The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. nebusiness (UK) – Attend meetings without travelling with Teesside University’s DLab. “Have you seen how expensive it is to get a train down the spine of the country these days? It hardly seems worth it if you’re skulking down to a meeting with clients or other folks in your company, only to say about five or six words and slither back up again. This is why virtual worlds should in theory be an ideal solution for businesses looking to meet without travelling, or showcase their wares across the world without shipping them. Virtual worlds such as Second Life have allowed computer users to dip their toes into this strange but oddly thrilling water, while companies such as IBM are already piling into virtual meetings.”

2. IEEE Spectrum (USA) – The End of Gold Farming? “Right now, thousands of gamers are doing menial jobs in their virtual worlds. And they’re earning a living. The process of contracting out a game’s drudge work for real money is called “gold farming.” This happens in the games that involve thousands of characters at a time, interacting in an online universe that players inhabit over the course of months or even years. Some tasks, such as gathering up virtual gold pieces, swords, and magic wands, can be done by any novice player who puts in the time. In other cases, you can hire a master player to surmount a game’s challenges and raise your character to a higher skill level. By any standard, gold farming is big business. Estimates range from a global workforce of 400 000 earning US $1 billion a year to a labor pool exceeding a million gold farmers generating more than $10 billion in annual, real-money revenue. Yet the future of gold farming is uncertain. Some observers see it as a classic market inefficiency—a blip in the history of online games—that game designers can and should eliminate from their virtual worlds.”

3. The Telegraph (UK) – Planet Michael developer interview. “The news that developer SEE Virtual Worlds was planning an MMO video game based on the life and work of Michael Jackson, which emerged last week prompted more than a little confusion. How would it work? What would it look like? How would it compete in such a tough market dominated by the likes of World Of Warcraft, Lord Of The Rings and EVE Online? Most important of all, was it all a hoax? Well, it turns out that, no, Planet Michael is scheduled for release on PC next year, and according to SEE’s Vice President of Development, Josh Gordon, the developer is confident that the King Of Pop’s appeal will prove a massive draw amongst gamers.”

4. New York Times (USA) – Virtual Goods Expected to Grow by 40 Percent Next Year, Study Says. “The booming business in virtual goods — paying real money for things that don’t really exist — is expected to continue booming. That’s good news for the likes of Zynga and Playfish, and of course, Facebook. The Inside Network, a research firm that tracks social media trends, said Tuesday that the market for virtual goods in the United States was expected to grow to $2.1 billion in 2011, up from $1.6 billion in 2010. The figures are estimates based on new research conducted by the company, and put the virtual goods market on a path to double in just two years.”

5. Escapist Magazine (USA) – Second Real Life. “It’s easy to dismiss the people that you meet online as less important than those you see in real life. The contact that you have with them is fast and usually anonymous, and most encounters end as soon as the timer runs out. But that doesn’t mean that all relationships online are so meaningless. To some internet denizens, especially those who frequent virtual worlds such as Second Life, the people that they meet online are just as important to them, if not more, than those they see in meat-space. I didn’t always recognize that fact. With the help of two vampires named K and W, I discovered just what these virtual world and the relationships forged there can mean to the people who actually play them. When I originally heard about Second Life, I thought it was absolutely ridiculous. A couple of friends introduced me to the idea of living vicariously through online avatars, and, after a little research, I was amazed to see the impact these virtual lives had on real-life profit margins. I declared Second Life a giant rip-off and dismissed it as a waste of both time and money. My friend suggested that before I judge, I might experience it myself.”

6. Virtual Worlds News (USA) – Microsoft Buys Vivaty For New Project, May Be Looking For More. “The rumor that Microsoft is bidding on troubled virtual world Second Life just got a bit more interesting. It turns out that Microsoft is the previously unnamed company that acquired Vivaty, a virtual world competing with Second Life that went out of business in April. The terms of the deal remain undisclosed but Microsoft definitely paid less than $75 million, according to Microsoft Managing Director of Corporate Development Marc Brown. The acquisition was confirmed by Vivaty founder Keith McCurdy, in an email to paidContent.org. When Vivaty closed earlier this year, McCurdy said that the company acquiring Vivaty intended to use it as the foundation for an unnamed new project. Given the details that have just emerged, it seems like Microsoft is working on some sort of virtual world or possibly a game-like service with a persistent 3D world.”

7. Wall Street Journal (USA) – Congress Looking at Proposed Changes to Terrorism Finance Laws. “A group of money laundering and national security experts are pressing Congress for major reform of anti-terrorism financing laws, including a controversial measure that would allow bankers limited access to classified records and a proposal that would ease reporting requirements for some suspicious activity. Stephen I. Landman, director of national security law and policy for the Investigative Project on Terrorism, said that the risk in government agencies sharing classified information with bankers was “obvious” but that “through careful monitoring I believe such a move would increase the effectiveness of terror finance investigations.”

8. Modern Ghana (Ghana) – Are You An Eco-Friend Or An Eco-Foe? “Academics at the University of Derby, based in the East Midlands of the UK, are using the virtual reality platform Second Life to gauge people’s unconscious attitudes towards ‘green’ issues such as recycling. Derby academics Simon Bignell (Psychology) and Rosemary Horry (Environmental Management) have created an ‘Eco House’ setting in Second Life where volunteers will be asked to take part in exercises which challenge their attitudes and beliefs towards environmental issues. The pair have secured funding from the Higher Education Academy to run the Education for Sustainable Development project which will offer online tutorials and problem-based tasks for students to complete this academic year.”

9. Gamasutra (USA) – The Realities Of A LEGO MMO. “There are always tremendous complications when developing and launching an MMO. As APB recently handily demonstrated, it’s an enormously time and money-intensive endeavor to launch a game on this scale — and even when it does launch, there are numerous additional considerations arising from audience issues. Of course, from that point forward, a company has to operate the game as a service, and continue to update it with live content. And then there are business model considerations… In this in-depth interview, Ryan Seabury, creative director of LEGO Universe at developer NetDevil — itself a division of well-funded MMO firm Gazillion — discusses the development process of the expansive toy-based title, which was first announced in 2007. He takes in everything from the cloud-based graphics-crunching technology required to get the game up and running, to why it’s a subscription-based title, whether Luke Skywalker might make a cameo, and how the team has been focus-testing the title with the same group of kids for four years now.”

10. Mashable (USA) – Formspring Snags Two Key Hires from Nokia and Second Life. “Social Q&A website Formspring is looking to take its product to the next level, starting with snagging two key senior-level hires from Nokia and Linden Lab, creators of Second Life. Later today, Formspring will announce that it has hired Rob Storrs to be its head of engineering and Tom Wang to be its head of product. They started with Formspring earlier this month, CEO Ade Olonoh told me last week. Rob Storrs was the director of web development at Linden Lab, the company behind the Second Life virtual world. There, he created and oversaw different engineering teams focused on social networking, search, virtual goods and e-commerce.”

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