The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. VentureBeat (USA) – Zula launches science-focused kids virtual world. “Hoping to add an Internet dimension to its growing kids business, Zula USA has launched a successful kids science education TV show in the past three years and is now diving into the vitual world market. The Burbank, Calif.-based company quietly launched its ZulaWorld virtual world for kids on June 1 and just filled me in on the details of its new offering. It has about 1,000 members so far, and it’s all in the name of making science fun.”

2. Bangkok Post (Thailand) – The world is yours … however you want it. “Have you ever created your own avatar and sent it wandering into a virtual world? With advanced tools and open source technology, Internet users can indeed create whole new characters and places online. Taking inspiration from sci-fi movies such as Star Trek, Star Wars and Sunshine, two Chulalongkorn University students have teamed up to build their own 3D virtual world called Hyperion. Kriangkrai Traichaiyaporn and Noppawat Muktaphan spent one month building Hyperion, which went on to win an award from “Wonderland Challenge 2009”.

3. Virtual Worlds News (USA) – Microsoft: Avatars, Si; Virtual Worlds, Nyet. “Last year, the New Xbox Experience introduced fully customizable avatars to Xbox Live players. With those avatars, came the attendant thought that Microsoft might be prepping an entry point into virtual worlds, with one exec going so far as to tell VirtualWorldsNews, “We’re thinking about the [virtual worlds] space heavily and have been involved in a gaming aspect for quite some time.” But that was 2008. Which is why all eyes were on Microsoft at this year’s annual E3 Expo trade show. And while recent comments from Xbox Live general manager Marc Whitten don’t exactly point to a virtual worlds launch from the company, they do fuel continued speculation.”

4. ZDNet Asia (Singapore) – Virtual worlds an inroad to new generation. “Virtual worlds aren’t dead–they’re enjoying a re-awakening, as marketers learn to connect both the real and virtual, say observers. Mary Ellen Gordon of Market Truths, a U.S.-based research firm specializing in virtual worlds, said in an interview with ZDNet Asia, companies expressing interest in virtual worlds such as Second Life are compelled to learn the media-consumption habits of the new generation. This marks a contrast against the initial wave of companies which flocked to Second Life for mostly publicity, and also “during which at least some companies did not seem to take the time to really understand virtual worlds or to think about how to use them to contribute to their overall business objectives”, said Gordon.”

5. Gamasutra (USA) – Worlds of Abundance: Currency and Virtual Worlds. “Money holds the power to shape the flow of games – from single player games to MMOs. With every game we make, we are designing currency. Sometimes the currency is simply points (or points in a more colorful guise). Other times it is a means of drawing the player towards challenges – collect x widgets and you can continue. In a third case the player collects money to gain power directly or indirectly: Direct mechanisms being things like Mario’s 100 coins for extra lives or experience points to earn level-ups, and indirect ones being shopping and bartering. One thing unifies those examples: The game has absolute control over the money supply. And in many games, it tends towards an initial scarcity that later collapses into an abundance of wealth; the player starts off weak, and has to pick opportunities carefuly, but inevitably progresses in skill or power, or finds loopholes in the system, and legitimately or not, they collect hundreds of extra lives, store thousands of pieces of equipment, boost their character’s abilities to god-like ratings.”

6. io9 (USA) – 7 Virtual Reality Technologies That Actually Work. “So far, virtual reality has mostly been a colossal disappointment. But VR has had its share of breakthroughs and innovative applications. Here are seven VR technologies that work, and that may yet point the way to truly successful virtual reality.”

7. E-Health Insider (UK) – Second Life to show Confed sessions. “embers of Second Life will be able to view sessions from the annual NHS Confederation conference live online tomorrow. For the first time, three key sessions from the conference will be accessible to members of the public through the virtual world’s website. The free screening is being provided by the NHS Confederation and Imperial College London. Second Life members will be able to view ‘Can Obama fix the US health system?’, a panel discussion on the financial challenge facing the NHS called ‘Just how tough is it going to get?’ and a final session on The paradox of choice: Why more is less.”

8. Kotaku (USA) – Seventeen Magazine Gets An MMO. “Teen bastion of style and sex tips, Seventeen Magazine, is signed up with Habbo.com to create an online interactive world for its readers. Break out the virtual lip gloss. According to Media Week, Seventeen will supply Habbo with articles, quizzes and polls for the MMO while Habbo will host a Seventeen Beauty Salon section where readers can get beauty tips from editors. This is a step up from Seventeen’s first foray into virtual worlds over its digital issue released via MTV’s virtual world, Virtual MTV.”

9. New York Times (USA) – Microsoft’s Project Natal Seeks Poetry in Motion. “Microsoft’s headline announcement at this year’s E3 gaming conference was a motion-detection system housed in a sensor bar that plugs into your Xbox 360’s ports. The pull-out-all-the stops unveiling included an on-stage appearance by Steven Spielberg who raved “I think what Microsoft is doing is not about reinventing the wheel. It’s about no wheel at all.” I had my doubts.”

10. VentureBeat (USA) – Free pricing triumphs as Free Realms online game hits 3 million in seven weeks. “Sony’s Free Realms has scored 3 million registered users in just seven weeks, making it a true hit for the free online games business model in the U.S. The “free to play” games, where players start playing for free but can purchase virtual goods with real money as they add new capabilities, has taken off in Asia, where companies such as Shanda and Nexon have pioneered this new way of doing business. But until now U.S. consumers have been reluctant to embrace it. Sony Online Entertainment’s Free Realms is the first big stake in the ground for a free-to-play massively multiplayer online game in the U.S. market. It could force a lot of rivals to follow and, god forbid, might even make a dent in the demand for the industry-leading World of Warcraft, which has 13 million paying subscribers. Just two weeks ago, Sony announced it had two million registered users for Free Realms.”

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