Archives for November 2010

World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm: lessons for virtual worlds

A Cataclysmic Westfall

I’ve covered my experiences with World of Warcraft a couple of times here, and I’ve now been playing for more than three years. Even if you don’t play, you may have heard that Blizzard Entertainment are about to release the third expansion / fourth instalment for World of Warcraft, called Cataclysm. It’s a fairly standard formula now for MMOs – release an expansion every couple of years to keep current players interested, draw back some of the player base that may have already left, and ideally drag in a bunch of new players. Cataclysm is likely to do all of those things, but on top of that I’d argue it’s caused an interesting phenomenon: a fairly widespread sense of loss. It’s also I believe set a new standard in transitioning to a new expansion. Let’s look at both issues in a little more detail.

The loss

This expansion involves a continuation of the WoW storyline whereby Deathwing causes an enormous amount of geographic upheaval on Azeroth. Think tsunamis, earthquakes and the like. There’s now water in a lot of places where there were villages / encampments / quest zones. There are now gaping chasms in areas, including key cities like Stormwind. It’s very exciting to explore all the changes, but that’s also where the sense of loss kicks in. Over the past three years, I’ve become attached to a lot of areas in the game, and I’m actually not happy that some have changed. Take Gadgetzan for example – one of its key striking features was the fact it was in the middle of a desert. Now it has water right at its eastern wall. Although I never would have thought so, I miss how Gadgetzan used to be. Like any loss, over time I’ll incorporate it into my experience but I’ll still remember what it used to be like.

Is it a life-changing loss? No – not even in the context of my character’s life. It’s more the jarring sensation of a new visual in place of three years’ experience. Expecting permanence in a virtual world isn’t reasonable, but it does happen to be a very human trait, as is a reaction of anxiety to change. It’s not a new issue by any means for virtual worlds, but this is one of the bigger examples. Once the full expansion hits the servers on December 7th, the scale of the changes will be fully apparent. I’m sure no-one will need counselling on their loss, but there’s certainly some interesting further research potential.

The transition

It’s a common story-telling technique: build tension over a period of time prior to a major event. Blizzard have done this with each of their expansions (although I felt the pre-Lich King one was a little half-baked), and the Cataclysm lead up has been no exception. I’ve really enjoyed the storyline over recent weeks and loved the feeling of crisis in Stormwind as the changes started occurring. Aside from the rightfully expected story transition, I’m equally impressed at how they’ve managed the technical transition to the new content. From what I can gather, essentially all of the content for the expansion is likely sitting on your hard drive now, with your license key purely unlocking it on the 7th. Additionally, a lot of the smaller new content can already be explored, helping to build excitement when it’s all revealed. Finally, the staged download of the new content works well, with background downloading as you play. Again, none of it is specifically surprising but the implementation has been relatively smooth and Blizzard deserve kudos for it.

The sum-up

On the gaming side of the virtual world equation, the means by which end users are hooked into the product are extremely well established. When an MMO is around long enough that people are emotionally affected by changes to it, you know they’re probably getting a few things right. Less rigid environments like Second Life, Blue Mars, OpenSim grids and the like, can only translate such lessons to a certain extent. What they can mimic 100% is integrating the technical side of things with the user’s experience. That hasn’t changed in decades but it seems there’s still a lot of catch-up being done in that regard.

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Gizmag (USA) – Play robot moves effortlessly between real and virtual worlds. “In an increasingly tech-centric world, keeping kids interested in learning can be an uphill battle. With teaching that involves play recently attracting some powerful supportive voices, students from MIT’s Media Lab have developed a system which merges technology and play to stimulate young minds. The Playtime Computing system uses infrared emitters and tracking cameras to monitor the position of a special robot within a play area. As the bot disappears into a hole in a panel, it appears to continue its journey into a virtual world projected onto the walls.”

2. Pittsburgh Post Gazette (USA) – IUP website takes archaeology class into a virtual dig. “Indiana University of Pennsylvania has carved out a virtual dig for its archaeology students in Second Life. Second Life is the popular online destination for people who want to socialize, play games or buy and sell stuff in an alternative world. But virtual worlds are also an educational tool whose potential is beginning to be tapped by projects such as IUP’s Archaeology Island in Second Life.”

3. The Huffington Post (USA) – The Next Killer App: Work. “As a technologist, I’m obsessed with searching for the next killer app. Today, there are many companies that are offering amazing services and products that some may deem “killer apps.” What I find interesting is that many of these are aimed at improving our virtual world–becoming a mayor on a social networking site, getting a hole in one or building an empire on a gaming site. It seems so simple when we escape for a few minutes (or hours) from our real world commitments to the fantastic online world we have created! But what about improving our offline “real” world?”

4. New York Times (USA) – In Cybertherapy, Avatars Assist With Healing. “His talk was going just fine until some members of the audience became noticeably restless. A ripple of impatience passed through the several dozen seated listeners, and a few seemed suddenly annoyed; then two men started to talk to each other, ignoring him altogether. “When I saw that, I slowed down and then stopped what I was saying,” said the speaker, a 47-year-old public servant named Gary, who last year took part in an unusual study of social anxiety treatment at the University of Quebec.”

5. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – IDIA Lab City Opens in Blue Mars. “Ball State University’s Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts (IDIA) announced today the release of IDIA Lab City, a new immersive learning experience powered by Blue Mars, Avatar Reality’s 3 social world platform. Visitors to the new area can virtually tour and examine stunning, realistic recreations of artifacts and artworks in their original historical contexts, including sculptures at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco and a centuries old Buddha at a Japanese temple. IDIA’s premiere effort in Blue Mars showcases several examples of recent grant supported research projects. For example, students in IDIA’s Immersive Seminar in Virtual Worlds 3D laser-scanned sculptures in Ball State University’s Museum of Art collection, resulting in accurate and detailed replicas in IDIA’s simulation.”

6. Global Times (China) – Goodbye to 2D. “Chen Zekun looks almost the same as his fifth-grade primary school peers. But when he sits before the computer, his design skills amaze even the most tech savvy adults. The 10-year-old boy’s wildest dreams – from warriors with wings to household robots – come to life on the screen. “I found my son had a talent for 3D design three years ago, by chance,” said Chen Shaoping, who owns a computer graphic production house in Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi Province. “He became interested when he saw one of our designers work on 3D design, and then taught himself.” The boy spends most of his free time creating his own virtual worlds. “I also like playing games such as World of Warcraft,” he said. “But it’s more interesting to create game characters of my own.”

7. Dr Dobb’s (USA) – In Silicon No One Can Hear You Scream. “In his book of TV reviews The Crystal Bucket, Clive James writes of David Attenborough: “It is a lucky break that the presenter looks normal, because some of the life-forms he is presenting look as abnormal as the mind can stand. To Attenborough all that lives is beautiful: he possesses, to a high degree, the quality that Einstein called Einfühlung — the intellectual love for the objects of experience. Few who saw it will forget Attenborough’s smile of ecstasy as he stood, some years ago, knee-deep in a conical mound of Borneo bat-poo. Miles underground, with cockroaches swarming all over him and millions of squeaking bats crapping on his head, he was as radiant as Her Majesty at the races”. How long will it be before such emotions can be inspired by the evolved objects of digital experience? I’ve been looking at Thomas Miconi’s page Evolving Virtual creatures. ”

8. California Literary Review (USA) – Book Review: Fun Inc.: Why Gaming Will Dominate the Twenty-First Century by Tom Chatfield. “In the first few pages of Fun Inc., Tom Chatfield, the Arts and Books editor of the British magazine Prospect, admits that his is “a shamelessly partisan book about video games” because they’ve been an important element throughout his life, and also because “they’re an increasingly central part of both American culture and of an emerging global culture. . . that . . has the power to re-mould the 21st century at least as radically as cinema and television did the 20th.” In a similar effort at honesty and full disclosure, this reviewer is the author of the first memoir on video game addiction, Unplugged: My Journey Into the Dark World of Video Game Addiction, as well as a frequent speaker on gaming culture, social networking, cyberbullying, and video games at medical conferences, schools, and businesses. These facts are especially relevant because the majority of video game aficionados and supporters I encounter tend to be overly vocal, shortsighted, and ineffective in their defenses of their beloved pastime. Chatfield, by contrast, has a clean, compelling writing style, and he is quite reasonable throughout his analysis of both this rapidly growing industry and its profound effects on society. While he can get a bit defensive of some justified criticism over video games, that’s fairly easily forgiven since the majority of this book is open-minded, interesting, and insightful.”

9. News Channel 34 (USA) – American Cancer Society of Southern NY Gets Donation from Virtual Community. “Southern Tier HealthLink (STHL), the Regional Health Information Organization (RHIO) for the Southern Tier of New York in conjunction with Amaretto Ranch Breedables, has raised over US $64,000 for breast cancer research through its “New York HealthScape Breast Cancer Awareness Center” simulation (sim) in the virtual world of Second Life. STHL on behalf of Amaretto Ranch Breedables will be presenting a check for the proceeds to the Southern Tier Regional Office of the American Cancer Society in the near future. Created in 2003, Second Life is a computer-generated 3D world already home to millions of virtual residents, businesses, universities, non-profit, and health care organizations around the world. While the enhanced graphics and avatar features of Second Life give it a sophisticated “game” feeling, this actually augments its potential as an education tool. In fact, Second Life has generated serious academic research into the impact of virtual interactions and real life communications, team building, and education. Several studies have concluded that the simulated environment is highly effective for interactive learning.”

10. Third Sector (UK) – Digital Campaign of the Week: Homeless Link. “Earlier this year, Homeless Link was one of the lead partners in the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, when 500 homeless people designed and created a real garden. The objective was to overcome stereotypes of homeless people and to demonstrate that homeless people have talent. Homeless Link was then given funding from the Gulbenkian Foundation to create a virtual representation of the real garden in Second Life, called the Places of Change Garden, which will be online for the next year. “

The life of the modern father…

.. is summed up perfectly by this:

Dad Life from Blaine Rogers on Vimeo.

Absolute gold!

Departure from Second Life: one story

For the duration of the four-plus years I’ve been involved with Second Life, I’ve known Wolfie Rankin. He’s been one of the driving forces behind the ABC Island community since its launch back in 2007, and has also been outspoken on a range of issues, including his perspective on furries. For me, he’s been an enduring Australian presence in Second Life, so I was more than a little surprised when I discovered this week that he’s decided to cease his involvement. I commissioned Wolfie to write a piece about his decision, which is shown below. Obviously it’s his opinion only and each person’s reasons for departing or entering Second Life are different, but I still thought it was well worth sharing.


For the past five years I’ve used Second Life. Being fairly shy it helped me to come out of my shell, to find new friends, and discover that I could do more than I thought I could.

And during the time that I was recovering from cancer treatments it was a real boon, it lifted my spirits and made me feel wanted and needed.

Others who had a serious illness or were stuck in rural locations found they too could meet like-minded people, and found sanctuary within this virtual world.

Despite all the slagging off about Second Life which came from both the public and the media, those who used Second Life, and made the necessary connections to make it worthwhile, found it to be a wonderful experience.

One of the things worth trying is what they call Machinima. If you have wished that you could be an animator, but had no drawing skills to speak of, then this is brilliant. Just build a set in world, bring in some characters, direct them, film them, then edit the results with something like Sony Vegas, add music and effects, then upload to Youtube. The quality of what you can create here is astounding. and I would highly recommend trying it, even just for a bit of fun.

Five years ago, I was asked by several people to give Second Life a go, which I was reluctant to do as I never considered myself to be a gamer, and from what I knew of Second Life at the time, it was some sort of game -therefore I wasn’t interested.

Then I saw a report on Channel Seven about Second Life and thought that perhaps it had some merit after all, so being the curious type, I logged in.

The first time you log in, it can be a pain. It’s possible to end up lagging away on an island full of grey people, which is incredibly frustrating, and I feel we lost of lot of potential users who got caught in that situation and logged out thinking that was what Second Life was.

I checked into Second Life with a couple of friends who wanted to create an island just for us, this would cost serious money, I tried to stop my friend from going this far, but the next thing we knew, we had an island of our own. It’s a cheap proposal for a corporation, but a bit rich for individuals.

This gave us a private place of our own where we could meet and chat about our day with others. We could log in from anywhere in the world and somehow get the feeling that we weren’t all that far away at all. Those who put down Second Life by saying that we should only meet friends in the real world are so lucky to have their entire ensemble of friends, family and co-workers within walking distance of each other, and yet they still cling solidly to their mobiles. Most people have friends and family who are very far away, and if not for the phone or computer, we’d be back to pens, paper and envelopes. My friends were a mixture of American, English, Canadian and Australian – there was no way that we could meet for coffee at the local café on a daily or weekly basis.

I had a pub in Second Life, which I thought was lovely and airy, something like a Queenslander. I made it as comfy as possible, and we used it for events and get-togethers, but mostly it was just my home. Ahh yes, the disputes. I would log into Second Life and appear at my pub, on this island, to find that objects I had placed, had been moved to odd places, as though a three year old had got into crayons and tossed them everywhere. That, or that an item was returned because it was taking up too many prims (the constant talk of prim usage is annoying). The land itself could be altered too, which led to other irritations such as finding the nice flat land that I once had, was now the slope of a hill, and everything I had placed, including my home, was now buried… or the land was now a sunken valley, and all my trees and flowers were floating in the air.

This tended to be the result of selfish actions on the part of another island manager.

If I write a blog post, it remains there, it’s fixed, I own it and nobody can move it or alter the wording, I prefer things this way.

I left the private island and spent most of my time on ABC Island, Abi and the island staff were very reasonable, and there were few arguments, and certainly most of them were easy enough to resolve. ABC felt like a better home for me than Eragon. The problem here was that I really tried to get things going, but it was always difficult.

I would spend a week writing Rockit, my virtual quiz show, only to get about eight people showing up. We tried getting Pool into ABC Island… Lilli did an awesome job with the architecture, Abi gave us a hand, and we were all set to go. but when the ball was out of our court – as in Pool doing their bit, or the ABC doing theirs, everything stalled, whether it was legal issues or disinterest, I have no idea. This was fairly standard.

The idea for ABC to get into Second Life was a bold one, and one that we supported as a group, but the problem often seemed that ABC had forgotten us, there was a lot that we could have done with that island, but the volunteers could only do so much.

ABC has TV and Radio and web-based material. Having Second Life is a logical step if you’re going to experiment with as much of the digital world as possible, but I don’t think that it was handled as it should have been.

ABC had CSIRO people coming in for a few weeks, when ABC Island was new, to talk about science, something that went down exceedingly well. I was asked many times by a lot of people, if we’d ever have the science discussions again, it seemed to have been most peoples favourite ABC Island event – it was mine too. I tried to lure various science people into Second Life to do this, but none were interested.

There were things that we would have liked to have done, but we were blocked because we were not ABC staff – I suppose that’s understandable. The volunteers all felt like there needed to be someone from ABC who was there a fair bit, someone who not only worked with ABC but also someone who really enjoyed and understood Second Life, that would have helped so much.

If ABC is serious about getting experts from segments of New Media, they should send talent scouts into places like Second Life and say “You look like you know what you’re doing, would you like to work for us?”

Second Life has a vast potential, but often sadly that’s all it has. Perhaps it’s too new, perhaps something like this should have turned up twenty years into the future, when most people would look at you like a moron if you thought the internet was full of axe murderers.

I tried very hard getting people to come into Second Life. I mentioned it on mailing lists, forums and Twitter but nobody cared. “That sounds like crap”, they’d say, “Why would we want to do that, when we can just email each other?”. “I use Skype to talk to my friends”, “I use Facebook” and the oh so original, “Get a real life” which I’d heard nearly a million times. Sure there were technical reasons too – some had old machines that couldn’t handle Second Life, others had poor internet access. Fair enough.

Second Life has great potential, but people will never see that potential if they don’t at least try it. Green Eggs and Ham, anyone?

It’s funny how users of one social media will happily use one or two things and mock another. People don’t bother to research the software themselves, just rely on sketchy rumours, and if those rumours are bad, well tough.

I signed up and researched them myself to see how viable they were, and to be honest, there’s only a few that seemed not up to scratch, as far as I’m concerned, Myspace being a great example, Here’s something which is trendy to mock, but to put it bluntly, it’s a cow of a thing to use.

I loved Second Life, I really did, but not enough of you dared to try it yourself. I was there, I would have been delighted to have helped, and did help people on numerous occasions. I wanted others to see a potential and see how far they could take it… some did very well indeed…

Anyway, after five years of trying to bring people in for a look and waiting in vain, of dealing with arguments about prims and lag, of being whined at, and banging my head against a brick wall as projects simply stall because nobody seems to care – I know there are those who continue use Second Life and love it, and to be honest, I’ve had a lot of good times in there myself – but it just got to a point where I didn’t feel like I was happy there anymore, so I just walked away.

Wolfie Rankin.

Original content versus fan content

With studios and publishers flinging infringement notices around about fan-based role-playing environments online, it’s worth looking at the situation from another perspective.

After all, why not just create new, original theme properties rather than basing role-play environments on popular books, movies and television shows? Why do so when official gaming environments already exist in some cases?

Well, there’s a number of reasons. Creating a fleshed-out themed environment that isn’t just a rehash of something that already exists, is actually really hard. It’s time-consuming, requires any would-be gamer to learn a lot about your specific property (which means endless amounts of documentation, lore and history needs to be written), and you generally start out without any real support. How does a gamer even know they’ll like your theme – as a non-profit effort, your advertising options are limited, and you may never attract a large enough following to make all of the effort worthwhile.

By contrast, plugging into an existing theme is easy. There’s always a wealth of pre-existing material to work from. DVDs, books, movies, fan-fiction and more. Everyone already knows whether the theme is to their taste, all the information they could wish for is widely available, and the only matter for their consideration is whether they like or dislike the software on which the environment is running, the rules and the management. Even grabbing the smallest fraction of an established fan-base can make you a huge hit in role-play circles.

When it is embraced, it can work very well indeed. I used to participate in a particular Star Trek MUSH online. Among the players were a handful of members of the crew, cast and writers for the series. It was fascinating seeing story elements from that game appearing later in later seasons of the canon television series.

That’s perhaps an almost ideal symbiosis, but all of that was happening without the knowledge of the rights-holders who probably would have shut the arrangement down punitively, had they become aware of it.

These days there’s now a Star Trek Online MMOG, but dozens of Star Trek role-play environments still exist online, and new ones still get created. Why is that?

It’s because the ‘official’ environments don’t offer the role-playing versatility and opportunities that many online, fan-created role-playing environments do. You can take your pick of game-systems. You can even find environments without any coded game-systems, simply relying on the creativity and fair-play of participants – essentially limiting play only to what players are jointly willing to agree to.

White Wolf’s World of Darkness is perhaps the single most popular role-play setting online over the last couple of decades. That property has become a part of CCP, the makers of EVE Online who are now working it up into an MMOG.

What will happen to the hundreds of role-play environments online that operate under the World of Darkness rules and/or setting? Will CCP’s lawyers come after them as the game gets closer to release? Will they only get shut down if the World of Darkness MMOG fails to attract enough usage? World of Darkness games are – traditionally – rather light on scripted game-mechanics, and trend towards humans creating their own stories and performing their own dispute-resolution, aided by administrators – a model which I do not see CCP necessarily indulging in.

A World of Darkness MMOG might simply not appeal to the tens of thousands of WoD gamers already playing in virtual environments today, and that could well put CCP on some awkward public-relations ground if it chooses to protect its rights – rights for which many millions of dollars have been spent already.

Journal of Virtual Worlds Research Volume 3, Number 1 released

I’m a big fan of the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research – it’s not just because they’re one of the few journals around devoted to the topic, but it’s the variety of articles in each issue.

The latest volume is titled The Researcher’s Toolbox, so as you’d expect its focus is research methodologies. That said, there’s plenty of different topics to sample. I’ll showcase the couple of the articles over coming weeks as I hopefully get time to read them.

In the meantime, here’s the full list of articles:

Editor-Chief′s Corner

Virtual Worlds, the IRB and a User’s Bill of Rights
Jeffrey M. Stanton .

Peer Reviewed Research Papers

How to approach a many splendoured thing: Proxy Technology Assessment as a methodological praxis to study virtual experience
Lizzy Bleumers, Kris Naessens, An Jacobs

dint u say that: Digital Discourse, Digital Natives and Gameplay
John Grantham

A Design Research Approach to Developing User Innovation Workshops in Second Life
Remko Helms, Elia Giovacchini, Robin Teigland, Thomas Kohler

What are users thinking in a virtual world lesson? Using stimulated recall interviews to report student cognition, and its triggers
Lyn Henderson, Michael Henderson, Scott Grant, Hui Huang

Applying Constant Comparative and Discourse Analyses to Virtual Worlds Research
Peter Leong, Samuel R. H. Joseph, Rachel Boulay

Learning spaces, tasks and metrics for effective communication in Second Life within the context of programming LEGO NXT Mindstorms™ robots: towards a framework for design and implementation.
Stewart Martin, Michael Vallance, Paul van Schaik, Charles Wiz

Conducting Empirical Research in 3D Virtual Worlds: Experiences from two projects in Second Life
Shailey Minocha, Minh Tran, Ahmad John Reeves

eLab City: A Platform for Academic Research on Virtual Worlds
Thomas P. Novak

Process, Paratexts, and Texts: Rhetorical Analysis and Virtual Worlds
Christopher A. Paul

Interviews within experimental frameworks: How to make sense of sense-making in virtual worlds
CarrieLynn D. Reinhard

Using Design-Based Research for Virtual Worlds Research Projects
Antonio Santos

Research Papers

The Neil A. Armstrong Library and Archives: That’s One Small Step for a Virtual World Library, One Giant Leap for Education!
Shannon Bohle

Encouragingly, the editors are putting out a second volume of this theme due to the volume of submissions received.

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. The Drum (UK) – Psychiatrists drafted in to treat Italian Facebook addicts. “Mamma mia, Italians have emerged have emerged as the world’s biggest social media addicts after a survey by Nielsen indicated that the country has the highest per capita use of Facebook of any nation. Psychologists in the Mediterranean nation have found that addicts are eschewing the real world pleasures of Italy to stay connected to their virtual worlds day and night. Nielsen found that Italy’s 16m Facebook users spend an average of 6hrs and 27min on the site per month, a figure which stood at a mere 15min just seven years ago. Such is the extent of the problem that the Agostino Gemelli clinic in Rome has established a Facebook clinic to treat the condition; it welcomed 150 patients in its first year.”

2. CIO Insight (USA) – Virtual World Training: Give Your Programs a ‘Second Life’. “Since the launch of the groundbreaking Second Life in 2003, “virtual world” training and collaboration tools have become increasingly popular in the modern workplace. These are not simply exercises with “cute” avatars that provide an enjoyable but meaningless distraction for employees. These tools can help you, your senior managers and your work teams to recruit and retain talent, address customer needs, enhance collaboration and perform other “mission-critical” functions. Organizations such as IBM, Cisco, Intel, Michelin, Microsoft and the World Bank are successfully deploying these virtual efforts and getting results, according to the book Training and Collaboration with Virtual Worlds: How to Create Cost-Saving, Efficient, and Engaging Programs.”

3. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – Enterprise Guide to Virtual Worlds released. “The Association of Virtual Worlds has just published the first Business Guide to Virtual Worlds listing over 30 virtual world solutions, vendors, or providers, for businesses and organizations. The Green Book: A Business Guide to Virtual Worlds shows examples of how major brands and companies are currently using virtual worlds to promote or extend their brands and identifies solutions that can be used by enterprises internally to recruit, train, and meet using the newest generation of the Internet—web 3D.”

4. Euro Gamer (UK) – Planet Michael: What would MJ say? “SEE Virtual Worlds is turning Michael Jackson into an MMO – but what would the late, great pop star say if he were alive today? “I think he would be… You know, it’s hard – I don’t want to get caught too much in trying to speak for him, that would be out of taste,” VP of production and development Josh Gordon told Eurogamer. “But I can tell you that we have looked very, very hard at what he presented to the public and what he brought to our world really – to everyone in the world. Our focus is very much on maintaining that vision and not trying to radically diverge from the fantastical world and super-pop iconic stuff that he brought.”

5. World Policy Blog (USA) – Playback: The New Archive, Part IV. “If the future of literary production is increasingly interactive, collaborative, and user-driven, the shape and experience of the future literary archive might be that it could look a lot like the 1993 multi-player first-person shooter video game DOOM. Henry Lowood, co-Principal Investigator of the “Preserving Virtual Worlds” project at Stanford, specializes in the historical documentation of virtual worlds. In his forthcoming essay “Video Capture: Machinima, Documentation, and the History of Virtual Worlds,” he describes how players of the first-person shooter, multi-player Internet-based computer game DOOM participate in a typical culture of game-based replay or demos that both showcase a talented player’s competitive skill set and serve as a tutorial for peers to enhance their own. What is fascinating is that these demos are played from a first person perspective (perfect provenance) and the so-called “perfect capture” of these “in-game recording sessions” achieve not only perfect context and perfectly emulated play without degradation, but are also accessible from remote points of access on Internet. Forever.”

6. Singularity Hub (USA) – Man Sells Virtual Real Estate in Online Game for $635,000! WTF? “How much would you pay for a string of ones and zeroes? How about a string of ones and zeroes that grossed you $200,000 a year? Jon “Neverdie” Jacobs made history by selling virtual property for a reported total of $635,000. Club Neverdie is a virtual asteroid in the online game Entropia. The Entropia Universe is rare among MMORPGs, because it has its own virtual economy that has a fixed exchange rate to the real world. When you make 100 PED (as the Entropia currency is called) you can trade it out for $10 USD at any time, and vice versa. Forbes’ Oliver Chiang did an amazing job researching Jacob’s record level virtual property sale. According to Chiang, using Club Neverdie as a resort destination for thousands of Entropia players, Jon Jacobs was able to make $200k a year in revenue. Get a tour of the virtual space in the video below. With the sale, Jacobs is helping fund even larger virtual projects who’s worth is likely to be valued in the millions. Selling an imaginary playland for hundreds of thousands of dollars sounds crazy, but what’s really insane is how big this phenomenon has already grown.”

7. Today Online (USA) – No Second Chance. “I SPORTED shoulder-length tresses and was dressed in a black trenchcoat – you could very well have mistaken me for a modern-day vampire in the gothic get-up for my avatar in Second Life. This was day six of my second foray into Second Life, which is an Internet-based virtual world developed by United States-based company Linden Lab in 2003. Simply download a free client program called the Viewer onto your computer and you can join Second Life. Residents can socialise, participate in individual and group activities, and create and trade virtual property and services with one another, as well as travel throughout the virtual world (which residents refer to as “the grid”). Out of curiosity, I joined Second Life three years ago, but my interest soon fizzled out. I revisited it recently, and was surprised to see that the virtual world’s innovation has sputtered since. As I roamed around, I found it empty … and boring.”

8. MarketingProfs (USA) – How to Attract an Audience for Your Virtual Events. “Virtual events have been around for years. So it may come as a surprise to learn that immersive virtual worlds seem to be stagnating while virtual events for the B2B world are experiencing a boom. Part of the reason may be that you don’t need to download software or create complex avatars, or learn how to navigate a complex 3-D environment when leveraging virtual events. There is another trend worth noting, though. Short-lived virtual events, initially designed to help even out a lack of attendance at physical conferences, are rapidly turning into virtual business centers with different venues hosting multiple virtual events.”

9. Gamasutra (USA) – Virtual Economic Theory: How MMOs Really Work. “cally grew out of my somewhat “rantish” review of Final Fantasy XIV. One of the biggest issues that I — and many other commentators — have taken issue with is the way FFXIV handles its in-game economy: the Market Ward system. My intent with this article is to first address the broader issue of virtual economies in MMORPGs in general, and apply those theories to FFXIV to better explain exactly what is wrong with the Market Ward system.”

10. Dissident Voice (USA) – Technology Addiction and Virtual Reality. “It will be difficult, if not impossible, to bring the U.S. back from the brink of social and economic collapse upon which it is so precariously perched. Our collective inertia is carrying us to the edge of the abyss. Changing course will require a change of consciousness, an awakening. Critical mass must be reached, but we have not even begun contemplating making that immense journey. We should have started long ago. Now it may be too late for us. The American people are brainwashed by prolonged exposure to the corporate media, particularly television, which has a financial stake in keeping them propagandized and in a stupor. The religion of America is buying and selling. Capital is God and everyone and everything is subservient to it. Corporations are people. Money is free speech. Virtual reality has replaced actual reality.”

Wordnik: the best online dictionary?

Wordnik is best described as an online dictionary with context. Type in a word, and it spits back not only its definition, but example sentences, related pictures on Flickr, a thesaurus listing for the word, an audio pronunciation, it’s most recent appearances on Twitter, its occurrence per million word, how many times it has been looked up and its etymology if known.

Take a cultured word like ‘arse’ – Wordnik gives you the full picture of the word, including some great pictures of fruit and vegetables shaped like a rear-end. That beats the old Oxford dictionary any day of the week.

Reader Survey: the results

I’m really pleased to be able to provide the results of our 2010 Reader Survey. A big thanks to the 100+ people who took the time to get involved with the survey. Your input is crucial and is very much appreciated. The survey overall had two purposes: to get feedback on improving what we do and to get a snapshot of some related issues.

For the dedicated, I’ve provided nearly all the results below. I’ve only left out a couple of questions such as the income one which were compulsory in the survey tool but not one I was seeking info on. If you get to the bottom you’ll see what we’re planning to change as a result.

Overall Satisfaction

A pleasing result overall for this one.

Site content

Although a good result, this one shows the opportunity to improve the level of people very satisfied. We’re already aware of the need to do more in-depth stories etc and this emphasises that.

Most useful sections

This one is interesting. There’s a lot of support for the weekly media roundup and standalone stories on virtual worlds and Second Life specifically. The lack of interest appears to fall around Op-Ed pieces and the weekly machinima roundup. Interestingly, the Op-Ed pieces tend to get the highest website traffic, so it appears the more dedicated readers aren’t that keen on them but that they attract a lot of one-off interest.

Least useful sections

This one is a mixed bag. It’s obvious people don’t like the machinima roundup and Op-Ed pieces, but for the rest there’s conflicts with the ‘most liked’ chart.

New site suggestions

The big winners here are guest writers and in-world events. I have to say the latter surprised me given the amount of activities already occurring, but it’s well and truly noted. More on that below.

Likelihood of recommending the site to others

Site usability

A little over half of people believe the site has a better layout and usability than similar sites, with the large majority of the rest stating it’s about the same. We’ve put a lot of effort into that side of things, so am glad it’s paying off to some extent.

Method of site access

No real surprises here. The ‘Other’ responses all mentioned Twitter and Facebook updates as their main access point.

Level of interest in virtual worlds

Again no major surprises: most respondents had either an education or personal interest.

Intentions for the coming year

Slow growth is the best summary of that result.

Age breakdown

Physical World versus avatar gender

A couple of respondents asked why this question was in the survey: it was purely to confirm that the gender divide with avatars tends to be the exception rather than the rule.

General online behaviour

Where to from here?

Based on the survey, there’s a handful of things I can announce of the bat:

1. Weekend Whimsy will cease to be posted each week, reverting to a renamed monthly piece. The featured machinima on the front page will continue.

2. We’ll be putting out a call for guest writers in coming weeks.

3. We’ll start thinking about what sort of in-world events could be held.

4. We’ll do our best to do more in-depth profiles and news on new environments and key events.

The Prize

About a third or survey respondents went into the prize draw for $30 worth of virtual worlds books or an equivalent donation to Metaverse Aid. The lucky winner is Holt Roussel – Holt, I’ll be in touch to organise your prize choice.

Thanks again everyone for taking the time and if you have any queries about the results, post away in the comments.

Second Life in a web browser: beta launches

With minimal fanfare, Linden Lab have launched a beta of their ‘Second Life in a browser’ offering AKA Project Skylight. Found here, you can sign-up and check it out in a session lasting up to an hour.

As always, Tateru Nino has scoped it out in detail, noting that not surprisingly it’s a bandwidth hungry beast and that once you watch the 45-second intro video a selection process occurs that determines whether you get to sign up to check out the web-based browser or not. If you get the normal Second Life sign-up page then you’re out of luck. Like me.

For those who do get to have a look, post your thoughts / impressions so the rest of us can get at least a taste. For me, this is Linden Lab’s only shot in the locker to secure the longer term future of Second Life beyond its plateaued growth. The gloss is there with this launch, here’s hoping the substance matches.

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