Archives for October 2009

Weekend Whimsy

1. The scariest house in Second Life by Ulysses Cabaret & Anthonys Republic

2. Casamento DjTroy Paulino & Rachel McDonnell Second Life

3. Jazz at Botanical Gardens in Second Life

Virtual worlds as lawn mowing

lowell_mowingthelawnAlthough it’s mostly a throwback to the mid to late 20th Century, there’s still a significant cohort of Australians who associate mowing the lawn with the ‘Aussie lifestyle’ (I hate generalisations, but bear with me). There’s no shortage of people who still dream of owning their own land, on which they can inflict the weekly spring and summer routine of mowing the lawn. Last weekend I had the opportunity to do some lawn mowing, and it occurred to me that for widepsread adoption of virtual environments to occur, the in-world experience needs to be a lot more like mowing the lawn. Keep reading to see a metaphor beaten within an inch of its life.

Experience

Lawn mowing, like any experience, is for most people a combination of sensory input that creates a memory. For the person cutting the grass, it’s everything from the smell of the mower fuel, the noise of the mower, the physicality of starting it up and pushing it, the visuals of the enviroment you’re partially decimating and finally the odour of cut grass.

It’s no surprise there’s heavy research into the development of interfaces that integrate the senses as part of the virtual world experience – it may not be a must-have for effective interaction but it will ensure it gets as real as possible for those wanting the richest in-world experiences. The day I can smell petrol fumes as an avatar is when I know the revolution has occurred. Whether that’s a good thing is another lengthy argument.

Achievement

Ask any devoted mower of lawns and they’ll confirm one of the big rewards for their activity is seeing the chaos of long grass turned into a controlled, neat expanse. Yes, it’s a maddening perspective for a lot of people and there’s a lot of fence-sitters (like me) who enjoy seeing the neat results but like the unruly option as well. What underlies the mowing fetish is the sense of achievement of physically pushing a machine around that makes a difference to the look of your abode (and no, I will not divert to vaccuum cleaner metaphors as well). Gaming worlds have had this nailed down beautifully for years, and I can vouch for the fact World of Warcraft have polished that nail to a dazzling sheen. Social-oriented worlds like Metaplace and Farmville also have some pretty well fleshed out achievement systems. This is one aspect where the lawn mowing analogy comes into its own: we’re quite happy to push or ride the mower around the same circuit week after week, year after year if there’s a reward. Ring a bell, MMO grinders?

Ownership

Unless I have no choice, I don’t want someone else mowing my lawn. Sure, I’m happy to do someone else’s if they need me to, but it’s my lawn I’m passionate about and I want everyone to respect that and to also enjoy their green patch in their own way.

Virtual environments are struggling to come to grips with how best to achieve harmony with content ownership – you only need to look at this week’s Burning Life content theft issue in Second Life to see the ongoing challenges. There are still a lot of individuals quite happy to bring their plough over univited and rip a large channel through your prize turf. Part of the answer is governance and law enforcement, but the larger challenge is inculcating an acceptance of content ownership and rights across the entire virtual worlds sphere. Sure, the majority of us have that respect, but I’d wager there’s more plough-toting avatars than real-world equivalents.

Usability

If you’re lucky enough to own a lawn mower manufactured in the last 10 years or so, you’ll know how well they work now. Startup tends to be a breeze, they’re lighter to push around, emptying the catcher is easier and the days of choking on exhaust fumes are pretty much over. Most virtual environments are better than a 1954 Victa but most are still essentially 1988 models. They work fairly well but are heavy on the resources and make for a frustrating experience if used for long periods of time. To flog the analogy to death, there are still people who collect or even use old mowers, and the same applies to virtual worlds. Niches are good but the better model is always going to attract the bigger support.

The Last Word

If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably had enough of the lawn mowing analaogy. But whether it’s that or another human experience like first love, the smell of freshly baked bread or the birth of a child, the point remains the same. We all want a lot more out of virtual environments and we’re likely to get it eventually. The trouble is, by that time I may be old enough that I’m yelling at kids to get off my lawn.

The Duck

A duck walks into a pub and orders a pint of beer and a ham sandwich.

The barman looks at him and says, ‘Hang on! You’re a duck.’

‘I see your eyes are working,’ replies the duck.

‘And you can talk!’ exclaims the barman.

‘I see your ears are working, too,’ says the duck. ‘Now if you don’t mind, can I have my beer and my sandwich please?’

‘Certainly, sorry about that,’ says the barman as he pulls the duck’s pint. ‘It’s just we don’t get many ducks in this pub. What are you doing round this way?’

‘I’m working on the building site across the road,’ explains the duck. ‘I’m a plasterer.’

The flabbergasted barman cannot believe the duck and wants to learn more, but takes the hint when the duck pulls out a newspaper from his bag and proceeds to read it.

So, the duck reads his paper, drinks his beer, eats his sandwich, bids the barman good day and leaves.

The same thing happens for two weeks.

Then one day the circus comes to town.

The ringmaster comes into the pub for a pint and the barman says to him ‘You’re with the circus, aren’t you? Well, I know this duck that could be just brilliant in your circus. He talks, drinks beer, eats sandwiches, reads the newspaper and everything!’

‘Sounds marvellous,’ says the ringmaster, handing over his business card. ‘Get him to give me a call.’

So the next day when the duck comes into the pub the barman says, ‘Hey Mr. Duck, I reckon I can line you up with a top job, paying really good money.’

‘I’m always looking for the next job,’ says the duck. ‘Where is it?’

‘At the circus,’ says the barman.

‘The circus?’ repeats the duck.

‘That’s right,’ replies the barman.

‘The circus?’ the duck asks again. ‘That place with the big tent?’

‘Yeah,’ the barman replies.

‘With all the animals who live in cages, and performers who live in caravans?’ says the duck.

‘Of course,’ the barman replies.

‘And the tent has canvas sides and a big canvas roof with a hole in the middle?’ persists the duck.

‘That’s right!’ says the barman.

The duck shakes his head in amazement, and says .. . ..

‘What the f*** would they want with a plasterer??!’

Merged realities – events and issues for virtual worlds

iste_island

1. Virtual London is coming soon to Twinity and they’re asking for people to apply to create some innovative spaces. There’s 200 Euros in prize money up for grabs plus your own space in Twinity. All the details here

2. Volume 2, No. 3 of the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research is out. The theme of the issue is Technology, Economy and Standards.

3. If you want a comprehensive summary on accessibility and virtual worlds, then you can’t go past this post by Education.au’s KerryJ.

4. Another study has been published on the link between gaming and violence, and not surprisingly the results aren’t black and white.

5. The US Government is revising their National Educational Technology Plan. Anyone interested in having a say should head to ISTE Island in Second Life on the 5th November at 6pm SL time (Midday AEDT).

The full details:

The federal government of the United States of America has assembled an 18 person team to update and revise the National Education Technology Plan. Their report deadline is November 11, 2009. There will be a community meeting in Second Life for educational technology stakeholders to provide input into the planning process. Currently, we expect that a representative of the national team will be present as an observer at the SL event.

The event coordinator is Perplexity Peccable (RL: Patricia F. Anderson, patriciafanderson@gmail.com). Perplexity is the University of Michigan Emerging Technologies Librarian for the Health Sciences, and the community manager for Wolverine Island in SL. Contact Perplexity for more information or to volunteer support or services for this event.

Information on prior versions of the plan is available here.

Information on the current planning process is available here,

The team is seeking input from the public. You can join the conversation on their website here.

“If you had five minutes to talk with President Obama about educational technology, what would you say?”

The key topic discussion points are these.

* Learning: Providing unprecedented access to high-quality learning experiences.
* Assessment: Measuring what really matters and providing the information that enables continuous improvement at all levels of the education system.
* Teaching: New ways to support those who support learning.
* Productivity: Redesigning systems and processes to free up education system resources to support learning.”

The sins of the world

‘Bless me Father, for I have sinned.
I have been with a loose girl’.

The priest asks, ‘Is that you, little Joey Pagano ?’
‘Yes, Father, it is.’

‘And who was the girl you were with?’

‘I can’t tell you, Father. I don’t want to ruin her reputation’.

“Well, Joey, I’m sure to find out her name sooner or later
so you may as well tell me now.

Was it Tina Minetti?’

‘I cannot say.’

‘Was it Teresa Mazzarelli?’

‘I’ll never tell.’

‘Was it Nina Capelli?’

‘I’m sorry, but I cannot name her.’

‘Was it Cathy Piriano?’

‘My lips are sealed.’

‘Was it Rosa DiAngelo, then?’

‘Please, Father, I cannot tell you.’

The priest sighs in frustration.

‘You’re very tight lipped, and I admire that.
But you’ve sinned and have to atone.
You cannot be an altar boy now for 4 months.
Now you go and behave yourself.’

Joey walks back to his pew, and his friend Franco slides over and whispers,

‘What’d you get?’

Joey turns with a smile and says,
‘4 months holiday and five good leads’.

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Business in Vancouver (Canada) – Virtual worlds now delivering genuine business opportunities. “As video games, social networks and virtual worlds increasingly star as stand-ins for reality, development shops are exploring new ways to monetize fantasy by creating virtual marketplaces replete with digitized goods and services. Fuelled by micro-transactions in which users buy virtual goods and services for as little as pennies, virtual marketplaces are not only driving user engagement for technology companies, but also adding new revenue streams. During a recent panel discussion at the Mobile Monday Vancouver event, where local Internet entrepreneurs gather monthly, roughly 90 attendees heard how B.C. companies are monetizing virtual goods.”

2. Gamasutra (USA) – The Effects of Imaginary Value in Real Virtual Worlds. “Like, I feel, a large portion of my generation, most of my learning has been through books or the internet. I think that’s helped, or maybe forced, me to parse through things logically. And an unexpected outcome of pushing myself to write more is that I find out what I really think about something when I’m forced to type out the facts and read them back to myself. So with that preface, I’ve been trying to figure out why I like Warhammer Online. In a previous post I think I gave the impression that it was a nostalgia fix, and it is to some extent. But sheer nostalgia shouldn’t hold my interest like this, so there must be something more concrete here that’s affecting me. It’s confusing because I think I’m done with the MMO. WoW was my first, and I hopped on that bandwagon right away out of Warcraft fandom. I deposited years into that beast, and I don’t entirely regret it. But after WoW I was worn out — never again would I trudge through a world so huge that I was made as powerless as I am in the real world. Because in reality I’m in the lower tax echelon, work all day and don’t own a badass axe.”

3. New York TImes (USA) – No Budget, No Boundaries: It’s the Real You. “IT may be raining pink slips, and some people may be hard-pressed to make the rent, much less splash out on a pagoda-shoulder jacket from Balmain, but Vixie Rayna is hardly feeling the pinch. Not a month goes by in which she isn’t spending as much as $50,000 on housing, furniture or her special weakness: multistrap platform sandals, tricked out in feathers and beads. Recession or no, Ms. Rayna isn’t reining in her fantasies, or her expenditures — at least not in the virtual world. In a simulated universe like There.com, IMVU.com or Second Life.com, the granddaddy of avatar-driven social networking sites, Ms. Rayna, an avatar on Second Life, and her free-spending cohort can quaff Champagne, teleport to private islands and splurge on luxury brands that are the cyber equivalent of Prada waders or a Rolex watch.”

4. The Guardian (UK) – The real-world boom in online cities. “The internet has been evolving into three dimensions for years without most people noticing. The change has been confined to niche activities, even though some – such as World of Warcraft or Second Life – are big niches. Now there is a worldwide move to bring the 3D web to a mass market, led by the building of “virtual” cities where avatars can walk, shop, club or whatever with links to “real life” activities. From Tokyo to Helsinki and from Paris to Philadelphia, cities are being constructed at a pace that recalls 19th-century railway mania; except, mercifully, it is a lot cheaper and won’t have serious economic effects if there is a crash. ”

5. New York Times (USA) – A Virtual Clinic to Treat the Stresses of War. “Many veterans are coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan with serious problems, like post-traumatic stress disorder, but only one-third get medical help. One researcher has built a healing center for veterans in a virtual world, where she hopes they will be more comfortable seeking care. Jacquelyn Ford Morie is a senior researcher at the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California. She formerly did animation for Disney. She calls her current project, which she presented at the Web 2.0 Summit on Thursday, Coming Home.”

6. INSEAD Knowledge – Capitalism thrives in virtual world: Second Life gives commerce a second chance. “In the beginning, the online virtual world was a place for action video games such as Grand Theft Auto, or hanging out and chatting. Today, it’s a very different place. Commerce and capitalism have entered the picture. “A big change happened when the virtual worlds decided to give ownership to assets (there), which gave rise to an interesting and thriving economy,” says Miklos Sarvary, the new Dean of Executive Education at INSEAD and creator of the school’s campus in a virtual world called Second Life.”

7. VentureBeat (USA) – With 3 million fans, Fantage formally launches virtual world for kids. “While many kids virtual worlds have come and gone, Fantage has quietly built an audience of 3 million registered users. Today, it is formally launching its web site. The company has managed to do what lots of other kids sites have failed to do: get an audience by offering fun games and social activities in a safe, parent-friendly setting. And they did so just by observing kids, building what they like, and starting over when things didn’t work, said Peter Bae, vice president of marketing, in an interview.”

8. InformationWeek (USA) – Is There A Business In The Virtual World? “Much has been made of the premature obituaries for Second Life, but while the virtual world manufactured by Linden Labs has prevailed long beyond its presumed expiration date, the business model seems too arcane and forbidding to inspire many imitators. His unprecedented ability to manipulate individual atoms signaled a quantum leap forward in in nanoscience experimentation and heralded in the age of nanotechnology. After all, a business that depends on writing dauntingly complex code running on giant server farms to lure users to a bandwidth-hogging digitized playscape where they can flirt or do business — all in the hopes that they will purchase so-called “in-world” Linden Dollars using actual American dollars for the privilege of purchasing pink see-through blouses and imaginary islands — is a little bit daunting to say the least.”

9. Financial Times (UK) – Social games to change the world? “Social games are oft criticised for being little more than drivel. It’s a fair charge. After all, there’s not much intellectual value in games like Sorority Life and Mob Wars. Nonetheless, they have become among the most popular activities for users of social networks. Zynga, the largest maker of social games, says it has 50m daily active users of its various games, most of those on Facebook. In turn, Zynga is raking in cash through the sale of virtual goods.”

10. Huffington Post (USA) – Augmented Reality: Here to Stay. “There’s a new phrase around town — “Augmented Reality.” For a period of time, Virtual Reality (VR) was the hot new thing. Folks could create avatars, pretend to be other people, and buy and sell ‘virtual’ goods. You know, fake stuff. But alas, for most of us, there was just too much to get done in our daily lives to allow us to vanish into the ‘virtual worlds’ of Second Life or such. But now the combination of the web and technologists seem to have found a way to bring the ‘virtual’ world of the web into the real world of our daily lives. And shockingly – it’s pretty darn helpful.”

UWA: making everyone welcome

The UWA campus in SL

It began with a team from the University of Western Australia and Google SketchUp. Having won the Google “Build your Campus in 3D” competition, for which the team re-created some of the physical world’s campus buildings in SketchUp, it was but a short, logical step to want to bring those same buildings into Second Life, and create the campus in a more detailed fashion. SketchLife is the product of a UWA student – SketchLife realises SketchUp models as prim-based builds in Second Life.

Jayjay Zifanwe (SL) heads the team which put together the buildings and the surrounds of the UWA campus in Second Life. This team, composed of people from the UWA, together with associates gathered from across the globe – and discovered through Second Life – has done a marvellous job of creating a campus that is welcoming to all. Apart from the rendering of the real-life campus, intended for prospective students, alumni, and the vice-chancellor, there’s also:

– a skybox, intended to be used by university staff to run classes in
– a magnificent art exhibitions, composed of the ingenious works of Glyph Graves
– the entries for the UWA’s art and design competitions.

The main UWA landing site can be found here.

Mini Launch Day, August 21st 2009

4004178744_a7a1d5da80The mini-launch of the UWA sims occurred in August, well before the campus was complete. Jayjay Zifanwe and Ted Snell worked feverishly for several weeks and at least one whole weekend to ready the Astronomy art gallery in the SL Physics building for the occasion.

Spreading the word

After the mini-launch, but prior to the main launch, Wad Halberstadt, from the UWA’s School of Business, was gamely plugging away at teaching his Electronic Communication Strategy classes in Second Life, unaware of the work going on in other parts of the university. It took a chance meeting between Wad’s student, Leonie Clarrington, and Jayjay, to bring the campus builders and the teachers together. Wad and Jayjay have collaborated on the project since that time.

Main Launch Day, October 2nd 2009

uwa_launchOn the launch day of the UWA sims, 40 people attended the ceremony as avatars in Second Life, and 120 people packed into a RL space to attend. The people in the physical space were able to follow the proceedings in SL; the SL folk able to view the video kindly relayed the action for the other people unable to view the video through SL.

The IMAGINE competition: calling all artists

Second Life is swarming with artists of all persuasions, and what do artists like better than extra cash to help them to continue making art?  Peer recognition, perhaps? A place to exhibit? How about all of the above?

What better way to encourage this burgeoning group than to offer prizes, put on awards ceremonies, and then display the winning pieces in pride of place?

UWA has recently launched the IMAGINE 3D art competition, open to all users of Second Life. The response to this launch has pleased and overwhelmed the UWA SL team – there were 30 submissions for IMAGINE, and 40 people were present in Second Life for the awards ceremony for the inaugural month. The IMAGINE competition has been designed to encourage people to push their imaginations to the limits, and to submit work which expresses their best efforts in their SL favourite medium. There is a 100 prim limit on submissions.

Due to the efforts of the UWA team, the prizes for the overall winners at the end of the IMAGINE competition have been increased to L$75,000 each for first place, L$14,000 for second place; also L$14,000 for the best non-scripted entry. Monthly prizes come in at L$5,000 for first place, L$1,250 for second place, and L$1,250 for the best non-scripted entry. Additionally, the two winners receive a custom RL tee-shirt.

Each entrant who submits any genuine entry (not a block of plywood), and does not win a main prize, is eligible to receive money from the participation pool. The participation pool for the month of September was filled by Jayjay Zifanwe, Sasun Steinbeck and Tranguloid Trefoil, and in October, Phillip Vought will be contributing. If you would like to donate to the participation pool, you can do so here.

The monthly judging panel consists of: Professor Ted Snell (RL) – Director, Cultural Precinct, The University of Western Australia, Frank Roberts (RL) – The University Architect, The University of Western Australia, John Barret-Lennard (RL) – Curatorial Director, Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, Jayjay Zifanwe (SL) – Owner of The University of Western Australia, Raphaella Nightfire (SL) – CEO SW&MB Fashion Productions, CEO Evane Model Agency
Snr Writer Best of SL Magazine, Owner Sanctorum Gallery, Tranguloid Trefoil (SL) – Owner of WASP at the University of Western Australia. Each of these people is well-versed in the judging of art, therefore when they sat down together to judge the September competition, many of their decisions were unanimous.

Along with honourable mentions for the works of Venom Silverfall, Ninka Darkstone, Tweak Serpente/Strix Serenity and Soror Nishi, and the Best New Artist award, going to Isaa Gelber (see the reason why here), the main place-getters for September were:

First Place: Snubnose Genopeak

Best Non-Scripted Entry: Isaa Gelber

Second Place: Alizarin Goldflake.

September Round Winners: view them here.

Jayjay Zifanwe, as the head of the UWA team, has been particularly impressed with the efforts of Quadrapop Lane with regards to IMAGINE, naming her “the jewel of Western Australia”. Along with Jayjay, Quadrapop acts as the co-host of IMAGINE, and is the curator for all the entries. In a world where much art is plonked down higgledy-piggledy next to contrasting, distracting, or down-right incompatible pieces, Quadrapop’s efforts have allowed the entries to shine individually, and create a harmonious whole of all the pieces together.

The FLAGSHIP competition: calling all architects

There were fewer entrants for the FLAGSHIP competition, the design component, and with good reason. While IMAGINE encourages people to push their imaginations to the limits, and to submit work which expresses their best efforts in their favourite media, the end goal of FLAGSHIP is to attempt to bring the winning Second Life build into being as a physical building on the UWA campus.

Likewise, the FLAGSHIP competition attracts prizes of L$75,000 and L$14,000 for the first and second place-getters in the overall competition, and L$5,000 and L$1,250 for the equivalent in the monthly competitions.

Flagship Winner: view it here.

Weekend Whimsy

1. Second Life Burning Life 2009

2. Doctor Who – Second Life – Welcome Home, Doctor

3. Second Life Architecture

Virtual goods – endless growth?

farmville Over the past year, the hype around virtual goods as the next big thing has continued unabated. Like the hype surrounding virtual worlds, it’ll eventually ease off, but underneath that is the reality of the very significant growth that is continuing. Two recent announcements have really emphasised that growth.

The first comes Ning, who now claim to host more than 1.6 million social networks. They’ve launched Ning Virtual Gifts. Pretty much anyone can create their own gift and sell it or buy someone else’s to give as a gift. Nothing particularly new there, but Ning’s size makes it one of the more interesting market tests for monetised virtual goods.

The second interesting development comes from social game creator Zynga, who has confirmed that US $487,500 has been raised for the welfare of children living in Haiti, via the sale of virtual sweet potato seeds within the Farmville game for Facebook. More than 56 million Facebook users play Farmville each month, with 50 million users playing one of Zynga’s social games daily. For mine, the combination of fun and social good has always been one of the best hooks for involvement and Zynga are proving that in a big way.

What these two examples have in common is proof of the widespread adoption of virtual goods. Virtual environments like Second Life have demonstrated the power of virtual goods for years, but the social gaming sphere and upcoming worlds like Metaplace are speeding up the rate of adoption through simple, intuitive interfaces that in some cases are also doing good in the real world. Of course, nothing grows endlessly, but if anything is likely to exceed post-hype expectations, it’ll be the virtual goods you pay small amounts for, in the pursuit of some casual fun.

DUST514: bridging the platform divide

We’re pleased to introduce Phillip Street (SL: Jageral Kuhn) as gaming writer for The Metaverse Journal. He’ll be writing pieces intermittently about upcoming gaming worlds that may have impacts wider than their brief.

dust514 A game currently under development has caught my interest lately. It’s CCP’s DUST514 – a console based MMOFPS that is aiming to tie in with CCP’s EVE Online, which is well known to many in the MMO community as a premier SciFi MMORPG. It’s not so much the gaming aspects of DUST514 I’m interested in, but the fact it plans to bridge the divide and merge gaming platforms.

DUST514 was announced a while ago on August 18th, 2009 at the Game Developers Conference in Germany, so it’s not breaking news and I’m not all that interested in the games announcement itself. What is interesting is that CCP is planning to allow players from DUST514 to affect players on EVE Online and vice-versa, but the games themselves differ greatly in game-play and targeted platform.

DUST514 will be an infantry-based FPS style game running on console platforms (such as the PS3, Xbox360 and Wii), where the intent will be to assault and conquer planets as well as undertake contracted tasks. I believe there will also be gaming elements that do not require interaction with EVE Online. For those not familiar, EVE Online is a Sci-Fi based MMORPG that runs on the PC platform (Windows and MacOSX), and it is iconic in the MMO arena as being a game with quite a high level of difficulty but also being one of a few that boasts a rich, detailed economy and gaming environment.

I’m really excited by the prospect of MMO’s branching out onto other platforms and not only duplicating the gaming experience but extending and transforming it into something unique and different that caters for players on those machines. CCP are really breaking some ground, and yes I’m aware other companies have explored the idea of bringing their games to various platforms, but there are none that I’m aware of that have taken the same path and tried a hybrid approach with differing gameplay.

With the advent of smart-phones capable of connecting to the internet that also boast 3D graphics and powerful processing capabilities, it would be the next logical step to think that these devices could also play a part in the Hybrid MMO platform lineup. With a lot of the smart-phones allowing third-party software development, I’m sure it won’t be long before enterprising companies take the plunge and release official applications to support and even extend the online gaming experience.

This doesn’t only apply to gaming either, as I think that Second Life and non-gaming MMO platforms could make use of gaming consoles and portable smart-phones. It would be another great way to reach an audience that might otherwise not be able to connect to the online community.

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