Clever Zebra release two virtual worlds white papers

To coincide with their latest vBusiness Expo, Clever Zebra have released two white papers – available at no cost.

The first is The Essential 7 Point Quick Start for Meetings Professionals, the other is Going Virtual: A Three Point Success Plan for Business.

To get copies, click on the incorrectly titled ‘Download your copy now’ links at this page – you’ll then need to enter your name and email address and then wait a day or so to be emailed the documents. That said, I did get my copies within an hour or so.

The documents themselves are aimed squarely at businesses not yet fully engaged with virtual worlds, and in that context these are quite useful and simple to read. For the more informed there are some contentious statements made. An example:

A Virtual World does not have rules, quests, or any kind of narrative associated with it.
World of Warcraft is not a Virtual World.

That’s one narrow view of virtual worlds – albeit one that will appeal to larger businesses who will have a natural aversion to gaming-based scenarios. Credit where credit’s due though, Clever Zebra don’t beat about the bush about Second Life’s stability issues:

Second Life is notoriously unstable, and regularly crashes, or limps along with limited
inworld services as the system experiences peak loads.

Overall, these two documents are worthy additions to the growing free body of knowledge for business in virtual worlds.

The impact of brands on virtual worlds

Second Life blogger Dusan Writer has written a detailed article on the impact he believes brands have had on virtual worlds and the trend toward smaller virtual worlds.

His tone is best summed up by this paragraph:

And this social media stuff has been a drag too. Best we could do for the poor suffering brands was to come up with the idea of “viral” – which really means “something short, like a commercial, only we’ll get consumers to pass it around rather than pay for media placement”. Because look, everyone’s ignoring your banner ads on youTube, and if you get involved with Facebook widgets you might end up next door to some rocker chick posting half-naked pictures of herself and joining the “I Slept with Someone On Facebook” group, and that’s can’t be so hot for brand equity right?

The section showing different worlds and their alleged immersive elements is worth a look alone.
What say you?

Interview – David Rolston, Forterra CEO

Forterra Inc is a private virtual world provider with a focus on health care, education and homeland security / disaster preparedness. One of their press releases a few weeks back caught my eye – Forterra has been awarded a Commercialization Pilot Program (CPP) by the US Army for medical training simulations of combat scenarios. So I thought I’d have a chat with Forterra’s CEO David Rolston (via email) about Forterra’s take on virtual worlds.

Lowell:: Can you describe a little of Forterra’s history and whether virtual worlds have always been its focus?

David:: Forterra has been around for a decade already. Initially the company was
known as, and made one of the first social interaction websites (which still exists as About two and a half years ago made an important change. Our board decided there were promising opportunities in other areas. We spun off a company called Makena Technologies that was licensed to work in the entertainment area, applying the software to creating social worlds for MTV, Coca-Cola and other consumer environments. At the same time we redirected the mainline company to work on enterprise applications and other professional usage, and renamed it Forterra Systems.

Lowell:: For those who haven’t heard of OLIVE, can you give a little of its development history?

David:: As a starting point for the new company, Forterra took the existing software which was built to execute 24 hours a day, seven days a week with millions of users. The software was used very heavily in large-scale, multi-player environments, but it was there for a specific task, namely running So our first job was to extract a reusable platform from that which would allow a customer to quickly build an enterprise oriented virtual world. That platform is now Forterra’s flagship product OLIVE (On-Line Interactive Virtual Environment). Applications developed using OLIVE allow users to sit at their PCs with a network connection, log on, and appear in an interactive, virtual environment represented as a fully animated avatar. We have the best 3D audio in the industry and have been told by our customers it sounds just like being in a real meeting. Through a choice of simple keyboard, mouse or game controller interface, users are able to navigate through realistic environments, access and deploy equipment, drive/fly vehicles, don personal protective equipment, and communicate with one another. As a scenario is executed, the results are captured by a built in session replay system that support debrief, so users can learn from the simulation exercise.

OLIVE’s distributed client-server architecture enables simulations to easily scale from single user applications to large scale simulated environments supporting many thousands of concurrent users. Working with the OLIVE platform, customers can create realistic virtual world content and plug-in functionality to meet a wide range of simulation needs. An API layer enables customers to reuse existing content, integrate with third party applications, and leverage third party tools. The open
nature of the OLIVE platform allows customers to create powerful multi-resolution and multi-fidelity federated simulation environments.

Lowell:: Is the user interface similar to other virtual world platforms like Second Life?

David:: There are some similarities between the OLIVE user interface and that of Second Life in large part because some of the features and navigation are similar. We find Second Life users are comfortable navigating and communicating in OLIVE within about 10 minutes because of these

Lowell:: There are also some graphical similarities to Second Life – does OLIVE have any code that’s similar?

David:: No there is no code that is common or similar between OLIVE to Second Life. The graphical level of OLIVE is more realistic and business oriented then Second Life in large part because the majority of our 3D content has been professionally developed.

Lowell:: You’ve recently announced that you’ve been awarded a Commercialization Pilot by the US Army for medical training simulations of combat scenarios – can you explain a little more about that?

David:: The initial Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards that were granted to Forterra by the US Army have been very successful. We have successfully demonstrated our technology through a phase I and II award, and as a result have been awarded a Commercialization Pilot Program. This program funds the development of features so the software can be used in Army production usage and in the commercial markets. Using the OLIVE platform we developed an application with realistic virtual emergency departments, operating rooms, reception areas, and even entire health-care facilities have been built to support a wide range of training applications, including first responder and trauma training. In the U.S. military, the contemporary operating environment requires combat medics to use their skills in team-based medical combat scenarios for effectively treating trauma patients on the battlefield.

Lowell:: Do you have plans for OLIVE to ever be interoperable with other platforms?

David:: Absolutely. The first level of interoperability we have achieved already is for 3D content to be imported or exported to OLIVE using standard content file formats like Collada. We have several partners who are able to migrate their Second Life content and import it into OLIVE. The next levels of interoperability will include how avatars and even the client software will be interoperable between virtual world platforms, but these two are more in the future.

Lowell:: What sort of technology do people need to use OLIVE?

David:: Today we have a PC only client that runs on either XP or Vista. Our customers are enterprises which have overwhelmingly adopted PCs as their main compute platform for users. However Forterra is working on support for lower end PCs since a typical deployment must run on laptops or desktops that are 1 to 3 years old. We also have excellent support working behind or through firewalls so enterprise IT groups can control who gets access to the virtual world.

Lowell:: What do you see as the key benefits of virtual world-based training?

David:: There are many benefits. First geographically distributed learners can meet virtually for either individual or team training and practice their skills many times before applying them in the real world. For certain types of jobs such as being a soldier or oil rig worker our software saves lives because of the hazards of their jobs. For other jobs such as a sales person the skills and confidence they gain practicing before applying their craft on real customers makes them more effective. Second, OLIVE includes 3D record and replay so teams can conduct after action reviews to pinpoint where learners should improve their performance. Lastly, with the physics and simulations built into OLIVE we can enable interaction with objects that supports a wide range of support and manufacturing type of training around a product or process.

Lowell:: What does OLIVE cost? Is it a scenario-specific cost or can people purchase the software and create their own scenarios?

David:: We offer a Software Development Kit that allows customers or partners to develop their own scenarios. Forterra offers three types of developer programs that include a developer license to OLIVE, documentation, support, and different levels of training and developer services. We
offer a Basic and Enterprise production license to OLIVE that allows small groups to deploy inexpensively with the ability to scale up to 1000s of concurrent users. We offer the option to license industry specific pre-packaged content packs such as a medical and meeting pack as well as plug-ins to standard business systems or integrations. These content packs and plug-ins help customers get into production more quickly and less expensively but with the ability to develop on top of those offerings to meet specific needs.

Lowell:: What plans for future developments does Forterra have?

David:: There are several exciting development areas we are working on. First we have rolled out a virtual collaboration application that shares MS Powerpoint, streaming video, and SCORM elearning content to distributed audiences. Later this summer we will expand the collaboration suite to include any MS Office document type, white boards, and meeting management. We are also wrapping up a new terrain standard we pioneered called Paged Terrain Format that allows importing any legacy terrain database. Later this year we will support extensions of our API for AI middleware vendors so we can provide voice recognition and responses with NPCs. This supports high volume individual training scenarios.

A virtual recession?

Peer-to-peer news and information network Current is running an interesting video asking the question of whether virtual worlds (second Life in particular) are at risk of recession flowing on from the USA’s economic difficulties. It’s a short treatise that ends up arguing that real-world problems may actually emphasise virtual world opportunities.

Watch it here:

What are your thoughts? How’s business for you in Second Life?

SL Combat Expo kicks off

I have to admit, I hadn’t understood the weapons in Second Life thing. For me, there were so many gaming worlds around where you can engage in combat that I just didn’t see the point of Second Life weapons.

I spent some time tonight being guided around the showroom floor for the Second Life Combat Expo by its creator, Australian Apollo Case. It then started to dawn on me why weapons are such a big deal in Second Life. There’s the obvious testosterone-laden image side of it, but it’s also another creative outlet. The level of design and scripting with some of the weapons is as complex as anything you’ll find in Second Life. As Apollo Case said during the guided tour, “weapons are a very competitive business, so the people in it need to be very good at what they do”. From my time browsing I don’t doubt there’s some real talent here.

The Expo has two workshops and five product demonstration sessions with at least three products per demo. I was interested in whether any real life weapons manufacturers had explored opportunities in Second Life. Case’s repsonse: “not directly, but I have suspicions a lot are playing around the edges and need their hand held coming into SL”. Then he couldn’t resist saying “and we can do that”.

The expo kicks off Sunday morning east coast Australian time (5pm SL time May 17th).

Check it out in-world.

(Disclosure: Apollo Case is an intermittent advertiser on The Metaverse Journal)

Virtual worlds: a real life leadership incubator?

The mainstream media cops fairly regular criticism for its sensationalistic coverage of virtual worlds and rightly so in some cases. A very impressive exception to this rule is an article published this week by the Harvard Business Review.

It’s a detailed look at the role gaming worlds like World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online play in the development of leadership skills. It’s well worth a read and the authors have a good grasp of their subject.

‘The Blue Book: A Consumer Guide to Virtual Worlds’ released

The Association of Virtual Worlds has released a free publication for download called ‘The Blue Book: A Consumer Guide to Virtual Worlds’.

You can get it here and it comes in at 41 pages. The bulk of that is a listing of the more than 250 virtual worlds launched or in development. Lists like these already exist, but the relatively new Association is committed to keeping it updated and its format is useful – although a full online version would be a great future addition.

The publication’s release isn’t all about altruism – there’s plenty of links to the Association and virtual news website iViNNiE – the same site that touts itself as the ‘Number One Virtual Worlds News Network’. I think there’d be a site or twenty with greater traffic and equal output and commitment to quality that may disagree with that claim. That said, the guide is a commendable addition to virtual world information out there.

Report: over 100 youth-oriented virtual worlds

Virtual Worlds Management have released a report showing more than a hundred youth-oriented worlds are either live or in development. The data was compiled from their own news site and a full list is viewable including links to further information.

Seeing such a list further emphasises the faith business has in the virtual world platform but given that it’s still early days for virtual worlds, I’d expect a significant number on that list to struggle to gain a significant foothold in the face of such widespread competition.

Nickelodeon enters virtual world fray

Reuters are reporting the entry of Nickelodeon into the virtual world market with a wide-ranging announcement to coincide with Virtual Worlds 2008.

When you have SpongeBob SquarePants up against the Disney franchise in the virtual worlds market, it’s fair to assume there’s some confidence in the future growth of virtual worlds.

Second Life Brand Center launches

Linden Lab have announced the creation of a new sub-section on the Second Life website called the Second Life Brand Center.


It’s essentially a more formalised structure for promoting your business as being part of the Second Life community. It’s also a further way of Linden Lab reinforcing appropriate use of their Trademarks – including the main Second Life logo. Anyone using that logo is being given 90 days to ensure its use meets Linden Lab’s guidelines.

What do you think of this? Is it a useful tool for your business or a means of Linden Lab further tightening their grip on what you do in-world?

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