The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Reuters (USA) – Virtual economies in videogames used as case studies. “Virtual economies set up in videogames as players trade items are being used as case studies to track and model real-world economies. As more people join massively multiplayer online (MMO) videogame worlds like Activision Blizzard’s “World of Warcraft,” NCsoft’s “Aion” and Atari’s “Champions Online,” real money is being used to purchase virtual items through micro-transactions. As a result, game worlds are creating virtual economies. With the global recession impacting consumer spending — and the sales of videogames — a research group is using Sony Online Entertainment’s “EverQuest II” as a case study to explore how virtual economies mirror real-world economies.”

2. Jerusalem Post (Israel) – New Worlds: ‘Virtual white cane’ helps familiarize the blind with new environments. “Software developed at Tel Aviv University can help the blind and visually impaired maneuver through unfamiliar three-dimensional environments. Dr. Orly Lahav of TAU’s School of Education and Porter School for Environmental Studies invented the new tool, which is connected to a joystick that interfaces with users through the sense of touch. Today the visually impaired are very limited in their movements, which necessarily influences their quality of life, says Lahav, but this solution could help them find new options, like shorter routes from train or bus stations to their homes.”

3. Mediaweek (USA) – Virtual Worlds See Shakeout. “A couple of years ago, MTV seemed to be onto the next wave in digital media, as it introduced to much hype several virtual worlds tied to its hit series Laguna Beach and The Hills. Last week, even as the new season of The Hills premiered, the Laguna and Hills worlds were nowhere to be found. The site virtual.mtv was still live—but it featured a nearly empty theater designed for fans to gather and watch the MTV Movie Awards—which took place last June. It appears the conventional wisdom that Generation Y was about to become the avatar generation may not have been so wise. For example, The CW quietly shut down its two-year-old Gossip Girl-themed virtual world a few months ago. Earlier this summer, the teen-targeted vSide.com shut down. And in August the once-promising young adult hangout There.com drew just 265,000 unique users, per comScore.”

4. PCWorld (USA) – Twitter vs. Second Life: A N00b Takes Another Look. “Overhyped technology poster child of 2009, meet your counterpart from 2006. We’re talking about Twitter — which, by our reckoning, entered the mainstream at the beginning of this year — and Second Life, the virtual world which went through its own hype phase in 2006 (BusinessWeek: “Virtual worlds abound in useful business applications!”) before being brought roughly back to earth. But not all hype is created equal. In a June 2009 blog entry for AdAge, PR executive Chris Abraham compared the two services, and concluded that Twitter’s hype cycle is more sustainable than that of Second Life. Why?”

5. Advertising Age (USA) – Has Second Life Cut Its Mullet? “At the end of June I wrote a simple blog post for DigitalNext addressing why I believe the hype currently associated with Twitter will be more sustainable than Second Life’s. Long-story short, “Twitter is light, cheap, open and permanent, whereas Second Life is heavy, expensive, closed and ephemeral.” Twenty-one comments and a series of responses later, I was invited by Second Life to return to the virtual world that I stopped visiting back in 2007. My complaint, and why I never returned, is that the client, called the viewer in SL parlance, was too resource intensive, incompatible with my executive laptop (which favored lightweight and slimness over horsepower and graphics cards) and required too much bandwidth, preferably a LAN connection instead of Wi-Fi.”

6. Kotaku (Australia) – Australian Film School Offers Games Course For 2010. “The Australian Film Radio and Television School is now taking applications for a 2010 course in Games & Virtual Worlds. AFTRS is Australia’s national screen arts and broadcast school. Loads of successful filmmakers are graduates: Alex Proyas, Jane Campion, Andrew Lesnie, to name but three.”

7. VentureBeat (USA) – IMVU, the 3-D avatar chat room company, hits $25M in revenue. “IMVU has been fairly quiet about its success in virtual chat rooms, where people can create their own dressed-up 3-D characters and socialize in graphically beautiful settings. But today it’s starting to trumpet loudly that it has established a strong business with a $25 million annual revenue run rate.
Cary Rosenzweig, chief executive and president of the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company, said in an interview the company has doubled its revenue in the past year in spite of the recession and the cooling off of the virtual world hype. IMVU now has more than 40 million registered users and six million unique visitors a month, according to comScore. For the past three months, the company has been profitable, Rosenzweig said.”

8. Kotaku (Australia) – Littlest Pet Shop Online Has Cutest Hourglass Ever. “Why spend your evening waiting in an queue to play Aion when you can watch an hourglass spin around in EA’s new MMO, Littlest Pet Shop Online? The Hasbro / EA partnership is fully realised today with the launch of Littlest Pet Shop Online, an immersive online world filled with animals desperately struggling to keep from being crushed under the weight of their own massive skulls. The game is all about decorating, customisation, and of course, mini-games, offering fun for “girls” whether they opt to play for free or buy a subscription for $US6.95 a month.”

9. Crispy Gamer (USA) – F-Secure details World of Warcraft scams, trojans. “Players of Blizzard’s ultra popular MMO World of Warcraft are under attack by a phishing scheme that lets the attacker steal players’ gold and rare items by luring players with an offer of “free in-game mounts,” anti-virus and security researchers at F-Secure point out. This is common knowledge to many WOW players (read the official forums for proof), but not to those few of us that don’t play World of Warcraft, or security experts who don’t pay too much attention to virtual worlds.”

10. Media Asia (Hong Kong) – Sector Insight… Taiwan gaming firms look to offline advertising. “The growth of the online gaming industry in Taiwan has created a new group of big-money advertisers. Taiwan’s publishers of insanely popular, massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) are relying more and more on good old offline mass media to recruit players to their virtual worlds. TV is the medium of choice, and commercial breaks feature video grabs of evil demons in deadly action, or cloyingly sexy animated pop idols inviting all to dance and sing. This year’s advertising onslaught began last spring as university students prepared for final exams. Heavy promotion pushed PC/online game adspend to NT$510.9 million (US$15.6 million) for the first half of the year, up a whopping 283 per cent year on year, according to Nielsen Taiwan. Ninety per cent went on TV (77 per cent cable; 13 per cent terrestrial), with six per cent spent on OOH, and a mere four per cent shared among newspapers, magazines and radio.”

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