Merged realities – events and issues for virtual worlds

habbo-oct2009 1. Teen virtual world Habbo Hotel have teamed up with MTV International to bring the European MTV Awards vibe to Habbo. Users can vote in-world for the awards as well as get involved in some competitions.

2. Caleb Booker has created a great wish list of features that would make a truly successful 3D platform. Lots of stuff I totally agree with, although I disagree that interoperability is a red herring – the walled environments are definitely keeping people from investing from discussions I have. That said, getting some of the more basic things right would certainly help.

3. Jezebel takes a baseball bat to marketers who don’t seem to get the fact that female gamers aren’t one definable demographic.

4. Linden Lab have announced an update to the Second Life viewer: 1.23.5. It’s essentially a security update:

Residents using the Official and Release Candidate versions of the 1.23.4 Viewer are required to update to version 1.23.5. Those of you still using version 1.22.11 will be offered version 1.23.5 as an optional update. If you choose to remain on 1.22.11, you may notice changes in the way notecard editing behaves. If you use a viewer not created by Linden Lab, you may also see changes in the way notecard editing behaves. To avoid any potential confusion caused by these behavioral changes, we strongly recommend that you immediately update to the new 1.23.5 Second Life Viewer.

Confused yet? If you like your Second Life viewer to be non-Linden Lab, then the Imprudence viewer has also had an update.

5. Who’d a thunk it: using virtual environments for meetings and/or other collaboration opportunities is effective from both a financial and productivity viewpoint.

6. Over at sister-site Metaverse Health, we discuss informed consent for medical procedures and the use of Second Life, which is the substantive topic of an interview on today’s Radio National Future Tense episode. There’s also a brief interview with yours truly on how Second Life has continued to be a success in spite of media coverage stating the contrary.

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Merged realities – events and issues for virtual worlds

1. This week we interviewed Draxtor Depres for Episode 9 of the TMJ Podcast. His latest commission is using machinima to represent classic Californian literature, and the latest product of that can be seen here:

2. Habbo Hotel’s parent company Sulake has released its financial results for calendar year 2008, showing annual revenue of 50 million Euros, 4.8 million of which ended up as profit. The Australian operation is upbeat, reporting a 29% increase in revenue growth (but no figures), with more than 25 million page impressions in the past 30 days.

3. Metaplace continue to expand their in-world options with the launch of an achievements system which allows earning of Metacreds. There’s also the ability to gain Coins which can be used to buy goods in-world:

Coins and Metacred can be earned by spending time on Metaplace and interacting with other worlds and people.  Commenting and rating on worlds, spending time in worlds, selling objects on the Marketplace, making and inviting friends, and posting in the forum are a few examples.


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Merged realities – events and issues for virtual worlds

1. Habbo Australia have surveyed 4012 teenagers (12-18 year olds) on their concerns, with 81% citing the environment as a major issue, with an unsurprising emphasis on bushfires.

Habbo will be closing down for Earth Hour on March 28th at 8.30pm AEDT. What say you Linden Lab, Blizzard and others?


2. The Alphaville Herald has some stunning pictures of Metaplace builds – it shows the potential power of a well-implemented 2D platform.

3. There’s been quite a lot of focus on this week’s announcement of Sparkle, which allows in-world text chat in Second Life and in OpenSim grids on the iPhone or iPod Touch. Here’s a brief demo:

More on Sparkle once we have a closer look in the next few days.

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Merged realities: events and issues for virtual worlds

1. Habbo Australia are hosting World Wrestling Entertainment®’s Batista™ (nicknamed “The Animal”) tomorrow at 4:00pm AEST (Monday 9th March). This is a free event and the venue will be the ‘Opera House’ public room.


2. Australian educator Jokay Wollongong held one of her regular ‘Unconferences’ today and there’s some great notes and links from it here.

3. I receieved the following info over the weekend:

Researchers from the Seoul Women’s University Information Media College UX Lab (user-experience laboratory) in Seoul, Korea, are currently conducting positive research connected to “Impressions from 3D cyberspace.” We would like to invite anyone who active in Second Life to participate in our research.

We’ve done with applicants to make film to conduct a survey previously, according to 3 regions, Korea south, Japan and North America.
Now we are collecting people’s respond to questions with those videos we made with applicants. For driving people to our survey site. We will provide L$100 for each and every participants.

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Habbo Hotel – Australia’s growth story

Habbo Hotel is arguably the largest virtual world in existence, with well over 100 million registered avatars (as of June 2008) and ongoing growth. There’s an Australian Habbo portal and in the past fortnight Habbo developer Sulake announced the launch of their in-world currency, the ‘pixel’. Habbo already has a credit system where real-world money can be exchanged for a range of virtual items. The ‘pixel’ addition is more of an achievement-driven option – logging in regularly, paying to join the Habbo Club and staying online longer all give the user ‘pixels’, which can be used to ‘rent’ special effects for virtual rooms or avatars:

New effects include hover-boards that let Habbos glide around the virtual world, a ‘frozen’ avatar that turns a Habbo into a moving block of ice, or bubble machines that blow bubbles into virtual rooms. The pixel economy will be constantly developed based on user feedback.


I took the opportunity to quiz Sulake’s Regional Director Asia Pacific, Jeff Brookes, on the currency announcement and Habbo Australia’s popularity to date:

Lowell: Can you summarise the Australian demographics for Habbo to date? Of the 3.6 million characters, how many unique users are there?

Jeff Brookes: Habbo Australia receives 25,690,252 page impressions per month and, as you know, has 3.6 million registered Habbo-characters. It has 278,509 unique browsers per month and users spend on average 1.00.02 hours per user session on Habbo, which is over twice as much as any other teen website, according to November 2008 figures from Hitwise.

Lowell: What are your primary objectives with the new currency? Are there any plans to allow users to cash out their credits for real world currencies?

Jeff Brookes: The primary objective with the new Pixels currency is to reward Habbo users for their loyalty. We feel that it is important to reward our devoted users, encourage them to spend more time within the Habbo world and provide them with innovative ways for them to enjoy their experiences within Habbo. Pixels are earned by Habbo users in various ways, such as: signing into Habbo once a day, earning more pixels the longer users stay online in Habbo, completing certain achievements, working as a Guide, and giving respect to other users. With Pixels, users can rent certain items for a specific amount of time, have cool effects for their Habbo character, and have discounts on a wide variety of ‘furni’ or virtual furniture that can be purchased with credits.

Habbo has no plans to allow users to convert Pixels to Habbo credits or any real world currencies.

Lowell:. Habbo arguably has one of the largest virtual world userbases – how does one ensure continued growth in an environment of escalating competition?

Jeff Brookes: We maintain and increase our growth by listening to what the users want . We ask Habbo’s to provide us with feedback on new campaigns, games, rooms, furni etc. We feel that it is important to be innovative and always put our users first.

What’s unique about Habbo is that it is specifically designed for teenagers – the layout, content and activities on offer are continually changed and updated. Habbo is updated every month to enhance the user’s experience. We do this so that our users can be constantly entertained and as with all teenagers, this is an important feature.

Keeping users excited and coming back depends upon the fundamentals, which for Habbo are allowing them to choose and personalize a character, browse the virtual world, walk around and chat and express themselves. The new Pixel currency encourages Habbo users to personalise their avatars and their virtual space further.

Habbo Hotel has certainly made in-roads into the Australian market. Achievement systems are common in gaming worlds in particular although rewarding people for spending more time has its downsides. Having spent a number of hours in the past year in Habbo, I can see its appeal. It also reinforces the potential success of Metaplace with its content creation features.

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World of Warcraft to be overtaken as largest world?

Wagner James Au, writing for GigaOM, gives some interesting details on teen virtual world Habbo Hotel’s ongoing growth. With 9.5 million active users it’s sneaking up on WoW’s more than ten million.

Any Habbo users out there that want to talk about its appeal?

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The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. The Washington Post – Spies’ Battleground Turns Virtual. “U.S. intelligence officials are cautioning that popular Internet services that enable computer users to adopt cartoon-like personas in three-dimensional online spaces also are creating security vulnerabilities by opening novel ways for terrorists and criminals to move money, organize and conduct corporate espionage”.

2. CNN Money – Pointing The Way To New Web Worlds. “You can sling from one Web to another in business these days. The so-called Web 2.0 technologies that gave birth to consumer blogs, social networks and other ways to offer product advice are weaving their way into the corporate world”.

3. CNET – Teen virtual world goes Hollywood. “Habbo, a virtual world for teens, signed a deal with the William Morris Agency, one of Hollywood’s oldest and largest talent agencies. As part of the deal, WMA will promote its celebrity sports and entertainment clients within the digital world and help Habbo forge new promotional partnerships in Hollywood”.

4. ClickZ – MinyanLand Virtual World Aims to Teach Kids Finance. “Teaching kids financial responsibility can be fun and advertisers should come along for the ride, say the creators of MinyanLand, a virtual world for kids. Launched January 30, MinyanLand is the result of the National Council on Economic Education, financial infotainment company Minyanville and family site network Kaboose, coming together to try and educate children in grades three to six about the importance of financial responsibility and thrifty spending. Unlike several other virtual worlds targeting the kids market, including Disney’s Club Penguin, Minyanland does not require a subscription fee to participate, according to Kevin Wassong, president of Minyanville”.

5. ABC Science (Australia) – Bionic lens spies virtual world. “Engineers say they have combined a flexible contact lens with an imprinted electronic circuit and lights for the first time. The ‘bionic’ lens could give wearers a new look at the world by superimposing computerised images onto their natural view. Such virtual displays could be useful to drivers and pilots, who could have route, weather or vehicle status information overlaid onto their vision. Video game players could immerse themselves in a virtual world without restricting their range of motion”.

6. CNN – For online addicts, relationships float between real, virtual worlds. “Think of online video game addiction and what probably comes to mind is a socially awkward adolescent. But teens are not the only ones who get addicted. Consider Zach Elliott, who lives in the U.S. state of Wisconsin, is in his mid-40s, and plays Final Fantasy XI, an online role-playing game. About three years ago, he says, “there were people in my real life that sort of vanished into this game, and I followed them into it”".

7. FOX Business – Multiverse Unveils Virtual Times Square. “The Multiverse Network, Inc., the company building the leading network of 3D virtual worlds, today unveiled Virtual Times Square, a true-to-life digital recreation of one of the world’s most famous metropolitan environments”.

8. CIO.com – Companies Explore Virtual Worlds As Collaboration Tools. “For emergency responders working along Interstate 95, accidents aren’t a game; they’re a way of life (and death). So it seemed odd to a group of firefighters, cops and medics when researchers from the University of Maryland suggested it use a virtual world to collaborate on training for rollovers, multicar pileups and life-threatening injuries”.

9. TrainingZone.co.uk – View to a Kill: Training in Virtual Worlds. “Learning and training are likely to be the ‘killer application’ for computer-generated 3D worlds such as Second Life, delegates heard at the Learning Technologies event in London last week. Capgemini consultant Marco Tippmer made the claim during a session on the hype and realities of the latest training technology. We have been here before, he admitted, during the ‘virtual reality 1.0′ bust in the early 1990s, when lack of sufficient computing power undermined expectations surrounding touch-sensitive gloves and immersive 3D headsets”.

10. ZDNet UK – Nortel: Virtual worlds may replace the office. “Nortel Networks is looking to the next generation of employees to shape the workplace of tomorrow, and high on its agenda is exploring the role of Web 2.0 technologies and virtual worlds such as Linden Lab’s Second Life”.

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