Procrastination and Virtual Worlds as ‘Work’

I just wanted to briefly post a piece as I’m more than acutely aware that it’s been well over a month since anything new has appeared here. It’s definitely not due to a lack of interest in virtual worlds, and it’s not just because life has been busy. It’s a combination of reasons but there are two that dominate.

First, I am studying for my PhD and my research focus is on the use of virtual worlds in simulating clinical situations for health professionals. So on top of the rest of my life, the little time niche I have for virtual worlds tends to be taken up with that, plus some. Following virtual worlds developments since starting this site in 2006 has been no end of help in my studies, but I obviously need to delve even deeper and that comes at the expense of chasing information outside of my fairly narrow research area.

Second, and I feel like I’m being a philanderer saying it, but I’m enjoying plain old gaming more when I do have spare time. It’s why I set up a blog dedicated to MMOs, because my recreation time is pretty much taken up in that sphere. There’s quiet the community of writers there, because each person is very passionate about their MMO and they love writing about it.

So what does that mean for The Metaverse Journal? Nothing drastic really, unless we’re able to build a larger community of writers.  If you love virtual worlds, no matter which one it is, and you’d like to have a forum for your opinions, then drop us a line. Even with the lesser activity we still have tens of thousands of individuals drop by each month. I’ll still be adding content here and there as well.

That’s really the worst-case scenario: a couple of posts per months at best. Unless of course you have any other suggestions – I’d love to hear them!

ReactionGrid retreats from OpenSim

Hypergrid Business has an interesting piece on the change in direction for ReactionGrid. We’ve followed them closely over the years (including our distinctly retro interview with CEO Kyle Gomboy back in 2009 and our Jibe walkthrough from earlier this year).

The changes aren’t a great surprise and funnily enough reflect my own thinking for my own studies where I’m pretty firmly in the Unity3D camp for what I need to achieve.

Here’s a snippet of what ReactionGrid have had to say:

Florida-based ReactionGrid, a pioneer in OpenSim hosting for corporations and educators, is scaling back on its OpenSim business in favor of its Unity-based Jibe platform, and considering closing down its namesake grid.

“We will focus on very high level OpenSim work only,” ReactionGrid co-founder and CEO Kyle Gomboy told Hypergrid Business.

However, the company will continue to provide hosting for JokaydiaGrid, which is focused on serving educators.

“We are pushing educators to Jokaydia,” Gomboy said.

Meanwhile. the company’s view of its namesake grid is “evolving,” he added, and the grid might even be closed.

“We’re debating that now,” he said. “I’d like to keep it up as a portal of sorts for a bit but we’ll be deciding that soon. The push is to promote Jokaydia Grid as our choice for educators which is who primarily use ReactionGrid the world.”

ReactionGrid was one of the first companies to offer OpenSim hosting, with brand-name customers like Microsoft.

You can read the full article from Maria at Hypergrid Business here.

As mentioned, it’s no great surprise but definitely an end of an area.

What’s your take on things?

Rod Humble (and I) talk SL on Australian radio about Second Life

An interesting morning, with Linden Lab CEO Rod Humble and myself being invited to appear on the Kyle and Jackie O show.

For Australian readers, you’ve probably heard about Kyle Sandilands in particular, so I went into the interview with eyes wide open on how balanced the interview would be.

As expected it was a predictable angle, paraphrased as “Hey, look at those freaky people who give up their life to go into Second Life”. That said, Kyle Sandilands was the comparative voice of reason out of the two hosts, at least keeping an open mind.

It’s worth a listen to hear how Linden Lab’s CEO deals with a tabloid approach to Second Life. Not surprisingly the piece opens with Sissy, a self-proclaimed SL addict. Have a listen for yourself and here’s a link to 2Day FM’s podcast of 17th January. It did make the cut – as predicted, sex pose balls make for good listening in the tabloid world.

2011 virtual worlds predictions review

Star Wars: The Old Republic - not a WoW killer, yet

Another year, another look back at predictions made a year ago. It’s been quite a year in some ways and a little stagnant in others.

More on that in reviewing the predictions, but first here’s my hit rate over the years – some of the predictions themselves are good for a laugh at least:

2010: 4 out of 9 correct

2009: 7 out of 10 correct

2008: 5 out of 7 correct

Onto 2011, here’s the predictions made and the actual outcomes:

1. Second Life

It’s fair to say that Linden Lab had a mixed year during 2010 with Second Life. 2011 is likely to be even more turbulent. I’m not going to fence sit on this one too much: the next 12 months will see Linden Lab finally sold to a big tech player based in the US. Whether it’s bought out or not, expect some more significant user-interface improvements but an overall decline in number of hours in-world per user. That decline will be driven primarily by diffusion as dedicated content creators, educators and long-term residents increasingly spread out to OpenSim grids, Blue Mars etc . Second Life might see an increase in concurrency, coming from the more casual / social users attracted by an easier to use interface. That seems to be Linden Lab’s strategy anyway. Oh – and legally compliant gambling will be provided in-world by Linden Lab.

Giving myself a half-pass, based on the user hours and user-interface improvements, but totally missed the mark with Linden Lab provided gambling and concurrency increases.

2. OpenSim

The safe prediction here is ongoing growth, but beyond that it’s a pretty murky picture. Consolidation is one of the clearer trends: a handful of grid providers will probably hold some dominance, with a skew of smaller / solo grids running. Hypergrid protocols are ever-improving, but for wider-adoption the larger providers will play a key role assuming they can keep delivering good service with a growing userbase. So overall: continued growth and emergence / consolidation of larger grid providers.

Pass – this was an easy prediction anyway, but I’m sure all would agree growth has continued, albeit at a slower pace than some would have expected.

3. Blue Mars

Over the past year Blue Mars has been continuing to evolve and has picked up a cohort of Second Life content creators. Assuming the funding keeps coming in, that growth is likely to continue although it’s doubtful that 2011 will see Blue Mars reach full launch and if it does, expect a slow but promising level of uptake by new users. Unless Second Life has a major stumble, Blue Mars won’t be in its league as far as content or user numbers during 2011 – 2012 may be a different story though depending on how things pan out with both camps.

Fail – Although Blue Mars is still pumping along as a predominantly mobile platform, from what I can see progress has remained slow and development of the PC client was discontinued.
The final sentence of my prediction remains pretty pertinent however.

4. The casual phenomenon

The casual worlds on platforms like Facebook will continue to fragment. Numbers will continue to grow but at a much slower rate. Fatigue with the limitations will also grow as people debate the merit of these worlds versus more traditional casual games (think Bejeweled etc). Not surprisingly there will also be a lot of underperforming worlds that close – exacerbating the fatigue with the genre from more experienced users.

Pass – growth has continued, with more offerings (including the launch of Sims Social on Facebook) and plenty of under-performers.

5. Media and societal acceptance

The coming year will see increasing focus on how we interact in virtual environments. The Microsoft Kinect is already receiving a lot of attention, and the media are likely to latch onto the theme of improving physical activity whilst highlighting the odd case of severe addiction/injury. Nothing new there really – the difference over time however is the growing acceptance that these developments need to be incorporated into society’s thinking on a range of issues. Key educators and policy-makers have known this for years but that widespread acceptance (if not understanding) is certainly taking a big step during 2011.

Pass – although measuring this one is difficult. The Kinect certainly did create a lot of interest and acceptance and overall media coverage of virtual environments as a novelty has decreased dramatically. The continued growth in use of social gaming worlds and rapid uptake in smart phone usage has further embedded virtual worlds into the developed world mindset in particular.

6. Government

The momentum with virtual worlds at the US Government level is significant, driven primarily by intertwined military and health-care needs. Beyong that 2011 seems a pretty arid zone on the government side. Although there are potential cost-savings in the longer-term, most European governments aren’t in a financial state to invest heavily in ‘cutting edge’ work. In the Asia-Pacific I’m always surprised at the lack of overt work in the area and don’t expect 2011 to be any different. On the home front, the national political scene is favourable only from the viewpoint of the National Broadband Network rolling out. Government 2.0 initiatives are at a fairly early stage and virtual environments aren’t playing any active role in that anyway at this stage.

Pass – the US Government continue their predominantly military focused work in the area, but most other governments haven’t progressed dow the road far, if at all.

7. Browser-based evolution

Like it or not, people want the ease of a browser-based virtual world without losing too much of the complexity. This year will see that trend continue with some good new options emerging. Using Second Life as an example, development is well underway both at Linden Lab and externally. What you definitely won’t see this year however is a browser-based experience as good as the standalone offering. That’s well over 12 months away but it is coming.

Pass – excellent progress has been made, but still lots more work to do. Kitely was one offering demonstrating that this year., but there are plenty of others.

8. Gaming Worlds

2011 is actually a huge year for MMOs. The key event will be the launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR). We’ve been following it pretty closely and so far it’s looking like it’ll be successful. There’ll be a lot of talk about SWTOR being a World of Warcraft killer. That’s a lot of hyperbole (for 2011 at least) but expect it to pick up a very significant user base in a short time. To be more specific, by end of 2011 I’d expect subscriber numbers to be sitting between two and three million minimum.

World of Warcraft itself will see fairly steady or slightly declining numbers maintained by the recent Cataclysm expansion, with continued dominance of the market for the coming year.

Pass – World of Warcraft has dropped some subscribers but easily maintained its dominance. Star Wars: The Old Republic launch just this month instead of April, but has already hit a million subscribers a week after launch.

9. Business

Absolute status quo: there will be no increased level of traction with business beyond some further acceptance of virtual meeting solutions. The ROI equation for business till isn’t clear enough, making adoption of virtual worlds technologies an exception to the rule. Good research (see Point 10 below) will be crucial for this to change.

Pass – sadly.

10. Research and Development

The number of virtual worlds research projects will continue to increase, with a particular focus on areas such as simulation and the neuropsychological aspects of virtual reality. The simulation research will be pivotal in building solid cases for business, non-government and government adoption of the technology. In an environment where more and more human services professionals are needed in an ageing population, simulation makes huge sense and will be a key driver in the medium term.

Pass – virtual worlds research continues to grow in a range of areas. I can personally vouch for this with my own studies, as I monitor weekly any new research and its frequency continues to increase.


8.5 out of ten this year, although a couple of the predictions were pretty safe ones. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the year that was, or to post links to your own review of predictions!

Will Wright joins Linden Lab Board of Directors (and a quick Sims Social review)

I had to have a bit of a smile when I saw Tateru Nino’s story on The Sims’ creator Will Wright joining the Linden Lab board.

Over the past week I’ve been playing The Sims Social, the Facebook-based version of the game. I’d argue it’s actually one of the least social versions of the game in that there is no live interaction with your Facebook friends and it’s a flurry of more traditional Facebook Wall posts and messages between your friends to achieve key parts of the game.

Not surprisingly with a Facebook-based social game, there’s a heavy push towards virtual currency (SimCash), and it’s not cheap:

Sure, you can play most aspects of the game without buying SimCash (there’s also Social Points and Simoleons that you accumulate and spend), but it takes an active effort to play that way. I can’t blame Electronic Arts for wanting to make money, but I think the slant is too heavy. There’s plenty of depth in the game although there’s a heavy feeling of the MMO grind or familiar endless Farmville grind you’ll be very used to. That classic Sims humour is still present and overall I’m enjoying playing although I think that interest may wane fairly quickly.

Anyway, back to Will Wright. He obviously has no active role with The Sims anymore and I wasn’t able to find any direct comments he’s made on The Sims Social, so I hope he’ll not be part of a drive to implement such a constraining social model on Second Life. I’m more assuming he’ll bring some new ideas that don’t rely on tried and true models – Second Life needs to remain unique whilst improving / evolving. The more brain-power on the Board to help that along the better.

That said, if Simlish becomes the new primary language of Second Life, I’m leaving.

Euclideon and Unlimited Detail: no cookies for you…yet

A couple of weeks ago I ran a story on a potential new 3D engine called Unlimited Detail. I was particularly intrigued on the information supplied because of its claim of massively increased levels of detail – something that’s crucial in areas like simulation for the sciences, education and health professions.

The feedback on that initial story was interesting. Like the wider reaction in the gaming and IT industries, there was overwhelming scepticism toward the claims Euclideon were making. I even had one trusted friend who knows a bit in the area say “I can’t believe you ran the story – his stuff has been debunked”. Not being technically competent in the mechanics of polygons or voxels, I could only shrug my shoulders and say that there seemed to be something in this and perhaps the approach was so disruptive that it challenged the mindset of most people. Or – the criticism was legitimate.

Since then, the brains behind the operation, Bruce Dell, has taken part in a 40-minute video interview to rebut some of the criticisms put forward. The video (shown below) is effective in its aim of putting to bed some key criticisms, including the lack of shading or animation in the videos shown.

The video also shows very clearly how aware Euclideon are of the criticisms being made. Some time is taken to rebut line by line the criticisms made by Minecraft’s Notch. Dell then goes on to strongly emphasise that the proof is in the final baked cookies, and that currently people are making criticisms based on a partially cooked product – albeit one that Euclideon allowed to be sampled via their original videos. Having learnt from that, the assertion is being made now that there’ll be no more taste-testing until the technology is complete.

Anyway, do spend the time having a look for yourself:

Other highlights for me included some more distant history on Dell and his drive to develop the engine, some interesting insights into the reaction from games companies and other corporates to the technology, and how Euclideon is now being funded. The real-time demo is the icing on the cake.

Over to you: do you remain cynical, and if so, what are your concerns? For what it’s worth this video confirms to me that the cynics may actually be quite wrong. Bruce Dell and the team at Euclideon may not be the Messiah of 3D environments (although I wouldn’t rule it out), but they don’t seem to be naughty boys either.

I for one am fascinated to see what the next 18 months brings.

Linden Lab CEO: we’re growing but we’re not sure why

Another year, another Second Life Community Convention. Last year it was Philip Rosedale addressing the convention. This year it’s Rod Humble and today he spent 45 minutes talking about his initial time at Linden Lab and his thoughts on the success and future of Second Life and answering questions. He starts off by emphasising that right now, there are still 16-thousand new signups per day (although no confirmation on how many have stuck with it a month later) and the challenge of battling the stereotypes around Second Life’s ‘decline’. There’s also a bunch of announcements (definitely evolutionary rather than revolutionary ones), so have a look/listen for yourself. The first 18 minutes are the speech, the rest is Q&A:

Video streaming by Ustream

Overall it seemed a solid speech, albeit a little scattered at times. Without sounding too negative, I did feel a strong sense of deja vu to Philip Rosedale’s speech a year ago: a commitment to improve things with first user experience, customer service and lag. With the relative lack of transparency around metrics compared to the ‘good old days’, it’s always difficult to measure success. That means that all we can hope for is that the 16K signups a day manage to convert to more long-term users.

On the title of this story: I think the fact that Linden Lab still don’t have a grasp on why Second Life continues to succeed is actually a good thing. It keeps everyone on their toes and hopefully avoids too much groupthink at Linden Lab. I think if Second Life ever becomes a truly known quantity, its days will definitely be numbered.

Other perspectives on Rod Humble’s speech

1. Bay Sweetwater – Live blogging Rod Humble vs what I’d love to hear

2. Honour McMillan – Attending SLCC 2011 Virtually in Second Life

3. Sylvie Dale – Usability, customer service will be key for Linden Lab in 2011
4. Post your own perspectives in comments!

Gamification of work: a pointed critique

As you’re probably aware, there’s been a lot of interest over the past couple of years in ‘gamification’ – the application of gaming principles to work or any activity where the objective is greater participation. We reviewed one of the tomes dedicated to it last year – the arguments for the concept are appealing to say the least.

That said, I was just as engaged with the argument against gamification from Ian Bogost. He essentially argues that by trying to incorporate gaming into a workplace, you are killing the fundamental magic that makes games appealing. Have a read for yourself.

For what it’s worth, I think things fall somewhere in the middle. There’s no doubt some companies will latch onto the concept of ‘gamification’ (and I agree with Bogost that the term sucks), purely because it’s the latest ‘cool’ strategy and then implement it poorly. That said, I think the opportunity exists to do it right – have a look through these slides (linked by a commenter on Bogost’s post) for one powerful argument on how that could be achieved:

Like any emergent area there’s plenty of debate and until there are numerous engaging and effective examples of gaming applied to work, there will thankfully be sceptics questioning it and pushing the boundaries.

History with purpose: MUDs and MOOs

I’ve bored friends and colleagues with my stories of discovering the power of MUDS in the early 1990s. I have a massive soft spot for the original virtual worlds (as pictured), but aside from sentimentality there remains a real role for these text-based worlds. Justin Olivetti over at Massively has a great article on MUDs that showcases some of the good ones and the people who play them.

The reason I believe these environments still have relevance is not just because of the dedicated community that still use them. They provide some great lessons in how to create engaging communities and content. Most people tend to think of MUDS as gaming-oriented platforms, which is essentially true. The thing is, their sibling the MOO (MUD, Object Oriented) has that real content creation focus that led to iconic communities such as LambdaMOO. My own experiences were with a MOO used to interact with music collaboration software and its power to engage people was incredible.

So, if you’re interested in getting people excited about a common purpose or just want a great social space, spend some of your development time wandering around a MUD or MOO. I’d also love to hear about your experiences: did you have or do you still have a favourite MUD / MUSH / MOO?

Rod Humble: unfortunately we’re in The Promised Land

As Linden Lab CEO, Rod Humble has made an impression in his first few months. He very much needed to given the challenges faced, but I’m actually encouraged by the wider view he seems to be taking on the impact virtual environments can have on all of us. Speaking at what I’m assuming is a recent event , Humble covered a fairly wide gamut on games, games as art-forms and the concept of eventual computer-generated art via games. A specific point made fell around the huge progress the games industry has made, effectively entering ‘The Promised Land’, but that perhaps this was holding progress and/or serious questioning of games outcomes back.

Have a read through for yourself and then have your say in comments. His perspective on free will is enough to start a gargantuan discussion thread, let alone the other issues addressed.

Overall, Humble’s thoughts are a deeper perspective than one traditionally expects from a CEO and it’s a welcome change. That said, applying that broad mindset to the specific challenges Linden Lab faces is the real test of mettle to come. Initial indications are favourable but there’s a long way to go yet.

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