The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Wall Street Journal (USA) – Second Life Creator Linden Lab Downsizes, Morphs. “Despite some perceptions to the contrary, backers of the virtual community called Second Life say it is growing and healthy. But substantial changes are afoot. Linden Lab, a San Francisco company that was founded in 1999 and launched Second Life in 2003, said this week it will cut 30% of its 300-employee staff as part of a restructuring to more tightly focus on its core business–consumers selling virtual goods to each other–and strengthen its profitability. Among other things, the company plans to close a software development office in Singapore and reduce its customer-support staff, expecting to outsource some of the latter operations, said Mark Kingdon, who succeeded founder Philip Rosedale as Linden Lab’s chief executive two years ago.”

2. ExecutiveGov (USA) – Virtual Worlds Project Helps Service Members Combat Deloyment Issues. “The National Center for Telehealth and Technology will launch a new virtual worlds project for service members who struggle with deployment or psychological healthcare issues related to deployment. During a June 3 DotMilDocs interview on Pentagon Web Radio, Dr. Kevin M. Holloway, a T2 clinical psychologist and the project lead for the Virtual Worlds project, explained how the web-based project uses a 3-D computer-generated environment to help improve psychological services and care.”

3. The Economist (UK) – From Gollum to “Avatar”. “During the ten years leading up to the release of “The Wizard of Oz” in 1939, the world of cinema underwent a dramatic transformation. Films that had been silent and colourless suddenly gained vibrant hues, sound effects and speech. Indeed, “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” was as much a commentary on the state of the film industry at the time as it was about being dropped into a magical world by a tornado. Colour and sound led to huge changes for actors and designers alike. The over-expressive acting techniques demanded by silent films were dropped, and designers scrambled to work with colour materials. Hollywood really did enter a new world. Since then imagination and technology have pushed the boundaries of film ever farther. In modern disaster movies, New York is routinely destroyed, in vivid detail. Actors fit seamlessly into computer-generated landscapes depicting this and other worlds. Gone are the dodgy models, unconvincing scenery and painted backdrops of days gone by. But the ability to create convincing computer-generated or “virtual” characters has not kept pace. Historically, such characters have been depicted using animation or puppets—think of the animated monsters in “Clash of the Titans” (1981), or the puppet Yoda in “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980). More recently, however, computer animation has extended the possibilities.”

4. (Australia) – Fears rise over kids hooked on gaming and virtual worlds. “School children are becoming dangerously hooked on computer games, with one being offered live-in treatment at adolescent psychiatric facilities to wean him off his addiction. The first teenager admitted to hospital partly due to computer addiction was living full-time at Sydney’s Rivendell Adolescent Unit at Concord, receiving therapy and doing schoolwork. But psychiatrists said they were receiving a flood of calls from distressed families seeking help for children who had fallen victim to the condition known as “pathological internet use”. Mental health professionals said schools were reporting students falling asleep in class after marathon online sessions playing highly addictive games such as World Of Warcraft.”

5. BizReport (USA) – Pente Group, PlaySpan partner for virtual currency hub. “Called UltimatePay, the platform allows merchants and brands monthly metrics and reports to stay up to date with their consumer base. Consumers, meanwhile, have a single solution to pay for virtual goods and services rather than using private credit card information within a host of sub-sites.
PlaySpan is developing the hub, which will be used in coordination with Pente Group’s stable of brands and businesses as the full service payment solution which can be used by consumers around the world. The solution allows consumers to pay for virtual goods, games and other tools via credit card, PayPal, mobile provider and other internationally recognized options; it will embed into the Pente Group application so that merchants don’t have to worry about upkeep.”

6. Forbes (USA) – Top Moneymaking Online Games Of 2009. “In the Forbes article “The Next FarmVille” on Thursday, we take a look at the biggest online games worldwide among massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) like “World of Warcraft,” virtual worlds and social games, ranking them by total revenue in 2009. The figures we arrived at were based on estimates by video game research firm DFC Intelligence, and public information from companies’ filings. Unsurprisingly, Blizzard Entertainment’s “World of Warcraft” continued its unmatched success, raking in more than $1 billion in revenue last year. But what is interesting is who dominated the rest of the list — virtually all titles from China and Korea.”

7. Reuters (USA) – Gameworld: Games are going 3D in wake of Hollywood’s success. “With 3D movies boosting both audience experiences and box office coffers, videogame publishers are following Hollywood’s lead and developing 3D games to immerse players more into virtual worlds. Game makers like Sony Computer Entertainment, Nintendo, Electronic Arts, Capcom, Take-Two Interactive, and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment will unveil stereoscopic 3D video games at the E3 Expo in Los Angeles next week where over 45,000 game industry professionals check out the big titles of the next year. “Gamers are the early adopters and once they experience games in 3D, they’re not going to want to go back,” said Oscar-winning producer Jon Landau, who worked with Ubisoft last year to release the first 3D console video game, “James Cameron’s Avatar.”

8. Nextgov (USA) – With possibility of no funding, Defense still moves on PTSD online project. “The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency plans to hold a conference on Friday to inform industry about a project that would create virtual worlds, social media sites and telehealth services to help treat troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries — even though Congress killed funding for it earlier this year. DARPA officials said it will develop its ambitious Healing Heroes project using guidance by a board of advisers drawn from the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments, particularly the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. In April, Army Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, director of the center, described the project as a new way for troops suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injuries, their families and communities to communicate and connect in a way that “transcends time and space.”

9. it World (Canada) – Vancouver grads build game with government data. “A group of Vancouver grad students are believed to be the first to use open government data for game development with TaxiCity, a Web-based driving game. TaxiCity lets players take on the role of a taxi driver, pick up passengers and deliver them to landmark destinations in downtown Vancouver, said Dashan Yue, a graduate student at the Center for Digital Media at the Great Northern Way Campus in Vancouver. Yue co-developed TaxiCity with six other students. The game was created in three months using Microsoft Corp.’s Silverlight development platform, Bing Maps and the City of Vancouver’s Open Data Catalogue, he said. The students used multiple data sets from Vancouver’s open data catalogue to generate the maps in TaxiCity, such as block outlines, parks, building shapes and the centre midline strokes on streets, he said.”

10. Los Angeles Times (USA) – Second Life’s thriving music scene. “”If I could get some bubbles, I’d be forever indebted,” singer Craig Lyons tells the packed house at his Monday night gig. The crowd promptly complies, filling the room with bubbles while Lyons plays his tune “Under Water.” Two nights earlier, the audience made it snow as he strummed the chords to his song “Winter.” Strangely enough, the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter has come to expect this type of supernatural behavior at his shows, which take place several times a week in Second Life, the virtual online world that allows users to interact with one another as avatars.”

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