Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Ex-Linden CTO says “Email is for old people,”& "virtual worlds haven’t reached a mass market"

"At the recent Metaverse U event in Stanford University, many of the discussions could safely be seen as borderline science fiction-ish and abstract for almost everyone but the insider community that define the virtual world development these days. However, some discussions were immediately recognizable for veterans of the gaming side of virtual worlds and the online gamer community. Perhaps that potential familiarity would be owed to two game industry staples in one of the afternoon conversations on the first day of the event that many online gamers may have heard about, namely Raph Koster (formerly of Sony Online Entertainment), Cory Ondrejka (formerly of Second Life), and Howard Rheingold, a social commentator and author.
... “Email is for old people,” Ondrejka quipped, for kids before they enter the work force. Koster added that numerous studies showed that as these modern kids change as they mature, they lose awareness of what’s coming down the pipeline and stick to the technologies they know. In an admission made easier by his new distance from Linden Labs, Ondrejka conceded virtual worlds haven’t reached a mass market quite yet and has a long ways to go before it breaks into the mainstream. Of course, as terms representing new virtual worlds-related services find their way into “geek-speak”, it becomes even more difficult for the standards in the business like Second Life to find their traction, when the water is muddied with new ideas and technologies."

EveryScape Gets $7M in Series B

EveryScape, maker of "The Real World Online," has landed $7 million in a round of Series B financing led by new investor Dace Ventures with participation from existing investors Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Draper Fisher New England, Draper Atlantic and LaunchPad Venture Group. The company says it plans to use the money to "grow its sales force, accelerate new city launches and fuel new community features." EveryScape plans to launch spaces for at least 4 major U.S. cities in the coming weeks. This is an interview by Virtual World News of CEO Jim Schoonmaker to discussing EveryScape's success and other plans.

Rivers Run Red Partner with Multiverse

Rivers Run Red have partnered with Multiverse to use their innovative new platform for Immersive Spaces development for their clients. The partnership will see Rivers Run Red developing a new era of worlds for both the entertainment and the collaboration space.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Free vs. Cheap - Why Micropayments Failed

In an article titled "Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business", Chris Anderson writes for Wired Magazine about how more and more things are trending toward free. Here's his view about why micropayments failed: "The huge psychological gap between "almost zero" and "zero" is why micropayments failed. It's why Google doesn't show up on your credit card. It's why modern Web companies don't charge their users anything. And it's why Yahoo gives away disk drive space. The question of infinite storage was not if but when. The winners made their stuff free first." This is a load of bollocks of course, but makes some interesting points anyway.

PayPal Trends Reports "* 66 percent of consumers prefer online stores that offer multiple payment mechanisms."

PayPal has announced results from a new JupiterResearch and PayPal study concluding that "consumers value payment security and payment choice more than rewards when making purchases online." PayPal partnered with independent research firm JupiterResearch to develop a series of survey questions focused on how the U.S. population uses payment methods when shopping online. According to the research, when consumers are confronted with two merchants who offer the same product at the same price, the two most influential factors when choosing where to buy are payment security and payment choice. The study showed that security influences online shopping behavior more than typical merchant incentives like rewards and discounts. In fact, more than half of the survey respondents consider the security of their financial information as the deciding factor when they make purchases. An additional two thirds of shoppers feel more secure when they don’t have to enter financial information at all, even at merchant Web sites they trust. The types of payments accepted by merchants influence whether or not consumers will shop on their Web sites. The study showed that more than half of online shoppers think about the payment method they will use before they click on the merchant’s checkout button. Sixty-six percent of consumers prefer e-commerce sites that offer multiple payment methods, and about half of online shoppers prefer the convenience of using alternative payment methods. “Today’s consumers demand security and convenience when they shop online, and merchants must answer with an extremely safe, fast and easy buying experience,” said Cliff Hopkins, senior director, PayPal merchant services. “When merchants offer PayPal on their sites, they allow 141 million customers around the world to shop with peace of mind because they don’t have to share their financial information online.” The study revealed the following consumer preferences when paying online:
* 66 percent of consumers prefer online stores that offer multiple payment mechanisms.
* 62 percent of purchasers feel more secure when they do not have to enter credit card information online, even at merchants’ sites that they trust.
* 61 percent of online shoppers choose sites that offer both credit and debit card payment options.
* 55 percent of consumers think about payment methods they will use before they click on the checkout button.
* 48 percent of all online adult shoppers prefer the convenience of alternative payment methods.
* One third of online shoppers want to avoid filling out name, address and credit card details.
* One in eight consumers thinks about how he or she will pay even before deciding what to buy.
PayPal will discuss these results during a five-city tour in March reaching Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago and New York. The sessions will feature JupiterResearch, local merchants and professors from the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Southern California, New York University, Loyola University and SMU’s Cox School of Business. Speakers and panelists will explore best practices for online merchants to increase sales in the current economy. For additional information, visit

Disney Fairies Pixie Hollow

Disney (the parent company of ABC News) has already created a Web site that allows girls to create their own personalized fairy avatar at, but later this year, that avatar will be able to play in a bigger, magical, massively multiplayer world called Disney Fairies Pixie Hollow. As a fairy in Pixie Hollow, you will be able to explore homes and meadows, play and chat with other fairy friends, customize your own home and look, play games, and go on quests. Some of these quests will be to find famous fairies like Tinkerbell. Other quests can take you offline to pursue real world quests like recycling or making someone laugh.
"When playing in Pixie Hollow, girls not only view themselves as virtual fairies, but really think and feel that that they are, in some way, real world fairies," said Steve Parkis, senior vice president of Disney Online. "We believe it is important to give them the opportunity to continue the experience by expressing their 'inner fairy' in the real world, outside of the online experience." When girls return online to report about their off-line quest, they will be rewarded within the virtual world. Unique to this virtual world is the addition of Fairies Clickables, special collectible jewelry that houses new technology which, when touched to other Clickables, transfers information. Developed in partnership with Techno Source, this jewelry will come in the form of charms, charm bracelets, and necklaces that can be stored in a jewelry box which connects to the computer via a USB connection.


With the popularity of Club Penguin and Webkinz, other toy makers are trying to tap into the virtual world craze. Here is a beta virtual world planning something different from those already playing in the virtual sandbox - ME2. From iToys, $34.99, for ages 8-14, coming in August 2008 While ME2 (pronounced "Me Too" which stands for "My Electronic Double") shares the popular Webkinz model of a physical toy providing you a presence in a virtual world, this toy/virtual world is refreshingly different because it is all about motivating children to exercise.
The ME2 handheld gaming device looks like an outsized pedometer and it operates in a similar manner. While kids can play simple arcade-style games on it using its full color LCD screen, the device's main purpose is to track children's physical activity and translate that activity into Power Points that are used in a virtual world. While carrying the device, any movement on a kid's part converts to Power Points stored in the device. By plugging the ME2 into your computer via a USB connection, you transfer your stored points and enter a rich and vibrant 3-D virtual world. Developed, in part, with an advisory panel of 60 children ages 8 to 13, this world beckons you to explore different lush islands. To play you create an avatar and then use your Power Points to make your avatar more powerful in areas of agility, jumping, speed, luck, and intelligence. The Power Points can also be used to buy currency in this world. For example, you may find you need a flashlight to explore a dark cave in the online world. To purchase the virtual flashlight, you will need to do something physical in the real world. So kids may hop on their bikes, play hop-scotch, or join a soccer game to earn enough Power Points to buy the flashlight. This massively multiplayer virtual world will go into beta testing in June, and plans to roll out in August.

Metrics For Online Games

From " How To Compare Online Gaming Businesses" ; When MMOs all had monthly subscriptions, comparing financial health was much easier. But, as CDC Games' Ron Williams usefully explains, metrics for online games are a lot more complex than that for today's microtransaction and ad-supported titles.] Several metrics to track the general financial performance of a PC-based online game are easy to come by. However, there are different business models for every game genre and until a game has significant profits, it is very difficult to understand the financial potential of a game. More importantly, determining if a game is being managed to its full potential by the game operator is even less clear. In particular it seems there is little ability to compare how well one online game in a specific genre compares to any other game -- even a sequel to a game operated by the same company. What are some of the most useful monthly metrics for understanding how well an online game is being operated by management? This model is of particular interest to me because I head up the U.S. division of CDC Games, is one of the market leaders of online and mobile games in China with more than 120 million registered users. The company pioneered the "free-to-play, pay-for-merchandise" online games model in China with Yulgang and launched the first free-to-play, pay for items FPS (first person shooter) game in China with Special Force - and is now expanding to the West with games like Lunia.
To understand how well management is driving users to the game, converting precious marketing resources to paying customers, and keeping possible subscribers happy, there are several data points to track. The key metrics to trend month-to-month, and more importantly the handful of metrics that can be compared across game genres, game operators, and online game business models are: the total number of unique visitors (UV) to the game's web home page each month, average marketing cost per unique visitor on a monthly basis, the total number of registered users (RU) for the game, the number of new registered users gained each month, percentage of unique visitors that convert to new registered users of the game each month, average marketing cost per registered users on a monthly basis, number of new RUs that convert to new paying users (PUs) of the game each month, the average marketing cost for new paying users on a monthly basis, and the total number of paying users for the game.

Total monthly unique visitors (UVs) are seen as key indicators of the value of websites that generate advertising revenue on their content. With advertising revenue still a minor part of most gaming companies' income statements, why is it important to understand the trend of unique visitors for a free to play, subscription, or micro-transaction based online game? Any web-based business with aspirations to earn revenue is, at the end of the day, following a very simple formula: find something someone wants to pay money for that can be sold online (content), get customers to look at the content, and then convert viewers of the content to content buyers. This is Google's, Yahoo's, eBay's, Amazon's, and every for profit online game operator's business model. Most of the best web-based business models are 100 percent digital -- the entire transaction from marketing to consumption of the content is all done online. An online game is just online content that you need to market in order to sell. The number of potential customers you can drive to the game's website either through word of mouth or through marketing spend is the key driver of sales, just like any other online business. The UV trend line is the best indicator of sales potential of a game. Additionally, if the same formula for determining unique visitors is used -- there are a few debated methods out there -- it is very easy to compare how well one game is attracting potential customers versus another. In fact, unique visitors can be compared across entirely different web businesses, which gives investors that ability to see where an online game stacks up against the best business on the web. If you looked at a chart of the top 100 for profit websites ranked by total monthly unique visitors, you will quickly see that there is a very strong correlation between number of unique visitors and web-based revenue and even market capitalization (for those sites that are public). Of course any web site with a large monthly unique visitor metric also has significant potential to sell ads, market merchandise, and most importantly be a major portal in the move to digital convergence now underway. OK, so unique visitors are very important. Going beyond the concern for sustaining unique visitor growth on a limited marketing budget, why did you list the tracking of marketing costs per unique visitor as a key metric?
Marketing budgets are certainly limited, and cost per unique visitor is a quick way to figure out how many unique visitors an operator should be able to drive to the site with next month's marketing budget, but the key insight gained from trending this metric is the efficiency of the marketing campaign relative to other games with a similar business model, play mechanics, and genre. It is important to understand that the ability to obtain users from online ads has a finite limit -- the number of gamers who view ads in a given time period. In particular, when you think about pay per click rates (PPC) of ad campaigns, there is a fairly limited number of potential online game customers and there are a lot of online game operators trying to buy ad inventory for those customers to click through to get to the operator's game. As the online game market continues to expand and larger operators with bigger ad budgets enter the fray, we expect to see the PPC and Cost per Thousand ad views (CPM) start to creep upward. So the operator that has the lowest marketing cost per unique visitor is likely the most efficient at buying the limited online ad inventory and in the process driving up the cost of ads to their competitors if not locking them out of critical ad inventory altogether. Lots of unique visitors is no doubt a good thing. Getting visitors to engage with the site's content is even better. You mentioned several metrics concerning registered users. What is the best way to leverage them to gain a better understanding of how well a game is being operated?
Registered users of a game, even users who have never played the game or have not played for months, represent the current customers of the game. This is the group of people who are the best to market new releases of the game, products related to the game, and most importantly the next game you want them to try. People tend to skip past the total registered users of a game to get to current active players and paying user counts. However, there is still some important information that a close look at registered users will reveal. In particular, a breakout of the number of new registered users each month trended over time will be a strong indicator of if the game is peaking. Tracking the percentage of unique visitors that convert to new registered users of the game each month and comparing it previous months can provide insight into the effectiveness of various marketing campaigns. In addition, tracking the average marketing cost per registered user on a monthly basis in addition to understanding how well the marketing budget is performing, can also indicate how well word of mouth and other free sources are driving users to the game -- if registered users are stable or increasing when marketing costs are stable or decreasing, it is good indicator word of mouth is starting to drive users to the game.

One of the most important metrics is how many paying users a game has. How can someone dig deeper with the paying users metric?

Understanding how well the game coverts the number of new registered users each month into new paying users (PUs) of the game, when trended, provides insight into initial user satisfaction of the game. Calculating the average marketing cost for new paying users on a monthly basis provides an important tool to understand how far management can grow revenue based on the marketing budget.

The total number of paying users for the game represents the most valuable core of the game's customer base -- the ones who have proved they want to spend money on your products and have the means to do so.

Are there any other metrics that should be of interest to someone trying to understand how well a game is being operated by management and help them compare one game to another?

A more fine-grained view of the metrics discussed earlier would include the total number of UVs from marketing efforts including paid search and online ads (MUV -- marketed unique visitors), the number of new registered users that come from marketing unique visitors on a monthly basis, the percentage of marketed unique visitors that convert to registered users which are due to the marketing efforts (MRUs percentage), and the average marketing cost per marketed registered user.

All of these metrics put the spotlight on the effectiveness of the marketing budget. They also can provide insight into which marketing efforts deliver unique visitors and registerd users most cost effectively.

So all of the metrics we have discussed in this article can be used to compare one online game to another even across genres?

Yes. These metrics allow someone to understand how well a game is being operated and can be used to compare any online game to any other.

French Virtual World Company Chapatiz Gets $530k Investment

Chapatiz SA, a French company making virtual worlds for pre-teens, has received its first burst of VC funding. François Véron (founder of Newfund), Dusan Stojanovic (Business Angel), Jean Bégo (Business Angel) and several IT experts contributed €350,000 to become shareholders. The company was founded in 2005 by François Barbut, Stéphan Twarog and Arno Guensherian and now boasts almost 780,000 users with 12,638 active in the last day on the French browser-based world. The English version has 11,144 users with 992 active in the last day. The world is free and has Google ads running on the side. Users can also use Chips, the virtual currency, for premium virtual goods. From VWN.

PaymentGuy Cited By Korea's Largest Payment Company

Mobillians PDF's PaymentGuy - cool! (an innovative pioneering payment company by the way ...)

Comments on realXtend's Developments

"Virtual world development took a step to a new era when realXtend was published. We have already got several contacts from Japan, Australia, USA and many European countries. We feel enthusiastic about application possibilities discussed.
One of the problems we want to correct is the complexity of maintaining multiple, disconnected online identities. UCI already has an identification and authentication service for its 50,000+ students, faculty and staff, and we want our OpenSim grid to take advantage of that. We are pleased to see that realXtend´s OpenSim extensions already do what we want: Professor Crista Lopes, University of California Irvine’s Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, USA
"realXtend’s technology is helping us make a huge impression with our customers, and a noticeable buzz within the industry. The superior visual quality we can deliver to our customers makes a lasting first impression, and gives us a measurable competitive advantage. realXtend’s commitment to working with the greater community ensures a healthy future for the industry. We look forward to continue working with realXtend to help push the state of the art in Virtual World systems: CTO Taku Kamata, 3Di, Tokyo, Japan
"The work realXtend has done is extremely impressive. We are presenting it to people in the entertainment industry and getting excellent feedback. I am sure we will be using it for a number of projects in 2008.CEO Rohan Freeman, The Sine Wave Company, London, UK.
"The realXtend viewer is an open-source browser for an open Metaverse, the emerging web of open virtual environments that will one day merge with, and potentially replace, the web as we know it today. The Metaverse will require many new tools, including tools for content creation, publishing, commerce and search. We are proud that realXtend has selected Metaverse Ink as the default search provider for the realXtend browser, so that we can jointly create an open, scalable, and practically useful Metaverse.Professor William Cook, University of Texas Austin and co-founder of Metaverse Ink, USA
"The City of Oulu will take advantage of realXtend to develop future Oulu and its school system. We are participating member of the Innovative Schools program (School of the Future project). Having realXtend as a tool we can create something totally new to teaching and learning. We are proud that our city, known much from technology, can create such an innovating virtual environment. It is in our strategy to support companies combining technological expertise to cultural and artistic knowledge. Interactive content and creative industries are part of our future mission. Oulu already provides free wireless Internet access to visitors and citizens. Now our region has stepped in the lead of develop virtual worlds. It is awesome but I´m not surprised.Mayor Matti Pennanen, City of Oulu, Finland
"realXtend proposes a solution adapted to our needs: Open server and viewer, high quality graphics engine, Second life compatibility, Scripting, architecture open on outside (Database, Web, Media, remote). We are proud to be one of the first teams to try out realXtend solutions. EN-ER is a research program of the Ecole Nationale Supérieur des Arts Décoratifs de Paris. Our objective is to think and develop new artistic practices in the Virtual Universes. We are looking for an open and powerful platform to develop our experiments.Professor François Garnier, Ecole Nationale Supérieur des Arts Décoratifs de Paris

Linden Department of Public Works recruits and pays ‘real’ dollars

"Linden Lab will be paying up to 40 Second Life residents US$10/hr to create content as part of its “Linden Department of Public Works (LDPW)” initiative, so Reuters reports. As reported in a previous post on MixedRealities, Linden Lab wants to improve Second Life mainland. Mainland offers cheaper land, compared to islands where covenants impose zoning rules. The disadvantage of mainland is that the lack of zoning rules causes incoherent styles, conflicts between neighbors and very disputable practices, like pressing residents to pay money to get ugly advertisements removed. Linden Lab announced measures against such advertisement practices (read Second Life tackles AdFarms and the End of Laissez Faire). On the positive side, the Lindens want to build infrastructure making mainland a more interesting place.
Several aspects of the Reuters’ story are worth noting:
* Linden will pay its workers in American dollars and not Linden dollars.
* Reuters says that Second Life Grid is Linden Lab’s principal source of revenue. Rival grids based on OpenSim technology have been rapidly expanding and undercutting Linden’s hold on the Second Life community, so the wire service explains.
* The Lindens are aware of the very real possibility that the prices of land around the projects might go up.
Questions that I do have: how rapid exactly is that expansion of rival grids? In the previous Reuters’ post about OpenSim Technology it was said that especially people who were pushed out of Second Life, because of unlicensed banking for instance, were attracted to that project. Furthermore it was said that the technology was as yet unproven. Of course, maybe lots of people are attracted to risky banking practices in totally unregulated environments, but I somehow doubt it. In my opinion Linden Lab takes a long term perspective here (whatever that may mean in virtual worlds land). Places like seem to better organised, but on the other hand they also feel too much controlled and too commercial for Second Life residents such as myself. Maybe Linden Lab tries to find some middle way, offering a better experience but maintaining the liberty which so many of us appreciate in Second Life. Making that liberty even more real would be another way for Linden Lab to differentiate Second Life from other worlds. Granting avatar rights by making the Terms of Service more reasonable would be a good thing - more specifically by abolishing the possibility to cancel accounts for no reason at all and by clarifying the procedures to ban residents permanently." By Roland Legrand

Second Life to OpenSource Server Code Says Linden Lab's Chris Collins

Chris Collins aka Logan Linden interviewed by Aussia paper; "... could be excused for thinking he has the best job not just in this world, but in at least one other as well. As technical assistant to Philip Rosedale, the chief executive officer at Linden Lab, Mr Collins is the right-hand man to someone with responsibility for the destiny of more than 10 million virtual people in Second Life. But such god-like notions are not reflected into the day-to-day activity of Perth-born Mr Collins, whose main role is to be Mr Rosedale's shadow. "I go to meetings with him, or instead of him, and I'm there to follow up with any corporate contacts that he meets," Mr Collins says. "And I get involved in a lot of the strategic decision-making that we do at Linden Lab. It's given me the opportunity to be fully exposed to all facets of the corporation, and then after this position, to go off and be able to run something myself in the company."..."Of potentially even greater impact, however, is the open-sourcing of Second Life's software. Linden Lab has already released an open-source version of the client software and is set to do the same for the server. This means groups will be able to host their own Second Life data. "The idea is to give more and more information out - open up the client and server to allow for people to do more and more - and change it to how they want it."

WebKinz Helps Kids Count Better

"Most adults say they don't mind buying the stuffed animals, which usually cost $11 to $14. "My 5-year-old grandson is counting better," said Tim Aiello, 62, of Genesee Township."

PaymentGuy's Virtual World Hero of the Week

I want to start recognizing the coolest people and personalities in the Virtual World Space. Readers can nominate but most likely I will just appoint the winners. This week's winner is Kurt Schilling, Friend of Rockstars, World Series-Winning Major League Baseball Pitcher, Family Man, Tattoo-Afiicionado and Virtual World entrepreneur. Stay tuned for next weeks Hero. Readers may submit nominations for the weekly Virtual World Villain at their discretion. PS: Mr. Schilling is PaymentGuy's first virtual world hero beating out notable candidates such as Howard Ganz, Philip Rosedale, Corey Ondrejka, The ClubPenguin Tri0 and Aappo HABBO and Sampo HABBO. Congratulations Kurt!

VBiz Entrepreneur Kurt Shilling is So Smart

38 Studios, the Maynard, MA-based game development studio founded by Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, has decided not to reinvent the world. The virtual world, that is—the one it’s creating as part of the massively multiplayer online-gaming experience it plans to debut in late 2010. The company said yesterday it will license a suite of world-development tools and game servers from BigWorld Technology, which has offices in Canberra and Sydney, Australia. BigWorld supplies the technology behind online role-playing games such as Stargate Worlds. As you can see, Kurt has diverse interests... a true renaissance man ... which qualifies him as one of PaymentGuy's Virtual World Heroes! Congrats Kurt! From "38 Studios Licenses Australian Virtual-Worlds Technology Wade Roush 2/27/08 11:33 am"

Monday, March 3, 2008

CentralGrid Stats

G R I D - O N L I N E
Active Members: 927
Grid Avatars: 1093
Active Regions: 298
Reservations: 87
Regions Connected: 105
Pending Regions: 3
Total Grid Map: 388

Second Life Outcasts Flee to CentralGrid

This By Eric Reuters back about 1 month ago (very interesting...) - On Tuesday, Steve Smith of BCX Bank had to shut down operations in Second Life. But Smith isn’t going quietly into the night. Smith has purchased 11 sims on Central Grid, a rapidly-growing world based on the open-source package OpenSim. In Central Grid Smith hopes to expand his financial empire in a way never possible in Second Life, offering not only interest on deposits but printing his own currency a la Linden Lab, tentatively to be called the “Central Grid Dollar (CG$).” “[The ban] forced us to reevaluate things and step up our game a little,” Smith said. He’s still working out the details, but Smith’s plan is to peg the Central Grid dollar to the American dollar and back up all currency sales with real-world cash. “Unlike Linden, we will not be able to print extra money unless it is backed by real US funds,” he said. Second Life experienced explosive growth in the first half of 2007 by customers attracted to Linden’s libertarian ideal of “Your World, your imagination.” But Second Life’s success attracted increased scrutiny, first from the media and then real-world governments, prompting Linden to move against gambling, unlicensed banking, and depictions of adult-child sex. Among Second Life residents, anxiety runs high that unlicensed stock exchanges or the thriving adult escort industry may be next to be targeted. For Second Life’s banks, OpenSim grids provide a way to continue on in the field of virtual finance without the need to secure Linden’s approval. Smith is also looking into OpenlifeGrid, a 135-region OpenSim world, and BCX competitors like Mike Lorrey’s (Second Life: Intlibber Brautigan) BNT Financial are eyeing a move to OpenSim as well. Whether Smith’s plan will come to fruition remains to be seen, but his real-world investment in Central Grid represents a major gain for OpenSim grids. Since going live on the first of December, Central Grid, or “CG,” has expanded to 320 regions, said Cathy Morantz of Nevada-based Central Grid Inc. Morantz goes by Maltos Sosa on both CG and SL. Central Grid sports an openness that echoes Second Life’s pioneer days. Casinos, if operated from a legal jurisdiction and if they ban American avatars, are welcome. “We see this as nothing more than web hosting and a search engine,” Morantz said. However, the search engine may not work. OpenSim worlds like Central Grid run on new technology, looking and feeling primitive compared to Second Life. Avatar movements are jerky and imprecise. The “search” function is completely non-functional. The inventory server is so new that while you can carry objects across regions, it’s still impossible to transfer items from one avatar to another, quashing any economic applications until fixed. Morantz said her team sunk US$12,000, not including programmer salaries, into the start-up. By the end of her first month Central Grid returned US$18,000 in revenue. OpenSim worlds like Central Grid work by allowing its users to host regions on their own computers, with Central Grid Inc providing the centralized inventory server and grid architecture that allows avatars to seamlessly walk from one region to another. It’s also possible for Central Grid to host and maintain regions for its customers, at rates far lower than Linden Lab’s Second Life Grid. “Let a thousand virtual worlds bloom” is the oft-repeated mantra of the OpenSim team, as developers envision online games similar to Blizzard’s World of Warcraft or CCP’s EVE Online based on the OpenSim platform. One advantage of the software is it has been designed from inception for avatars to move from one grid to another. Linden Lab committed itself to “interoperability” in a deal with IBM in October, which might result in a link between OpenSim worlds and Linden’s Second Life Grid. After Linden Lab brought the Second Life viewer into the open-source domain last year, coders got a better look at how Linden’s virtual world functions from a technical perspective. While some concentrated on the viewer, enough information was released that programmers realized they could approximate much of the way Linden Lab’s servers work. The OpenSim project is an independent attempt to create virtual worlds servers that work with the existing Second Life viewer. “OpenSim isn’t quite about cloning Second Life,” said Adam Frisby (Second Life: Adam Zaius), a prominent OpenSim developer. “We share a lot of features with SL, we have support for the SL client. But the goal is a more generalised 3D hosting platform, software to enable you to host virtual worlds of any type.” But for better or worse, some of OpenSim’s first backers are those pushed out of Second Life by an increasingly restrictive Linden Lab. For BCX’s Smith, being nimble and up-to-date on technology trends is par for the course for a virtual financier. “Early adoption is our biggest strength,” he said." Source: Reuters

Second Life is More Than the Sims

Interesting piece from Prokofy Neva and the pic is a map of sl real estate; "I was thinking today about all this excitement and even hysteria about the new rendition of CopyBot and the projects like OpenSim and Central Grid. There's a kind of myth going around that these new "autonomous zones" will be free to have unregulated banking, gambling, ageplay, etc. as if the problem with Second Life is that the Lindens are too strict. Of course they won't be able to do that if they reach any significant size. If they hope to be truly international and open, they will have to cross the same bridges that Linden Lab already crossed. It's not like they are going to get exceptions just because they can proclaim "non-walled-garden status". This is silly, and entitlement-happy, and self-indulgent. But let's say these worlds being reverse engineered or being mounted on other game engines or whatever they do are able to replicate Second Life, that is, that rolling brown and green land with the waving trees, the sims connecting to each other you can walk up and down on, the ability to make things and put them in inventory and exchange them -- all that virtual world stuff. Let's say this is open-sourced, and you can host it yourself, and then the "business model" becomes whatever you can do with it, just like, say, your use of Microsoft Word, if you took a free copy of it, would depend on what you wrote on the page and how you could sell your writings. What, then, is back of Second Life, that is not just the sims? Isn't Second Life more than the sims?"

New Virtual World Enterprise Solution "Tomorrow Space" Launched Yesterday

From VWN; Tomorrow Space Launches Today "Tomorrow Space, Transmutable's premiere project on Ogoglio, is opening to the public today. A browser-based platform for online meeting spaces, Tomorrow Space has been deep in a beta/soft launch focused on fixing bug and tweaking the user experience. Tomorrow Space is open now, but it's still developing. "Opening to the public is a big milestone for us but we look at this as just the beginning of a larger conversation about what online events can be," wrote the founders in an email to beta subscribers. "Tomorrow Space is a simple tool to make the web a little less about isolation and little more about real time conversation. Don't stop telling us where we're missing the big picture or where the little details aren't right and together we'll make Tomorrow Space a great place."

PR Newswire Leaves Second Life

"PR Newswire began working in Second Life in January last year and then entered the virtual world in July with the goal of allowing users to read and submit releases via kiosks scattered throughout the environment. It's left now after finding that "interest in the initiative was quite limited both in SL and among PR Newswire's core real world customer base," Dave Armon, COO of PR Newswire, told SLNN. "PR Newswire has a strong commitment to innovation and to reaching the audiences important to our customers. We remain active in social networks and industry groups involving gaming and virtual worlds." AOL had a similar message when it left Second Life to explore other virtual worlds in December."From VWN.

Here Comes Planet Cazmo & They Are Stealing Penguins!

PLANET CAZMO excites thousands of young gamers looking for their next great online hang-out - Pileated Pictures has also been building PLANET CAZMO, a browser-based Virtual World for Teens and Tweens. In December they quietly went into open beta, in stealth mode, hoping to attract more users to test their technology and game. "Perhaps the most interesting result to come out of the test period," reported Levine, "is that we never had the chance to officially announce the program -- it took off as a result of just a couple blog posts, followed by the enthusiasm of a crowd of players. Its just been growing steadily in a true viral nature since then, and is showing no signs of slowing down." PLANET CAZMO was scheduled to launch the official Beta program at the beginning of 2008 with the intention of inviting a few thousand testers. But during the last week of 2007 a handful of young gamers discovered the web site, entered the world, loved it, and spread the word via the social Web and telling their friends. "Just a couple blog posts on a popular Club Penguin forum generated a wave of viral energy," explains Levine. Within 48 hours there were several thousand PLANET CAZMO enthusiasts, "many of whom went on to publish or participate in one of the dozens of blogs that soon surfaced to talk about the product. In short order, many more users found us through these consumer-created channels. The response has been amazing, and with virtually no promotional effort on our part. We can't wait to see what happens as we move from Beta to the official launch, and deploy our own strategic marketing plan. We're very encouraged." At the end of the six-week testing period, PLANET CAZMO is approaching hundreds of thousands of unique users from 94 countries. By their own initiative, the PLANET CAZMO testers have started almost 700 online discussions and posted more than 100 online videos which have been viewed more than 8,000 times. Levine says the PLANET CAZMO development team has used the beta tester feedback to uncover insights about the interests of the youth social gaming audience, and is presently completing the PLANET CAZMO 1.0 version scheduled to launch during the second quarter of 2008.

HASBRO's Littlest Pet Shop Launched in 9 Languages!!!

Hasbro's LITTLEST PET SHOP VIPs Deployed Globally; Pileated Pictures, an online entertainment studio with a focus on virtual worlds and casual massively multiplayer games (MMOs), released information about its first two launches for 2008: The first is a major update to Hasbro's LITTLEST PET SHOP VIPs virtual world web site, which launched internationally in early February with new features in nine languages, making it one of the largest global rollouts of a virtual world to date. The second is Pileated Pictures' original creation,, a virtual world for Teens and Tweens that has seen impressive viral growth in a short period, without any promotional efforts.Hasbro's LITTLEST PET SHOP VIPs virtual world is now accessible in nine languages, with an expanded collection of new pets, online activities and games. Designed for young girls, LITTLEST PET SHOP VIPs are a collection of plush pets with codes that unlock access to an online virtual world where each pet comes to life as playful characters. The new version of the game includes significant enhancements including more games, activities and community features where girls and their VIPs can explore, nurture, exercise, "shop" and decorate. With well over 20 games and activities, the launch in nine languages makes it one of the largest global roll-out of a virtual world to date. "It was once again fantastic to work with Hasbro, this time to take the LITTLEST PET SHOP VIP's to a global market," said Pileated President, Michael Levine. "Launching simultaneously in nine different languages puts Pileated in a select group who have launched a virtual world to an international audience, and we plan to keep growing the experience in the months ahead with new content and features."

Disney Creates New Virtual Worlds Unit

North Hollywood-based Disney Online said 3 weeks ago that it has created a new team focused on building, operating, and publishing online games, virtual worlds, and online social communities. The new Disney unit, which is part of Walt Disney Internet Group, will be called Disney Online Studios. The new studio will be headed by Steve Parkis. According to Disney, the new online studios group will include Disney Online's Virtual Reality Studio, which runs Toontown Online and Pirates of the Caribbean Online. The virtual worlds unit will also run a new virtual world based on Disney Fairies, and a new world based on Disney's film "Cars." However, Disney said that virtual world Club Penguin will continue to report directly to Walt Disney Internet Group President Steve Wadsworth.

Sanrio Digital's "Hello Kitty Online" accepting players for closed beta

Hong Kong - March 2, 2008: Sanrio Digital ( today announced the closed beta launch of "Hello Kitty Online", a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) based on the famous Sanrio characters. Hello Kitty Online allows players to explore and adventure in Sanrio's fantasy world, a magical land that has recently fallen under the influence of a mysterious and malevolent power. Players for the closed beta version are invited to apply at the official game site ( or community site ( and experience Hello Kitty Online in advance of the game release expected in the second half of 2008. Targeting female players from their pre-teens to twenties, Hello Kitty Online is the first installable MMORPG to set its sights on this demographic profile.

So Many Stealthy Virtual Worlds Will Be in New York!

"If there is one thing I've noticed recently is that there are more virtual worlds companies now operating in stealth mode than ever before. I've lost count in fact. mycosm, C3L3B Digital, Wello Horld, and Viximo are some names that come to mind. And then there's ______ oops... truth be told there are some projects that are so stealthy that even the company name has been stricken from the record to protect the guilty - at least for now. And I'm not talking about just guys in a garage but guys (and gals) in a garage with funding - some of it venture funding, some angel funding. I'd hazard a guess that there must be more than 20 of these stealthy companies now in operation. They range in focus from virtual goods and economies to lifelogging to 2d and 3d virtual world destinations to platforms and tools companies and more. And we're also knowledgeable of several innovative startups that have yet to be funded - some here in the US, others in Australia, China and Europe. A majority of these companies - both the funded and unfunded - will be attending Virtual Worlds 2008 next month in NYC. In fact we have over 700 people registered for the event currently and we're still 30 days out. Some of these startups will be using VW08 as a launch event, so get ready for a lot of buzz and interesting developments in the space. Others will continue to ride low for some time as they continue to refine their technology, file their patents and build out their management team. If you're at a stealth startup and we're not aware of you yet be sure you reach out and say hello so we at least know you're there. And of course send us a note when you're ready to talk. One thing is for certain: this industry is exploding with innovation and its simply a blast to be at the epicenter of it all. See you in New York. Chris Sherman
Editor / Executive Director / Virtual Worlds Management"

Sunday, March 2, 2008

PaymentGuy Accused of Stealing!

I am outraged!: "Interesting news, and I'm trying to follow up on it now. I think it's a very interesting application of virtual world technology, and am curious to see how this progresses over time. Apparently, PaymentGuy has decided he liked the article as well, enough to steal it word for word without attribution. Can't provide a link, but Google should find it for ya within seconds :) Posted by: Takuan Daikon | February 25, 2008 at 08:29 AM" Ok, he is right ... I forgot to cite my source! Oops...

Blue Mars Innovative Content Creation Model for its 3D MMOG

When you’re building a virtual world paradise, does it help to do so from an actual one? That was my first thought after reading about Avatar Reality, a startup based in Oahu, Hawaii (the pic is Honolulu’s Aloha Tower as seen from the founder’s office.) Tomorrow the company will sneak preview Blue Mars, its upcoming “3D casual game” MMO, at GDC in San Francisco. I’m from Hawaii, so during a January stay, I caught an advance demo set on a future Mars terraformed for human habitation, Blue Mars isn’t hardcore sci-fi — indeed, the company’s hoping to attract non-gamer women who’ll enjoy shopping, socializing and playing casual games built into its idyllic locales. It’ll run on a free downloaded client using the ultra-realistic, CPU-taxing CryEngine platform — meaning a large download. They’re aiming for compatibility 3-5 years from now, when standard broadband-powered PCs should run Blue Mars just fine. (Avatar Reality President Kazuyuki Hashimoto notes that Flash-driven games were once considered large, too.) Second Life, most of the world’s content won’t be created by users; instead, they’ll license third-party developers, with whom they’ll share revenue from virtual item sales, while also protecting the company from DMCA/content theft complaints (a recurring headache in SL.) A veteran of Final Fantasy developer Square, Hashimoto envisions Blue Mars as an ideal storefront for the many 3D artists he knows. Development VP Li-han Chen is a veteran of Sony Online while company “Mastermind” Henk Rogers previously founded Blue Planet Software, holder of the Tetris license — both of which should help them recruit casual game developers as Blue Mars evolves.

Other details include:

* Open beta planned for fourth quarter of 2008
* Funded with $2.4 million from Rogers and Hawaiian VC
* Sharded MMO, with up to 10,000 players concurrent on each server
* Game platform to use Lua
* User-to-user trading handled by company-run auction
* Users to earn virtual currency by acting as employees (guides, police, etc.) of world’s fictional corporations
* Company revenue to come from multiple sources, including: land leases, item sales, premium services, real-world advertising

And yes, there’s advantages to developing Blue Mars in the paradise that is Hawaii, among them a proximity to Japan, relocation appeal for prospective employees, and a state tax credit for tech startups. From WJA's blog.

1 Virtual World Launched Per Week in The Last 6 Months

Here is another one, in China: Chinese game company 9You announced the launch of its first virtual world product GTown. Developed in-house by 9You, GTown offers a 3D interactive online community platform. Unlike many other virtual worlds such as Second Life, GTown users can download additional game software packages to play 9You’s existing casual games through the virtual world. The launch of GTown will allow users to allow 9You’s gamers to interact on a uniform platform and use their existing avatars and game accounts to explore the virtual world.


9You, a Chinese music and casual games distributor, announced its first virtual world today: GTown. Redline China reports that GTown was developed in-house to tie the existing online community of 280 million registered avatars and casual gamers together in a place where they could download and continue to play 9You's existing casual games library. A quick Google Translation shows that the company spent 2.5 years and $1.4 million to develop the virtual world, though Redline says that no release date has been set.

Erepublik offers a real second life

From PDA Content Blog: "If online fantasy games are just too ethereal for you, and social networks too social - Erepublik could be the answer. It's an online representation of the real world, in which you participate as a soldier, politician or worker and have 30 days holiday a year. In the real world, Erepublik was founded exactly a year ago in Madrid, with its research and admin team in Bucharest, Romania and employs ten full-timers. Next month they begin their first funding round, and co-founder Alexis Bonte tells us more. • Explain your business to my Mum.
" is a massive online multiplayer social strategy game a mix between a social network and a strategy game set in virtual version of the real world. Yes, I know - my Mum doesn't get it either but my little brothers totally do."
• How do you make money?
"Erepublik's business model is based mainly on virtual goods sold to users; internal advertising from users and external advertising to brands."
• What's your background?
"My co-founder Georges Lemnaru and I have a strong internet experience. I was part of the adventure for six years - from IPO to $1bn sale - in various roles, the last one being managing director for the Italian market.
"George is a real eastern European entrepreneur, launching the first and now largest health web store in Romania from his grandparents' bedroom while he was studying economics."
• How many users do you have now, and what's your target within 12 months?
"After three months of private invites for the beta version, there are now more than 12,000 citizens from 43 countries using Erepublik daily. They spend about 14 minutes everyday on Erepublik (about 5.5 million monthly page views) which is an excellent ratio. We have more than 5,000 people on our waiting list and are aiming for 140,000 citizens by the end of the year after we open up the site in May or June."
• What's your biggest challenge?
"Getting new functionality on the site according to our release plan and responding to our community's wishes. At the moment there are 10 people in the team but in reality its 12,000 citizens that are building the Erepublik world every day. That's amazing in such a short period but also kind of scary."
• Who is your competition?
"Erepublik is a new concept, so there is nothing like it out there that we know of at the moment. But you could say we compete with all other forms of entertainment for our users' time and attention and in particular classical strategy games, browser games and virtual worlds."
• What's the weirdest business experience you've had so far?
"Just one week after our successful launch (3000 users in one week), we had to deal with hacker attack and we got help from one regular user called 'Pokemon JoJo'! We solved the problem quickly thanks to him, so you could call that social network rescue."
• If you had £10m to invest in another web business, what would you invest in?
"If I really had no choice then I would probably invest on the internet video market. I really think Youtube is just the beginning kind of, like the first version of Yahoo search."
• Where do you want the company to be in five years?
"Our aim is to be one of the top three online games in the world with a larger population than Portugal living daily in the Erepublik world. And why not get United Nations recognition? That would be nice..."
• Are you the next big thing?
"Well I'm over 6.3ft and George is also quite tall so I'd say yes...
"Erepublik aims to be to online strategy games what World of Warcraft is to online role playing games. I'd say that's big."

Eric Bethke Mentions PaymentGuy

One of my Virtual World Heroes, genius visionary founder and CEO of GoPets mentions PaymentGuy on his personal blog. How cool!

Law & the 3D Internet

Fascinating piece by my fellow blogger and Law Professor Susan Brener: "Over the last month or three, I’ve read several news stories about how IBM and Linden Labs, along with a number of IT companies, are working to develop “avatar interoperability.”“Avatar interoperability,” as you may know, means that you, I or anyone could create an avatar on Second Life and use that same avatar in other virtual worlds, such as HiPiHi or World of Warcraft or Entropia.The premise is that having created my avatar – my virtual self – I could then use that avatar to travel seamlessly among the various virtual worlds.In a sense, I guess, the interoperable avatar becomes my passport to participate in as many virtual worlds as I like; I would not longer be tethered to a specific virtual world by my limited, idiosyncratic avatar.Avatar interoperability seems to be one aspect of creating a new 3D Internet. One article I read said the ultimate goal is to replace our current, text-based Internet with “a galaxy of connected virtual worlds.” So instead of experiencing cyberspace as a set of linked, sequential “pages,” each of which features a combination of text, graphics and sound, I’d log on as my virtual self and experience cyberspace as a truly virtual place. Or, perhaps more accurately, I would experience cyberspace as a linked series of virtual places, just as I experience the real-world as a linked series of geographically-situated places.Cyberspace would become an immersive, credible pseudo 3D reality – the evolved twenty-first analogue of the hardware-based virtual reality people experimented with fifteen years or so ago . . . the tethered-to-machinery virtual reality depicted in 1990’s movies like The Lawnmower Man and Disclosure. That older kind of virtual reality was seen as something you used for a particular purpose – to play a game or access data.The new 3D Internet featuring interoperable avatars is intended to make cyberspace a more immersive experience. Our approach to privacy law in the United States is often described as sectoral; that is, instead of having general, all-encompassing privacy laws, we have discrete privacy laws each of which targets a distinct area of our lives. So we have medical privacy laws and law enforcement search privacy laws and wiretap privacy laws and so on.I think our experience of cyberspace is currently sectoral, in this same sense: I go on, I check my email, I check some news sites, I might do a little shopping on some shopping sites, then I might watch some videos or check out some music or drop into Second Life to socialize a bit or schedule flights or do any of the many, many other things we all do online. I think my doing this is a sectoral activity because I move from discrete website to discrete website. I may log in multiple times, using different login information. I go to each site for a specific, distinct purpose.I think, then, that the custom of referring to websites as “web pages” accurately captures the way I currently experience cyberspace. really is much more analogous to browsing the pages in a book than it is to how we experience life in the real, physical world. In the real-world I do go to specific places (work, grocery, dry cleaner’s, restaurants, hotels, dog groomer, book store, mall, etc.) for distinct purposes. But I’m “in” the real-world the whole time. I don’t need to reconfigure my reality to move from discrete place to discrete place; the experience is seamless.So that seems to be the goal behind the development of the 3D Internet. It seems to be intended to promote a more immersive, holistic experience of cyberspace while, at the same time, making it easier and more realistic to conduct work, commerce, education and other activities online. Avatars, currency and the other incidents of our online lives would all become seamlessly portable. Personally, I really like the idea. I think it would make cyberspace much easier and much more interesting to use. It would also really give us the sense of “being” in another place when we’re online. When I first heard about avatar interoperability, I wondered about what I guess you’d call the cultural compatibility of migrating avatars. It seemed, for example, incongruous to imagine a World of Warcraft warrior coming into Second Life or vice versa (Second Life winged sprite goes into WoW). And that’s just one example. I had basically the same reaction when I thought of other kinds of avatars leaving their respective environments and entering new and culturally very different worlds. But then, as I thought about it, I realized that’s really what we do in the real world. We don’t have the radical differences in physical appearance and abilities (or inclinations) you see among avatars, but we definitely have distinct cultural differences. We may still have a way to go in some real-world instances (I’m personally not keen on going to Saudi Arabia, for example), but we’ve come a long way from where we were centuries ago when xenophobia was the norm. And the ostensible cultural (and physical) differences among avatars will presumably be mitigated by the fact that an avatar is only a guise a human being uses to interact online. Since it seems humanity as a whole is becoming increasingly cosmopolitan and tolerant, the presumably superficial, virtual differences among avatars may not generate notable cultural incompatibilities as they move into the galaxy of interconnected virtual worlds. I also wondered about what this might mean for law online. Currently, as you may know, the general operating assumption is that each virtual world polices itself. So Linden Lab deals with crimes and other “legal” issues in Second Life, and the other virtual worlds do the same. There have been, as I’ve noted in other posts, some attempts to apply real world laws to conduct occurring in virtual worlds. Earlier this year, the Belgian police investigated a claim of virtual rape on Second Life; I don’t know what happened with the investigation. As I’ve written elsewhere, U.S. law currently would not consider whatever occurs online to be a type of rape, because U.S. law defines rape as a purely real-world physical assault. Online rape cannot qualify as a physical assault and therefore cannot be prosecuted under U.S. law, even though it can inflict emotional injury. U.S. criminal law, anyway, does not really address emotional injury (outside harassment and stalking). That, though, is a bit of a digression. My general point is that so far law generally treats online communities as separate, self-governing places. Second Life and other virtual worlds functionally have a status analogous to that of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century colonies operated by commercial entities like the Hudson Bay Company or the British East Indian Company. That is, they are a “place” the population of which is under the governing control of a private commercial entity. As I, and others have written, this makes a great deal of sense as long as each of these virtual worlds remains a separate, impermeable entity. As long as each remains a discrete entity, and as long as we only inhabit cyberspace by choice, we in effect consent to have the company that owns and operates a virtual world settle disputes and otherwise act as law-maker and law-enforcer in that virtual realm. Things may become more complicated once avatars have the ability to migrate out of their virtual worlds of origin and into other virtual worlds and into a general cyberspace commons. We will have to decide if we want to continue the private, sectoral approach to law we now use for the inhabitants of discrete virtual worlds (so that, for example, if my Second Life avatar went into WoW she would become subject to the laws of WoW) or change that approach somehow. It seems to me the most reasonable approach, at least until we have enough experience with this evolved 3D Internet to come up with a better alternative, is to continue to treat discrete virtual worlds as individual countries, each of which has its own law. This works quite well in our real, physical world: When I go to Italy, I submit myself to Italian law; when I go to Brazil I submit myself to Brazilian law and so on. At some point we might decide to adopt a more universal, more homogeneous set of laws that would generally conduct in cyberspace. Individual enclaves could then enforce special, supplemental laws to protect interests they deemed uniquely important. One of my cyberspace law students did a presentation in class this week in which she told us about the British law firms that have opened up offices and, I believe, practices in Second Life. That may be just the beginning. Virtual law may become a routine feature of the 3D Internet."

One day we'll wake up... and everyone will have an avatar

© February 25, 2008 By Rick Montgomery McClatchy Newspapers KANSAS CITY, Mo.
Bryan Mnemonic can fly. His suit never wrinkles, and his chiseled body never bruises, not even if he crashes into trees.Bryan Carter wishes he could afford Mnemonic's diamond cuff links. But a mouse click makes it possible for Carter - Mnemonic's maker - to indulge in a little bling in the virtual world.Pixel by pixel, Carter created an online alter ego, an avatar mostly in his own image. True, Mnemonic's goatee lacks the gray hairs in Carter's. The waist is tighter, the biceps beefier. Understand that where avatars dwell, and there are millions of them, vanity alterations are expected.
Some avatars dance. Some educate or perform concerts, perhaps in the form of an ogre or a large squirrel. Some have sex or annihilate armies of other avatars.They are whatever you wish to be in a cyberland that doesn't exist, yet does."Life beyond reality... where imagination knows no bounds," announces a video clip for Second Life, an online site that Carter recently introduced to his English students at the University of Central Missouri. "So vast, so versatile, so exhilarating!"And to the uninitiated, so very weird. The uninitiated, however, shrink by the hour.Worldwide, at least 9 million 3-D avatars exist in Second Life, buying islands, racing cars, raising pets and attending church (or strip clubs).The fantasy role-playing game "World of Warcraft" boasts more than 10 million subscribers, many of whom cultivate multiple characters - a healing priest one night, a shape-shifting druid the next.
"An avatar is your embodiment in virtual worlds and virtual game spaces," explained Matthew Falk, an Indiana University researcher of what he and others call "synthetic worlds.""That ability to create an idealized self, or a desired self, is very appealing.""Avatar," in Hindu philosophy, refers to the embodiment of a higher being in earthly form, usually as a person or animal. On the Internet, the meaning gets reversed as people assume otherworldly forms.Sometimes, the characters possess none of the traits of the creators, save for the ability to make their peers LOL. (Advisory: Readers who don't yet know that LOL means "laugh out loud" may wish to stop here and LOBR - let overworked brain rest.)In Second Life, "I had a good friend walking around as a giant taco for a while," Falk said. "And he's a normal guy! Like, wife-and-four-kids normal."For Todd Schrivener, a superhero avatar named Shocking Blue helped zap away the worst despair of his life.In June 2006, Schrivener's wife, Becky, was diagnosed with breast cancer. A friend suggested Schrivener try the online game "City of Heroes" to fill his restless nights.He was skeptical at first. "Geeky," he thought. But as his wife began her fight through chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, Schrivener realized "I had things I wanted to blast" while she slept next to a monitor.Maybe it was his wife's radiation therapy that drove Schrivener to equip Shocking Blue with an arsenal of lightning bolts.Maybe it was the avatar's mission to vanquish evil that got Schrivener hooked. Or could it have been the support he found among fellow players - like the New Zealander who sent flowers when Schrivener's wife had surgery.Whatever, it all worked. As Shocking Blue, "I was able to lose myself and my sense of time - exactly what I wanted," said Schrivener, 42. "This guy was with me through some very bad nights."Shocking Blue thunders on, and Becky Schrivener's cancer is in remission.People may develop profound feelings for their avatars, said Donna Russell, an instructor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City who won a grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to develop Second Life as a teaching tool.Russell recalled one gamer who, after signing waivers to take part in a research project, wanted her avatar to sign off, too."In the minds of some," Russell said, "that avatar is a different person" from themselves.Avatar and creator also have been known to psychologically morph into one. Last year, a Belgian woman phoned authorities to report a rape. The victim was her avatar in the virtual world.
Now search the Internet, if you dare, for "World of Warcraft funeral."You can watch a video clip of a virtual memorial service - attended by dozens of respectful avatars - for a player who died in the real world. Stranger yet, a rival clan launched a bloody ambush on the mourners, setting off howls of protest and, ultimately, more than 2 million hits on YouTube.One viewer, representing many, asked, "Can someone please explain what I just saw?"Was it maybe the need for millions to get a life? Or was it the growth of healthy, global networks that allow you to play, make friends and learn cool stuff - in another life much safer and more liberating than the real kind?
Between people and their avatars, gender reversal is nothing. Ethnicity, too, is a matter of choice. Children with physical disabilities can heave boulders."It's not the avatars that make the network. It's the people behind those avatars," said Jeff Arant, 27, the founder of at the University of Kansas School of Medicine learn how to prepare someone for surgery by logging onto Second Life and transporting to the hospital's "island," where an avatar patient awaits on a gurney.Librarians Bill and Diana Sowers - aka "Rocky Vallejo" and the vivacious "Cindy Elkhart" - built an island they named Rachelville that emphasizes children's literature. The girl whose image and artwork adorn the site is their daughter, who died of leukemia seven years ago."It's been a great experience for us," said Bill Sowers, 54. "I don't walk around in a cowboy hat in real life, but it works for Rocky. There's a little more of a strut to him."In a darkened classroom in Warrensburg, Mo., about 20 college students got animated.English teacher Carter led them through the basics of avatar birth. Soon their 3-D alter egos were projected on the big screen, flying, stumbling, bumping into one other in search of their virtual classroom, headed by Bryan Mnemonic.Come into my class!" Mnemonic commanded, and with a wave of his avatar hand, the door of a computer-generated school magically swung open."Greg, welcome! Miranda's flying in - great! Who's that walking up? Maximum? Watch your step. Andy, hi."Their avatars started out blandly human. Then again, they were only 15 minutes old."You'll learn," Carter told his students. With time and practice, these "newbies" will stretch out.Some probably will acquire tails, rams' horns or wings - dragon avatars roam everywhere. As part of their course work, they will explore "Virtual Harlem," set in the 1930s Jazz Age, and write accounts of virtual-world religions, sexuality and cultures.On this day, however, freshman Marlana Davis just didn't get it. "I'd just rather go out in the real world, you know?" she said. "Socialize with real people, my real friends... in places that really exist." The leap can be difficult, but devotees such as Stacey Fox contend that avatars and their surroundings are real - just as sculptures are real, stagecraft is real and the Internet as a social network is real.Fox's avatar is a fox, of course: Sage Duncan, "composer, filmmaker, and master percussionist." It even has its own Web site.In concerts billed "Sage Duncan" in Second Life, the fox plays percussion. In the real world, it's Stacey Fox pounding away into a microphone for a live audience."That's what can be so hard for your head to get around: Is it Sage playing or is it me?" said Fox, a guest artist in the University of Kansas art department. "To them, it's Sage."... This is a growing underground, really. A lot of adults don't know how huge it's become. One day we'll wake up... and everyone will have an avatar."