Saturday, February 23, 2008

NY Times Covers Stardoll

“This is a game that girls have played for centuries: it’s about standing in front of the mirror and dreaming about being a princess, a rock star or the cool girl next door.” Mattias Miksche is on the phone from Sweden, making a fair point. But like a lot of things that have been done for centuries, identity play is a little different now, and Miksche’s company, Stardoll, is a good example of a 21st-century version. The Stockholm company’s product is, for instance, digital and transnational. Its variations on paper dolls and dress-up games help attract 7.8 million unique visitors a month to a Web site that is published in 15 languages and combines elements of a social network and a virtual world. The majority of visitors are girls — average age 13.8 — who spend between two and two and a half hours a month there. Another contemporary difference is that Stardoll is backed by venture capital and is battling a range of competitors all seeking to capture, and monetize, the attention of young fans. These range from Cartoon Doll Emporium to Club Penguin, Webkinz to Habbo.
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/17/magazine/17wwln-consumed-t.html?_r=1&ref=magazine&oref=slogin

Mblox & ClickandBuy "WorldWide SMS Project" Kaput!


Sources inform that this deal fell through. Indeed, a search of Mblox's corporate sites shows no sign of the partnership Click&Buy announced this cummer to;" It seems Mblox has washed their hands of Click&Buy's "WorldWide SMS Project". And nothing seems to have happened since the announcements further casting doubt on Click&Buy's mobile payment aspirations hyped with much fanfare by their CEO Norbert Stangl last year to anyone who would listen: http://clickandbuy.com/US/en/sa/inc/presse/pm/05393.html It is a shame really. Click&Buy had such promise and potential. But execution and deal closing is everything in the payment business. Developing ...

ClickandBuy Ceases Corporate Communications


No News From Click&Buy. A review of its corporate site shows no press releases or news notes since November 2007 and no hits via GOOGLE: http://clickandbuy.com/US/en/company/presse/spiegel.html This does not bode well for its payment customers and account holders. It seems Click&Buy has simply thrown in the towel. More coverage of Click&Buy to follow ...

Second Life Econonomy & Metrics- January (Premium Accounts Decline)


The latest Second Life metrics and statistics are out from Meta Linden this month, covering to the end of January 2008. Total signups increased by 535,227 (4.57%) compared to a growth of 529,224 (4.73%) in December. New-user retention to 90 days is still about 10% according to Linden Lab, having apparently remained more or less unchanged over the last 12 months. Total premium accounts declined by 1,123 in January compared to a gain of 624 accounts in December (0.67%). This eliminates the gains of November and December last year - basically, more premium accounts were lost during January than were gained in the prior two months, combined. The three most active regions by average time spent per active user in January were the Netherlands, Japan and Bermuda (basically the same list as December, though the Netherlands replaced Japan for the top spot in January). Overall, active users spent an average of 51.78 hours each in Second Life during the month of January, up from 49.17 in December. The Second Life map grew by 39.05 square kilometres (4.05%) in January compared to 24.55 square kilometres (2.6%) in December. The total at the end of January was 1,002.71 square kilometres of simulated space, of which 22.3% is Linden mainland and the remaining 819.69 square kilometres are non-Linden estates. The amount of resident owned mainland declined by 2.43 square kilometres in January.

Alternative Currencies in Second Life

A new company called Ukash is now offering an alternative to the Linden Dollar for those wishing to engage in economic transactions on Second Life. The company bears a strong resemblance to well known eCurrency providers like PayPal, except that Ukash does not have a strict reliance on credit card or bank transactions like other online money brokers. Cursory searches across the internet also show that UKash doesn’t have reputation problems (at least as of yet), like so many other PayPal alternatives. According to Miark Chirnside, Ukash CEO, the alternative currency is growing in usage across Europe because of its ability to convert from cash. Ukash terminals are now available in the Bulido Money Service outlets inside Second Life, but those UKash isn’t limiting itself to simply just Second Life transactions. Ukash has real world terminals too, located in newsagents, grocery stores, post offices, and gas stations in the UK, Ireland, Spain, Germany and The Netherlands. Like PayPal, Ukash makes their money by charging merchants a transaction fee. Their website bills the ability to spend your Ukash at several online outlets, phone companies, and online gambling outlets (which largely dominate the list of places to spend).

Click&Buy Hits Hard Times


Once a promising challenger to PayPal, sources say Click&Buy is in big trouble. Last fall they laid off 40+ employees at its HQ and Call Center ops, have suffered massive turnover at the executive level (see related blog post), has been unable to satisfy customer demands and once profitable are now bleeding cash. It seems PayPal is unbeatable in the EURO Zone with its main European rival is on its last legs. Developing ... see also Payment Guy - "Everyone can pay!" - http://paymentguy.blogspot.com/

Virtual Worlds & Facilitation

Rivers Run Red CEO Justin Boddington recently remarked that 60% of the queries they have received of late related to internal communication projects. Organisations cannot be something on the outside they are not already on the inside as many early entrants to Second Life have learned.

TwoFish Announces Micro-Transaction Engine


A new gaming startup called TwoFish has announced a product called TwoFish Elements that it claims is the “first turnkey solution for powering a dynamic and realistic in-game economy.” CEO Lee Crawford, who has worked on gaming infrastructure for the likes of Yahoo, Sega, Heat.net, and Shockwave.com, says that TwoFish is addressing the biggest opportunity the gaming industry has ever seen: the rapid emergence of casual, mass-market games. While casual games are becoming increasingly popular, they also draw people who don’t want to pay for games upfront. Publishers are therefore faced with the task of charging them for in-game virtual goods like swords, shields, cars and pets, as well as new levels and functionality. TwoFish intends to step in and relieve publishers of the burden of developing the requisite micro-transaction systems in-house. TwoFish Elements is a server-side, open source platform based on Java, MySQL, and Linux that provides three layers of service. The first is an accounting and currency management system that takes care of a game’s virtual currency and its relation to real currency. The second is a catalog of virtual items that can be bought within a particular game. And the third is an analytics tool that lets publishers track the goods being bought within their games. Crawford says that TwoFish Elements can be integrated into a wide range of internet-accessible game types, from lightweight HTML or Flash games to 500mb downloadable titles. While TwoFish itself is not a game publisher, it has been working with one for the past year to produce a proof of concept game called Edge Racers, an MMO for car customization and racing. The company is now soliciting other publishing partners who want to use its engine.

Evaluating Virtual Currencies

Zachary Scheidt of the China Stock Blog wrote an interesting article on how evaluating virtual currencies with respect to real ones creates a few interesting problems to solve. He takes the example of GA, a buzzing new Virtual world teeming with Chinese gamers, to make his point on whether evaluating virtual currencies is as simple as it looks. I like what he says here .. "what happens when the currency is virtual, such as in a role playing game with “virtual” goods and services and no physical “real world” transactions taking place. Do the laws of supply and demand still apply?" I believe they still do - only as long as there is value in “saving” the virtual currency in its indigenous shape, however. In other words, if there is a bank out there that pays people interest, no matter how small, for saving their virtual dollars (yemen or sprutzi or bucks or whatever u want to call it), I think there will be a residual value associated with the currency. The bank may, in turn, double as a marketplace for gamers to trade virtual goods and virtual currencies from one game to another for a ’small’ transaction fee. This will make it a viable revenue model for the bank to sustain on. Also, it can offer ‘virtual loans’ to gamers to be repaid over a fixed time span.

How To Make Real Money From Virtual Currencies

An August report from Parks Associates states that 34% of adult internet users play online games every week. That’s more than the percentage of adults who watch videos or use social networking sites. online gaming and virtual worlds are booming as both casual and hard-core gamers gravitate toward internet offerings. With them come virtual economies with goods and currencies that can be turned into real-world cash - which means opportunity for entrepreneurs. The trading, buying and selling of virtual currency from popular games like World of Warcraft and EverQuest has been a largely underground market - until now. Sparter built a platform where users can trade, buy and sell virtual currencies from online games and virtual worlds. Co-founders Dan Kelly and Boris Putanec officially launched the website in beta form last February and have already made waves in the online gaming community, with sales expected to exceed $250,000 for their first year. ‘We did a lot of research,’ says Kelly, 40. ‘People clearly saw value in buying and trading virtual goods. We thought there should be a viable long-term solution not only for gamers, but also for the industry.’ Sparter costs nothing for buyers; the company makes money by taking a commission from sellers on each completed transaction. Sparter supports currency trade for a variety of online games and handles international transactions as well. Gaming-related startups need to keep the international nature of the industry in mind when building their platforms. Entrepreneurs who are considering getting into different areas of online gaming have to be prepared to adjust to a rapidly changing marketplace.

Javien's New Payment Gateway


By Michael LoPresti - March 2008 Issue, Posted Feb 12, 2008 Javien, Inc. is a well-known provider of content commerce technologies, primarily because of its platform product, Javien Digital Payment Solutions (DPS). The technology is aimed primarily at new media companies, such as digital music sites, to deploy and manage subscriptions, pay-per-view, downloads, micropayments, and alternative billing. In late January, the company announced the release of its New Media Payment Gateway, a product that allows customers to directly process payments for their content. Prior to this announcement, Javien DPS users were obligated to work with third-party gateways for payment processing. The Javien New Media Payment Gateway represents an effort to close the gap between itself and the content commerce needs of its customers. Though Javien has only been in operation since 2001, CEO Leslie Poole sees it as one of the veterans in the industry. He believes that Javien possesses a sophisticated understanding of the complexities of buying and selling content in the new media industry. “In this industry, new business models are promulgated on the fly,” says Poole. “We have to be prepared to deal with a wide array of transactions, like offers bundling a content subscription with a free trial and coupons—or any number of other factors. The world of digital commerce is complex and dynamic and speed is of the essence.” Poole says that developing its own payment gateway was a natural extension of Javien’s business. “We’re taking the wealth of knowledge and technology that we’ve accumulated over the past six years and wrapping it around a credit card payment. We were spurred largely through customer feedback. Until now, companies that used Javien DPS had our technology running everything, but they had separate payment relations. They’d come to us and ask, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have both in one package?’” Customers will have the option of signing up for the New Media Payment Gateway through Javien DPS’s merchant administration portal. The Gateway will process transactions through Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, Diner’s Club, debit cards, and electronic check payments. It is equipped to accept, process, and settle multiple international currencies (including the British pound, the euro, and the Canadian dollar), eliminating exchange fees for consumers. Javien clocks the gateway’s authorization and purchase response time at less than 3 seconds.

ClickandBuy Losing Key People

Payments Professionals Management Changes - by Payments News Editor "David Hunter, the former European MD of ClickandBuy, has joined paysafecard as UK CEO."

Paysafecard appoints David Hunter CEO - David Hunter is the new CEO of paysafecard.com Ltd. Appointed 1st February 2008, David Hunter brings a wealth of knowledge and experience from the global world of ePayments, eMoney and electronic commerce. The former European Managing Director at ClickandBuy oversaw that company's transformation from a post-pay micropayments service to a world class online wallet. Prior to that, David managed various businesses at BT, including its ePayments division and its business process outsourcing venture - BT Accurate. David is widely recognised as an eMoney industry leader world wide. Hunter joins at a time of rapid expansion. This month paysafecard are proud to announce that another 3 major European markets are going in Live. The continual growth of the company has seen expansion into Switzerland, Netherlands and Belgium this month alone and with David now on board, this growth is set to continue. "I'm delighted to be joining Europe's most successful web cash service at this exciting time. I see huge potential to make paysafecard one of the UK's favourite ways to pay online. We already give millions of people across Europe the freedom and security to pay online with cash, and personally I think many more people would like to do this - just as they can off-line. ." David Hunter, CEO UK, paysafecard. "It is our pleasure to welcome David to paysafecard. His experience speaks for itself and we are proud to introduce him as CEO for the UK market. With his vast industry knowledge we are confident he will successfully oversee and lead future projects for paysafecard," Michael Mueller, CEO paysafecard group.

Social Lending & Paypal To Boom

Gartner has a report suggesting that financial institutions need to react to non-bank competitors like Paypal and Zopa or risk losing control of the financial relationship. They say that 10% of lending will be through social-lending platforms by 2010 and Paypal and similar services will take 10% of banks’ revenues: "By 2010, social-banking platforms will have captured 10% of the available market for retail lending and financial planning.” Yeah, but ING which was strutting around with its Second Life presence during a Financial News banking conference in London in late spring, has just announced it is pulling out of the avatar world. “By 2010, 10 percent of banks’ revenue from retail payments will be supported by competitors such as PayPal.” This is real. I was talking about PayPal with a UK banking expert over lunch in London today and he says that small businesses are finding PayPal cheaper and easier to use than getting a credit card account. But he also said that PayPal, as it grows, will face some of the usual enterprise-resilience and security issues. By 2010, U.S. banks will start shutting down their full-service mobile-banking channels.”by Piers Fawkes in End Of In-Between, Finance & Money

Virtual World Credit Card


Interview with JP Mougin and Tyra Fierrens, co-founders of First Meta and Meta Card, the first in-world Credit Card."They came up with the underlying idea behind First Meta a few years ago - to provide financial services for the then-emerging phenomena of virtual economies at the end of 2006 when they decided to focus their efforts on Second Life. Back when the idea was forming, MMOG worlds were the general focus, but nothing was viable for what the original plan was, which was to provide a full suite of real financial services for virtual economies. In late 2006, they arranged a meeting with Cory Linden through a mutual friend, Thor Alexander, and talked about Second Life when Cory was able to come to Singapore. During that conversation, they realized that SL was the perfect environment for them to start in. They prepared for entry by setting up a real life company, hiring a management and technical team, rewrote their business plan, raised their first round of funding from investors, built their system and island and launched their first products at the end of July 2007. Those products are Meta Card and Meta Savings. Meta Card is an in-world credit card, accepted at various merchants. Instead of paying with your Linden balance, a resident can pay with an attached card which bills them just as a credit card does. The advantage would be the same as charging an item in real life, one main payment per month instead of many tiny payments. Customer and Merchant reception are meeting their expectations and Meta Card applications are increasing at a higher rate. Meta Savings as a banking entity still exists. After the Lindens reviewed First Meta’s business plan, instead of offering interest in Lindens, there are reward points for the average daily balance kept on account at Meta Savings. These reward points are awarded now instead of interest. Formerly, the interest was generated from the spread between their savings account interest and the interest they charge on the Meta Card.Future financial product offerings for First Meta involve commercial credit, equity financing, M&A advisory, and capital markets products. While virtual corporate entities suffer the same amount of risk as a virtual bank, those risks are known. Currently, First Meta has several risk management systems in place now which mirror RL risk management practices and they are developing their own risk management systems designed specifically for virtual economies using AI techniques. In closing, JP Mougin had this to say: "Our goal is to be the leading provider of financial services for virtual economies. We are a real company with 15 full-time staff and management team and an additional 10 solely in SL. We are well-funded by private investors. We will take whatever licensing or regulatory steps are necessary to continue to offer credible financial services in the virtual world. Our company registration documents and financial reporting are made publicly available in Singapore as First Meta Pte. Ltd. We have not experienced any runs on our savings accounts. Our Meta Card, which is our flagship product, is not affected by the new policy. Metacard only creates risk for us, not for our card holders or merchants. I think the net result of this new policy will be a strengthening of the virtual economy as it shakes out weaker or less credible players which will benefit all who participate in the virtual economy. We believe that a strong and credible financial services sector is one of the keys to the continued growth of the virtual economy. We want to provide some of that strength and credibility."

Has Vollee Officcially Partnered With Linden Lab?

"Vollee, a relative newcomer to the field of wireless games, has a disruptive plan to leapfrog anything else established mobile gamemakers are currently working on. With streaming technology, any PC or console title can be played on a mobile phone, and we've already seen how the service handles a massively multiplayer online PC game: Second Life. Vollee's big idea is reliant on their relationship with publishers. Linden Lab, which produces Second Life, and Activision, which has merged with World of WarCraft developer and publisher Blizzard, have both already announced partnerships with Vollee. Since Second Life proves that PC MMOs can be streamed to mobile phones, the idea of 10 million World of WarCraft users accessing their accounts and controlling their characters remotely starts to seem much more likely...
The results are stunning. A PC-perfect version of Second Life runs on a phone that could barely handle some of the most elemental mobile games. Vollee also optimizes the controls and user interface for phones, so in Second Life's case, instead of having pop-up windows for chatting or maps, a tabulated system lets you switch between each screen. It may not have keyboard-and-mouse support, but Vollee tries to make the keypad perform most of the same functions, so moving and flying around in Second Life felt quite natural and looked great to us. With more Vollee partners expected to be announced soon and an open Second Life mobile beta starting in May (sign up at http://vollee.com/secondlife), now is definitely the time to get on board with a 3G phone to catch this potentially massive wave of innovation."

Residents Say Second Life's DAZZLE "Deeply Disappointing"

From SLOG: User experience design at Linden Lab - "Tonight I read about a new First Look Viewer for Second Life, Dazzle, downloaded it and played around with it a bit. (Picture to the right by Torley Linden.) First Look clients are not Market Research. All of the features, Linden Lab releases with First Look Viewers so far, have been incorporated into the main version later. Scary ... read on! I was very much excited to test this out, as this new version was announced with words like: "We’re pleased to announce First Look: Dazzle, a “refresh” for the Second Life viewer’s appearance which makes the UI (User Interface) more accessible and pleasing." It is my strong belief, that the shortcomings of the current user interface of Second Life are one of the major issues leading to the extremely low user retention especially in the first 30 - 90 minutes. Learning Second Life is NOT easy for the average internet user. ANY improvement of the client's usability would be extremely welcome to me. Alas ... after playing around with Dazzle for 30 minutes I can only say: deeply disappointing! What has happened is basically nothing more than the application of a new skin and color scheme. Cosmetic changes. Pure facelifting. Some icons have been changed. The style of windows, buttons and other interface elements is now basically that of a "polished Windows NT/XP" and everything has been made a little brighter. Nothing else was changed in a substantial way! The illogical grouping of commands into menus with arcane or misleading names is still the same. Some important commands are still well hidden, rarely needed ones appear in the menu top levels. I wonder, how one can say, that any of these changes improved usability or accessibility at all (some texts are more readable maybe; stronger contrasts). This leads me again, to question the way this company, Linden Lab, is doing user experience design. I honestly wonder
* Have the interim versions been tested with real users (especially newbies) in a controlled environment?
* Was there any comparative testing (old and new versions with different groups)?
* What were the goals of this project?
* Which measurable performance indicators have been defined to check, if (which) goals have been achieved?
To be honest, I very much doubt that anything like this happened. This looks like a bunch of enthusiastic engineers got together and attacked some weaknesses of the current viewer/client - guided by their own taste or suggestions in publicly available literature and eager to demonstrate the relatively new feature of "XML-based customizability" introduced to the SL viewer last year. Disappointing. Deeply disappointing.http://secondslog.blogspot.com/2008/02/user-experience-design-at-linden-lab.html

Linden Labs introduce new Second Life interface


Linden Labs are releasing a new First Look client branch by the name of Dazzle. Featuring an improved user interface it doesn’t look like anything more than a cosmetic change at this stage, not that a cosmetic change is at all unwelcome. However Linden Labs appear to be suggesting this viewer branch will also tidy up a few things under the hood in order to make future customization much easier. If you already use the first look Windlight viewer then you’ll have to choose between that or Dazzle, they are separate client branches.

Friday, February 22, 2008

realXtend - Coming Feb 29th "Teleports Between realXtend and Secondlife"

Realxtend Features Coming on the 29th of February:

Free-form non-humanoid avatars
Global avatar mesh, skeleton, textures, attachments and animations
Single sign-on to multiple worlds for teleporting
Avatar generator
Avatar attachment tool to help set 3D meshes to different bones
Unlimited amount of attachments per bone
Teleports between realXtend and Secondlife
Avatar storage to move avatar appearance between realXtend grids/worlds
Mesh tool to scale and set pivot of 3d models
Server launcher and configuration application
Home automation example using X10 technology
Bot with Python scripting
Media library for world builders
Server status window

Virtual Worlds And The Enterprise (Again!)

From Metaverse Journal February 17, 2008 - "I’ve mentioned next week’s Enterprise 2.0 forum in Sydney previously. At Stanford University in the US, an event called MetaverseU is well underway and in recent hours a session was completed on the role of virtual worlds and work. It’s a timely coincidence of events. This excellent report is worth a read but I thought I’d highlight some of the key points from that information: “The opportunity for these worlds to be entertaining pales in their opportunity for work,” said Reeves. “If we could figure out how to entertain a couple thousand call center employees and keep them in a virtual world while they were working and they stayed around for three months longer at their jobs, I think we’d have a multi-million dollar business on our hands.” This is a key component that most businesses fail to grasp with virtual worlds and enterprise: it’s one of the likely ways in which productivity can be enhanced whilst ensuring some degree of entertainment. I doubt anyone would argue the reason for widespread use of the internet for non-work purposes on work time is anything other than boredom and a time-constrained lifestyle. Imagine a call centre employee being able to interact with a customer in a virtual world context, demonstrating the product they’re supporting or selling. “Something the industry needs to understand is to put yourself in your customers shoes,” he explained. “They have a lot of risk in taking this technology on. They might get a lot of benefit, but there’s the risk that this technology isn’t going to be there tomorrow. We need to, as an industry and as customers, put a lot of work together to make this more of an affirming cycle.”
There’s no doubt that the majority of customers don’t see virtual worlds as an obvious business route, but as the opportunities that route offers combines with easier access and improved usability, the business equation becomes a lot more attractive. The immediate use case for virtual worlds in the enterprise, said Steiger, isn’t dealing with his clients and partners. 70% of his business is with people he’s never met. The difference is in an employee-to-employee relationship. A hosted, behind-the-firewall solution could make that easier. And that’s where the big success stories like IBM have demonstrated their key wins and why Australian companies like Westpac have made the investment. “You can’t understand the primitive engagement that comes from puppeteering a cartoon character that looks kind of like us,” said Reeves. “When you look at the physiological response when an avatar gets touched, there’s a complementary reaction in the user. Brining those responses in for an ROI presentation is tough, but those responses that we see in the lab give me confidence that the bandwidth for communication is a value add for the engagement.”
Business is rightly skeptical about anything proposed for core operations that can’t demonstrate ROI - but the intrinsic nature of human interactions and the power virtual worlds bring to that can’t be underestimated. And the key point from the presentation for me: "The scary thing for executives, he says, is that guild leader gamers could be reporting to stockholders. “IBM just did such a survey [looking for those gamers in management] and found 1000s,” said Reeves. As the gamer generation is growing up and leading the workforce, game mechanics become much more appealing than spreadsheets for getting work done. "To do that is not going to be quick in the enterprise,” said Reeves. “One strategy we’re looking at is to look at the recipe for why these worlds are engaging or why games are engaging and see what you can extract. Can you take the economies from the virtual environment? They’re fun and we know they light up the same neurological regions in the lab as real money does. They leave behind self-representation and 3D environments, but they’re worth looking at.” It’s fair to say that developments in virtual worlds are something that enterprise needs to be at least aware of. Ideally they’ll have the resources to dip their toe in the water or even jump right in. The only option not on the table from an enterprise viewpoint is denial.

Torley Linden is a God!


These are useful. Even the basic ones tend to drop a new nugget of information.. http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Video_Tutorials

Sony Disses Second Life - Home is "best-looking world" .."we don't appeal to geeks"


The creative director of Sony's Home project has told GamesIndustry.biz in an exclusive interview to be published in full next week that he believes the PlayStation 3 virtual world platform is the "best-looking" and most "user-friendly" multiplayer experience he's seen so far. Talking on a recent trip to Monaco for the Imagina conference, Ron Festejo explained his feeling that other virtual worlds, such as Second Life, were garish, while other online experiences were simply too hardcore for most people. "From my point of view, looking at Second Life - because it has been mentioned a lot in the same paragraph as Home, and people make that comparison - I'm amazed at how many people go on there," he said. He went on to discuss the importance of user-interfaces, detailed the issues he'd had interacting with others in Second Life, and also referenced other online titles that don't make it easy for inexperienced players to get involved with them" ... "Personally, looking at other models, a lot of them are too hardcore, a lot of them are garish in the way they look. I think what we've done with Home is have the best-looking multiplayer world - and actually the most user-friendly that I've seen as well. "We don't have anything in there that's appealing to that kind of geeky audience that you might find in Second Life." And Venables, who's worked on the Home project since its first concept on the PlayStation 2, agreed that it's important for Sony's virtual world experience to keep a high "quality bar", but pointed out that the Second Life creators, Linden Lab, had a more difficult proposition in terms of PC compatibility. "Essentially, with the Second Life example - and partly the disparity of the graphics, because you have to cater for the lowest-end PC whereas on the PlayStation 3 it's a level playing-field - with something so organic as Home, with features being added, it's difficult to set that benchmark of how many polygons to throw around, and how many to save for future things that we may or may not want to do," he said. "I think the PS3 platform has given us an advantage in terms of keeping a polished look, and it not to look like Second Life. I don't want to dis Second Life, obviously they've been successful and they have to cater for people with old Pentium IIs and whatever, so I can understand why it looks the way it does. "So it's not to criticise them, it's just that as a PlayStation 3 online space it was very important that there is a quality bar that we want to hit." PlayStation Home is the forthcoming multiplayer online environment that will serve as an introduction to new content as well as a space for users to network and socialise. It will be introduced to more PlayStation 3 users over time as a free download, although no specific date has yet been announced for the end of the current beta phase, which has so far led to some positive changes.

Why Millions of Us Doesn't Pactice What They Preach


Reuben Steiger CEO of Millions of Us; ""There's an old saying that if work was fun the rich would keep it for themselves," said Reuben Steiger, CEO of Millions of Us, an agency that builds advertising presences for big companies in virtual worlds like Second Life. "We need to find ways to make this kind of work less oppressive -- make it fun." ... Virtual worlds already are being used for collaboration by small businesses, Steiger said. The advantage to that kind of collaboration, from an enterprise perspective, is that it's cheap, Steiger said. The disadvantages: It's a hosted solution -- you can't bring Second Life in-house behind a firewall, at least not yet, although Linden Lab is talking about developing a hosted solution and open-sourcing its server software. Ironically, Steiger's company, Millions of Us, isn't a distributed organization. All but four of the company's 38 employees work in the company's Sausalito, Ca., headquarters. They found that remote workers were more likely to be "unhappy" and "prone to meltdowns," Steiger said. NO, they just want to be closer to you Reuben!

CISCO's Renaud on Working Virtually

From Information Week; "Another problem that virtual worlds can help solve: Isolation of remote workers. Renaud works in an Iowa home office for a company based in San Jose, Calif. He said that virtual worlds can replace the hallway encounters and water-cooler conversations where most work in a company gets done. "You can bump into people serendipitously in a virtual world," Renaud said. Renaud said he is baffled why companies are leaving Second Life. "I get a chance to talk to a trade show's worth of people for a tenth of the cost of a trade show, all the time," he said. "Second Life is for any company that has customers." Renaud added that he frequently has random encounters in Second Life with Cisco customers. "In 12 years, I've never had a random encounter with a customer in the Cisco parking lot," he said. (We wrote about Cisco's Second Life initiatives in April.) You can't have those kinds of encounters with videoconferencing or telepresence, Renaud said. "I've done those Hollywood Squares or Brady Bunch videoconferences, where everyone is three pixels by three pixels. They're useless. At that point, give me an avatar." Cisco sells videoconferencing and telepresence equipment, and views virtual worlds as complementary.

What is Moveable Life?

From 3Di; "MovableLife, is a tool which allows for a seamless connection between Second Life and the webbrowser. MovableLife will let Second Life users log in to Second Life using only a standard web browser. MovableLife features maps, chat, IM, search, teleport, friend and group management, and other exciting features. Future plans include development of a mobile client for Second Life, and connection to other virtual worlds, as well as other exciting new innovations."

"Blending the Lines Between Virtual Worlds and the Web" - 3Di, Inc. has announced the alpha release of MovableLife, a tool which allows for a seamless connection between Second Life and the webbrowser.MovableLife will let Second Life users log in to Second Life using only a standard web browser. MovableLife features maps, chat, IM, search, teleport, friend and group management, and other exciting features. Future plans include development of a mobile client for Second Life, and connection to other virtual worlds, as well as other exciting new innovations.

3Di, Inc., Uses OpenSim to Build 3D World Platform (Jin-sei) & Adds Voice.


3Di, Inc. Creates Voice Communication Function for Its Virtual World Application ''Jin-sei'' TOKYO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The ngi group (CEO: Satoshi Koike) (TOKYO:2497) (http://www.ngigroup.com) is proud to announce that our fully owned subsidiary, 3Di, Inc. (Tokyo, CEO Tsuyoshi Ogawa) (http://3di.jp/index_en.html), has developed a prototype voice communication function which uses VoIP and SIP technologies for its virtual world platform “Jin-sei.” This is the first voice communication function developed to use these technologies and based on OpenSim for a virtual world application. As part of our business expansion strategy in the Internet realm, 3Di has been successful in establishing its brand amongst and cultivating demand from numerous corporate and group users for “Jin-sei,” which is the first virtual world application based on OpenSim technology. Furthermore 3Di has also been successful in OEM applications of various related B to B solutions. 3Di maintains close contact with the open source community, and takes steps to expand the functions of its virtual world application to satisfy the needs of its customers and to expand the range of its solutions packages. The realization of commercial applications for the voice communication function of our virtual world platform is an integral part of 3Di’s business strategy. The development of this voice communication function based on OpenSim, VoIP and SIP technologies not only marks the first time a communication function has been developed for the open source community in the virtual world platform, but it represents the beginning of 3Di’s efforts to expand into other related business areas including IP Centrex, Mobile Centrex, and other technologies designed to increase connectivity to various devices and to realize practical applications for voice communication services functions. Furthermore 3Di will continue to develop and provide high value added functions and solutions packages for “Jin-sei.” At the same time all of the companies in the ngi group will endeavor to raise the level of our customer satisfaction by improving our service levels. Major corporations in the United States are keeping a close watch on the developments of the open source community. Because we expect the applications of “multiverse” to grow, we will continue to focus upon development of three dimensional Internet applications as part of our overall business strategy. Also 3Di will continue its efforts to maintain its position as a leader in the global open source community and in the realm of virtual world applications, to increase its profitability, and to contribute to the standardization of various technologies used in three dimensional Internet applications. 3Di, Inc., in cooperation with partners in the open source community, has developed an original virtual world platform named Jin-sei. This major open source community collaboration for virtual world systems is considered the first of its kind in the world, and a major step forward for open systems and open standards for virtual world systems. The Jin-sei platform is the product of a close collaboration with the developers of the OpenMV project, while utilizing open source software from Linden Lab®,the developer of the highly popular Second Life® platform. Jin-sei is initially offered by 3Di, Inc. as a customizable turnkey solution, targeted towards companies and learning institutions that wish to offer their own private virtual world systems. Given the open nature of Jin-sei, and the wide and diverse needs of many private institutions, 3Di, Inc. will be able to deliver a precise solution to the specific needs of each individual client. A strong focus for 3Di, Inc. will be to make sure that Jin-sei provides a world that recognizes and responds to aspects important to unique Japanese sensitivities. We are pleased to announce our first major partner, mixi, the largest social networking service in Japan. The Jin-sei platform was designed from the beginning as an open system, and was constructed using the latest in technologies from the global open source community, including client viewer source code from Linden Lab. This means that Jin-sei is highly flexible, interchangeable, and compatible with existing Internet and Virtual World systems. 3Di, Inc. will continue such collaborations on open systems as it develops sister applications for various kinds of mobile devices. 3Di, Inc. will continue to strive on improving the usability and functionality of Jin-sei through implementation of its own technology. The success of Jin-sei heralds the growth of the Japanese virtual world ecosystem, and its entrance onto the world stage, with a vision of metaverse worlds in which numerous partners and institutions co-exist. 3Di, Inc., as a global leader within the open source community, will continue contributing to virtual world systems development through openness and standardization.

IBM Launches 3-D Data Center in OpenSim

IBM announced today that it had built a 3D data center application in OpenSim. Aimed at IT professionals, the application should let them monitor data centers more effectively over long distances. IBM presented the idea of a 3D data center in Second Life last year but the new OpenSim application should allow more security with privately hosted environments. "Viewing information about your data center in 2-D text -- even in real time -- only tells a data center manager part of the story, because our brains are wired for sight and sound," IBM Researcher Michael Osias, who architected the 3-D data center service, said in a statement. "By actually seeing the operations of your data center in 3-D, even down to flames showing hotspots and visualizations of the utilization of servers allows for a clearer understanding of the enterprise resources, better informed decision-making and a higher level of interaction and collaboration." Last year IBM looked at this idea in Second Life before moving the project to OpenSim: Implenia, a Swiss building services and real estate firm with experience in real-world applications of Second Life, counts a data center among its eight pilot sites in evaluating use of the virtual world to augment the real. They were all running with different tools, though, which complicated work instead of simplifying it. Then IBM integrated its virtual world middleware Holographic Enterprise Interface (HEI) Implenia's Building automation interface (VWCI). "Until working with IBM we only knew the state of our data center from the information we got through the building automation system and our virtual worlds communications interface," said Oliver Goh, Implenia IT Specialist. "We didn't know the state of the server and information that was readily available to us until it was made more accessible via the 3-D visualizations that IBM built for us. We think that by combining this information with the information we had from the building automation side we can, from a building management standpoint, control the data much better and take action to be more efficient." The companies hope that the collaborative, multi-user nature of the environment will also make data center management more efficient, allowing multiple users to work together and analyze usage in real-time.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Openlife Is A Promising New Alternative to Second Life.


Here is an interview with its founder, Sakai Openlife (RL: Steve Sima) based in Brisbane via Openlife’s Live Chat for a discussion on everything Openlife.
Lowell: Sakai - Openlife came out of the blue for me but it’s obviously been a labour of love for you - can you give a potted history of how Openlife came to be?
Sakai: Sure, we kicked things off approximately four months ago and clearly had to do a lot of work to understand a workable solid method to approach it. Number one has always been and will be the Users. So with this in mind it has been quite a colourful ride trying to foster the community together and maintain the best user experience we can with the code available.
Lowell: what made you start this huge undertaking?
Sakai: Well, I’ve had a passion for 3D interactive platforms for ages and my background is IT infrastructure. So to provide a solid platform being feature rich and extensive for different uses is most certainly up my alley. After following the OpenSimulator project for a while I took the decision to make the plunge and start treading the water with the OpenSim Application Platform - Second Life had some big drawbacks for me.
Lowell: I’m assuming you’ve used Second Life extensively prior to this project? What was it about Second Life in particular that you wanted to improve on?
Sakai: Some towards content creation and development of content and some towards the user experience. Second Life itself I see has been hugely popular with its social interaction and it’s a great environment to see this in action. They have been pioneers in this area for years but to have an open source platform where as a company you could develop very feature rich immersive environments and provide them to users is something that Second Life falls short on in my opinion, but the potential for this to happen with the Openlife Grid & OpenSimulator Codebase is very much a possibility.
Lowell: What areas do you specifically see Openlife having advantages in?
Sakai: One thing we are keen to see in the near future is the ability to content create and develop a region on your local environment ie. home PC or workplace network then export that entirely to a published region existing in the Openlife Grid.
Lowell: So, fully offline region-wide content creation?
Sakai: Correct, exciting isn’t it. This can bring in the quality of in-world environments to a whole new level.
Lowell: I can see that would get a lot of people excited - is that option close?
Sakai: Yes it is close, currently we can take the terrain and prims created. Clearly there are other things to bring over such as textures, scripts etc.
Lowell: So for the sake of the potential new user - is Openlife in beta at present or a fully functioning option?
Sakai: No it is not a fully functioning option at the moment. We work closely with, and implement the Opensimulator source code which in itself is only recently version 0.5. However, community interaction and involvement in the Openlife Grid is important as the code moves forward.
Lowell: So is there a roadmap and/or timeline for OpenSimulator and subsequently a fully functional Openlife?
Sakai: With the source code being a community project ‘exact’ timelines can be difficult to adhere to. However, the OpenlifeGrid is at the tip of releasing the Foundation Resident Event, enabling Openlife users to have their own region in-world. The other side of this is that it will help full-time developers to work on the code on a professional level. Naturally, this work is in conjunction with the OpenSimulator effort and is released back to the community.
Lowell: So in regard to Openlife specifically - how many are involved in its development?
Sakai: We currently have two people including myself, but receive invaluable contributions from the Openlife community, making the Openlife Grid very much a community effort.
Lowell: And can you tell me a little about yourself? You’re based in Brisbane?
Sakai: Yes, sunny (but raining a lot lately) Brisvegas. I have a strong history of IT, and a passion for pioneering new technologies.
LLowell: Do you run your own business or are you from the academic side of the IT fence?
Sakai: I do run my own company. But it should be mentioned in regard to the Openlife Grid that there is some university involvement and it’s very much welcomed.
Lowell: Are you able to discuss which universities are involved?
Sakai: Hmm, good Question. I think it may be best that we give them the opportunity to express any involvement through the site, and their own sites.
Lowell: On interoperability - Linden Lab’s release of the SL code has helped get things where they are today but do you have any ongoing communication with Linden Lab in regard to your work?
Sakai: Personally I have only recently had some conversations with Linden Labs at a Finland event in relation to the Openlife Grid. But we are not ‘Anti-Linden’
Lowell: And were they receptive to the work you’re doing?
Sakai: Yes, I believe Linden labs has been fairly receptive of the Openlife Grid and also the OpenSimulator Project. There are even Lindens in the Openlife Grid as
users.
Lowell: So what are your plans over the coming weeks? I’m assuming more sleep isn’t part of it.
Sakai: Wow, sleep I almost forgot that thing. Since we started we have steadily grown to around 6000 users as at a week ago. I’ve been working on this new website which is still being implemented (but online) with the aim to foster and grow the community. But in the weekend past we saw the number of users jump to (as of a few hours ago) 10,000 users.
Lowell: So as of now, what can a new user do in Openlife?
Sakai: Hmm… really it’s a very free environment limited only by the features of the current code level. But there are the natural ones similar to Second Life -meeting new people, making friends, getting involved with Openlife Communities. Building your own creations, and as of tommorrow owning your own regions.
Lowell: So people can log in now and intereact as they would in SL?
Sakai: Correct. You can login with the existing Second Life viewer and interact very much the same as Second Life, with the only limitations being the features that exist in the current code level.
Lowell: Ahhh ok, that was my next question. So there’s no need to download a different viewer?
Sakai: A different viewer is not necessary just a change to the shortcut or you can use a little program on our website to redirect your viewer to the Openlife grid. However, on an exciting note, an alternative viewer will be available very soon. That is in development by the RealXtend team.
Lowell: So if you had to sum up in a sentence or two why people should sign up to the Openlife community, what would you say?
Sakai: Wow, it’s really hard to sum up so short with such a wide community involved. Joining the Openlife Grid community is a chance to be involved in a pioneering new platform where your suggestions and ideas are very welcome, your feedback is important, and your participation is valued. Currently we are playing catch up to the number of new users, however since you can decide your own name, if you are a current SL user it’s a good idea to at least register to follow the news and secure your Second Life name in the Openlife Grid.
Lowell: Most people will want some key aspect to convince them to make the effort to experiment with a new platform - do you see superior community support as that key aspect?
Sakai: Absolutely - a lot of work has been going into the new site, to bring communities together including blogs for community regions, live online chat rooms for when you can’t be in world (like at work - ooops!). Foundation Residents have regions in-world and they also recieve a blog for their region to help bring the users together. Whilst blogs are not everything, there are also ‘Community Regions’ in-world. These are free to participate in and are provided free to the community.
Lowell: Is Openlife looking for venture capital in the future?
Sakai: The Openlife Grid is new territory and clearly funding would accelerate the efforts, however it must be noted we would not take on funding at the expense of the user or the future goals of the Openlifegrid. So in short it’s welcome if the funding can match the desires of the community.
Lowell: Do you have a proposed pricing structure for users when Openlife is fully functional?
Sakai: At this time we do not. It is important to note there are key differentiators between the way the Openlife works and Second Life. Linden Lab provides all the land (servers) and so has a monopoly on land (resources) to an effect.
Lowell: Whereas people can supply their own servers in Openlife?
Sakai: Openlife is moving towards a ‘provider’ path where ISPs and Web Hosts would also be able to provide resources. So as a user or company, having your own presence or land in-world could be purchased from many providers, reducing the cost and keeping it affordable for all.
Lowell: I’m assuming users could purchase land from you if they don’t want to provide their own server?
Sakai: Currently we don’t support external user connections, as we have stability and security to be concerned with in order to bring the best user experience.
The Foundation Resident is the first opportunity for Openlife residents to own a region in-world.
Lowell: So to clarify - people will eventually be able to host their own region or buy a region from Openlife
Sakai: Eventually that is one of the aims. But it will be gradual process as the code develops. The Foundation Resident is only a limited release of regions. They have no ‘purchase’ price, only a monthly fee. When we reach the limit of the Foundation Resident regions we will evaluate the next steps.
Lowell: Well I think that pretty well sums it up Sakai - thanks for taking the time.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Will Linden Lab Own the 3D Internet? Boulos vs. Rosedale

‘The 3D Web is born! It won't be the proprietary Second Life owned by Linden Lab in 2015, but the 3D Internet (Open Source/standards) will be there for sure! (Second Life will then become one out of many commercial, value-added providers - cf. history of AOL and CompuServe. Thinking otherwise would be like thinking 15 years ago that the (2D) Web will be proprietary, owned and run by a single company like Microsoft!)’ --M.N.K. Boulos - April 2007

"TG: What do you think about the idea that an avatar built in SL could move off Second Life and wander the web?
PR: We are building the backend to support that. We believe the concept of identity through your avatar will span the web. We are going to seek to enable that. Technology-wise, it's only about 18 months away. I do think we will see some interconnected virtual worlds and I think we can lead by being as open as possible. If you are open and you are dominant, you win, forever."http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2007/may/17/media.newmedia2

A tale of two graphics cards in Second Life

Left: low-end Intel GMA 900 card (64 MB shared graphics memory); right: high-end NVIDIA Go 7 series card (with 256 MB dedicated graphics memory). Left: low-end Intel GMA 900 card (64 MB shared graphics memory); right: high-end NVIDIA Go 7 series card (with 256 MB dedicated graphics memory). Note, for example, the lack of anti-aliasing, bump mapping and ripple water/sunlight reflection in the low-end card rendering of the scene. In-world speed and smoothness of movements are also affected, but this cannot be shown in a screenshot. Nice illustration on why you need a darn good and expensive computer to run SL!

Second Life vs OpenSim - Who Will Win?

Everyone is waiting with baited breath to discover whether Second Life is going to be the platform for the grand new world, or if the wild west developers on the OpenSim project are going to steal that prize away from under the noses of Linden Lab. Who will win?

Reuben Steiger's Stat

Reuben Steiger gave an amazing stat from the "60+" campaigns that Millions of Us have run in Virtual Worlds: "The average user spends 3 to 24 hours engaged with a brand over the course of a campaign."

Pontiac Pulls Out of Second Life & Gives Region to United Spinal Association

Jackson Heights, NY (PRWEB) February 20, 2008 -- Pontiac's Motorati Island is getting a second life by making a very generous donation of the the successful 7-region car culture island in Second Life to United Spinal Association, a U.S. based national 501(c)(3) nonprofit headquartered in Jackson Heights, New York. The newly named Motorabilty Island aims to continue catering to the car culture community in Second Life with a twist, by providing an opportunity to empower the 10,000 United Spinal Association members to join Second Life and experience car culture events and activities in this very popular virtual world. New and experienced Second Life residents will enjoy car culture related virtual events, activities, community building, educational seminars and pure racing fun on the many original venues and race tracks re-opening in early February. Event proceeds, sales of goods and services from commercial enterprise and sponsorships will contribute to raise awareness and provide funding to support United Spinal Association programs in the virtual and real world. Major sponsor and coordinating efforts by the car culture community on United Spinal's Motorability Island is Jody DeVere (aka Avatar Patty Streeter in Second Life), President of AskPatty.com -- Automotive Advice for Women and a member of the board of directors for United Spinal Association. DeVere's son Joseph was involved in a tragic car accident in 2005 which resulted in paraplegia. This event created a big passion in her to help provide non-traditional recreational and quality of life programs for disabled Americans. "I am so grateful for the opportunity to have been a participant in Pontiac's Motorati Island car culture community development in Second Life during 2007, what an awesome roller coaster learning curve experience. I want to thank Pontiac, Campfire, Leo Burnett and Electric Sheep Company for their tremendous support of all my activities related to United Spinal and AskPatty.com in Second Life," stated Jody DeVere, President AskPatty.com. "On behalf of United Spinal Association's board of directors, its 10,000 members we are truly grateful to Pontiac and General Motors for the generosity of this wonderful gift to of virtual car culture recreation and will continue to build on the foundation you so generously give for use by future Second Life residents to enjoy." DeVere held several successful fund raising race events for United Spinal in Second Life on Pontiac's Motorati Island with the help and support of Pontiac and Motorati Island land owners in 2007 and plans to ramp up Motorability Island activities quickly in 2008. DeVere chairs the real life Motorsports Program for UnitedSpinal.org, providing opportunities for persons who drive with hand controls to participate in solo racing clinics during SCCA, ASA and NASA racing events around the county. The newly named Motorability Island will continue to be home for many of the original attractions, racing and car culture themed events that made Pontiac's Motorati Island so popular with Second Life residents. The island will re-open with SLASCAR Fairgrounds Speedway, Dirt Track Racing, Drift Racing, AskPatty.com, Wonderland Cardin -- A Female Friendly Certified Car Dealership, Parkade Night Club, Callie Cline's Beach Resort, Underground Resistance cruise night and street racing, an Off Road Monster Truck Course and a few new builds that are sure to keep Second Life residents coming back. United Spinal's web presence off Second Life will be supported at the UnitedSpinal.org Second Life portal page in the works which will provide an open window into United Spinal's Second Life efforts as they offer the Second Life experience to their over 40,000 members. Beginning in March, the general public and United Spinal members will be able to join the unique virtual community via the UnitedSpinal.org website, which will link directly to Motorability Island in Second Life. The Motorabilty Island steering committee comprised of Patty Streeter, Amanda Shinji, Osprey Therian, Suku Ming and Toby Rainbow are already planning a big grand opening event to open the web portal to new residents and cut the virtual ribbon on the new United Spinal Motorability Island Welcome Center in April 2008. Visit the web site at http://www.motorability.com.

Want to Buy a Sim? Second Life SIM Costs vs. OpenLifeGrid SIM Costs

Owning a Second Life sim:
Startup cost (Purchase price): US$1,500-5,500
Monthly cost/tier: US$195-295
First year costs*: US$3840-9040
*not including cost of a premium membership.

Owning an OpenlifeGrid sim:
Startup cost: US$0 (yes -Zero)
Monthly cost: US$75
First year costs: US$900

Could this drive LL's rates down/push them to open sourcing the server side code?

Companies Explore Virtual Worlds As Collaboration Tools

– C.G. Lynch, CIO February 06, 2008 "The phrase virtual world is often associated with Second Life, the much-hyped 3-D environment hosted by Linden Lab that allows users to talk to friends, sell T-shirts, fly around on carpets and even build amusement parks—in other words, to play... In fact, as the consumer buzz over Second Life has faded, organizations like the I-95 Corridor Coalition, accountancy PricewaterhouseCoopers and healthcare technology provider Greenleaf Medical have quietly explored business uses for virtual worlds. From setting up 3-D environments for geographically dispersed workers to giving therapy to troubled teens, early adopters are testing virtual worlds as a collaborative tool. Industry analysts and developers of virtual worlds believe that by immersing users in an interactive environment that allows for social interactions, virtual worlds have the potential to succeed where other collaborative technologies, like teleconferencing, have failed. Phone-based meetings begin and end abruptly, at the mercy of the person or service administering it. In a virtual world, conversations between employees can continue within the virtual space—just like they do in company hallways after a meeting ends. "The informality of a virtual world can lead to great conversations," says Roo Reynolds, an IBM researcher who is working on a virtual world for Big Blue employees. "It leads to discussions that otherwise would have been missed with the formality of older technologies." However, businesses must overcome many technical and cultural obstacles before they adopt virtual worlds on a major scale. The technology often lacks robust audio capabilities that business users need to communicate, and it can be frustratingly slow without a high-performance desktop. Meanwhile, users have to get over the novelty of working as their virtual selves. And there's a learning curve for older workers who didn't grow up with richly rendered video games. Perhaps even more important than the technical challenges, companies must tackle the issue of workers' online identities. People's 3-D representations, known as avatars, must be constructed in such a way that allows users of virtual worlds to have faith they're talking to the right colleague. Security challenges abound; most companies using virtual worlds today do so on a public or externally hosted platform with limited options to protect corporate data. ... "The 30-and-younger crowd will pick this up in a few minutes," says University of Maryland's Pack. "That doesn't mean the older folks won't get it too, but it will take a little longer." Even once users learn their way around, PWC's Reichental says you need to allow for the novelty factor to wear off. But he adds that this can be a pretty painless process with some users. "Our first meeting [in a virtual world], as you'd expect, people stood on tables and had fun and roamed around," he says. "Remarkably, though, by the second meeting, people became engaged and were ready to talk." Are Virtual Worlds Right for You? - Driver believes using virtual worlds for meetings and training is the tip of the iceberg. She imagines that in five years, each knowledge worker will have about four monitors on her desk, perhaps with one dedicated to the Internet and e-mail and the rest to internal and external virtual worlds where people collaborate with colleagues and customers. But to get started, you have to understand what virtual worlds offer today. Yarmis has spent a lot of time in Second Life, and suggests that people interested in virtual worlds for business do the same. "To grasp what's really going on, you need to make a commitment to spend a number of hours there. That's the only way you can see how rich an experience it really is," he says. As end-user companies wait, big tech vendors have begun building and testing new virtual worlds on themselves. At IBM, developers are building the Metaverse, a place for Big Blue's employees to meet informally. Sun Microsystems, meanwhile, is developing MPK20, a virtual world extension to its 19-building facility in Menlo Park, Calif. According to Nicole Yankelovich, one of the project leads, at any given time more than half of Sun's employees work remotely (which Sun encourages because it reduces the need for office space and has environmental benefits). Virtual worlds are a compelling alternative to the boring old audio conference. "We need a way to bring everyone together and get some informal brainstorming going," she says. Accessing MPK20 from the comfort of her home might help Yankelovich and her colleagues avoid the traffic on that wide stretch of concrete near their Burlington, Mass., office, known as I-95—a place the I-95 Corridor Coalition's first responders hope they won't have to visit, at least in real life, anytime soon.

Linden Lab & Second Life 2007 Wrapup - By Tatero Neru in Massively

"It's been no less a tumultuous year for Second Life in 2007 this year than any previous year, frankly. There are a few standout items though. This isn't the list that anyone else might make - We might completely skip over one of the things you see as standing out as a huge impact, based solely on that we don't actually think it was that big a deal in the scheme of things. Be careful what you wish for; Users spent 2005 and 2006 begging Linden Lab to start behaving like a business. In 2007, Linden Lab certainly did that. Pretty much all the key items for 2007 flow on from a shift towards acting-as-a-business. However Linden Lab may function internally, from the outside there's not much to distinguish them from many public corporations these days. After the 2006 accusations of Linden Lab signaling imminent rate rises for Class 5 servers to a limited number of people, Linden Lab responded to complaints of such leaks by essentially switching to a policy of zero warning, and little or no community consultation on fiscal or policy matters in 2007, much as Philip Rosedale foreshadowed when discussing the matter in interviews towards the end of 2006.
Like any company accused of insider dealings, Linden Lab shut down all advance notification of major changes until things seem to be set in stone.

Profitability - Linden Lab became profitable in 2007. We haven't heard that they have become otherwise in the meantime. From all external observations and statements it seems that they are eating up all the profits in extra staffing, expanding as fast as the money will allow. A tiny piece of one investor's share in Linden Lab sold for somewhere near 500 million US dollars. If you read techcrunch you might think that was 10% of Linden Lab - that is not the case. It was 10% of one shareholder's portion - considerably less than 10% of the total.

Expansion -Linden Lab opened offices all over the place. Right now, Linden Lab have offices in Boston, Seattle, Mountain View (CA), and San Francisco. Did you know that Linden Lab has an office in Japan now (see update below)? Managed by one Jun Doi, this office crept in silently in late 2007, only given away by the new map on Linden Lab's website, which prompted us to ask about it. Getting answers is tricky, and getting them at this time of year is trickier still - we'll let you know more about that when we know more. [Update: LewisPR apparently led us a little astray on this one: "It's true, Linden Lab has opened an office in Japan," apparently actually means, "No, we've just got a single employee there"] There's a suspicious orange dot in South Korea as well, but the Beijing office is unmarked. We don't know if that's an error on the map or not. [Update: Likewise, RTMAsia's presence in Beijing does not constitute a Linden Lab office either, despite reports to the contrary. The people there are, instead, helping Linden Lab evaluate if a strategy specific to China makes sense or not. Robin Harper says, "Linden Lab is constantly evaluating new markets and opportunities. Given the high broadband penetration and active Internet user base in China, it makes sense for us to consider a potential presence in that market." - and it does; as well as weighing up the potential barriers and any flaming hoops that have to be jumped through. Likewise, the dot in South Korea appears to be spurious.]

Departures - CTO and co-founder, Cory Ondrejka left Linden Lab in December - though it is certainly not the last we'll hear from him. Differing styles when it comes to internal management of the company has been cited by other parties. Previously, we've seen some accommodation or compromise between two distinct styles. In 2008, one of those will come to dominate. We don't know what those styles are, or which one is the winner. Daniel Linden also departed. A victim, we think, of the users' shoot-the-messenger strategy. As with 2006, there were a lot of new hires, and a lot of departures." More here; www.massively.com/2008/01/01/peering-inside-looking-back-at-2007/

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Is Linden Lab Too Much Like A … Lab?

From Roland Legrand's blog; "The news of the Dutch banks ABN AMRO and ING leaving Second Life is a source of concern for some virtual world watchers. Aleister Kronos on Ambling in Second Life is one of them and he puts it nicely: "Sometimes I get the impression that Linden Lab places rather a lot of emphasis on the “Lab” part of the name. It seems to him that Linden Lab does not really care whether corporates thrive or die in Second Life. Both banks took an innovative and creative apporach to Second Life. It was not dumb mass-marketing. They actually tried to engage the residents and to have a meaning for the community life. Yet both banks decided to leave. Kronos: "I have to wonder whether Linden Lab are simply too detached from both the world they created and the physical world in which they are running a business." My personal take on this? As yet I don’t know the exact reasoning behind the decisions. As I pointed out in my previous post, ABN AMRO is in the process of being taken over by three other banks, and getting dismantled. So maybe this is just not a time for them to focus heavily on some marketing experiment in a virtual world. ING is another matter. They were heavily involved in the Holland Sim after all. But what does this mean for a big financial group? Maybe they were just expecting too much and too fast, and they decided it was not worth the management time to run this experiment because the mass impact is just not there, not in Second Life and not in other virtual worlds. Most people don’t go to those worlds for real world banking. So what on earth can Linden Lab do about this? Maybe it is the better policy to focus on those operations which do flourish, like education for instance or collaboration projects." Philip Rosedale in an interview with CNN MOney already says Linden Lab needs to move from being run like a lab to a business: "Rosedale doesn't deny that Second Life is hard to use, nor that user churn remains a problem. He also says that unscheduled downtime has been as much as twice what he thinks it ought to be in some months this year. "We have to stop being a lab and start being a real business that keeps this service up and running," he says contritely, adding that Second Life needs to become "a kind of stable public utility." One key project - opening data centers outside the United States to improve the user experience for non-Americans." http://money.cnn.com/2007/12/20/technology/kirkpatrick_rosedale.fortune/index.htm?section=magazines_fortune
Perhaps the departure of ex-CTO Corey Ondrejka is a move in that direction.

Roland Legrand Analyzes Second Life's Emphasis on Communication & Education vs Content Creation

"It is about the sharing of ideas, stupid! - I am catching up with some conferences and panel discussions I missed these last days and week. Fortunately video and transcripts are rather mainstream for those events, for instance for the Metanomics panel discussion about Possible Futures of Virtual Worlds and Society (February 11).
I will not try to give a kind of a fair and balanced resume of what has been said, but just focus on what struck me as interesting. First of all, I should point out what I found was lacking. CFO John Zdanowski of Linden Lab talked a lot about creativity, but once again I was left into the dark about how to reconcile some elements of the ToS of Second Life with the property rights the residents of Second Life have. How to combine the freedom of the company (Linden Lab) to throw out residents for no reason at all, with meaningful property rights? I still could not find out. What was interesting though, is the emphasis on the sharing of ideas as content creation. Zdanowski explained: "…people getting together and sharing ideas is content creation. And I think, in the Real World, certainly a portion of people who build buildings is very low. But the proportion of people, like no other time in history, people all over the planet have the potential to create ideas and share ideas, and I think that’s where Virtual Worlds become an unbelievable amazing medium for people to create and share ideas. And ideas as content is really kind of what’s most exciting to me about the space in general." And here is another quote, making this point on a personal level: "Personally, I look at it as an amazing educational tool and communication tool, much like we’re using it today. And I think, at the end of the day, they’re not content creations sort of, for example in Skype, but there is idea sharing, but that all platforms and all virtual worlds can enable." The other participant in this discussion was Chris Klaus, CEO and founder of the social virtual world Kaneva. Now, Kaneva is very much focusing on entertainment, and the folks of Linden Lab like to remind us that in the earliest days of any new media, it is basically entertainment which drives its success, like professional wrestling during the earliest days of television. Kaneva does certainly agree with this, and they try to offer entertainment while integrating social networking (think MySpace or Facebook) into their world. So it is about the social thing, and Kaneva also has more restrictions compared with Second Life, for instance all avatars have to be humans and they want constraints in order to have a safe environment. Kaneva is also involved in emerging micro businesses. The community itself is paying for DJs to play real music and hire dancers and recruit other people into the social sim club environment (I don’t know how Kaneva handles property rights). Entertainment for KLaus it a great hook to pull people in, but he is clearly looking beyond this:
"And then, as people are exploring these worlds, I think we’re going to see it morph into a lot of other goals. I think this conference has been great, in terms of having the discussion way beyond just just entertainment." So, the worlds of education and collaboration on ideas and concepts seem to interest the virtual world people a lot as potential killer applications. This seems logical to me, but maybe it also explains why in the end the rights of the individual avatar producing textures or scripts are not that important. Which, I believe, is wrong. Because maybe that kind of production is not as flashy as meetings organized by Stanford, Harvard or Cornell University, but it really helps to create something like a Second Life, with its bewildering variety of objects, buildings and animations. Without it, a virtual world would be a sad institutional environment, with no fun and hence no creativity." A fascinating analysis Roland! http://www.mixedrealities.com/ Who is he? "I am a journalist living and working in Belgium, born in 1959, married. I work as a multimedia newsroom manager for Mediafin, the publisher of the business newspapers De Tijd and L’Echo. I consider myself to be a kind of facilitator of new media projects. I studied economics and philosophy in Antwerp and Leuven, and specialized as a financial journalist. As a financial journalist, I looked into the topic of electronic communication networks, which are of course heavily used in the financial world. Financial markets are moved by worldwide realtime information (quotes, news, rumours). Markets are of course also an interactive environment. So a lot of the features of new media (realtime information, always on, interactive applications, community building) existed already in proprietary systems used by the worldwide financial community. I got even more interested when those features became mainstream in the gaming community, where games such as World of Warcraft became a kind of massive worldwide realtime gatherings of players. Communities like Second Life expanded this notion even outside the gaming realms, creating an open ended vitual environment. I am convinced there are a lot of issues at stake here, and I hope to share some of my ideas on those issues with you here on MixedRealities. Contact: My avatar in Second Life is Olando7 Decosta, he runs a bar for people interested in new media at Reignier (151, 68, 21). You can find me on Twitter as Olando7 or you can just mail me at legrandroland@gmail.com."

Fluid Entertainment Announces Development of Green Kids World

Fluid Entertainment announced today that it was developing "an online world that encourages kids to explore their creativity, initiative and imagination, within an ecologically themed narrative." There's no word yet on what that will involve--more details are said to be coming over the next few months--but the company, led by Founder and Chief Creative Officer Scott Matthews, has developed online and offline games for brands like Disney Princess, Pokemon, and Harry Potter. “Scott and his team’s game development expertise is matched only by their passion and commitment to the children’s interactive entertainment category,” said Greg Jones, CEO of Fluid Entertainment. “With this game, we’re tapping our collective experience, taking children’s MMO’s to the next level by creating an exceptionally interactive environment, where kids truly participate in the world around them. We’re eager for kids to experience an original, purposeful, fun way to play.

Virtual Worlds Need Games


As the three "spheres" of social networks, virtual worlds and MMOs collide, their creators can learn from each other said Turbine's Jeffrey Steefel. In a GDC discussion entitled "Gaming's Future via Online Worlds," Steefel, an executive producer for The Lord of the Rings Online, explained why "worlds" need "games."
Noting that the development community talks a lot about freedom of choice, lots of opportunities and infinite spaces, he nevertheless pointed out that structure is important for any open world environment. "Coming into a completely open environment for a lot of people is completely overwhelming, especially when you reach out into a broader audience," Steefel said. He explained that users need a sense of place, a sense of purpose and opportunity for expression and identity – whether it be a real-life identity or a fictitious identity expressed through an avatar. "The biggest intersection between games and virtual worlds is that games provide structure by their very nature," he said. Steefel broke down today's virtual environments into three spheres – social networking, virtual worlds and MMO games – noting the strengths and weaknesses of each. Social networks such as MySpace and Facebook – which Steefel compared to affinity-based clubs - are the most accessible, allowing users to easily create and share virtual identities in communities. Virtual worlds such as Second Life and Habbo – comparable to sandboxes – provide a heavy focus on building but often lack a unified thematic structure. Online games such as World of Warcraft – like theme parks, in Steefel's estimation – are immersive but mostly directed experiences, with limited opportunities for users to build and create. Common to all three spheres, however, is the notion of identity, creative expression and social persistence. "Our jobs going forward, and the art of what we are doing, is in the balance between freedom and structure," Steefel said. In order to move forward, he suggested that developers build on the strengths of MMOs – an immersive sense of place, unifying world theme and compelling advancement opportunities – while extending their reach to a broader audience. But reaching a broader audience will require multi-platform access, significantly improved user tools, more mainstream client requirements, immediate feedback/interactivity and more accessible pricing models. "What I want to do in the world should determine what it costs for me to participate in this world," he offered. Steefel also said that worlds need to be "web aware" and integrated into the mobile lifestyle. "It's not about trying to take a 3D world environment and port it over to a cell phone," he said, but instead it's more about figuring out how to tie that environment to mobile devices, recognising the desire for persistency.

On The Lord of the Rings Online game, Steefel said that Turbine had turned the game "inside out" to expose in-game social networks, share tools, integrate character/player personas online and offer social networking in and out of the world.
He specifically referred to the game's music system, in which players could obtain instruments, map them to their keyboard, and both play and create music. Steefel has seen a lot of people forming bands in Middle Earth to play music together, going so far as to record videos and post them on YouTube. In an attempt to broaden the experience, Turbine is also using the Google Map API for the lands of Middle Earth and has established a wiki-based system that allows the game's player community to edit and augment data. For the future, Steefel anticipates compelling virtual worlds that inspire creativity, exploration and community. He wants flexible thematic content with opportunities to share goals and motivation with like-minded users and easy-to-use tools for users to have a relevant impact on their world and communities - and users should also have opportunities to sustain a social persistence across all connected media. As the three spheres collide, and adapt from each other, the differences will start to disappear. "The old argument – Is it a game? Is it a virtual world? – doesn't really matter," Steefel said. "It is all a virtual world."

Help Someone Cash-in their Lindens and Make Money

openPR) - The new "euroSLEX Partner Network" started today allows to make money in Second Life, even without being online. This is how it works: the partners put advertising objects of euroSLEX, the European trading platform for Linden-Dollars, on their land in Second Life. In exchange they receive a referral fee based on the commission paid by the customers referred by them. And the euroSLEX Partner Network is not your average affiliate program: Here, partners receive direct and indirect referral fees, full transparency, as well as up-to-date and detailed statistical data for optimising their new source of income. The offer is specifically targetet at the owners of Sims, Malls, Shops, Clubs etc. in Second Life. Their advantage - besides the referral fees, obviously - is an increase of purchasing power of their customers by offering them an easy access to the euroSLEX exchange. In addition, they gain access to detailed statistics about the traffic in their region.

Telcos In Second Life

Feb 19, 2008 By:John C. Tanner "One of the interesting things about Second Life is this: for a virtual world whose population includes flying bat-winged people who pay extra for genitalia, which is then invariably used to perform unnatural acts with pandas to the point where Linden Lab actually had to establish a policy banning such things, it has a tendency to mirror meatspace whether it wants to or not. Last month, for instance, SL's virtual economy - in which Linden dollars can be used to buy property, goods and services - received a healthy dose of reality in the form of a credit crunch that resulted in one of its virtual banks collapsing and a new regulatory system to get things under control. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, SL's virtual economic growth was being fuelled in part by virtual banks that operated more like Ponzi schemes, using depositor money to pay high interest rates of up to 60%. Several banks began defaulting on promises, and one bank, Gingko Financial, actually went bust in August 2007. Following a raft of complaints, Linden Lab decided to step in with new regulations banning any SL financial firm from offering interest or any direct ROI "without proof of an applicable government registration statement or financial institution charter." Here's another example of SL mirroring reality - it has a telephone monopoly market that's about to be liberalized. According to Informationweek, Linden Lab is working on upgrades for the voice comms feature it added in August 2007 that will allow avatars to get their own SL number and receive voice calls from real-world phones sometime in Q1 2008. Voicemail is included. Who wants some? This will end the virtual phone monopoly held by Vodafone, which set up shop in SL a year ago, and in October 2007 launched the beta version of InsideOut, a service that lets avatars call and text each other on virtual mobiles, as well as other Vodafone subscribers in real life (provided they live in Germany, where the service was launched). But, like actual voice monopolies, it's also pricey. The Engadget blog reports that an InsideOut voice call will set you back 300 Linden dollars a minute, while an SMS costs L$300 a pop. Based on the latest exchange rates, that works out to about $1.13 per minute or per SMS. Ouch. Okay, it's probably unfair to call InsideOut a monopoly telco, in that - unlike real-world monopoly markets - Vodafone isn't a comms ministry or a corporatized government telco with an exclusive full-service license for 15 years. However, only a handful of telcos have bothered to put out a shingle in Second Life, like Telstra's "The Pond" and BT's "Area 21". And those are more like play areas or branding exercises, rather than proper services. In fact, the only other rival voice service in SL to date is a VoIP service from YouNeverCall, which doesn't let avatars dial out to real-world phones, but it does enable free in-world calls. Because what's a telco monopoly without arbitrage? One reason telcos or cellcos aren't queuing up to get in on the SL telecoms market is because no one's really sure if there is one. Regardless of what sector you serve in First Life, the business case for opening branches in Second Life is more or less where the web was in the mid-90s. For many of the companies in SL, their "land" is the equivalent of an HTML corporate brochure, albeit one where everyone dresses like cyberpunks and mutant zombies. That said, Linden Lab CFO John Zdanowski said at an IT seminar in Singapore last November [via SL, naturally] that there are 50,000 in-world businesses making a profit. But that's in Linden dollars - the question is how to translate that into real-world cashflow. In any case, the only way to really know for sure is to get in there and play. And in the telecom space, at least the cost barriers to entry are a lot lower than in real life. Here's hoping the Linden economy holds out long enough for the rest of us to find out.

Monday, February 18, 2008

BarbieGirls Hits 10 Million Users - Way to GO GIRL!

BarbieGirls, the virtual world designed by Mattel after that company's Barbie-brand, has hit 10 million registered users, reports the Washington Times. In April 2007, Mattel launched the Barbie Girls platform, a hybrid online-offline play experience that blends a fashion-forward, doll-inspired music player with the first virtual world designed exclusively for girls. Mattel executives Charles Scothon, General Manager & SVP, Girls Mattel Brands, Mattel, Inc., and Rosie O’Neill, Senior Brand Manager, Barbie Tech, Mattel, Inc. will keynote the upcoming Virtual Worlds 2008 conference taking place April 3-4, 2008 in New York, telling the audience what's next for Mattel and the Barbie brand.

Toy Fair Goes Virtual: 11 New or Expanded Toy-Based Worlds

Toy Fair, the leading toy show and expo in the country, has barely kicked off, but virtual worlds-related toys are already making a splash. The OC Register is pointing to virtual worlds and green toys as the two major trends driving the industry this year. For Playmates Toys, at least, with two digital products at the show, that's the way to go. After toy revenue dropped 2% in 2007, it was time to look elsewhere. "Our push is in the youth electronics area," Tor Sirset, marketing vice president, told the OC Register.

1. Playmates is releasing MyLife, a handheld device targeted at girls. Developed in partnership with GP Toys of Italy, the device is meant to allow users to create "avatar-like" images and update them with profiles. "It can transport you to the beach, or a dance party," said Tirset.

2. Disney is unveiling the virtual world based on its immensely poular fairy-themed avatar creation site, Disney Fairies. With Disney Fairies Pixie Hollow virtual world fans can interact and play games in a more social environment. [via Newsweek]

3. Hand in hand, Disney is also releasing its first toy-based tie-in to a virtual world, focusing initially on Disney Fairies. Clickables, developed with licensee Techno Source, will unlock the virtual world to be released in the fall. The company plans to use the same technology for other Disney content as well, and Robert Marick, VP and GM at Disney Toys North America, has said the technology goes beyond any Internet-based toy technology on the market. [via Reuters]

4. Mattel announced UB Funkeys earlier this year, but it is apparently preparing a tie-in to an upcoming Speed Racer virtual world. By the way, apparently Speed Racer is getting a virtual world. [via Reuters]

5. DreamWorks is working to launch toy-based tie-ins to some sort of online platform, presumably a virtual world, based on Madagascar and, again presumably, its upcoming sequel. [via Reuters]

6. Hasbro is adding on to its Littlest Pet Shop property with 11 new toys to be unveiled at the convention. [via Marketwatch.com]

7. VTech is launching a world tied to its grade-school line, mostly PCs and handhelds, all of which will come with free one-year memberships: "Planetvtech.com [not live yet] is an online virtual world designed for kids ages 5 and up, where they can play, learn and hang out! This exciting online community allows kids to play games where they earn points that can be redeemed for great rewards, and the content is constantly refreshed for never-ending fun." The world will also feature three areas to show off new VTech products and let users try them out. [PR]

8. NeoPets is launching a new line of toys and cards that tie into the virtual world for kids with alphanumeric codes that unlock special content. The products, collector plush from JAKKS Pacific and Fun Paks and Trading Cards from Enterplay, are all themed around the new game being released in Neopets, the Key Quest. If users collect the whole line of toys, they unlock new bonus items. "We're excited to launch Neopets Key Quest(TM) in conjunction with the new collectible products hitting retail this month for the first time," said Kyra Reppen, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Neopets. "It's a natural step for us to take the digital-first brand into the consumer products arena, and the multiplayer game and Collectors' Case will offer both new and old fans a unique, convergent play experience within the world of Neopets." [PR]

9. Bandai is launching a new virtual world for Tamagotchi, "the Tama & Earth Expo, where kids can take their interaction with all the various Tamagotchi families to dynamic new levels." [PR]

10. Folkmanis Puppets is partnering with kids website Globio to launch WebWilds, "a unique internet environment where kids can keep their hands on an award-winning Folkmanis puppet while their minds are learning about animals and the environment on a safe-portal internet site." [PR]

11. Russ's applause line is launching a fish toy with an Internet tie in to a virtual world set in an aquarium. Sea Pals come with a code to create an online virtual aquarium, but users can also "jump out into the ocean" and interact with "other fish in the sea" through games, educational content, and quests. I'm assuming this is describing a virtual world and not just an ocean full of NPC fish. I'm sure there's more out there, but it's clear where the trend is going for this year's Toy Fair . If nothing else, there's no shortage of analysts willing to make the claim. To learn more about kid's worlds check out Virtual Worlds 2008 (April 3-4, NYC), featuring a keynote from Mattel executives Charles Scothon, General Manager & SVP, Girls Mattel Brands, Mattel, Inc., and Rosie O’Neill, Senior Brand Manager, Barbie Tech, Mattel, Inc.