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.”

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