Philip Rosedale spruiks new venture, talks down Second Life?

If you’ve followed the exploits of Linden Lab’s former CEO and current Chairman over the past year or so, you’ll know he’s been off creating something new. The New York Times has run a profile on that venture, Coffee and Power.

That venture seems interesting enough and leverages heavily the virtual currency model used for Second Life, in this case to purchase or receive payment for goods or services.

It’s very similar to a bunch of other services, though it seems a solid community is already being built up. Whether you need a garden gnome restored, someone to crochet an octopus for you or a Powerpoint presentation created for you, it can all be purchased.

What interested me most however, was this paragraph:

While he is still chairman of Linden Lab, the company that created Second life, Mr. Rosedale talks about that venture in the past tense.

“The problem with creating an immersive 3-D experience is that it is just too involved, and so it’s hard to get people to engage,” he said. “Smart people in rural areas, the handicapped, people looking for companionship, they love it. But you have to be highly motivated to get on and learn to use it.”

Assuming the quote is accurate, is that the message you want coming from the Chairman of your Board? There’s nothing in the statement I’d disagree with factually, but it still seems an interesting approach from someone who’s been aligned with Second Life from the beginning.

Over to you: a skewed story or an indication of malaise at the very top of Linden Lab?

‘3D Virtual Campus Tours’ gains traction

I had a note from Andrew Hughes, Adjunct Instructor at the University of Cincinatti and head honcho of Designing Digitally Inc, on the success to date of their 3D Virtual Campus Tours product. Mirror worlds are of course well established and were one of the original ways universities and business have utilised virtual worlds.

Universities in particular are an obvious market, in that new students have a genuine interest in learning how to find their way around, to which virtual environments are ideally suited to help out.

I shot some questions back to Andrew Hughes to get some more information on where 3DVCT sees itself in the marketplace and where it sees its unique value is.

Q: What was the original impetus to develop specifically for campus tours?

A: We have built over 30 campuses inside Second Life, Opensim, and other virtual worlds only to find that we’re not thinking about the convenience factor for novice users. On the web we give around 2 seconds for a website to load before we move on. We were looking to build a browser-based campus and it just so happened that the United States Air Force Academy was looking for a virtual campus tour that was online and completely a browser based replica of their campus. We won the contract and have built a browser-based high end campus tour with built in communication tools and live and AI guided tours.

Q: What sort of response have you had to date from universities, including international universities?

A: We launched the product in March of this year. With the build we have done with the United States Air Force Academy, they have had four thousand recruits through the space at this current time. We have a handful of Universities both in the USA and outside the USA we’re building now but we are under NDA’s with them and cannot disclose their name, the nature of the campus’s needs etc until they are launched on the client’s website.

Q: We have a lot of readers who are educators: can you give a little insight on the platform 3DVCT is built on, including how easy it would be to implement at a university with more restricted IT infrastructure?

A: We’re using the Unity 3D gaming engine and a complex MMO system that is connected to a dynamic server or servers. The development of the system has a complete content management system for users, history, macros for the tours, and even the ability to control the AI bot and what she says within the CMS. The databases are able to fully integrate into an existing CRM or ERM software used by the university so that there is one streamlined process.

We work hard to learn the process from day one of a potential student to the date he or she signs up for the first class. We then build the system to be as integrated and as easy as possible for the University. We also have extensive experience in building in Unity 3D to the extent that we’ve been quoted by their CEO for our talents. The reason I state this as we can change the ports used to adhere to the client’s specifications. We also can cloud the system so that it loads faster and is a little less processor heavy on the end user.

Q: Obviously it will vary but can you give a ballpark cost for a standard university campus tour from development to implementation? And how do you think this compares to other options in the marketplace?

A: Our company is very good at what we do and so we’re in line with any other completely custom built browser-based virtual MMO developer. We also do pricing per enrollment size. So a smaller college will get a discounted rate depending on the pricing of the current student enrollment. Right now there is not a virtual world focused on just giving virtual campus tours. Right now in the industry other virtual campus tours are 360 panoramas or Google overhead maps. An experience like that won’t let the student see how big the dorm room is compared to his or her size, nor would it allow them to actually walk around a to-scale campus to see where everything is and get familiar with the campus by actually walking around in it or talking to a live admin rep through voice and text chat we have built in.

Our virtual space is built in the high end gaming engine called Unity 3D and has had over two years of R&D built into it, so that the process can be done quickly and at a professional level you cannot get from Second Life or any other virtual world out there.

Q: What arguments would you make for your platform as opposed to say a university going it alone and developing an OpenSim grid on which to mirror their university and conduct tours?

A: We have the ability to do the following, unlike the virtual worlds you speak of above:

1. Full AI Technology
2. Control over the avatar experience
3. Custom ability to change ports
4. Higher quality of development
5. Runs in a web browser
6. Does not have a large learning curve to get into the world
7. Fully customizable both interface, experience, branding, etc.
8. Ability to be skinned and placed on your website for full ownership
9. Full content management system for the ability to control bots, users, history user tracking where they were, etc.

This is far beyond what those other platforms could ever do – I state this as we’re well known for our SL and Opensim builds and we found that we cannot recruit students effectively.

Q: What are Designing Digitally’s plans for the coming year?

We are working on 3D training simulations, and virtual worlds for government and corporate clients. Many of them are either under NDA or classified government projects. We will be launching a financial literacy system for people to learn how to manage money, buying houses, etc. This will include both Flash and Unity simulations within it. We are also going to be going to the following conferences:

– ASTD 2012
– SALT 2012

3DVCT will be at:
– Noel-Levitz 2012
– NACAC 2012


So there you have it – the 3DVCT product has hitched its wagon firmly to the Unity3D platform, an obvious trend in the simulation field in particular. For what it’s worth, the time I spent checking out 3DVCT further reinforced to me the responsiveness of Unity3D. It’s not the panacea for everything but it’s dominating some key virtual world niches – which lays down a significant challenge to competitors. That can only be good for the ongoing evolution of the industry.

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.

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) – Study’s the name of the game. “Inside a school laboratory, students gather around the bench for today’s lesson: how to create a chemical reaction. Yet instead of turning to their worksheets, these young investigators try some role play. Each budding scientist dons a lab coat and begins to experiment until – voila! – beakers erupt all over the room. Their reward? Not a mark or score but a handful of special tokens. The student who makes the biggest explosion also wins the title of professor. Welcome to the world of ”gamification”, where schooling looks less like a conventional classroom and more like a game of World of Warcraft. The concept is simple: that game mechanics such as virtual currency, puzzles and point systems could one day become as common in schools as tests, pens and textbooks.”

2. Search Engine Watch (USA) – Linden Lab Must Stop Tinkering With Our Income. “The number of times I’ve had a discussion revolving around the reality vs. unreality of virtual worlds are uncountable. You can have this discussion really about any topic. Any activity that you can do in both RL and in a Virtual World is fair game. Of course, everyone has their own lines as to what is “real” and what is alternatively, SL, VW, or “just a hyped up video game”. However, for me, the one thing that is undeniably real is the money. A virtual world economy using real money is for all intents and purposes a real economy. Since the money can be converted to real world cash, any distinction is trivial.”

3. Red Eye Chicago (USA) – Gaming gone indie. “It sounds at first like the nerdiest season of “The Real World” MTV never taped: Six guys, all recent DePaul graduates from the video game development program, stuffed themselves, some laptops, Xboxes and other worldly possessions into a modest five-bedroom apartment in North Center. Aside from exchanging dirty jokes and a few other shenanigans, the arrangement that began in July is as much about business as pleasure. “The Corral,” as they’ve affectionately nicknamed their living room, doubles as the office of Young Horses—a brand new video game studio. The mission: to finish their aquatic pet project “Octodad 2″—a wacky adventure game about an octopus that masquerades as a regular human father—by the end of their one-year lease in July 2012.”

4. Expert Reviews (UK) – Blizzard Sells Off Pieces of Its Virtual World. Blizzard Entertainment, the creators of World of Warcraft, are selling off old hardware in aid of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. The ‘world’ of World of Warcraft is actually composed of a large number of Realms – identical copies of the game world running on separate hardware. This helps to keep the load on individual servers to a manageable level so that users can play the game smoothly, but it also means that if you want to play with friends, you have to choose the same realm when you start the game. Having recently upgraded WoW’s servers, Blizzard has decided to auction off the old servers. These are in the form of “blades” – single circuit boards that contain all the hardware necessary for a server, including processors, memory and storage. Each realm is powered by a number of blades, to provide redundancy in the case of a failure in a single blade.”

5. Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) – Power of thought moves limbs. “A brain implant that allows monkeys to move an avatar’s arm and feel objects in a virtual world has been demonstrated for the first time. The animals used the device to control the arm by thought alone, and feel the texture of objects through electrical signals sent directly to the brain. Researchers built the system to help paralysed people regain the use of their arms and legs, and feel the objects they touched and the ground they walked on.”

6. Huffington Post (USA) – Spiritual Sex in an Increasingly Virtual World. “I believe most modern Americans have a very low capacity for pleasure. I don’t just mean sex. I mean being tactile, receiving touch, feeling the wind rush past your body, swimming, getting in bed at night and rolling around in your clean sheets for a few minutes. Tactile pleasure makes us more whole. I believe we all need sensual touch every day. It’s highly important for me to tune into the subtleties of sensation in my body. It’s transformational, and I can bring it into my life 24/7, from writing an article to having a business meeting. I can be present and involved, wanting to expand everything I do to its most delicate and exquisite place — because that’s what I practice during sex. As I just suggested, there are other ways to find that capacity, but sex works for me.”

7. Fast Company (USA) – Kinect TV And Sesame Street Hack The Next Generation Of TV. “Xbox is unveiling a sharp idea for the next generation of television: interactive, live-action content, produced in partnership Sesame Workshop and National Geographic. Downloadable, linear episodes run like a normal television show but give children opportunities to play simple games with familiar characters and don virtual costumes that mold to their bodies and play around with the show’s environment. A series of interactive children’s books is also in the works. Dubbed “Project Columbia,” they allows burgeoning readers to explore the otherwise static world of a picture books with games, sounds, and augmented reality.”

8. ABC News (USA) – Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 Plan Similar to SimCity’s Virtual Tax Plan. “Whether it came from a pizza box or an unnamed Wells Fargo banker, Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 economic plan is now being compared to another unlikely source: the SimCity video game. Long before the GOP presidential candidate’s plan began dominating the political discourse, a shockingly similar 9-9-9 plan was ruling the virtual world of SimCity. In the video game, residents of SimCity 4 pay default taxes that include a 9 percent commercial tax, a 9 percent industrial tax and a 9 percent residential tax, Huffington Post Politics pointed out. Cain’s plan implements a 9 percent sales tax, 9 percent personal income tax and 9 percent corporate income tax.”

9. Success Magazine (USA) – The Future Is Now: Virtual Office Reality. “The idea of stepping into a hologram for a monthly staff meeting may still seem a tad far-fetched for most small-business owners, but improvements in broadband quality and available technology are expanding virtual meeting options at warp speed. Yet, even in the virtual world, it’s best to take a hard look before you leap. Whether you’re NASA conjuring the holodek of Star Trek science fiction to train astronauts, or a fledgling entrepreneur struggling to communicate with remote partners or customers, the first step into the burgeoning virtual world should be doing your homework to find the most appropriate and cost-effective solution for you. First, here’s a primer on the available technology.”

10. Los Angeles TImes (USA) – Businesses quickly adopting augmented reality apps for consumers
. “You point your smartphone at an Italian restaurant, and diner reviews of its lasagna pop up on-screen. Or you aim your tablet computer’s camera down a residential street, and over images of the houses you see which ones are for sale — along with the asking price, number of baths and square footage. Haven’t done this yet? You probably will soon. The technology is called augmented reality, or AR, and businesses are racing to incorporate it in as many consumer applications as they can. It’s essentially the same technology TV sportscasts use to digitally paint a first-down line on a football field, adapted and updated for camera-equipped smartphones and tablet computers. “In the future, you’ll be able to point your device at anything around you and, without prompting, that device will recognize what is there, incorporate your interests, and layer on information about what you’re looking at,” said Brian Blau, research director at Gartner Inc. “Point a phone at a building, you’ll see the history, for example. Or at a flower, the kind of flower comes up.”

On the fly 3D surface reconstruction: KinectFusion

Microsoft’s Kinect is rightfully getting a lot of attention from researchers. One snippet that caught my attention is a collaboration between Microsoft and a number of UK and Canada-based researchers. The result is KinectFusion.

Have a look for yourself:

The implications for virtual worlds are fairly obvious. The thing that particularly struck me is the dynamic capability of the approach even at this early stage – if something changes with the physical world environment, it is reflected virtually. For the education, science and health fields, to name three, this is huge.

One obvious example within my pet area of clinical simulation: a camera (with consent) is placed in a busy emergency department in a large teaching hospital. Emergency nursing students based at a rural university receive that feed, had it convert on the fly to 3D for use within their virtual learning environment. Students may actually ‘work’ a full shift virtually, needing to respond to the challenges of the changing environment as they occur.

As I said, there’s a long way to go (for starters, KinectFusion is about surfaces only), but the progress is rapid and exciting. Over to you: what applications could you see this being good for?

Linden Lab CEO: enter the bot armies!

Linden Lab CEO Rod Humble has posted an update to Second Life residents on progress and future plans. Have a read for yourself in full here, but the most interesting part for me was this:

Over the next few months (with testing most likely starting in December), we will be rolling out a series of more advanced features. These will make the creation of artificial life and artificial people much smoother. For starters, we’ll unveil a new, robust pathfinding system that will allow objects to intelligently navigate around the world avoiding obstacles. Imagine being able to create advanced pets, creatures or even a living town where non-player characters are walking about. Combined with the experience tools I mentioned above, it should soon be possible to create more advanced MMORPG’s or interactive experiences which use AI right within Second Life.

It’s a good enhancement in so many ways, and its timing is good with the unveiling of improved AI world navigation capabilities for Unity 3.5. It certainly keeps Linden Lab in the game and provides some interesting content creation opportunities currently not available.

Of course, this story’s title is tongue in cheek but it fits this announcement as no doubt someone will use the new features for nefarious purposes…

Virtual University Collaboration: ENCKE

The Australian Digital Futures Institute is powering on with its work in virtual worlds. Coming up in a few weeks is their 2-day ENCKE Virtual University Collaboration (ENCKE isn’t an acronym, but a comet bringing change).

The details:

This unique event will begin with an intensive two day in-world meeting. Over the following 4 weeks some of the main ideas and concepts for virtual teaching, learning and meeting spaces developed by participants will be constructed on the new virtual university island (with assistance from professional SL builders). Then over the next 3 months participants will be able to book and use these spaces for their own teaching and learning sessions, role plays and meetings. During this time there will be informal follow-up and evaluation meetings. Traditional conferences last a few days and allow for ideas to be presented and for some follow-up discussion to occur.

The plan is to have the virtual university island(s) as an ongoing collaborative and space to allow for construction and testing of applications of virtual world technologies to university teaching and learning. We welcome your ideas and suggestions for this and future events.

When: 27 & 28 October 2011, 10am to 5pm Australian EST

Where: On a new Second Life island (slurl to be advised)

Registration: The fee to participate is AUD$325 (inc. GST) and includes the conference and related workshop, tutorial, demonstration and tour session plus 3 months access to the constructed spaces. It is expected that participants will have a SL avatar and have acquired at the least the basic skills of interacting in a virtual environment. The event is limited to 50 participants. We do expect the event to be fully subscribed so please register early to secure your place.

Check out our page:

Registration available at:

Emergency birth at home simulation

This article originally appeared over at our sister-site Metaverse Health.

One of the biggest challenges with online or PC-based simulations is the infrastructure required to run them. The move to web-based simulations is key to resolving that issue although web-based currently can come with a trade-off on complexity in a lot of cases.

That said, sometimes simplicity can still cover key concepts and that’s evident with a nice little simulation developed by the Engender Game Group at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

It provides a home-based scenario where a woman needs support through delivering her baby. It covers everything from the initial meeting through to initial post-natal care until medical assistance arrives. Have a go for yourself.

For the record I’ve confirmed the validity of my choice not to become a midwife, as I got barely more than half the questions in the scenario correct!

[via Serious Games Market]

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) – Puffle Launch. “You are an intrepid Puffle. That is, you are a sort of cute snooker ball. Your snacks have been stolen by a crab in a spaceship. With helmet donned, and in a Mario-esque start, you set off through a series of mind-bending cannons to collect points, snacks and take sweet revenge from your crabby tormentor. Thus begins Puffle Launch. Puffles are the pets of the penguins in Club Penguin, one of Disney’s most popular virtual worlds, and Puffle Launch is the first game associated with it. Obviously designed to appeal to the younger user, the controls are deftly simple but also allow for the finesse required in later levels. The game may stump some much younger players as it quickly ramps up the difficulty but this will only add to its longevity”.

2. Hollywood Reporter (USA) – ‘Men In Black 3’ and ‘Asterix’ Entering Online Gaming Space. “While many game publishers are exiting the Hollywood licensing game, SEE Virtual Worlds and SEE Games recently announced a full slate of Hollywood IPs, both new and old, that they’re developing as free-to-play online game experiences. Titles like Men In Black 3, Total Recall(2012) and Asterix along with older film properties like War of the Worlds (2005) and Waterworld will be translated into online games.”

3. IOL SciTech (South Africa) – Why people disappear into virtual worlds. “I was an avid reader of videogames magazines as a teenager, and one of the criteria many used to grade a game was “addictiveness”. Claiming that you could barely wrest yourself away from a game was high praise indeed. Here was an index of the marvellous, immersive intensity the best interactive media could generate – a standard of excellence for a young industry to aspire to. Today, that aspiration has been more than realised. The US author and academic Ryan van Cleave has described his pathological relationship with the massive multiplayer online game, World of Warcraft, in terms that will be familiar to many gamers.”

4. Natural History Magazine (USA) – A Museum of Virtual Media. “The term “Virtual Reality” typically conjures up futuristic images of digital computer grids and intricate hardware. But virtual reality begins in the mind and requires no equipment whatsoever. Have you ever spoken face-to-face with someone whose mind wandered off in mid-conversation? Have you ever been startled out of your own reverie by someone waving her hand in front of your face and asking, “Are you in there?” Anyone who’s sat through a boring meeting has experienced being somewhere else. And everyone’s mind travels when they dream. Humans have toyed with and discovered numerous ways to facilitate such mind travel for tens of thousands of years. Far from being an odd hobby of geeks, virtual reality has been a large part of the human experience from our species’ earliest days.”

5. Los Angeles Times (USA) – Fashion Diary: Designers look to the virtual world. “For all the Beyoncè, Taylor Swift and Justin Timberlake sightings, and all the peppy clothes in acid-bright colors and arty prints, what really blew my mind at New York Fashion Week was watching Rico the Zombie in a virtual fashion show. The digitized version of the tout-tattooed model-muse strutting the catwalk was just one of the visual delights at Nicola’s, a temporary concept store curated by Nicola Formichetti, the magazine stylist-editor, Mugler designer and frequent Lady Gaga collaborator. Although Gaga is the one with 12 million Twitter followers, her visual architect, Formichetti, also sits at the nexus of fashion and entertainment, the real world and the virtual one. Stepping inside his 1,300-square-foot pop-up shop is like entering a mirrored fun house. You aren’t sure what’s up and what’s down, what’s real and what’s a reflection.”

6. PC World (USA) – haker Wins TechCrunch Disrupt Start-Up Contest. “Shaker is a social game played via the Facebook platform. But it’s not your average FarmVille. Instead of cultivating virtual crops or shooting virtual Mafiosi, Shaker turns Facebook into a “virtual bar” where you can meet and interact with new people. The game can be thought of as a mix of Facebook (because, after all, it has all of your profile info from Facebook) and those virtual, avatar-based chat rooms such as The Palace or Second Life. The experience is cool, not just because you get to meet other people, but because most of the Facebook games I’ve played are dismally empty thanks to my severe lack of friends who want to make farms. Shaker also shows you what you have in common with other people, based on your public profile information (such as birthdays, interests, and hometowns).”

7. MCV (UK) – Auckland developer Outsmart scores $1.8 million. “Outsmart, developer of browser-based Small Worlds, has received NZD$1.8 million in government funding. Small Worlds, originally launched in 2008, is a 3D environment played inside your browser which presents content from web and media sources, online games and more. Outsmart is promising that the funding will be used to double its internal staff from 20 to 40, and increase the scalability of the service.”

8. Massively (USA) – The Soapbox: Why MMO combat sucks, and how BioWare could’ve made it suck less. “I hate MMORPG combat. It’s not because I’m a carebear. It’s not because I’m bad at it. It’s not because I dislike parsing, being a min/maxer, or solving equations and comparing spreadsheets when I’m supposed to be having fun. OK, maybe it is because of those last four things. Mainly, though, it’s because MMORPG combat completely and unequivocally sucks. MMORPG combat is not combat. It’s high school math. And it’s the same in every damn MMORPG. Twenty years into the genre here, guys, aren’t we ready to grow up even a little bit?”

9. GameSpot (Australia) – Arcades, holograms, cloud computing the future of gaming – Square Enix CEO. “The Tokyo Game Show kicked off today with a keynote address on the future of the gaming industry from three of Japan’s leading video game industry figures. Square Enix CEO and Computer Entertainment Supplier’s Association chairman Yoichi Wada, Sony Computer Entertainment worldwide studio president Shuhei Yoshida, and Sony Computer Entertainment senior vice president Yoshio Matsumoto took to the stage in the Makuhari Messe convention centre this morning to speak about evolving business models in the industry and the need to create new gaming experiences as the gaming audience continues to grow and diversify.”

10. Campus Technology (USA) – Is There a Second Life for Virtual Worlds? “Looking back at predictions about virtual worlds, the first question that comes to mind is, “What were they thinking?” Just a few years ago, virtual worlds were credited with the power to transform the universe. In 2005, Forbes quoted a Wharton (PA) professor as prophesying that virtual economies and virtual currency trading could “redefine the concept of work, help test economic theories, and contribute to the gross domestic product in the US.” In 2007, research firm Gartner predicted that, by 2011, 80 percent of all active internet users would have some type of “avatar,” or virtual self. Another outlandish prediction, this one from market research firm DFC Intelligence, forecast that, by 2012, virtual worlds would produce $13 billion in revenues, 40 percent of which would come from trading virtual assets.”

Chatbot comedy

This little gem has gone viral over the past few days. See what happens when two chatbots are set up to talk to each other:

Seems there’s still some evolutionary work to be done….

Previous Posts