Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Parent on Webkinz

"(By the way, the coolest thing about this is that she can call up her friends and meet them online with their Webkinz®! She knows it's them because she knows their pets' names. There is no personal information anywhere on the site, and with the structured 'chat' format, there's no way anyone can ask for it or give it.) Kids can easily spend hours getting lost in this world, redecorating their room, adding on to their room, playing in the arcade, even visiting the doctor when the pet 'feels sick.' As a parent, I feel pretty good about allowing my kids to use their computer time (30 minutes a day max.) on Webkinz®. I may shake my head at the waste of it all, but the bottom line is, they're occupied, they're communicating, learning about science, math, etc. at some of the arcade games, learning that things cost money ... even virtual things, and most of all, they're safe."

Kim Pallister on Personalized Games

This is a Gamasutra article where Kim explores personalizing an object ala Build a Bear with personalized gaming in a virtual kiddie world; "My thinking was that if Webkinz is more compelling than Club Penguin because of the plush toy that acts as a physical connection to the experience (not to mention moving the financial transaction back to a parentally-comfortable retail channel); then Build-A-Bear is more compelling because the plush toy is now personalized. Of course the thing with good ideas is that other people have the same ones – usually before I do! So it is in this case, as lo and behold, there already exists a BuildABearVille. Now the key point is this: With Webkinz, you enter your product code, and the online animal matches the physical product you bought at the store - which for kids, is COOL. With BuildABear, you enter a unique ID number off the birth certificate, and you get an online version that is identical to your one-of-a-kind, custom bear that you built. Of course the "one of a kind" bear is only one of given number of permutations of options, but still, to a kid, this is MAGIC!"

[Kim Pallister is Content Director for Intel’s Visual Computing Group. He recently re-joined Intel after a few years at Microsoft working on casual games for MSN and Xbox Live Arcade. He’s been around the game industry for 15 years. When not migrating between large technology companies in the Pacific Northwest, he finds time to blog at - from which this article was adapted and expanded - and at]

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

PBS Begins Testing Subscription-based, Ad-free Virtual World Aimed At Toddlers

PBS has entered the childrens’ virtual world space with its own subscription-based “online neighborhood.” Dubbed PBS Kids Play, the site is ad-free and is aimed at ages 3 to 6. It’s currently in beta. PBS is offering free trials and claims to offer a pre-school and kindergarten curriculum along with PBS characters such as Curious George and Bob the Builder. The free trails will end before spring. Subscription fees are $9.95 a month, or $79 a year, while local PBS TV affiliates will be able to provide discounts or free access for donors, USAT reports. While charging for such web services are a new thing for PBS, which doesn’t run traditional ads on its network, it does feature messages from “sponsors.” PaymentGuy thinks I’d say it’s not much of a virtual worlds play. It’s just a portal to a collection of educational mini-games with, it seems, no interaction between users. From the USAT article: “In development since 2006, Kids Play! is not a social networking site. There’s ‘no chat between kids or to kids,’ says Benjamin Grimley, PBS’ senior director of interactive businesses. “=’Everything we’re doing is centered on safety.’”

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ex-Linden Lab CTO Ondrejka Reviews Raph Koster's MetaPlace

"Cory Ondrejka, who was a cofounder of Linden Lab, makers of Second Life, and is now a visiting professor at the University of Southern California, in Annenberg, has been testing Metaplace's system in its early stages. He says that Metaplace is betting that the Web will continue to evolve increasingly better capabilities for real-time interaction, such as 3-D capabilities for Flash, that will allow it to continue improving its system. At heart, Ondrejka says, Metaplace is a lightweight protocol for lightweight communication through the Web, and one of the ways that he sees designers using Metaplace is as a way of letting users experience each other's presence online. "Anything that causes the two of us to know we're both on the Web together makes the Web a better place," Ondrejka says. "A big part of what makes interaction in virtual worlds so compelling compared to the Web is the fact that we both know we're there. It isn't the same as leaving bread crumbs on a blog to show that you were there." Ondrejka says that at this point, Metaplace gives users far simpler capabilities than those in worlds like Second Life. "But simple doesn't mean bad," he notes. "Simple can mean approachable." While Ondrejka says that Second Life gives users far more design power, he also says that Metaplace could allow a great deal of flexibility: Metaplace worlds can be anywhere on the Web, or even within Second Life."

Forrester on "Marketing On Second Life: Think $100K Plus Per Year"

January 9, 2008
Marketing On Second Life: Think $100K Plus Per Year
A Second Life For Marketers?
by Brian Haven, Jaap Favier
"Many firms have purchased an island in Second Life and built a venue to engage a target audience, raise funds, test products, educate users, or sell virtual or digital goods. High initial investments, short life cycles, and the need to keep a constant watch add up to tangible experiments with hard-to-measure returns." Forrester is doing SL no favors...

Create a Virtual Office With Qwaq

This seems very cool. But weird name ... And they are hirin', not firin'!"About Qwaq; Qwaq, Inc. is creating virtual spaces for the enterprise that enable collaboration in ways that weren’t possible before. Qwaq Forums, the company’s first product, is a secure virtual workspace application that significantly increases the productivity of distributed teams by bringing critical resources together in virtual places, as if they were in an actual physical location. A highly interactive and persistent environment, Qwaq Forums enables users to work, collaborate with others, and identify and solve problems."

Second Life: Euro reaches All-Time-High of over 400 Linden dollars per Euro

The continued weakness of the US dollar versus the Euro helped push the Euro higher versus the Linden Dollar as well: At 12 noon, the mid-price (i.e. the average of bid and ask prices) of the EUR/SLL cross on the euroSLEX pushed through resistance at 400 and reached 403.4. This is the highest level since euroSLEX opened december last year. The Swiss Franc also reached a new high at 248 Linden Dollars. "This means that Second Life gets cheaper for our customers, because they can get more Linden Dollars for their Euros" said Iliana Suppan, managing director of Virtual World Services GmbH, the company behind euroSLEX.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Mobilians International Partners With PaymentOne to Provide Phone-Based Payment Solution

Mobilians International, the online and mobile payments innovator, announced that it has signed an agreement with PaymentOne Corporation, one of the world's fastest growing online payment service providers (PSPs) and a leader in alternative payments, to provide PaymentOne’s PhoneBill™ payment service to Mobilians’ merchants. Through this new partnership, Mobilians International’s merchants can reach over 150 million U.S. consumers, providing them the option to conveniently charge digital goods and services to their existing broadband and landline phone accounts. “Mobilians is excited to offer this new payment offering to our merchants as we continue to expand our U.S. operations,” said Pragnesh Shah, president and chief executive officer of Mobilians International. “This represents the first phase in launching our payment platform in the U.S. and fully commercializes the core infrastructure of our alternative payments gateway.” “This unique partnership opens new doors for PaymentOne as we seek to expand our base of merchants using the PhoneBill™ product,” said Joe Lynam, chief executive officer and founder of PaymentOne. “Mobilians International, and its majority investor Mobilians Co. Ltd. of South Korea, bring proven success and expertise in phone-based alternative payments and merchant acquisition. This agreement represents opportunities for future partnerships to develop a global payment gateway alliance between our companies.”

An Intro to Neopets Premium

Some info about Neopets Premium: It's cheap. Only $8.00 a month! And less if you pay for it yearly. If you use a credit/debit card, it is conveniently deducted every month without you having to do anything. There is also a FREE 15 day trial. If you don't like it, just cancel by the time the trial is up. Canceling is easy...but who would want to? Every Friday, you will receive a FREE space faerie scratch card after you sign up. And it isn't like the other scratch cards, you'll ALWAYS win. You also get 1000 neopoints for every month that you keep the service. You can also refer people to Neopets Premium to receive prizes such as neopoints, paint brushes, codestones, avatars, and many other amazing things.. You also get the Super Shop Wizard! If you like to buy things DIRT CHEAP, this is perfect for you. The SSW shows you the cheapest things on the site. For example, if you type in "White Paint Brush" the s.s. wizard will show you the cheapest ones on the entire website, instead of searching through parts of the site, like the traditional shop wizard does. These are not the only cool things you get with Premium, there are many more... of course!

Want to Launch a Mobile Virtual World?

MoiPal's CEO Joakim Achren tells you how and why you should! "It seems that mobile connectivity to virtual worlds is right on the horizon. But what about a virtual world actually self-contained in a mobile phone? At the 2007 Virtual Worlds Conference, Ironstar Helsinki CEO Joakim Achren demonstrated and discussed MoiPal, his company's mobile virtual world that works on basic Java handsets. "The idea was like, your friend in the phone," Achren said. "It’s an avatar that lives in your cellphone." The mobile pal is controlled like a Sim, or a Tamagotchi. Achren explained that he got the idea from thinking of how adults have facebook and kids and 'tweens have Club Penguin -- but what about teens? "They are usually not at home, but they always have a mobile phone with them," Achren noted. "And they usually have the best phones. It is a means of self-expression, like ringtones. But self expression should be more than just ringtones." Achren did say that, as it happens only during idle time, gaming and social networking on a mobile platform still have to integrate with a website, especially since mobile phones have such restrictive memory. "Concentrate on using the mobile to do something simple and realistic," he advised. "You can’t just take Second Life and put it on a mobile -- except for Japan, maybe,” he joked. “It has to be a personality extension... and it has to be free,” Achren continued, noting it's not generally a good idea to aim a subscription-based service to kids, since they probably won't even try it. Incentivizing free content is a much better method, he said. Moreover, there are a lot of possibilities for the mobile platform. Achren highlights simple 2 or 3-dimensional content items that can be created on a phone without challenging the memory restrictions. There's also social networking. "You’ve seen Facebook on a mobile. It works pretty well," Achren said. “Mobile gaming is here to stay, so why not think of mobile when it comes to virtual worlds?” He added.
Successful apps have to be client apps. For Western countries the handsets really allow for just text, but Java handsets can be adopted by just about all phones. Achren noted that Flash is becoming more prevalent on handsets, so it may be handy in the future, but for now, "Java is the way to go," especially since Java code translates easily between a mobile phone and a PC. It also needs to use very little wireless data -- less than 1 megabyte, according to Achren. "It can't be a 100 dollar phone bill every month," he noted. Achren described his company's own experience. In 2005, they had developed their own mobile game engine, and they wanted to do something special with it. The pet aspect was a good fit, because it was simple -- you feed the avatar and play games with it, without the need for a network connection. Users can stream their stats to the server, but it's not required. There are also elements of adventure gaming involved. "That’s how we thought of the world, a world with a lot of things to do, not just standing around and talking.” So MoiPal incorporated missions, pre-scripted events, and a narrative.
Most notably, MoiPal is persistent. "Even when you’re sleeping, your pal is doing something," Achren says. The avatar can travel on its own to a virtual city, and upon returning will report to the user about its adventures. "When you wake up in the morning, on the bus you can see what your pal has done and send him or her to do something else while you’re at school," Achren explains.
The website acts as an extension of the world. "It gives you a godlike view of what's happening," Achren explains. Through the website, users can see what others are doing with their pals, their decorations, clothing choices and other game elements. There's even a version of the mobile game available on the website in a pop-up window, for those users who can't play the game on their phones. The content is monetized directly, through virtual goods that can be obtained through a variety of payment options like SMS, PayPal or a credit card. Users can buy gaming extensions, decorative items and other content bonuses that provide better equipment and resources. There are also indirect monetization models, like sponsorships, advertising and product placement. "Ringtones and wallpapers are old news," Achren says. "Having brands give items and missions is a better incentive."

Is This Blog Useful?

The average blog has one reader, or so I’m told (I’d heard earlier it was about 7). So that means I have about 30 times the normal daily blog traffic! WOW! Anyway, professional journalists seem threatened by the blogosphere, perhaps for good reason. Given that Technorati tracks 112.5 million blogs right now, it’s a mathematical certainty that most are either crap, or niche. I have two blogs. This one and a silly gaming one I am working on. But here’s the great thing about blogging: Who cares if they are popular? Google, Technorati and other search engines have it set up so that these irrelevant blogs are, well, irrelevant. They are unlikely to show up in many search results, be cited by a journalist, or change anyone’s life. But if you’re buying a new cell phone and not checking enGadget, you’re nuts. Blogs are just websites, people, and like all types of websites, they vary in value. Finally, there are not enough corporate interests out there to crank out all the niche information people are searching for, and blogs do that. Blogs are one of the main reasons that you can find pretty much anything on Google. If you don’t get that, well, I can’t help you. Q, Is this blog useful Dear Reader?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Virtual Worlds & Toys

Barbie (barbiegirl + mp3 player), Bratz (be-bratz + doll/USB key), Littlest Pet Shop (VW + stuffed animal code), Webkinz (VW + stuffed animal code), Bella Sera (VW + trading cards), Zibbies (VW + stuffed animal code), Shining Stars (VW + stuffed animal code), Build-A-Bear (VW + stuffed animal code), myepet (bratz pets + stuffed animal code), Moshi Monster (VW + cell phone accessory), Ty Girls (Stuffed Doll + Code), etc…Of that group, only Barbiegirl, Buildabearville, Bella Sera and Moshi Monsters allow you to roam as a free member w/o buying the product yet.

Moshi Monster's GamePlan

Moshi Monsters, a UK based social networking site aimed at children between the ages of 7 and 12 years old, might become Club Penguins biggest competitor “Tweens” can adopt and customize their very own pet monsters. The more they play with their monsters, the “happier” the monsters will be. At the same time playing games on the site earns points, which can be used to buy items for the pet monster. Parents might like this site, because the games and puzzles “created” by the monster teach vocabulary, math and logic. But players can also interact with each other, typing in speech bubbles and leave messages for one another. There is no charge, since the companies hopes to successfully sell Mosh Monster merchandise.

In a twist on the Webkinz model -- pairing a password-tagged toy with an online world -- Moshi Monsters (www.moshimonsters .com) are a family of six monsters that live in a light-up cell phone charm and, virtually, in an online home you create.
The charms, called MoPods, were marketed last year in Britain. They contain a receiver that detects the faint signal emitted when cell phones send or receive messages, even when the ringer is silenced. They respond with a 15-second burst of LED fireworks, while the monster spins inside the plastic bubble.
This feature works only with GSM phones like those used on the AT&T and T-Mobile networks, and miscues are frequent -- a test unit was also activated by microwave ovens and walkie-talkies. The charms are $10 from and other retailers.
The companion Web site offers limited content, but the puzzles, which need to be solved so you can feed your monster or buy furniture, have a welcome educational twist to them. Teachers may also find an unexpected use for the MoPods: monitoring illicit in-class cell phone use. from Monsters mesh with phone BY WARREN BUCKLEITNER NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE