The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. BusinessWeek (USA) – Linden Lab’s Virtual Second Life Eyes Second Life. “Linden Lab’s virtual world called Second Life was seen as the Web’s next big thing following its 2003 debut. Investors including Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos and EBay Inc. founder Pierre Omidyar poured millions of dollars into the project, where 3-D avatars sunbathe on virtual islands and operate virtual companies. Businessweek featured Second Life on a 2006 cover, and Reuters opened a virtual bureau. Coca-Cola Co. held a virtual contest. Philip Rosedale, who founded San Francisco-based Linden Lab, said Second Life has yet to reach its potential. He was named interim CEO today, replacing Mark Kingdon, who stepped down. In 2008, Rosedale predicted that virtual worlds will become “bigger in total usage than the Web itself.”

2. Ars Technica (USA) –Saving “virtual worlds” from extinction. “Sometime this August, librarians at the University of Illinois will finish archiving over a dozen famous computer games, then step back to consider where to go next with their project. These programs go back over four decades, and include a 1993 version of Doom, various editions of Warcraft, and even MIT’s Spacewar! circa 1962. We wondered, given the gaming nature of most of the software being preserved, why the venture is calling itself the Preserving Virtual Worlds project. So we called up the project’s coordinator, Jerome McDonough, Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois, to ask him about the name.”

3. University World News (UK) – Save money switching to OpenSim. “Educators in post-secondary institutions, colleges and schools looking for lower costs, better controls and no age restrictions might consider switching from Second Life to its open source alternative, the OpenSim virtual world server platform. The OpenSim server software can be used to power an entire public grid or a small private, behind-the-firewall installation, and can be run on an institution’s own server or hosted with third-party providers. Educators say they find OpenSim offers significant cost savings over Second Life although there may be hidden costs. “OpenSim is far less expensive to us to run,” said Shenlei Winkler, President of the Fashion Research Institute, in an online comment to the International Society for Technology in Education. “We pay less a year for most of our regions than we do for a month of our Second Life region’s hosting bills,” Winkler said.”

4. Inside Higher Ed (USA) – ‘Rebundling’ Liberal Education. “In 2009 a group of 42 researchers, educators, and entrepreneurs met together at the invitation of Union Square Ventures, a venture capital firm, to discuss how the Web could transform education. A major theme of the daylong discussion, which took place under the theme “Hacking Education,” was “unbundling,” the process through which online distribution of digital media and information breaks apart and erodes existing industries. At the center of “unbundling” are new technologically-enabled relationships that democratize access to the means of production and collectively create plenty where scarcity once existed. An often-cited example of “unbundling” is newspapers: with blogs and other online tools, one no longer needs a printing press or fleet of delivery vehicles to be heard. The newspaper editorial room competes with an army of bloggers and other online media outlets. Craigslist emerges as the marketplace for used household items, local job listings, and community announcements, replacing the advertising function of the traditional print newspaper. The combination is a perfect storm leading to a steady, nationwide stream of newspaper closures.”

5. VentureBeat (USA) – VenueGen lowers pricing to take virtual meetings to the masses. “VenueGen said today that it’s taking its 3D virtual meeting tools to a new audience, with a version aimed at freelancers, small businesses, bloggers, and do-good organizations. Company president Jeff Crown said that most of the existing virtual world products for businesses, such as those offered by Inxpo and Unisfair, are out of reach for smaller organizations, because they cost tens of thousands of dollars per year. And VenueGen’s initial service, which it launched at the DEMO conference coproduced by VentureBeat, was similarly priced for large enterprises.”

6. BusinessWeek (USA) – Second Life: Reality Intrudes on Virtual Reality. “While you were worrying about keeping your home, you may have missed the popping of the virtual-reality real estate bubble. In Second Life—Linden Lab’s immersive, 3D game that allows players to trade real dollars for virtual dollars—a nice stretch of mainland coastal property that would have fetched around $65 in 2007 today goes for $16. That’s partly because the financial crisis crimped spending for the 1.38 million users, known as residents who have logged into Second Life in the past 60 days. “The real real estate crisis had a direct effect on the real estate” in virtual worlds, says Guntram Graef, a business partner at Anshe Chung Studios, which sells “land” in Second Life. It’s also because the pell-mell growth of Second Life has slowed dramatically since four years ago, when BusinessWeek put Anshe Chung—the avatar for Ailin Graef, Guntram’s wife— on its cover.”

7. Scientific American (USA) – Grand Theft Auto Is Good for You? Not So Fast… “If your children are like 99 percent of boys and 94 percent of girls, they play video games. And, if they are like 50 percent of boys and 14 percent of girls, they prefer games with “mature” – read: violent — themes, such as Grand Theft Auto, an urban dystopia of gun fights, car chases, pole dancers and prostitutes, where blood splatters realistically on the “camera lens.” Should you worry whether such a game will warp your children’s minds? A new paper by Cheryl Olson, a public health specialist at Harvard, suggests the answer may be: au contraire. Olson surveyed children’s reported motivations for video game playing and found that their top rated choices were to have fun, compete well with others, and to be challenged. She then elaborates on the psychological benefits such play might afford, describing how video games facilitate self-expression, role play, creative problem-solving, cognitive mastery, positive social interactions and leadership. Sounds more utopian than dystopian, right?”

8. Wall Street Journal (USA) – Real Economist Learns From Virtual World. “In the first quarter of this year, while Chinese demand for copper, aluminum and nickel helped the London Metals Exchange’s index of prices rise to a 4% gain, the minerals price index for EVE went in the opposite direction, dropping by 1.8% over the same period. The deflationary trend in EVE was led by sharp declines in high-end metals Zydrine and Megacyte, mostly explained by a positive supply shock. A hitherto inaccessible asteroid belt was opened up in null security space, which created an important new source for the two metals and counteracted the upward effect of stronger demand from spaceship builders. These observations and more are laid out in the latest quarterly report on economic activity in EVE by Eyjolfur Gudmundsson, chief economist for Reykjavik, Iceland-based CCP Gaming, the company that designed, created and now manages EVE.”

9. TechCrunch (USA) – Amidst Turmoil, Linden Lab’s CEO Steps DownJune has not been a good month for Linden Lab, the creator of virtual world Second Life. A few weeks ago, the company announced that it was laying off 30 percent of its staff and taking Second Life into a new direction. Today, Linden Lab is announcing that current CEO Mark Kingdon (pictured here) is stepping down. Company founder Philip Rosedalehas been named interim CEO, and CFO Bob Komin has assumed the additional role of COO. The company did not give a reason for the reshuffling of the executive team but it’s safe to assume that it reflects Linden Lab’s new strategic direction. When announcing the layoffs in early June, Linden Lab also said that it aims to make SeconfdLife more browser based, eliminating the need to download any software. The company is also pushing for Second Life to extend to social networks.”

10. Escapist Magazine (USA) – Rumor: Star Wars: The Old Republic Closed Beta In Progress. “The Star Wars: The Old Republic community has been in a fervor over nearly confirmed rumors that the game has entered a public closed beta phase for this weekend only. The game isn’t expected until mid-2011 at the earliest, but those with the force in them may be playing as we speak… err… write… as I write… and you read. They’re playing it now is what I am saying. BioWare has not confirmed the beta, but rather than a denial, Star Wars: The Old Republic community manager Sean Dahlberg wrote in this forum thread: “Thanks for the information and it’s definitely interesting that people are posting about our Game Testing Program. We don’t have anything official to say at this moment.” He also said that members of the beta were only allowed to say that there is a beta, and that they are in it, if one were to be ongoing.”

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