Archives for December 2009

Medical study

A study worth sharing with friends both male and female:

Harvard’s Department of Psychiatry has revealed that the kind of face a woman finds attractive on a man can differ depending on where she is in her menstrual cycle.

For example: If she is ovulating, she is attracted to men with rugged and masculine features. However, if she is menstruating, or menopausal, she tends to be more attracted to a man with duct tape over his mouth and a spear lodged in his chest while he is on fire.

No further studies are expected.

Avatar: The film, the idea and the word

James Cameron’s new film, Avatar, teaches us nothing about avatars.

Why? Well, let’s take a step back and look at the basic idea that already exists.

Most people are members of one of the 20 or so major religions, pretty much all of which have the concept of the avatar in common. Throughout religious philosophy and doctrine, your body and brain are considered to be your avatar, a vehicle for the actual you that continues on. The body is the avatar of the spirit (and in a couple of religions, the spirit itself is in turn an avatar of something outside).

Throughout our religious education and observations, the point is hammered home again and again – your body is your avatar in this world. This idea has now persisted for millennia, even though it is not widely associated with the word used to describe it.

And after thousands of years, it still hasn’t actually sunk in, even among many of the most devout.

From that perspective, virtual environments and avatars are a natural extension of our beliefs about the universe and our place in it. We’re just not really ‘getting’ that whole avatar thing, even though it is one of the central tenets of our varied religious beliefs.

Do I really think that James Cameron is going to be more successful with a US$237 million film budget where our most deeply held and treasured faiths about life and the nature of the universe have failed?

Not so much, no.

If you are already comfortable with the notion of an avatar, Cameron’s film doesn’t really add anything to your understanding. For those who are not, I put it to you that the concepts those people end up attaching to the word, based on the film, will not be the same ideas that you already hold from experience.

Either way, we’ve gained nothing in our understanding of the concept of the ‘avatar’, and sometimes I wonder if we ever really will, as a culture.

Virtual worlds predictions for 2010

Having completed our review of our 2009 predictions, we’re back for another round for the coming year.

1. OpenSim will continue or even improve on its growth trajectory – the momentum will continue, although a handful of larger grids are likely to have the lion’s share of that growth, with all the challenges that go along with it.

2. Australia will have its first government funded virtual environment – a proposal is already underway to see this come to fruition. Education will be the focus, but the foresight of the proposal’s facilitators is likely to ensure it involves business, education and government in a collaborative partnership.

3. Closures – it’s not a desirable prediction to make, but unfortunately it’s also a fairly safe one. There’ll be company and/or platform failures. Some may be bought out, but like Metaplace in the past week, there’s going to be some outright shuttering of some environments. I have some specific ones in mind but don’t have the data to support naming them specifically as being on a ‘death watch’.

4. Intellectual property disputesThe Eros vs Linden Lab action is likely to be resolved during 2010 and it will generate a large precedent in regards to virtual goods. Linden Lab will probably defend the action successfully, but the playing field will still have changed considerably.

5. Integration – Whether it be Second Life or Habbo Hotel, the level of integration between virtual environments and social media services will increase. Whether it’s a Facebook Connect sign-in or the ability to Tweet from Second Life, that functionality will move from the plugin / add-on phase to core architecture more commonly.

6. ABC in Second Life – I don’t have any inside knowledge on this, and I really hope I’m proved wrong, but I can’t see the ABC continuing to fund its Second Life presence beyond 2010. For the past year, the majority of the activity on ABC Island has come from its tight-knit community, with support from ABC staff. With the burgeoning ABC Online continuing to grow, there’s always the risk that the Second Life component will be squeezed out. Please, prove us wrong on this one.

7. The mandatory ISP filter – If the legislation passes during 2010, there remains a real possibility of adult content in Second Life and elsewhere falling foul of the filter. There were some gob-smackingly naive acceptances of Linden Lab’s claim they’d heard nothing about being affected by the filter and therefore were not concerned. There’s a chance everything will be fine but given the blacklist isn’t defined, nothing is certain at this stage. Our prediction: Australia-specific verification mechanisms will need to be put in place for Second Life and other environments where content creation occurs.

8. Taxation of virtual goods – 2010 will see the United States further formalise taxation arrangements in regard to virtual goods. I doubt the Australian Tax Office will make any substantive rulings in the coming twelve months.

9. Gaming worlds – 2010 is going to see the largest MMO launch since World of Warcraft: Star Wars The Old Republic. It won’t eclipse the incumbent but it will become the solid number 2 player in the short-term, with all bets off in the longer term. The second half of 2010 also sees the launch of the next World of Warcraft expansion, called Cataclysm. Head-to-head clashes in the MMO industry don’t get much bigger, and it’ll make for some fascinating times.

10. Social games – this year saw social games like Farmville take off in a big way. There’ll be some significant fatigue from users with these platforms, but there’ll also be further innovation to make them more engaging and with easier integration of virtual goods without the spam-like accompaniments that plague people’s Twitter or Facebook timelines. Overall: continuation of exponential growth, albeit not at the same level it has been the past six months.

Again, over to you. What’s in your crystal ball for the coming year?

Other sites with some interesting 2010 predictions:

Eddi Haskell
Daniel Voyager
Adam Frisby
Living on a Prim (some damn funny ones here!)
All Virtual (focused on virtual events)
Second Sins (NSFW)
Tateru Nino
Adric Antfarm

2009 predictions review

Twelve months ago we published our ten predictions for 2009. Below is the report card on them.

2009: how accurate was our crystal ball?

Prediction 1: OpenSim grids will bleed Second Life users – this may seem a very obvious prediction given the growth of OpenSim grids, but what I mean here is that the exodus will be obvious. It won’t be a migration that will affect Second Life’s viability (other issues may achieve that), but there will be a solid, committed population of OpenSim users choosing those grids over Second Life’s one. Put another way, new users will see OpenSim grids as an equal option to signing up to Second Life.

Pass – the growth in adoption of OpenSim has certainly grown and at the expense of Second Life. People aren’t abandoning Second Life for OpenSim en masse but there’s plenty of content creators and educators dividing their time between the two environments. Here’s one small example of that switch.

Prediction 2: Virtual worlds will appear as normal daily life in TV / Movies – To date, most appearances of virtual worlds in TV and film are either documentaries or as a central part of an action / geek film. US comedy The Office and CSI have both featured Second Life but essentially in a sensationalistic way. 2009 will see more insertions of virtual worlds into daily life scenes in shows. A disclosure here: I’m particularly confident on this one as I’ve had the pleasure of helping out on a film project that features a virtual world in a day-to-day context. More on that in the first few months of next year.

Pass – We were up front that this was an easy prediction due to our then under-wraps involvement with Beautiful Kate.

Prediction 3: There will be a net increase in Australian business in virtual worlds – Second Life won’t see any significant growth in Australian businesses entering Second Life and there may actually be a decrease. The gains will come in worlds like Twinity, customised worlds created on platforms like VastPark and possibly even some entry into enterprise worlds offered by entities like IBM and Forterra. Any increase will be driven by the increasing awareness of virtual worlds as a cost-effective business collaboration tool.

FailThe withdrawal by Telstra from Second Life significantly reduces the level of overt Australian business presences on that platform. That said, the level of interest in virtual worlds has grown, albeit only slightly. The gains have come around collaboration and meetings. Most of the growth in interest hasn’t translated to dollars invested, but that’s on its way. Aside from Second Life, no specific platform is gaining significant traction locally from a business viewpoint.

Prediction 4: Virtual worlds will remain a political no-go zone – Australian political parties have had zero presence to date and it’s extremely unlikely to change in 2009. Any planning being done by the major parties for the 2010 Federal Election is unlikely to extend beyond services like YouTube and Twitter. Things may stretch to sites like Barack Obama’s Change site, but forget anything 3D.

Pass – As predicted, there’s no momentum politically with virtual worlds in Australia. Why? You’ll find out in coming weeks when we release our virtual worlds policy paper.

Prediction 5: Metaplace will be a game-changer – Metaplace’s simple, web-based interface combined with some impressive content creation tools will ensure a launch with impact and significant growth. There’ll be some obvious poaching of users from services like Habbo Hotel but also from content-creation havens like Second Life.

Fail – We couldn’t have got this one more wrong given Metaplace has announced its closure. Closures are expected in a competitive environment but this one was a real surprise.

Prediction 6: Virtual sex will lead to legislation – Linden Lab’s gambling, ageplay and banking clamp-downs were an early start to the reality of increased regulation and governments worldwide are increasingly scrutinising virtual world activities. Sexual exploits (aside from ageplay) have remained unregulated. For better or worse, this won’t remain.

Fail – no significant legislation has eventuated, although the proposed Australian internet filter will likely cover ageplay-related content, but that legislation hasn’t passed as yet.

Prediction 7: Australian Universities will fall further behind in incorporating virtual world training tools – Australia has some leading lights as far as virtual world and education go, something highlighted by AVWW 2008. In the wider university sector, US and UK universities are integrating virtual world training simulations in a range of areas including health and engineering. Australian universities on the whole haven’t begun thinking about this in a widespread way, even with the talented educators putting the case locally. 2009 will see the gap widen further as key universities overseas start to demonstrate significant education outcomes.

Pass – Australia has continued to lag, although the cohort of innovative educators involved with virtual environments has continued to grow and some impressive outcomes demonstrated (one example here). The lag to date comes from governing and funding bodies rather than at the grass roots level. That said it appears to be ending with some excellent, Australia-wide proposals in the works in regards to virtual worlds and tertiary education.

Prediction 8: Second Life will remain a frustrating experience – the announcement of standalone servers may prove this prediction wrong, but 2009 is unlikely to show an enormous improvement in the Second Life user experience. The user interface will certainly improve and the stability of the platform may improve exponentially. The ongoing frustration will be the same issue that’s plagued Second Life to date: regular, crushing lag. This is one prediction I’d particularly like to be proven wrong on. A sub-prediction here too: the Teen grid will continue to decline and may even close altogether.

Pass – Teen Second Life is likely to be merged into the main grid, there is somewhat of a decline in user concurrency in Second Life and although some user interface improvements have occurred, the main improvements are yet to be seen. Things are still looking very positive for Second Life overall, but the evergreen usability challenges remain.

Prediction 9: Growth, growth, growth – every metric and market research report points toward ongoing growth in the number of people spending time in virtual worlds. The new entrants will assist this growth but the incumbents will also grow. Habbo Hotel will most likely retain is dominance in raw numbers but children’s worlds like Barbie Girls, Hello Kitty Online and Club Penguin will provide an enormous userbase as well. Add to that the promising growth of Sony’s Home and you can see this is a safe prediction, but worthy of a mention.

Pass – As we said at the time, it was a no-brainer. In June 2009 the estimated number of virtual worlds users was around 186 million by one forecaster and it’s certainly grown since then.

Prediction 10: Virtual Goods will boom – the interest from business in virtual goods as a money-maker has accelerated significantly in the past six months in particular, and 2009 will see that continue. Second Life has been a leader in that aspect, followed closely by children’s worlds and gaming worlds. Goods will get more sophisticated, with much more real-world marketing efforts behind them. 2009 may also see some virtual goods out-rank popular real-life items in terms of sales and revenue.

Pass – driven by social games on platforms like Facebook, there’s been an explosive growth in the use of virtual currencies to purchase in-game goods. One industry study found that virtual currencies were the most traded virtual goods during 2009.

Seven out of ten correct isn’t too shabby, although there were some fairly easy wins amongst them. Our 2010 predictions will be published in the coming week. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on how 2009 played out compared to how you thought it would?

Metaplace announces its closure

In what can be pretty comfortably considered a shock move, Metaplace has announced it is closing in January 2010.

The announcement alludes to a lack of uptake as a reason for the closure, but no significant details are given. A FAQ has been provided and founder Raph Koster has confirmed refunds for December subscriptions and stated that a website for Metaplace residents to continue communicating with each other is on it’s way.

He’s also appealed for the last few weeks of Metaplace’s existence to be one of celebration. It’s hard to imagine there’ll be wall-to-wall joy given the enormous effort the user community have put into creating content on Metaplace. 2009 has seen the platform evolve significantly, and given that the open beta has only been in place a few months, this really does seem like a premature decision. The announcement does say that Metaplace Inc will continue operation and that they have “big plans” – let’s hope those plans are able to bear fruit because the damage of closing a service like this so early on can’t help any company’s credibility. Having interacted regularly with the Metaplace crew over the past year, the decision won’t have been taken lightly but it doesn’t take away from the impact it will have on the user community.

The biggest shame of it all is that Metaplace is an engaging, complex virtual environment that offered enormous content creation options. That this is lost when there are so many cookie cutter 2D worlds with limited creative options is sad, but the history of virtual environments is littered with examples of promising developments that didn’t reach their full potential. Metaplace is one of them now, but hopefully the technology behind it appears in another form in the future.

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. AdAge (USA) – Guinness Lets U.K. Drinkers Create Virtual Worlds. “Guinness is offering U.K. drinkers a personalized virtual-reality experience in a partnership with Google Earth that lets people create their own worlds and then invite friends to join them via Facebook. The Diageo-owned stout is best known for its epic TV commercials, but Guinness is moving its marketing online in order to build a more interactive relationship with drinkers.”

2. TechCrunch (USA) – My Virtual Head Would Look Great On Your Virtual Body! Gizmoz Merges With Daz 3D. “Since Israeli startup Gizmoz launched three years ago, people have used its technology to create millions of 3D-realistic avatar heads from photos of themselves. But what good is a head without a body? Gizmoz found a body—lots of them, actually—in a Utah-based company called Daz 3D. The two companies are merging. Existing investors, led by Benchmark Capital, Highway 12 Ventures, and Columbia Capital, are put in an additional $5.3 million into the new, yet-to-be-named company. Previously, Gizmoz raised a total of $12.8 million, most recently $6.5 million in March, 2008 from the venture arm of Docomo, which also participated in the latest round. Daz 3D raised $4 million back in June, 2007, and targeted creative professionals as customers.”

3. SBS (Australia) – Alter Ego. “Alter Ego is a documentary about virtual worlds on the internet, but ironically it’s really a story about people. Mind you, these are not just any people. You could call them eccentric. The more callous, when pressed, would say they were odd. But in each case we meet real people dealing with real challenges in an unconventional way – online in a virtual reality world called Second Life where their alter ego takes precedent. Our first Second Lifer is 37-year-old Melbourne man Andy, a frustrated musician and self-confessed “bum.” If there’s a rebellious, alternative path to take in life, Andy’s will take it. His cousin Pearlie, whom we also meet, describes Andy’s music as “fiercely non-commercial.” And she’s not wrong. I can’t understand the appeal of his songs where the guitar and vocals are set to different rhythms. But Andy’s happy.”

4. Arabian Business (UAE) – Virtual worlds – Arabic style. “One only needs to utter the words “World of Warcraft” to grab the attention of many avid gamers. This classic game is a primary example of how Massive Multiplayer Online Gaming has taken the world by storm, especially when one considers that it has 11 to 12 million subscribers. Other kinds of MMO games out there, apart from WoW, include the likes of Everquest II, Runescape, Star Wars Galaxies, Lord of the Rings Online and many more. The very nature of MMOs are such that they are capable of supporting hundreds of thousands of players playing simultaneously on the internet in what is a persistent virtual world. These games typically feature character avatars, online chat, a level editor and network play. There is often character progression, whereby players first need to go through a character creation process choosing the race, profession, appearance and specific skills that are of interest.”

5. Gamers Daily News (USA) – Be at Home in the London Pub. “EEMEE, an independent creator of branded and original content for games platforms and virtual worlds, are excited to announce details of the first virtual London Pub releasing on January 7th 2010 in PlayStation Home, priced at €4.99. Based on your favourite London watering hole, situated on the banks of the river Thames overlooking The Houses of Parliament, The London Pub personal space comes complete with a multi-player darts game, a roaring open fire, comedy beer pumps, crank phone calls and hand dryers that don’t dry your hands (they’re only virtual you know).”

6. VentureBeat (USA) – IMVU and myYearbook set up virtual currency exchange. “Two successful online sites are getting together to encourage their users to adopt the other’s services. IMVU and myYearbook are setting up a virtual currency exchange so that users from either service can exchange currency between the sites. The deal is significant because it is a step toward a universal virtual currency, which could have profound implications for the economies of games and virtual worlds, creating the ability for fluid movement between different sites.”

7. The Guardian (UK) – Video games: the decade when playtime took over. “Seasoned gamers would say that every decade feels like a tumultuous one. This is, after all, the entertainment medium in which the major content delivery platforms – ie, the home consoles – are reinvented every five years. And if you’re a PC owner trying to stay at the cutting edge – well, that’ll be a graphics card and processor update at least every 18 months, thank you. Moore’s law can be a bitch like that. But the Noughties has been a standout period – mostly for the acceptance of video gaming as a mainstream activity. Sure, it bloomed during the 90s as the well-marketed PlayStation console courted a generation of cash-rich twentysomethings with no family commitments and bags of free time. But this was still boys playing games together. It wasn’t until the 2000s that the industry really started to hit the family living room, rather than the teenage bedroom or shared bachelor pad.”

8. Marketing Vox News (USA) – 3M’s Real World Privacy Filters Get Virtual Campaign. “3M has launched a virtual goods marketing campaign to promote its Privacy Filters product line. It’s a serious product and serious subject – filters designed to prevent data theft in public places by making a computer screen impossible to read from the side. The campaign, though, focuses on the lighthearted with several TMI (“Too Much Information”) themed virtual goods designed for the campaign. When opened, these virtual items opened to reveal funny short videos of embarrassing moments with the warning, “Don’t let TMI happen to you.” There is also a Facebook application where consumers can watch other embarrassing videos, choose other TMI ‘badges,’ and send them to friends.”

9. VentureBeat (USA) – Multiverse’s Remix makes it easy to create Avatar spinoff games. “James Cameron’s high profile sci fi movie Avatar, which hits theaters tomorrow, will be accompanied by a ton of accompanying merchandise and spinoff products. And thanks to a small company called Multiverse, two big brands, Coca-Cola and McDonalds, were able to easily create some spinoff web games based on the themes in the film. Mountain View, Calif.-based Multiverse has built a platform that can be used to pop out one virtual world after another. And both Coca-Cola and McDonalds made use of a new Multiverse technology, dubbed Remix, that takes the digital assets created for a film — such as a computer animated character’s face or body — and automatically turns it into something that can be used in a game.”

10. ZDNet Asia (Singapore) – Businesses get a Second Life. “The spotlight on Second Life as a marketing tool has dimmed with the emergence of social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, although the virtual world is increasingly used by enterprises internally for virtual meetings and events, says its developer, Linden Lab. Second Life saw its hype peak two years ago as users flocked to the platform. According to reports at the time, however, businesses setting up virtual shop there did not profit from their online ventures, nor where they expected to in the immediate years to come. Some companies today are putting more emphasis on social media platforms like Facebook–which reached 300 million users in September–and Twitter. Greg Fisher, head of advertising and marketing services at Intel Technology Asia told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview that Intel, which launched a Second Life marketing campaign in 2007, is increasingly leveraging “more traditional” social media channels such as Facebook, Orkut and Twitter to reach Asia-Pacific mainstream consumers.”

One Day In A Land Far Away …

One day, long, long ago, there lived a woman who did not whine, nag, or bitch.

But it was a long time ago & it was just that one day.

The End

Words for the wise

Once again, The Washington Post has published the winning submissions to its yearly neologism contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternative meanings for common words.

The winners are:

1. Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.

3. Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.

6. Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.

7. Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle (n), olive-flavoured mouthwash.

9. Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.

11. Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.

12. Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. Pokemon (n), a Rastafarian proctologist.

14. Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism (n.), (back by popular demand): The belief that, when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

16. Circumvent (n.), an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.

The Washington Post’s Style Invitational also asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

Here are this year’s winners:

1. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops
bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows
little sign of breaking down in the near future.

2. Foreploy (v): Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of
getting laid.

3. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the
subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

4. Giraffiti (n): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

5. Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the
person who doesn’t get it.

6. Inoculatte (v): To take coffee intravenously when you are running

7. Hipatitis (n): Terminal coolness.

8. Osteopornosis (n): A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

9. Karmageddon (n): It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these
really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s
like – a serious bummer!

10. Decafalon (n.): The gruelling event of getting through the day
consuming only things that are good for you.

11. Glibido (v): All talk and no action.

12. Dopeler effect (n): The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter
when they come at you rapidly.

13. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after
you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.

14. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your
bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

15. Caterpallor (n.): The colour you turn after finding half a grub in
the fruit you’re eating.

Weekend Whimsy

1. Second Life Showgirl Viva Las Vegas !!!

2. Duo Appassionato Concert: The Four Seasons Live in Second Life (Excerpt)

3. A Video Christmas Card from Second Life Machinima

Merged realities – events and issues for virtual worlds

virtualtreeline1. Aussie Second Life resident Juanita Deharo is part of a new art project called Virtual Treeline, with an associated blog.

2. The Chinese government are further expanding their control of virtual worlds, with social games the latest target according to TechCrunch.

3. Earlier this year we covered PIVOTE, which was being used to undertake paramedic training in Second Life. The platform has now won the Times Higher Education award for Outstanding ICT Initiative of the Year.

4. Novicraft, a HR and training-focused virtual environment, now has a blog devoted to its further development.

5. Linden Lab have announced that the beta of Linden Homes is open. They’ve also started promoting SL Pro, an in-world conference for content creators coming up in February.

6. This paper on gender roles in MMOs is well worth a read. The abstract:

Several hypotheses regarding the importance of gender and relationships were tested by combining a large survey dataset with unobtrusive behavioral data from 1 year of play. Consistent with expectations, males played for achievement-oriented reasons and were more aggressive, especially within romantic relationships where both partners played. Female players in such relationships had higher general happiness than their male counterparts. Contrary to stereotypes and current hypotheses, it was the female players who played the most. Female players were also healthier than male players or females in the general population. The findings have implications for gender theory and communication-oriented methods in games and online research—most notably for the use of self-reported time spent, which was systematically incorrect and different by gender.

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