Thursday, January 3, 2008

Funny Take on Kiddie Virtual World's From a "Geek Who Has Procreated"

It encourages a vapid collector mentality not only online but in real life as well. The more crappy little dolls you buy at the mall, the more crappy little virtual characters you can have. Crappy little virtual characters that exist to work virtual jobs so they can make virtual cash to spend on more useless virtual crap. Now the makers of Webkinz claim this teaches kids responsibility because their online counterparts have to earn money before they can spend it. On crap. Of course these claims are pulled from the ether as there has been no research done on these new games. Such defenses remind me of my own bullshit justifications for playing so much Galaga back in the day, "But mom, it teaches hand/eye coordination!" It seems to me the site teaches kids that money is made to be spent on superficial garbage. Sure, kids hardly need to be taught to want every shiny trinket they see on the shelves. But by making kids "work" to earn their virtual trinkets, Webkinz is legitimizing the pursuit of materialism by equating it with responsible adult behavior.
Club Penguin is guilty of this as well. You may not have to buy any stuffed penguins at the toy store, but you can buy fashion accessories for your penguin characters. And I have to shell out six bucks a month. That's real bucks, not virtual bucks.

Pappa Nerd - Doug Slack's "credentials" - hilarious! "NERD CREDENTIALS- Still own the Shogun Warriors Godzilla toy, complete with launchable hand, from 1979. Saw the Star Wars Christmas Special during it's one and only television broadcast. Have over 30 long boxes of comic books stored in the attic. Saw Evil Dead 2 in the theater three times. Once dined with Tom Savini. Wrote and illustrated my own comic book in the 90's. Spent countless lonely hours watching Night Flight and The Young Ones as a teenager. PARENTAL CREDENTIALS- Father of two daughters, ages 2 and 8."


MyMiniCity is a new Flash game that allows you to create your own online city. All you have to do is have people visit the site and your city evolves with every click. (Not to mention upping the site's page views for advertising purposes!)

Here Come The Bears!

In Winter 2007, Build-A-Bear opened their online virtual town. Dubbed "Build-A-Bearville," this online city allows users to play games and chat in a relatively safe community. Those users who own Build-A-Bears bought after October 2007 can bring their furry friend to life online by entering their bear's special code. This code is found on the bear's birth certificate. If a user has a furry friend from before October 2007, they can (for a limited time only) pick up a "Welcome Pass" at any Build-A-Bear location. Then, they use the code on this "Welcome Pass" to bring up to 5 of their furry friends to life. Users without a furry friend have only limited access of the town. Build-A-Bearville includes a Pawforming Arts Center (where bear-owning users can dance with their bears and play a DJ game featuring Build-a-Bear songs), a virtual Build-A-Bear Workshop (where users can play games, bear-owning users can dress up their bear, and users can use codes to bring their physical Build-A-Bear friends to life), a Libeary (where users can play a traditional matching tiles game, listen in on "Story Time" to a Dr. Seuss story, download desktops and other fun stuff, and begin quests for magic jewels and the like), a neighbearhood (where users can play a twist on "Hide-and-Seek," and bear-owning users can visit their own Cub Condo or a friend's), a forest (where users can play several games - hand-eye coordination games such as "Photo Safari" and "Dunking for Apples," word games such as "Words fur the Birds," and games such as the "Pie Eating Contest." Also included is a cute "Canine Care" game.), and more. Build-A-Bearville citizens, upon logging in, can select their country and then a "Den." (a Build-a-Bear online synonym for "server") '- from Wikipedia

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Payment Myths

APACS, the UK payments association, has published a new report – Payment Myths – that uncovers the facts behind payment trends in Britain. The booklet uses statistical evidence to help consumers better understand the payment options available to them and offers advice on the best ways to manage their finances; no matter what payment method they use. The Payment Myths report uses APACS statistics to show examples of the way we use cash, our susceptibility to fraud and the new demographic make up of online bankers – to name but a few. Sandra Quinn, director of communications at APACS, said: “The Payment Myths report offers some interesting insights into payment behaviour amongst British consumers and looks to shed light on some common misconceptions.”

“Despite growing acceptance and familiarity with the variety of payment methods available to consumers today, common stereotypes remain. While new technology means we can now bank online 24 hours a day or have our groceries delivered with the click of a mouse, traditional methods like cash and cheques continue to endure.”

Myth: People only use cash for small value items
Fact: Of all payments over £50, we are more likely to use cash than credit cards
Myth: People don’t pay the monthly balance on their credit card
Fact: 68% of people usually or always repay their credit card balance in full
Myth: Over 65s don’t use online banking
Fact: The over-65 age group is one of the fastest growing groups in terms of online banking users
Myth: No one uses cheques anymore
Fact: There is almost the same number of payments made by cheques as by credit card

Will All These Penguins & WebKinz & Habbos Join Second Life When they Grow Up?

Stan Trevena thinks NOT!

From: on behalf of Trevena, Stan
Sent: Mon 12/31/2007 1:22 PM
To: SL Educators
Subject: RE: [SLED] kiddie virtual worlds exploding...nyt

I've got triplet 15 year old boys and a 9 year old boy. My trips were into Neopets in the early years, and they have played most of the MMO's since. My 9 year old is into Club Penguin. What sets all of these other "virtual worlds" (more on that in a minute) apart from SL? Mini-games. Or put another way, "Short Attention Span Theater". These worlds are built on earning points and spending them on trinkets, be those neopets or accessories for your penguin and igloo. You earn your points by playing web flash games, many that are based on old arcade hits and new variations on that theme. Most of these mini-games only run a few minutes long. Another recent entry is UB Funkeys. This one is clever, in that it looks and feels like a virtual world, but you never really bump into other players, you only visit their houses when nobody is home to see all their "stuff". UB, Barbie and Bratz all use USB dongles and mini-toys that dock with a reader to unlock areas of their "virtual worlds".

I've not read the NYT's article yet, I just got in, but there are HUGE differences between these kiddie "virtual worlds" and SL. Interaction in these other worlds ranges from limited chat and no avatar mixed spaces to 2D screens where small avatars crowd the screen with chat bubbles floating above their heads. None of these platforms are "virtual worlds" where there's anything close to the open ended environment of SL. I would classify these worlds more as a wrapper placed around a large collection of flash games (the different lands are really only groups of games) that drive the kids to earn points to buy cool virtual objects, reset then repeat indefinitely. What is even more pathetic is that they don't even play the games that they really enjoy, they play the games that give them the most points the quickest. No surprise that the games that pay the most points are linked to new movies or toys that are coming out soon. It's the old "rat - button - food" reward activity. If the games had some educational value, or some purpose other than building their hand eye coordination they may be more redeeming in value. As they stand, they are simply virtual attention drains for teens who want to push buttons to get virtual rewards while sometimes having ads or themes flashed at them (movies, TV shows, etc). None of my kids have any relationships or communications with others in these worlds. I would classify them as the junk food of "virtual worlds", good for a light snack, but mind numbing in any quantity.

Will these kids flood into virtual worlds like Second Life when they tire of these worlds? Not likely. This model increases and deepens the boredom factor of these kids if they are not fed activities minute to minute to occupy their short attention spans. I believe these games have replaced cartoons over the past several years for most kids. Give them an open virtual world like Second Life and they quickly get bored and leave. They might stick around long enough to explore anything with bright lights or flashy graphics, then they will leave never to return. Maybe this behavior is already invading SL and contributes to the 10% retention numbers we already see? Maybe our schools are causing this behavior, we have drained most of the creative thinking and social activities out of our schools and instead now focus everything on test scores, test taking and cramming for tests.

Kids from these "virtual worlds" will be much more likely to invade worlds like WOW and Tabula Rasa than Second Life (assuming they are looking for social interactions and shared quests). But their more logical place to go after they grow out of the kiddie virtual worlds are places like Maple Story ( and DOMO ( These clearly draw their lineage from the Neopets and Club Penguins of the world, and slap a 3D virtual environment on top. Maple Story was purchased by Wizards of the Coast, the makers of the still popular Magic the Gathering Collectible Card Game. Is it by chance that Maple Story has a collectible card game (available at Target, among other places) that have secret codes for virtual items printed on one card per pack? ( Last year even Blizzard succumbed and released a collectible card game of their own ( centered on the World of Warcraft universe. And yes, there is that treasured secret code in random packs that will land you really cool and high bid fetching eBay virtual item if you are lucky.

These kiddie virtual worlds are not much more than interactive virtual commercials wrapped around real world products. Instead of calling them "virtual worlds" they should be classified as "virtual commercials". MTV now own Neopets. Disney owns Club Penguin. Kids are running treadmills to get prizes. Hey, maybe they're 3D virtual happy meals, not virtual worlds. Better yet, if we can somehow generate power from all these mindless key pushing activities we could solve the global energy crisis (welcome to the Matrix). Oh wait, then they would be human batteries.

I guess I'll go and read this article now that I've expressed my personal views of these "virtual commercials". Comments on the article to follow soon.

Stan Trevena
Director, Information and Technology Services
Modesto City Schools

Professor Ondrejka

Cory Linden is going to teach at USC. He will be a smash hit with students I am sure. Here is his new blog:

Monday, December 31, 2007

Designer Toys and Virtual Worlds ... At last!

Mattel stole my idea!!! Bastards ... just kidding. I actually predicted this back in 05 ...
What are the U.B. Funkeys™ and How Do They Work…
Radica’s U.B. Funkeys™ is the first interactive toy that integrates collecting with connecting. This innovative new product marries vinyl toy collecting with interactive computer gaming, delivering an all-new virtual environment filled with fun and games.
To play U.B. Funkeys™ users first purchase a starter kit. The starter kit comes with a U.B. Funkeys™ “hub,” two Funkeys character figures and PC software. Each collectible Funkeys character plugs directly into the U.B. Funkeys™ “hub,” which is attached through a USB cable to the player’s computer. When a Funkeys character is placed into the hub, the player’s onscreen avatar changes its appearance to match that of the specific Funkey connected to the “hub.” In addition, each Funkeys character unlocks new games and zones in the U.B. Funkeys™ world. The more Funkeys kids collect, the more zones they can unlock and games they can play.
There are 42 different Funkeys in all, some more common than others. Each Funkeys figure allows kids to play a specific game within the world and buy special items associated with that figure. By playing games in the U.B. Funkeys™ world, players earn coins that they can use to purchase items for their “crib.” Players can then customize their crib – from picking out furniture and painting walls, to adding carpet, plants and other home decor – then save and upload it to share with friends.

Here Come The Monsters!

They look kinda scary ...

Virtual World's To Be Mass Market Entertainment

Good article in NYT on the proliferation of online worlds for kids and most intriguing insight on Disney's Virtual World Plan:

“Get ready for total inundation,” said Debra Aho Williamson, an analyst at the research firm eMarketer, who estimates that 20 million children will be members of a virtual world by 2011, up from 8.2 million today. Worlds like Webkinz, where children care for stuffed animals that come to life, have become some of the Web’s fastest-growing businesses. More than six million unique visitors logged on to Webkinz in November, up 342 percent from November 2006, according to ComScore Media Metrix, a research firm. Club Penguin, where members pay $5.95 a month to dress and groom penguin characters and play games with them, attracts seven times more traffic than Second Life. In one sign of the times, Electric Sheep, a software developer that helps companies market their brands in virtual worlds like Second Life and, last week laid off 22 people, about a third of its staff. By contrast, Disney last month introduced a “Pirates of the Caribbean” world aimed at children 10 and older, and it has worlds on the way for “Cars” and Tinker Bell, among others. Nickelodeon, already home to Neopets, is spending $100 million to develop a string of worlds. Coming soon from Warner Brothers Entertainment, part of Time Warner: a cluster of worlds based on its Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera and D. C. comics properties....

Disney’s goal is to develop a network of worlds that appeal to various age groups, much like the company’s model. Preschool children might start with Pixie Hollow or Toon Town, another of Disney’s worlds, grow into Club Penguin and the one for “Cars” and graduate to “Pirates of the Caribbean” and beyond, perhaps to fantasy football at “All the stars are aligning for virtual worlds to become a mass-market form of entertainment, especially for kids and families,” Mr. Yanover said.

PaymentGuy thinks he is right ...

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Question of How to Pay

... makes #5 on Gamasutra's Best Of 2007: Top 5 Most Significant Moments In MMOs. If you want this question answered in the New Year - contact PAYMENTGUY! Happy New Year "At Austin GDC there was a panel on the last day of the event ostensibly intended to discuss the 'biggest opportunities' in online games. The reality of it was that the table was stacked with Marc Jacobs (a staunch opponent of Real Money Transfer) and two big proponents of microtransactions: Raph Koster and Eric Bethke. What resulted is described on Gamasutra as "a tussle for the future of online games". That one moment nicely summed up possibly the most important trend of this year, and speaks volumes about what we're going to be talking about in 2008.

The fight that day was about the value of paying a flat subscription fee versus microtransactions, as seen in games published by Nexon. Blizzard's well known acceptance of both models is an exception, as most companies choose one or the other as their business model. Ultimately, this may be a question that's out of the hands of the designers: American players are already indicating their love of micropayments and RMT by heavily playing newly arrived games of this type. Despite lawsuits and crackdowns, people are still paying real money for gold and other online currencies.

While I think it's unlikely we'll see many companies openly accepting gold sellers in their games, there are a few who have already begun to walk that path. The nebulous acceptance of the newly announced Live Gamer service by Sony Online Entertainment and Funcom speaks to the kinds of arrangements we might see in the future.

Lessons to learn: The only thing better than free is micro-payments. Players secretly like paying for gold. Celebrity game designer deathmatch would make an awesome show."