The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. TUAW (USA) – Enterprise virtual worlds vendor ProtonMedia promises Mac client. “ProtonMedia says that increasing use of Macs in businesses means it’s now developing a Mac version of its respected virtual worlds software ProtoSphere, a virtual collaboration environment. Although the Windows version of its software is built on Microsoft technology, the company says its architecture means it can fairly easily port it over to the Mac.”

2. The Guardian (UK) – British hacker jailed over £7m virtual gaming chips scam. “A British computer hacker who stole 400bn virtual gaming chips from an international gaming company has been jailed for two years. Ashley Mitchell, 29, broke into the Zynga mainframe, stole the identity of two employees and transferred chips said to be worth more than £7m to himself. Mitchell, of Paignton, Devon, sold the chips through Facebook to other gaming enthusiasts and used the money to fund his online gambling addiction. More than 50 million people a day play Zynga games, including Mafia Wars, in which players run a virtual mob business, and FarmVille, which allows users to create their dream farm. Players have to buy chips for their virtual worlds. A black market in cut-price chips has grown up on the internet.”

3. Massively (USA) – Celebrate EQ’s 12 years with a look back and an interview with John Smedley. “Time grows many layers, and this is especially true in MMORPGs. After all, not only are new quests, stories and chunks of content added to a game as it goes along, but the players themselves add their own memories and experiences to the mix. MMOs truly are virtual worlds, and they change over time and become richer. EverQuest is no exception. After 12 years of adventure, danger, and story-telling, the game shows no signs of stopping. What is planned for the game? How will the last 12 years affect the decisions for the next 12 years? EverQuest has been one of the flagships of the genre, but how does a game of its age maintain any type of market visibility?”

4. Victoria Times Colonist (Canada) – ‘Uther’ worldly class offers a real world benefit -dinner. “Imagine that you could take cooking lessons from a top chef in your own kitchen. And imagine that chef is halfway around the world from where you are. At UtherAcademy’s Kitchen Corner cooking school, it matters not if the chef is in Egypt and his cooking school students are in Nanaimo, Whalley or Tuktoyaktuk. Once inside the three-dimensional virtual classroom the chef and his students -as animated avatars -are in their world, talking freely, asking questions and demonstrating techniques in French cooking, knife skills, pickling and food hygiene. When class begins next week, six students will enter Kitchen Corner with chef Peers Cawley to begin 12 weeks of hands-on cooking instruction.”

5. BBC (UK) – Children ‘give playground games a modern twist’. “Children are using their experience of computer games and reality TV shows to give traditional playground games a modern twist, a study suggests. Researchers found aspects of programmes like the Jeremy Kyle Show and Britain’s Got Talent included in children’s imaginative play. Far from destroying their imagination, new technologies help to enrich it, the team from London and Sheffield says. They observed play at two school playgrounds over two years. The researchers from London’s Institute of Education, University of East London and the University of Sheffield, also drew on archived recordings of children playing made by play researchers in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.”

6. Gamasutra (USA) – Should MMOs be more like single-player games? “Most of today’s single-player action games like Bioshock and Assassin’s Creed have around 15-25 hours of gameplay. These games share some similarities as the player progresses: the character gains more abilities that affect gameplay (weapons, moves, new mission types, etc), he advanced in a linear story, meets new characters, kills new enemies and often has the chance to explore something extra. Also they all share about the same payment method: you pay around $40 and you have access to all the game for as long as you like. They are also, of course, single-player experiences. In most MMOs today, like in World of Warcraft, you take 20 hours to reach a third or less of the your game progression. And, most of the time, that means little gameplay, hardly any story, a multitude of disposable npcs and tons of variants of the same enemies, all of that often focused on a limited repetition of completing the same kinds of quests with the obvious lack of effect to the game world.”

7. Fast Company (USA) – The 10 Most Innovative Companies in Gaming. “01 / Zynga >>For dominating–and monetizing–the social-gaming industry. The largest social-games developer in the world touts hundreds of millions of monthly active users on FarmVille, Treasure Isle, Zynga Poker, Mafia Wars, and more. But what’s truly innovative is its all virtual-goods revenue model: By creating immersive, addicting games, Zynga has roped gamers into paying real money for make-believe “virtual” goods that let them move up in the games or to give their friends gifts. Although small, those numbers add up: Zynga is already profitable, and it’s valued at more than $7 billion.”

8. The Nation (Pakistan) – The Powers of Thought. “It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well, said the 17th century French philosopher Rene Descartes. True enough. Three days ago, an announcement by German scientists revealed how science is moving towards doing just that. Driving a car using the power of thought is the latest advance in linking the brain to a computer. Scientists at the Free University of Berlin have connected commercially available sensors that record brain activity—technically, EEG, or electroencephalogram sensors—to a computer-controlled sedan, which means the car is now controlled by thoughts. It was obviously not a good idea to do the test on a road, so Berlin’s mothballed Tempelhof Airport was chosen to prove the concept.”

9. Big Think (USA) – Walking Across Campus Whilst Sitting on your Couch. “This might at first sight sound like an oxymoron but it could be part of a future campus environment. Last year a couple of tech start-ups presented their first so called “telepresence robots” ready to be commercialized. The one that got the most attention from the tech scene is AnyBots. Michael Arrington, founder of the popular tech blog TechCrunch even changed his Twitter profile picture to an AnyBots QB after he had had the chance to play around with it in the TechCrunch offices last year.”

10. Computerworld (USA) – Display tech to watch this year: Haptics create a buzz. “If multitouch display technology is proliferating, haptic feedback is helping to fuel the trend. Haptics provide tactile feedback to your fingers as you touch a display by vibrating all or part of the display surface. Haptic technology is on a roll; it’s been adopted in more than 20 smartphone models, including the Nokia N8 and Samsung Galaxy S series, because it can help people interact with touch-screen applications more accurately and otherwise enhance the user experience, says Jennifer Colegrove, an analyst with DisplaySearch. DisplaySearch, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based research firm that focuses on the display market, hasn’t yet released growth projections for haptics, but Colegrove notes that tablet PCs are ripe for the technology. One tablet that already includes haptics is Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, which has sold 2 million units since its launch in September of last year.”

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