The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Gizmag (USA) – Play robot moves effortlessly between real and virtual worlds. “In an increasingly tech-centric world, keeping kids interested in learning can be an uphill battle. With teaching that involves play recently attracting some powerful supportive voices, students from MIT’s Media Lab have developed a system which merges technology and play to stimulate young minds. The Playtime Computing system uses infrared emitters and tracking cameras to monitor the position of a special robot within a play area. As the bot disappears into a hole in a panel, it appears to continue its journey into a virtual world projected onto the walls.”

2. Pittsburgh Post Gazette (USA) – IUP website takes archaeology class into a virtual dig. “Indiana University of Pennsylvania has carved out a virtual dig for its archaeology students in Second Life. Second Life is the popular online destination for people who want to socialize, play games or buy and sell stuff in an alternative world. But virtual worlds are also an educational tool whose potential is beginning to be tapped by projects such as IUP’s Archaeology Island in Second Life.”

3. The Huffington Post (USA) – The Next Killer App: Work. “As a technologist, I’m obsessed with searching for the next killer app. Today, there are many companies that are offering amazing services and products that some may deem “killer apps.” What I find interesting is that many of these are aimed at improving our virtual world–becoming a mayor on a social networking site, getting a hole in one or building an empire on a gaming site. It seems so simple when we escape for a few minutes (or hours) from our real world commitments to the fantastic online world we have created! But what about improving our offline “real” world?”

4. New York Times (USA) – In Cybertherapy, Avatars Assist With Healing. “His talk was going just fine until some members of the audience became noticeably restless. A ripple of impatience passed through the several dozen seated listeners, and a few seemed suddenly annoyed; then two men started to talk to each other, ignoring him altogether. “When I saw that, I slowed down and then stopped what I was saying,” said the speaker, a 47-year-old public servant named Gary, who last year took part in an unusual study of social anxiety treatment at the University of Quebec.”

5. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – IDIA Lab City Opens in Blue Mars. “Ball State University’s Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts (IDIA) announced today the release of IDIA Lab City, a new immersive learning experience powered by Blue Mars, Avatar Reality’s 3 social world platform. Visitors to the new area can virtually tour and examine stunning, realistic recreations of artifacts and artworks in their original historical contexts, including sculptures at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco and a centuries old Buddha at a Japanese temple. IDIA’s premiere effort in Blue Mars showcases several examples of recent grant supported research projects. For example, students in IDIA’s Immersive Seminar in Virtual Worlds 3D laser-scanned sculptures in Ball State University’s Museum of Art collection, resulting in accurate and detailed replicas in IDIA’s simulation.”

6. Global Times (China) – Goodbye to 2D. “Chen Zekun looks almost the same as his fifth-grade primary school peers. But when he sits before the computer, his design skills amaze even the most tech savvy adults. The 10-year-old boy’s wildest dreams – from warriors with wings to household robots – come to life on the screen. “I found my son had a talent for 3D design three years ago, by chance,” said Chen Shaoping, who owns a computer graphic production house in Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi Province. “He became interested when he saw one of our designers work on 3D design, and then taught himself.” The boy spends most of his free time creating his own virtual worlds. “I also like playing games such as World of Warcraft,” he said. “But it’s more interesting to create game characters of my own.”

7. Dr Dobb’s (USA) – In Silicon No One Can Hear You Scream. “In his book of TV reviews The Crystal Bucket, Clive James writes of David Attenborough: “It is a lucky break that the presenter looks normal, because some of the life-forms he is presenting look as abnormal as the mind can stand. To Attenborough all that lives is beautiful: he possesses, to a high degree, the quality that Einstein called Einfühlung — the intellectual love for the objects of experience. Few who saw it will forget Attenborough’s smile of ecstasy as he stood, some years ago, knee-deep in a conical mound of Borneo bat-poo. Miles underground, with cockroaches swarming all over him and millions of squeaking bats crapping on his head, he was as radiant as Her Majesty at the races”. How long will it be before such emotions can be inspired by the evolved objects of digital experience? I’ve been looking at Thomas Miconi’s page Evolving Virtual creatures. ”

8. California Literary Review (USA) – Book Review: Fun Inc.: Why Gaming Will Dominate the Twenty-First Century by Tom Chatfield. “In the first few pages of Fun Inc., Tom Chatfield, the Arts and Books editor of the British magazine Prospect, admits that his is “a shamelessly partisan book about video games” because they’ve been an important element throughout his life, and also because “they’re an increasingly central part of both American culture and of an emerging global culture. . . that . . has the power to re-mould the 21st century at least as radically as cinema and television did the 20th.” In a similar effort at honesty and full disclosure, this reviewer is the author of the first memoir on video game addiction, Unplugged: My Journey Into the Dark World of Video Game Addiction, as well as a frequent speaker on gaming culture, social networking, cyberbullying, and video games at medical conferences, schools, and businesses. These facts are especially relevant because the majority of video game aficionados and supporters I encounter tend to be overly vocal, shortsighted, and ineffective in their defenses of their beloved pastime. Chatfield, by contrast, has a clean, compelling writing style, and he is quite reasonable throughout his analysis of both this rapidly growing industry and its profound effects on society. While he can get a bit defensive of some justified criticism over video games, that’s fairly easily forgiven since the majority of this book is open-minded, interesting, and insightful.”

9. News Channel 34 (USA) – American Cancer Society of Southern NY Gets Donation from Virtual Community. “Southern Tier HealthLink (STHL), the Regional Health Information Organization (RHIO) for the Southern Tier of New York in conjunction with Amaretto Ranch Breedables, has raised over US $64,000 for breast cancer research through its “New York HealthScape Breast Cancer Awareness Center” simulation (sim) in the virtual world of Second Life. STHL on behalf of Amaretto Ranch Breedables will be presenting a check for the proceeds to the Southern Tier Regional Office of the American Cancer Society in the near future. Created in 2003, Second Life is a computer-generated 3D world already home to millions of virtual residents, businesses, universities, non-profit, and health care organizations around the world. While the enhanced graphics and avatar features of Second Life give it a sophisticated “game” feeling, this actually augments its potential as an education tool. In fact, Second Life has generated serious academic research into the impact of virtual interactions and real life communications, team building, and education. Several studies have concluded that the simulated environment is highly effective for interactive learning.”

10. Third Sector (UK) – Digital Campaign of the Week: Homeless Link. “Earlier this year, Homeless Link was one of the lead partners in the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, when 500 homeless people designed and created a real garden. The objective was to overcome stereotypes of homeless people and to demonstrate that homeless people have talent. Homeless Link was then given funding from the Gulbenkian Foundation to create a virtual representation of the real garden in Second Life, called the Places of Change Garden, which will be online for the next year. “

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. The Drum (UK) – Psychiatrists drafted in to treat Italian Facebook addicts. “Mamma mia, Italians have emerged have emerged as the world’s biggest social media addicts after a survey by Nielsen indicated that the country has the highest per capita use of Facebook of any nation. Psychologists in the Mediterranean nation have found that addicts are eschewing the real world pleasures of Italy to stay connected to their virtual worlds day and night. Nielsen found that Italy’s 16m Facebook users spend an average of 6hrs and 27min on the site per month, a figure which stood at a mere 15min just seven years ago. Such is the extent of the problem that the Agostino Gemelli clinic in Rome has established a Facebook clinic to treat the condition; it welcomed 150 patients in its first year.”

2. CIO Insight (USA) – Virtual World Training: Give Your Programs a ‘Second Life’. “Since the launch of the groundbreaking Second Life in 2003, “virtual world” training and collaboration tools have become increasingly popular in the modern workplace. These are not simply exercises with “cute” avatars that provide an enjoyable but meaningless distraction for employees. These tools can help you, your senior managers and your work teams to recruit and retain talent, address customer needs, enhance collaboration and perform other “mission-critical” functions. Organizations such as IBM, Cisco, Intel, Michelin, Microsoft and the World Bank are successfully deploying these virtual efforts and getting results, according to the book Training and Collaboration with Virtual Worlds: How to Create Cost-Saving, Efficient, and Engaging Programs.”

3. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – Enterprise Guide to Virtual Worlds released. “The Association of Virtual Worlds has just published the first Business Guide to Virtual Worlds listing over 30 virtual world solutions, vendors, or providers, for businesses and organizations. The Green Book: A Business Guide to Virtual Worlds shows examples of how major brands and companies are currently using virtual worlds to promote or extend their brands and identifies solutions that can be used by enterprises internally to recruit, train, and meet using the newest generation of the Internet—web 3D.”

4. Euro Gamer (UK) – Planet Michael: What would MJ say? “SEE Virtual Worlds is turning Michael Jackson into an MMO – but what would the late, great pop star say if he were alive today? “I think he would be… You know, it’s hard – I don’t want to get caught too much in trying to speak for him, that would be out of taste,” VP of production and development Josh Gordon told Eurogamer. “But I can tell you that we have looked very, very hard at what he presented to the public and what he brought to our world really – to everyone in the world. Our focus is very much on maintaining that vision and not trying to radically diverge from the fantastical world and super-pop iconic stuff that he brought.”

5. World Policy Blog (USA) – Playback: The New Archive, Part IV. “If the future of literary production is increasingly interactive, collaborative, and user-driven, the shape and experience of the future literary archive might be that it could look a lot like the 1993 multi-player first-person shooter video game DOOM. Henry Lowood, co-Principal Investigator of the “Preserving Virtual Worlds” project at Stanford, specializes in the historical documentation of virtual worlds. In his forthcoming essay “Video Capture: Machinima, Documentation, and the History of Virtual Worlds,” he describes how players of the first-person shooter, multi-player Internet-based computer game DOOM participate in a typical culture of game-based replay or demos that both showcase a talented player’s competitive skill set and serve as a tutorial for peers to enhance their own. What is fascinating is that these demos are played from a first person perspective (perfect provenance) and the so-called “perfect capture” of these “in-game recording sessions” achieve not only perfect context and perfectly emulated play without degradation, but are also accessible from remote points of access on Internet. Forever.”

6. Singularity Hub (USA) – Man Sells Virtual Real Estate in Online Game for $635,000! WTF? “How much would you pay for a string of ones and zeroes? How about a string of ones and zeroes that grossed you $200,000 a year? Jon “Neverdie” Jacobs made history by selling virtual property for a reported total of $635,000. Club Neverdie is a virtual asteroid in the online game Entropia. The Entropia Universe is rare among MMORPGs, because it has its own virtual economy that has a fixed exchange rate to the real world. When you make 100 PED (as the Entropia currency is called) you can trade it out for $10 USD at any time, and vice versa. Forbes’ Oliver Chiang did an amazing job researching Jacob’s record level virtual property sale. According to Chiang, using Club Neverdie as a resort destination for thousands of Entropia players, Jon Jacobs was able to make $200k a year in revenue. Get a tour of the virtual space in the video below. With the sale, Jacobs is helping fund even larger virtual projects who’s worth is likely to be valued in the millions. Selling an imaginary playland for hundreds of thousands of dollars sounds crazy, but what’s really insane is how big this phenomenon has already grown.”

7. Today Online (USA) – No Second Chance. “I SPORTED shoulder-length tresses and was dressed in a black trenchcoat – you could very well have mistaken me for a modern-day vampire in the gothic get-up for my avatar in Second Life. This was day six of my second foray into Second Life, which is an Internet-based virtual world developed by United States-based company Linden Lab in 2003. Simply download a free client program called the Viewer onto your computer and you can join Second Life. Residents can socialise, participate in individual and group activities, and create and trade virtual property and services with one another, as well as travel throughout the virtual world (which residents refer to as “the grid”). Out of curiosity, I joined Second Life three years ago, but my interest soon fizzled out. I revisited it recently, and was surprised to see that the virtual world’s innovation has sputtered since. As I roamed around, I found it empty … and boring.”

8. MarketingProfs (USA) – How to Attract an Audience for Your Virtual Events. “Virtual events have been around for years. So it may come as a surprise to learn that immersive virtual worlds seem to be stagnating while virtual events for the B2B world are experiencing a boom. Part of the reason may be that you don’t need to download software or create complex avatars, or learn how to navigate a complex 3-D environment when leveraging virtual events. There is another trend worth noting, though. Short-lived virtual events, initially designed to help even out a lack of attendance at physical conferences, are rapidly turning into virtual business centers with different venues hosting multiple virtual events.”

9. Gamasutra (USA) – Virtual Economic Theory: How MMOs Really Work. “cally grew out of my somewhat “rantish” review of Final Fantasy XIV. One of the biggest issues that I — and many other commentators — have taken issue with is the way FFXIV handles its in-game economy: the Market Ward system. My intent with this article is to first address the broader issue of virtual economies in MMORPGs in general, and apply those theories to FFXIV to better explain exactly what is wrong with the Market Ward system.”

10. Dissident Voice (USA) – Technology Addiction and Virtual Reality. “It will be difficult, if not impossible, to bring the U.S. back from the brink of social and economic collapse upon which it is so precariously perched. Our collective inertia is carrying us to the edge of the abyss. Changing course will require a change of consciousness, an awakening. Critical mass must be reached, but we have not even begun contemplating making that immense journey. We should have started long ago. Now it may be too late for us. The American people are brainwashed by prolonged exposure to the corporate media, particularly television, which has a financial stake in keeping them propagandized and in a stupor. The religion of America is buying and selling. Capital is God and everyone and everything is subservient to it. Corporations are people. Money is free speech. Virtual reality has replaced actual reality.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. New Scientist (USA) – Online law man: Virtual worlds need real laws. “Tens of millions of people live, work and play in virtual worlds where anything goes. Greg Lastowka thinks we need to police these lawless frontiers. What prompted you to write your new book, Virtual Justice? I’ve always been interested in technology law, and the issues surrounding law in virtual worlds are like canaries in a coal mine. Society is increasingly migrating to the internet, and virtual worlds are an intense version of that. The issues that arise in virtual worlds will ultimately filter through to broader society.”

2. TechCrunch (USA) – Blue Mars Looks To OTOY’s Clouds To Take 3D Worlds Mainstream. “3D online virtual worlds are nothing new. From World of Warcraft to Second Life, people have been wandering across polygonal terrain for years, chatting with other users, selling their virtual wares, and making their avatars wave at each other for no apparent reason. But Avatar Reality, the startup behind a 3D platform called Blue Mars, thinks that there’s still a lot of untapped potential from 3D. And now it may have a way to turn their dream into something a lot of people are actually using.”

3. VentureBeat (USA) – Hip Venture abandons virtual world to pivot into social games (exclusive)
. “There’s a stampede going on. Publishers of virtual worlds are moving on to better things, or they’re perishing. Usually, that means they’re pivoting into the hot markets of social and mobile games. That explains the announcement today by virtual world maker Hip Venture that it will shift its focus to making social and mobile games. Previously, Hip Venture planned on creating a virtual world for tweens (older kids who are just shy of their teen years) with a Latino perspective. Now the company is repositioning its virtual world so it can pursue the bigger market of social and mobile games. The New York-based company is adding new titles, new technology and key advisors to execute on its new strategy and will continue to focus on the US Hispanic, Latin American and Spanish markets. It plans to publish games on social networks such as Facebook, Orkut and Hi5 or mobile platforms such as the iPhone, iPad, and Droid. Its first game, HipChicas, will debut in the first quarter of 2011 and will be followed up with games based on popular Latino toy and book brands such as Homies, Mijoes, Hacienda, Bodeguita, and Hospital.”

4. Scope (USA) – Collaborative project creates a virtual world for cancer patients. “The pain and isolation of dealing with a cancer diagnosis are challenging emotional experiences for adults. Now imagine getting that diagnosis as an adolescent. But a new collaborative effort initiated by Mette Hoybye, PhD, a visiting scholar at the Center on Stress and Health, and Henrik Bennetsen, chief executive officer and co-founder of Katalabs, aims to fuse cancer therapy with virtual worlds to provide a learning space for young cancer patients. The project, which is aimed at patients ages 13 to 24, is called BE Community.”

5. Forbes (USA) – Meet The Man Who Just Made A Cool Half Million From The Sale Of Virtual Property. “Many people might balk at the idea of paying even a dollar for virtual cow in a game like Farmville. But Jon Jacobs has just sold a virtual space station he’s spent the past five years managing for a whopping $635,000 in total, making over half a million dollars. Who would devote so much time and investment into something that doesn’t exist in the real world?”

6. The Christian Post (USA) – Democratizing Evangelism in an eWorld. “Outreach in the electronic world is needed as people become increasingly dependent on technology to communicate, said Christian thinkers at a conference focused on the subject this week. While the good news should never change, methodologies used to communicate the message must change with the times, agreed attendees of the Great Commission Research Network’s annual conference, which concluded Thursday. The conference, titled “Outreach in an eWorld,” focused on how the average, local church can use the electronic medium to share the Good News. “The electronic medium is becoming a more powerful tool for good or for bad,” said Bob Whitesel, president of the Great Commission Research Network, to The Christian Post Thursday. “And the Church needs to know how to wield it for good and it needs to know how to take a stand against the bad.”

7. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – The hypergrid’s not for everyone. “Ever since Crista Lopes, professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine invented the hypergrid in 2009, people have been debating whether grids should be on or off the hypergrid. On the one hand, the hypergrid is very cool. You can teleport from one grid to another, hopping around like a grasshopper, picking up some freebies here, buying some clothes there, attending a meeting somewhere else, all with one avatar and a single inventory. On the other hand, hypergrid allows people to take content from one grid to another — and to harass people on other grids, as well. Some grids hedge their bets. They turn hypergrid on just during open houses, or during the construction phase. Or they only allow hypergrid to certain regions of their grid, and keep the rest private.”

8. The Quad News (USA) – Living in a Virtual Reality. “In 2007 seven individuals bought an island and embarked on a mission to create a place in which individuals could overcome religious differences and learn to live together—all in a virtual world.
The community, which is called, Al-Andalus was created using the online, 3D digital platform called Second Life. Second Life was founded and is now run by Linden Lab which is located in San Francisco, Calif. It is similar to other computer games, like the Sims, except for one large difference. In Second Life, every tree, every house, every shop, and every subway line is created by the people, or Avatars, playing the game–it is a virtual world created solely by the user.
One of the founders of A1-Andalus, just one of the dozens of communities that exist in Second Life, “Rose Springvale,” is a mother of two, an attorney and a wife to a CEO husband in the real world. ”

9. VentureBeat (USA) – Social entertainment world IMVU expands to Europe. “Social entertainment firm IMVU is launching a big expansion in Europe today as it unveils new versions in seven languages. With IMVU, users create their own 3D character, or avatar, and can then meet people, chat, create virtual goods and share them, and play games. The company is one of the few surviving virtual world startups that have grown a big audience and generated a lot of revenue. Keeping the growth going isn’t easy. But the European expansion should help. IMVU will now have localized versions in Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish. The launch will start with a Swedish version, and the other six languages will roll out in the coming weeks. The company plans to continue its international expansion into 2011, said IMVU chief executive Cary Rosenzweig.”

10. Asharq Al-Awsat (UK) – The Virtual Hajj Experience. “It is now possible for every Muslim to learn how to perform the Hajj or Umrah rituals correctly through the online virtual world of “Second Life” before physically embarking on this spiritual journey in real life. It is now possible for people to learn how to perform the Hajj rituals by virtually visiting Mecca, Medina, and the other holy sites that must be visited as part of Hajj after the “Islam Online” website recently introduced an educational hajj program on the virtual world of “Second Life.” This project also aims to reduce the common errors made by many pilgrims. Hisham Jaafar, Editor-in -Chief of the “Islam Online” website told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Hajj Island” on Second Life includes a complete three dimensional representation of The Grand Mosque in Mecca following its recent development and enlargement. “Hajj Island” also allows users to travel between the Safah and Marawah hills, as well as visit Mina where “the stoning of the devil” ritual is performed. In order to simulate the rituals as realistically as possible, the model also includes the newly-built Royal Mecca Clock Tower, which overlooks the Grand Mosque, and is the largest clock-tower in the world. There will also be a virtual train linking Mina and Mount Arafat, with this train set to operate this year for the first time.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. GPB News (USA) – Virtual Worlds Help Disabled Students. “The National Science Foundation gave $1.5 million to The University of Georgia and Georgia Institute of Technology to help raise the number of students with disabilities getting degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. The collaborative program uses specially designed virtual classrooms inside Second Life where students can interact with mentors from around the world without leaving home. Robert Todd is a senior researcher with the Center For Assistive Technology and Environmental Access at Georgia Tech. “It will be what you might call an idealized or a better version of the classroom. Because we can do what we can imagine we can make the classroom more engaging and more interesting to students.”

2. Los Angeles Times (USA) – Cutting-edge virtual reality technology in development in Playa Vista. “Computer-simulated battlefields, three-dimensional video teleconferencing and sprawling virtual worlds are just a few of the tools being developed at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies. The cutting-edge research institute, known as ICT, recently opened a facility in Playa Vista where it develops virtual environments used to train U.S. military personnel. A story in today’s Times features the institute, whose work is used by the military for purposes including training fighters to combat insurgents and calming nerves of weary soldiers. ICT’s wide-ranging technologies are now found on 65 military sites across the country. As the Pentagon has stepped up spending on training military personnel through simulations, ICT’s funding has increased from $5 million in 1999 to about $30 million this year.”

3. Mobile Computing News (UK) – MMOGs moderated by machine. “MOGs or ‘massively multiplayer online games’ are the internet’s main attraction for thousands of users all around the world. Virtual worlds where players can live out fantasies in real time and interact with other live players have become the apex of online gaming as we know it. With thousands of people playing MMOGs on various servers and networks, the need to moderate gaming activity has become a fundamental issue which game developers are working on improving.”

4. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – Bargain region hosting: What you get for $9.90. “OpenSim hosting company New Voice offers full OpenSim regions for just $9.90 per month. So what do you actually get for this amount of money? A region in Second Life, after all, costs $300 — not to mention a $1,000 setup fee. There are no setup fees with New Voice. Can New Voice really offer a full region for under $10 — and 45,000 prims, full region backups, and hypergrid connectivity to boot? Their customer growth numbers seem to indicate that they can. When we first talked to the company in August, they were running just 40 regions. Today, New Voice is running 124 regions for customers.”

5. Chicago Tribune (USA) – Second Life talk given both locally, virtually. “Tom Boellstorff is an anthropologist at the University of California at Irvine and editor of American Anthropologist. For years, he specialized in the study of gay Indonesians. That is, until he also began to specialize in the anthropological study of Second Life, the online virtual world launched in 2003 by Linden Lab. It hosts 18 million users, who create avatars to represent their physical selves, then, say, create homes for those avatars and socialize with other avatars.”

6. The Economist (UK) – Living in a see-through world. “Cows moo if they need to be milked, but otherwise they do not show a great desire to communicate—until now. A Dutch start-up called Sparked has devised a system that keeps track of a cow’s health. A sensor attached to the ear of the animal reads its vital signs and transmits a mass of data wirelessly to a computer, which crunches the numbers and sends a message to the farmer if, for instance, the cow is about to give birth. Far from being just an anecdote from the animal kingdom, these networked cows are part of an exciting technological trend. As our special report in this issue explains, the physical and the virtual worlds are converging, thanks to the proliferation of sensors, ubiquitous wireless networks and clever analytics software. Increasingly there will be two interconnected worlds: the real one and its digital reflection.”

7. Singularity Hub (USA) – New Augmented Reality Software Removes Objects From Video Feeds In Realtime. “What if you could remove all the ugliness in the world? It’s not a hypothetical question. Researchers at Ilmenau University of Technology in Germany have developed a new augmented reality technique that erases images from real time video. Called Diminished Reality, the software can take any area selected in a video feed and use photo-shop like adjustments to copy the surroundings into its place. Where once you saw an object now you see the object has been removed. A piece of your world has been erased. Diminished Reality records video from a camera and displays the modified result on a screen with only a 40ms delay. To your eyes it’s effectively instantaneous. Watch a demonstration of the augmented reality editing program in the video below. I’m blown away by how well it works in these early examples.”

8. Kotaku (Australia) – How Video Games Changed Our Science Fiction Fantasy. “Roger Ebert has said that video games cannot be art. Similar judgments have been made over the decades and centuries about novels, plays, movies, television, comic books, and of course science fiction. Now, video games are up in front of the Supreme Court. Once again a new and innovative form of art and entertainment is being put through an almost ritualised process of legal justification. My take? The Supreme Court will decide video games are protected speech. And video games are definitely capable of being art.”

9. WoW Insider (USA) – “The Raid” movie documentary examines WoW raiding. “If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years as a gamer, it’s to approach films and TV shows about games or gaming with extreme caution. Be it cinematic game-to-film monstrosities like the Street Fighter movie or sensationalist “documentary” garbage like the fifth estate’s Top Gun, there always seems to be a disconnect between the people operating the camera and the subjects they’re trying to portray. World of Warcraft in particular has received plenty of positive and negative attention, but in recent years, there has been an increasing movement among geeky creatives to try their hand at explaining the game and the phenomenon of its popularity through all sorts of projects. The Raid is one of those projects.”

10. Chronicle of Higher Education (USA) – A ‘Stealth Assessment’ Turns to Video Games to Measure Thinking Skills. “Colleges no longer simply want to know what their students know, but how they think. Higher-order thinking skills are “something that schools are paying a little bit more attention to these days,” says Jeffrey Steedle, a measurement scientist at the Council for Aid to Education, whose Collegiate Learning Assessment essays are used at several hundred colleges to test students’ abilities to synthesize arguments and write persuasively. “It’s largely in response to the recognition that these skills are needed to be competitive in the global marketplace.” But educators also say that paper-and-pencil examinations have limits—for one thing, knowing that you are being tested can drag down performance—and they are looking for new methods to measure skills like critical thinking, creativity, and persistence.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Gamasutra (USA) – Report: Universal Monsters-Themed MMO Planned. “Universal Pictures reportedly signed an agreement with SEE Virtual Worlds, the studio behind the Michael Jackson-themed MMO, to create an online game starring classic movie monsters like Frankenstein and the Wolf Man. In last month’s announcement for Planet Michael, its MMO centered on the late King of Pop, SEE Virtual Worlds said it would create a “virtual reality universe of connected planets”, with each planet tied to other licensed film, television, sports, music, and entertainment properties.”

2. Coventry Telegraph (UK) – Coventry University publishes guide to virtual worlds. “A GUIDE to using virtual worlds in higher education has been published by Coventry University. The book, A practical guide to using Second Life in Higher Education, helps teachers understand how to use the online social networking virtual world. Professor Maggi Savin-Baden is one of the UK’s leading academics on the subject and has used virtual technology extensively as a teaching resource. Professor Savin-Baden said: “This practical handbook had been designed to support teachers who want to use Second Life and provides both an overview and a detailed consideration of the opportunities this immersive world offers for teaching, learning, assessment and research.”

3. Search Engine Watch (USA) – Mingling In Virtual Worlds. “Last week I talked about games within Second Life that you could play. In theory all of these games can be social, but just how do you get social through a game? It’s much easier than you might think. Knowing where people hang out is the key. Let’s start with the obvious one, the Roleplaying Games. With these games you show up at a specific location as your avatar dressed and ready to pretend to be the character for the game.”

4. Virtual Worlds News (USA) – HuzuTech Announces Virtual World Platform. “British technology firm HuzuTech has announced that it will launch a white label 3D virtual world platform, HuzuVirtual, next week. The platform is for use by brands, publishers, film, and TV production houses that want to create promotional virtual worlds. The platform is designed to be flexible, scalable, and fully customizable. HuzuTech plans to initially work with children’s publishers and is already developing a virtual world for the Scholastic’s Horrible Histories line set to launch in June 2011. ”

5. Kotaku (USA) – A Computer Mind To Finger The Real Bullies, Pedophiles and Killers of Virtual Worlds. “When the text-heavy fantasy worlds of multi-user dungeons first invaded the mainframes of Essex University and the dial-ups of Compuserve, there were few rules in place and even fewer ways to enforce them. But today’s most modern of virtual worlds now include cutting-edge technology used to not just provide an immersive experience but also to hunt down the potential real-world predators, bullies and criminals lurking in the online games. The idea of actively policing how people play massively multiplayer online games didn’t really come about until the phrase massively multiplayer online games became not only a part of gamer parlance, but also a viable commercial genre with the 1997 launch of Ultima Online.”

6. (Australia) – What are video games missing? Swishy skirts. “Another obstacle on the way to super-realistic video games looks set to be demolished. Over the years, games have become more and more lifelike. Clouds, trees, buildings and bodies all look pretty faithful in today’s virtual worlds. But there’s one thing game developers still struggle with — the movement of clothing. Now researchers in Germany think they’ve solved the problem with a new way of creating virtual models of actors by comparing 3D laser scans and video footage. New Scientist reported that software developed by a team at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics was able to create “extremely realistic” avatars of actors and their costumes. When the avatars were programmed to perform new movements that the real actors never did, their clothes still swished and crinkled realistically.”

7. Gazette Live (UK) – Virtual world used to get teens talking. “Teenagers are to be encouraged to create their own virtual world to help Teesside University with key research. Researchers at the university are looking into what it means for young people to be British. They will be quizzing the teenagers about their values and aspirations using a virtual environment, as part of a citizenship project. To keep the youngsters’ identity secret, people taking part will be encouraged to create virtual worlds and their own avatar. The research is backed by a £250,000 grant, with £195,000 coming from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.”

8. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – Paper: hypergrid allows virtual world to grow without limit. “The invention of the hypergrid will allow virtual worlds to grow to the size of the World Wide Web, or bigger, according to a paper made public today by OpenSim core developer Justin Clark-Casey. “The World Wide Web is much larger than any existing virtual environment system,” he wrote in the dissertation, submitted for his Masters in Software Engineering at the University of Oxford. “The World Wide Web has 1.6 billion estimated users while even the most popular online role playing game has only 11.5 million monthly subscribers.” One problem is that virtual environments are normally highly centralized — an environment’s servers, databases, even browsers are typically all controlled by a single company.”

9. San Francisco Chronicle (USA) – PlaySpan Integrates PayPal X Into its Video Monetization-as-a-Service Platform. “PlaySpan, the global leader in monetizing online games, social networks, virtual worlds and videos, announced today a partnership with PayPal to integrate PayPal X into its recently launched Video Monetization Platform. The first PlaySpan Video Monetization Platform integration to go live with PayPal X is on the PlaySpan Marketplace (PSM), where user generated commerce is transacted over virtual currency, virtual goods, games and videos. “We’re extremely excited about working with PayPal X to make PlaySpan’s in-video micropayments platform even more accessible to our media clients and providing them global reach to our gaming audience of millions of users,” Karl Mehta, CEO, PlaySpan.”

10. Kotaku (Australia) – When An MMO Dies. “A tricked-out dune buggy busts through a mural made up of post-apocalyptic imagery and battered road signs in the front of NetDevil’s Colorado offices, a lasting reminder of a world that came and went in the blink of an eye. Traditional video games are timeless. As long as one has the right equipment and their cartridge or disc is in working order, revisiting them is easy enough. Their levels, enemies and challenges live on. This is not the case with massively multiplayer online games. Massively multiplayer online games require a substantial investment. The developers spend time and effort creating these games, dedicate resources and manpower to maintaining game servers and supporting players and must continue to develop fresh content to keep players interested.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. IT Business (Canada) – Ontario’s virtual world recruiting effort. “Second Life isn’t quite the hot topic that it used to be.
Web-based social networks seem to have taken at least some of the steam out of virtual worlds approaches to digital collaboration. It seems people prefer instantaneous, mostly text-based social communications rather than immersive 3D environments that allow you to construct your own objects, code your own physics and program your own behaviours.
But the community of Second Life is still alive and well amongst a certain niche. The virtual world is still appealing enough for many instituions to particpate there, and for the Ontario Public Service to recruit new employees. The provincial government’s Second Life site is outfitted so avatars can particpate in the daily activities of many public service jobs including fire fighter, paramedic, and water tester.”

2. University of Ulster Online (UK) – Advanced 3D Heralds New Teaching Dimension. “‘Virtual world’ technology has the potential to transform education and learning, an international conference at the University of Ulster’s Magee campus heard today. It is a young but rapidly evolving sector but already every university in the UK uses it in some element of teaching and research, according to Michael Callaghan, a Magee computer scientist and senior lecturer who is one of chief conference organisers. At “IMMERS[ED] 2010: The Second National Workshop on Teaching in Immersive Worlds” today, leading educators and industrial experts unravelled some of technology’s mysteries and championed its promise before an audience of academics, researchers, teachers and “serious games” enthusiasts.”

3. Virtual Worlds News (USA) – More Social Games Including Customizable Avatars. “Customizable avatars are one of the defining features of virtual worlds and may soon become a major feature in social gaming. Zynga is introducing heavily customizable avatars into its flagship game FarmVille while CrowdStar is attributing high earnings from its new game It Girl to customizable avatars. While many social games have featured avatars before this and even sold avatar customization virtual goods, the feature was only rarely a major emphasis of the game.”

4. New Scientist (USA) – Game characters to get authentically rumpled clothes. “Computer game developers use sophisticated algorithms to inject real physics into virtual worlds – painstakingly mimicking the way that light reflects off objects, for instance. But there’s something unrealistic about the citizens of those virtual worlds: their clothes barely register a crease or crumple, no matter how much running and jumping they perform. That could soon change, thanks to software which ensures that a game character’s clothes ripple and ruffle realistically as the action unfolds. Carsten Stoll of the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Saarbrücken, Germany, and his colleagues began by generating a 3D laser scan of an actor in costume, and manually added a simple virtual skeleton. Next, the team recorded video footage of the actor moving, and uploaded it into a program that tracks the actor’s silhouette through each frame. By comparing the 3D scan with the sequence of silhouettes, the software identifies which parts of the actor’s outline deform most freely, indicating that they are covered in loose cloth.”

5. Inside Social Games (USA) – It Girl, FarmVille Show Growing Social Gaming Trend: Avatar Customization. “Avatars have been popular for nearly as long as the web itself, and customizing them has been a key part of gaming and virtual worlds, from Second Life to IMVU to other sites worldwide. Likewise, paying for avatar decorations has been an important source of virtual goods revenue for many games. But the concept has gotten relatively little attention among social game developers. Most games have been focused on mechanics like harvesting and baking, and while those typically do provide players for avatars, the offerings have been slim.”

6. Gamasutra (USA) – Interview: Roblox, The Little-Known, User-Generated LEGO Competitor. “Unlike most highly commercialized free-to-play kids’ virtual worlds, Roblox started as an outgrowth of technology designed to simulate physics. It’s a pure physics-based play space; kids arrange the blocks into LEGO-like structures, and others can access these spaces as they wish. Rather than a virtual world, it’s a collection of user-generated spaces: in terms of how the site is set up, it’s almost like a YouTube of play. When its creators put it in front of kids as part of an educational package, they quickly noticed how much fun the kids were having with it, and moved to develop it into a product with that audience in mind. Now, Roblox has launched and found an organically growing audience, finally reaching the point where its first promotional deal, with Disney, has gotten off the ground. ”

7. Marketing Vox News (USA) – Can Wunder-app FarmVille Drive Traffic to the iPad? “Zynga has released Farmville for Apple’s iPad. The free app has been customized to take advantage of the iPad’s larger screen and touch interface, letting players zoom in and out to view their farms, harvest crops, or drive tractors with the tap of a finger. Push notifications alert iPad users to their crops’ status.”

8. io9 (USA) – In Iain M. Banks’ Surface Detail, a real war over virtual Hells. “Iain M. Banks’ new novel, Surface Detail, is some of the best work he’s done in his galaxy-spanning Culture universe. A story of virtual Hell and true resurrection, it’s about the consequences of technology that makes religious afterlives possible. At the center of a sprawling cast of characters – including hyperintelligent AI Minds, virtual avatars, politicians, slaves, and ambiguously-sentient alien habitats – is a woman named Lededje. She’s from a vast but low-level civilization called the Sichult Enablement, which has space travel and advanced science but still embraces a form of slavery called “indented intagliation.” When one family owes another money, they must give one or more of their children to pay those debts. The “indented” children are often bred expressly for this purpose, with a beautiful tattoo signifying ownership written into the structure of every cell of their body – essentially a fractal tattoo that covers the skin, and continues on into infinite smallness inside the DNA itself. Lededje is one of the most valuable tattooed “intagliates” owned by Veppers, a powerful businessman whose family made its first fortune in massive multiplayer games.”

9. GigaOM (USA) – Oh! Oh! Even Linden Lab Founder Is Leaving. “Four months after CEO Mark Kingdon left the San Francisco-based Linden Lab — the company behind erstwhile hot virtual world Second Life — interim CEO and founder Philip Rosedale is getting real too. He is leaving the company he started in 1999 in order to pursue his new idea – LoveMachine, a collaboration software company.”

10. Military & Aerospace Electronics (USA) – Simulation and training technology pushes graphics to create the most realistic learning environment possible. “Realism is of the utmost importance to the pilot in training; realistic flight simulation immerses pilots in training scenarios and lend to greater effectiveness. Like L-3 Link with its high-definition displays and rich content, Quantum3D in San Jose, Calif., is in the business of creating realistic visual environments that immerse military pilots into any virtual training scenario. “The military uses Quantum3D’s high-performance image generators for a range of flight simulation and training initiatives that demand a highly realistic visual environment, including initial and recurring flight training, evaluating cockpit designs, testing new aircraft characteristics and handling qualities, and other engineering simulation applications,” says Pratish Shahk, director of marketing at Quantum3D. Advances in shader technologies enable Quantum3D engineers to add more realism to scenes providing pilots and trainees a more realistic virtual world. “With shader technologies, we can integrate more realistic-looking environmental elements — clouds, oceans, and other effects — creating a virtual learning environment that looks and feels real,” Shahk says.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Wired (USA) – Geeky Gamers Build Working Computers out of Virtual Blocks. “Ben Craddock has been busy gathering Redstone. He collects blocks of the virtual material from deep within the game world of Minecraft, then pulverizes it into a powder and sets to work. For most Minecraft players, Redstone might wind up in a virtual torch that will light their way when the sun goes down or open doors to underground traps in the game. But Craddock, 21, who goes by the handle ‘theinternetftw,’ has something else in mind: He’s trying to engineer a single bit of memory that’s small enough to snap onto a 16-bit arithmetic logic unit, or ALU, a key component in a working computer that he’s already built out of virtual stone blocks inside the game. “We have lots of programs designed to [help us] learn to build chips,” says Craddock, an undergraduate student in computer science at the University of Georgia, whose Minecraft computer simulation video rivaled Britney Spears in popularity on YouTube last week. “All of them are very clinical. In a game, it becomes a challenge to overcome the limitations. It’s a visceral, engaging reaction.”

2. Escapist Magazine (USA) – Second Life Study Focuses on Real-World Addictions. “People seem to keep on coming up with new, bizarre, and fascinating uses for Second Life. The latest, created by a UCLA PHD candidate, was to use the digital world to study how virtual drug paraphernalia would affect the cravings of a meth addict. Chris Culbertson was inspired to create this experiment thanks to “reports of alcoholics and smokers developing cravings while visiting virtual worlds devised by addiction researchers.” So he created a virtual meth house and then invited seventeen meth addicts to navigate the construct while under observation at UCLA. Aside from filling out questionnaires while they proceeded through the house, the addicts’ heart rates were monitored to study their cravings.”

3. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – Initiative: free land for educators migrating from Second Life. “The Immersive Education Initiative, a Boston-based non-profit coalition, announced today that it will offer free land, and free migration services, for educators working in Second Life’s Teen Grid. The Initiative currently provides thousands of OpenSim regions to members around the world through its Education Grid project, Aaron Walsh, founding director of the Immersive Education Initiative, told Hypergrid Business. “The Immersive Education Initiative has approximately 3,000 members worldwide and continues to grow at the rate of approximately 100 new members a month,” he said. About 75 percent of those members use virtual worlds provided by the Education grid, and the majority of those are private, secure OpenSim-based worlds, he added.”

4. WoW Insider (USA) – The Lawbringer: Real money transactions and some eBay history. “eBay and massively multiplayer online role playing games have a deep, rich and occasionally sordid past. As social beings, we’ve been bartering, trading and selling our time and goods for the entirety of human history. The internet just made things even easier. Hell, buying some gold or an item off of eBay isn’t the first time you’ve probably spent money for a work-around in a game. Ever heard of Game Genie? We paid money for that at one point in our lives. This week, The Lawbringer delves into the past, remembering the good ol’ days when the internet came in three varieties: 28.8k, 33.6k and 56k v.90. Also, 14.4k, but only losers had such weak baud. Please don’t make me go back further in time. You’re probably making modem sounds right now, pretending to go ksshhhh ksshhhh bee doo be dooo wha wha wha wha wha wha wha beeboobeeboobeebeeboobeep, so we should probably start this up. These were the days when you could browse eBay for a Silver Sword of Vanquishing for Ultima Online or buy plat in EverQuest. These were the homesteading, Wild West days. Eventually, companies either went the EverQuest route and sold stuff themselves or the Star Wars Galaxies path of banning accounts up for sale. ”

5. Marketing Week (UK) – The responsibility of brands engaging with children online. “As brands turn to online environments, social networks and virtual worlds to engage with a younger audience, the responsibility they have to keep them safe within those environments is becoming increasingly clear. Teenage brains are still developing and, according to a study by Laurence Steinberg, professor of psychology at the US Temple University, this lack of maturity results in an ’underdeveloped sense of responsibility,’ ’impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions’, and a greater likelihood of being subject to peer pressure and negative influence.”

6. CNET (USA) – Nukotoys aims for next-generation toy empire. “To hear Rodger Raderman and Doug Penman tell it, one of the biggest shortcomings of the modern toy industry is that it has little in common with Silicon Valley. And the two are here to remedy that situation. Raderman and Penman are the co-founders and co-CEOs of Nukotoys, a San Francisco-based company that is aiming to take the best elements of the Silicon Valley startup–rapid prototyping, interactive technology, nimbleness, financial efficiency, and scalability–and apply them to the business of making fun, engaging, and educational toys worthy of the second decade of the 21st century. For sure, that means a mixture of offline and online presences, but Nukotoys hopes to win over millions of kids–and their parents, of course–by bringing a special blend of mixed-media and online and offline interactivity to a series of games that are tied in to some of the most popular franchises and media properties in the world.”

7. (USA) – Farmville: Not Just Fun And Games. “Farmville, Mafia Wars, Restaurant City. All Internet games that can be played on sites like Facebook. But click on the wrong places in these virtual worlds and players could lose real money without even knowing it. Some third-party advertisers are preying on the popularity of games on social networking sites. Farmville has more than 60 million users. CNN reported in September that it may be the most widely played video game in existence. Deceptive Internet ads offer Farmville currency by just filling out an IQ quiz. To get the results, users are asked to send their cell phone number and enter a code–and the scam is complete. Then a fee, $10 a month or more, starts appearing on their cell phone bill.”

8. ZDNet (USA) – Gartner: 3DTV, 4G, cloud, activity streams at peak of hype cycle. “Gartner is out with its 2010 hype cycle and 3DTV, 4G, activity streams and cloud computing are at the peak of inflated expectations. It’s doubtful any of those items will be all that surprising. More interesting are the technologies headed toward the “trough of disillusionment,” an area where virtual worlds resides. E-book readers, telepresence and microblogging are also on the slippery slope to disillusionment, according to a statement.”

9. The Detroit News (USA) – GM’s high-tech scanner puts vehicles on virtual roads. “Buick is tackling the world’s roughest, most challenging roads — with a 3-D scanner. A team of engineers at General Motors Co. have created a high-tech scanner that can record all the bumps and grooves of a road’s surface and digitally replicate them on the computer screen. The goal is to use them in vehicle testing without having to put the cars and trucks on real world roads. Of course, a virtual road requires virtual tires and a virtual vehicle, which engineers are creating at GM, said Mine Tasci, one of about 10 members on the development team. “This helps us avoid a lot of late changes in the vehicle’s development,” Tasci said. “It definitely helps with identifying problems early on.”

10. Virtual Worlds News (USA) – MuniGov Launches GovGrid Project. “MuniGov has launched the GovGrid, an OpenSim-based virtual world designed for use by local government agencies. Land in GovGrid is priced at $25 per month per region with a $50 setup fee. A four-region “mini-grid” costs $75 per month, with a $220 setup fee. From 10 to 15 avatars can occupy any region at the same time. Full estate management tools will be available, as well as the ability to connect to other grids. MuniGov’s creation of GovGrid was prompted by an announcement that land prices for non-profit organizations in Second Life would double beginning in January. At the time, MuniGov was holding meetings in land donated by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association). Following the announcement, NOAA announced that it would have to close down the sim that MuniGov was using. This forced MuniGov to begin organizing a move to OpenSim. ”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Mashable (USA) – New Facebook App Monitors Your Child’s Gaming Behaviors. “arents wishing to follow along as their children play games online have a new friend in Piggyback, a recently launched Facebook application designed for such purposes. Piggyback, built by newly launched startup Media Chaperone, is a free Facebook application for parents who want to monitor in real time their children’s online social and gaming activities from their Facebook profiles.”

2. Inside Social Games (USA) – How Design Choices Impact Virtual Goods Purchases in Games. “Only two years ago, I was attending a conference on virtual worlds and people were discussing whether or not microtransactions would be a viable business model. Many people were skeptical about whether the success of microtransactions in Asia would translate to North American users. Now, there seems to be less talk about whether or not microtransactions work, and more talk about what makes them work. Industry stats show that yes, people are spending real money on social games. That said, however, the percentage of players who actually spend money is extremely small. From a research standpoint, it has been difficult to find out the characteristics of these spenders because of the difficulty in getting enough people to provide a sample size large enough to derive results that we could generalize.”

3. VentureBeat (USA) – Nexon Invests In Spanish Virtual World Developer BoomBang Games. “South Korea’s Nexon wants to be a bigger player on the global gaming stage. Today, the company announced it has made an investment in Spanish game studio BoomBang Games. Nexon acquired 32 percent of the shares of BoomBang, a Flash game developer based in Barcelona. Nexon’s goal is to reinforce its line-up of light community games and to strengthen its business in Latin America, where, of course, Spanish is a popular language. BoomBang Games was founded in 2004 by chief executive Luis Oses and Max Bevilacqua.”

4. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (USA) – Uncharted Realms. “In a virtual world such as Second Life where participants exchange virtual cash in transactions adding up to billions in the real world … where does a citizen go for virtual justice? Just one of the many questions explored in a new book by Rutgers law professor Greg Lastowka, “Virtual Justice: The New Laws of Online Worlds.” The book debuts less than a month after Oliver Chiang’s report at Forbes’ SelectStart blog that sector analysts predict the exchange of virtual goods and services will pass the $2 billion mark next year … which would represent a doubling of the realm’s cash activity within two years.”

5. Birmingham Post (UK) – Daden creates 3D lab for University of Leicester. “A Birmingham firm which specialises in building virtual worlds has won a contract to create a 3D laboratory to help students learn to screen for inherited genetic disease. Birmingham Science Park-based Daden is creating the virtual lab to help students at the University of Leicester as part of a project addressing the limitations of teaching in working laboratories. These include the pressures of time and the costs of handling real equipment and working together with peers, lecturers and demonstrations.”

6. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – Education Discounts in Second Life: Loss or gain? “I hate that sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach when I know something has been lost that I care about. After my initial shock of hearing that Linden Labs was dropping education discounts, I immediately communicated with colleagues (most of whom I have never met in person) about “what will we do?” Hand wringing. Then during the day today, Maria Korolov, from Trombly International, asked me a simple question in an email — “Do you think the Lindens are doing the right thing here?” – and that question ignited a spark that I think will grow like a California brushfire. That is simply because it was clear to me that it didn’t matter – this was no longer about Linden Lab. Yes, I am very disappointed that I will have to front-up to the University and tell them I have invested precious capital budget in a failed project.”

7. Search Engine Watch (USA) – Losing the Plot In Second Life? A Tinfoil Hat Theory About Linden Labs. “So it seems the Powers That Be here at SearchEngineWatch (SEW) have decided to lose their collective sanity long enough to give me a permanent bit of bandwidth to write about Second Life/Virtual Worlds once a week. But any discussion starts with a perspective, and I think it’s only fair that I deliver mine, up front, so there’s no mistaking it: For the most part, my Second Life is a job. I’m phrasing it that way because there’s been a longstanding philosophical debate about what Second Life is. Usually that gets divided into binary camps of game/not game, and the debate can get very heated and ugly. My view is a little broader- it is whatever it is for you. Ultimately, I think it’s a blank canvas.”

8. Blast Magazine (USA) – Panasonic announces new handheld. “Do you long for your virtual worlds when at work? Do you wish you were riding your trusty mount when you’re really slumming it on the city bus? Panasonic has something they’d like to show you. The long rumored, and finally unveiled Jungle has finally been unveiled by Panasonic and grants access to MMOs and other online titles to gamers on the go. Featuring a few QWERTY keyboard, shoulder buttons, a touch screen display, HDMI port and a D-pad, The Jungle looks to take on handheld kings like the iPhone and the Nintendo’s DS…oh, and the PSP too…I guess.”

9. VentureBeat (USA) – Nukotoys aims to be Silicon Valley’s toy company. “Toys and electronics are still in search of a happy marriage. Nukotoys believes it has the answer with toys and games that merge virtual and real world activities. The startup is coming out of stealth mode today in the hopes of becoming Silicon Valley’s toy company. The San Francisco company is announcing a number of interconnected toys that combine online virtual world games and collectible cards that can be scanned by computers. The company will also build toy-game products based on two major brands: the Ology books for children (such as Dragonology) and Animal Planet. And in December, PBS Kids will launch an online game built by Nukotoys; the 3D educational adventure game will teach kids reading.”

10. Gamasutra (USA) – Feature: The Death Of Linearity? “Tale of Tales’ Michael Samyn (The Path) describes how narrative linearity got tangled up in the game medium, and suggests how leaving it behind will allow a true art form to emerge. Calling “the joys of linearity… beyond dispute”, Samyn says that it’s no surprise linear storytelling became a function of games early in the medium. “We love the tension that comes with a carefully constructed story arc. From Greek theater through medieval fairy tales and printed novels to stereoscopic high definition cinema, humankind has enjoyed storytelling for thousands of years,” he observes. “As we perfected the presentation of our creations, the backbone of our designs shifted from the linearity of competitive gameplay to the linearity of the narrative arc. Our characters and worlds simply demanded this,” writes Samyn.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. nebusiness (UK) – Attend meetings without travelling with Teesside University’s DLab. “Have you seen how expensive it is to get a train down the spine of the country these days? It hardly seems worth it if you’re skulking down to a meeting with clients or other folks in your company, only to say about five or six words and slither back up again. This is why virtual worlds should in theory be an ideal solution for businesses looking to meet without travelling, or showcase their wares across the world without shipping them. Virtual worlds such as Second Life have allowed computer users to dip their toes into this strange but oddly thrilling water, while companies such as IBM are already piling into virtual meetings.”

2. IEEE Spectrum (USA) – The End of Gold Farming? “Right now, thousands of gamers are doing menial jobs in their virtual worlds. And they’re earning a living. The process of contracting out a game’s drudge work for real money is called “gold farming.” This happens in the games that involve thousands of characters at a time, interacting in an online universe that players inhabit over the course of months or even years. Some tasks, such as gathering up virtual gold pieces, swords, and magic wands, can be done by any novice player who puts in the time. In other cases, you can hire a master player to surmount a game’s challenges and raise your character to a higher skill level. By any standard, gold farming is big business. Estimates range from a global workforce of 400 000 earning US $1 billion a year to a labor pool exceeding a million gold farmers generating more than $10 billion in annual, real-money revenue. Yet the future of gold farming is uncertain. Some observers see it as a classic market inefficiency—a blip in the history of online games—that game designers can and should eliminate from their virtual worlds.”

3. The Telegraph (UK) – Planet Michael developer interview. “The news that developer SEE Virtual Worlds was planning an MMO video game based on the life and work of Michael Jackson, which emerged last week prompted more than a little confusion. How would it work? What would it look like? How would it compete in such a tough market dominated by the likes of World Of Warcraft, Lord Of The Rings and EVE Online? Most important of all, was it all a hoax? Well, it turns out that, no, Planet Michael is scheduled for release on PC next year, and according to SEE’s Vice President of Development, Josh Gordon, the developer is confident that the King Of Pop’s appeal will prove a massive draw amongst gamers.”

4. New York Times (USA) – Virtual Goods Expected to Grow by 40 Percent Next Year, Study Says. “The booming business in virtual goods — paying real money for things that don’t really exist — is expected to continue booming. That’s good news for the likes of Zynga and Playfish, and of course, Facebook. The Inside Network, a research firm that tracks social media trends, said Tuesday that the market for virtual goods in the United States was expected to grow to $2.1 billion in 2011, up from $1.6 billion in 2010. The figures are estimates based on new research conducted by the company, and put the virtual goods market on a path to double in just two years.”

5. Escapist Magazine (USA) – Second Real Life. “It’s easy to dismiss the people that you meet online as less important than those you see in real life. The contact that you have with them is fast and usually anonymous, and most encounters end as soon as the timer runs out. But that doesn’t mean that all relationships online are so meaningless. To some internet denizens, especially those who frequent virtual worlds such as Second Life, the people that they meet online are just as important to them, if not more, than those they see in meat-space. I didn’t always recognize that fact. With the help of two vampires named K and W, I discovered just what these virtual world and the relationships forged there can mean to the people who actually play them. When I originally heard about Second Life, I thought it was absolutely ridiculous. A couple of friends introduced me to the idea of living vicariously through online avatars, and, after a little research, I was amazed to see the impact these virtual lives had on real-life profit margins. I declared Second Life a giant rip-off and dismissed it as a waste of both time and money. My friend suggested that before I judge, I might experience it myself.”

6. Virtual Worlds News (USA) – Microsoft Buys Vivaty For New Project, May Be Looking For More. “The rumor that Microsoft is bidding on troubled virtual world Second Life just got a bit more interesting. It turns out that Microsoft is the previously unnamed company that acquired Vivaty, a virtual world competing with Second Life that went out of business in April. The terms of the deal remain undisclosed but Microsoft definitely paid less than $75 million, according to Microsoft Managing Director of Corporate Development Marc Brown. The acquisition was confirmed by Vivaty founder Keith McCurdy, in an email to When Vivaty closed earlier this year, McCurdy said that the company acquiring Vivaty intended to use it as the foundation for an unnamed new project. Given the details that have just emerged, it seems like Microsoft is working on some sort of virtual world or possibly a game-like service with a persistent 3D world.”

7. Wall Street Journal (USA) – Congress Looking at Proposed Changes to Terrorism Finance Laws. “A group of money laundering and national security experts are pressing Congress for major reform of anti-terrorism financing laws, including a controversial measure that would allow bankers limited access to classified records and a proposal that would ease reporting requirements for some suspicious activity. Stephen I. Landman, director of national security law and policy for the Investigative Project on Terrorism, said that the risk in government agencies sharing classified information with bankers was “obvious” but that “through careful monitoring I believe such a move would increase the effectiveness of terror finance investigations.”

8. Modern Ghana (Ghana) – Are You An Eco-Friend Or An Eco-Foe? “Academics at the University of Derby, based in the East Midlands of the UK, are using the virtual reality platform Second Life to gauge people’s unconscious attitudes towards ‘green’ issues such as recycling. Derby academics Simon Bignell (Psychology) and Rosemary Horry (Environmental Management) have created an ‘Eco House’ setting in Second Life where volunteers will be asked to take part in exercises which challenge their attitudes and beliefs towards environmental issues. The pair have secured funding from the Higher Education Academy to run the Education for Sustainable Development project which will offer online tutorials and problem-based tasks for students to complete this academic year.”

9. Gamasutra (USA) – The Realities Of A LEGO MMO. “There are always tremendous complications when developing and launching an MMO. As APB recently handily demonstrated, it’s an enormously time and money-intensive endeavor to launch a game on this scale — and even when it does launch, there are numerous additional considerations arising from audience issues. Of course, from that point forward, a company has to operate the game as a service, and continue to update it with live content. And then there are business model considerations… In this in-depth interview, Ryan Seabury, creative director of LEGO Universe at developer NetDevil — itself a division of well-funded MMO firm Gazillion — discusses the development process of the expansive toy-based title, which was first announced in 2007. He takes in everything from the cloud-based graphics-crunching technology required to get the game up and running, to why it’s a subscription-based title, whether Luke Skywalker might make a cameo, and how the team has been focus-testing the title with the same group of kids for four years now.”

10. Mashable (USA) – Formspring Snags Two Key Hires from Nokia and Second Life. “Social Q&A website Formspring is looking to take its product to the next level, starting with snagging two key senior-level hires from Nokia and Linden Lab, creators of Second Life. Later today, Formspring will announce that it has hired Rob Storrs to be its head of engineering and Tom Wang to be its head of product. They started with Formspring earlier this month, CEO Ade Olonoh told me last week. Rob Storrs was the director of web development at Linden Lab, the company behind the Second Life virtual world. There, he created and oversaw different engineering teams focused on social networking, search, virtual goods and e-commerce.”

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. (Australia) – Michael Jackson inspiration for new MMO game. “THE estate of late superstar Michael Jackson has entered a licensing deal to crate a massively-multiplayer online game (MMO) where dancing will be the main weapon.
Unlike many MMOs, which place an emphasis on combat, “Planet Michael” will stay true to Jackson’s claim that he was a lover, not a fighter. “Because Michael Jackson was very much a pacifist and into healing and creativity, our focus isn’t on violence,” said Josh Gordon of game publisher SEE Virtual Worlds. “There won’t be guns in this world or things like that. It’ll tend to use music and dance and more creative ways to navigate through the world.” In the game, dance moves will act like spells as shuffles and jigs are strung together to take the enemy down — and it most certainly won’t be wolves and orcs at the receiving end of a fleet-footed pummeling.”

2. The Press Association (UK) – ‘Virtual worlds’ work up for award. “University of Ulster researchers using “virtual worlds” to train the next generation of students have been nominated for a top UK teaching award, it has been revealed. The team at the university’s Magee campus in Londonderry has been shortlisted for a prestigious Times Higher Education Award for their contribution to information and communications technologies. Formed three years ago, the Serious Games and Virtual Worlds team (SGVW) is quickly gaining an international reputation for cutting-edge innovation in a new and constantly evolving field. Video game technology is maturing and becoming a serious educational tool, with Ulster and many universities using “Second Life” and other virtual world platforms as teaching and learning aids.”

3. Virtual Worlds News (USA) – Crisp Thinking Signs Eight New Partner. “Crisp Thinking has signed eight new deals to bring NetModerator software into top youth-oriented MMOs and virtual worlds. Crisp Thinking’s new clients are Ubisoft, Electronic Arts, the LEGO Group, Kidzbop, Sweety High, Vizwoz, Bin Weevils, and WeeWorld. Crisp Thinking attributes the new deals to a rise in the popularity of social and online gaming. “As online social gaming and interacting have become part of our daily lives, Crisp has emerged as an essential tool for online businesses in the social space. More than 84 million young people around the world upload and download content every day. Socialising via web and mobile technology is part of our daily routine – it’s how we communicate,” said Adam Hildreth, CEO of Crisp Thinking, in a press statement.”

4. The Guardian (UK) – Coins of the online realm. “It used to be that a gold star earned in your favourite video game wouldn’t be worth much in your local supermarket. But that’s changing. There is a thriving economy in valuables like virtual swords and spaceships in online gaming. And Facebook recently released a currency system with which you can purchase services in online games and applications. The growth of these social networks is edging us closer to a structure that bridges the real and virtual worlds. The more these social networks connect with viable online financial systems, the more anyone on the planet can provide knowledge labour based on his or her ability. The resulting meritocratic economy erodes the geographical inequality between the first world and the third world – and simultaneously enables copious criminal enterprise. So far, the most nefarious use of this development has been money laundering. A criminal in one country anonymously buys a game card worth an hour of play and uses it to pick up a load of virtual goods from another character in an online game such as World of Warcraft.”

5. Forbes (USA) – 3-D Avatars Get Their Own Farmvilles In IMVU. “Talk about a game within a game. IMVU, an online community where members interact with each other through 3-D avatars, on Tuesday said that it has launched the first slew of social games in its world. Members can now play more than 75 social and casual games, like fashion game Top Modelz, provided by partnering game developers Viximo, Heyzap and Omgpop. IMVU chief executive Cary Rosenzweig sees this not as a mere feature add, but an entire re-branding and re-positioning of the company. “We no longer call ourselves a virtual world,” Rosenzweig says. “We are a social entertainment company.”

6. BusinessWeek (USA) – Sony’s Wii Avatar. “The living room workout has come a long way since the days of Jane Fonda in spandex. In 2006 the interactive Nintendo Wii system successfully bridged the gap between hardcore gamers and those looking for a cheap sweat. Four years and 30 million units sold later, other companies are looking to get in on the action. Sony’s (SNE) entry in the category, the PlayStation Move, isn’t technically a new console. The Move, released on Sept. 17, can be purchased as a set of hardware add-ons for the existing PS3 system. The $100 starter pack includes a controller, a mounted camera, and a copy of the Sports Champions Blu-ray game package, which includes six games, from bocce to beach volleyball. Those without a PS3 can pay $400 for the console plus the Move accoutrements.”

7. Armed with Science (USA) – How Air Force is Designing Classroom Instruction for the Future. “It will come as no surprise that the Air Force has a systematic approach for just about everything, including how our instruction is developed! Our formal process is called Instructional System Development, or ISD, and it applies to all personnel who plan, design, develop, implement, approve, administer, conduct, evaluate, or manage Air Force instruction. The goal of Air Force ISD is to ensure our personnel are trained to do their job in the most cost efficient and effective way possible. In many ways, our education and training have remained unchanged for quite some time. The ISD process has served us well and will continue to be a solid basis for our course development efforts. The one area in which we will need to make some updates or to at least think differently is in our design, and that design will rely heavily on good analysis.”

8. The Daily Mail (UK) – Can online games be as addictive as heroin? “Despite the restricted view through the letter box, it was clear that something was terribly wrong on the other side of the front door. The hallway of the three-bedroom semi was filled with what looked like a year’s worth of dirty clutter. Deeply worried by the scene in her neighbour’s house, the concerned resident immediately alerted the authorities. Entering the £250,000 property in the Kent commuter belt, police officers, who have seen some squalid scenes in their time, were stunned by what greeted them. Every surface was strewn with rubbish and rotting food. The homeowner, a 33-year-old woman, admitted that things were ‘in a bit of a mess’. But it also quickly became evident that her children had been as neglected as the house. Aged nine, ten and 13, the children told officers that they had been left to fend for themselves, at times being reduced to eating cold baked beans straight from the tin.”

9. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – There’s something about InWorldz. “Last week, InWorldz became the second-largest grid running on the OpenSim platform, after shooting up the charts over the course of just the past three months. Between April and September 15, the grid grew from 130 regions to 531 regions. In addition, the grid now has over 15,000 registered users — up from just over 10,000 a month ago. Their secret? A strong focus on community-building. In this area, InWorldz seems to be picking up where Second Life left off. For example, the latter shut down its mentor program at the end of last year, but the InWorldz mentor program is up and running.”

10. The First Post (UK) – Gamers save shekels as The Bible Online launches. “Even the most esoteric backwaters of Second Life – the online universe in which users interact through avatars – can’t compete with this. A new MMO (Massively-Multiplayer Online game) to be released next week lets gamers live out the Old Testament. They can’t actually play God – but they can play Abraham, Jacob or Isaac. Chapter one of The Bible Online, produced by games publisher FIAA, moves from testing to the real thing next week. The game is set in the time of the Patriarchs – about 50 years after the Flood – and is based on the book of Genesis. Like a cross between the strategy game Civilisation and the role-playing ‘virtual world’ World of Warcraft, the game lets users construct villages, manage resources and protect a tribe. They can even horde a virtual currency – shekels. Users can play either as a Patriarch, or alongside Abraham and his sons and are given quests to complete based on bible stories.”

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