The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Mashable (USA) – What’s Up With Virtual Worlds? “From 2005 up through 2008, virtual worlds seemed like the hottest ticket in tech, but we’ve heard less about them in recent months. We imagined the people of Earth leading double lives in alternate realities. It was the stuff of science fiction, like flying cars and robot butlers, and unlike those things, it actually looked like it could become reality. Except it hasn’t. What happened? Are people still using virtual worlds? Let’s look at the latest developments in two of the most hyped virtual world platforms for insights into where (if anywhere) the alternate reality trend is headed.”

2. Business Daily (Kenya) – The benefits of a virtual world. “Slowly, companies are leaving the physical world behind to cut costs, improve communication, and find new ways to collaborate. Scores of virtual platforms exist on the Internet and are used for everything from entertainment to business to socialising. An estimated 300 million people worldwide have registered for participation in some form of this activity, according to Kzero, a virtual world marketing and development company. In 2008, according to trade group Virtual Worlds Management, venture capitalists and other investors bet nearly US$600 million on more than 60 software producers involved in this fledgling technology.”

3. Virtual Worlds News (USA) – Four Youth Virtual Worlds Raise Money For Haiti Relief. “In addition to previously covered the efforts by Sony Online Entertainment and MyYearbook to raise money for survivors of the Haitian earthquake through sales of virtual goods, Sanrio Digital, Gaia Online, Wiglington and Wenks, and Xeko (formerly Elf Island) have launched their own campaigns.”

4. VentureBeat (USA) – Rixty lets young users without credit cards make buys online. “Rixty, maker of a payment app that lets people buy entertainment online even if they don’t have credit cards, has brought in $1.24 million in a seed round of funding. The San Francisco company, which lets people turn cash into online currency, is part of a slew of companies expanding the customer base for virtual goods, virtual worlds, and social networking purchases — particularly adding many younger users who don’t have bank accounts yet.”

5. Escapist Magazine (USA) – A Look Back at Metaplace. “Raph Koster’s Metaplace was an original idea to tie user-created content together – but as it closed down at the turn of the New Year, was it ahead of its time? It’s hard to say that Raph Koster didn’t have a vision when he created Metaplace back in the distant wilds of 2007. One of the original architects of games like Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, Koster championed the cause of user-created content in his games, and he envisioned Metaplace as a glorious utopia of user content that could be linked together – a network of virtual worlds. In a way, it was Koster’s Meta-MMOG. But sadly, it did not connect with people in the way that Koster and his employees had hoped, and the service shut down at the beginning of the year. But what had the aim been in the first place?”

6. Metro News (Canada) – ‘Real life’ avatars moving into the workplace. “In real life Byron Reeves is a bald academic. But Reeves also conducts research using his avatar, a strapping man with hair. “Lots of companies already use avatars,” explains Reeves, a psychology professor at Stanford University. “Using avatars, you can conduct meetings, meet clients and have brainstorming sessions without having to travel. In fact, you don’t even have to leave the building. And you don’t risk getting swine flu from shaking hands with an avatar.” Reeves, who specializes in human interaction with avatars, is the author of Total Engagement: Using Games and Virtual Worlds to Change the Way People Work and Businesses Compete.”

7. The Guardian (UK) – What I can’t find on zubworld, FourSquare or Gowalla: any point in taking part. “Every so often a story pops up in the national press about a company or person selling plots of land on the moon (here’s one from 2006). Or, sometimes, on Mars. I’ve written about it enough times that it’s wearily familiar: the people involved say that they’ve got a perfect right to sell the land, which is true enough if you can find someone stup… eager enough to buy it. Sometimes it’s “buying” stars and naming them, which is the sort of thing that’s not going to sit well in astronomers’ tables – which is why astronomers ignore them. (And who knows what astrologers feel about them?) I realised today, when the PR on behalf of a company called zubworld got in touch, that it’s this “let’s make money from something that’s not got any implicit or explicit value to the people handing over the cash” approach which turns me off location-based “games” such as Foursquare and Gowalla. And particularly zubworld, who won’t of course be happy to hear that.”

8. East Bay Business Times (USA) – ‘Second Life’ creator Linden Lab hires new CFO. “Linden Lab, the business that runs virtual world Second Life, hired Bob Komin as chief financial officer. John Zdanowski, the company’s previous CFO, left in March 2009. In December, he was reported to be working for Avatar Reality Inc. in Honolulu, another business developing a virtual world.”

9. Massively (USA) – That’s not the Second Life economy! “This week Linden Lab published a set of economic data for Q4 2009, and for 2009 as a whole. After going through the data in detail, and discovering at least one important typo and one important calculation error, it looked like we were going to have to recheck every figure before presenting them. That’s a lot of work, especially as the data published in the quarterly/annual reports doesn’t follow the same definitions as the ongoing statistical feeds or is not represented in them.”

10. CrunchGear (USA) – The World of Warcraft movie is *so* early in development. “More white-hot World of Warcraft movie news to share with y’all. Did you know that it’s in production? Of course you did; you have a pulse. But did you know what stage of production it’s in? Hmm, did ya, smart guy? Eh, you probably knew that, too. For you see, the World of Warcraft movie is in the earliest stage of development, the part where the writers are still coming up with a basic story.”

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