Friday, February 8, 2008

Why Does Cisco Blog on Virtual Worlds?

Cisco has added a new blog to their growing list of corporate blogs - the Virtual World Blog. Reason? As Christian Renaud says in the inaugural post:
"We believe that these environments offer an excellent new tool in our collaboration toolbox, alongside established technologies like IP Telephony, Web Collaboration, and Telepresence. They also offer a number of new opportunities to collaborate in ways we haven't had before, which is intuitively obvious to those who use them regularly, but we'll work on enumerating in future blogposts." Christian is Chief Architect of the Networked Virtual Environments team at Cisco, and he and members of his team will be contributing to the blog, according to Christian's post. As a nice touch, they are also maintaining a del.icio.us page that will contain all the links they reference in their blog posts. Christian is an active SL avatar so we know he and his team will be speaking with great authority. More importantly, Cisco has made both big and public commitments to virtual worlds, from their multiple-island SL campus to actively experimenting with internal 3D collaborative spaces - and then back again with in-world b2b meetings and mixed reality public events. And, they aren't overlooking infrastructure, as they are also working on technology to support 3D environments, and tools to facilitate our virtual work and entertainment lives.
Christian will also be keynoting at the upcoming Virtual Worlds 2007 conference in October. Click on over to the Virtual World Blog, say hello and chat up a team that is contributing to the next generation of business and of virtual worlds.
http://freshtakes.typepad.com/sl_communicators/2007/08/cisco-launches-.html

Cisco's Blog

Cisco's Blog on VW's is worth checking out. I like this post from Christian: "No More Meeting Travel
One of the habits that Cisco promotes is substituting virtual meetings for physical ones. There are numerous statistics as far as the productivity benefits and cost savings that result from the immediacy and geographic-independence of a IP telephone call, video-conference, WebEx session, or Telepresence. One area that doesn't get mentioned as often is the environmental benefit of avoiding air and automobile travel by the use of these technologies. Late last year, I pledged to avoid physical travel and instead substitute virtual meeting technologies like videoconferencing, WebEx and virtual world technologies. I was asked by The Nature Conservancy to write up a summary of my experiences which they recently published here, and was 'Digged' here. This has, in turn, resulted in a number of emails and phone calls asking for more best-practices for substituting virtual meetings for physical ones. One thing I know for sure is that 10 or 100 brains are better than one. What I'd like to propose is that the readership also share their best practices, and we aggregate this into a user-editable wiki of what seasoned virtual attendees/presenters have found to be key elements to making their work a travel-free experience. Lets start out by using the comment field of this blog entry, and I'll furiously set up a Wiki page for us all to use once we have a critical mass of inputs. Sound like a deal?" http://blogs.cisco.com/virtualworlds/

Dizzywood kidworld secures $1m of Series A finance


It’s been a good week for financing, with new firms FlowPlay and iOpener both announcing funding rounds. Joining them is kidworld Dizzywood, which has taken on $1 million of Series A financing led by Shelby Bonnie, with the participation of Charles River Ventures and several other individual investors. The world targets 8-12 year-olds, with a mixture of play and education. It launched in November last year, and plans to use the funding in its ongoing development and expansion. Already in 2008, it seems that VCs are keenest to open their wallets for virtual worlds targeting kids, or with gaming features, rather than the adult-focused worlds akin to Second Life. That’s not surprising, with the media attention switching away from such worlds and towards the likes of Club Penguin. Dizzywood is still in public beta, so it’s early days for this effort.
www.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=2162947490265832295

Thursday, February 7, 2008

KPMG - Mobile Payments In ASIA


This is great stuff: This paper, produced by the Telecommunications Research Project (TRP), in collaboration with KPMG’s Information, Communications, and Entertainment practice in the Americas and Asia Pacific, reveals the range of mobile payment systems currently being developed around Asia Pacific, and identifies some of the challenges that accompany these emerging business models. The following areas are also covered in the report:
* Business models and the mobile payments value chain
* Business models behind different transaction types
* Emerging business models by country
* Industry perspectives on mobile payments
Case studies:
* Smart in the Philippines
* Yeepay’s B2B approach
* The growing reach of Octopus
* Gaming and virtual money
* A view from the bottom of the pyramid
* mHITs in Australia
http://www.kpmg.de/library/pdf/Mobile_payments.pdf
http://www.kpmg.ca/en/

Legal Interest in SL Increases (or.. Lawyers Jump on Virtual World Banwagon...)


Virtual worlds are emerging as a popular new legal topic. They create a host of interesting opportunities as tools for legal practice, and at the same time are a medium that needs to be reconciled to laws from the physical world. The apparatus of the law is increasingly present in Second Life:
1. You Can Watch your Trademark in Second Life - The Non-Profit Virtual Intellectual Property Organization offers virtual trademark watch services and consultations on virtual property and trade to outside world corporations and legal entities through its “Customs Service”.
2. Or Join the Second Life Bar Association - California Lawyer profiles a few of the more than 200 legal professionals who have joined the Second Life Bar Association.
The virtual world is repleat with trademark issues, and real copyright litigation from there are now in courts. Harvard Law’s Berkman Center has offered courses entirely in Second Life, where I enjoyed a conference on Avatar-based marketing. Even Judge Richard Posner of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals is attending conferences as an avatar. But if you haven’t signed on yet, don’t worry; you’re in good company. As I talk with practitioners, I find the level of interest among IP-law pros is still far higher than the number of them who have actually used such environments. There’s a good reason for this. Recent research by the Yankee Group shows the denizens of virtual worlds are still primarily early adopters.
Virtual worlds – 2%
Social networking – 33%
Watching user-generated video (31%)
Early adopters are those who have the time, and the disposition, to become proficient in new, often undocumented technologies. Linux Insider writer, Kimberly Hill describes virtual worlds as still having steep learning curves that create a substantial barrier to entry for new users. If anyone knows about high barriers to entry, it would be Linux users. So if you’re interested in virtual worlds but haven’t signed on yet, there’s no need to feel like a laggard. There’s no race to sign-on, but if you have a few hours for experimentation, there are still worlds to be explored close at hand. http://usefularts.us/2008/02/05/legal-interest-heats-up-in-second-life/

Zwinky Launches Prepaid Network

Zwinky, home to more than 13 million avatars, today announced the availability of Zwinky Gift Cards in retail stores nationwide through a partnership with GMG Entertainment. Zwinky Gift Cards are a fun and easy way to add ZBucks, Zwinky's virtual currency, to a user's account without using a credit card. Zwinky Gift Cards are available in $10, $15, and $25 increments and are easily redeemed at Zwinky.com for virtual items sold in Zwinky, including brand-name shoes, a virtual dorm room, and a huge selection of fun furniture -- from comfy beds to aquariums -- to decorate that room in style. The $15 and $25 Zwinky Gift Cards also include a bonus -- access to an exclusive "super power" for purchasers' Zwinky avatar. Super powers provide the ability for an avatar to travel within the Zwinky virtual world using a jetpack, magic carpet, carnival balloons or super propeller. For each additional gift card purchased, another super power is unlocked. "With the introduction of our virtual ecommerce program last year, we've seen significant interest from our users wanting to purchase premium items inside Zwinky," said John Park, President of IAC Consumer Applications and Portals, the parent company of Zwinky. "Partnering with GMG to sell Zwinky Gift Cards in retail stores was the next logical step to feeding our users' appetites for the latest in virtual entertainment, fashion and music." The Zwinky gift card program is now available at Target stores nationwide, with additional retail outlets planned for the near future.
GMG Entertainment CEO Rob Goldberg echoes the excitement of the Zwinky/GMG partnership, saying, "We are delighted to have the opportunity to join forces with Zwinky and introduce their exploding virtual world to many more consumers across the country through gift cards. We're excited to help Zwinky capture some of the billions of dollars of gift-card giving that has up until now been unavailable to their virtual world. Zwinky has generated a great amount of buzz with their virtual world site and it's an ideal fit for us to utilize our relationships and marketing prowess to showcase and monetize their brand in an entirely new way."

Air2Web Hired 3 New Execs

The mobile marketing and payment provider appointed Bill Jones president, Don Dysert chief financial officer, and Scott Foernsler senior vice president of marketing and agency programs. Good luck in the new positions guys!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Casual Game World FlowPlay Nets $3.7M in First Funding


FlowPlay, described by Founder Derrick Morton as a "virtual world platform powered by casual gaming," has received $3.7 million in its first round of funding led by Intel Capital and Ambient Sound Investments. It previously took in about $500,000 in angel financing to launch the company, which we reported on in March. The world, it seems, is an avatar-based, shardless environment focused on bringing teens together in casual games. The first product, "a place where playing games gets you clothing, furniture, pets and everything else you need for your virtual life," won't launch until sometime in spring 2008. Once it is launched, the company plans on a subscription fee of $5.99/month for total access. However, Morton has declined to specify any specific launch date. He told the Seattle PI that part of the issue is simply that FlowPlay takes longer to develop than traditional Web 2.0 applications. "If they get a little traction, they'll be able to raise money. We, on the other hand, have a very complex entertainment product which required a lot of resources and time to build," he said. "Some of the individual features of our product would be as much as many startups would take on. We were lucky enough to have a strong group of angels who were excited about our vision. This gave us enough runway to build the beta product that got us in the door at the VC level." Intel also invested in companies like Click&Buy (which is losing money and laying off people) and what is so unique about FlowPlay (versus PlayRay for example) other than cooler-looking avatars and more evangelical management that will make it a success in the virtual world space remains to be seen. Good luck with it!

Habbo Partners with William Morris Agency

Habbo Hotel is officially the first virtual world represented by the William Morris Agency. The partnership will help Habbo "facilitate new strategic partnerships to generate cross-marketing and promotional opportunities," potentially bringing in more business like the licensing deal reached last week with Paramount to distribute virtual goods. WMA will also "provide popular Hollywood and music celebrities for in-game interview appearances within the Habbo community" in addition the to rather numerous celebrities that already pass through the Hotel. The two are focusing on "new revenue-generating business opportunities with major studios, television and cable nets, record labels, and professional sports leagues." “As the Habbo community continues to increase, their audience will demand a mainstream in-game entertainment presence,” Jim A. Wiatt, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, William Morris Agency, said in a statement. “William Morris’ Digital Group will be a key partner helping Habbo develop ideal business and marketing opportunities with the leaders of the entertainment industry.” And yes, we will learn all about this whole virtual world thang with HABBO ... we know nothing now...

(More) Terror in Virtual Worlds!!!

The Washington Post published an article today looking at the way U.S. Intelligence officials are evaluating potential threats in virtual worlds. It quotes extensively from a recent paper by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (does anyone have a copy?): "What started out as a benign environment where people would congregate to share information or explore fantasy worlds is now offering the opportunity for religious/political extremists to recruit, rehearse, transfer money, and ultimately engage in information warfare or worse with impunity [...] What additional things are possible in the virtual world that cannot be done in the real world? The [intelligence community] needs to 'red team' some possible scenarios of use."" That's well and good--and not news--but other fears also seems to be a bit overblown. The article cites anonymous sources as "convinced that the qualities that many computer users find so attractive about virtual worlds -- including anonymity, global access and the expanded ability to make financial transfers outside normal channels -- have turned them into seedbeds for transnational threats," which is taken a little bit farther than the IARPA's stance. The threat of secret communication or money laundering is real enough for virtual worlds (sort of, since most businesses can't even conduct meetings in public virtual worlds for lack of security and monetary transactions tend to go just as easily through traditional Web-based auction houses), and the author at least cites counter-examples. Linden Lab discusses efforts to cooperate with intelligence officials, one source claims that there's no evidence of nefarious deeds, and others explain that the problems are the same as those already created by the traditional Internet, only with a new face.
However, the virtual world metaphor seems to catch the author (or analysts) up more than seems reasonable: "Virtual worlds could also become an actual battlefield. The intelligence community has begun contemplating how to use Second Life and other such communities as platforms for cyber weapons that could be used against terrorists or enemies, intelligence officials said. One analyst suggested beginning tests with so-called teams of cyber warfare experts. That's a far cry from the fact that "Some computer users have used their avatars to destroy virtual buildings." We've seen a fair amount of interest from the intelligence and military communities in using virtual worlds, but so far only for training or analysis--nothing so far, publicly at least, for an Ender's Game-style scenario. Frankly, I'm more worried (NB: this is my personal tinfoil hat zone) about VoIP threats, physical sabotage to Internet infrastructure, or hackers extorting money by threating to turn off my electricity.
Likewise, the article cites, with what seems like trepidation, promotional material from HiPiHi: "The residents are the Gods of this virtual world; it is a world of limitless possibilities for creativity and self-expression, within a complex social structure and a full functioning economy." Because at the point where other countries have gods inside virtual worlds, we should definitely be afraid.

Disney's Earnings Call: You Have to Think about Virtual Worlds

Disney held its Q1 FY08 earnings call yesterday, and, while there was certainly much more discussed, President and Chief Executive Officer Robert A. Iger came back several times to virtual worlds. Disney was already making big plays in the space, but it picked up steam considerably when the company acquired Club Penguin last summer, going on to announce that it would develop a world for Cars based on its existing infrastructures and that it would then invest up to $100 million in new worlds. When asked about potential franchises, Iger noted that Cars was the biggest opportunity in some time. It has gone on to sell more merchandise currently than it did during the opening year. Part of that, Iger says, is hitting the right pattern for play across toys, video games, and attractions. Interestingly, he doesn't mention real-world theme park tie-ins until after virtual worlds: "We've clearly struck a nerve in terms of a play pattern, and that has led us to invest in more creativity. So we'll be launching a virtual online world for Cars. While I don’t have a specific announcement to make, I think it would be a relatively good bet that ultimately there will be a sequel in the works for Cars, again because we believe in the franchise potential of that set of characters. And then of course, lastly, when we really believe something has franchise value, we turn it into attractions at the parks. We are building Cars Land for California Adventure set to open in 2012, and we opened a Cars-related attraction in Paris this past year, and I'm fairly certain you’ll see more creativity and investment in terms of physical attractions at our parks against that franchise." Part of that may simply be that it's cheaper to invest in a virtual world than it is to design, build, staff, and promote a physical attraction, but when Iger was later asked about how investors should conceive of new franchises like Cars and Hannah Montanna, he noted that video games are becoming more and more important to younger audiences and that it's crucial to start thinking of franchises in terms of new opportunities--like virtual worlds. "When you think High School Musical and Hannah Montana, you suddenly can envision a franchise that is living in many more places than just say the syndicated world of the past. The other thing that we have also found is that music has really found a home in the video games business. That is certainly clear with some of the properties that are out there from other companies. [...] So what we are trying to do is essentially identify something that has franchise potential and then immediately invest to mine that potential creatively and then to leverage it financially in many, many places. And we are finding that those many places are many more than we used to see. Online virtual worlds are another example. Think Cars. You have to think not just of them as parks and movies and videos, but you have to think of an online virtual world as well as the other typical businesses like video games and other merchandise. So thanks to technology, when you have a successful franchise and you have the ability as a company to invest in basically self-created product, you can leverage that in many more ways than we ever envisioned in the past."

Who Runs this Department in the US Government That Fears Virtual Worlds?


U.S. spy chief names his top scientist
Published: January 14, 2008
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell announced today that Dr. Lisa Porter was selected to be the first Director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA). “This is an important milestone for the Intelligence Community,” said McConnell. “We are incredibly fortunate to have someone of Dr. Porter’s stature take on this vital role.” The selection of the Director of IARPA is a key piece of the Intelligence Community’s 500-Day Plan for Integration and Collaboration. IARPA sponsors research aimed at game-changing breakthroughs and compliments the mission-specific science-and-technology research already being conducted by intelligence agencies. Porter, of Scituate, Mass., comes to IARPA following service as the NASA Associate Administrator for the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate.
In this position, she managed the agency's aeronautics research portfolio and guided its strategic direction. As well, Porter co-chaired the National Science & Technology Council's Aeronautics Science & Technology Subcommittee. Prior to her service with NASA, Porter served as a senior scientist in the Advanced Technology Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). While there, she created and managed programs in diverse technical areas ranging from fundamental scientific research to multidisciplinary systems-level development and integration efforts. Porter has a bachelor's degree in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a doctorate in applied physics from Stanford University. She has authored more than 25 publications in a broad range of technical disciplines including nuclear engineering, solar physics, plasma physics, computational materials modeling, explosives detection, and vibration control of flexible structures. Dr. Tim Murphy has served as Acting Director of IARPA since June 2007, when he replaced Steve Nixon. Murphy will serve as Deputy Director of IARPA when Porter begins as Director. Nixon currently serves as Director of Science and Technology for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
________________
WASHINGTON, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- A former military scientist and senior NASA official is being tapped to be the first chief scientific researcher for all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. Lisa Porter was named as the first director of the new Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, in a statement from the Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell. "This is an important milestone for the Intelligence Community," he said in the statement last week. "We are incredibly fortunate to have someone of Dr. Porter's stature take on this vital role." Porter, of Scituate, Mass., is the associate administrator of NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, and co-chairman of the National Science & Technology Council's subcommittee on aeronautics. She came to NASA from the Pentagon, where she was a senior scientist at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the entity on which the idea for IARPA was originally based. According to the statement, IARPA "sponsors research aimed at game-changing breakthroughs and compliments the mission- specific science-and-technology research already being conducted by intelligence agencies." IARPA, which got off to a rocky start last year, as a result of concerns that its exact mission and role was unclear, has been under two acting directors so far. Then they said - "HEY LET'S PLAY SECOND LIFE AND WORLD OF WARCRAFT ALL DAY LONG AND TRY AND FIND TERRORISTS! THAT COULD BE FUN! AND PROTECT THE COUNTRY AT THE SAME TIME! YEAH!" The current interim head, Tim Murphy, will continue at the agency as Porter's deputy. Murphy assumed the top spot in June 2007, when he replaced Steve Nixon after the latter was promoted to become director of science and technology for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Porter has a bachelor's degree in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate in applied physics from Stanford University. She has authored more than 25 publications in a broad range of technical disciplines including nuclear engineering, solar physics, plasma physics, computational materials modeling, explosives detection, and vibration control of flexible structures. She will leave NASA Feb. 1, the agency said. I feel safer already ... Thanks!

US Government Fears Second Life!


Intelligence Officials See 3-D Online Worlds As Spy Hubs U.S. intelligence officials are cautioning that popular Internet services that enable computer users to adopt cartoon-like personas in three-dimensional online spaces also are creating security vulnerabilities by opening novel ways for terrorists and criminals to move money, organize and conduct corporate espionage. Over the last few years, "virtual worlds" such as Second Life and other role-playing games have become home to millions of computer-generated personas known as avatars. By directing their avatars, people can take on alternate personalities, socialize, explore and earn and spend money across uncharted online landscapes. Nascent economies have sprung to life in these 3-D worlds, complete with currency, banks and shopping malls. Corporations and government agencies have opened animated virtual offices, and a growing number of organizations hold meetings where avatars gather and converse in newly minted conference centers.
Intelligence officials who have examined these systems say they're convinced that the qualities that many computer users find so attractive about virtual worlds - including anonymity, global access and the expanded ability to make financial transfers outside normal channels - have turned them into seedbeds for transnational threats. "The virtual world is the next great frontier and in some respects is still very much a Wild West environment," said a recent paper by the government's new Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity. (http://freeinternetpress.com/story.php?sid=15215)

Now! Second Life: Value of Linden-Dollar rises against the Euro


On Tuesday and Wednesday, renewed uncertainty regarding the future of the world economy led to a sharp drop in the world stock markets. At the same time, the Euro fell against the US Dollar, and also against the Linden-Dollar, which is de facto tied to the US dollar. Says Iliana Suppan, managing director of Virtual World Services GmbH: "This is good news for owners of Linden-Dollars: At our exchange 'euroSLEX', you now get 1 Euro for only about 390 Linden-Dollars, which may be a good opportunity to 'cash in' and convert your Lindens to Euro." CASH IN NOW!

USC Student on Second Life

From Chris Guitarte, Annenberg Program on Online Communities, on 3D worlds: "I’ll admit, this past week was the first week I’ve taken a good look at MMOGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Games). I have always been wary of taking a deeper look in fear of how much time I could potentially invest in joining one. But since I’ll be taking care of school work and a curiosity I’ve had, now would be a good time for me to spend some quality time in an MMOG. There were a few hiccups that I’ll mention briefly. First I’m primarily a Mac user and that caused some problems when trying to jump on to the suggested MMOGs for this week. There and MTV Virtual Worlds both don’t have clients for the Mac. Also, even though Second Life has a Mac client and all, I ran into a problem logging in from my MacBook (waiting for region handshake, then times out). I suspected something with my wireless router or the firewall on my Mac but couldn’t pinpoint the problem so I just booted up an old PC of mine, installed it there, and it ran fine on that (update: it was PeerGuardian that was preventing me from connecting, I didn’t even realize to check that, silly me). I also started up a trial for World of Warcraft which runs fine on both my Mac and PC. Interoperability between computing platforms is important, but since Windows is the leading operating system on most home computers, Mac users often get the short end of the stick. It’s a good thing there’s Boot Camp if you’re on an Intel Mac.

I’ll start by talking about Second Life first, which has pretty much consumed all of my time this past week (both in exploring and waiting for textures to stream into my SL viewer). I’ve always heard some sort of news about Second Life since it first started, and I was always curious, but I never really jumped in like I have this past week. I’d say that the Betsy Book reading: Virtual World Business Brands was the motivator for me to explore Second Life. To read about Cubey Terra and the amount of work that went into creating the successful brand in Second Life, it was pretty cool to just jump onto my computer and see it for myself right away. Everything at Abbotts Aerodome was so elaborate compared to when I first logged in at the SL tutorial place, it was really well done. From the layout of the Aerodome to the different planes you could actually purchase, I spent over an hour just looking at everything. This in addition to visiting UCI’s own Anteater Island and USC’s Annenberg Island. I picked up a free USC shirt too while I was at Annenberg Island (can’t do that in real life). I’m barely getting into the game and I feel like I’ve covered so much just by looking at things. So even though it was nice and easy to move around, teleporting from place to place, flying even. I can’t say the same about the more advanced functions. The interface seemed pretty complex, even for me, so I could see how some people can be turned off by SL. Even though the orientation island in the beginning taught me the basics, I can only imagine how much time it would take for me to learn everything I would need to know to fully take advantage of the more advanced features of SL. I suppose it would be one of those things you learn more about as you go. I only wish that Second Life made it easier to get into and discover all the neat little things you can do. Something similar to the set up of Animal Crossing for the Nintendo DS. I admit I’m more of a console gamer (and a Mac user) so I expect things to be much more simplified and intuitive than what I’ve experienced with Second Life. Maybe Playstation Home will fill that void. Now if only I had enough time for World of Warcraft… 7 days left on the trial."http://tangiblebits.wordpress.com/

One of Prof Ondrejka's Graduate Students at USC on Online Communities

http://recoveringreporter.wordpress.com/2008/02/04/fact-or-fiction/ "*This is part of a series of essays being written for a graduate program on Online Communities at the University of Southern California. The author doesn’t vouch to be an expert in the topic…at least not yet* I killed a man once…with the tap of a keyboard. I accidentally switched the name of a murder victim with that of a police lieutenant in one line of a newspaper story I was writing. The mix-up also escaped the normally-sharp eyes of our copy editors. The next day, the lieutenant’s mother called him to make sure he was still alive. The newspaper ran a correction, and that was that. I bring up this embarrassing anecdote because I started thinking about it while reading this week’s assigned readings about collective intelligence and virtual worlds: How can we know what is real when there are so many ways to represent oneself, as in virtual communities like Second Life, and how does someone keep a grip on the truth when there are so many different versions of the facts that are tossed and turned and shaped collectively and individually through the Internet and in projects such as Wikipedia. As part of our class assignment, I joined Second Life. It’s a fascinating romp through a world where creativity and fantasy reign, and the utopian element gives the whole thing the feel of a grand experiment of human potential. The avatar element was clever, but it also made me feel a little uncomfortable - like going to a Halloween party and not knowing exactly who you are talking to. Some people love this, but I like to know who I’m dealing with at all times. In real life there are physical and subtle cues to pick up on: Shrugs, the slight widening or tightening of the eyes, blushing. None of that can be registered when you are interacting with a wolf – is he a predator in real life? - and fairy – is this a man or a woman? Maybe my problem was that I needed to take the “game” part of this more to heart. I found it interesting that businesses are building brands here and using real-world advertising concepts to attract customers, as detailed in the Betsy Book reading, “Virtual World Business Brands: Entrepreneurship and Identity in Massively Mulitiplayer Online Gaming Environments.” Real-world businesses have popped up in Second Life, including news organization Reuters, which has a two-person bureau: Adam and Eric Reuters who are actually Adam Pasick and Eric Krangel. In any case, I like the concept of Second Life - no one gets killed here, even by mistake - but also see how reality can seep into that fantasy world in unsavory ways, as acknowledged by the recent decision by parent company Linden Lab to ban banks that promise financial returns unless they are registered in the real world. In a Sept. 22, 2006 Wall Street Journal story about the development of fashion businesses in Second Life, Linden Lab said they’ve been investigating accusations of clothing design theft and have a policy of closing the accounts of repeat offenders. Perhaps we also need more investigative reporters in Second Life.
..." One of our instructors, Cory Ondrejka, (who also happens to be one of the co-founders of Linden Lab) said in last week’s class that he found three errors in one news story about him and Linden Lab."

Professor Ondrejka's Class Reviews Virtual Worlds


From Cory's blog: "For this week, the class had to take a look at virtual worlds. WoW, There.com, and of course Second Life. Everyone who develops 3D worlds requiring a download should have the chance to do this. Given a group of a dozen highly intelligent, motivated, connected, reasonably tech savvy people -- whose grades could conceivable be impacted by whether they successfully joined these worlds -- want to take a guess how many had smooth, positive interactions with these products? Make your guess smaller. Now divide it by 2. A minority of folks were able to get them running and wrote some insightful commentary on them in their reflection papers. Best line ever came from Er1N's "I'm Too Sexy for My Real Life" post about Virtual MTV's Laguna Beach: "The TV and now this virtual environment lie about what Orange County is like. Lame. I am fake offended." During the class discussion, students raised good questions about the challenges of moving into 3D and how different the communities felt to the 2D and text communities of previous weeks. In particular, the change from the partial attention of browsing, IM, and email to the demanads of immersive 3D, although more experienced gamer/virtual worlds folks did point out that you can use SL in a partially attentive way."

Multiverse Networks' Virtual Times Square


Multiverse Network, Inc., the company building the leading network of 3D virtual worlds, today unveiled Virtual Times Square. "With its electric nightlife, captivating architecture and cultural significance, New York's Times Square makes for a truly engaging demo world," said Bill Turpin, CEO and co-founder, The Multiverse Network, Inc. "Virtual Times Square eloquently demonstrates what our cutting-edge development platform is capable of delivering to anyone seeking to build high production-value worlds." Built by a small team within Multiverse in just over two months, Virtual Times Square is the latest Multiverse demo world that highlights the company's comprehensive development platform. Newly integrated features include Flash and YouTube video support, web integration, and next-generation lighting techniques.
"Multiverse is showing everyone the future of virtual worlds. Because of their efforts, the broader ecosystem of service and technology providers, builders, and consumers will benefit greatly," said Justin Bovington, CEO, Rivers Run Red. "Multiverse's Virtual Times Square represents the next step in the evolution of immersive spaces: dazzling environments with multiple video streams and detailed realism, offering experiences to thousands of users at once." Beginning today, anyone can visit Virtual Times Square using the revolutionary and free Multiverse World Browser -- a single, downloadable application that enables consumers to visit any world in the Multiverse Network. This and other demo worlds are available at www.multiverse.net. "In 2008, we'll see an explosion of ways that companies bring their brands into virtual worlds," said Sibley Verbeck, CEO and founder, The Electric Sheep Company. "We're excited about how Multiverse's mature platform will enable more opportunities to create rich and meaningful experiences for millions of people."

Concept 3D

This is way cool!: concept3D will geo-locate the property in Google Earth allowing the realtor and/or developer to show properties virtually to millions of prospects, update listings real time electronically, reduce show time for properties, improve the qualification process and enhance property visualization. The company’s founding team is comprised of two prior board members as well as the former CFO and a former lead modeler and trainer from @Last Software, the makers of SketchUp™. This team is deeply committed to democratizing 3D design so that the world of design emulates the three-dimensional world in which we live. To that end we have created concept3D, the highest quality and most cost-effective modeling service on the planet.www.concept3d.com/AboutUs.aspx

1 of Every 3 Kids and Teens in Hungary is a Camel (a CoolCamel that is!)

This role-playing game where you can make your own custom made camel is a real undiscovered gem. You can learn tricks to your camel and improve your camel in other ways. It has over 200 unique games made-in-Hungary by Napfolt KFT (www.napfolt.com). 1/3 of all kids and teens from 8-18 are on the site (www.teveclub.hu). I understand they are looking for investors (the company, profitable since inception is cash flow positive, self sustaining and never taken any VC funding) to fund international expansion.

Zdanowski Recommends Happach (Linden Lab Endorses Global Collect)



Linden Lab's CFO John Zdanowski (aka Zee Linden) recommends Global Collect's Shane Happach on Linked in: "Shane has done great work for Linden Lab as our key person from Global Collect. He's always gone the extra mile for us. December 28, 2007. Top qualities: Great Results, Personable, Expert" Shane was recently promoted to the VP level and has done great things for Global Collect (www.globalcollect.com). Pleasing a demanding, tough and shrewd CFO like Zee shows he knows his game. Well done Shane... (I will let readers figure out who is who ...)

Adyen's Gaming GamePlan


Dutch Payment Startup www.adyen.com is doing some cool things. From their VP of Sales Chris Bouwer; "We are currently focusing on gaming as we feel there has been lack of interest in the past years and it is a growing business. Indeed we currently handle Panfu (they will launch France, Spain, Netherlands and the UK very soon..) but we are also finalizing implementation for mobstar (http://www.mobstar.cc) and some local dutch
gaming sites." Good luck guys ...

The BBC on Goldfarming "How cash can change online games"


The BBC covers online gaming; "Online games may be set in fantastical or far future worlds but they share one feature with the real world - the relative scarcity of money. Life can be tough for the novice characters that players create in games such as World of Warcraft, Runescape and Tabula Rasa because they are unskilled and poor. While skills will improve as monsters are slaughtered and quests are completed, the scarcity of cash can be a brake on progress for many gamers.
Many fix the problem by turning to a gold seller and buying a chunk of in-game cash, using real world money, to fund their advancement. This is despite the fact that the terms and conditions of many games ban the buying and selling of in-game gear for real money. Being found out can mean a player is banned and their account is closed.

As games rack up more and more players the numbers turning to the money sellers and those who only play to amass, or farm, gold that they can then sell have rocketed. There are many websites that offer to sell players in-game gold for any and every online title. For games such as Runescape which have millions of players the numbers involved are staggering. Runescape brought in changes to stop rogue gold traders
Geoff Iddison, chief executive of Runescape maker Jagex, said that during 2007 the company took more than 525 billion farmed gold pieces out of its game world. In real money that virtual gold is worth more than £1.3m ($2.6m). "A lot of this is coming from China," he said. "We had tens of thousands of accounts in China that were just bots working the game to make gold and then sell it." Mr Iddison said that the gold farmers spoiled the experience for many players by camping out near monsters with the most valuable loot, filling chat channels with spam messages advertising gold, inflating prices and sometimes taking real world cash without handing over the game gear. In a bid to stem the trade, Jagex changed the Runescape mechanics to make unbalanced trades much harder to do. Mr Iddison said typically game cash was handed over during a transaction for relatively worthless items. By making it hard for all but dedicated players to conduct such unbalanced trades, Jagex hopes to stifle the farmers. Early reports suggest the changes are having an impact, said Mr Iddison with complaints about farmers well down on usual numbers. Thanks for the tip silpol. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7226818.stm).

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

U.S. Bank, MasterCard, Nokia start M-payments pilot in Washington State

U.S. Bank, MasterCard Worldwide and Nokia launch a mobile payments pilot program in Spokane, Washington. Customers who choose to participate in the program are provided with a Nokia 6131 NFC-enabled mobile phone equipped with MasterCard PayPass payment functionality. When used at a PayPass-enabled terminal or reader, the technology integrated into the phone sends payment details wirelessly, so that there is no need to hand over a card for a merchant to swipe through a reader. The MasterCard PayPass can be used for payments at gas stations, movie theatres, concession stands, vending machines, quick-serve restaurants, taxi cabs, sports arenas etc. Customers can protect their account information on their phone via a password. Furthermore, platform developer Venyon provides the secure OTA service that allows for remote personalization and management of the payment feature. Sure, nothing virtual here but still very cool...

Howard Ganz - Business GOD!

"Ganz is pleased to announce the release of Webkinz Figures! These cool PVC figures have your favorite Webkinz pets all dressed up and having fun! There is a rockin' Beagle, a panda bowling at the KinzPinz lanes, a Yorkie cheerleader, and many more! Every Webkinz figure comes with a Feature Code that unlocks a virtual version of the figure that you can put into your pet's room, and an awesome item not available anywhere else! Your first Webkinz figure will also come with a display case to hold all of your Webkinz figures. The display case fits onto your pet's wall and can be viewed by your friends when they visit your pet's house! There are 24 figures to collect. Check out the Feature Code Prizes section of the Code Shop to see all of the great figures and their cool prizes!"www.webkinz.com/bulletinz_figures.html

Webkinz Figures and Figurines Released

Webkinz have been a hot toy since their arrival and 2008 is no different. After major success in other areas Webkinz Figurines were released. Webkinz figures are brand new and heating up the toy world. They are rather inexpensive at regular price and can be found as low as $4.99 after shipping and handling. So the price of this new toy makes it even more desirable, and much easier on parent’s pockets. The quality of Webkinz products remains high and that is what has allowed them to sell well continually.

Sun Asks and Answers - "Why 3D for Collaboration?"

One question we are frequently asked is why use 3D for a collaboration environment? While it might be possible to build a 2D tool with functionality similar to MPK20, the spacial layout of the 3D world coupled with the immersive audio provides strong cognitive cues that enhance collaboration. For example, the juxtapostion of avatars in the world coupled with the volume and location of the voices allows people to intuit who they can talk to at any given time. The 3D space provides a natural way to organize multiple, simultaneous conversations. Likewise, the arrangement of the objects within the space provides conversational context. If other avatars are gathering near the entrance to a virtual conference room, it is a good guess that they are about to attend a meeting in that space. It is then natural to talk to those people about the content or timing of the meeting, just as you would if attending a physical meeting. In terms of data sharing, looking at objects together is a natural activity. With the 3D spacial cues, each person can get an immediate sense of what the other collaborators can and cannot see." This is kinda wonky techy engineer talk but makes sense to me... 3D quite simply works for remote working and connects people in a way 2D, Skype, IM, email or video conferencing cannot. But begs the question; if company's like Sun and IBM can pop up their own virtual worlds in a few months, not to mention new media companies of 10-20 people, will there be one virtual world technology to rule them all?

Sun's Collaborative Environments Overview


Sun is doing some very cool things with Virtual World Technology. The low-down and "Project Overview" - "The Collaborative Environments project is aimed at improving the experience of distributed workers. Since distance between coworkers usually equates to less effective teams and inadequate project outcomes, our goal is to use technology to bridge the distance between people. By providing more effective communication tools, we enable distributed coworkers to develop relationships that are so important to increasing trust, improving worker satisfaction, and solidifying loyalty to the organization. The project was formed in 2003 to experiment with ways to decrease the distance between distributed people by creating software that provides a sense of "virtual co-location." A theme that runs through the prototypes we have created is the use of high-fidelity communication channels. In all cases, people's voices can be transmitted using CD-quality stereo audio. This capability, embodied in our SunTM Labs Voice Bridge, dramatically improves the user experience.here http://research.sun.com/projects/dashboard.php?id=85 Here are some additional details about the prototype I am most interested in "MPK20: Sun's Virtual Workplace" http://research.sun.com/projects/mc/mpk20.html "MPK20 is a 3D virtual environment designed to enhance business collaboration. Like people in the Sun Labs' physical office building, Menlo Park building #16 (a.k.a. "MPK16"), people in the MPK20 virtual world can conduct business, interact with team members, and have chance encounters with colleagues, all using natural voice interaction. Most importantly, real work can be accomplished within MPK20. People can create, edit, and share documents within the virtual world.MPK20:
Sun's Virtual Workplace On any given day, over 50% of Sun's workforce is remote. MPK20 is a virtual 3D environment in which employees can accomplish their real work, share documents, and meet with colleagues using natural voice communication. Just like on Sun's physical Menlo Park campus, known as "MPK," inhabitants of the virtual MPK20 office building can work together in planned meetings, or can talk informally in unplanned encounters. Unlike the physical campus, however, in MPK20, the community can be built and maintained without the constraints of physical location.

Here Come The Germans! (With a Kinda- Second Life Knock-off...)

Papermint is an online game: you create a 2D avatar, which wanders around a colourful 3D world. Papermint's coming out of Germany from a company called AvaLoop, and has a bunch of character customisation options. You even get to take a job in the game. You rent your own home, which you then get to decorate with stuff and invite people round to dance - you can listen to music, but I'm not sure if that means actual real music. Right, now some info. It's a 'social networking game' - one shared platform for social networking and advanced casual gaming. The beta launched in Austria in March, and it's a PC download, with a new release every month. "We wanted Papermint to feel emotionally and culturally relevant to a lot of niche communities," says spokesperson Dr Barbara Lippe. The game concept is about 'capturing the social flag', creating your stuff, pimping out your house and avatar, there are two in-game currencies, and it's got advertising which is linked to the gameplay, to be non-intrusive.

Nokia starts to roll out gaming & social networking sites

HELSINKI, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Nokia , the world's largest cellphone maker, started to roll-out its online gaming service N-Gage on Tuesday as it expands into mobile Internet services. Nokia also opened its social networking site "Share on Ovi" on Tuesday, which allows people to share photos and videos and is built on technology acquired with the U.S. firm Twango, a spokesman for the company said. The gaming service and the media sharing site are among the cornerstones of Nokia's big push into mobile services under its new "Ovi" brand. Nokia is the first handset maker to move strongly into the content space with services like music or filing sharing site Mosh, where millions have downloaded audio or video files, programmes or documents. Nokia delayed the gaming service twice last year due to delays in software testing and starts to roll out to owners of its N81 multimedia phones around the world. "It's the most gaming-optimised device," said Nokia spokesman Damian Stathonikos.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Macquarie Hosting Does 3 Year Deal With HABBO

Macquarie Hosting has signed a three year deal with teen social networking site www.habbo.com.au to host its mission critical applications and Web site accessed by more than 2.9 million Australian registered users. Under the deal, Macquarie Hosting will provide the high-availability, fully-managed hosting solution Habbo requires to increase network speeds and improve the user experience for its Australian members, most of whom are aged between 13 and 18 years. Following a competitive assessment of hosting providers, Macquarie Hosting was selected for its experience with one hundred per cent Web-facing companies, and low latency availability of Web 2.0 social networking applications. Jeff Brookes, the regional director of Sulake which runs the Habbo service in Australia, said its customers are young, tech savvy and demanding. "They expect access to information in milliseconds. Any longer and you will lose their interest and patronage," he said. "We needed a platform that could cope with unpredictable and growing peaks in traffic. "Managing this back through the US, across multiple time zones just wasn't practical." Spread across multiple dedicated servers, Habbo's critical applications and Web site will be housed in Macquarie Hosting's ISO and DSD Gateway certified data centre in Sydney, the Intellicentre.

Singapore Company Builds Virtual Tourism Platform

A Singapore company called Virtual Worlds has announced a platform for virtual tourism to the industry in its home country. The environment, which it calls Mirror World, claims to reproduce key tourism destinations and historical sites in full-scale 3D, geared for the tourism and hospitality industries to allow them to show their facilities to global markets. Currently the software is in beta, and the company says it's already able to show certain parts of the world. According to Virtual Worlds, its technology can support up to a million objects per view area as well as sound, music and weather effects. It's also able to import existing 3D drawings of infrastructure and buildings. The company adds it's discussing projects with tourism authorities and facilities operators to ultimately build virtual replicas of their sites. The long-term goal is to "completely map the globe in phases." It will launch worldwide at some point during 2008. Targeted for a world wide launch in end 2008, consumers will be able to explore parts of the world in 3D, meet and chat with friends from all over the world all from their desktop over a internet connection and most importantly win prizes to travel around the world. Virtual Worlds Asia director Terence Mak said, “This is an important and necessary step in the development of virtual worlds. Virtual worlds [have] always been depicted [as] a fantasy - it's about time we changed that thinking and use of the same technology to make the world a smaller place. Air travel and tourism is booming with the availability of budget airlines, consumers are beginning to be more world conscious. What is missing is a technology and a platform to showcase the world in 3D to a global audience. We hope to partner with many of the world's interesting places and help them showcase what they are doing to make the world a more interesting place.”

Millions of Us "pleased to be inaugurating our presence in Habbo"


Habbo is unveiling an in-world World Wrestling Entertainment Royal Rumble event in its virtual worlds, featuring 59 avatars of WWE wrestling pros. The actual WWE Royal Rumble will air live on Pay Per View on January 27th, but the Habbo event is currently occurring, and the entire works is being managed with the help of Millions Of Us. Sulake says Habbo's 1.6 million online citizens will vote for which of the top 30 WWE Superstars they think will play various roles in the event (e.g., ultimate winner). Users whose predictions are correct are entered into a sweepstakes to win a trip to Florida to see Wrestlemania 24 in March. The WWE likes the chance to promote their brand in Habbo. We checked out the site, and noticed that users aren't just voting on the avatars -- they're enjoying using them to roleplay their own WWE tournaments and discuss their favorite stars. Marketing EVP Geof Rochester said, “WWE is giving fans access to our brand in new and exciting ways– utilizing virtual worlds, social networking sites, widgets, and much more. This promotion with Habbo’s large, active community is a perfect fit for our expanding digital footprint.” Millions of Us CEO Reuben Steiger commented, “Habbo pioneered the booming youth virtual world space and is one of the most internationally successful communities of its kind. We're especially pleased to be inaugurating our presence in Habbo with our longstanding client WWE. That aside, the ‘Habbo Royal Rumble’ campaign is jam-packed with fun, innovative programming and the stakes are high - the prize is among the most valuable we've ever offered in a promotion."

New Report on Virtual Worlds Lists 7 Must-Have Features for Kids

Of the 35 million online kids in the US, one in four spend significant time in virtual worlds. A new report from interFUEL draws from the hands-on experience of this interactive agency which has created virtual worlds and online content for Shining Stars, Nickelodeon, MTV and Sesame Street. Interactive agency interFUEL has released a special report that describes seven features any virtual world must have to attract kids, tweens, and teens. Today's kids are growing up with virtual worlds, where visitors control an on-screen avatar to interact with others, chatting, creating, or shopping at will. Companies like Disney, Lego, and Mattel --- as well as unknown startups --- are pouring millions of dollars into these online worlds. These worlds promise to draw big crowds and extend brand loyalty. And kids love them. In fact, about 1 in 4 of about 35 million online kids in the US go to virtual worlds often. This number is expected to climb to 1 in 3 in 2008, and 1 in 2 by 2011, according to a recent report from research firm eMarketer. Google says two of the fastest-rising search terms for 2007 were for the online worlds Webkinz and Club Penguin. All this points to what the New York Times recently called "a virtual gold rush." But any company trying to reach a younger audience through this new type of social network faces many pitfalls. A poor user experience can actually damage a brand if it bores its visitors. The new report from interFUEL draws from the hands-on experience of this interactive agency which has created virtual worlds and online content for Shining Stars, Nickelodeon, MTV and Sesame Street. It pinpoints seven must-have features for a virtual world that will truly engage kids, tweens, and teens:
1. Mom's approval, since the ultimate decision to admit a child rests with parents.
2. Safety, under the law, and in the eyes of parents and children.
3. Fun, fun, fun!
4. Fresh content, so that visiting the world becomes part of a child's routine.
5. Ways to connect and socialize with other kids.
6. A feeling of control over the child's appearance, personal space, and resources.
7. Means to encourage self-expression.

Why Should Corporate Counsel Become Familiar With Virtual Environments? Aren't They Just Fun And Games?

"... based on my studies thus far, corporate counsel needs to learn about it too. ... Also, several real world attorneys have a presence in Second Life and have joined the Second Life Bar Association. Some have their own law firms and provide legal advice to other avatars. Since March 2006, Attorney Stevan Lieberman has been operating an office in Second Life that has the appearance of a wooden octagon floating 300 feet in the air.
Judge Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals gave a presentation in December 2006 to promote his new book. This event took place entirely within Second Life and covered such topics as the copyright fair use doctrine. Reportedly, when Judge Posner's talk was interrupted by a 6-foot raccoon claiming to be an attorney from Washington, DC, he cleverly responded: "I like your tail." It is estimated that each day in excess of $1 million USD worth of transactions take place in Second Life. Therefore, it is no surprise that the virtual economy of Second Life has resulted in trademark and copyright infringement lawsuits being brought in U.S. courts. In a lawsuit filed on October 24, 2007 in the Eastern District of New York, a group of virtual merchants selling virtual products in Second Life sued Thomas Simon. The virtual merchant plaintiffs claimed that Simon willfully made unauthorized copies of their copyright and trademark protected products and Simon misrepresented that the products he sells are authentic ones. The plaintiffs sell adult-themed virtual items, including furniture, shoes, and skins to cover avatars. The complaint includes claims of unfair competition under Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, copyright infringement under the U.S. Copyright Act, and counterfeiting of a registered trademark. This case settled in December 2007; however, wouldn't it be interesting if the parties to this case had agreed to resolve their dispute by participating in mediation or arbitration within Second Life? It certainly seems possible that dispute resolution in a metaverse could be successfully accomplished.... "Second Life provides that its players own the intellectual property rights to the things they create within the virtual world. According to the Terms of Service agreement, these rights are enforceable both within the game and offline, and apply to both non-profit and commercial ventures. In what is reportedly the first lawsuit filed against Second Life, Marc Bragg, a West Chester, Pennsylvania solo attorney sued Second Life in May 2006. Bragg is alleged to have discovered a loophole that allowed him to buy virtual land really cheap before other players had an opportunity to bid. Linden removed Bragg from Second Life per the terms of its agreement which provides that Linden reserves the right to shut down any user's account at any time. Bragg's attorney asserts this forfeiture penalty clause is unenforceable. Linden's attorney moved to compel arbitration before the International Chamber of Commerce arbitration in San Francisco, as specified by the Second Life Terms of Service agreement. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in a 46-page opinion, denied this motion, and Second Life's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

"Trademark and copyright violations and contract disputes are not the only legal concerns brought about by virtual worlds. Corporate and government counsel should also take notice of the possibility that virtual worlds could be used for money laundering, identity theft, and other fraud-related crimes. Britain's Fraud Advisory Panel, a watchdog created by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, recently published a report urging the government to apply real-world financial regulation to Second Life and other virtual environments. The report warned that players can move illicit funds across national borders without constraint and with little risk of detection. Some software firms are developing additional payment methods that can be used to purchase and sell virtual money. For example, the Swedish software company, MindArk, is developing ATM cards. These cards are essentially reloadable stored value cards that could be used to deposit and withdraw monies from virtual worlds. Consider that an individual can use false information to create one or more avatars and currently no customer identification or suspicious monitoring and reporting requirements have been imposed on virtual worlds as is required for certain financial institutions under the anti-money laundering provisions of the Bank Secrecy Act and USA Patriot Act. An avatar could fund a virtual account with proceeds of crime through virtual world ATMs or other payment methods, and have a co-conspirator on the other side of the world engage in a series of virtual world transactions which would convert those funds into various virtual world holdings (e.g., virtual real estate), only to be followed by an exchange of the virtual funds (i.e., laundering of these funds) back into real U.S. dollars. As it stands, it is unclear the extent of how much money laundering, if any, is occurring in these virtual worlds. However, one thing is clear - virtual worlds are a prime target for money laundering.

"In sum, exposure to or at least some basic knowledge of virtual environments is desirable for corporate counsel. It might not be long before your marketing department is requesting a review of advertising materials to be presented in Second Life, or a customer or employee is reporting an abuse of the company's trademark or other intellectual property rights in a virtual environment."

Second Life Users Have Too Much Time On Their Hands: Philip Rosedale

Ooops! The bloggers are on PR for his Spiegel interview; "Philip Rosedale tells Der Spiegel online that “The early users of Second Life are simply people who have a lot of time” and outlines priorities and his thoughts on coming competition, including the fact that he’s worried that the competition has learned from Second Life’s mistakes." http://dusanwriter.wordpress.com/2008/02/01/second-life-users-have-too-much-time-on-their-hands-philip-rosedale/#comment-474

Do Mobile Virtual Worlds Have A Future?


I like Sulake's MiniFriday, a Mobile Virtual World, currently only for Nokia S60 handsets (available for both 2nd edition and 3rd edition). MiniFriday is developed by Sulake, think ‘Habbo’. Here is what Rocky, a blogger at SMS Text News wrote about his experienece and whether mobility and virtual worlds come together; "The interface looks a bit like SchoolHouse Rock, but it’s fun, looks great on my N95, and easy to get into without taking it too seriously. MiniFriday is basically an interactive IM/Chatroom environment, visualized in a bar or club atmosphere. They currently have over 200,000 users, which isn’t bad considering that it’s really only a small research project. There are different ‘rooms’ for different languages, which makes it really easy to get in and meet people from your same locale. Virtual Worlds are starting to really take off, with places like Second Life and World of Warcraft inticing millions of users into the graphical world. I can’t help but think of TRON, where the virtual and real worlds start to collide. The idea of taking these worlds mobile, however, is interesting to me. I think the bigger question is, are these virtual worlds more mobile or portable? I think that’s an important distinction to make. My laptop is portable. I can easily move it from place to place. However, I wouldn’t say it is very mobile. My mobile phone, however, is quite obviously mobile, as it’s easy to use while on the go, without needing to stop to use it. The portability of these virtual worlds is quite obvious: of course I’d like to take my virtual world from my home to work, to a friend’s house, or elsewhere. However, what about the mobility? Is it really something I’d like to be involved in while walking down the street, standing in line at the grocery store, or other mobile usage situation? After playing with MiniFriday for a little while, I’m honestly not convinced either way. The interface is definitely well done, and offers quite a bit in terms of eye candy and usability. However, I don’t know that my presence in this virtual world would be all that consistent, other than specifically to meet someone in it for coffee or a beer." Interesting thoughts.

Facebook Offers Online Poker!


Cool! Facebook has teamed up with online game supplier Ujogo to provide online poker services to Facebook's clientele. While Facebook has had online poker applications in the past, Ujogo will be kicking it up a notch by offering real-money prizes for tournaments and Amazon gift cards for participation and performance in cash games.
Ujogo is only offering its services to US players, which is good news for those left with fewer poker choices after the UIGEA. Ujogo maintains its legality with respect

to gambling law as participants do not gamble with their own money. In this 'free' and 'no risk' environment, most of Ujogo's prizes are based on a point system. Players can accumulate points through a number of activities including initial sign-up, referrals, play time, and performance. With free poker sites safely outside the perceived grey zone of US and state gambling laws, a number of sites are experimenting with the 'play money' model. Recently the World Poker Tour launched a subscription-based site for US players that offers participants cash and prizes under the sweepstakes rule. The virtual world Second Life eventually ran afoul with its play money system of online gambling. The site banned gambling last year after scrutiny from US law officials. The central issue with Second Life's offerings was that its virtual currency, the Linden Dollar, was readily convertible to real money.
Ujogo initially launched its own poker site in July 2007. Professional player and writer Susie Isaacs endorses the site - whoever she is...

IBM Partners With UOneNet - Helping Chinese Navigate Virtual Worlds


Apparently, Chinese who go to Second Life "do not know what to do..." IBM and Beijing-based virtual world company UOneNet signed a strategic partnership agreement where IBM’s Digital Convergence department and IBM’s Chinese research center will join forces with UOneNet to research virtual world platforms and develop an IBM China-themed presence in UOneNet’s virtual world uWorld. Founded in 2006, UOneNet is planning to launch virtual world uWorld and has developed a platform called UniG. The founder of UOneNet, Eric Ye, was a former software architect at IBM and has a masters degree in engineering from the University of Southern California (USC). UOneNet plans to design its virtual world uWorld to appeal to Chinese users by adding more in-game tutorials and content creation tools. Recently, the company conducted focus groups with Chinese users who had used Linden Lab’s Second Life. One of the key findings was that Chinese users often wandered around and didn’t know what to do. Eric Ye, founder of UOneNet said, “To adapt to Chinese Internet users in our product design, we put more into in-world tutorials and examples to guide users, also help them form social and economic circles. We give them a sense of achievement when they accomplish something. Chinese users are creative but many are not technology savvy.” uWorld is also being designed with a softer color palate to appeal to Chinese users. uWorld is a 3D virtual community that allows users to live, interact, and conduct business together, similar to Linden Lab's Second Life. Users of uWorld will be able to purchase virtual real estate, start businesses, create social circles, and make and sell virtual items.

IBM Partners With HiPiHi


Kinda takes the lustre off Linden Lab's partnership or at least puts it in perspective... I was expecting a lot more from the Linden Lab and IBM Hook-up .. at least a little while when each other would date exclusively and give the relationship a chance! Looks like IBM wants to have an open relationship with other interesting parties; The news as reported by Aleks Krotoski "IBM has partnered with Chinese virtual world HiPiHi, according to the makers and as reported by Massively. The partnership amounts to the use of the technological infrastructure for the Big Blue's continued interest in virtual worlds, and the joint development of open-standards solutions which IBM began last year with virtual world Second Life. IBM is one of the major on-the-ground players in virtual worlds, pushing the corporate use of such spaces forward. HiPiHi is a relative newcomer on the scene, but one which has caused ripples through the VW-watcher community. Recently, chip-makers Intel launched in the space, and the Chinese government has also settled some virtual scaffolding on its pixellated shores."
http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/games/archives/2008/02/04/ibm_says_hello_to_hipihi.html

Sony Takes on Linden Lab (Sony Home vs Second Life)

This could be good for Linden "MONTE CARLO — Tired of Second Life – or want a better online 3D world experience? Sony may offer that alternative world later this spring with its “Home” destination for PlayStation 3. “Home is a cross between private chat rooms, MySpace, YouTube and online gaming,” explained Ron Festejo, creative director, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, in an interview. “If you’ve ever tried Second Life, you can immediately see how much richer this world is and how accessible it is.” The Sony Europe group has been spearheading the software behind Home, a free PlayStation 3 virtual community that will launch this spring as a download. The creators of this new 3D universe were on hand at the Imagina conference last week to give attendees a sneak peak at the brand new, modified hub running online with thousands of Beta testers inhabiting the world. Microsoft has accrued 10 million online subscribers for its Xbox Live service, which comes free as a basic service with every Xbox 360 but requires a $50 annual subscription to play online games. Sony, however, is going in a different direction with PS3. Anyone who has used Xbox Live knows that the service is a great way to jump into an online game, but the 2D interface is not built for stickiness in the generic lobbies. In contrast, Sony has constructed a living, breathing world that gamers will enter before connecting with others online to play games. In addition to being able to play six-player bowling in the bowling alley and classic games in the arcade, there will also be offerings like billiards, chess and checkers for gamers to socialize over. A movie theater that features 10 screens to watch movie trailers and game previews also will be available at launch. Soon after the rollout, Sony is expected to offer a video store where gamers will be able to rent full-length features that can be downloaded to their hard drives. Sony is also expected to offer music and TV programming through Home." www.localtechwire.com/business/local_tech_wire/news/story/2389864/

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Gartner's Top 3 Trends in Virtual Worlds 08

Steve Prentice of Gartner cites his Top 3 trend predictions for 2008;
1. As social networking converges with virtual worlds to support rapidly growing virtual communities, a “lightweight” social-networking/entertainment-oriented virtual world will emerge, successfully targeting the MySpace/Facebook teen generation with an emphasis on having fun rather than content creation, and building a user base in excess of five million within the year.
2. Avatar-enabled corporate collaboration environments (intraverses) will become the focus of enterprise attention, replacing the focus on largely unsuccessful forays into public virtual islands that have failed to attract or retain customers.
3. Education and training will emerge as the killer application, as establishments compete for students and tap into the familiarity and high acceptance of online gaming and social networking communities of generation V.

Gartner - "Second Life Descends Into the Trough of Disillusionment"


As much of the media focus (both positive and negative) has been on Second Life, some commentators worry that the world views Second Life as representative of the entire virtual worlds industry. And with more consumer success coming from fantasy worlds like World of Warcraft or youth-oriented worlds like Webkinz or Habbo Hotel, that makes it hard to track the space as a whole. "If there's one challenge, it is increasingly difficult and dangerous to cover a segment of the market without being aware of what is happening in other areas," said Prentice. "You can focus in one area, but you have to be increasingly aware of the other segments because it's changing people's attitudes. The success, growth, or decline of virtual worlds I'm convinced is based on people's attitudes." However, the adult market is still getting most of the mainstream focus, and it's not helping. "If you take the traditional adult market--by age not content, open virtual worlds like Second Life--my feeling is that as a collected concept, it is probably pretty much still heading down into the Trough of Disillusionment," Prentice explained. "I think there is farther to go." Steve Prentice from Gartner interviewed here - www.virtualworldsnews.com/2008/01/interview-farth.html#more makes some interesting points about the virtual world industry as a whole.

10 Million WOW Players - WOW!

World of Warcraft has officially consumed 10 million souls. Blizzard Entertainment, the multiplayer online game's maker, is officially an unstoppable machine. If 2007 estimates are to be believed, World of Warcraft is responsible for 12 percent of the videogame industry's $9.1 billion in software sales.

IBM's Virtual World Guidelines


1. Engage. IBM encourages its employees to explore responsibly – indeed, to further the development of – new spaces of relationship-building, learning and collaboration.
2. Use your good judgment. As in physical communities, good and bad will be found in virtual worlds. You will need to exercise good judgment as to how to react in these situations – including whether to opt out or proceed.
3. Protect your – and IBM’s – good name. At this point in time, assume that activities in virtual worlds and/or the 3D Internet are public – much as is participation in public chat rooms or blogs. Be mindful that your actions may be visible for a long time. If you conduct business for IBM in a virtual world or if you are or may appear to be speaking for or on behalf of IBM, make sure you are explicitly authorized to do so by your management.
4. Protect others’ privacy. It is inappropriate to disclose or use IBM’s or our clients’ confidential or proprietary information – or any personal information of any other person or company (including their real name) – within a virtual world.
5. Make the right impression. Your avatar’s appearance should be reasonable and fitting for the activities in which you engage (especially if conducting IBM business). If you are engaged in a virtual world primarily for IBM business purposes, we strongly encourage you to identify your avatar as affiliated with IBM. If you are engaged primarily for personal uses, consider using a different avatar.
6. Protect IBM’s and others’ intellectual property. IBM has a long-established policy of respecting the intellectual property of others, and of protecting its own intellectual property. Just as we take care in our physical-world activities to avoid infringement of intellectual property rights and to provide proper attribution of such rights, so we must in our activities in virtual worlds – in particular with regard to the creation of rich content.
7. IBM business should be conducted in virtual environments only with authorization. You should not make commitments or engage in activities on behalf of IBM unless you are explicitly authorized to do so and have management approval and delegations. If you are authorized, you may be asked by IBM management to conduct IBM business through a separate avatar or persona reserved for business use. You should certainly decide to use a separate avatar or persona if you think your use of an existing one might compromise your ability to represent IBM appropriately.
8. Be truthful and consistent. Building a reputation of trust within a virtual world represents a commitment to be truthful and accountable with fellow digital citizens. You may be violating such trust by dramatically altering your digital persona's behavior or abandoning your digital persona to another operator who changes its behavior. If you are the original creator or launcher of a digital persona, you have a higher level of responsibility for its behavior.
9. Dealing with inappropriate behavior. IBM strives to create a workplace that is free from discrimination or harassment, and the company takes steps to remedy any problems. However, IBM cannot control and is not responsible for the activity inside virtual worlds. If you are in a virtual environment in conjunction with your work at IBM and you encounter behavior that would not be acceptable inside IBM, you should “walk away” or even sign out of the virtual world. You should report abuse to the service provider. And as always, if you encounter an inappropriate situation in a virtual world which you believe to be work-related, you should bring this to the attention of IBM, either through your manager or through an IBM internal appeal channel.
10. Be a good 3D Netizen. IBMers should be thoughtful, collaborative and innovative in their participation in virtual world communities – including in deliberations over behavioral/social norms and rules of thumb.
11. Live our values and follow IBM’s Business Conduct Guidelines. As a general rule, your private life is your own. You must, however, be sensitive to avoid activities in a virtual world that reflect negatively on IBM. Therefore, you must follow and be guided by IBM’s values and Business Conduct Guidelines in virtual worlds just as in the physical world, including by complying with the Agreement Regarding Confidentiality and Intellectual Property that you signed when you became an IBM employee. It is obviously most important to do so whenever you identify yourself as an IBMer and engage in any discussions or activities that relate to IBM or its business, or use any of IBM’s communications systems or other assets to participate in a virtual world.

Coke's Virtual World Ad Strategy


Carol Kruse, Chief or Coke Brands Global talks about taking its THERE.COM presence to new languages.

P: Coke recently revamped its virtual world, swapping out the old Coke Studios on its proprietary site for a new one, CC Metro, within There.com. Why?
K: We were a pioneer brand in virtual reality. [Coke Studios] was a very successful marketing platform and we learned a lot from it. We're now reinvesting to come out with the next great thing in virtual environments. We already have virtual worlds in South Korea, Spain and Mexico. Partnering with There.com could eventually produce versions tailored for Japan, Germany or other global markets.
P: Have large destination Web sites for brands become a thing of the past, at least for marketing or promotion?
K: I've come to the conclusion that in some cases it may be better to take our message to where our consumers are already spending their time. Those monolithic Web sites are expensive to build and maintain, and for some brands they just don't make sense.
P: How does that work in regard to a specific brand?
K: Take Sprite. We have the Sprite.com Web site. We have the Sprite Yard, which is a mobile program. Sprite is part of MyCokeRewards.com. And we have a Facebook page with an app, Sprite Sips. It doesn't matter whether the experience happens on the Sprite Web site, on Facebook or on a cell phone.
P: What are some of the global developments you're thinking about in your new position?
K: I'm especially taken with the Asian markets because they pose interesting questions. For example, in Japan we build great, engaging Web sites and find that 70% of our page views come over mobile phones. Meanwhile, in China we have a market where hundreds of millions of people have never tasted a Coke. So one of our marketing aims in China is trial — inviting people to try a Coke via a message, coupon or reward on their mobile phones. The interview here; http://promomagazine.com/interactivemarketing/cokes_kruse_control_coca_cola_interactive_0201/

PaySafeCard Nabs Cluck&Buy European MD


WOW! David Hunter joins Paysafecard (a great service expanding like crazy! www.paysafecard.com) as UK CEO. See related blog below... Interestingly, like C&B, Paysafecard is German owned and managed.

10 Reasons Free To Play Growth May Be Slow


COMPELLING stuff BUT DEAD WRONG! I could refute this point by point but why bother???

1. Virtual Property “Ownership” - The term ‘virtual’ may not have a strict legal interpretation, but if anything it means that the thing being described is NOT whatever comes after the word ‘virtual. - Ginsu Yoong, Second Life’s legal counsel, Linden v Bragg Despite virtual property’s ill-defined legal status, developers have had no qualms about starting byzantine in-game economies driven by the exchange of real money for virtual land, clothing, furniture and much more. Some developers, like GoPets CEO Eric Bethke, have attempted to get out in front of the virtual property legal issue by defining their own “Avatar Bill of Rights.” But most of us have not been as proactive and instead seem content to leave it up to the courts to decide how to define and deal with our users’ virtual property. As precedents regarding virtual ownership are set, the growth of some F2P products may be curtailed as the legal burden of dispensing virtual property increases.

2. Slow Broadband - On the issue of net speed, there remains a huge disparity between North America’s broadband ISPs and Korea’s military-grade internet provision. The net effect is that free to play games like Maple Story can take 1-3 hours or more to download in North America, while Korea’s 45mbps network cuts the same download to a paltry 10 minutes or less. It’s fair to say that we won’t soon be getting such high download speeds - but the North American market might have already found a way around the issue. With the launch of streaming game services like InstantAction and the proliferation of Flash as a full-blown development platform, downloading entire game clients become less and less the norm.

3. Poor Advertising Strategies - Some products in the F2P sector have come to rely heavily on advertiser support in order to keep their offerings free for the majority of players. A recent OMMA article that claims advertisers are taking the wrong approach when handling virtual worlds. And as the populations of virtual worlds appear to be prematurely plateauing, advertisers may be starting to sweat. But there is hope if advertisers change their strategies to suit the unique challenges virtual worlds present. As Worlds In Motion put it: …themed events, branded avatar clothing, and representative personality appearances are finding success and opportunity in worlds like There, Habbo and vSide.

4. MMO Overload - From Maple Story to Silkroad Online, there is no shortage of MMOs in the free to play space. In the same vein, there is an abundance of virtual worlds such as Second Life or Kaneva. It seems as though the vast majority of new free to play game since 2005 have been virtual worlds or MMOs. Perhaps it’s the very reason that these games have proliferated in the free to play market; MMOs and virtual worlds are inherently more inclusive than an FPS. Still, it would be a shame to see the free to play space flounder due to constant reiteration of the same genres and themes, turning away players seeking a different experience. Of course, games like Kwari are looking to change that, but it’s too early to tell just how well they will catch on.

5. Rising Development Costs - With more prominent developers announcing plans to take advantage of the free to play model, the days of games fueled by ramen noodles and nights in the basement could, once again, be history. EA’s upcoming Battlefield Heroes is the latest big budget free to play game, signaling that the big publishers aren’t content to sit back and let Far East imports eat their lunch. If the consumer makes the jump from 2D to more advanced 3D graphics, it could mean the end of the visually rudimentary worlds and Flash-based free to play games as market leaders, making way for the mainstream big budget games.

6. Second Life Slowdown - Second Life is the Apple Newton of virtual worlds. It was here first, but isn’t the best representation of the potential of virtual worlds. However, it still occupies a place in investors’ minds - akin to a coal mine canary, warning of impending danger. And while investors took note as Second Life soared to the top, they’re noticing its decline as well (active user hours were down 5% in November). There is concern among some that Second Life’s time might be up, and that’s not a good sign for potential investors in the free to play space.

7. Watered Down AdverWorlds - With their lower barrier to entry and great potential to spin money, an slew of less innovative products are beginning to hit the market. Hardest to ignore are adverworlds like Build-A-Bear, Rush Zone, BeBratz, BarbieGirls and their ilk - marketing spend thinly disguised as entertainment. The consumer’s willingness to pay money for virtual items in a world where their avatar is little more than a target for advertising will be tested by products like these.

8. Unsanctioned Secondary Markets - When there’s the issue of gold farming. With websites like IGE operating independently of game developers and establishing secondary markets for game currency and items, it’s not just traditional MMOs that are being subjected to this kind of treatment anymore. What’s worse, while gold farming might fuddle with World of Warcraft’s player-driven economy, some developers believe a secondary market allows players to skip the middleman altogether - a potentially fatal issue for free to play games who survive on item-based revenue streams. The recent launch of publisher-sanctioned Live Gamer is a step in the right direction for devs and pubs looking to reclaim lost revenue.

9. Limited Payment Methods - We have hanging on our wall a user who sent a $5 bill in a $15 fedEx package. - Craig Sherman, Gaia Online While other territories enjoy a plethora of tailored-to-the-consumer payment methods, North America has embraced relatively few. SMS would surely be nearly as popular a payment method here as it is in Europe if our carrier surcharges weren’t in the range of 50% a transaction. Landlines - an expensive but very secure payment option in China - might also be popular with some services. GoPets has 90 different payment systems worldwide, catering excellently to foreign payment preferences. Nonetheless, consumers still have trouble getting money into their favorite North American games.

10. Kids Only Games - The current offering of free to play games caters nearly exclusively to the under-25 set. An NPD study released last year showed that while 91% of online gaming among kids aged 2-17 is free to play, by the time those kids graduated high school, the boys had moved to sixty-dollar console games and the girls dropped out of gaming entirely. In the core gaming arena, Nintendo has found a way to appeal to young and old alike. Free to play’s appeal among adults relies on the proliferation of products that do a Nintendo-quality job of bridging the age gap or target older demographics only. http://freetoplay.biz/2008/02/01/top-10-free-to-play-growth-killers/