Saturday, December 22, 2007

TAATU CEO Philippe Moitroux on Going English

See: for an interview with Taatu's CEO on cultural vs geographical expansion i.e.; working with cultural instead of geographical boundaries. "We recognize that language is the last social barrier especially between 10- and 19-year-olds, so we are very keen on offering other ways to communicate... From day one, TAATU has been a multi-lingual environment. We deploy our communities not based on geography, but on language. We have a French and Belgian community and now an English community. We expect soon to open Spanish and German communities. Now our demographic is mainly based in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands."

Moitroux describes TAATU as a fit between Habbo Hotel and Second Life. 70% of its users are between 10 and 19 years old with another 20% falling between 20 and 35, according to Moitroux. Almost no one is over 35. With approximately half a million registered users and a 24/7 monitored community, TAATU works with advertising integration to bring content to young users.

"Of course we're targeting the customers who have an interest in the audience we have," said Moitroux. "So the typical advertisers are coming in from the gaming enviornment or cosmetics or drinks and food, but also mobile telephones and banks—all those people who want to address a market of 10-19 reaching them in a very new way."
So far, he says, there's been a fair amount of interest from the UK and US. TAATU is a Flash-based environment that doesn't require a download. While that's traditionalyl been a positive factor for youth-oriented worlds, the US has seen a boom in client-download youth worlds like vSide. Likewise, last week saw the transition of Coca Cola from working in an online-only environment originally built by Habbo Hotel to working in the client-based program But Moitroux isn't worried about the transition. "We've been talking to advertisers who appreciate our look and feel and the content that we can give them as far as security is concerned," he said. "Instead of waiting to push by any means this 3D environment, our advertisers are more sensible to the amount of people who can view or play with the product. Our lighter graphics enable us to accommodate more people into our rooms. That's definitely one thing our members appreciate. I believe there will be a market for those worlds. But it depends what you're looking for. We definitely want to continue to be a product for the masses."

Taatu English in Private Beta

Taatu has huge potential. Already popular in France, Belgium and the Netherlands, TAATU, a Habbo Hotel-looking virtual world for young people, recently debuted an English beta version. The company describes it as a Flash-based "safe, managed and moderated environment where youngsters can enjoy rich multimedia content (e.g. music, events, game play)." English-speaking users can move back and forth between the other worlds as well, which have over half a million registered users on average visiting the site twice daily for 2 and a half hours spread out over the week. The demographic is 10 to 19 and split about evenly between male and female. A representative for the company pointed out that previously "the game was available, but without content." TAATU follows a similar pattern to Habbo and other kids worlds by bringing in artists for in world events, but in a different move, the chat sessions are hosted over webcam instead of just in the world itself.

Here Come the Ponies!

He has already introduced America to a boy-oriented trading card game (Magic: The Gathering) and one with unisex appeal (Pokémon). Now, Peter D. Adkison is hoping to find new success with a line of collectible cards aimed at girls. This time the product may be a tougher sell because girls in the desired age group — 6 to 12 — have never driven a trading card craze. The cards, called Bella Sara, are clearly more girl-friendly than the latest set of hockey cards or Dragon Ball Z cards. They have pastel colors, fanciful pictures of unicorns and virtual horses to groom, along with girl-power sayings like “Have the courage to trust yourself” and “Use your love to bring peace to the world.” But history is against Mr. Adkison. “Is it possible a trading card product could catch on primarily with girls?” said Alan Narz, a columnist for Card Trade magazine. “Yes. Has it ever been done? No.”

There are challenges other than history. Bella Sara cards are not used as part of a competitive game, where having a rare card can mean the difference between triumph and defeat. Also, each card comes with a code that can be entered on a Web site, unlocking a horse’s stable, but each code can be activated only once — meaning the cards are meant more for collecting and less for trading. (Girls can use a computer mouse to clean the horse’s living quarters and feed it hay, but they can’t trade horses with their friends.)

These matters do not daunt Mr. Adkison, whose business instincts have proved sound. He founded Wizards of the Coast, a game-publishing company that not only made Pokémon a household name but also enabled him to acquire Dungeons & Dragons.

After selling the company to Hasbro for nearly $500 million in 1999, he bought Gen Con, which runs a game convention, from Hasbro. Then he started Hidden City Games, which owns the worldwide rights to Bella Sara outside Scandinavia, where it originated. When he left Hasbro in 2001, “I said I’d never do another card game,” Mr. Adkison said in a recent phone interview from Seattle, the headquarters of Hidden City Games. But he was at the Game Manufacturers Association trade show in Las Vegas in 2006 when he stopped at the exhibit of a Scandinavian distributor. He asked about the cards and was told, “It’s a girls’ game, you won’t be interested,” Mr. Adkison recalled, but “I looked at it and was pretty much on the next plane to Copenhagen.”

The story of Bella Sara starts in Denmark, where Gitte Odder Braendgaard, a social worker who had worked with emotionally disturbed children, noticed that while her son collected Pokémon and Magic: The Gathering cards, her two daughters were not fans.
Ms. Braendgaard designed Bella Sara to be prettier and gentler, and without a competitive component. The resulting product looks something like a combination of the My Little Pony characters, with its dainty toy horses, and Webkinz, the line of stuffed animals linked to online worlds."

Hidden City Games & Bella Sara the Next Webkinz?

In the girls' world of Tween Brands, something that's pink and purple and has sparkly unicorns on it could translate to profit. So for the holidays, the New Albany-based youth retailer has tapped into Bella Sara -- sets of collectible, horse-themed trading cards that have reached 30 million in worldwide sales. Bella Sara is the latest hot brand to hit the company's Limited Too and Justice stores, where non-apparel items such as Webkinz plush toys and Hannah Montana merchandise have been bright spots in a couple of disappointing quarters. "I think it's a game that will pick up a lot of speed," said Paula Demaso, executive vice president of general merchandise. "It's kind of grass roots, like Webkinz was: No one west of the Mississippi knew about that a year ago." Now, fueled in part by Webkinz, third-quarter sales in the "lifestyle" category at Justice and Limited Too stores are up 77 percent and 60 percent, respectively, compared with last year.
Similar to Webkinz, each Bella Sara card comes with a code that grants access to an online world, where girls can play games and feed and brush the virtual version of their horses.

North of $100 Mill - Not As Much Money As You Would Think?

How Much Money Does WebKinz Make? Business Week quotes analyst Sean McGowan of Needham saying: "Ganz, which doesn't disclose its financials, must now strike a delicate balance: maximizing profit from the fad without alienating parents and kids. Visitors to spent more than a million hours there in November, but the site is free. As a result, "they haven't made anywhere near as much money as you'd think," says Sean McGowan, an analyst at Needham, who guesses Webkinz sales are north of $100 million. He adds that none of the nascent competitors has figured out how to capitalize on kids' Web time, either." Anyway, on that revenue stream per annum that would value Webkinz or Ganz Interactive North of $1 Billion. Not too bad ... Who is McGowan:

Webkinz Accessories?

Good article in Business Week on "Toys With a Second Life" It tracks Ganz latest acceories-for-webkinz-pets and asks "Can Ganz stay ahead of Copycats": Webkinz are the hottest things in toyland—and competitors have noticed. The little plush animals come with codes that activate an online version of the toy in a virtual "Webkinz World." At least eight other companies are trying to follow Webkinz's lead, with similar new products that link real-world toys with the Web.

Virtually every toy-industry heavy hitter is involved. Dollmaker Russ Berrie (RUS) is selling Webkinz-like Shining Stars at Toys 'R' Us and other major retailers. Mattel (MAT) has created a new online world for Barbie. And Hasbro's (HAS) Littlest Pet Shop has a VIP ("virtual interactive pet") section.

So Ganz, the privately held Toronto company behind Webkinz, is trying to stay ahead of the pack with a push into accessories. In addition to $15 stuffed animals, Webkinz fans also can buy $7.50 lip gloss, $9 bottles of mango body spritz, and various charms, bookmarks, and clothing items. Like the animals, each accessory has its own code that redeems a prize for pets' online avatars.

PaymentGuy wonders with $9 bottles of body spray and $8 lip sticks are they taking this too far??? All the power to them if they can ... we will see what the new Year brings.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Virtual Currency Chart

A way cool chart from Petter Stokke on Virtual Currencies here - "This is a list of real and virtual currency exchange rates against the US dollar. The values listed represent the amount of a given currency you can expect to be able to purchase for 1 USD. Real world currencies are updated daily from the Federal Reserve Bank. The Linden Dollar is updated daily from the LindeX service. All other virtual currencies are updated daily from"

German Prepaid Credit Cards for Kids

Kids are usually not allowed to own a credit card. But as many of them like to spend their occasional Euro in online worlds and Virtual Assets, some sales people wanted to see this resolved. One way is to offer prepaid cards or vouchers in retail, another is to introduce Prepaid Credit Cards for Kids. This is what is happening in Germany right now. Not only has Microsoft released their XBox Credit Card, also fashion retailer New Yorker introduced a prepaid credit card called “Dress Card”. These cards aim at kids 14+, of course they need their parents permission to get one and there are transaction limits, but it still makes purchasing and transactions online for them a lot easier.

Mobile Payment Option #3

Although the mobile payment industry still doesn’t have impressive numbers to report, we all know it’s the way of the future. Following PayPal and Obopay, consumers in the U.S. will soon be able to use yet another mobile payment provider - PayMate. PayMate is an India-based company and their solution is currently being used by more than 3,000 merchants in the country. The idea is of course to replicate their success in America and afterwards who knows — guess we’ll see them hitting major European markets as well. Similarly to Obopay, PayMate is teaming up with all the interested parties, including merchants, banks and carriers, allowing end-users an extensive breadth to the manner in which mobile payments can be made (online, over the phone, and over the counter). Stay Tuned!

Up to 56% of ONline Shoppers Do Not Have a Credit Card

Mike Carlo, business development manager for Global Collect, said up to 56 per cent of online shoppers don't have a credit card. Also, payment habits differ depending on the culture. For example, Europeans use a different mix of payments than those in Asia. Carlo said that if a hotel accepted only one method of payment, its conversion rate will be about 60 per cent. But that conversion rate rises to 82 per cent if the hotel uses four or more payment methods, including regional credit cards, bank transfer, direct debit, e-wallets, cash and cheques.

Linden Offers SL Account Statements

Second Life creator Linden Labs is now offering players account statements for all monetary transactions that take place within their virtual world.

The statements are available for any month in which a player has ever been active and once requested they are delivered in a neat PDF and automatically display all balances in US dollars for ease of reading.

Linden Labs has always been adamant about furthering their vision of Second Life as the future of commerce.

08 is the year SL also becomes a "Stable Public Utility" according the PR:

Ericsson IPX Connects 8 Indian Operators

A big deal for Ericsson IPX, which today announced that it is to provide its global internet payment exchange (IPX) payment and messaging service to eight network operators across the country. With this service, Ericsson will enable Indian and international content providers to reach approximately 202 million subscribers in India. The eight networks to offer the services within the coming months are Bharti Airtel, Reliance Communications, Bharat Sanchar Nigam, Vodafone Essar, Aircel, MTNL Delhi, TATA Teleservices and Idea Cellular.

Mats Granryd, MD, Ericsson India, says: "We are happy that these networks have added Ericsson IPX services to their offering and will be joining Ericsson's global network of IPX-enabled mobile operators. This is an important step in bringing a true global payment solution to India where operators and content providers can fully benefit from the reach of Ericsson." Using Ericsson IPX, mobile subscribers in India will now be able to securely purchase mobile multimedia content such as music, games, wallpapers and ringtones from mobile content companies. Payment will be handled in a safe and seamless process between mobile phone user, content provider and network operator and will provide mobile phone users with a high level of payment assurance.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Is this the new Linden CTO?

Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale is grooming a promising young Linden for an Executive position at the Lab. From Tech Crunch: "I had the opportunity today to catch up with Chris Collins, the “Technical Assistant to the CEO” at Linden Lab, the makers of Second Life. A Commerce graduate from the University of Western Australia he started in tech, then like many locals (Vibe Capital, Mig33) headed off overseas. After working on his own startup 3 years ago in the Valley he fell in love with Second Life and landed a job as a Business Analyst with Linden Lab. More recently he took up the Technical Assistant to the CEO role, an interesting position in that it’s essentially an executive in training position. Collins shadows Linden Lab CEO Phillip Rosedale at all meetings and functions, and is also directly responsible for Lindex Exchange, the Linden Dollar to US Dollar currency service for Second Life. At the end of the position (6-9mths) he will then take up an executive role with Linden Lab."

PayPal PowerHouse

There is no stopping PayPal. It's talent pool just gets deeper (see below), its payment service richer and market share larger. What are competitors like ClickandBuy doing? Just playing for a distant 2nd place in this race?

PayPal recruits execs from Visa and American Express

PayPal Inc., the online payment service owned by eBay Inc., has created four new senior management positions and filled them with payment industry veterans, including executives from Visa International and American Express Company. “PayPal is at a point in the life of our company where we’re becoming mainstream, and we’re bringing in people that have tremendous experience in payments,” a spokeswoman tells Internet Retailer. PayPal has 164 million registered users around the world.

The new hires are:

* Barry Herstein as chief marketing officer, responsible for PayPal’s global brand and marketing strategy and implementation. Herstein previously was chief marketing officer for American Express International’s consumer business.
* Jack Stephenson as senior vice president of strategy and new ventures, responsible for defining the strategic direction of the company. Stephenson previously headed the North American payments practice at consulting firm McKinsey & Company.
* Robert Mansell as vice president of product development, overseeing product strategy and development for PayPal’s payment system. Mansell spent 13 years at Visa International, most recently as vice president of the VisaNet Authorization System at Inovant, Visa’s IT organization.
* Mary Anne Gillespie as vice president of sales, responsible for increasing adoption of PayPal among online merchants. Gillespie has 30 years of sales experience, most recently as vice president of sales at Guidewire Software and before that as senior vice president of Americas field operations for Informatica.

“It’s a testament to PayPal’s current success and its future market opportunities that we are able to attract executives of such high caliber,” says Rajiv Dutta, president of PayPal. “With this team in place, I’m absolutely confident that we will continue to grow and deliver safe and easy payments for our customers around the world.”

Monday, December 17, 2007

ValleyWag Slag

The dudes and dudettes at ValleyWag have a funny and informative blog but PaymentGuy thinks their coverage of Linden Lab and Second Life, while admittedly hilarious, is just not fair and balanced. He is also a real gentleman who genuinely cares about the his community members. So stop slagging Philip! Admittedly, Linden's CEO likes to hear himself talk but there is no doubting Mr. Rosedale is an internet visionary and Web 2.O pioneer par excellance. Second Life - flaws and all - is still way way cool and enriching peoples' lives around the world everyday. Check the link for the VW's coverage: