Archives for May 2011

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. The Guardian (UK) – China used prisoners in lucrative internet gaming work. “As a prisoner at the Jixi labour camp, Liu Dali would slog through tough days breaking rocks and digging trenches in the open cast coalmines of north-east China. By night, he would slay demons, battle goblins and cast spells. Liu says he was one of scores of prisoners forced to play online games to build up credits that prison guards would then trade for real money. The 54-year-old, a former prison guard who was jailed for three years in 2004 for “illegally petitioning” the central government about corruption in his hometown, reckons the operation was even more lucrative than the physical labour that prisoners were also forced to do.”

2. Kotaku (USA) – In The Virtual World, His Fiancée Never Died. “”Obviously, I can’t bring people back to life,” Jon Jacobs recently told me. Obviously. It was morning when he told me that. He was on his way to work in Los Angeles, chatting with me on his cell phone. His wife, a singer named Cheri, was driving him to work that day. He and I were discussing his former fiancee, a lady named Tina Leiu and the best gaming pal Jacobs ever had. Jon is a colorful guy, known to some as Neverdie and known by those same people as a “gaming celebrity.” His life is full of moments of Jon Jacobs doing spectacular things, some of them chronicled in his book “The Book of Omens (The Magical True Adventures of a Self-Made Movie Star)”, others performed digitally in online gaming worlds. There’s usually something awesome going on in Jon’s life, though what happened to Tina a half-decade ago was genuine tragedy.”

3. IT Business Edge (USA) – Organizations Investigating Virtual Options for Training, More. “There is sometimes a fine line between snark and insensitivity. Believe me, I know, having crossed it many times. In 2009 I wrote a post in which I gave an undeserved hard time to Julie Shannan, a Texas State Technical College student who earned a virtual media design certificate in Second Life, while trying to make a point that virtual worlds were no substitute for the real thing. Shannan took the time to issue a thoughtful response, which was more than my snark deserved.”

4. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – Why my autism project left ReactionGrid. “In April of 2011, I canceled my subscription to ReactionGrid. The reason why I selected ReactionGrid and the reason why I canceled my subscription are the same –services offered and customer support. I do volunteer work for the autism community, and among the projects that I am developing is the use of OpenSim as a virtual world for people who have an autism diagnosis. There is an active autism community in Second Life, but most members cannot afford to own land due to the high monthly tier costs. There are also parental concerns about younger people with autism being in the unmonitored areas of Second Life that may have a high sexual content.”

5. The Canadian Press (Canada) – Little buyer’s remorse for real money spent on virtual goods in social games. “No bags or boxes are needed, but consumers are piling up virtual goods in social games with no slowdown in sight. Never mind that it’s real money being spent on fake stuff. Gamers want the experience and they know what they’re getting, says the CEO of Antic Entertainment, an independent game studio in London, Ont. “They play the game and when they buy, there’s very little buyer’s remorse,” said Fredrik Liliegren, whose company has launched “Junk Wars” where gamers buy virtual parts to build their own combat vehicles. “Junk Wars” players have spent as little as 10 cents and up to $160 on a part, Liliegren said.”

6. Montreal Gazette (Canada) – Disney struggles to turn social gaming into magic potion. “Walt Disney Co. wagered that its acquisition last summer of game developer Playdom Inc. would help bring Mickey, Snow White and other familiar characters to a new generation of fans who play games on social networks. The bet has yet to pay off. Disney’s $563 million investment was a key component in a broad restructuring of its interactive group intended to put the perennially money-losing division on the road to profitability. It signaled a strategic shift away from traditional console video games, to focus on emerging opportunities online and on mobile devices. But so far, Disney hasn’t found the magic to fix what ails its Interactive Media Group, which includes Playdom, Disney’s Web properties and its games business. Losses widened to $115 million in its most recent quarter ended April 2, compared with $55 million in the same period a year earlier.”

7. Forbes (USA) – Why Playing Video Games Might Make You Fat. “According to new research by Jean-Philippe Chaput, Trine Visby, Signe Nyby, Signe Nyby, Lars Klingenberg, Nikolaj Ture Gregersen, Angelo Tremblay, Arne Astrup, and Anders Mikael Sjödin conducted at the University of Copenhagen; playing video games like Electronic Arts’ FIFA 11 will make you fat. Their recent study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Dr. Chaput has been a leading researcher at the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Center at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Ottawa, where he has focused on causes for over-eating and obesity. Two such causes are video games and lack of sleep, and one can see how those two things overlap with hit games like Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops and sports games like Madden NFL 11 in the U.S. and FIFA 11 around the globe.”

8. Reuters (Canada) – Analysis: Sony’s breach a hiccup to online game phenomenon. “When service was finally restored to Sony Corp’s PlayStation Network earlier this month, millions of customers rushed back to it, impatient to get back to battling friends in sports or shooter games. It was hardly the response many had expected after a major security breach, one that shut down Sony’s games network for nearly a month in the United States and exposed the personal information of more than 100 million customers. While the Sony incident has made headlines and produced lawsuits, it has also made clear that security worries are not about to derail the up-and-coming online gaming industry. “Some gamers are more concerned about the lack of online access than a personal information breach,” said Ted Pollak, portfolio manager of the video game industry focused Electronic Entertainment Fund.”

9. ReadWriteWeb (USA) – Improving the Online Customer Support Experience. “Two new apps are helping improve the online customer experience by tying in advanced communications technologies in interesting ways. The apps, MyCyberTwin and Radish System’s ChoiceView, offer to remove some of the misery and tedium involved in getting help and have wide potential applications in customer support, problem resolution, and other situations. Deplolyed properly, they could increase conversion rates and improve the delivery of online customer service. Let’s take a closer look at both.”

10. Massively (USA) – The MMO Report: The throne of agony edition. “This week on the MMO Report, our very own mountain man, Casey Schreiner, decided to grace us with his presence after taking off a week for his birthday. I mean, really… where is his loyalty? Thank goodness he returned because the internet would have exploded if we had to see another flawless MMO Report from Morgan Webb. The internet can’t take that level of perfection. At any rate, this week we discover just how awesome Massively is as Schreiner reports on our report of the Bungie MMO rumors; then we find out that Second Life may be just as weird as we thought it was; next, the power of the Guild Wars 2 Engineer has inspired Casey to tackle the next level of greatness; and lastly, we find out what can no longer be contained in Casey’s Mail Bag.”

Melanoma: Dear 16 year-old Me

If you’ve got teenagers or are a teen yourself, have a watch of this very powerful video. More importantly, after watching it go and do something productive like changing your behaviour, sharing the video or both!

Emotion transference: Telenoid

This story appeared earlier this week over at sister-site Metaverse Health.

As a clinician fascinated by the use of new technologies to achieve outcomes, it’s hard to go past anything that is looking at bridging the divide between human emotions / touch and technology. Telenoid is one such project. It’s aim is to provide an effective way to transfer people’s presence.

The research on telepresence is booming and it’s fairly widely accepted that videoconferencing is superior to teleconferencing and that platforms like virtual worlds provide even better telepresence sometimes. Telenoid is a step further again, providing a tangible means of interacting with someone remotely. In the second video below you’ll see its creator citing a key inspiration was the ability for remotely located grandparents to interact more with their grandchildren. That alone is laudable but for me the clinical simulation potentials stood out pretty strongly.

Real patients as simulation

Imagine the ability to have a ‘patient’ reflecting the emotions and speech of a real person in combination with the current simulation functionality i.e. feedback, monitoring of biometric data etc. Taken a step further: a real patient experiencing a real health issue is able (with consent of course) to have their experience transferred to a simulation exercise in real time. There are already consumer devices on the market able to control avatars via thought processes, this is only a small step beyond that.

A specific example:

a. Marjorie is a patient with bowel cancer who is scheduled to have chemotherapy.

b. She consents to her next outpatient chemotherapy session being used for simulation purposes with third-year nursing students at a local university.

c. On arrival at the clinic for her chemotherapy, Marjorie agrees to wear a discreet headset that both captures her emotions as well as her voice as she goes through the process.

d. At the university the students are in a laboratory environment set up for chemotherapy and the simulation mannikin is reflecting Marjorie’s experience as students use the same clinical pathway as the clinic to simulate providing the chemotherapy. The voice recorder allows the students to hear what the nurse is actually doing for Marjorie, providing the opportunity to contrast practice and to ‘see’ what impact that practice is having on Marjorie.

It sounds a little clunky and requires tight integration betwen education and practice, but the potential is there. Using dementia as an another example (although this is where consent can be fraught with difficulties): imagine the power of a mannikin that spoke and reflected the emotions and movements of an individual with severe dementia. The learning potential is enormous and would have the subsequent benefit of much more confident and confident new practitioners.

Videos

The first video shows a conversation with Telenoid:

This one shows Telenoid up closer and note how easily people interact with it:

ars electronica: telenoid from Fabian Mohr on Vimeo.

Thanks to Meg over at Future of Sex for the heads-up. Yes, the potential for this technology in regards to sex is likely to be the driver for its further enhancement and adoption. Who’d of thought?

Exercise for People Over 50

Begin by standing on a comfortable surface, where you have plenty of room at each side. With a 5-lb potato bag in each hand, extend your arms straight out from your sides and hold them there as long as you can. Try to reach a full minute, and then relax.

Each day you’ll find that you can hold this position for just a bit longer. After a couple of weeks, move up to 10-lb potato bags.

Then try 50-lb potato bags and then eventually try to get to where you can lift a 100-lb potato bag in each hand and hold your arms straight for more than a full minute. (I’m at this level.)

After you feel confident at that level, put a potato in each bag.

Avatars and body image: further research participants needed

A little over a year ago we reported on a research study underway into the link between avatars and body image. That research has been continuing ever since and the initial results were inconclusive. PhD student Jon-Paul Cacioli wants to delve a little deeper on a few things, so there’s a follow-up survey for any male over the age of 18 who has an avatar in a virtual world.

It doesn’t matter if it’s Second Life, World of Warcraft or an OpenSim grid, you can take part. The survey itself will take 15-20 minutes to complete, but all respondents go into a draw for Amazon vouchers.

To take part, here’s where to go.

Gender battle assortment

My neighbour knocked on my door at 2:30am this morning.
Can you believe that 2:30am?!
Luckily for him I was still up playing my Bagpipes.

I sat on the train this morning opposite a stunning Thai girl.
I kept thinking to myself, please don’t get an erection,
please don’t get an erection …
but she did.

Did you hear about the fat alcoholic transvestite?
All he wanted to do was eat, drink and be Mary.

I was in bed with a blind girl last night and she said that I
had the biggest penis she had ever laid her hands on.
I said “You’re pulling my leg”

I’ve just had a letter back from Screwfix.
They said they regretted to inform me that they’re not actually
a dating agency.

I saw a poor old lady fall over today on the ice!
At least I presume she was poor – she only had $1.20 in
her purse.

My girlfriend thinks that I’m a stalker.
Well, she’s not exactly my girlfriend yet.

What’s the difference between Iron Man and Iron Woman?
One’s a superhero and the other is an instruction.

An old lady is being examined by the Dr.
He asks have you ever been bedridden?
She says yes I have and I’ve been table ended and backskuttled
a few times too.

Went for my routine check up today and everything seemed
to be going fine until he stuck his index finger up my arse!
Do you think I should change dentists?

A wife says to her husband you’re always pushing me around
and talking behind my back.
He says “what do you expect, you’re in a wheel chair.”

I was explaining to my wife last night that when you die you get reincarnated but must come back as a different creature.
She said she would like to come back as a cow.
I said you’re obviously not listening.

The wife has been missing a week now.
Police said to prepare for the worst.
So I have been to the charity shop to get all her clothes back.

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. PC World (USA) – Companies Explore Private Virtual Worlds. “Meetings, conferences and training programs in a 3D virtual world such as Second Life can be more engaging and productive than traditional online sessions and phone calls, and much less expensive than face-to-face meetings requiring travel. But some companies aren’t willing to take on the security and compliance risks of using a public platform and are instead opting for private virtual worlds created behind the corporate firewall. “Once it’s on your platform, behind your walls, it has the same security as any other intranet application,” says Steven Russell, a research scientist at Siemens Corporate Research. Siemens employees study product prototypes using OpenSim, an open-source platform that simulates the user interface, content and scripting functionality of Second Life.”

2. Information Week (USA) – DOD Explores Virtual Worlds For Military Training. “There’s no completely realistic way to prepare a soldier for the experience of today’s combat situations, in which they must battle hidden improvised explosive devices (IEDs), elusive terrorists, and other unfamiliar enemies in physical environments that are often new to them. The Department of Defense is trying to come pretty close, however, by training soldiers with a variety of tools similar to computer games that create virtual worlds simulating environments and situations soldiers may encounter during warfare. The American Forces Press Service, or AFPS–the press agency of the DOD–has posted a six-part series highlighting the department’s virtual training technology on its website. The Enhanced Dynamic Geosocial Environment, for example, prepares soldiers for encounters with IEDs and other types of explosive devices by simulating the type of physical environment in which they might find them, as well as the explosion and damage these devices create. A video demonstrating EDGE is available on the AFPS website.

3. NBC Washington (USA) – Operators of Virtual Worlds Fined $3M. “Hundreds of thousands of children under age 13 had their personal information illegally collected and disclosed and now the companies responsible are paying millions of dollars in fines. The Federal Trade Commission said the operators of 20 online virtual worlds have agreed to pay $3 million to settle charges that they violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA). The FTC said Playdom, Inc., operated 20 virtual world websites where users could access online games. Some of the sites were directed to children. The complaint alleges that the company collected the children’s ages and email addresses and then enabled children to publicly post their full names, email addresses, instant messenger IDs, and location on personal profile pages without parental consent. The FTC rules require that website operators notify parents and obtain their consent before they collect, use or disclose children’s personal information. The FTC alleged that Playdom failed to meet these requirements.”

4. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – HuzuTech releases social virtual worlds platform. “HuzuVirtual is a brand new technology from HuzuTech, which promises to revolutionize the rapidly evolving social gaming market. The technology allows the creation of stand-alone, browser-based, online worlds – which can be played on any device, by multiple players. Huzutech today launched Paperworld, a technology demonstrator, which shows how social networks, virtual worlds, online communities and massively multiplayer games are all now intersecting. Paperworld offers an example of how companies can combine the mass appeal of social networks and online communities with the entertainment and engagement of multiplayer games and virtual worlds.”

5. defence.professionals (USA) – Virtual Worlds Form Defense Training Frontier . “Five years from now, if Frank C. DiGiovanni has his way, warfighters from every service will learn aspects of their trade on a world in cyberspace. The Defense Department will save money, time, and ultimately, lives, he said, and it’s his job to make that virtual world a reality. DiGiovanni is director of training readiness and strategy in the office of the deputy assistant secretary of defense for readiness. He’s also a retired Air Force colonel and a senior aviator. “I’d love to see it happen in the next 18 months to two years,” DiGiovanni said in an interview with American Forces Press Service. “Realistically, a full-up world is probably five years away.” Over the next five years, the Defense Department will build that world in cyberspace, where the men and women of the armed forces will take another step forward in the transition from analog to digital technology that began with the public Internet and DOD websites.”

6. Global Times (China) – National stereotypes find life in fantasy worlds. “”I don’t think China should keep helping North Korea,” my friend boldly declared the other day, “You can’t trust Koreans.” “Why?” I asked. “Simple,” he said, “I was playing online with three North Koreans on the same team as me the other day, and they only talked among themselves and kept leaving me to die.” My friend’s extension of online games to international politics might be absurd, but virtual worlds are starting to play powerful role in how people see each other. This is especially the case in Asia, where online games eat up the attention of millions of young people. When I was at university four years ago, it was normal for me and my friends to spend the entire weekend in Internet cafes. Some of us even fell asleep there. It may sound weird, but the legions of Chinese in online games have an effect on how the world perceives us. Think about physical sports. The Italian reputation for being cheats and sneaks may be undeserved, but it persists in part because of the dirty way Italian soccer teams play. Equally, the Brazilian reputation for style and grace comes about, in part, because of their dedication to playing a beautiful game. ”

7. Mashable (USA) – Why Online Communities Are Redefining the Concept of Local. “When we talk about community, we talk about places and spaces. But online communities transcend geography. That tends to mess with our heads. In trying to understand the new, it helps to fall back on the old, using metaphors drawn from familiar sources. Cities have streets, blocks and neighborhoods. Why wouldn’t virtual worlds have the same? In the ’90s, when we started to colonize cyberspace by the hundreds of thousands (and then by the millions), virtual cities became all the rage. Academics and technologists argued, in all apparent seriousness, that we would click on a 3D picture of a supermarket to go shopping, then wander our avatars down virtual streets to go to our next task. Yahoo bought GeoCities — a collection of homepages organized by neighborhood. AOL and Tribune launched Digital City. Corporations from Citigroup to SAP moved into virtual terrain.”

8. Gamasutra (USA) – NCsoft Shutting Down Western Lineage Servers.”After over 12 years of operation, NCsoft said the North American servers for its MMO Lineage will be shut down on June 29, saying the aging title “is no longer financially viable in the West.” In an FAQ explaining the move, NCsoft said it had to make “a hard decision based on the business performance to focus our resources to make those games provide the best play experience as possible for our customers.” The company is no longer accepting new subscribers for the game, and will allow anyone to play for free while the servers remain up. Current subscribers will have any unused time refunded, and will receive two months of free game time in three other NCsoft titles — Lineage II, Aion and City of Heroes — as well as an activation code for the subscription-free Guild Wars.”

9. VentureBeat (USA) – National Geographic virtual world Animal Jam hits a million kids. “National Geographic Animal Jam is a rarity as a successful kids virtual world. The online world is announcing today that it has reached a million registered players in seven months. Sure, virtual worlds have lost their luster and Animal Jam isn’t growing as fast as Facebook. But there aren’t that many worlds aimed at kids ages 5 to 11 that have taken off like that lately. Animal Jam was created by Salt Lake City-based Smart Bomb Interactive, which licensed the National Geographic name. Kris Johnson, chief executive of Smart Bomb Interactive, said the growth rate has exceeded all expectations and that the property has spread through word of mouth.”

10. PC World (USA) – Tell Your Boss: Play Video Games, Work Smarter. “It’s safe to say that employers generally frown on workers who play video games during work time. As common sense dictates, you’re obviously not working when trying to win virtual gold by playing World of Warcraft or stealthily assassinating the enemy in Call of Duty: Black Ops. But gaming outside of work or even during breaks at the office can help you in ways you might never have thought possible. Indeed, studies show that gaming can boost your ability to multitask, make faster decisions, work better in team environment, and find solutions to real-world problems. Can WoW help you pack more action into the work day? Playing any one of the titles in the Half-Life and Half-Life 2 franchise can get the adrenaline flowing. As you assume the role of Gordon Freeman, you must constantly make split-second decisions when trying to decide how to kill one of the thousands of enemies you encounter. You also have to quickly decide which weapon to use, all the while trying to solve puzzles in order to advance to the next level. The decision-making process on which you rely in Half-Life or any one of hundreds of other action-game titles is called probabilistic inference. You use the thinking process to draw conclusions and make decisions based on incomplete information and fact patterns, reported researchers in Current Biology.”

UWA’s third machinima challenge: what a field

The University of Western Australia’s active presence in Second Life continues with a vengeance. I was lucky enough to be asked to be on the judging panel for the MachinimUWA III: Journeys competition. The panel this time includes director Peter Greenaway and you can view the full list of judges at the bottom of this post.

Fifty pieces of machinima were submitted, with the only requirement being that they featured the UWA’s Winthrop Clock Tower at the beginning or end of the piece. One notable absence was a machinima from an Australian entrant: are we that bereft of machinima makers?

Each judge was required to choose ten favourites from the fifty entries. For what it’s worth, here are the ten I chose:

LASLOPANTOMIK YAO (Barcelona, Spain) – Beginning of Knowledge and of Sorrow

SODA LEMONDROP (Monterey, California, USA) – The Journey

TUTSY NAVARATHNA (Frenchman in Pondicherry, India) – Journey into the Metaverse

HYPATIA PICKENS (Rochester, New York, USA) – KAPHD

ERIC BOCCARA (Velp, Netherlands) – Juroney

BRACLO EBER (South Africa) – Journey to the Top

FUSCHIA NIGHTFIRE (Dorset, UK) – Take the Road Less Travelled

HUGO KRELL (Madrid, Spain) & Soriana Breda (Soria, Spain) – Proyecto XXY

Proyecto XXY from Soriana Breda on Vimeo.

OONA EIREN (London, UK) – Onward & Upward

Onward And Upward from oona Eiren on Vimeo.

VERUCA VANDYKE (Arkansas, USA) – Escape

You can view all 50 over at the UWA in SL blog

If I had to pick an overall favourite it’s hard to go past Eric Boccara’s Juroney. Congratulation to the eventual winners, which will be announced on the 22nd May at 6am SL time. Also, much kudos (again) to the UWA team who continue to show their dynamism and passion for virtual worlds creativity.

List of judges:

JUDGES
1. Peter Greenaway (RL) – Acclaimed Director
2. Professor Ted Snell (RL) – Director, Cultural Precinct, The University of Western Australia
3. Jayjay Zifanwe (SL) – Owner of The University of Western Australia (SL), Creator & co-host of the UWA 3D Art& Design Challenge
4. Yesikita Coppola (SL) – Official Machinimatographer for UWA 2011
5. Laurina Hawks (SL) – Joint Reigning UWA MachinimUWA Champion
6. Raphaella Nightfire (SL) – Snr Writer Best of SL Magazine, Owner Sanctorum Gallery (SL)
7. FreeWee Ling (SL) – Curator, UWA 3D Open Art Challenge
8. LaPiscean Liberty (SL) – CEO AviewTV and UWA Media Advisor
9. Nazz Lane (SL) – Journalist and Author
10. Rowan Derryth (SL) – Art & Design Historian; Writer for Prim Perfect Publications
11. Apollo Manga (SL) – examiner.com Writer & Novelist
12. Dr. Phylis Johnson (RL) – Media Professor, Southern Illinois Uinversity, Author – Machinima: Aesthetics and Practice (a.k.a, Sonicity Fitzroy, SL Virtual Journalist)
13. Lowell Cremorne (SL), Owner & Editor-In-Chief, The Metaverse Journal
14. Mal Burns (SL), Metaverse News Aggregator and Broadcaster
15. Paisley Beebe (SL), CEO of Perfect World Productions TV
16. Flimsey Freenote – CEO of Metamix TV (Mixed Reality Television)
17. Rhett Linden – Linden Labs
18. Bradley Dorchester – Joint Reigning UWA MachinimUWA Champion
19. Dousa Dragonash (SL) – COO Metaverse Television
20. Cristina García-Lasuén (RL) Aino Baar (SL) International Curator, Art Writer, Founder & Owner of Open This End group
21. White Lebed (SL) – Former Lead of Burning Life Art Department, Director of Special Projects @ UWA

Arena rock: the facade

If like me you’ve attended the odd arena rock show (in my case AC/DC, U2, Robbie Williams and Bruce Springsteen to name four). Next time you go, don’t assume those walls of speakers are for real.

Of course in a lot of cases they are real, although speaker technology has improved so much that you don’t need as many speakers to pump out more than adequate volume. What will bands use as a backdrop if they don’t have the wall of speakers?

[via KuvatON]

First quarter 2011 results for Second Life: steady sailing

Linden Lab late last week released their user metrics and Second Life economy analysis for the first quarter of 2011. Every time I cover this I’m reminded of how much more substantive these statistics used to be, but here’s what we’ve got to work with now:

New user registrations: stagnant to a minor decline. Although, as Tateru Nino notes, if you don’t read the graph carefully you’ll miss that they’ve included April in the stats to show the surge in registrations since the new registration process was launched. Beside that, the 10K signups per day is still something a lot of companies would love to have.

Average monthly repeats logins: unchanged at just under 800K i.e. nearly 800 thousand people logged into Second Life more than once during each month.

User hours: At 105 million hours per month it’s down on the previous year. Looking at each month within the quarter it’s stable at 104 million.

Linden Dollar value: an improvement here, the exchange rate has been the most positive in a while and the overall dollar value of Linden Dollars held by Second Life residents is up to US$29.3 million.

World size: Stable at just over two thousand square kilometres – equivalent to the Maritius as we stated last time.

So overall? The somewhat limited picture provided shows positive signs. If the peak in user registrations shown for April continues during May and June, and converts to users who continue to log in, then Q2 stats might be very interesting indeed.

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