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.”

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