Archives for February 2009

Merged realities: events and issues for virtual worlds

1. The latest Second Life Education in New Zealand blog has an interesting update on a NZ-based Second Life creative project that’s exploring issues around public urban spaces.

2. Volume 3 of the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research is now available and as usual contains a range of interesting research. A glimpse of some of the peer-reviewed research papers:

Spectacular Interventions of Second Life: Goon Culture, Griefing, and Disruption in Virtual Spaces
Burcu S. Bakioglu
Abstract  |  PDF
Knee-High Boots and Six-Pack Abs: Autoethnographic Reflections on Gender and Technology in Second Life
Delia Dumitrica, Georgia Gaden
Abstract  |  PDF
Jigsaw Worlds and Avatars – Puzzling Over Property and Personhood. New Challenges for Intellectual Property Law.
Norberto Nuno Gomes de Andrade
Abstract  |  PDF
On the Dark Side: Gothic Play and Performance in a Virtual World
Mikael Johnson, Tanja Sihvonen
Abstract  |  PDF
Analyzing Social Identity (Re) Production: Identity Liminal Events in MMORPGs
Javier A Salazar
Abstract  |  PDF
Gorean role-play in Second Life
Tjarda Sixma
Abstract  |  PDF
“Because it just looks cool!” – Fashion as character performance: The Case of WoW
Susana Tosca, Lisbeth Klastrup
Abstract  |  PDF
Things you can do in a virtual game world, when you are dead: collective memory constitution and identity of virtual refugees.
Anthony Papargyris, Angeliki Poulymenakou
Abstract  |  PDF

3. The Virtual Worlds: High Performance or Hype? discussion paper is still available as a free download.

Weekend Whimsy

1. Gravity of Love – Second Life

2. mini second life adventure

3. Annasue & Robert69 Dancing Through Second Life

Video review of Metaplace

The MP Insider blog has a video review of a particular gaming area in Metaplace – Zoo Escape!. For those who haven’t seen Metaplace in action, it’s a useful heads-up on its form factor and its content creation options:

As stated previously, being web-based and having good content creation opportunities should prove an enticing package.

The Internet, video games, virtual environments and social networks: The new Demon Drink


An Engineering student at the University of Texas Austin murdered his wife and his mother at their homes, then shot and killed 14 people (and wounded 32 others) at his school, before being killed by police officers.

A Japanese woman who had been dumped by her Sappporo boyfriend destroyed some of his property and records.

A Houston woman believed her husband was having an affair, ran over him three times and left the car parked on top of him, killing him.

A North Carolina woman whose relationship broke up with a Delaware man stalked him and attempted to kidnap him.

A Canadian man’s wife who also thought her husband was having an affair, was killed with a sharp object and the murder disguised as a car accident.

A British man killed his estranged wife for concealing her marital status and pretending to be single.

Now three of these stories have something in common that the other three don’t. Can you guess which?

Three of these stories involve computers, technology and online networks and the other three do not.

The Engineering student was not imitating or influenced any violent video game. Indeed he had never been online and never played any video game. His name was Charles Whitman and the school shooting took place in 1966.

Likewise the cases of the Houston Woman and the Canadian man had nothing to do with computers, the Internet, virtual environments, online social networks, Second Life, or Facebook. The other three did. Just not very much.

The Japanese couple broke up on Maple Story and she deleted his account. The British woman changed her Facebook marital status to indicate she was single, and her husband murdered her. The North Carolina woman met her Delaware boyfriend in Second Life, but things only went wrong after they’d met in person.

Some people will tell you that technology is destroying society and civilization, that virtual worlds and social networks are distorting our perceptions and making us lose touch with reality. Stories like these are cited as examples.


Technology may ultimately be the cause of some social and societal problems, but these aren’t those problems!

If Whitman had performed his school shooting in the 21st century, there would be people lining up to claim that violent video games were responsible, perhaps Grand Theft Auto — a commonly named villain. That’s not a difficult correlation to make — hundreds of millions of people people have played violent video games. Statistically, you have probably done so yourself. It’s obvious, however, that they cannot have been involved in Whitman’s killing spree, or in countless others which pre-date them.

What should be obvious from the brief selection of cases above, is that they all have something in common. People. It helps to remind us that people react to other people and to the circumstances in their lives exactly the same way without technology, the Internet and virtual environments as they do with it.

Like the demon drink, Reefer Madness, even demonic possession — isn’t the problem here that we’re focusing attention away from the motivations and choices of people and foisting the blame off on something else? Does that not do more to obfuscate and confound any attempts to address the real problem? That’s just lazy and irresponsible.

And the real problem is us, isn’t it? People are still people, wherever you go and whatever year it is.

On the Internet, as is commonly repeated, everyone knows you’re a dog. You’re still exactly the same person, regardless of your avatar or your handle.

If you’re cheating on your partner, or lying to people about being a highly paid executive, it doesn’t matter if you’re doing it on the Internet, or in a bar in the city. The devil didn’t make you do it. You did — and you’ve only yourself to blame, however much you wish you could shift the blame onto the Internet or your avatar.

IMVU and the Victorian Bushfires

I received an email from IMVU’s PR people, part of which I think is worth re-publishing:

IMVU user PraiseRose is turning virtual donations into real world relief for individuals and communities affected by the devastating bushfires in Victoria, Australia.

A Canada native, PraiseRose has never even visited Australia, but she was so moved by the coverage of the tragedy on the news that she decided to do something about it. She created a virtual sticker in IMVU, an online destination where adults and teens meet new people in 3D, and began to sell it to other IMVU users to help raise awareness about the bushfires. So far, the response from within the IMVU community has been overwhelming. Each sticker sells for 750 IMVU credits (about US$1), and so far PraiseRose has raised nearly 800,000 IMVU credits (almost US$500.00).

“This fundraiser has brought this community together in amazing ways,” Says PraiseRose. “I’ve made many so new friends, from all over the world. The response, and the trust have so totally overwhelmed me.” The fundraiser is set to end on March 1st at which time PraiseRose will donate the money she’s raised to the Red Cross Victorian Bushfire Appeal.

It’d be fascinating to get a tally of the dollars raised in virtual worlds to date – a conservative estimate would be tens of thousands of dollars.

Enterprise 2.0 and virtual worlds and a free discussion paper download

enterprise20shortpaper Today, I had the pleasure of facilitating four small group sessions at the Enterprise 2.0 Executive Forum 2009. The topic was virtual worlds and enterprise, and thanks to the participants in the groups, it turned into a very interesting exchange of ideas. The agenda of the overall forum was much wider: the use of Web 2.0 technologies in business. What’s impressive about this forum is the breadth of roles amongst participants – CEOs, CIOs, learning and development professionals, marketing professionals and general operational staff were in attendance.

As I’ve found before at these events, there are a growing number of people in business who see the potential of virtual worlds, but they struggle to get the same recognition throughout the business. That said, Australian business continues to lead the way in the area and it was great to see the level of passion for the opportunities virtual worlds provide.

Some other points that came out of the groups for me:

  • There’s a genuine acceptance of the potential of virtual worlds as an effective collaboration tool;
  • The awareness around the power of telepresence is growing steadily – close to half of the group members already understood the concept well and most had experienced its superiority over teleconferences or videoconferences first hand;
  • Enterprises want pilot virtual worlds but arguing the ROI case remains the main barrier, along with the significant end-user resistance that occurs;
  • That Second Life’s interface and the fact it’s a standalone application are major barriers to implementation;
  • There remains very high desirability for web-based worlds that deliver the level of complexity of Second Life
  • As part of my involvement I produced a four-page discussion paper: Virtual Worlds in the Enterprise – hype or high-performance?. It’s a bare-bones overview of the opportunities virtual worlds provide for business and a brief summary of five virtual worlds to watch (Second Life, VastPark, OpenSim grids, OLIVE and Metaplace) – there are obviously many more but as an overview they provide a good snapshot.

    Anyone regularly exposed to virtual worlds won’t get a lot out of the document, but if you’re one of our readers who’s just dipping their toe in the water, it provides a basic launch pad for a wider exploration.

    You can download Virtual Worlds in the Enterprise – hype or high-performance? for free by going to this page.

    You only need to provide your name and email address to be able to download a PDF of the paper.

    Virtual worlds: the next online banking

    westpac Aside from the group discussions on virtual worlds I facilitated yesterday, the only other time I witnessed them discussed at the Enterprise 2.0 Executive Forum 2009, was when Westpac’s David Backley spoke. As we reported last year, Westpac had trialled the use of Second Life to induct new employees in more remote locations.

    Backley reflected back on the pilot, stating that it “had worked well and had been a good idea”. That said, the pilot did not continue due to the departure of the project sponsor – there was no key person to keep the momentum going. The learnings for Backley were that it was a concept ahead of its time, and that until the cost of implementation and maintenance came down, it would be difficult to argue a cost-saving case. Given the tens of thousands of employees Westpac has, it’s a pretty downcast assessment of virtual meetings as cost-saver. That said, Westpac’s platform of choice was Second Life. With the growth in alternate platforms, those costs are reducing, but there’s still a long way to go in that respect.

    Aside from that, Backley provided some very interesting statistics around Westpac’s internet banking service. Presently, up to 6000 people are logged in to Westpac’s online banking service at any given time, with close to 700 thousand sessions a day. More value is transacted with online banking per day than is done in Westpac’s branches or call centres. When it was launched a little over a decade ago, the expectation was that perhaps a few thousand people Australia-wide would use the service. For me, that’s a key parallel with virtual worlds. It may be a ‘niche’ for business at present, but like internet banking, the public’s takeup is likely to surprise enterprises in a big way.

    The other similarity is in platform: the original internet banking options tended to be standalone applications, then they evolved to be web-based. That’s when the rate of adoption exploded. There’s a very obvious lesson there.

    Does a cross-platform interface make Second Life a second-class application?

    Is a cross platform application UI really all that good for users?If you’re a Mac user, you know you’ve got access to a whole slew of first-class applications. That is, apps that follow the user-interface style guidelines for the Mac. Painstakingly developed and tested over time, the guidelines ensure consistent layouts of menus, options and hotkeys, so that you don’t spend your time struggling to work out how to do the familiar, when you should be getting on with gaining expertise in the unfamiliar.

    Windows also has it’s own user-interface conventions (though they are not so strongly adhered to), and Linux has its own body of user-interface conventions also (though mostly just a matter of custom).

    The thing is, the applications that follow those local rules are quite simply easier on the user, and that gives them a popularity boost right there. You don’t have to think about the hotkeys for saving or quitting. You don’t have to search high and low to find preferences. Your first-class applications are all laid out in the same way, where they have anything in common.

    Second Life, however, isn’t a native first-class application on any of the three supported platforms. It sports an interface that’s somewhat alien to all three. My contention here is that perhaps an attempt should be made to actually give the Second Life viewer an overhaul and actually give each platform a native-style first-class UI.

    i.e: Have the Mac viewer follow the Mac UI conventions for menus, hot-keys, drag and drop. The whole nine-yards. Windows and Linux viewers should get their UI reworked to follow their local conventions, too.

    Sure, there’s a downside to this. More limited opportunities for cross-platform tutorials and documentation, you’d need to triple-up in some cases. Plus extra work from developers and QA.

    The question is, however, who are we supposed to be making the viewer UI easier for? Documenters, devs and QA staff, or the actual users? The unified cross-platform interface doesn’t do the user much in the way of favours, and frankly not many second-class applications ever really hit the heights of popularity on any platform. Without following native user-interface conventions, you’re ultimately deprecated somewhat by the very people you need to win over: the actual users.

    Ultimately, though, this is something that needs to be proven out by experiment before you can say for certain that a first-class native-conformant UI will do a better job than the existing second-class UI.

    With a variety of third-party Second Life viewers out there the question is, who will be the first to try the idea out? I don’t think it will be Linden Lab.

    The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

    1. Forbes (USA) – The Second Life Hype Has Fizzled—Is Twitter Next? “Second Life is still a vibrant virtual world—with over 12.2 million registered users and more than 54,000 online the last time I logged in—but you wouldn’t know it from the media coverage (or lack thereof) lately. It wasn’t always this way, as MediaShift’s Mark Glaser recounts, in a post covering how Second Life’s media hype has fizzled.”

    2. Mediashift (USA) – Reuters Closes Second Life Bureau, but (Virtual) Life Goes On. “The sun shines brightly as I stroll along the curving pier above the water, looking out toward a beautiful island with trees swaying in the wind. There’s a looming ampitheater festooned with signs for Thomson Reuters, and a series of concrete buildings that appear ready to hold important meetings. I stride in confidently through the doorway… You might think I was describing a trip to visit Reuters in the UK, but really, I was strolling through the virtual world of Second Life (SL), visiting the Thomson Reuters island, now largely vacant. The island symbolizes the efforts of media companies not only to cover life in the virtual world of Second Life, but also to live there and set up virtual offices. Reuters made waves by setting up a bureau in SL, with reporters Adam Pasick and Eric Krangel covering stories about the virtual currency and the startup businesses springing up in-world.”

    3. Computerworld (New Zealand) – Reality is broken so go virtual, says games developer. “Web developers and designers have a lot to gain by looking to the virtual world, because compared to the gaming world, reality is broken, says Jane McGonigal, game designer and director of game research and development at the Institute for the Future, a California-based non-profit research group. People are not as happy and fulfilled in reality as they are in online, virtual realities, such as World of Warcraft, McGonigal told the audience at developer and designer conference Webstock, which kicked off on yesterday in Wellington. ”

    4. Telepresence Options (USA) – The Case for 4D Immersive Holographic Spaces. “The United States of America has steadily fallen further and further behind Asian and European nations with respect to broadband penetration and related services. This is impeding the development of new consumer applications (and related new industry and services) and limiting communications in an economy where knowledge exchange is vital in order to be to be a major player of the emerging , seamless and unobstructed global market. Reversing this trend may be of high interest to the incoming administration, but the viability of extending broadband is dependent on the deployment of new high bandwidth and high value applications that (a) will justify the investments required and (b) will contribute digital solutions to many of the key societal problems in this Energy-Climate Era (as recently identified by Thomas L. Friedman in his book Hot, Flat and Crowded) such as growing demand for ever scarcer energy supplies and natural energy, rapid and accelerating biodiversity loss, and disruptive climate change.”

    5. Atlanta Journal Constitution (USA) – Gamers want to look rivals in eye. “he scene unfolding one recent Friday evening at Cyberdome in Easton, Pa., couldn’t be sweeter for a group of teenage boys poised for a night out with friends. Teens and tweens, ages 12 to 19, popped open cans of caffeine-loaded Liquid Lightning, slouched into the kind of swivel chairs executives use and centered themselves behind 20-inch screens, the windows into their virtual worlds for the night. “This is Disney World for them,” said Cyberdome’s owner Mark Dressel, who was hosting the all-night video game lock-in for nearly 20 area teens.”

    6. Gameplanet (New Zealand) – The Sims 3 Q&A session. “With over a hundred million units shipped to date, you can’t deny that The Sims is one popular franchise.
    Developers Maxis started the series nearly a decade ago, after venerable designer Will Wright insisted he could take their immensely popular SimCity series in a new direction and make a “people sim”. The concept of manipulating people sitting in their houses whilst you sat in yours was, perhaps surprisingly, a hit, and even after seven expansions the series is still going from strength to strength.”

    7. The Malaysian Star (Malaysia) – Philips extends invitation to its virtual island. “PHILIPS is inviting Malaysians to take a peek at its virtual R&D island located in Linden Lab’s Second Life where virtual concepts are being tested and visitors can participate in co-designing the projects. The company called the island its collaborative working space for the real and virtual worlds, which provides the opportunity to research ideas with creative global early adaptors of new trends. “It fits with the company’s philosophy that design should be based around people and grounded in research,” said Dolf Wittkämper, senior director of Philips Design.”

    8. Campus Technology (USA) – Real-Life Teaching in a Virtual World. “Few technologies have been subject to more hype and subsequent disappointment than Second Life. Corporations from shoe manufactures to cruise lines to news services set up shop with hopes this new frontier would bring soaring profits. Most evacuated shortly thereafter when the effort resulted in spaces devoid of audiences and buyers. A notable exception, though, is education. Education is thriving in Second Life. This enthusiastic subculture is abuzz within the Second Life realm, constantly interacting inside and outside Second Life. Educators are exploring every possible tool the 3D virtual world offers and establishing best practices along the way.”

    9. Virtual Worlds News (USA) – Interoperability Gaining Steam Again? “In Fall 2007, interoperability was the buzz word surrounding our show in San Jose. IBM had organized a summit of leaders from the industry and announced plans with Linden Lab to work on avatar interoperability. Things died down a bit after that as individuals returned to their own projects, but IBM, Linden, and others continued to work to integrate OpenSim and Second Life, which OpenSim is based on. It looks like things are picking up again, at least for Linden and IBM, which are co-chairing the Internet Engineering Task Force’s Massive Multiplayer Online Experiences working group.”

    10. RedOrbit (USA) – Microsoft To Study Educational Benefits Of Video Games. “Devin Krauter sits on the end of his bed, using his video game controller to shoot down aliens while taking with other players through a headset, all the while texting on his cell phone and chatting with a visitor. A video game Web site ranks the 17-year-old high school junior among the best players at “Gears of War 2,” a game in which soldiers fight their enemies using an assault rifle with a mounted chain saw bayonet. Krauter says the game teaches him to think on his feet, and that he thinks about succeeding, not slaying.”

    NoviCraft: virtual world team building

    novicraft NoviCraft is one of the more fascinating virtual world business offerings by Finnish company, TeamingStream. That fascination comes not from the platform itself, but the theoretical underpinnings of it. This is a world designed purely for business-related training and team-building purposes.

    I took the opportunity to fire a few questions at TeamingStream’s CEO, Petri Ahokangas, about NoviCraft.

    Lowell: What platform is the application built on?

    Petri: NoviCraft is built on Epic’s Unreal Engine and it was officially launched in December last year. NoviCraft is off-the-shelf multiplayer teambuilding, collaboration, and leadership training game developed by a group of learning scientists, human resource development specialists, and serious game developers for the corporate learning industry. Our customers include top HRD consultancies, big and medium-sized companies, universities and other training organizations.

    Lowell: Could you give more detail on the team building specifics that are encountered in the game?

    Petri: The game is pedagogically scripted to make the participants aware of the different elements of collaboration, team learning, negotiation, and leadership through five team puzzles – and thus learning from the game experience. The first puzzle focuses on enhancing communication, building of psychological trust, and giving and receiving help among the participants. The second puzzle is about encouraging exploration, coordination of work, and establishing goal orientation. The third puzzle encourages
    Thinking–out–loud as a team, sharing of information and helps to create an efficient problem-solving skills for the participants as a team. The fourth puzzle brings in risk taking and strategy creation as a team. The final puzzle is about joint planning and efficient execution of the plan.

    In a nutshell, all major challenges of the modern workplace have been modeled to the game and can be practiced in a safe environment in a cost effective way. NoviCraft is not a simulation, it is real collaboration between people which makes it very effective as a learning tool. The learning process is theoretically grounded, supported by metrics, and the trainer or consultant (the game master) can monitor and control the performance of the playing team.

    Lowell: So what have been some of the more common utilisations of NoviCraft to date?

    Petri: Typical use cases for NoviCraft include leadership and management training, cross- and multi-cultural collaboration, virtual and distributed team collaboration training, team building, supervisor training, personnel evaluation/appraisal, and coaching boards of directors and management teams. Our customers have said that NoviCraft is a fun and efficient way to learn about their teamwork skills and it helps both individuals and teams to improve. After the game the participants can go through a workshop where they can analyze their performance, strengths and areas where they need improvement. The NoviCraft game experience can also greatly add the value of traditional management and leadership training.

    Lowell: What level of expense is an enterprise looking at to deploy NoviCraft?

    Petri: NoviCraft’s price depends on the number of users and the constellation of the software, but the typical limited license is between twenty and forty thousand Euros (20000-40000 €) depending on the case.

    Serious games initiatives are nothing new, but Novicraft seems to be one of more fleshed out models for business. At close to forty-thousand dollars Australian to implement, only the larger enterprises would consider NoviCraft, but its breadth remains appealing. What will truly differentiate NoviCraft is its touted metrics: if tangible benefits for a business are realised, its implementation costs may suddenly seem less of a barrier.

    Thanks to CyberTech News for the heads-up.

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