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.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Singularity Hub (USA) – Your Car is the Arcade: Driving Simulator Uses Real Vehicle in Virtual Worlds.”Daredevils have an insatiable need for speed, but they play with fire when pushing their vehicle or driving abilities too far. Tag Systems offers a unique solution by transporting the motorist and their physical car to a virtual road, a first in driving simulation technology. Sensors collect real-time performance data on an actual automobile, giving you a first-person perspective in 3D world. Basically, you can accelerate, steer, and brake inside your own car as you would on the open road, but the vehicle is driving in place on steel rollers. This one-of-a-kind VR system allows drivers to approach 150 mph on renowned Formula 1 courses, compete in Fast and Furious-style drag races, or even cruise the surface of the moon.”

2. VentureBeat (USA) – DEMO: Next Island opens time travel for its virtual world. “Virtual worlds haven’t fared well as users migrate to social networks. But that hasn’t stopped David Post from launching Next Island. Today at DEMO, the company is formally launching an awareness campaign for its virtual world and enabling the key feature of the world that could be most appealing for users: time travel. Next Island has been in the works for nearly three years. The virtual world opened for its first beta test in December. The world has since grown to nearly 2,000 users and the company is drawing attention to the high quality of its 3D graphics and the sheer creativity of its sci-fi adventure themed world.”

3. The Hollywood Reporter (USA) – Nickelodeon Enters MMO Games Space with ‘Monkey Quest’. “Nickelodeon used GDC 2011 as the coming out party for its first entry into the massively multiplayer online (MMO) gaming space. The company unveiled Monkey Quest, a new family-friendly, free-to-play MMO game based on an original property, at a party held at AT&T Park. The game, which encourages players to work together to solve puzzles and partake in challenges, was also available throughout the week at the Unity booth at Moscone Center. Monkey Quest will go live in April. Nickelodeon has a rich lineup of popular gaming sites, IPs, and virtual worlds. Addicting Games and Shockwave are two of the top gaming destinations online. Addicting Games offers more than 4,369 games and provided over 102 million game plays in December 2010. Shockwave serves more than 1,800 games and provided over 47 million game plays in December 2010.”

4. Mashable (USA) – Inside One Man’s Kickstarter Quest to Build True Artificial Life. “Virtual worlds have long been populated by creatures that interact, reproduce, compete, evolve and die. But by and large, they do so because their behavior is programmed by developers. These efforts can produce complex virtual ecosystems, but they’re not quite the digital reflections of what happens in nature. Life in the real world is “programmed” by DNA, but its form and behavior are determined by the random mutation of genetic code, not by the intentions of a developer. Computer scientists have always been intrigued by the prospect of creating “artificial life” — that is, digital genetic code that can sustain itself over generations and adapt to meet the demands of a virtual environment without human interference.”

5. PC World (USA) – The History of Stereoscopic 3D Gaming. “In 1968, Ivan Sutherland of Harvard University created the first stereoscopic computer display (nicknamed the “Sword of Damocles” for the unwieldy size of the apparatus that hung over the user’s head). Sutherland’s experiments with virtual worlds began in 1966 at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, and they culminated in the invention of the first 3D head-mounted display and the first virtual computer environment, a wire-frame simulation of a room (shown here).”

6. Gamasutra (USA) – Bigpoint U.S. Developing Universal Monsters MMO. “Bigpoint Inc., the U.S. based subsidiary of German browser-based games publisher Bigpoint, announced that it is working with Universal Pictures on an MMO based on Universal Monsters. Unlike SEE Virtual Worlds’ upcoming online world also using the Universal Monsters license, this project will be a third-person, multiplayer action RPG in which players fight against famous film monsters from Universal’s catalog like Dracula and The Wolf Man. Bigpoint’s San Francisco studio, which has been working on the project since early February, says it “aspires to capture the integrity of each property and include some of the early film techniques used in bringing the original monster characters to the silver screen.”

7. Detroit Free Press (USA) – Virtual caribou help scientists unearth Lake Huron’s secrets. “On a computer, Bob Reynolds watches caribou run across a wilderness of spruce and lagoons on the edge of Lake Huron. A few of the creatures pause to graze, while the rest move slowly across the tundra. What’s unusual is that the caribou herd is simulated. They are moving at their own whim across a virtual world that mimics an ancient land bridge that existed 10,000 years ago, but now is submerged beneath the waters of Lake Huron.”

8. Silicon India (India) – Indian Gaming Startups Are They Really in the Game? “he Ferrari whooshed across the Lamborghini and there comes the hit point – it’s the Jackpot – Oh yes, it’s the undying NFS, the car racing game. For some the virtual adventure is the perfect idea of gaining nirvana, and even a 10 year old’s combat skills can reign supreme in the game world. Today, gamers constitute 41.2 percent of the total Active Internet users in India, a whopping 89 percent increase from the 2007, as per a report by IAMAI. The growth has been lucrative enough to build up the confidence of the newbies, who have just entered the quasi-penetrated market. Younger people are growing up with the Internet and online games. As they enter the workforce and continue to have greater purchasing power, the market for gaming in India will expand dramatically. “Virtual gaming is definitely big now after 2010. It is about $1 billion market in U.S. and about $8 billion worldwide. It’s huge in Asia Pacific mainly in China, Japan, S. Korea, while India is yet to gain the same speed,” says Sumit Gupta, CEO of BitRhymes.”

9. Wired (USA) – Clive Thompson on How Games Make Work Seem Like Play. “In summer 2009, the UK’s Guardian newspaper had a problem: an enormous pile of receipts. British politicians had been caught filing what would total millions of pounds’ worth of bogus personal expenses. To try to quell the uproar, the government scanned hundreds of thousands of receipts from members of Parliament and dumped the files online—giving reporters the Herculean task of analyzing them. The editors at the Guardian fought back. They turned the task into a game—and invited the public to play. A Guardian programmer named Simon Willison created a clever web app that would present you with a randomly chosen receipt. If it looked dodgy, you could write a quick description of what you’d found, then hit a big Investigate This! button to send the receipt to the paper’s reporters. A leaderboard tracked which contributors had made the most finds. The goal: to get people competing to be top dog, just like on Xbox Live.”

10. Examiner (USA) – Lag strikes Mardi Gras in Second Life. “Going to Mardi Gras in a virtual world instead of New Orleans has some real advantages. No airfare, no hotel bills, no travel time. While it can’t equal being in New Orleans in person, it’s more realistic for most of us. Until lag strikes. If you’ve been in a virtual world any length of time, you know what lag is. It’s like you went to New Orleans and suddenly, instead of a hurricane, the laws of physics went haywire. Gravity increased. Air became thick as molasses, making walking impossible. The speed of light plummeted to barely a crawl. There are huge blotches of the scene around you, walls, floats, costumes, that you simply can’t see. That’s what lag is like, and it struck Mardi Gras in Second Life hard today.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. LiveScience (USA) – Virtual Behavior Labs Discover What Gamers Want. “Imagine the power to know every consumer purchase ever made, big or small, or the gory details of any crime ever committed. That’s the new reality in the worlds of video games. Tens of millions of gamers inhabit virtual worlds where behaviors or actions can be tracked and tallied, creating some astounding statistics. In the first two weeks of release for the cowboy-themed “Red Dead Redemption,” for instance, 13,250,237 virtual U.S. soldiers were killed (or about the same number of actual German and Soviet military deaths combined during World War II). Players also committed a total of 131,904,068 counts of in-game murder and hunted down millions of virtual critters, including 55,813,649 wolves. The rabbit hole goes deeper. Developers of the futuristic sci-fi game Mass Effect 2 found that 80 percent of the game’s players used the face customization system to change their appearances, rather than use the default hero or heroine. Some games even track giggleworthy player behaviors; Mafia II records how long players spend staring at in-game Playboy centerfolds.”

2. TechCrunch (USA) – Moshi Monsters Aims To Become The Facebook for Kids (TCTV). “Mind Candy CEO Michael Acton Smith came to my office today to tell me about Moshi Monsters, his company’s virtual world for kids that is signing up a new member every second. Moshi Monsters was his “last roll of the dice” to save his virtual worlds startup in 2008, and it worked. Moshi Monsters is up to 35 million registered users, with about 7 million of those active every month, says Smith. And it is projected to generate $100 million this year from a combination of subscriptions and gross retail merchandise sales. The site is geared towards kids between 5 to 12 years old. Each kid gets a monster pet and a room that can be decked out with virtual goods. But instead of trying to create “just another bloody virtual world,” Smith wanted it to be more like a safe social network. “Instead of copying Club Penguin,” he says, “we focused more on Facebook and tried to re-imagine that for kids.”

3. Gamasutra (USA) – Image Metrics Acquires Big Stage. “Facial animation tech company Image Metrics has acquired Big Stage, creator of the avatar creation platform Portable You. Big Stage’s tech lets users translate photos of themselves into 3D animated characters for use in virtual worlds, video clips and online communities. Image Metrics says it’ll merge that avatar creation platform into its existing animation tech to create a new product suite to launch in the second half of this year. The company says the merger will help its licensees integrate more realistic avatars into consumer-facing projects.”

4. Wall Street Journal (USA) – Even Better Than the Real Thing. “‘It’s the real world—only better.” This is how Jay Wright, business-development director at technology company Qualcomm Inc., describes the latest buzz technology to grip the digital world. So-called “augmented reality” is the overlaying of digital information onto the real world, and everyone from games designers to retailers to health-care companies to estate agents are gearing up to use it. While the potential for such technology to change the world is vast, the biggest challenge for its backers will be to convert this virtual revolution into rock-solid profits. Fortunately, there are countless ways this can be achieved, but not all are immediately obvious.”

5. ars technica (USA) – Lord British on what games can learn from Ultima Online. “My job allows me to meet many interesting people, and meeting my childhood heroes is definitely a huge bonus. When I found myself speaking with Richard Garriott for 45 minutes, I felt the need to pinch myself. This is the man who created Ultima, crafted one of the earliest virtual worlds in Ultima Online, and then used the money to go to freakin’ space. We’ll have more from the fascinating discussion a little later, but I wanted to share his answer to my most pressing question: is he playing the games he dreamed of while working on the Ultima series?”

6. FierceVOIP (USA) – Vivox sees massive user growth for gaming VoIP. “Today, Vivox, a social networking and gaming VoIP prvider, announced its worldwide user base has surpassed 45 million. In 2010, Vivox saw its user base rise from 18.5 million users to over 45 million users. Companies including, IMVU, Runewaker Entertainment and use Vivox service for high-quality, reliable voice chat services within their games. Vivox enables users of social sites, online games and virtual worlds to communicate in HD quality voice and within Three Dimensional environments. It also allows unique audio advertising and virtual goods capabilities for social and gaming sites.”

7. GigaOM (USA) – Working Together: How My Virtual Team Collaborates. “In an effort to better understand the dynamics of distributed teams, I decided to interview my own virtual team members at the social media marketing agency I co-own, Conversify. I wanted to move beyond my own personal preferences and opinions, both as a virtual worker for the last eight years and as a co-founder of a virtual company.”

8. Huffington Post (USA) – Video Games: An Hour A Day Is Key To Success In Life. “The single biggest misconception about games is that they’re an escapist waste of time. But more than a decade’s worth of scientific research shows that gaming is actually one of the most productive ways we can spend time. No, playing games doesn’t help the GDP – our traditional measure of productivity. But games help us produce something more important than economic bottom line: powerful emotions and social relationships that can change our lives–and potentially help us change the world. Currently there are more than half a billion people worldwide playing online games at least an hour a day — and 183 million in the US alone. The younger you are, the more likely you are to be a gamer — 97% of boys under 18 and 94% of girls under 18 report playing videogames regularly. And the average young person racks up 10,000 hours of gaming by the age of 21. That’s almost exactly as much time as they spend in a classroom during all of middle school and high school if they have perfect attendance. Most astonishingly, 5 million gamers in the U.S are spending more than 40 hours a week playing games — the same as a full time job! ”

9. Develop (UK) – “Hardcore social games can be lucrative”. “Social networks were developed and popularised by young people, and they are still their heaviest users. But, ironically, the booming social network games market is dominated by middle-aged housewives because younger people don’t play there as much there as they do elsewhere. Why has this come about and is there an opportunity for core games targeting traditional gaming’s heartland audience on social networks? The demographic mismatch of Facebook gamers to Facebook users overall has long been one of the great incongruities of the Facebook games market.”

10. Massively (USA) – New RIFT trailer shows off dynamic invasions. “Ho hum, another day, another RIFT reveal. Trion is carpet-bombing the MMORPG battlefield with an all out marketing assault as the March 1st launch date for its fantasy opus draws near. Today brings us a new trailer titled Cry Havoc, and in it we are witnesses to an interesting time-lapse presentation that shows off various in-game battles featuring large contingents of players on screen.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Internet Evolution (USA) – New Virtual Worlds Still Growing. “It may be tempting to assume that growth in virtual worlds has ground to a halt. After all, has shut down, and Second Life is losing land area and has stopped publishing most usage statistics. Attention has shifted to social networking platforms and mobile devices. But the action hasn’t died off. Instead, it has shifted to proprietary, enterprise-class platforms like Teleplace, ProtoSphere, and VenueGen — and to the open-source platform, OpenSim. Based on reports from educational institutions, non-profit groups, and hosting and consulting firms, I estimate that OpenSim currently has between 500,000 and 1 million users. These users are scattered across hundreds, or thousands, of private virtual worlds running on the OpenSim platform.”

2. New Scientist (USA) – CGI tricks: Slicing virtual dessert is a piece of cake. “As virtual worlds become increasingly interactive, animators have to make sure that objects within them don’t just look good on the surface, but also remain realistic when they are manipulated. This is harder to achieve with some objects than with others. Cut through a virtual sponge, for example, and the texture remains the same all the way through. But take a slice through a kiwi fruit, and the cross section will look different depending on where you cut it, and along which axis. Previous methods of modelling 3D shapes worked for objects with a uniform texture. But according to Kenshi Takayama from the University of Tokyo, it couldn’t handle objects with more complicated texture orientations such as kiwi fruit and tree stumps.”

3. Austin News KXAN (USA) – Virtual world helps in murder case. “Justice moved swiftly in the case of a man who shot his estranged wife in the head in plain sight in an Austin park last October, and now Hernan Mendieta, 35, is sentenced to 60 years in prison, just three months later. It was a virtual world created by a witness that showed Austin police what he saw after he jogged in Brushy Creek Park. Thomas Jung works creating virtual worlds for computer games. He was able to reproduce for police via animation what he saw on the morning of Oct. 26, 2010 . His witness information helped in the murder case.”

4. Mobile Entertainment (UK) – Virtual world Meez goes mobile with Android, iPhone and iPad apps. “Teen-focused virtual world Meez is launching MeezNation, a spin-off making its debut on Android and iOS devices. With more than 15 million users, Meez is one of the popular virtual worlds aimed at teenagers. Now it’s going mobile, with plans to launch a new cross-platform spin-off called MeezNation. It will launch next week with an Android app, with iPhone and iPad versions to follow in March, before ultimately extending onto the Google TV and Xbox Live platforms too.”

5. Fast Company (USA) – Egypt: Social Media as a Life or Death Proposition. “Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, many wearing bandages from from days of street fighting, turned out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday for what they are calling the ‘Day of Departure’, a nationwide cry for the immediate removal and prosecution of Hosni Mubarak who has ruled the country for 30 years. This story is now larger than Egypt and the Arab world, as international news coverage and social media has broadcast the escalating violence around the world, time and again featuring Egyptian citizens dying and risking death in order to have their message heard and for regime change to become a reality. Egypt is widely considered the litmus test for what will happen in the rest of the Arab world, but the importance of social media in its political transformation is larger than that. The use of social media in Egypt is a dramatic demonstration of a clash of cultures — of the old and new, of violence and peace, of the past and future.”

6. New Media Age (UK) – Branded virtual worlds. “With a tin man, talking lion, living scarecrow and winged monkeys, the parallel universe of Oz, invented by author L Frank Baum and made famous by the 1939 Judy Garland film, has been catapulted into the 21st Century. Tapping into a trend for transmedia storytelling, Summertime Entertainment aims to reinvigorate the Oz franchise with not only a new animated film, Dorothy of Oz, but an immersive virtual world game, Adventure in Oz. The project, launched on the Dubit platform, is riding a wave of businesses seeking brand engagement and ROI. Virtual worlds analysis company KZero reports there are now over a billion users of virtual worlds globally, 97% of them under 25. According to Matthew Warneford, chief technical officer at Dubit, virtual worlds are convening with trends in both gaming and socialising online.”

7. Confectionary News (France) – US chocolatier develops virtual factory world. “US confectioner Tcho is developing a virtual factory world which will allow customers and employees to interact online with the company’s chocolate processing facility. The iPhone application developed by Tcho and FXPal that controls the factory’s machines. Real-time sensor data and video is imported from hundreds of sensors on the 30,000-square-foot factory in San Fransisco to create the computer-based environment. “Different users can see different aspects of the data; for instance, we are designing ways for customers to track their own product from point of origin to finished product,” Larry Del Santo, marketing manager for Tcho told “In the future, visitors will be able to choose avatars and interact with each other as well as the factory itself,” said Del Santo. He said the technology will allow the company to create multi-user collaborative spaces for tasks like factory observation, virtual inspections, customer visits, employee training, process monitoring, and inventory tracking. The software is being developed by FXPal, Fuji Xerox’s research lab in Palo Alto, California. Here researchers explore how new technologies like mobile augmented reality, virtual worlds, and social media can be applied in manufacturing.”

8. WVEC (USA) – Congressmen: Modeling and simulation saves money, helps train forces. “When it comes to preparing for combat, nothing can replace hands-on training. Modeling and simulation can get close. Homeland security and military defense are some of the applied research areas at the ODU Virginia Modeling and Simulation Center in Suffolk. The 50 faculty members and research scientists can create virtual worlds for training – like landing an airplane at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. “Modeling and simulation has been shown to be able to save money, use resources more efficiently and you can do things and other activities rather than real life, you save substantial sums of money,” notes Rep. Bobby Scott (D-3rd D).”

9. VentureBeat (USA) – Virtual world Habbo hits more than 200M registered users. “If you’re a teen, chances are you’ve checked into the Habbo Hotel. Sulake, the parent company of the cartoon-style virtual world, said today that more than 200 million people have registered as users for Habbo. That means they’ve created a virtual character called a Habbo. The virtual community is more than 10 years old. It started in Finland and has now grown to more than 150 countries. While traffic to virtual worlds has waned in the age of Facebook and the iPhone, Habbo’s numbers show it has fared well and is growing quickly. It shows that once a community hits critical mass, its growth can accelerate.”

10. Nextgov (USA) – Army taps Second Life for troop and family support. “The Army is bringing a program to improve troops’ physical and emotional well-being into the Second Life virtual world. The service is strengthening its Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, established in 2008, with a “virtual resiliency” campus on an Army island in Second Life, said Maj. Gen. Reuben Jones, commander of the Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command. The campus will offer soldiers and their families exercise tips as well as online, avatar-led classes to improve their physical fitness. The emotional, social, family and spiritual sections will help troops develop coping mechanisms and deal with post-deployment readjustment, Jones said. Should soldiers need more help, the campus will be backed by a network of volunteers recruited through the Army chaplain’s office, said Shaunya Murrill, chief of the outreach and strategic integration division in the command’s family programs directorate.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Vancouver Sun (Canada) – SEE Virtual Worlds™ Purchases Virtual Property from MindArk for $6 Million USD. “SEE Virtual Worlds™, an entertainment company developing a virtual reality universe of connected planets tied to licensed franchises, and MindArk, the company behind the virtual 3D environment Entropia Universe, today announced SEE Virtual Worlds has procured the rights to Planet Calypso, the first planet in the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) Entropia Universe, for $6 million USD. Taking place in a distant future, Planet Calypso is home to a human colony working to establish a new virtual civilization. The planet has been successfully running since 2003 with more than 950,000 registered accounts from 200 countries and territories with $428 million USD processed in player-to-player transactions in 2010. Additionally, SEE Virtual Worlds’ has acquired the assets of First Planet Company, a subsidiary of MindArk.”

2. Tolerance (Canada) – Video Games – Virtual Worlds Not So Far From Our Own. “During my winter holidays this past December, I visited friends who had just received the Nintendo Wii for Christmas. At first I made fun of them – grown adults playing games after all! But after a few days of watching them play, I was intrigued and had to try this out to see what the big deal was about. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed myself. That winter morning, as I simulated playing tennis and boxing, I realized that I was quite good at it. Moreover, it was great exercise, and even an interactive activity, since I was playing against my friend. This was quite a revelation for me – as an adult female who just doesn’t “do” video games. ”

3. Digital Spy (UK) – Power Up!: The Gamification of Life. “In As You Like It, the great bard William Shakespeare famously penned: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” But in the modern world, that would possibly read more suitably as “all the world’s a game, and all the men, women and children merely players”. In just 40 years, the video games industry has grown from a niche world of bedroom enthusiasts to a multi-billion-dollar behemoth, snapping at the heels of the traditional entertainment industries, both financially and creatively. Perhaps gaming’s most incredible feat, though, is to extend its tentacles into everyday life via an intriguing phenomenon known as gamification – the application of gaming principles to work, education and day-to-day existence. Digital Spy investigates the growing groundswell of support for gamification and asks what dangers there may be in making life one big game.”

4. Detroit Free Press (USA) – At $1 a square, people get to use imagination. “Jerry Paffendorf has taken the popular concept of virtual worlds – where you can be anything or anyone you want to be on the Internet – and given it real roots in Detroit. For seven months, Paffendorf has been selling square-inch-sized pieces of land in the city for a $1 a square inch. Now, he has sold out of inches. This spring, he plans to put down the grid, so buyers or “inchvestors” from as far as Australia can do what they want with their tiny property. “If you can stretch your imagination … this small space can be as big as you want, ” said Paffendorf, 28, who moved to Detroit in January.”

5. The Independent (UK) – Reality is Broken, By Jane McGonigal. “Engaging with the argument that gamers are our future feels a bit like a game itself. It’s one in which I pit my wits against the California-based alternative-reality guru and academic Jane McGonigal and her characters, the Super-Empowered Hopeful Individuals, while she tries to slay my avatar, the cynical layman reared on English circumspection and gloom. It might not quite be Mortal Kombat, but McGonigal’s treatise is an epic read and, as a non-gamer, I am a prime target. The book describes the kind of experience gamers get from virtual worlds, such as that of the interstellar wargame saga Halo, and the all-encompassing, inclusive feeling that people need from real life. That they aren’t getting the latter is in part, the author believes, because of a focus on extrinsic rewards that promote an inward spiral of unhappiness.”

6. Los Angeles Times (USA) – Significant layoffs at Disney’s Interactive Group. “Disney Interactive Media Group laid off a “sizable” number of employees Monday as part of a restructuring of the money-losing digital unit, according to people with knowledge of the situation. It is unclear exactly how many people have lost their jobs in the reorganization. Cuts include “minimal” job reductions at Junction Point Studios in Austin, Texas, the development group within Disney Interactive that created the top-selling Epic Mickey video game, a company spokeswoman said. She declined to say how many employees were let go at Disney Interactive’s eight development studios, or how many people work for the digital group.”

7. Minnesota Daily (USA) – From EverQuest to Afghanistan: Army, U teach teamwork. “When she started analyzing video games three years ago, Kyong Shim wasn’t taken very seriously. People questioned the idea of learning from the games. Now the U.S. Army is on board and is one of many groups looking to use the massively multi-player online role-playing game (MMPORG) research to advance training for soldiers. The Army will use the teamwork aspect of MMORPGs to improve communication and work toward a common goal, said Shim, a doctoral candidate at the University of Minnesota.”

8. Mother Jones (USA) – Wii Shall Overcome. “In February 2010, Jane McGonigal completed another level in her quest to become America’s new guru of gaming. She delivered a talk at TED, the annual California conference that’s an obligatory stop for anyone peddling a Big Idea, from Al Gore to Bill Gates to David Byrne. McGonigal’s was that video games can fix the planet’s toughest problems. It’s a bold, appealing proposition: Game-addled kids, who spend an average of more than 10,000 hours fiddling with consoles and controllers before they turn 21, could wind up stopping climate change with their PlayStations!”

9. Search Engine Watch (USA) – Beast Wars: The Bunny People vs. The Horse People. “Often, people tend to doubt that there’s real money at stake selling virtual goods. Despite estimates that virtual goods will become a $10 billion industry this year, it often seems fantastic that people are willing to spend real money on products that don’t exist in the physical world. But they do. Just like in any other business involving real money, there are real lawsuits involved. In this case, we have something that sounds almost ludicrous: the Bunny People (a.k.a. Ozimals) vs. the Horse People (a.k.a. Amaretto). To date, the battle still rages on. But as silly as this might sound it’s really only about what any other civil lawsuit is about: money. Very real money.”

10. The Epoch Times (USA) – New Video Games Played With Living Organisms (Video). “A new discovery could make “Tron”-like battle grids a reality for unwitting microorganisms, with the unveiling of “biotic games” in the journal, The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). Games include remakes of classics like “Pac-Man” and “Pong,” only they’re played with living, swimming microorganisms, complete with a hand-held controller. Developing the games borders on scientific research. “The details of biological systems are not completely understood, hence the realism is limited by the game designers knowledge,” states the report.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Signal Connections (USA) – Game On for NATO Virtual Training. “NATO’s innovative arm, the Allied Command Transformation (ACT), demonstrated a new way to improve the alliance’s military effectiveness using virtual worlds. Developers from the command presented a game called Boarders Ahoy! at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC), and the program received the People’s Choice Award for the Best Serious Game. I/ITSEC is a venue for showcasing cutting-edge games for business, government and academia. Developers were challenged to create technologically sound programs that solve problems and provide users with a rewarding experience. The top 12 games, including Boarders Ahoy!, were presented to conference attendees and evaluated based on problem solving, technical quality, and playability and enjoyment.”

2. Department of Defense (USA) – ‘Virtual World’ Helps With Post-traumatic Stress. “The Defense Department is using virtual-world interactivity to educate and help warfighters and others who are reluctant to seek more direct care to deal with post-traumatic stress, said an official at the National Center for Telehealth and Technology, also known as “T2.” The welcome center for the T2 Virtual PTSD Experience, based in the internationally populated virtual world called Second Life. This immersive, interactive learning activity is a public site designed for warfighters and their families. It educates visitors about combat-related post-traumatic stress and offers resources for seeking help. During a recent telephone briefing from the center’s headquarters at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Wash., Greg Reger — a clinical psychologist and acting chief of the center’s innovative technology applications division — said the kinds of immersive experiences available in virtual worlds, such as the internationally populated virtual world called Second Life, are designed to appeal to tech-savvy service members and their families.”

3. The State Press (USA) – Professors hold class in ‘World of Warcraft’. “Instead of logging onto Blackboard to complete homework this spring, students in one class will enter the “World of Warcraft” and “Second Life” to study the culture of online virtual environments. “Discourses, Community, and Power in Virtual Worlds,” or ENG 654, is open to students of all majors and interests. The course intends to adapt to an increasingly technological environment. “We want them to get the experience of playing together with different characters that have to take on different roles to really get an experiential sense of how complex game play is in that environment,” said English professor Elisabeth Hayes, who will teach the class with law professor John McKnight.”

4. WoW Insider (USA) – The Lawbringer: The lessons of globalization and gold farming. “Back in 2008, I wrote an article for The Escapist titled Crossing Boundaries, a piece all about globalization as the greatest issue facing video game developers and producers at the time. Guess what, ladies and gentlemen? It’s 2011, and globalization still takes the top spot as the prime issue challenging video game development and production. Rather than rewrite an article on the effects of globalization and the problems the phenomenon causes for the video game industry at large, I thought it might be fun to use globalization as a rubric for discussing the very global industry of gold farming, especially when it comes to the legal nature of things, whatever things may be. We will talk about the lack of predictability in the global market, gold farming as globalization, and the problems with fighting the good fight against the grey market. Won’t you join me?”

5. St Louis Today (USA) – Our love affair with technology is one-sided. “One of our most intimate relationships is often our most unexamined. In a book for anyone who has compulsively checked a Facebook page, felt tethered to a phone, spent hours online that passed like minutes, Sherry Turkle has taken apart our affair with technology and shown us how one-sided the love really is. Turkle, a professor of the social studies of science and technology at MIT and founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, is also a clinical psychologist. This book, a result of 15 years of research with children, robots, digital pets, teens, social networks, adults and virtual worlds, is beautifully written; the prose clear and accessible, but also poignant and moving.”

6. TechNewsWorld (USA) – Study: One in 10 Young Gamers Could Become Pathological Addicts. “rantic parents concerned about their children’s digital habits have found a new ally in the form of a study by U.S., Hong Kong and Singapore researchers, published in the latest issue of the journal Pediatrics. Roughly 10 percent of young video gamers suffer a pathological addiction to their games, the research team found. “We aimed to measure the prevalence and length of the problem of pathological video gaming or Internet use, to identify risk and protective factors, and to identify outcomes for individuals who become or stop being pathological gamers,” explained study co-author Albert Liau, Ph.D., a psychology researcher at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.”

7. The Parthenon (USA) – Marshall engineering professors use new 3-D technology. “The Power Wall: a 10x17ft 3-D projection screen four times more powerful than an HD TV. It may come as a surprise, but this technology can be found in Marshall University’s Engineering building. Professors of engineering are using the power wall along with the organic motion stage markerless motion capture system to develop technology that will allow people to create and manipulate avatars without the use of markers on their body.”

8. ABC Technology (Australia) – MMO Games, your boss and succeeding at work. “For many people, politics, corporate strategy and philosophy are the sort of topics that lead to thoughts of using a cheese-grater on an inner thigh. If you’re a cubicle jockey in an office, or someone questioning their existence in the meatspace, then Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) games like World of Warcraft, Everquest and Guild Wars may be able to help. For the sake of this discussion and because most of my experience comes from WoW, I’ll be mentioning it specifically – but it’s only one of many options.”

9. Mashable (USA) – Why Video Games Are Scoring Big for Social Good. “Cultural historian Johan Huizinga suggested that play and games have always been learning tools, key to the development of culture and civilization. Today, as the multi-billion dollar gaming industry continues to soar and begins to embrace social good integration, Huizinga’s theory reigns true. From FarmVille calling on players to support Haiti to an onslaught of environmental, educational, and corporate social responsibility initiatives being driven by games, the fastest growing segment of entertainment is evolving into a new force of digital activism and facilitating social change.”

10. Xconomy (USA) – Say Hello to My Avatar: Bob Metcalfe Gives First UT Innovation Lecture Using Avaya Web Interface. “Internet tycoon Bob Metcalfe, who recently moved from Boston, is giving his first lecture as professor of innovation at the University of Texas at Austin this afternoon. I don’t know exactly what he plans to say, but what’s particularly interesting is how he’s delivering the talk—to more than just the people in the room, through a virtual collaboration interface from Avaya, the New Jersey-based business communications firm. The technology is being led by an Avaya group with a strong presence in Boston. Metcalfe, the inventor of the Ethernet local-area networking standard, founder of 3Com, and partner at Polaris Venture Partners, moved to Austin for the faculty job earlier this month. He has been a mainstay of the Boston innovation scene for the past couple of decades.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Government Computer News (USA) – How far can virtual worlds go in improving the real one? “Computer simulation models are great tools for layering massive amounts of data into visual form, and they are becoming incredibly fine-grained, providing high-def views of both the forest and trees in our surroundings. But can they make people omniscient? That almost seems to be the goal of the recently announced Living Earth Simulator project, which seeks to take global modeling to a new level. Simulations now produce detailed models for everything from climate research to astrophysics. But the Living Earth Simulator is aiming for the whole enchilada, from financial systems to entire societies, all in one model. If all goes according to plan, it even could predict the future, in terms of financial crises or pandemic outbreaks.”

2. BlogHer (USA) – Interview: Laurina Hawks, Making Films in Virtual Worlds. “We speak with one of the most remarkable female avatar who works making movies in Second Life. Her machinima productions will let you without words. With a personal style, her “trade mark” is quality and good stories. Ready to enjoy and learn about machinima? let’s go on!”

3. Search Engine Watch (USA) – Second Life: New Year, New CEO… Big Mess. “Happy 2011, gang! I hope everyone had a terrific break and a wonderful new year. It seems like it’s back to business time and the past two weeks have not been idle in the wacky wonderland of virtual worlds, so let’s do a little catch up baseball. Two days before Gothmas, Linden Lab announced a new CEO, (Rod Humble) who is coming into this new position from a VP slot at EA Play. After the round of jokes about his name settled down (it took a while), the speculation began in earnest about what he was going to bring to the table, having come from EA. I’ve now read a fair bit, and my conclusion is wait and see, since there’s no clear indicators at all as to what his plan is going to be. Frankly, I don’t think he can be much worse than the mess we had in 2010, so I’m willing to be cautiously neutral on the topic of his appointment to the job. Besides, he wasn’t going to be taking the reins until after the new year anyway (using the vacation time as the last calm before the storm, I’m sure.) so he hasn’t even done anything yet.”

4. Gamasutra (USA) – Reality is Alright. “Jane McGonigal’s new book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World is destined to be one of the most influential works about videogames ever published. The book is filled with bold new ideas and refinements of old ones. It’s targeted at a general readership, but game designers, critics, and scholars will learn plenty from the book too, thanks to the new twists it takes on familiar subjects. The ordinary reader will perhaps be most intrigued by McGonigal’s claims that games can save the world (part III in the book), but those of you who would think to read my review are probably already primed for that idea. Instead, I predict you’ll be most struck by Jane’s bold redefinition of the Alternate Reality Game (ARG), which comes in part II of the book (part I is about why games make us happy).”

5. The Journal (USA) – Next Stop: OpenSim!
“Don’t tell Kyle Gomboy about any depression in the real estate market. That may be the case in the terrestrial world, but out in the cloud Gomboy is moving virtual property like never before.
The CEO of virtual world hosting service ReactionGrid, Gomboy and his team currently operate more than 100 private regions for educators in the ascendant virtual environment platform OpenSimulator, and, Gomboy says, are renting out space to three to five new schools each week. Why all the new settlers converging on OpenSim? They’re part of a wave of K-12 educators packing up their 3D content and moving away from Second Life, long the dominant virtual world. The mass migration was prompted by parent company Linden Lab’s announcement in August that it would be closing the Teen Grid, an area within Second Life reserved for 13- to 17-year-olds and home to hundreds of learning projects belonging to teachers intent on engaging their students through the 3D environment. A second blow came in the fall–the ending of the half-off educator discount, meaning property rates in Second Life would be doubling for K-12 institutions, from $150 a month per region to $300 a month.”

6. Massively (USA) – Free for All: Is free to play turning our kids into Vegas pirates? “I think it’s the hair. In fact, I know it. The constant flicking — it drives me nuts. How in the world did wearing your hair like 60-year-old businessmen become such a fad? I’ve now had my groceries bagged by 16-year-old kids with eyeliner on and dual piercings in their lips. When did looking like a Vegas pirate become so popular? The flicking of their hair — it does something to them. Justin Bieber, in a recent interview, said that he was crazy. He insisted on it. Of course, his agent wanted to push this tiny public cry for help off as some sign of genius, but we all know what Bieber meant: “This hair is *flick* driving me *flick* flat-out bonkers.” What also seems to be an issue with the youngins these days is an unfiltered access to the internet. I’m not kidding — next time you’re at the mall, ask the kid with the 30 Seconds to Mars t-shirt on who the vice president is. Then ask him to spell “lose.” See, on the internet and inside any number of free games, he doesn’t need to know this information. After all, the only time he might be worried about “loosing” anything is when he is busy PvPing.”

7. Wall Street Journal (USA) – Postings of a Troubled Mind. “Last May 9, at two in the morning, Jared Lee Loughner typed a question to a group of about 50 online gamers located around the world: “Does anyone have aggression 24/7?” He was back at his keyboard the following night. “If you went to prison right now…What would you be thinking?” he asked. A trove of 131 online-forum postings written between April and June 2010, which were viewed by The Wall Street Journal, provides insight into Mr. Loughner’s mind-set in the year leading up to Saturday’s shootings in Tucson, Ariz. He stands accused of killing six people, gravely wounding Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D., Ariz.) and injuring 13 others. The online postings paint a picture of a disturbed young man trying to impress his peers and struggling to find a purpose to his life. They range from prosaic chatter about weight lifting to nonsensical philosophical ramblings that left some of the gamers who read them wondering whether he was using drugs or had a mental disability.”

8. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – VirtualU integrates 2D, 3D conferences. “Companies looking to hold virtual conferences first have to decide whether to hold a Web-based conference – normally some combination of streaming video, live chats, slide shows, and social media – or one in an immersive environment. The immersive conference allows avatars to walk around inside a three-dimensional virtual environment, but can be more difficult to use than a Web-based platform. But it doesn’t have to be an either-or decision. One vendor, Jamestown, NY-based Digitell Inc., offers a virtual conferencing platform that allows visitors to attend the same conference either by avatar or in 2D via a browser.”

9. MSN (Singapore) – 10 signs you may be a gaming addict. “Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, Halo, and Starcraft are now all names as recognizable as Avatar and Star Trek, especially to the new generation. There’s no doubting that video games are here to stay. They are a multi-billion dollar industry whose games can now claim production budgets rivaling that of Hollywood movies. In fact, video games are such a big part of modern life that they’ve evolved to include people who you wouldn’t traditionally call “gamers”. With the advent of social gaming, everyone and their mothers all play a game, even if it’s something like FarmVille. While having entertainment available for everyone is cool and can be great fun, there’s also a sinister side to gaming. After all, games can take over your life, overpowering your desire to do anything else in the world. To keep you from sliding down that slippery slope, we’ve compiled a list of signs that you may be a gaming addict. Heed these warning signs well, for if you don’t, you may be forever lost to virtual worlds. ”

10. Massively (USA) – Second Life competitor Blue Mars drops PC development for Apple’s iOS. “If you were hoping that Blue Mars was going to rise to directly challenge Second Life’s virtual world dominance, you may be in for disappointment today. In a letter to Avatar Reality’s fans, CEO Jim Sink announced that the company is restructuring and dropping Blue Mars’ PC development to focus solely on Apple’s iOS. As a result, Blue Mars is now Blue Mars Mobile.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Financial Times (UK) – Game on for the virtual sweatshop. “I’m a board game fan myself, but I know that millions of people spent their Christmas exploring the underwater realm of Vashj’ir, thanks to the online computer game, World of Warcraft, which launched a new version, Cataclysm, in December. Loyal readers will know why economists find such games interesting: they are virtual worlds in which millions of people spend many hours interacting, creating experiences and goods that other players value, and even spending real money on virtual items. (Crazy? No more crazy than paying to watch a movie.) Facebook applications such as FarmVille have many more users. But it is the great online role-playing games – and none is bigger than World of Warcraft, with 12 million users paying a monthly subscription – which hold an enduring fascination for the way that they blur the line between virtual life and real life.”

2. Techdirt (USA) – Second Life Dragged Into Legal Dispute Over Copyright Of Virtual Horses And Virtual Bunnies. “Way back in 2003, we warned that Second Life’s copyright policy was going to be trouble. While many people celebrated the fact that Second Life had announced that participants would “own” the copyright on any works they created within the game, we feared that this would bring real world legal disputes into a virtual world that didn’t make much sense — and in retrospect many of the problems we expected have come true, though it’s been mitigated by the fact that Second Life has lost a lot of its popularity over the past few years. That said, Eric Goldman has the details on a recent bizarre legal dispute, which is summarized by the judge in the case as follows: “The gist of the copyright dispute between the parties is whether Plaintiff’s virtual horses infringe on copyrights associated with Defendant’s virtual bunnies.” Yeah, so you know you’re in for a treat. The details are that one company, Ozimals, makes “breedable” animals within Second Life, and believed that a competing company, Amaretto Ranch Breedables, was infringing on its copyrights.”

3. Tech News World (USA) – Avatar Kinect Puts Your Best Face Forward. “vatar” movie director James Cameron couldn’t have scripted a better keynote speech for Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer, who announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Wednesday that Kinect and Xbox will connect with consumers via avatars, transporting Xbox Live Gold subscribers into the chatty, motion-savvy, virtual world of Avatar Kinect. “We will make entertainment more interactive, more social, and more fun for everyone, and we’ll do it like no one else can,” said Ballmer, speaking on-screen as a slendered-down avatar version of himself. Currently, Kinect listens to your voice and tracks your body movements, avatar Ballmer added. “But what about your facial movements? Now, Kinect can track features like your smile, your laugh, and even the raise of your eyebrows.”

4. Games On Net (Australia) – Minecraft Now Has Over 3 Million Registered Users. “Minecraft, the smash hit game of exploration, construction, and zombie combat, now has over three million registered users. Surprisingly, most of those players are still frolicking in the virtual worlds of Minecraft Classic; just under one million users have actually bought and paid for the game. Ever the optimist, Minecraft creator Markus ‘Notch’ Persson has stated via twitter that he does not think ill of those two million freeloaders. Instead, he likes to think of them as possible future customers.”

5. Big Think (USA) – Biometrics Goes Mainstream. “Biometrics will begin reaching a mainstream audience, and that will change how we see our health and fitness and open up new vistas for the health care industry and personal control around health and wellness. We will see the beginning of the end of the wallet as it begins to move into our smart phones in ways that make it clear what’s happening to the common observer. Virtual currencies will start to move outside of virtual worlds and social games into other media experiences. We’ll see a flood of online marketplaces that helps us make better economic use of currently under-used personal assets such as cars, extra rooms in your house, tools and toys in your garage, and under-used corporate assets like empty conference rooms, limos + town cars, reservations at restaurants and spas, airline seats, etc.”

6. Military and Aerospace Electronics (USA) – Designs for avionics and synthetic vision rely heavily on human factors research. “People interact with machines in different ways — with their eyes, touch, voices, and even their brain waves. These human factors are important when designing cars, home theaters, and especially commercial and military aircraft cockpits. Telepathic flight control still resides in fictional realms such as the 1982 Clint Eastwood movie FireFox — in which a pilot stole a Soviet jet fighter that was programmed to respond to human thoughts. The Eastwood character controlled the fictional high-performance jet by thinking in Russian. Today, however, avionics designers are exploring touch screens, virtual worlds, 3-D moving maps, and even voice control in all types of cockpits. “We are passionate about the user experience on the flight deck, going beyond human factor issues so pilots can do what they need to do,” says Sarah Barber, systems engineer and human factors expert for Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “There is nothing worse than having frustrated pilots on the flight deck. We focus on what the sensation of perception pilots get from the flight deck display.”

7. Salon (USA) – 3-D is coming to your home. “I’ve been a skeptic about 3-D in its initial phases. Hollywood has used the technology mainly to increase movie prices, and the experience in theaters — with few exceptions, such as James Cameron’s “Avatar” — has been nowhere near worth the higher ticket price. This is one reason, by all accounts, that 2010 movie attendance dropped. At last year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, 3-D got its first big push into the home entertainment market, but it looked more like a gimmick than anything most people would care about in the near term. This year, the push is on with renewed strength, with a dizzying variety of new hardware and content ideas. The industry has more than a few hurdles ahead. The highest hurdle will be rational customer resistance to the you-must-upgrade mantra. But there’s no question in my own mind that 3-D is going to have a central role in our homes within a few years.”

8. VentureBeat (USA) – Groupon will become the Sarah Palin of tech, and other predictions for 2011. “If Microsoft’s Kinect was only around during the hype of Second Life, it could have helped the struggling virtual world become a mass market player. As Kinect rockets past 8 million sold after two months, I agree with Jaron Lanier’s view that it brings us closer to a true avatar experience, which he discussed at the November 16th, 2010 TEDxSF event. The possibilities are exciting when you consider an early hack of Kinect for World of Warcraft and the variety of games we’ll see once Kinect comes to the PC.”

9. Marketing Week (UK) – Brands have a role to play in virtual reality. “Gamers who managed to get their hands on the new Kinect console are sure to have had a very merry Christmas, playing by simply jumping or waving their arms around (see main image). But perhaps not as merry a time as Kinect parent company Microsoft, which sold 2.5 million units in the first 25 days of sales in November. Its reported £300m ad spend, including commercials dominating the breaks during The X-Factor final last year, looks like it has paid off.”

10. The Escapist (USA) – Playing On Planet Google. “Of all the grand game worlds constructed by an army of artificial architects, there’s one virtual environment that game companies have only just begun to chart. The strange thing about this undiscovered realm is that it’s right under our feet, and is one of the largest digital environments ever created: Planet Google. The Grand Overlord of the Internet has gone to extreme lengths to map, in obsessive detail, our corner of the solar system, including every street corner, the moon, the sea bed, night sky, Mars, and even Chipping Sodbury just off the M4, rebuilding reality as a high resolution online entity. Yet this persistent world is going to waste on trivial matters like route planning and scientific research.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. VentureBeat (USA) – Sony’s Home virtual world hits 17M users and finds a business model in virtual goods. “Two years after its debut, Sony’s Home online virtual world for PlayStation gamers has hit 17 million users worldwide. The virtual community has now grown into a gathering place where gamers can play hundreds of games, attend droves of events, and buy lots of virtual goods. The multi-year effort is becoming Sony’s big play in the digital online marketplace for video game fans. Along with user growth, Home’s revenues have also begun to take off, said Jack Buser (pictured below), director of PlayStation Home at Sony, in an interview today. Home is a virtual world on the PlayStation Network where you can create a realistic animated avatar and wander among virtual sites such as shopping malls, movie theaters, or game arcades. Back in the summer, when Sony launched a new indie game effort in Home, it had 14 million users.”

2. Philadelphia Inquirer (USA) – Virtual justice: Online game world meets real-world cops and courts. “When Tim Quirino needed cash to help him get through his senior year at Drexel University, he knew what to sell. His ad on eBay read something like this – Available: World of Warcraft avatar ranked second in his realm, plus his castle, virtual gold, weapons, and other accessories. Within a week, he pocketed a very real $1,000 for a very unreal set of assets. Fortunately for Quirino, now 26, the transaction was a smooth one. He got his money, graduated with a degree in graphic design, and went on to cofound the popular-culture blog Geekadelphia. But the murkier side of virtual worlds – where incidents of theft and fraud, along with assault and bullying, are on the rise – increasingly has real-world cops and courts intervening. Their involvement hasn’t ended the confusion.”

3. Tonic (USA) – World of Warcraft’s Virtual Pets Help the Real World. “Game on. World of Warcraft, the game with a player population bigger than most countries, isn’t letting its capacity for social change go untapped. From now until Dec. 31, World of Warcraft players can buy a Moonkin Hatchling (it’s the cute one in the photo) for $10 to use in their virtual worlds, and $5 of the purchase price will go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation to help kids struggling in the real world. The charity pet has a unique talent — it will plant flowers at your avatar’s feet and dance with anyone it finds who’s willing. Somebody call Cute Overload.”

4. Pittsburgh Post Gazette (USA) – CMU virtual world show lures headhunters to town. “Ian Bowie would seem to have no reason to be nervous this weekend. The 100-hour weeks the 27-year-old level designer from Colorado put in this semester at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center had paid off. Three of the virtual worlds he helped design — out of the 14 chosen from 60 entries — were included in two presentations Saturday of Building Virtual Worlds, shown before raucous, standing-room-only crowds at the Philip Chosky Theater on the CMU campus. The virtual worlds ranged from the crowd-pleasing “The Great Illusionist”, in which a real person on stage did magic tricks with a person on a video screen — to the squeamish “Five Days”, which had a person wearing a head-mounted interactive monitor saw off part of a trapped leg in a virtual world — to disturbing “Teddy”, one of the teams Mr. Bowie was on that featured a creepy teddy bear haunting a hospital patient.”

5. VentureBeat (USA) – Next Island launches its time traveler’s virtual world. “After more than 2.5 years in the making, Next Island is quietly launching its ambitious virtual world with a time travel theme. The brainchild of serial entrepreneur David Post, the new world is now available for people to visit and is getting a once-over from journalists. By January, Post will trumpet the site to consumers at large. The enterprise is a test of whether virtual worlds have a place in the modern landscape of gaming, where most of the excitement revolves around social games such as FarmVille, mobile games such as Angry Birds, or traditional console games and PC online titles such as World of Warcraft.”

6. New York Times (USA) – On a Hunt for What Makes Gamers Keep Gaming. “By the age of 21, the typical American has spent 10,000 hours playing computer games, and endured a smaller but much drearier chunk of time listening to sermons about this sinful habit. Why, the experts wail, are so many people wasting their lives solving meaningless puzzles in virtual worlds Rules like “buy low, sell high” and “tall people are sexier” play out exactly the same way, whether the environment is virtual or real. Now some other experts — ones who have actually played these games — are asking more interesting questions. Why are these virtual worlds so much more absorbing than school and work? How could these gamers’ labors be used to solve real-world puzzles? Why can’t life be more like a video game? “Gamers are engaged, focused, and happy,” says Edward Castronova, a professor of telecommunications at Indiana University who has studied and designed online games. “How many employers wish they could say that about even a tenth of their work force?”

7. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – ProtoSphere and Lync: more than voice. “Last week, ProtonMedia made a formal announcement about a project I first reported on in September of this year that ProtoSphere, the 3D enterprise collaboration and learning tool, is now fully integrated with Microsoft’s Lync Server 2010. The Lync server is a software product that unifies enterprise voice, instant messaging and web-, audio- and videoconferencing into a, connected communications experience. Here is a video that explains the relationship of how ProtoSphere sits on top of Lync and SharePoint and the capabilities of the platform with Ron Burns, President of ProtonMedia and Albert Kooiman, Sr. Technical Product Manager of Microsoft Lync.”

8. Internet Evolution (USA) – C-Suite Seeks ‘True’ Telepresence. “For some CEOs, the concept of telepresence inspires both great confusion and great interest. Most would classify it as a videoconferencing solution with high-definition screens, while others with global offices see it as a saver of costs otherwise spent on travel. CoStar Group, which provides information services to commercial real estate professionals in 30 worldwide offices, is one company that has adopted telepresence technologies. On average, the company of more than 1,000 researchers is conducting an estimated 40 to 50 video conferences every day and as many as 10,000 video conferences per year, with some employees using video up to 5 hours a day. CoStar CEO Andrew Florance says his company saves as much as $5 million per year on travel expenses thanks to video chat.”

9. PC World (USA) – World of Warcraft Cataclysm Launch Smooth So Far. “Well we made it, we’re still here, the servers are operational, the random disconnects were few, the lag wasn’t intolerable, and the World of Warcraft will never be the same. Cataclysm launched worldwide this morning while most of us slept. It was, you have to admit, a trifle anticlimactic. After all, some of the biggest game world changes occurred weeks ago. That’s when Blizzard rebooted Azeroth, wrecking the place and blaming it on a dragon no one’s seen yet. Storylines were revamped, new quests added, races and classes overhauled, the earth and heavens rearranged, and the interface refined enough to make several add-ons superfluous. Last night the final pieces unlocked: Two new playable races, Worgen for Alliance and Goblin for Horde, new high-level zones for characters level 80 to 85, guild achievements and leveling for group advancement, and, best of all, the option to fly your mounts around Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms. Yes, that last means the world just got a lot more dangerous for noobs working mainland PvP zones.”

10. Asbury Park Press (USA) – NO ESCAPING VIRTUAL WORLD. “The event “Video Games Live” has toured the country with its repertoire of music and visual effects, highlighting compositions from games like “Mario,” “ChronoCross,” “Final Fantasy VII,” “Bioshock,” “Mass Effect,” “Warcraft,” “Zelda,” “MegaMan” and others. But as you can tell from that list, traditional classical music fans are really not the principal target audience for this program.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. CNET (USA) – WebGL powers 3D virtual world on the Web. “One of the obstacles to Second Life popularity is the fact that people must install specific software to visit the site. One of the promises of a 3D technology called WebGL is that such worlds could be drawn directly in a browser. Now a company called Katalabs, formed by a number of Stanford researchers, has done just that with a virtual world project called KataSpace. A version can be explored online with a browser such as Firefox 4 beta 7 (Windows | Mac | Linux) that has WebGL support. KataSpace uses the Web technologies to create a user interface for the open-source Sirikata platform for multiuser 3D world, Katalabs said in a blog post. The demonstration world is workable but primitive, with only two avatars to pick from, some jerky movement, and terrain that avatars walk through rather than over. But it does serve to show that WebGL is moving from concept to reality.”

2. San Jose Business Journal (USA) – IMVU is moving beyond virtual worlds, finding rapid growth. “IMVU Inc. has developed digital chat software that lets users all over the world meet and interact with each other in virtual space using stylized, animated 3D representations of themselves called avatars. Just don’t call it a virtual world. “We used to be a virtual world and talk about ourselves as such, but now we’re talking about ourselves as a social entertainment destination” said IMVU CEO Cary Rosenzweig. “People want entertainment. They want to dress up, they want to chat, but now our own users are saying, ‘What else can I do? What’s next that can keep me here?’” Answering that question is an important next step for IMVU, which grew its revenue by 657 percent in three years to $22.2 million in 2009, making the Palo Alto company one of the Silicon Valley’s quickest-growing companies.”

3. VentureBeat (USA) – Zynga links FarmVille and other games with American Express rewards. “Membership has its privileges — even in the virtual worlds of social games. Zynga, the maker of FarmVille, Mafia Wars, and other social games, is announcing today that you can use your rewards from American Express credit cards to buy virtual goods in its offerings. The strategic relationship is a first between a social game company and a major credit-card rewards program. The American Express Membership Rewards program gives rewards to cardholders in the form of points. Users who play Zynga can take their American Express points and spent them on virtual goods in increments that are as small as 200 points, which is enough to get you a $2 gift card that you can spend on items in the game. A purple cow in FarmVille, for instance, costs 540 American Express points.”

4. Saint City News (Canada) – Virtual hockey game gets kids online, on ice. “A St. Albert native is hoping to get kids in the game — both online and on the ice. Scott Rusnak is the creative director for Visimonde Inc., a company that specializes in online gaming and the production and design of virtual worlds. Later this month, the company plans to launch a private beta release of their new hockey-themed virtual game aimed at kids aged six to 12. These days, Rusnak is based in Scottsdale, Ariz., but even in the desert heat, he said he can’t get hockey out of his blood, and he’s getting more and more excited as the launch date gets closer. “It’s hard to sleep at night, I’m so excited,” Rusnak said. “It’s really fun.” In Rinksters, players can skate through an icy world while playing games, earning coins and items to customize their avatars, build trading cards and chat with other users.”

5. Huffington Post (USA) – Facebook Credits as New Real Currency? “Facebook credits. My definition is a virtual currency. Here is Facebook’s definition. In all transparency: I know of them but have not used them yet. I have personally used Skype credits — and also Google credits — as well as participated in various virtual worlds and made use of those virtual currencies — so I have some understanding at least. All of these are basically re-purposed financial transactions given a virtual edge, if you will. I read some of the history of virtual currencies — there have been many false starts — and some minor success stories like Linden Labs. But nothing on the scale of what Facebook might be able to do.”

6. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – Corporate uptake of collaborative 3D spaces. “Much has been said in recent years regarding the benefits and substantial returns an organisation can achieve by integrating an Online 3D Environment into their everyday operations. Indeed, examples and demonstrations of the power and financial savings 3D collaboration can bring to businesses have been researched, developed, trialed and documented since the original conception of Virtual Reality; however it seems that a great many businesses are still either unaware of or are unwilling to tap into this potential. For those of us working with, or using Virtual Worlds in either a social, educational or development context to connect with others and share ideas, data and concepts, the possibilities this technology is able to offer is often immediately obvious whilst the hesitation from businesses to adopt these ideas is very much the opposite. It could be said that the reasons for the lack of corporate interest are as wide and varied as the uses for the technology itself, but there are some core elements which we believe have really hindered the mass uptake of immersive 3D spaces.”

7. My Fox Orlando (USA) – Military simulation being showcased. “The nations largest simulation show (I/ITSEC) returns to Orlando showcasing the latest technologies that are educating our youth and aiding our military and the crossover to commercial applications. As the nations hub for the simulation industry (one of the fastest growing sectors in the high tech arena), Orlando is home to companies, military simulation training commands and research institutes that are developing both nation-leading technologies and training systems for our military – areas of importance that are embedded in presidential priorities – as well as for many crossover applications to commercial industry in areas such as virtual worlds and medicine.”

8. Kotaku (Australia) – The Greatest World Of Warcraft Music Video Ever Made. “This is what happens when a 25-man Alliance raiding party sacks their own capital city – with rock. They may not have started the fire, but they have created one of the most beautiful videos I’ve ever seen. The Dark Endeavor guild on the Durotan World of Warcraft server has me seriously considering handing Blizzard money so I can change servers and sides, just on the off chance that I might witness a stunning spectacle like this as it happens. I can only imagine the amount of coordination this must have taken, between getting everyone in their places, timing the text to the song, and making sure the camera angles were perfect. It’s sure to spawn a wave of copycats, but none will be quite as impressive as this performance.”

9. Zippycart (USA) – Bigger than Godzilla! Farmville Takes Japan. “Zynga’s Facebook social game workhorse FarmVille will be launching in Japan early this month. Renamed “FarmVillage,” the social game will be released on Mixi, the most popular social network in Japan. Only a mobile version of the game will be available at first, however, which could have been an obstacle to integration, except that a majority of Mixi users access the site through their “feature phones.” How many users are there? Is there really a market for a social game like FarmVille/FarmVillage? Mixi reportedly has about 50 million user accounts, with about 15 million labeled as “regular users,” meaning that they check their accounts at least once a month. Compare this to Facebook’s 500 million regular users, which contribute to about 50 million regular Farmville users. This is actually down from around 80 million users at the height of its popularity. But still, capturing and keeping ten percent of Facebook’s fickle user base is no small feat.”

10. BBC News (UK) – World of Warcraft fans set for Cataclysm launch. “World of Warcraft (WoW) is about to undergo one of the biggest changes in its six-year history. The third expansion for the game, called Cataclysm, will be available from 7 December. As its name implies the expansion re-makes the world in which the game is set and rips up the geography of many familiar places. It also introduces two new races to the game, increases the level cap and makes many other changes. Shops around the world were planning to stay open at midnight on 6 December to let eager players get their hands on Cataclysm. Blizzard had also set up a system that allowed people to pre-load the expansion pack by downloading it so they can play it as soon as possible on 7 December.”

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