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The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) – Little big online world. “Sydney’s Bubble Gum Interactive has built a colourful new online world for kids they describe as a “virtual playground”. Screen Play recently caught up with Paul Gray, director of marketing and community management at the studio to chat about their new venture and issues like the challenges of raising funds for such an ambitious project, the difficulty of convincing parents that it is a safe space for their kids, and the balance between entertainment and education.”

2. She Knows (USA) – Virtual World Games Tweens and Teens Love. “If your child has outgrown Club Penguin and Webkinz, consider some of these popular virtual worlds suited for tweens. You should always check out a virtual world website before letting your child participate and use parental controls if available and necessary.

Ty Girlz — Geared toward tween and teen girls, this virtual world site is unlocked with the purchase of a Ty Girlz doll. Inside Ty Girlz, your daughter will find cool apartments, clothes, makeovers and games.

Wizard101 — Kids who love Harry Potter adore Wizard101. This massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) allows players to start as a novice wizard and then accept quests, collect gold and gain equipment as they aim to save the Spiral.

Stardoll — Based on the concept of paper dolls, Stardoll is a virtual world where players dress up dolls, participate in games, create clubs, socialize with friends and more. This popular virtual world website features over 124 million users.

SecretBuilders — Players immerse themselves in virtual lands, undertake quests, maintain a home, play games and interact with friends. SecretBuilders features stories, themes and characters (both historical and fictional figures) from literature, art and the humanities.”

3. Search Engine Watch (USA) – Mixed Signals in Second Life & Virtual Worlds: Buzz is All Over the Map. “There’s been no shortage of news and buzz in the past two weeks as regards Second Life and virtual worlds in general. Usually, though it all tends in one direction. It’s either good, or bad depending on what’s going on. Interestingly, though, this time, it’s all over the place. I guess if you average it all out it’s the same as it ever was, which is probably not the worst thing in the world. But hey, let’s just lay it out there and you decide.”

4. The Drum (UK) – Dramaforum appoints Dubit to create virtual world. “Finnish publisher Dramaforum has appointed virtual world development studio Dubit to develop a virtual world for its Petra’s Planet franchise. The virtual world will be based on children’s book series Petra, which follows a young girl transported to different countries – such as Senegal, Sri Lanka, Samiland, and Jordan – through her mother’s magical theatre wardrobe.”

5. Huffington Post (UK) – Virtual Worlds and ‘Intimate Computing’: the Future of Digital Play. “The recent story of human-digital interactions is one of steadily increasing closeness: we are moving from merely ‘personal’ computing to something that you might call ‘intimate’ computing. Modern smartphones and tablets, with their touchscreens and their constant presence in our lives, are extensions of our selves in a way that no digital device was even a decade ago. They are the channels through which we interact with even the most important people in our lives. They are where we work and play; where we hang out with friends. They are the first thing many of us touch when we wake in the morning and the last when we go to bed at night. Our relationship with technology is, it seems to me, one that’s increasingly governed by the dynamics of leisure and play. We have an incredibly satisfying sense of control when we are plugged into the best digital tools – and, increasingly, a gnawing sense of anxiety when we are unplugged. There is the pleasure of the most serious kind of play: the agency that comes from transforming the world into a kind of game, full of achievements, progress and certainties.”

6. PopMatters (USA) – Is Virtual the New Reality? “My Second Life avatar walks unsteadily across the screen. She moves in stops and starts as I clumsily direct the keys. I’m new at this game, unsure what I’m supposed to do with her and where should I go. I scan the suggested destinations in the Second Life universe and head over to “London”, where I once studied abroad in my real life. As my avatar navigates the somewhat familiar streets of this virtual London, I wonder about the reality of what I’ve entered. I am an outsider here, a novice explorer in this virtual realm. Though I sit alone at my computer, in the game I’m surrounded by others. Dispersed across the digital sprawl, these gamers are all invested in the shared reality of Second Life. What is this virtual world I am entering into all about? Am I simply playing a game, or am I entering a new reality?”

7. Wired (USA) – Army Wants Virtual Training to Really Hurt. “The military’s newest digital training system is gonna open a can of whoop-ass on new recruits. And maybe a sonic blaster, too. The use of gaming technology, from first-person shooters to virtual worlds, is quickly becoming the military’s mode of choice for training the troops of this generation. But those digital proving grounds come with one major disadvantage: They just don’t hurt enough. That could be about to change, according to a new request for proposals issued by the Army last week, which calls for technology to “create an impulse force that simulates the feel of debris… or bullet strikes.” The request, called “Haptic Feedback for a Virtual Explosion,” certainly sounds like fodder for a new videogame blockbuster. At least until you find your virtual self on a mysterious, dark road, abandoned buildings to both sides, the wind whipping your hair and — KABOOM! — owwwwwwww, getting shot hurts! That’s kinda the idea: Make training as realistic as possible, by giving soldiers a taste of exactly what they should be bracing for in combat. Bombs and bullets, unfortunately, need to be included.”

8. Stuff.co.nz (New Zealand) – Kiwi company gets Disney backing. “A mix of serendipity and word of mouth turned out to be the catalysts for Disney to invest in a virtual-world company founded by a couple of Kiwi blokes. Mitch Olson and Darren Green weren’t actively looking for investment in their start-up Small Worlds, when they attended a virtual worlds conference in San Jose at the beginning of 2008. But by chance, Olson bumped in to a Disney executive who was looking to invest in companies. Olson and Green explained their vision to him and six months later the world’s largest media group had injected funds in to their virtual baby, and Small Worlds was born.”

9. Delaware News Journal (USA) – Unlock your virtual potential. “Basked in the glow of the computer humming quietly in her living room, Kimberly Winnington is creating worlds limited only by imagination. Within those worlds, people can fly effortlessly, explore endlessly. They can discover new experiences, learn things they never knew, all without leaving their chairs or stepping outside of their homes. Winnington is in the business of bringing people — and other businesses — into a digital world that she believes has been largely ignored. Working with partners located in faraway states, she has the capability of creating three-dimensional programs that allow real-world people — students, or even a business’s customers — to walk, talk and even interact.”

10. Sky News (UK) – Investigation: Paedophilia And Second Life. “Five years ago it seemed as if the whole internet might be swallowed by virtual worlds. Imagine: you can change your age, colour and sex. Avatars can buy clothes, own houses purchased with money convertible to currency in the real world, and yes, have virtual sex with each other. Eight million people inhabited one virtual world called Second Life. The possibilities for wrongdoing were very real. So when my editor asked me to create an avatar and investigate crime in this virtual world, it was not long before one user contacted me with a disturbing tale. Her avatar, called Harmony, was a winged angel. We met on a virtual island where she told me about the Second Life place called “Wonderland”. “It’s a paedophile ring,” she said. “They do all sorts of dreadful things.” Wonderland was a candy-coloured children’s playground with a mix of child and adult avatars. The adults were tall and domineering, the children petite but sexually attired in mini-skirted school uniforms.”

Popularity: 1% [?]

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) – Puffle Launch. “You are an intrepid Puffle. That is, you are a sort of cute snooker ball. Your snacks have been stolen by a crab in a spaceship. With helmet donned, and in a Mario-esque start, you set off through a series of mind-bending cannons to collect points, snacks and take sweet revenge from your crabby tormentor. Thus begins Puffle Launch. Puffles are the pets of the penguins in Club Penguin, one of Disney’s most popular virtual worlds, and Puffle Launch is the first game associated with it. Obviously designed to appeal to the younger user, the controls are deftly simple but also allow for the finesse required in later levels. The game may stump some much younger players as it quickly ramps up the difficulty but this will only add to its longevity”.

2. Hollywood Reporter (USA) – ‘Men In Black 3′ and ‘Asterix’ Entering Online Gaming Space. “While many game publishers are exiting the Hollywood licensing game, SEE Virtual Worlds and SEE Games recently announced a full slate of Hollywood IPs, both new and old, that they’re developing as free-to-play online game experiences. Titles like Men In Black 3, Total Recall(2012) and Asterix along with older film properties like War of the Worlds (2005) and Waterworld will be translated into online games.”

3. IOL SciTech (South Africa) – Why people disappear into virtual worlds. “I was an avid reader of videogames magazines as a teenager, and one of the criteria many used to grade a game was “addictiveness”. Claiming that you could barely wrest yourself away from a game was high praise indeed. Here was an index of the marvellous, immersive intensity the best interactive media could generate – a standard of excellence for a young industry to aspire to. Today, that aspiration has been more than realised. The US author and academic Ryan van Cleave has described his pathological relationship with the massive multiplayer online game, World of Warcraft, in terms that will be familiar to many gamers.”

4. Natural History Magazine (USA) – A Museum of Virtual Media. “The term “Virtual Reality” typically conjures up futuristic images of digital computer grids and intricate hardware. But virtual reality begins in the mind and requires no equipment whatsoever. Have you ever spoken face-to-face with someone whose mind wandered off in mid-conversation? Have you ever been startled out of your own reverie by someone waving her hand in front of your face and asking, “Are you in there?” Anyone who’s sat through a boring meeting has experienced being somewhere else. And everyone’s mind travels when they dream. Humans have toyed with and discovered numerous ways to facilitate such mind travel for tens of thousands of years. Far from being an odd hobby of geeks, virtual reality has been a large part of the human experience from our species’ earliest days.”

5. Los Angeles Times (USA) – Fashion Diary: Designers look to the virtual world. “For all the Beyoncè, Taylor Swift and Justin Timberlake sightings, and all the peppy clothes in acid-bright colors and arty prints, what really blew my mind at New York Fashion Week was watching Rico the Zombie in a virtual fashion show. The digitized version of the tout-tattooed model-muse strutting the catwalk was just one of the visual delights at Nicola’s, a temporary concept store curated by Nicola Formichetti, the magazine stylist-editor, Mugler designer and frequent Lady Gaga collaborator. Although Gaga is the one with 12 million Twitter followers, her visual architect, Formichetti, also sits at the nexus of fashion and entertainment, the real world and the virtual one. Stepping inside his 1,300-square-foot pop-up shop is like entering a mirrored fun house. You aren’t sure what’s up and what’s down, what’s real and what’s a reflection.”

6. PC World (USA) – haker Wins TechCrunch Disrupt Start-Up Contest. “Shaker is a social game played via the Facebook platform. But it’s not your average FarmVille. Instead of cultivating virtual crops or shooting virtual Mafiosi, Shaker turns Facebook into a “virtual bar” where you can meet and interact with new people. The game can be thought of as a mix of Facebook (because, after all, it has all of your profile info from Facebook) and those virtual, avatar-based chat rooms such as The Palace or Second Life. The experience is cool, not just because you get to meet other people, but because most of the Facebook games I’ve played are dismally empty thanks to my severe lack of friends who want to make farms. Shaker also shows you what you have in common with other people, based on your public profile information (such as birthdays, interests, and hometowns).”

7. MCV (UK) – Auckland developer Outsmart scores $1.8 million. “Outsmart, developer of browser-based Small Worlds, has received NZD$1.8 million in government funding. Small Worlds, originally launched in 2008, is a 3D environment played inside your browser which presents content from web and media sources, online games and more. Outsmart is promising that the funding will be used to double its internal staff from 20 to 40, and increase the scalability of the service.”

8. Massively (USA) – The Soapbox: Why MMO combat sucks, and how BioWare could’ve made it suck less. “I hate MMORPG combat. It’s not because I’m a carebear. It’s not because I’m bad at it. It’s not because I dislike parsing, being a min/maxer, or solving equations and comparing spreadsheets when I’m supposed to be having fun. OK, maybe it is because of those last four things. Mainly, though, it’s because MMORPG combat completely and unequivocally sucks. MMORPG combat is not combat. It’s high school math. And it’s the same in every damn MMORPG. Twenty years into the genre here, guys, aren’t we ready to grow up even a little bit?”

9. GameSpot (Australia) – Arcades, holograms, cloud computing the future of gaming – Square Enix CEO. “The Tokyo Game Show kicked off today with a keynote address on the future of the gaming industry from three of Japan’s leading video game industry figures. Square Enix CEO and Computer Entertainment Supplier’s Association chairman Yoichi Wada, Sony Computer Entertainment worldwide studio president Shuhei Yoshida, and Sony Computer Entertainment senior vice president Yoshio Matsumoto took to the stage in the Makuhari Messe convention centre this morning to speak about evolving business models in the industry and the need to create new gaming experiences as the gaming audience continues to grow and diversify.”

10. Campus Technology (USA) – Is There a Second Life for Virtual Worlds? “Looking back at predictions about virtual worlds, the first question that comes to mind is, “What were they thinking?” Just a few years ago, virtual worlds were credited with the power to transform the universe. In 2005, Forbes quoted a Wharton (PA) professor as prophesying that virtual economies and virtual currency trading could “redefine the concept of work, help test economic theories, and contribute to the gross domestic product in the US.” In 2007, research firm Gartner predicted that, by 2011, 80 percent of all active internet users would have some type of “avatar,” or virtual self. Another outlandish prediction, this one from market research firm DFC Intelligence, forecast that, by 2012, virtual worlds would produce $13 billion in revenues, 40 percent of which would come from trading virtual assets.”

Popularity: 1% [?]

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.”

Popularity: 1% [?]

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.”

Popularity: 1% [?]

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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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