Archives for December 2010

Virtual worlds predictions for 2011

It’s time to get out the crystal ball again. I thought I’d take a slightly different approach this year by tackling ten fairly broad themes and identifying appropriate specifics under each. I tried to cover all of the main issues though the field is so large now as to ensure any roundup like this won’t be complete.

Hopefully there’ll be a better success rate than last year. As always, would love to hear your thoughts on what you see occurring during 2011. If you’ve got your own set of predictions, either post them in the comments or provide a URL and I’ll link it at the bottom of the post.

The predictions:

1. Second Life

It’s fair to say that Linden Lab had a mixed year during 2010 with Second Life. 2011 is likely to be even more turbulent. I’m not going to fence sit on this one too much: the next 12 months will see Linden Lab finally sold to a big tech player based in the US. Whether it’s bought out or not, expect some more significant user-interface improvements but an overall decline in number of hours in-world per user. That decline will be driven primarily by diffusion as dedicated content creators, educators and long-term residents increasingly spread out to OpenSim grids, Blue Mars etc . Second Life might see an increase in concurrency, coming from the more casual / social users attracted by an easier to use interface. That seems to be Linden Lab’s strategy anyway. Oh – and legally compliant gambling will be provided in-world by Linden Lab.

2. OpenSim

The safe prediction here is ongoing growth, but beyond that it’s a pretty murky picture. Consolidation is one of the clearer trends: a handful of grid providers will probably hold some dominance, with a skew of smaller / solo grids running. Hypergrid protocols are ever-improving, but for wider-adoption the larger providers will play a key role assuming they can keep delivering good service with a growing userbase. So overall: continued growth and emergence / consolidation of larger grid provders.

3. Blue Mars

Over the past year Blue Mars has been continuing to evolve and has picked up a cohort of Second Life content creators. Assuming the funding keeps coming in, that growth is likely to continue although it’s doubtful that 2011 will see Blue Mars reach full launch and if it does, expect a slow but promising level of uptake by new users. Unless Second Life has a major stumble, Blue Mars won’t be in its league as far as content or user numbers during 2011 – 2012 may be a different story though depending on how things pan out with both camps.

4. The casual phenomenon

The casual worlds like on platforms like Facebook will continue to fragment. Numbers will continue to grow but at a much slower rate. Fatigue with the limitations will also grow as people debate the merit of these worlds versus more traditional casual games (think Bejeweled etc). Not surprisingly there will also be a lot of underperforming worlds that close – exacerbating the fatigue with the genre from more experienced users.

5. Media and societal acceptance

The coming year will see increasing focus on how we interact in virtual environments. The Microsoft Kinect is already receiving a lot of attention, and the media are likely to latch onto the theme of improving physical activity whilst highlighting the odd case of severe addiction/injury. Nothing new there really – the difference over time however is the growing acceptance that these developments need to be incorporated into society’s thinking on a range of issues. Key educators and policy-makers have known this for years but that widespread acceptance (if not understanding) is certainly taking a big step during 2011.

6. Government

The momentum with virtual worlds at the US Government level is significant, driven primarily by intertwined military and health-care needs. Beyong that 2011 seems a pretty arid zone on the government side. Although there are potential cost-savings in the longer-term, most European governments aren’t in a financial state to invest heavily in ‘cutting edge’ work. In the Asia-Pacific I’m always surprised at the lack of overt work in the area and don’t expect 2011 to be any different. On the home front, the national political scene is favourable only from the viewpoint of the National Broadband Network rolling out. Government 2.0 initiatives are at a fairly early stage and virtual environments aren’t playing any active role in that anyway at this stage.

7. Browser-based evolution

Like it or not, people want the ease of a browser-based virtual world without losing too much of the complexity. This year will see that trend continue with some good new options emerging. Using Second Life as an example, development is well underway both at Linden Lab and externally. What you definitely won’t see this year however is a browser-based experience as good as the standalone offering. That’s well over 12 months away but it is coming.

8. Gaming Worlds

2011 is actually a huge year for MMOs. The key event will be the launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR). We’ve been following it pretty closely and so far it’s looking like it’ll be successful. There’ll be a lot of talk about SWTOR being a World of Warcraft killer. That’s a lot of hyperbole (for 2011 at least) but expect it to pick up a very significant user base in a short time. To be more specific, by end of 2011 I’d expect subscriber numbers to be sitting between two and three million minimum.

World of Warcraft itself will see fairly steady or slightly declining numbers maintained by the recent Cataclysm expansion, with continued dominance of the market for the coming year.

9. Business

Absolute status quo: there will be no increased level of traction with business beyond some further acceptance of virtual meeting solutions. The ROI equation for business till isn’t clear enough, making adoption of virtual worlds technologies an exception to the rule. Good research (see Point 10 below) will be crucial for this to change.

10. Research and Development

The number of virtual worlds research projects will continue to increase, with a particular focus on areas such as simulation and the neuropsychological aspects of virtual reality. The simulation research will be pivotal in building solid cases for business, non-government and government adoption of the technology. In an environment where more and more human services professionals are needed in an ageing population, simulation makes huge sense and will be a key driver in the medium term.


So what say you? Let the debate begin.

World of Warcraft as leadership incubator and education platform

Just a heads-up that I’ve written a small piece for the ABC Technology site on the use of MMOs in education and business. For the seasoned virtual worlds watcher there’s nothing earth-shattering in there, but it’s a useful overview for the newcomer or casual observer. Obviously these concepts don’t just apply to World of Warcraft (WoW), but as the behemoth in the arena it’s one of the better showcases.

I wrote recently on the lessons the latest WoW has for virtual worlds as well, if you’re interested.

For those of you out there playing through the new Cataclysm content, is there anything that’s really impressed you or frustrated you so far?

Linden Lab announces new CEO: Rod Humble

Linden Lab have certainly had a year of senior executive changes, with Mark Kingdon, Philip Rosedale and now Rod Humble sitting in the CEO’s chair. The press release from Linden Lab can be viewed here.

Coming from work on The Sims 2 and 3 and his cited interest in developing ‘experimental games’, he could be considered an obvious choice for the role. There’ll be some concerns from long-term residents around Second Life taking a gaming focus, but I think that’s unlikely. There’s plenty of aspects of user experience that game companies get very right and it’s a key weakness of Second Life at present. The challenge will be making those improvements without turning Second Life into The Sims. Unless of course it’s been identified that that’s where the market is, in which case hold onto your seats.

There’s also the ongoing buyout rumours: they’re not likely to abate with the appointment of someone from Electronic Arts. 2011 was always going to be interesting for Second Life and Linden Lab, and this has appointment has made things more so.

Photo courtesy of

Beautiful Kate – US Release on DVD / On Demand Video

Just a quick note for our US readers. You may recall last year we were pretty excited to play a small role in the movie called Beautiful Kate. Set in rural Australia, stars Rachel Griffiths and Ben Mendelsohn have a scene involving Second Life being used in a very normal way – as a social outlet.

The DVD of the movie is now available in the United States. If you’d like to help this site a little, here’s our Amazon purchase link, otherwise most DVD retailers will be stocking it. Amazon are offering a live streaming option as well.

As far as the Second Life component – you can read most of the details here.

Tron Jeremy: porn goes down the funny route

Yes, I know this site is called Cultured Tech. Yes, I know Ron Jeremy is a porn star, And yes I know the clip below is laden with unsubtle double-entendres (that’s why the title of this story is of such high quality).

I don’t care, because after all that, the combination of retro and technology makes this funny. Sure it’s only 90 seconds worth but I liked it. Plus, the porn industry are renowned for leading online innovations so to some extent all this is a natural fit, although I could have done without the shot of Ron Jeremy’s man-cleavage. You’ve been warned – other than that there’s no language or imagery to be concerned about from a work-safe viewpoint:

Put your hand up if you’ve now unsubscribed from this site?

[via Gus Lozada]

2010 virtual worlds predictions review

It’s that time of the year again: looking back over the predictions made a year ago and seeing how right or wrong we were. We managed 7 out of 10 correct in 2009, so let’s see how it goes:

Prediction 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.

Pass – this has very much come to pass,and to some extent the growth challenges haven’t been major at this stage due to the number of grid options out there.

Prediction 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.

Fail – the proposal has stalled and although there’s a dedicated cohort of people still working at this, it certainly didn’t reach fruition during 2010.

Prediction 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’.

Pass – once touted as a Second Life competitor, unfortunately closed its doors.

Prediction 4: Intellectual property disputes – The 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.

Fail – the Eros case isn’t resolved as yet, so any precedents are far from established. Expect that to occur in the next few months though.

Prediction 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.

Pass – the Facebook connect option is spreading like wildfire, Linden Lab have done a lot of work this year in integrating logins between their web properties and Second Life itself, and the Twitter option is well and truly alive in Second Life (one example).

Prediction 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.

Fail – I’ve thankfully been proven wrong on this one so far.

Prediction 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.

N/A – The legislation is far from finalised so this prediction is neither right or wrong. More on that in the 2011 predictions next week.

Prediction 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.

Fail – If any further formalisation has occurred, it’s not been announced. The global financial crisis will have played a role there as well.

Prediction 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.

Fail – Star Wars the Republic is slated for an April 2011 release 😉

Prediction 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.

Pass – the growth has continued with some much needed Farmville alternatives. There’s been the fatigue factor which has led to some improvements.


Four out of nine (factoring in the non-applicable NBN legislation) isn’t a great result this year! I can claim it’s been a turbulent year for virtual worlds, and that’s true, but overall I’ve made the mistake of expecting progress too soon.

Over to you: what’s your take on 2010. Has it been disappointing, surprising or just plain evolutionary?

Seniors Travel

A travel agent looked up from his desk to see an old lady and an old gentleman peering in the shop window at the posters showing the glamorous destinations around the world.

The agent had had a good week and the dejected couple looking in the window gave him a rare feeling of generosity.

He called them into his shop: ‘I know that on your pension you could never hope to have a holiday, so I am sending you off to a fabulous resort at my expense, and I won’t take no for an answer.’

He took them inside and asked his secretary to write two flight tickets and book a room in a five star hotel.

They, as can be expected, gladly accepted, and were off!

About a month later the little old lady came in to his shop.

‘And how did you like your holiday?’ he asked eagerly.

‘The flight was exciting and the room was lovely,’ she said.

‘I’ve come to thank you but, one thing puzzled me.

Who was that old guy I had to share the room with?’



A young man named John received a parrot as a gift. The parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary.

Every word out of the bird’s’ mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity. John tried and tried to change the bird’s attitude by consistently saying only polite words, playing soft music and anything else he could think of to ‘clean up’ the bird’s vocabulary.

Finally, John was fed up and he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. John shook the parrot and the parrot got angrier and even more rude. John, in desperation, threw up his hand, grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer. For a few minutes the parrot squawked, kicked, and screamed. Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute.

Fearing that he’d hurt the parrot, John quickly opened the door to the freezer. The parrot calmly stepped out onto John’s outstretched arms and said “I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I’m sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and
unforgivable behaviour.”

John was stunned at the change in the bird’s attitude.

As he was about to ask the parrot what had made such a dramatic change in his behaviour, the bird spoke-up, very softly, “May I ask what the turkey did?”

Merry Christmas…….

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. VentureBeat (USA) – Sony’s Home virtual world hits 17M users and finds a business model in virtual goods. “Two years after its debut, Sony’s Home online virtual world for PlayStation gamers has hit 17 million users worldwide. The virtual community has now grown into a gathering place where gamers can play hundreds of games, attend droves of events, and buy lots of virtual goods. The multi-year effort is becoming Sony’s big play in the digital online marketplace for video game fans. Along with user growth, Home’s revenues have also begun to take off, said Jack Buser (pictured below), director of PlayStation Home at Sony, in an interview today. Home is a virtual world on the PlayStation Network where you can create a realistic animated avatar and wander among virtual sites such as shopping malls, movie theaters, or game arcades. Back in the summer, when Sony launched a new indie game effort in Home, it had 14 million users.”

2. Philadelphia Inquirer (USA) – Virtual justice: Online game world meets real-world cops and courts. “When Tim Quirino needed cash to help him get through his senior year at Drexel University, he knew what to sell. His ad on eBay read something like this – Available: World of Warcraft avatar ranked second in his realm, plus his castle, virtual gold, weapons, and other accessories. Within a week, he pocketed a very real $1,000 for a very unreal set of assets. Fortunately for Quirino, now 26, the transaction was a smooth one. He got his money, graduated with a degree in graphic design, and went on to cofound the popular-culture blog Geekadelphia. But the murkier side of virtual worlds – where incidents of theft and fraud, along with assault and bullying, are on the rise – increasingly has real-world cops and courts intervening. Their involvement hasn’t ended the confusion.”

3. Tonic (USA) – World of Warcraft’s Virtual Pets Help the Real World. “Game on. World of Warcraft, the game with a player population bigger than most countries, isn’t letting its capacity for social change go untapped. From now until Dec. 31, World of Warcraft players can buy a Moonkin Hatchling (it’s the cute one in the photo) for $10 to use in their virtual worlds, and $5 of the purchase price will go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation to help kids struggling in the real world. The charity pet has a unique talent — it will plant flowers at your avatar’s feet and dance with anyone it finds who’s willing. Somebody call Cute Overload.”

4. Pittsburgh Post Gazette (USA) – CMU virtual world show lures headhunters to town. “Ian Bowie would seem to have no reason to be nervous this weekend. The 100-hour weeks the 27-year-old level designer from Colorado put in this semester at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center had paid off. Three of the virtual worlds he helped design — out of the 14 chosen from 60 entries — were included in two presentations Saturday of Building Virtual Worlds, shown before raucous, standing-room-only crowds at the Philip Chosky Theater on the CMU campus. The virtual worlds ranged from the crowd-pleasing “The Great Illusionist”, in which a real person on stage did magic tricks with a person on a video screen — to the squeamish “Five Days”, which had a person wearing a head-mounted interactive monitor saw off part of a trapped leg in a virtual world — to disturbing “Teddy”, one of the teams Mr. Bowie was on that featured a creepy teddy bear haunting a hospital patient.”

5. VentureBeat (USA) – Next Island launches its time traveler’s virtual world. “After more than 2.5 years in the making, Next Island is quietly launching its ambitious virtual world with a time travel theme. The brainchild of serial entrepreneur David Post, the new world is now available for people to visit and is getting a once-over from journalists. By January, Post will trumpet the site to consumers at large. The enterprise is a test of whether virtual worlds have a place in the modern landscape of gaming, where most of the excitement revolves around social games such as FarmVille, mobile games such as Angry Birds, or traditional console games and PC online titles such as World of Warcraft.”

6. New York Times (USA) – On a Hunt for What Makes Gamers Keep Gaming. “By the age of 21, the typical American has spent 10,000 hours playing computer games, and endured a smaller but much drearier chunk of time listening to sermons about this sinful habit. Why, the experts wail, are so many people wasting their lives solving meaningless puzzles in virtual worlds Rules like “buy low, sell high” and “tall people are sexier” play out exactly the same way, whether the environment is virtual or real. Now some other experts — ones who have actually played these games — are asking more interesting questions. Why are these virtual worlds so much more absorbing than school and work? How could these gamers’ labors be used to solve real-world puzzles? Why can’t life be more like a video game? “Gamers are engaged, focused, and happy,” says Edward Castronova, a professor of telecommunications at Indiana University who has studied and designed online games. “How many employers wish they could say that about even a tenth of their work force?”

7. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – ProtoSphere and Lync: more than voice. “Last week, ProtonMedia made a formal announcement about a project I first reported on in September of this year that ProtoSphere, the 3D enterprise collaboration and learning tool, is now fully integrated with Microsoft’s Lync Server 2010. The Lync server is a software product that unifies enterprise voice, instant messaging and web-, audio- and videoconferencing into a, connected communications experience. Here is a video that explains the relationship of how ProtoSphere sits on top of Lync and SharePoint and the capabilities of the platform with Ron Burns, President of ProtonMedia and Albert Kooiman, Sr. Technical Product Manager of Microsoft Lync.”

8. Internet Evolution (USA) – C-Suite Seeks ‘True’ Telepresence. “For some CEOs, the concept of telepresence inspires both great confusion and great interest. Most would classify it as a videoconferencing solution with high-definition screens, while others with global offices see it as a saver of costs otherwise spent on travel. CoStar Group, which provides information services to commercial real estate professionals in 30 worldwide offices, is one company that has adopted telepresence technologies. On average, the company of more than 1,000 researchers is conducting an estimated 40 to 50 video conferences every day and as many as 10,000 video conferences per year, with some employees using video up to 5 hours a day. CoStar CEO Andrew Florance says his company saves as much as $5 million per year on travel expenses thanks to video chat.”

9. PC World (USA) – World of Warcraft Cataclysm Launch Smooth So Far. “Well we made it, we’re still here, the servers are operational, the random disconnects were few, the lag wasn’t intolerable, and the World of Warcraft will never be the same. Cataclysm launched worldwide this morning while most of us slept. It was, you have to admit, a trifle anticlimactic. After all, some of the biggest game world changes occurred weeks ago. That’s when Blizzard rebooted Azeroth, wrecking the place and blaming it on a dragon no one’s seen yet. Storylines were revamped, new quests added, races and classes overhauled, the earth and heavens rearranged, and the interface refined enough to make several add-ons superfluous. Last night the final pieces unlocked: Two new playable races, Worgen for Alliance and Goblin for Horde, new high-level zones for characters level 80 to 85, guild achievements and leveling for group advancement, and, best of all, the option to fly your mounts around Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms. Yes, that last means the world just got a lot more dangerous for noobs working mainland PvP zones.”

10. Asbury Park Press (USA) – NO ESCAPING VIRTUAL WORLD. “The event “Video Games Live” has toured the country with its repertoire of music and visual effects, highlighting compositions from games like “Mario,” “ChronoCross,” “Final Fantasy VII,” “Bioshock,” “Mass Effect,” “Warcraft,” “Zelda,” “MegaMan” and others. But as you can tell from that list, traditional classical music fans are really not the principal target audience for this program.”

AIDS Quilt in Second Life

This story originally appeared on our sister site, Metaverse Health.

I’ve gone on ad nauseam about the benefits of virtual environments in regard to communal support around health issues. In the physical world, one of the most powerful support campaigns of the past 25 years is the AIDS quilt. Thanks to a joint initiative between Startled Cat and Jokaydia, that sucess story has moved into the virtual worlds of Second Life and Jokaydia’s OpenSim grid.

The premise is simple but powerful: ask those who have lost loved-ones to HIV/AIDS to commemorate those lost in a 3D version of a quilt. Like most of these things, you need to see it for yourself to get the power of it, but once you do it becomes obvious. I had a wander around the handful of quilt rooms already created and was impressed to saythe least – the overall build in Second Life is stupendous and easy to get around / navigate.

The launch of the 3D AIDS quilt occurred today and the call is now out for people to contribute.

For more information, go to either the website or check it out for yourself in Second Life.

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