world. This is a slow-moving segment, but one that is now accelerating with the growing pervasiveness of low-cost, embedded sensors and cameras. User interfaces is another slow-moving area, with significant recent activity. Speech recognition was on the original 1995 hype cycle and has still not attained maturity, and computer-brain interfaces would evolve for at least another 10 years before moving out of research and the niche status. However, a new entry for natural language question-answering recognises the impressive and highly visible achievement of IBM’s Watson computer in winning TV’s Jeopardy! general knowledge quiz against human opponents. Gesture recognition has also been launched into the mainstream through Microsoft’s Kinect gaming systems, under hacker attacks by third parties to create a range of application interfaces. Other areas continue to progress more slowly, including speech-to-speech translation, augmented reality and virtual assistants, while virtual worlds remain in the trough after peaking in 2007.”

7. Forbes (USA) – Females Spending More Real Cash On Virtual Goods In Video Games Than Males. “It seems the virtual world of video games is replicating the real world mall, when it comes to the shopping habits of males versus females on in-game virtual goods. U.S. Gamers, whose online purchases of digital goods were once paid for largely by credits earned from advertiser offers, now say they are migrating to “real world” payment for digital goods using debit, credit and prepaid cards, according to a new study of online gamer behavior commissioned by PlaySpan, a Visa company, and undertaken by research firm VGMarket. The survey data was compiled in July 2011 from over 1,000 gamers drawn from a VGMarket database. According to the study, nearly one-third (31 percent) of the general gamer population has used real world money to purchase virtual content. Of those gamers who use real world money, 57 percent said they make purchases of virtual items using real world money at least once every month. Console games with online play account for the majority (51 percent) of virtual purchases using real world money, with social networking games (30 percent) and Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOs) coming in at second and third respectively.”

8. The Global Mail (Canada) – Video games teach kids ‘new literacy’: Do you buy it? “When you check in with your kid, who is now into hour three of his Halo marathon, you repeat that well-worn phrase your mother used on you about killing brain cells and trading in the controller (well, it was a joystick back in your day) for a book. But are video games really the anti-books? A new article on PBS’s Mediashift web portal presents a different argument: our definition of literacy is outdated. Kids may be learning a “new literacy” through playing video games.”

9. Fast Company (USA) – Civil Resistance Simulator Teaches Players To Topple Dictators. “You say you want a revolution? Download the how-to video game for nonviolent change, now with a special Middle-Eastern edition to help continue the Arab Spring. Revolutions can happen anywhere, as we saw in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia earlier this year. But seemingly spontaneous uprisings against governments are usually anything but random: they are the result of relentless organizing, persistence, and strategy. Now a video game called PeoplePower has been updated to instill a new generation of revolutionaries with the tactics and strategic skills to pull off nonviolent movements. Originally called “A Force More Powerful,” which we reported on in 2006, the new game was developed specifically to reach an audience in repressed and often poor regions, particularly in the Middle East. The most innovative feature allows users to build their own virtual worlds to match their governments and countries, essentially creating an open-source platform for learning about regime change.”

10. Nature (UK) – Video: Relaxing on a virtual beach. “For centuries a stroll in the countryside has been touted as beneficial to health – something modern science has confirmed. But for many people these benefits are out of reach.
Nature Video took a trip recently to the laboratory of Robert Stone in Birmingham. Building on work done for the Ministry of Defence, Stone is building digital recreations of the English countryside to help improve the mental health of people who can’t reach it in reality.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. App Market TV (USA) – More than Second Life – It’s a Second Nation. “The electronic campfire which we gather around for news and support is a worldwide one. Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and various other networks allow for people to update, keep tabs and offer useful links 24/7. They also allow for that most rare and valuable of human commodity – kindness and support in dire times. Where those have passed or fallen, there are Facebook accounts where we can leave our messages for families and friends. That we can gather around topics of interest from far flung places, keeping the conversation focused and vital is a great strength of our networking power. Twitter and Facebook are what I call flat applications or 2D applications of interaction. For those who want to flip through or read what other folks are saying, commentating along the way, possibly coming back to have an ongoing conversation, touching on some things of interest, it obviously works. There are instant messages, now voice and soon webcam will be ubiquitous. When I want real dialogue with a group of people, I log in to Second Life where my avatar, an extension of my person, can have a real–time conversation with others of “my kind.” This feeling of belonging to a virtual or Second Nation tells a lot about what virtual worlds can be. They are often left out of the social network conversation and I have wondered why because what they can offer is truly great.”

2. Search Engine Watch (USA) – Ears to the Ground: Linden Lab is Changing How it Listens to its Customers. “Change is rarely revolutionary. This is probably a good thing, as most people dislike change as a general rule. A sudden change into unfamiliar territory, even if it’s seen as a benefit, can often leave people shocked and confused. This causes them to lash out and reject change, even changes that might otherwise be beneficial (though, admittedly, some changes are frankly pretty lousy). Most changes are evolutionary. If you think that culture can’t change in an evolutionary fashion, I suggest you watch “Revenge of the Nerds.” I’m serious – if you watch it with 2011 eyes there’s parts of it that are pretty horrifying and there’s an overall “wait, but don’t those same folks just run everything now?” My, my, how things have changed.”

3. Co.Design (USA) – MoMA Preview: 12 Brilliant Projects That Explore How Tech Helps Us Talk.”If you listen carefully, deep inside MOMA’s remarkable new show, “Talk to Me: Design and Communication Between People and Objects,” you can hear the sound of a mournful howl. A wounded baboon? A lonely chimpanzee yearning for its mate? Turns out it’s Lucy, better known by her family name, Australopithecus Afarensis, the Ethiopian hominid generally considered to be the mother of humanity. Or rather, it’s what she might have sounded like, if her vocal organs had been preserved along with her skeleton. Designer Marguerite Humeau, from London’s Royal College of Art, took the skull of a chimp (close to Lucy’s size and shape), replicated what her soft tissues might have looked like, printed them in 3-D, and hooked them up to an air compressor. Turn the switch and bingo! A 3 million year old voice from the grave.”

4. Forbes (USA) – Playstation 4 ‘Eco-Concept’ Is Gorgeous. “With Nintendo recently announcing the successor to its popular Wii video game system, all eyes have shifted to Microsoft and Sony for hints of what the future holds for the the Xbox 360 and Playstation. Neither has said anything officially, though leaks here and there are starting to garner press. A DigiTimes report said Sony is prepping a new console for release in 2012; while a director of operations for chipmaker AMD claimed that the next Xbox will produce graphics rivaling the scenes in James Cameron’s “Avatar.”

5. Bellingham Herald (USA) – Welcome to the armed forces; here’s your computer. “The use of computer programs to simulate combat situations is growing in the military, despite concerns over their limitations. And as budget cutbacks hit the Defense Department, cheaper computer-training options will only become more attractive. Computer simulations have been important training tools in the military for decades. Digital computers were first used for flight simulation in the 1960s. But the gaming aspect to some simulations is relatively new. The Marine Corps bought Virtual Battlefield System 2, which creates a virtual reality environment similar to the popular Sims game, in 2001. The Marine Corps Training and Education Command boasts at least 14 different virtual training programs. Their gaming aspect, leadership at Marine Air-Ground Task Force Training Simulations Division said, is irrelevant. What’s important are the decision-making cycles that the simulations reinforce.”

6. VizWorld (USA) – The Virtual Mine Receives an Emmy Nomination. “Now this is impressive. Sand Castle Studios has a Second-Life creation called “The Virtual Mind” which strives to educate the public on the importance and dangers of mountain-top removal coal mines, coal fired power production, and alternative energies. Done as part of a documentary film called “Deep Down”, the project has now been nominated for an Emmy Award for New Approaches to News & Documentary Programming.”

7. Examiner.com (USA) – Second Life Relay For Life benefits American Cancer Society. “Second Life raises hundreds of thousands of US dollars every year for Relay For Life, and is committed to the fight against cancer. Over 95 countries are participating in this year’s RFL of SL, and the 40 sims will feature spectacular builds by some of Second Life’s most prominent builders. This year Relay for Life of Second Life past the $1,000,000US mark for the last seven years of fundraising and this year alone has already raised over $300,000US.”

8. Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) – Sony making VR a virtual reality. “As Sony continues to evangelise the benefits of stereoscopic 3D, the Japanese giant is also working on virtual reality hardware and games. Ahead of a keynote address about the lessons learned from 3D gaming at this week’s Develop game developers conference in the United Kingdom, Sony London Studios head Mick Hocking says VR could make a comeback. Hocking tells Develop that Sony has been experimenting with adding head-tracking to their new head-mounted display with twin, high-quality OLED screens that impressed attendees at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show.”

9. Washington Post (USA) – World on a Wire. “In 1973, decades before “The Matrix,” “Avatar” or “The Sims,” German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder directed a thriller about life within a computer simulation. Made for German TV, “World on a Wire” didn’t rate a U.S. theatrical debut until last year. Seen now, the movie seems as timely as it is outdated, its themes contemporary even if its clothing and hairdos are anything but. The 31 / 2-hour film was loosely adapted from “Simulacron-3,” a 1964 American sci-fi novel that later inspired “The Thirteenth Floor,” a 1999 Hollywood flop. But Fassbinder’s approach is quite unlike Hollywood’s. “World on a Wire” riffs on Plato’s and Descartes’s philosophies of existence, forgoes sympathetic characters and employs almost no special effects.”

10. People’s Daily (China) – Exploring potential of China’s 485 million Internet users. “According to statistics released by China Internet Network Information Center on July 19, the scope of China’s Internet users has reached 485 million and is expected to exceed 500 million by the end of 2011, with the Internet penetration rate standing at 36.2 percent. China’s Internet has undergone a radical shift from the first email sent by a Chinese person in 1987 to the “fission of speech” in the age of microblogging. From the high-tech dream of an elite minority to its integration into the lifestyle of one-third of Chinese people, Internet is relatively new in China, but its strength has been recognized as virtual reality, and its uncertainty is much more than what is known.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Toronto Star (Canada) – Global Voices: Playing games for social change. “Mission One: Tokyo, 2020. The city is on the verge of famine, with rice rations expected to run out in weeks. Pacific fisheries are at an all-time low. Temperatures are rising; crops are dying. The population is malnourished. It’s not just Tokyo, but the entire world. Will you help? You, yes you, can become part of a global network of secret agents who must complete ten missions to solve the world’s most pressing problems: poverty, hunger, water security, energy, disaster relief. Humanity needs your help. Go. As school wraps up and kids retreat to virtual worlds, parents fear their children are hunkered down in the basement, slaying aliens. What if they were solving real-world problems? Could video games be the antidote to apathy? The scenario above is Evoke, an online game developed by the World Bank Institute with designer Jane McGonigal. A comic-book narrative calls on players to become agents of social change. Using the game’s “superpowers,” such as collaboration, resourcefulness and local insight, they invent solutions to humanity’s greatest threats, then share ideas in blog and video posts. The most innovative solutions received seed money, scholarships or mentorships to turn fledgling ideas into functioning social enterprises.”

2. VentureBeat (USA) – Roblox raises $4M for kids virtual world. “Roblox, a kids virtual world that has grown to 5.7 million monthly unique visitors, raised $4 million in venture funding today. With Roblox, kids are architects of their own games and learn software coding abilities that can help them later in life. Roblox uses physics to simulate a virtual world, allowing kids to construct things in building-block style. The success is modest, but the growth has been organic and steady, suggesting that kids virtual worlds aren’t as dead as some industry observers assume. The round was led by existing investors Altos Ventures and First Round Capital, and it will allow the company to accelerate its next phase of growth. The company’s site draws more than 650 million page views a month and it has been growing steadily since its launch in September 2006. The target is kids ages seven to 16, with boys ages 8 to 14 as the main audience. Children spend roughly 19 million hours a month on Roblox, and there are about 7 million active kids who play each month.”

3. GigaOM (USA) – How to create an avatar for work-related virtual worlds. “The use of virtual worlds is increasing for marketing, training and collaboration, according to a survey that Aliza recently covered. This may mean that there will be more enterprise use for Second Life, Open Simulator, and other online virtual environments. According to another survey, early adopters of virtual worlds are learning to use it for brainstorming and project coordination. This survey also suggests that those who use virtual world technology for recreation are likely to be among the first in their organization to explore the possibilities of using it for business.”

4. Campus Technology (USA) – LMS for Virtual Worlds Released. “Educators who work in virtual worlds, such as Second Life, can now use a hosted learning management system (LMS) designed specifically to work within that virtual environment. The people behind Texas State Technical College’s virtual presence in Second Life, TSTC vushi, have released the vushi learning system (vLS). Texas State Tech offers some of its programs, including degrees in digital media and digital signage technology, in the immersive online environment. The vLS will provide a secure means for users to tap into class information, including class rosters, grades, assignments, assessments, and attendance, without leaving the virtual space. Additional features include a single sign-on interface, a searchable database for in-world education areas, a “field trip” transportation tool for group teleports, and the ability to create and deliver assessments and assignments within the environment.”

5. TechCrunch (USA) – Virtual World Technology Developer ProtonMedia Raises $4.5 Million. “ProtonMedia, a startup that develops virtual worlds technology, has raised $4.5 million in Series B venture financing led by Kaplan Ventures (the venture arm of the education company) with Originate Ventures and Osage Venture Partners participating. This brings ProtonMedia’s total funding to $7 million.”

6. Forbes (USA) – LEGO Universe Latest Online Game to Adopt Free-to-Play Business Model. “A growing trend in the burgeoning online video game space is to offer games for free and then generate revenue through subscriptions or the sale of in-game micro-transactions for virtual items. The LEGO Group is the latest video game publisher to venture into this free-to-play business with its LEGO Universe massively multiplayer online (MMO) game. Originally launched as an in-store retail PC game on October 26, 2010 by distributor Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (WBIE) for $50, starting this August the game will be available for free via digital download. Sales of the retail PC game, which currently sells for $20, will be discontinued permanently.”

7. Variety (USA) – Highlights from the Supreme Court gaming decision. “Monday’s ruling that video games are protected under the First Amendment was the culmination of a long fight. And the victory was clearly a solid one for the industry. But in reading through the 90-plus page decision and dissenting opinions, there are some interesting arguments – both for the industry’s rights and those of parents. Much like the oral arguments of last November, Justices were split on the possible differences in interactive and passive forms of entertainment and the First Amendment issues at hand.”

8. Shack News (USA) – EVE Online clothing causes microtransaction debate. “The first part of EVE Online’s long-awaited “walking in stations” update, Incarna, finally launched last week. However, it’s been greeted by a lot more teeth-gnashing than developer CCP had anticipated. The microtransactions for Incarna’s paid cosmetic “vanity” items proved to be not quite so micro, putting into question CCP’s approach to paid content in the space MMO. A pair of digital boots might cost only $5, according EVE News 24′s conversions from virtual currency to real-world money. But a shirt can go for $17, and a virtual monocle is a staggering $61. While players can, of course, choose not to buy these cosmetic lovelies, a leaked CCP newsletter indicated that expensive clothing was only the beginning. The May 2011 issue of CCP’s internal newsletter Fearless (available from EVE News 24) posed the question “Greed Is Good?” In the issue, employees made a number of cases for and against microtransactions in EVE, console FPS tie-in Dust 514, and CCP’s mysterious World of Darkness MMO–but mostly for.”

9. New York Times (USA) – Positive Disruption. “Even in the men’s room at Google’s sprawling New York offices there’s no respite from the cascade of new ideas feeding the behemoth. Rather than gaze into space, I found before my eyes messages about “signal widgets” and the implication of having every “text string” translated into 40 languages. I’d come by to see two former State Department guys now trying to do good things for the world through networks rather than diplomatic cables. Call them T-shirted envoys with algorithms. Both seemed to be bubbling with relief at finding themselves out of the unwieldy bureaucracies that address the world as it appears on a physical map and in a company that views the globe in the same borderless way as the 52 percent of the world’s population that is under 30.”

10. Mail and Guardian (South Africa) – That’s entertainment. “The Race of Man is right at the back of the gallery. But this 19-minute film is remains centerpiece of Michael MacGarry’s new solo show, Entertainment. A parody of the immersive video game, the film follows players killing each other to advance to the next level. MacGarry locates two of these gaming levels in a desert dune and an unspecified white room. Our own uncertainty about these real and virtual worlds is reiterated when the first two players show an unwillingness to actually kill each. Their collusion against the game’s rules advances them to the next level. But here the two players are unable to escape the prospect of facing each other again. Blinded by bags over their heads, separately tied to the same pole and wielding axes, they eventually stumble into each other with gruesome consequences.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. PhysOrg (USA) – Interview: Dr. Ben Goertzel on Artificial General Intelligence, Transhumanism and Open Source (Part 1/2). ”
Dr. Goertzel spoke with Critical Thought’s Stuart Mason Dambrot following his talk at the recent 2011 Transhumanism Meets Design Conference in New York City. His presentation, Designing Minds and Worlds, asked and answered the key questions, How can we design a world (virtual or physical) so that it supports ongoing learning and growth and ethical behavior? How can we design a mind so that it takes advantage of the affordances its world offers? These are fundamental issues that bridge AI, robotics, cyborgics, virtual world and game design, sociology and psychology and other areas. His talk addressed them from a cognitive systems theory perspective and discussed how they’re concretely being confronted in his current work applying the OpenCog Artificial General Intelligence system to control game characters in virtual worlds.”

2. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – How to hijack the metaverse. “We all remember the Microsoft-Netscape battle. Okay, maybe some people don’t, so here’s the summary:
Netscape was a company that made a free Internet browser and and a not-free commercial Web server. (The latter has since been bought by Sun, and open sourced.) Microsoft built their own version of a Web browser, Internet Explorer, and bundled it with every copy of Windows. Instead of going out of their way to download Netscape, most folks just used Explorer, since it was right there, and almost identical in terms of functionality. I don’t know how much Microsoft actually won, though — they had to spend money on creating and maintaining the browser, and defending themselves against a very expensive lawsuit and — because of continued competition from Netscape, and, later, Firefox and Chrome — never could charge for Explorer. Maybe they sold a few more copies of their Windows Web Server as a result, but I’m guessing that the companies using it are Microsoft shops all the way, and wouldn’t have used Linux and Apache anyway. So — assuming that Microsoft hasn’t learned its lesson with Netscape — could this happen again on the 3D web? Absolutely. Here’s how.”

3. New Scientist (USA) – Fire-breathing dragon roars to life. “Virtual worlds wouldn’t be complete without fire. But the sound of a blaze is notoriously hard to synthesise realistically because of the complex combination of high and low frequencies involved. Now Jeff Chadwick and colleagues from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York have devised the first practical technique that can recreate the sound of fire based on its behaviour. In the video above, you can see various examples like a fire-breathing dragon and a virtual candle that gets blown out. The method uses a combination of two approaches to synthesise the sound of fire. Low frequencies are produced based on a physical model, where a simulator solves mathematical equations to determine what a flame is doing at each point in time. This requires a lot of computational power, making it too expensive to accurately capture high frequency phenomena. “We would have to update its state tens of thousands of times for each second of animation,” says Chadwick.”

4. New Scientist (USA) – Where’s my Holodeck? The latest interactive movie news. “It is time for cinema to take its next step. 3D technology now fills our screens with beautifully rendered characters and virtual environments, but we could have so much more. So says Dennis Del Favero, director of what he calls the world’s first 3D interactive film, Scenario. Rather than having audience members sit back and enjoy the action, the interactive narrative has them drive the story. Undoubtedly, the ultimate synthetic interactive environment must be the virtual worlds generated by Star Trek’s “Holodeck”. To date, steps in this direction have been restricted because computer-generated characters cannot yet understand and speak in natural language. One solution is to sidestep the need for language and interact with audience members using physical markers, like movement.”

5. Information Week (USA) – Army’s $57 Million Training System Uses Gaming Tech. “The U.S. Army is developing a new $57 million computer game-like virtual soldier training environment aimed at creating a better prepared combat force and decreasing existing costs associated with training.
A company called Intelligent Decisions is the prime contractor for the project, leading the development of the Dismounted Soldier Training System, which will create a virtual environment that will simulate real-life situations that soldiers may find themselves in during battle engagements, according to the company. The system will reduce the Army’s need to maintain large-scale physical instruction facilities, thereby cutting its training costs. The team building Dismounted Soldier is using CryENGINE, a popular computer-game engine, to build the system to give soldiers as immersive an experience possible. The engine will allow the environment to realistically simulate details such the emotions shown on soldier’s faces, the way soldiers use standard combat weaponry, and the terrain of countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan where current military engagements are taking place, according to Intelligent Solutions.

6. PC World (USA) – Hands-On with Kinect’s Second Wave of Games. “Bolstered by record sales, Microsoft is betting big on Kinect this year with a slew of new games and deeper integration with the Xbox 360 dashboard. Kinect dominated the discussion at Microsoft’s E3 press conference, and was the main attraction at its booth on the show floor, where I checked out some of the upcoming games first-hand. Microsoft has been tweaking the Kinect software, and that has allowed developers to add more nuance to their motion controls. In Kinect Sports Season Two, players will be able to throw darts with more accurate hand-tracking or put spins and slices on their shots in tennis, according to Scott Henson, studio head of developer Rare. Season Two’s E3 demo was also the first example of a golf game working on Kinect.”

7. Indiana University (USA) – IU researchers discuss barefoot running, stroke and yoga, virtual worlds and more at ACSM. “Participants in two weight-loss programs — one involving traditional health club sessions and the other delivered online in a 3D virtual world — lost similar amounts of weight and body fat, but the online contingent reported significantly greater gains in behaviors that could help them live healthier and leaner lives.”

8. Escapist Magazine (USA) – New Demographics Show Gamers Are Getting Older. “Despite the stereotype that videogames are a hobby exclusive to teenage boys, a new report from the Entertainment Software Association claims otherwise. Most striking is the ESA’s claim that the average gamer is now 37 years old. This theoretical person has been playing games for 12 years and there is a pretty solid chance that he might actually be a she. 42 percent of gamers are of the female persuasion, the report claims, and lady gamers make up “a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (37 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (13 percent).” Additionally, people beyond the age of 50 are increasingly turning to games for entertainment. 29 percent of the elder population now enjoy virtual worlds, a vast increase over the 9 percent of 50-plus year olds with the same affinity the ESA found in 1999.”

9. The Inquirer (UK) – Intel open sources 3D world software. “Chipmaker Intel has announced that it will release the source code for its Distributed Scene Graph 3D Internet technology. Intel has been pushing Opensim, an open source virtual world simulator for education, social networking and of course gaming. Intel’s work has been concentrated on how to increase the number of people, known as avatars, that can inhabit a virtual world from hundreds to thousands. At Intel’s annual research event, the firm said that it will open source its Distributed Scene Graph 3D Internet technology and an advanced ray-tracing package that it claims will decrease the time it takes to render realistic images by half on systems that use Intel’s chips.”

10. CNET (USA) – E3 2011: The Sims Social to offer Facebook flirting. “Electronic Arts is hoping to convince folks to covet thy neighbor’s wife. Or that co-worker you’ve always lunched with. Or your college sweetheart. Virtually, of course. At E3, a show that caters to hardcore gamers who stand in long lines to get the first chance to play soon-to-be-released action titles, such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Assassins Creed: Revelations, EA’s new title in The Sims franchise has gone a bit below the radar. But The Sims Social, which will launch this summer on Facebook in five languages, would seem to have all the prurient trappings to turn it into another hit for the franchise.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. The Guardian (UK) – China used prisoners in lucrative internet gaming work. “As a prisoner at the Jixi labour camp, Liu Dali would slog through tough days breaking rocks and digging trenches in the open cast coalmines of north-east China. By night, he would slay demons, battle goblins and cast spells. Liu says he was one of scores of prisoners forced to play online games to build up credits that prison guards would then trade for real money. The 54-year-old, a former prison guard who was jailed for three years in 2004 for “illegally petitioning” the central government about corruption in his hometown, reckons the operation was even more lucrative than the physical labour that prisoners were also forced to do.”

2. Kotaku (USA) – In The Virtual World, His Fiancée Never Died. “”Obviously, I can’t bring people back to life,” Jon Jacobs recently told me. Obviously. It was morning when he told me that. He was on his way to work in Los Angeles, chatting with me on his cell phone. His wife, a singer named Cheri, was driving him to work that day. He and I were discussing his former fiancee, a lady named Tina Leiu and the best gaming pal Jacobs ever had. Jon is a colorful guy, known to some as Neverdie and known by those same people as a “gaming celebrity.” His life is full of moments of Jon Jacobs doing spectacular things, some of them chronicled in his book “The Book of Omens (The Magical True Adventures of a Self-Made Movie Star)”, others performed digitally in online gaming worlds. There’s usually something awesome going on in Jon’s life, though what happened to Tina a half-decade ago was genuine tragedy.”

3. IT Business Edge (USA) – Organizations Investigating Virtual Options for Training, More. “There is sometimes a fine line between snark and insensitivity. Believe me, I know, having crossed it many times. In 2009 I wrote a post in which I gave an undeserved hard time to Julie Shannan, a Texas State Technical College student who earned a virtual media design certificate in Second Life, while trying to make a point that virtual worlds were no substitute for the real thing. Shannan took the time to issue a thoughtful response, which was more than my snark deserved.”

4. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – Why my autism project left ReactionGrid. “In April of 2011, I canceled my subscription to ReactionGrid. The reason why I selected ReactionGrid and the reason why I canceled my subscription are the same –services offered and customer support. I do volunteer work for the autism community, and among the projects that I am developing is the use of OpenSim as a virtual world for people who have an autism diagnosis. There is an active autism community in Second Life, but most members cannot afford to own land due to the high monthly tier costs. There are also parental concerns about younger people with autism being in the unmonitored areas of Second Life that may have a high sexual content.”

5. The Canadian Press (Canada) – Little buyer’s remorse for real money spent on virtual goods in social games. “No bags or boxes are needed, but consumers are piling up virtual goods in social games with no slowdown in sight. Never mind that it’s real money being spent on fake stuff. Gamers want the experience and they know what they’re getting, says the CEO of Antic Entertainment, an independent game studio in London, Ont. “They play the game and when they buy, there’s very little buyer’s remorse,” said Fredrik Liliegren, whose company has launched “Junk Wars” where gamers buy virtual parts to build their own combat vehicles. “Junk Wars” players have spent as little as 10 cents and up to $160 on a part, Liliegren said.”

6. Montreal Gazette (Canada) – Disney struggles to turn social gaming into magic potion. “Walt Disney Co. wagered that its acquisition last summer of game developer Playdom Inc. would help bring Mickey, Snow White and other familiar characters to a new generation of fans who play games on social networks. The bet has yet to pay off. Disney’s $563 million investment was a key component in a broad restructuring of its interactive group intended to put the perennially money-losing division on the road to profitability. It signaled a strategic shift away from traditional console video games, to focus on emerging opportunities online and on mobile devices. But so far, Disney hasn’t found the magic to fix what ails its Interactive Media Group, which includes Playdom, Disney’s Web properties and its games business. Losses widened to $115 million in its most recent quarter ended April 2, compared with $55 million in the same period a year earlier.”

7. Forbes (USA) – Why Playing Video Games Might Make You Fat. “According to new research by Jean-Philippe Chaput, Trine Visby, Signe Nyby, Signe Nyby, Lars Klingenberg, Nikolaj Ture Gregersen, Angelo Tremblay, Arne Astrup, and Anders Mikael Sjödin conducted at the University of Copenhagen; playing video games like Electronic Arts’ FIFA 11 will make you fat. Their recent study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Dr. Chaput has been a leading researcher at the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Center at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Ottawa, where he has focused on causes for over-eating and obesity. Two such causes are video games and lack of sleep, and one can see how those two things overlap with hit games like Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops and sports games like Madden NFL 11 in the U.S. and FIFA 11 around the globe.”

8. Reuters (Canada) – Analysis: Sony’s breach a hiccup to online game phenomenon. “When service was finally restored to Sony Corp’s PlayStation Network earlier this month, millions of customers rushed back to it, impatient to get back to battling friends in sports or shooter games. It was hardly the response many had expected after a major security breach, one that shut down Sony’s games network for nearly a month in the United States and exposed the personal information of more than 100 million customers. While the Sony incident has made headlines and produced lawsuits, it has also made clear that security worries are not about to derail the up-and-coming online gaming industry. “Some gamers are more concerned about the lack of online access than a personal information breach,” said Ted Pollak, portfolio manager of the video game industry focused Electronic Entertainment Fund.”

9. ReadWriteWeb (USA) – Improving the Online Customer Support Experience. “Two new apps are helping improve the online customer experience by tying in advanced communications technologies in interesting ways. The apps, MyCyberTwin and Radish System’s ChoiceView, offer to remove some of the misery and tedium involved in getting help and have wide potential applications in customer support, problem resolution, and other situations. Deplolyed properly, they could increase conversion rates and improve the delivery of online customer service. Let’s take a closer look at both.”

10. Massively (USA) – The MMO Report: The throne of agony edition. “This week on the MMO Report, our very own mountain man, Casey Schreiner, decided to grace us with his presence after taking off a week for his birthday. I mean, really… where is his loyalty? Thank goodness he returned because the internet would have exploded if we had to see another flawless MMO Report from Morgan Webb. The internet can’t take that level of perfection. At any rate, this week we discover just how awesome Massively is as Schreiner reports on our report of the Bungie MMO rumors; then we find out that Second Life may be just as weird as we thought it was; next, the power of the Guild Wars 2 Engineer has inspired Casey to tackle the next level of greatness; and lastly, we find out what can no longer be contained in Casey’s Mail Bag.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. PC World (USA) – Companies Explore Private Virtual Worlds. “Meetings, conferences and training programs in a 3D virtual world such as Second Life can be more engaging and productive than traditional online sessions and phone calls, and much less expensive than face-to-face meetings requiring travel. But some companies aren’t willing to take on the security and compliance risks of using a public platform and are instead opting for private virtual worlds created behind the corporate firewall. “Once it’s on your platform, behind your walls, it has the same security as any other intranet application,” says Steven Russell, a research scientist at Siemens Corporate Research. Siemens employees study product prototypes using OpenSim, an open-source platform that simulates the user interface, content and scripting functionality of Second Life.”

2. Information Week (USA) – DOD Explores Virtual Worlds For Military Training. “There’s no completely realistic way to prepare a soldier for the experience of today’s combat situations, in which they must battle hidden improvised explosive devices (IEDs), elusive terrorists, and other unfamiliar enemies in physical environments that are often new to them. The Department of Defense is trying to come pretty close, however, by training soldiers with a variety of tools similar to computer games that create virtual worlds simulating environments and situations soldiers may encounter during warfare. The American Forces Press Service, or AFPS–the press agency of the DOD–has posted a six-part series highlighting the department’s virtual training technology on its website. The Enhanced Dynamic Geosocial Environment, for example, prepares soldiers for encounters with IEDs and other types of explosive devices by simulating the type of physical environment in which they might find them, as well as the explosion and damage these devices create. A video demonstrating EDGE is available on the AFPS website.

3. NBC Washington (USA) – Operators of Virtual Worlds Fined $3M. “Hundreds of thousands of children under age 13 had their personal information illegally collected and disclosed and now the companies responsible are paying millions of dollars in fines. The Federal Trade Commission said the operators of 20 online virtual worlds have agreed to pay $3 million to settle charges that they violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA). The FTC said Playdom, Inc., operated 20 virtual world websites where users could access online games. Some of the sites were directed to children. The complaint alleges that the company collected the children’s ages and email addresses and then enabled children to publicly post their full names, email addresses, instant messenger IDs, and location on personal profile pages without parental consent. The FTC rules require that website operators notify parents and obtain their consent before they collect, use or disclose children’s personal information. The FTC alleged that Playdom failed to meet these requirements.”

4. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – HuzuTech releases social virtual worlds platform. “HuzuVirtual is a brand new technology from HuzuTech, which promises to revolutionize the rapidly evolving social gaming market. The technology allows the creation of stand-alone, browser-based, online worlds – which can be played on any device, by multiple players. Huzutech today launched Paperworld, a technology demonstrator, which shows how social networks, virtual worlds, online communities and massively multiplayer games are all now intersecting. Paperworld offers an example of how companies can combine the mass appeal of social networks and online communities with the entertainment and engagement of multiplayer games and virtual worlds.”

5. defence.professionals (USA) – Virtual Worlds Form Defense Training Frontier . “Five years from now, if Frank C. DiGiovanni has his way, warfighters from every service will learn aspects of their trade on a world in cyberspace. The Defense Department will save money, time, and ultimately, lives, he said, and it’s his job to make that virtual world a reality. DiGiovanni is director of training readiness and strategy in the office of the deputy assistant secretary of defense for readiness. He’s also a retired Air Force colonel and a senior aviator. “I’d love to see it happen in the next 18 months to two years,” DiGiovanni said in an interview with American Forces Press Service. “Realistically, a full-up world is probably five years away.” Over the next five years, the Defense Department will build that world in cyberspace, where the men and women of the armed forces will take another step forward in the transition from analog to digital technology that began with the public Internet and DOD websites.”

6. Global Times (China) – National stereotypes find life in fantasy worlds. “”I don’t think China should keep helping North Korea,” my friend boldly declared the other day, “You can’t trust Koreans.” “Why?” I asked. “Simple,” he said, “I was playing online with three North Koreans on the same team as me the other day, and they only talked among themselves and kept leaving me to die.” My friend’s extension of online games to international politics might be absurd, but virtual worlds are starting to play powerful role in how people see each other. This is especially the case in Asia, where online games eat up the attention of millions of young people. When I was at university four years ago, it was normal for me and my friends to spend the entire weekend in Internet cafes. Some of us even fell asleep there. It may sound weird, but the legions of Chinese in online games have an effect on how the world perceives us. Think about physical sports. The Italian reputation for being cheats and sneaks may be undeserved, but it persists in part because of the dirty way Italian soccer teams play. Equally, the Brazilian reputation for style and grace comes about, in part, because of their dedication to playing a beautiful game. ”

7. Mashable (USA) – Why Online Communities Are Redefining the Concept of Local. “When we talk about community, we talk about places and spaces. But online communities transcend geography. That tends to mess with our heads. In trying to understand the new, it helps to fall back on the old, using metaphors drawn from familiar sources. Cities have streets, blocks and neighborhoods. Why wouldn’t virtual worlds have the same? In the ’90s, when we started to colonize cyberspace by the hundreds of thousands (and then by the millions), virtual cities became all the rage. Academics and technologists argued, in all apparent seriousness, that we would click on a 3D picture of a supermarket to go shopping, then wander our avatars down virtual streets to go to our next task. Yahoo bought GeoCities — a collection of homepages organized by neighborhood. AOL and Tribune launched Digital City. Corporations from Citigroup to SAP moved into virtual terrain.”

8. Gamasutra (USA) – NCsoft Shutting Down Western Lineage Servers.”After over 12 years of operation, NCsoft said the North American servers for its MMO Lineage will be shut down on June 29, saying the aging title “is no longer financially viable in the West.” In an FAQ explaining the move, NCsoft said it had to make “a hard decision based on the business performance to focus our resources to make those games provide the best play experience as possible for our customers.” The company is no longer accepting new subscribers for the game, and will allow anyone to play for free while the servers remain up. Current subscribers will have any unused time refunded, and will receive two months of free game time in three other NCsoft titles — Lineage II, Aion and City of Heroes — as well as an activation code for the subscription-free Guild Wars.”

9. VentureBeat (USA) – National Geographic virtual world Animal Jam hits a million kids. “National Geographic Animal Jam is a rarity as a successful kids virtual world. The online world is announcing today that it has reached a million registered players in seven months. Sure, virtual worlds have lost their luster and Animal Jam isn’t growing as fast as Facebook. But there aren’t that many worlds aimed at kids ages 5 to 11 that have taken off like that lately. Animal Jam was created by Salt Lake City-based Smart Bomb Interactive, which licensed the National Geographic name. Kris Johnson, chief executive of Smart Bomb Interactive, said the growth rate has exceeded all expectations and that the property has spread through word of mouth.”

10. PC World (USA) – Tell Your Boss: Play Video Games, Work Smarter. “It’s safe to say that employers generally frown on workers who play video games during work time. As common sense dictates, you’re obviously not working when trying to win virtual gold by playing World of Warcraft or stealthily assassinating the enemy in Call of Duty: Black Ops. But gaming outside of work or even during breaks at the office can help you in ways you might never have thought possible. Indeed, studies show that gaming can boost your ability to multitask, make faster decisions, work better in team environment, and find solutions to real-world problems. Can WoW help you pack more action into the work day? Playing any one of the titles in the Half-Life and Half-Life 2 franchise can get the adrenaline flowing. As you assume the role of Gordon Freeman, you must constantly make split-second decisions when trying to decide how to kill one of the thousands of enemies you encounter. You also have to quickly decide which weapon to use, all the while trying to solve puzzles in order to advance to the next level. The decision-making process on which you rely in Half-Life or any one of hundreds of other action-game titles is called probabilistic inference. You use the thinking process to draw conclusions and make decisions based on incomplete information and fact patterns, reported researchers in Current Biology.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. New York Times (USA) – Keyboards First. Then Grenades. “Brig. Gen. Harold J. Greene only has to look around his house to realize the challenges the Army faces in engaging young soldiers. His children, he says, are always “buried in a cellphone or an iPad.” General Greene, a senior official in the Army’s research and development engineering command, is among a cadre of high-ranking officials pushing for the military to embrace technologies that are already popular among consumers, like smartphones, video games and virtual worlds. The goal is to provide engaging training tools for soldiers who have grown up using sophisticated consumer electronics and are eager to incorporate them into their routine. At a time of shrinking budgets, these tools are viewed as relatively inexpensive supplements to larger, costlier training equipment while also providing a surprisingly realistic training experience.”

2. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – The virtual is magic. “I know the iPad is supposed to be magical. But, to me, it doesn’t come close to the magic I feel inside Second Life and OpenSim worlds. When I’m on a grid, I can wave my virtual arms and have things appear out of thin (virtual) air. I can change my clothes at will. Even change my whole body. I can teleport. I can fly. Normally, these things are only possible for Sabrina the Teenage Witch. I’ve wanted to have magical powers ever since I was a kid. Who hasn’t? Of course, virtual magical powers have some of the same limitations as Sabrina’s did. Fans of the show might remember that she wasn’t allowed to magically create brand-name products. Instead, she and visiting friends had to eat Schnickers, N and N’s and Butterthumb candy and drink Popsi. Instead of “You-Hoo,” she served “Hey, over here.”

3. The Journal Review (USA) – Web-based games replace traditional toys. “Sure you trust a purple dinosaur. But what about a green penguin? How do you know when a Web site for kids isn’t just a marketing gimmick or a meaningless time-waster? It can be hard to tell. But with Web games replacing Cabbage Patch dolls, Barbie and Legos as some kids’ favorite toys, parents need to know how to manage these online games. Club Penguin, Webkinz, Neopets, Dizzywood, Millsberry and others are online playgrounds for kids ages 6-8. They’re called virtual worlds, because they create entirely new and different environments for your children.
Typically, your children will create an avatar (a cartoon character of themselves), which they can dress up and play with in the game. Then they create their own “room,” which they can decorate and where they store all of the items they win or buy with virtual money.”

4. Technorati (USA) – Los Angeles Games Conference – Money For Nothing? How To Succeed In Selling Virtual Goods for Games and Social Networks. “The panel was moderated by Jay Baage who is the Event Director for the LA Games Conference. He lead off with some of the biggest news which concerns Facebook Credits, which will be launching 1 July , 2011. Facebook Credits will be launching its in-site currency transactional system that will allow users to purchase items in games as well as non-gaming applications. Rob Uhrich, Senior Director of PaymentsOne talked how payment methods need stream-lining as different countries use different transaction methods and in the US, most web-sites offer way too many ways to accept money making the experience messy. Teemu Huuhtanen, EVP, Business Dev. and Communications of Habbo spoke about how their web-site fosters a virtual business community that is driven by the gamers’s demands. Their “economy” functions much like the stock-market as prices adjust in real-time.”

5. MSNBC (USA) – Browse sites and cash in? TV, film fans are game. “Social gamers know virtual worlds such as FarmVille and Bejeweled Blitz all too well, but a new form of online gaming is infiltrating the entertainment industry by rewarding viewers with big prizes for sharing articles, making comments and watching trailers about their favorite TV shows and movies. From TV shows such as “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” “Top Chef”” and “Psych” to the recently released box office hit “Rio,” more people are logging online to visit TV and movie sites, read news and interact with their favorite shows and films. But to give people incentive to return to these sites, entertainment companies and various brands are making the browsing experience a game, allowing visitors to compete with other fans to get points that can be redeemed for prizes, such as brand merchandise, trips and cash prizes.”

6. The Guardian (UK) – Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal – review. “Excluding extinction, science fiction has traditionally imagined three possible futures for intelligent species: the stable, the exponential and the solipsistic. A stable future means reaching equilibrium, while an exponential one means expansion at an ever-increasing rate. A solipsistic future is the most intriguing, however – for this means a complete retreat from the universe into some other, manufactured realm. Solipsism answers the physicist Enrico Fermi’s famous question, “Where are all the aliens?”, with a simple proposal: they’re all playing computer games. Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken makes it clear that humanity is starting to face a related question. Globally, we now play over 3bn hours of video games each week. We are seeing a mass migration of human effort, attention, relationships and identities towards artificial worlds designed expressly to entertain and enthral us. What does this mean – and what might we learn from it?”

7. Computing (UK) – If you’re going to build, build smart. “When Birmingham City University (BCU) got the go-ahead to build a state-of-the-art building to re-house its prestigious Birmingham Institute of Art and Design facilities there were plenty of opportunities to re-think technology delivery. Primarily, how could we integrate the building’s management and environmental systems controlling such services as heating, lighting and air-conditioning with the university’s business systems to get all of the advantages that we’d heard about from a “smart” building. Smart buildings save on life-cycle costs and help mitigate the environmental effects of construction. Important issues when you consider that according to IBM by 2025 buildings will use more energy than any other category of consumer.”

8. The Boston Globe (USA) – Eye-tracking video game device subs for mouse. “I suppose there are obstacles that can come between you and victory in the fantasy video games Darkspore and Diablo. If you are a young gamer, Mom and Dad might object to the violence in these titles. Or you might lack the patience to follow the storylines. And then there are those who would play more games on their PC computers if they had something easier to use than remote controllers and keyboards. So that people with limited use of their hands might enjoy the pleasures of gaming, a Dutch engineering student at Northeastern University is developing a new interface system, one that uses an eye-tracking device and a data-gathering glove to replace the inputs most of us use with PCs.”

9. Fast Company (USA) – Blame It On The Youth. “If you want to know where the future is headed, sometimes telling clues reside in how the youth of the world interact and share with one another. With the rise of the Golden Triangle of technology, mobile, social, and real-time, technology is not just for the geeks, technology is part of our lifestyle…it is part of who we are. However, as we are all coming to learn, it’s not in what we have, it’s in how we use it that says everything about us. The way we use technology, whether it’s hardware or social networks for example, the differences are are striking. But something disruptive, this way comes. And the truth is, it’s been a long time coming. How we consume information is moving away from the paper we hold in our hands and also the inner sanctum of family, the living rooms where we huddle around televisions. In fact, Forrester Research recently published a report that documented, for the first time, we spend as much time online as we do in front of a television. Indeed the battle for your attention will materialize across the four screens, TV, PC, mobile, and tablets.”

10. The Guardian (UK) – 100m downloads for Outfit7′s Talking Friends apps – will Disney come calling? “There is now some more wildlife to file alongside Angry Birds in the ’100m app downloads’ club. US developer Outfit7 says its Talking Friends apps have also passed the milestone, and faster than Rovio Mobile’s feathery game franchise too. The first Talking Friend app – Talking Tom Cat – was launched for iPhone in July 2010, less than 10 months ago. Nine other apps have since been released by Outfit7, including versions for Android and iPad. The company says it notched up 41m downloads in the first five months, added another 44m in the next three months, and then notched up the next 15m in little over a month.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Big Think – Learning in Virtual Worlds – not a Child’s Play. “Thanks to high speed Internet and flat rate pricing virtual worlds saw a tremendous boost over the past years. This is unsurprisingly true for online games like World of Warcraft but also for virtual worlds like Second Life and Twinity which are now able to deliver more and more realistic graphics and a better user experience for their audience. All three of them are used in education but today I want to focus on the two more “realistic” approaches of Second Life and Twinity.”

2. WoW Insider (USA) – The Lawbringer: Avatar rights as expectations. “Last week, I introduced the concept that the denizens of a virtual world may have gained, over time, the right to rights within that virtual world. Raph Koster, the lead developer of Ultima Online, explored the idea over 10 years ago when the MMO genre was in its developmental infancy. These rights synced up with a world where there was a distinction between free-to-play MUDs and for-pay subscription worlds in the U.S. and European markets. Today, the MMO has transformed into a new beast from the close-knit communities of MUDs and the relatively forgiving user base of EverQuest and Ultima Online. The people who made WoW are the contemporaries of Raph Koster and children of the MMO genre that EverQuest cemented as important. How then, in over 10 years, has Koster’s declaration of the rights of avatars held up to the incredible growth of the industry and Blizzard’s own impressive growth? The short answer: The code of conduct you follow in World of Warcraft is pretty lenient, all things considered. The long answer: Well, there’s always a long answer”

3. The Guardian (UK) – Fantastic Pets – review. “Microsoft’s Kinect may not yet be able to cope with hugely complex movements and graphics, but the hardware is already proving perfect for a younger audience. Fantastic Pets makes excellent use of the system’s strengths by letting kids explore virtual worlds free from the controllers and wires that constrain imaginations. Fantastic Pets offers a choice of buddies from a selection of animals including cats, dogs, lizards and ponies. Whereupon there is much fun to be had styling, feeding, washing and training your pet, who quickly learns to respond to voice commands.”

4. The Baltimore Sun (USA) – Learning by gaming. “For those of us who are first-generation students of video games, two words can take us back to another life: Oregon Trail. Remember? In school, we’d play Oregon Trail on a sticky PC, naming our intrepid video travelers after classmates so we could laugh at their fates. Through us, our characters made choices: Ford the river, or try the mountain pass. Sometimes they lived, sometimes not. The point is, some kind of learning was going on. Oregon Trail is now nearly 40 years old, but games in the classroom are still considered an unusual teaching choice and are rarely fully integrated. I was lucky enough to grow up with virtual tutors like Spooky, the ghost who taught typing, or Rodney, a raccoon whose endless quest was powered by solving math problems. Students today are even more used to being surrounded by digital environments, immersive worlds and devices that give them instant feedback and access to worlds of information — in their pocket. Why don’t we do more to harness that?”

5. Computerworld (USA) – Intelligence agencies hunting for terrorists in World of Warcraft. “The FBI raided the apartment of two University of Michigan students to investigate “potentially fraudulent sales or purchases of virtual currency that people use to advance in the popular online role-playing game World of Warcraft.” Two students, a sophomore and a junior, share a University Towers apartment in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but claim the feds have the wrong people as neither of them even play WoW. Records show that “laptop computers, hard drives, video game systems, credit cards, a cell phone, paperwork and other computer equipment” were seized. The college sophomore told AnnArbor.com, “They thought we were involved in some kind of fraud. I’m pretty sure they have the wrong people, but they took all my stuff.”

6. Massively (USA) – The Game Archaeologist plays with MUDs: A talk with Richard Bartle. “From talking with Richard Bartle, reading his blog, and looking over several interviews that he’s done, I’ve concluded that the co-creator of the first multi-user dungeon is, in many ways, a card. A smart one, a perceptive one, and an outspoken one, but a card nonetheless. I say this in a good way, of course, because for all of the verbal pussyfooting that often goes on in this industry, it’s refreshing to hear the voice of someone who knows what he thinks and isn’t afraid to say it, even if it goes against the grain. Dr. Bartle’s name often comes up in discussions of both MUDs and MMORPGs. His designs, work and scholarship have influenced MMOs in substantial ways, and it’s possible that if our children end up learning about massively multiplayer RPGs in school some day, Bartle’s name will be mentioned once or twice. While he’s sometimes polarizing, it’s hard to deny the incredible work he’s done, which is why I was excited to get to talk to him about this month’s subject on the Game Archaeologist. So hit that pesky jump and let’s pick the mind of a guy who really earned the right to post “FIRST!!1!”

7. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – Clouds help propel OpenSim growth. “The top 40 public OpenSim grids gained more than a 1,000 new regions since this time last month, propelled partly by low-cost cloud-based regions from a new hosting provider, Kitely. There are now a total of 14,529 regions on these grids alone, an increase of 7.5 percent since this time last month. Total users increased 3.4 percent to 183,360, a gain of 6,059 new registered users. These totals do not include numbers from the SpotOn3D grids, which did not report their results this month, so actual grid region and user totals may be higher. These numbers also do not reflect land and users on the hundreds of private OpenSim grids run by schools, companies, and individuals.”

8. WKMS (USA) – Fort Campbell Soldiers Game to Train. “Thousands of 101st Airborne Division soldiers deploy out of Fort Campbell. Before they ship out, they run drills with some of the military’s most advanced vehicles, weapons, and gear, under situations that simulate real war-time experiences. The base’s latest training site isn’t a field on the Back Forty. It’s a non-descript brick building. As Angela Hatton report, inside soldiers use computer simulations based on video games to train for war. In a plain and windowless classroom, a crew of young soldiers sits a few feet away from each other at laptop computers. They’re all logged-in to Virtual Battle Space 2, or VBS2, the military’s computer training program. In the game, the group navigates a convoy along a dirt road in a patchy desert landscape, digitally rendered to look like the topography of Afghanistan. They communicate via headsets.”

9. New Scientist (USA) – Putting the DIY in DNA. “WHEN her dad was diagnosed with the hereditary disease haemochromatosis, 23-year-old Kay Aull did the natural thing, at least for an MIT graduate in bioengineering. She went online and bought a used thermal cycler for $100. She also ordered several custom-made DNA sequences, designing each to bind to a different mutation of the gene responsible for the disease. Then, using other second-hand equipment she had acquired, she set up a simple lab test in her closet and determined the likelihood that she would inherit the condition. Aull’s wasn’t the sort of achievement that earns grants or tenure. Doctors already have an effective haemochromatosis test, and most of her lab techniques were way behind the times. Aull’s test was remarkable because she did it herself, getting accurate results for a fraction of professional lab costs. As Marcus Wohlsen writes in Biopunk, “Aull’s test does not represent new science but a new way of doing science.”

10. North Country Public Radio (USA) – How To Save The World, One Video Game At A Time. “Every week, people across the globe spend 3 billion hours playing video games, but that isn’t enough for Jane McGonigal. She says video games can help solve some of the world’s biggest problems — and we really should be playing more. “If we want to solve problems like hunger, poverty, climate change, global conflict, obesity,” she said, “I believe that we need to aspire to play games online for at least 21 billion hours a week by the end of the next decade.” As the audience broke out into chuckles she told them, “No, I’m serious. I am.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) – Virtual pigs and chooks see payday for crooks: NSW Police. “Virtual worlds like FarmVille and World of Warcraft are being used by criminals to launder money, say NSW Police, who have discovered that buying and selling virtual items and currency is a growing new way of cleaning dirty money. NSW Police Detective Superintendent Commander Colin Dyson said the “relatively new” trend provided an “emerging opportunity for criminals”. “Any opportunity that is present on the internet for criminals to use they’ll obviously exploit it [and] take advantage of it” he said in a telephone interview today. “It’s certainly something we’re looking at.”

2. The Times Leader (USA) – Virtual worlds bring about ‘e’conomy, but where is it all headed? Tech Talk NICK DELORENZO. “You’ll never get anywhere in life if you sit at home and play games. So the wisdom goes. Unless, of course, you’re really good at it — and you happen to be playing in the brave new online world. The younger generation can tell you all about World of Warcraft, EVE Online, and the like — the so called Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games — or MMORPG for short. People play these games obsessively — spending hours or even an entire day immersed in a virtual world where they fight demons, pilot spaceships, embark on quests, and perform other arcane tasks, all in pursuit of a bevy of achievements, badges, and rewards. These games also feature another aspect: a virtual economy.”

3. Search Engine Watch (USA) – Back to Basics: Linden Lab Releases a Basic Viewer. “There are a number of themes that keep recurring when you discuss Second Life specifically, and more generally, virtual worlds and Internet business itself. One is “How do you capture and retain new users?” This has been an especially large challenge for Linden Lab over the years, and more and more time and resources have been devoted to meeting that challenge. The latest effort on the part of Linden Lab comes in the form of a new viewer, simply called Basic.”

4. USA Today (USA) – 3D Voice comes to ‘DC Universe Online’ on Sony PlayStation 3 and PC. “3D is all the rage now. Nintendo’s 3DS handheld is in stores. Games such as Crysis 2 and the upcoming SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy Seals are playable in 3D on compatible TVs. Now coming to games: 3D voice. Voice technology company Vivox, which already provides 3D voice to virtual worlds such as Second Life and games such as APB and Bloodlines Champions, is bringing the technology to DC Universe Online on the PC and, for the first time, the PlayStation 3.”

5. Education Week (USA) – Games and Simulations Help Children Access Science. “Want to know what it’s like to stalk elk, or a mate, from the vantage point of a wild animal? Educators at the Minnesota Zoo, located in a suburb south of the Twin Cities, created just such an online game a few years ago that has proved immensely popular—and educational. Called WolfQuest, it allows players to learn about wolf ecology by exploring Yellowstone National Park as that creature.”

6. Canada.com (Canada) – Nintendo’s 3DS portable game system as groundbreaking as the Wii console. “Heavens to Murgatroyd – the images are jumping right off the screen! Nintendo Inc. has done it again. Discounted by many as a has-been prior to its groundbreaking Wii gaming console, Nintendo now is ushering in a new era of three-dimensional (3D) video gaming with the release of its 3DS portable gaming console. The most appealing part of the technology? No glasses are required to see the video game characters leap to life. The 3DS, which is similar in size to the company’s popular DS console, uses something called “parallax-barrier” technology – a thin film coating the device’s screen does the work of a pair of polarized 3D glasses. The 3D effect is crisp, clean and superior to almost all of the 3D televisions on the market today.”

7. Bloomberg (USA) – Electronic Arts, Sony Use Crisp Thinking to Fight Cyber Bullies. “Adam Hildreth was a 14-year-old in Leeds, England, when he and six friends started Dubit, a virtual world for other teens, in 1999. The site, which makes money selling advertising aimed at kids socializing in cyberspace, grew quickly to 250,000 users. Dubit struggled to hire enough moderators to keep cyber bullies and other troublemakers in check, at one point needing 50 monitors a day. Human moderation “was never going to scale,” says Hildreth, now 26. Hildreth, who left school at 16 to run Dubit full time, began working on software to detect bad behavior in the game world. The idea became his next company, Crisp Thinking, which he co-founded in 2005. Crisp’s software analyzes users’ language and actions to identify harassment, spamming, or predators who may be “grooming” potential victims. The system can react in real time by automatically warning or banning people who violate a site’s terms of service, or referring them to human moderators.”

8. New Scientist (USA) – How will you cope, living with your avatar? “Hello, future. Gaming systems that drop you into another world, such as Microsoft’s Kinect or Nintendo’s Wii, are just the beginning of what virtual-reality technology has to offer. Get ready for virtual immortality, teleportation, time travel and the ability to be in two places at once. But everything comes at a price. There are those who already worry about how this technology is affecting our brains. And once the digital versions of us become indistinguishable from our real selves, what might this do to our societies? Two of virtual reality’s most prominent researchers have come together to sketch out the landscape of an emerging field I call psychotech – the place where psychology and technology collide to produce something new and exciting. Social and cognitive psychologists Jim Blascovich and Jeremy Bailenson detail the current research – primarily their own – and pose some fascinating questions, which have surprising and important answers.”

9. The Daily Mail (UK) – Number of college students having casual sex on the rise…but virginity makes a comeback too. “Rising numbers of college students are having casual sex – but more are remaining virgins too. Some 72 per cent of both sexes said that during their studies they had at least one ‘hookup’, or one-night stand. But at the same time a quarter said that they were saving themselves for the right person, up from 19 per cent in 2002. Experts said that young people were leading such busy lives they either wanted to wait for the right person or just have a throwaway relationship. But in a worrying twist they also suggested that even the chaste could be going online to have hundreds of ‘virtual partners’ – and still claim to be a virgin in real-life.”

10. Escapist Magazine (USA) -Man Let Son Suffocate Because He Was Playing WoW. “A bad situation is even worse than it sounds: A man on trial for the death of his infant son couldn’t tear himself away from WoW to keep the boy from suffocating. A sailor from King’s Bay is currently on trial for his son’s death because he neglected to notice that the infant was suffocating under a pillow. However, the reason for the father’s neglect is being laid at the feet of popular MMO World of Warcraft: the man claims that he was so engrossed with the game that he couldn’t be bothered to remove the pillow.”

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