Archives for January 2009

Weekend Whimsy

1. Second Life: Text-Based Badminton (Part 1)

2. Chakryn Forest

3. open simulator project: my stand alone sim

Australian classification of MMOGs

Massively’s Tateru Nino has written a fascinating piece on the issue of games classification in Australia. Specifically, she’s confirmed with the Federal Attorney General’s Department that:

“Where a sale is within the jurisdiction of the relevant State or Territory legislation,” Heffernan informed us, “it is a criminal offence under those laws to sell unclassified computer games. Enforcement of those laws is a matter for the States and Territories.”

There may be no surprise in that to many people, but Tateru’s discovery is that most MMOs have no displayed evidence of having applied for Australian classification. After doing some digging for the story, she believes it’s a case of oversight combined with governmental miscommunication.

Personally, I find it hard to believe that the major MMO publishers wouldn’t understand that Australia had a classification regime. The claim is that such publishers were advised in the past that MMOs didn’t need to comply, which is plausible given their nature in comparison to a standard 1-person game at the beginning. Now, MMOs are so widely used it’s a problematic argument to uphold. Behemoths like Blizzard’s World of Warcraft and its expansion packs aren’t labeled with any Australian classification – an unusual thing unless historic advice has been provided to say local classification wasn’t required. WoW in particular has nothing to fear from classification given how innocuous its gameplay is and its well implemented moderation options.

crigil-westfall

It’s more an issue of principle: the government only assesses applications made to it, there’s no proactive work done on ensuring new releases are classified. There’s an obvious problem here – if a less responsible publisher arrives on the scene to release an MMO that would rate R18+ , it can still hit the shelves if that publisher doesn’t apply for classification rather than being refused classification if they did apply. As Tateru mentions in her piece, Australia has the farcical situation of having no R18+ or X18+ categories for games, so everything at that level is refused classification. Add to that the fact that State governments are responsible for enforcing the law and it’s not hard to see how this situation has arisen.

Essentially, the current voluntary application process combined with no ‘adult’ games ratings and the old Federal / State blameshifting actually fosters an environment where a non-ethical publisher would be mad not to release their MMO product unclassified. If they’re ever caught (which seems unlikely unless the MMO is beyond the pale), there’s a growing precedent of other MMOs selling tens or hundreds of thousands of locally unclassified copies. I’d have thought that would be one hell of a defense.

Hopefully the Australian Attorney General’s department has another look at the issue, particularly the lack of adult game classifications, because the status quo is becoming more untenable as MMOs continue their growth in popularity. The risk is that a crackdown will occur without an expansion of the classification options – that would be nearly as bad as the status quo.

Update: Tateru Nino has posted a follow-up story on the issue

Linden Lab gain two more executives

Read all about it here in CEO Mark Kingdon’s post, but the upshot is that Linden Lab have gained a VP of Strategy and Emerging Business (Judy Wade) and a VP of Core Development (Brian Michon).

Both positions aren’t unusual in a growing company. Both will be tested in coming months in an environment of improving infrastructure and the need for a coherent growth (or maintenance) strategy. I’d say both new positions will actually be spending a little time together as it’s hard to imagine there being too big a gap between the overall strategy and the primacy of effective infrastructure.

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. VentureBeat (USA) – iMafia, a social game for iPhone with new virtual goods model. “Social games have taken off on networks like Facebook, and now mobile platforms like the iPhone. One of the newest examples is the iMafia game from PlayMesh, which has found a clever way to integrate virtual goods — a challenge for most iPhone apps. Social games like Mob Wars are already hugely popular online. But Charles Ju, co-founder of PlayMesh in San Francisco, believes the time is right to migrate the concept to the iPhone, which is capable of supporting the same features that draw audiences on the web. The result, iMafia, was released on Friday and already ranks No. 88 in the Apple AppStore.”

2. The Industry Standard (USA) – Virtual worlds getting a dose of reality. “Virtual worlds, at least those looking for funding, are meeting the all-too-real world of the worsening economy, according to a new report. Prepared by Virtual Worlds Management, a provider of market research and events related to the virtual worlds industry, the report says investments in 63 virtual-world related companies declined by 58 percent from 2007 to 2008, shrinking from $1.4 billion to $594 million. This year will see more contraction, Joey Seiler, editor of Virtual World News, told The Standard. ”

3. VentureBeat (USA) – Updated: Game and virtual world fundings top $885 million in 2008. “In 2008, VentureBeat chronicled lots of game and virtual world fundings. Our updated list shows 93 game companies that raised more than $885.6 million worth of venture capital and angel funds. That’s nothing compared to the $4.1 billion that went into U.S. deals for clean tech, according to the National Venture Capital Association. But it’s certainly a big chunk of the $2 billion that went into 407 media and entertainment companies in 2008. It’s probably one of the biggest years for venture investment in video game companies. Many of these companies may shut down because of the recession.”

4. BusinessWeek (USA) – Architect Designs Sony’s Virtual World. “Back in July 2007, architect Kenji Ikemoto got an unexpected call from a contact at Sony Computer Entertainment, Sony’s (SNE) video game unit. Was he interested in designing an online virtual world for the company’s PlayStation 3 gaming console? Ikemoto, 37, was intrigued. The founder of Jota Associates had worked on residential and commercial buildings around Tokyo, but had no experience in video games and no clue why Sony would want to hire a real-world architect for such a project. The offer began to make sense when he met with officials at Sony Computer Entertainment’s office: They wanted to create a virtual cityscape rivaling hip areas of Tokyo.”

5. Web Worker Daily (USA) – Enhance Live Events With Virtual Ones. “I’ve talked about live blogging events as a way to enhance and promote a real world event, literally as it is happening. But lately, I’ve been asked to host virtual world events simultaneous to real world events. Mike Gunderloy and I also included planning and hosting virtual events in our 10 More New Ways to Make Money back in August. The virtual events I hosted recently were both held in Second Life. Clearly, Second Life is not dead.”

6. Ars Techica (USA) – New cafe space coming to PlayStation Home. While the original iteration of Home was very light on content, Sony is attempting to remedy that with the addition of more spaces for users to socialize in. Following the release of Red Bull Island, Sony has announced a new cafe space for the virtual world. Unfortunately, it looks to be just as devoid of content as the rest of Home. A batch of screens for the new space were released on the PlayStation.com message boards, which show off the modern looking cafe area. While no details have been released, the early images don’t show much promise for additional activities.”

7. PC World (USA) – Teleconferencing will be Big in 2008, Gartner Says. “Current economic conditions are set to drive uptake of video telepresence in the next three years, with the travel industry losing out, according to Gartner. The analyst firm predicts that high-definition-based video meeting solutions will replace 2.1 million airline seats annually, costing the travel and hospitality industry US$3.5 billion per year. This is one of the firm’s top 10 predictions for the year.”

8. Times of India (India) – Virtual 3D worlds or Web 3.0? “While the world debates over what Web 3.0 could actually comprise, Sudhir Syal explores the virtual 3D World and realises that it could well be a serious contender. It was in the summer of 2004, during a conversation between internet evangelist Tim O Reilly and MediaLive International that the now inescapable term Web 2.0 was first coined. Just after the dotcom bust, Web 2.0 was meant to signify the resurgence of the World Wide Web and it was to reinforce this that the Web 2.0 Summit was first held. ”

9. Scoop (New Zealand) – Virtual Islam: Peace, Love, and Some Understanding. “In these times of rockets and bombs exploding in Israel and the Gaza Strip, Islamophobia alive and well in the homeland, an uptick in anti-Semitism in Europe, a lively Rapture Index, and the economy still in a shambles, it may be worth your while to step away from these realities and enter conversations that haven’t yet gotten as much attention and support as they may deserve. Dozens in Egypt, Morocco, Italy, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, France, and the United States gather to protest the recent attacks in the Gaza Strip; American University in Cairo launches a Virtual Newsroom with James Glassman, the US Undersecretary of State of Public Diplomacy, in conversation with eight Egyptian political bloggers who covered the 2008 US presidential campaign; people from around the world join in a pilgrimage to Mecca and witness a burning synagogue depicting Kristallnacht.”

10. Massively (USA) – Linden Lab arrivals and departures. “The lineup of staff at Second Life virtual environment developer/operator, Linden Lab changes on a month by month basis. There’s been a bit of motion since the last high-profile hire. Judy Wade, formerly Entrepreneur-in-residence at Kapor Enterprises Inc, has been hired as the vice president of Strategy and Emerging Business. That’s the same Kapor as Mitch Kapor who has a seat on the board of directors as the Lab.”

Announcing: Avatar Dog t-shirts

avatar_dog2

I’m really thrilled to announce we’ve got some t-shirts for sale. The primary purpose of the t-shirts is to raise money for Kiva, our charity of choice. Kiva provide funds to small businesses in developing countries and to date well over 57 million dollars have been lent, with over 97% of that repaid so that it can be reinvested in other businesses.

Here’s how it works. Buy one of our Avatar Dog or Real Life Avatar t-shirts, and 50% of the proceeds go to Kiva. To clarify actual amounts – each t-shirt generates 20% commission, of which half goes to Kiva. The other half goes to us to assist in meeting our costs (paying writers, hosting, cost of t-shirt design etc). So on a standard t-shirt purchase, a minimum of $2.50 goes to Kiva.

There’s a number of variants on offer including:

Avatar Dog in colour, no text
Avatar Dog in black and white, no text
– Avatar Dog in colour: “What’s a metaverse? I call it home”
– Avatar Dog in colour: “Furry for life”
– Avatar Dog in black and white: “It’s an avatar’s life”

We’re selling the t-shirts through Red Bubble, an Australia-based company that ship worldwide (they have offices in the UK and US as well). Their shipping costs are very reasonable: one t-shirt delivered to the USA is $29 US dollars shipped at present (only AU$36 or so delivered within Australia). There’s a choice of up to 22 different colours and four t-shirt styles.

Most importantly, I’d like to give major kudos to the artist we commissioned to create the Avatar Dog. His name is First Dog on the Moon, and he provides a daily piece of brilliance for Crikey – read First Dog’s blog to see more of his excellent work. I’ve been a fan ever since seeing his work appear in Crikey and I was rapt when he accepted the commission.

Comments welcome – we will be uploading further t-shirts (same design with different text) in coming months, and if popular enough we’ll also be commissioning First Dog for a second design. Enjoy!

Interview – Raph Koster, Co-founder and President, Metaplace

If the virtual worlds industry has elder statesmen, Raph Koster is definitely one of them. It’s a term he probably dislikes, but the reality is he’s had a direct involvement in some key milestones from text-based worlds (MUDs) through to the present day. After spending some time with his latest project, Metaplace, we took the opportunity to ask Raph some questions about its development as well as discussing some wider challenges and opportunities for virtual worlds. If you ever doubted that Raph Koster was a content creator to his core, pay particular attention to his response to the final question. 😉

raph_koster1

Lowell: Let’s start with your baby, Metaplace. How’s it progressing?

Raph: It is going well — we are expanding our closed beta now, and we’ve had a lot of big changes going in and more to come as we accelerate towards opening up. Among recent changes have been the addition of a tool that allows you to select models from the Google 3D Warehouse and bring them into your world with just a few clicks. This has led to a huge explosion in the variety of things found in people’s worlds.

Lowell: Content creation is key to Metaplace – what excites you most about what Metaplace has to offer in that regard?

Raph: I think what is most exciting isn’t so much the power of Metaplace – that’s there for sure, and it’s hugely exciting and fascinating and great things can be made. But I find special attraction to the ease and simplicity, the fact that we’re unlocking very complicated stuff for a lot of people who don’t know how to 3D model, or script, or code. So I think for me, it’s the lowering of barriers that is most exciting.

Lowell: 2009 is being touted as the year of the avatar – what’s your take? Has the avatar gained enough traction to be a true aspect of popular culture?

Raph: I think avatars became commonplace a while back. They have morphed into profile pictures and gravatars and they’re simply everywhere. So I don’t know what “year of the avatar” means except to say that something ubiquitous has become universal.

Lowell: Back in 2007 you were quite emphatic that the games industry was overlooking the power of the web as a platform – do you think there’s any greater level of insight now or is there still a significant blind spot there?

Raph: I think it is evident that the game industry has caught on. EA now distributes on Steam. All the consoles have web browsers now. We have now seen multiple games conceived and developed on or for the web jump over to consoles. Web integration in the form of sharing achievements, exposing APIs, posting to web services, and so on, is becoming far more common. I think the pace of these developments is simply going to increase.

Lowell: Where do you see Metaplace gaining its market share from?

Raph: We can’t be all things to all people, of course, and as a UGC platform, it takes a while for every possible use to come to fruition. I would say that from the get-go, we’ll be a highly social, creative place with great ease of use, and anyone familiar with casual virtual worlds and “building” sorts of games and worlds will feel at home. But I also expect users to take us in many directions over time — that’s the beauty of enabling user-created content.

Lowell: Although Google Lively was only a competitor in the broadest sense, what lessons if any have you learnt from their experience and what do you think Google have taken away from the experience?

Raph: Well, I can’t speak for Google! To me, Lively always seemed aimed more at the IMVU-like, avatar chat sort of space. I do think it validated some of our choices — the decision to use Flash, for example, which has so much penetration and doesn’t require a download for anyone, or our emphasis on user-created content.

Lowell: The mainstream media have latched onto sex as a challenge for worlds like Google Lively and Sony’s Home. Have you started to formulate how Metaplace will deal with ‘vice’ issues?

Raph: We’re definitely not a kids’ world. In our Terms of Service we explicitly allow users to make worlds about anything, as long as they do not violate the law. But we also give them complete control over their world — nothing should be in there that the world owner doesn’t want. It’s a lot like having your own webpage, in that sense.

Lowell: As a writer, has anything recently in virtual worlds stood out for you as high-quality writing?

Raph: To be honest, I don’t think that writing has ever been a huge part of social virtual worlds. It’s had far far more of a presence in the RPGs, where it is really starting to get much better.

Lowell: Can you give an estimation of when you think Metaplace will have its full launch?

Raph: We expect the open beta launch will happen later this year.

Lowell: Aside from avatars, there’s some further momentum around virtual goods. What approach to virtual goods will Metaplace likely take in the coming year?

Raph: We will have our marketplace available, with all goods free at first. I am looking forward to seeing the amount of user-created content grow on there, and eventually outnumber our own creations. Metaplace is somewhat unique in that our virtual goods aren’t necessarily just pictures, but can enable unique behaviors and interactivity.

Lowell: Do you agree with the premise that in the near future we’re likely to see more significant regulation and legislation in regard to virtual worlds? If so, do you think we’re likely to see an initial
overreaction by governments?

Raph: It’s inevitable that more legislative or at least legal attention be paid to virtual worlds. And I also think that it is likely that there will be misunderstandings of what is fundamentally a new medium. A lot
of people in mainstream media made fun of the U.S. Congressional hearings on virtual worlds that were streamed into Second Life — and that just indicates a lack of familiarity with them.

So sure, there will probably be mistakes made. But there are industry groups working to make sure that policymakers understand the industry better, and with the rise of the Web as a common medium pretty much everywhere, I think we are seeing that the learning curve is not nearly as high as it once was.

Lowell: You recently blogged on the issue of losing virtual world history – can you see there ever being enough common goodwill to establish some sort of universal timeline / history?

Raph: Well, I know of several projects – the most active right now is probably Bruce Damer’s at http://www.vwtimeline.org/. And the MUD Wikia project, which attempts to capture the early text-based history of virtual worlds, seems to be off to a good start at http://mud.wikia.com.

Lowell: After spending my first few hours using Metaplace, it occurred to me that it’s ideally suited to having a MUD-format area – is that likely to be something driven by Areae or perhaps something created by the Metaplace community?

Raph: If you mean games, or collaboratively built games, our tools certainly enable it. Right now, we’re focused on providing somewhat more fundamental building blocks. There’s a lot of sorts of games! But many of our current users certainly enjoy making games, and more power to them!

Lowell: Business seems to be latching onto virtual worlds as a cost-saving, virtual meeting platform – does this offer any opportunities for Metaplace? Do you see the platform as having appeal for enterprise?

Raph: Honestly, I am not a huge fan of pursuing the enterprise market. I am more interested in the mass market, and the ways in which they can take virtual worlds to all sorts of new places. That said, if enterprises want to use Metaplace, we won’t stop them. But it’s not a target for us, we’re a consumer service.

Lowell: Leading on from that, there’ll only be widespread business acceptance of virtual worlds when easily quantifiable ROI can be established – do you think that’s likely to occur in the near future?

Raph: It’s difficult to say. Many of the ideal uses are around difficult to quantify usecases. Do virtual worlds fully replace face to face meetings? I am not sure they really do – going clear back to the text worlds, we have a tradition of user conventions, player luncheons, clan gatherings, and so on, to get virtual friends to meet face to face. There’s no doubt in my mind that virtual conferencing is then a value add, but it might not be quantifiable enough for a business right now.

Over time, as more of the web comes to include virtual places, as I believe it will, I think the value will become more evident.

Lowell: Getting totally away from virtual worlds, you’re a musician so I’ll ask a more obvious ‘desert-island discs’ question: what five albums couldn’t you live without?

Raph: I would trade five albums for a guitar in a heartbeat.

This will make you laugh

If you yelled for 8 years, 7 months and 6 days you would have produced enough sound energy to heat one cup of coffee. 

(Hardly seems worth it.) 

If you farted consistently for 6 years and 9 months, enough gas is produced to create the energy of an atomic bomb. 

(Now that’s more like it!)

The human heart creates enough pressure when it pumps out to the body to squirt blood 30 feet. 

(O.M.G.!)

A pig’s orgasm lasts 30 minutes.

(In my next life, I want to be a pig.)

A cockroach will live nine days without its head before it starves to death. (Creepy.) 

(I’m still not over the pig. )

Banging your head against a wall uses 150 calories a hour 

(Don’t try this at home,maybe at work)

The male praying mantis cannot copulate while its head is attached to its body. The female initiates sex by ripping the male’s head off. 

(Honey, I’m home.. What the..?!) 

The flea can jump 350 times its body length. It’s like a human jumping the length of a football field. 

(30 minutes..lucky pig! Can you imagine?) 

The catfish has over 27,000 taste buds.

(What could be so tasty on the bottom of a pond?)

Some lions mate over 50 times a day.

(I still want to be a pig in my next life…quality over quantity)

Butterflies taste with their feet. 

(Something I always wanted to know..)

The strongest muscle in the body is the tongue.

(Hmmmmmm……)

Right-handed people live, on average, nine years longer than left-handed people. 

( If you’re ambidextrous, do you split the difference?)

Elephants are the only animals that cannot jump.

(Okay, so that would be a good thing)

A cat’s urine glows under a black light.

(I wonder who was paid to figure that out?)

An ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain.

( I know some people like that.)

Starfish have no brains 

(I know some people like that too.)

Polar bears are left-handed. 

(If they switch, they’ll live a lot longer)

Humans and dolphins are the only species that have sex for pleasure.

(What about that pig??)

Now that you’ve smiled at least once, it’s your turn to spread these crazy facts and send this to someone you want to bring a smile to, maybe even a chuckle. 

In other words, send it to everyone

 

(and God love that pig) 

Weekend Whimsy

1. Bailamo

(This is a promo for an online dating beach world – thought it appropriate given it’s middle of summer and a long weekend)

2. Comet Morigi – the sunken museum

3. Big Blue Dress Widescreen

Alter Ego – SBS covers Second Life (again)

Over the past nine months or so, writer / director Shelley Matulick has been making a documentary about Second Life. Its working title was CyberStars but the final product has a much improved title of Alter Ego. SBS and Matulick have previously released Our Brilliant Second Life, but the latest production is a significant step up in scope.

The final promo poster for Alter Ego looks like this:

alter-ego-poster-small

Stalwart ABC Island admin, Wolfie Rankin, is one of the subjects of Alter Ego and he gives his thoughts on the finished product on his blog. There’s no confirmed release date as yet. This is a documentary that should garner quite a bit of interest, particularly if its portrayals have depth, which seems to be the case on initial impressions.

Virtual Worlds: 2009 industry forecast

US-based Virtual Worlds Management have released their Virtual Worlds Management Industry Forecast 2009 . It features commentary from more than 60 executives across the virtual worlds industry, including Australia’s Santosh Kulkarni (NICTA), Danny Stefanic (ExitReality), Bruce Joy (VastPark), and Bob Quodling (Mycosm).

vw-forecast-2009

Condensing a report of this size into a few paragraphs is always fraught with difficulty, but the main messages standing out for me were:

1. There’s not surprisingly very different estimates put forward on the level of growth this year, given the current economic circumstances;

2. There’s significant confidence that advertising models are evolving that make virtual worlds competitive with social networks like Facebook, particularly given the growth in virtual goods on those platforms;

3. Web-driven worlds are seen as having the most momentum for 2009;

4. Enterprise use of virtual worlds remains unclear, with a split between those who believe the economic climate provides opportunities to demonstrate cost savings versus those who believe any IT expenditure will be under significant scrutiny.

From the Aussie contingent, one of the more amusing comments came from VastPark’s Bruce Joy:

3D on the Web will continue to be a bit disappointing, but will become far more commonplace through Unity and Flash based engines like Papervision. This suggests 2010 may be the watershed year where 3D on the Web goes mainstream. That’s when we all become rock stars and live large, right?

Mycosm’s Bob Quodling claims “Wireless mobile will be the biggest play” – is that as opposed to ‘Wired Mobile’?

Danny Stefanic from ExitReality sees much clearer ROI cases coming forward for business, whilst Santosh Kulkarni from NICTA cites the developments in interoperability between worlds a key issue.

If you’re interested in some comprehensive thoughts from the virtual worlds industry itself, then have a read of the full report. We’d love to hear your thoughts – is the report a realistic assessment of 2009 prospects, a group of insular assertions from an industry desperate to gain mainstream relevance, or something else altogether?

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