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  ‘IWOOT’: Not the First ‘Second Life’ Shop to Sell Real Goods  
Posted 2007-07-14 by Tony Walsh
Online retailer IWOOT opened a Second Life presence last week, claiming to be "the first ever Second Life shop where you can purchase real products and get them delivered to your door."

Wrong, IWOOT. I don't know who told you to make the claim you did, but it was bad advice, hopefully based merely upon ignorance rather than ill intent.

As early as 2005 [*], it was possible to have real computer hardware and real comic books delivered to your door through, a third-party Second Life retailer selling both real and virtual goods for Linden Dollars. In 2007, Dynamedia and announced a partnership intended to facilitate real food ordering through Second Life. Domino's Pizza announced a similar scheme. I don't know if either food ordering system was actually implemented, but SLBoutique's supply chain certainly worked.

What usually happens at this point is that a company rep will split hairs over what IWOOT meant by "first ever Second Life shop" in order to justify the original claim. My advice: Don't split hairs, just retract the statement.
  ‘Music Lounge’ Users In ‘Vogue’ [Updated]  
Posted 2007-07-13 by Tony Walsh
‘Music Lounge’ Users In ‘Vogue’ [Updated]
Users of brand-friendly microworld The Music Lounge have started their own lifestyle magazines featuring in-world gossip, personalities and fashions. One of the first, dubbed The Lounge Issue, by user 'Softcoppertone,' seems to have made it to issue #2, but wasn't available online at the time of writing. The Lounge Issue's second issue contained an article on cybersex which caused a bit of controversy due to the teenage demographic of the Lounge. Meanwhile, all 24 pages of Lounge Vogue's first edition published by 'limy' are available online, featuring music, fashion, bootlegged real-world brands, and snapshots of Lounge culture.

I think the emergence of an in-world press (even lifestyle rather than hard journalism) marks the maturity of a virtual world. While the production values of these Lounge magazines are amateurish, it's obvious substantial effort went into Lounge Vogue, apparently the only such magazine covering the Lounge currently available online. Chatter on the Lounge message boards indicates other users hope to kickstart their own magazines. Personally I'm hoping for deeper cultural substance--it's a pity The Lounge Issue and its cybersex article are no longer available. [update: it's up now, and issue 2 contains some great inside scoops!]
  ‘Neopets’ Users Rebel Over Economic Changes  
Posted 2007-07-12 by Tony Walsh
Thanks to reader Glitch for notifying me of a Neopets rebellion in progress. Neopet users 'spazzmic_doom' and 'eshikki' are calling for a protest against an upswing in commercialism in the browser-based virtual world. The main complaint is against the newly-launched NC Mall, which in spazzmic_doom's words "greedily asks users to pay REAL money in exchange for Neocash, a fake currency use to buy fake VIRTUAL clothing items for their pets." Based on what I'm reading on these users' web pages, it seems the situation isn't actually that users are forced to pay, but that the best items have been put up for sale through real money trading rather than through Neopoints, the traditional Neopets currency which is earned rather than purchased.

User spazzmic_doom complains that with the advent of the NC Mall, cash-strapped users are at a disadvantage. Spazzmic_doom hopes that complainants will call the Neopets hotlines to voice their displeasure, change their avatar names to "Bleh!," bombard "many areas of the site with their hate," get word out to the media, and displease the Neopets staff. User eshikki recommends blocking the NC Mall from one's browser, peppering one's personal Neopets pages with messages of protest, and gaming the social bookmarking site Digg to get the word out.

As far as I can tell, a small percentage of Neopets users are up in arms over features that seemingly weren't discussed with the community. With a vast user-base, I can see why Viacom (owner of Neopets) wouldn't bother to consult before monetizing the platform. Even if a few percent drop out, there are still 45M registered accounts around the world.
  Wii Workout  
Posted 2007-07-12 by Tony Walsh
Even a little wiggling around is better than no wiggling at all, which explains how the Wii Weight Loss guy and Wii Sports Experiment guy have melted some fat, or why the game Dance Dance Revolution was added to the State of West Virginia's school curriculum.

Adding fuel to the fat-burning fire, Nintendo has reportedly revealed new Wii hardware and software intended to increase gamer health. According to TG Daily, players stand atop the Wii Balance Board, which measures body weight and balance. The Wii Fit software will use the Balance Board to chart the results of a fitness regime over time. Nintendo will apparently be adding Wii Balance Board support to future games. I can see surfing games working really well with this, or relaxation games which require stillness, or (obviously) dancing games.

I'm keen to try out the Wii Fit system: It seems like a great example of the productive play I wish more game companies would get involved in.
  ‘Virtual Worlds, Real Leaders’ Report Distilled  
Posted 2007-06-28 by Tony Walsh
IBM and Seriosity have teamed up for a joint research report entitled "Leadership in Games and at Work:
Implications for the Enterprise of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games." A summary of the report is available for download, painting a picture of "Virtual Worlds, Real Leaders" in broad strokes.

The summary report's chief takeaway in my view is that leadership isn't just a part of MMOs but a byproduct of MMO play (no surprise to any organized MMO players out there). Also see my notes from Ito and Hall's SXSW 2007 panel "Online Games: Beyond Play and Fantasy," or a bunch links I collected last year on the topic of productive play.

Here's my favorite passage from the report:
"The collaborative influence that online leaders exhibit is extraordinary in some cases. Gaming leaders are more comfortable with risk, accepting failure, and the resulting iterative improvement, as part of their reality. Many of these leaders are able to make sense of disparate and constantly changing data, translating it all into a compelling vision. And the relationship skills of the best gaming leaders would put many Fortune 500 managers to shame."
What sticks out here is that game leaders are more comfortable with risk and accept failure. I submit that this is largely due to the minimal real-world repercussions for risk and failure in MMO games. Few guild leaders are losing their day-jobs over a bad raid decision.

Continue reading: ‘Virtual Worlds, Real Leaders’ Report Distilled
  ‘EVE TV’ Launch Imminent  
Posted 2007-06-22 by Tony Walsh
EVE TV, a weekly web-exclusive video series revolving around sci-fi MMO EVE Online, launches June 23, 2007 at 11:00 GMT. The series brings together four conventionally-attractive presenters who are relatively new to the EVE universe, and one veteran gamer with previous editorial and broadcast experience, dosing viewers with both eye- and brain-candy.

While the series tagline is "play it, live it, watch it," it remains to be seen how many people will prefer to play and live EVE over watching EVE TV once weekly. CCP, maker of EVE, first broadcast live audio and video programs last July during a fan festival. The broadcast included a 95-match tournament, allowing viewers to see and hear all matches with commentary. I can see tournament footage being worthwhile viewing, I'm just not yet convinced a weekly broadcast about the EVE universe is going to be compelling enough--or interesting at all to outsiders. Guess I'll have to tune in on June 23!
  Bootlegged Superheroes Safer in ‘Second Life’?  
Posted 2007-06-19 by Tony Walsh
Bootlegged Superheroes Safer in ‘Second Life’?
Spider-Man crawls 'Second Life' walls. Photo credit: Onder Skall.
A couple of years ago, superhero-comic publisher Marvel sued superhero-game makers NCSoft and Cryptic for copyright and trademark infringement. Marvel felt that NCSoft/Cryptic's game City of Heroes induced infringement by giving players tools to create facsimiles of proprietary characters such as Spider-Man and The Hulk. The issue was settled amicably the same year, and Cryptic Studios is now officially on board for the development of Marvel Universe Online.

Elsewhere in the metaverse, the sandbox-style social world of Second Life has been wall-crawling with bootlegged superheroes for about as long as City of Heroes. Using Second Life's tools, it's not only possible to re-create a Marvel character's appearance more accurately than in City of Heroes, but to sell these facsimiles like Halloween costumes for a virtual currency easily convertible to real dollars. So why was City of Heroes threatened by Marvel while Second Life has been ignored? I asked attorney Benjamin Duranske, author of the blog Virtually Blind, for his informed opinion.

Continue reading: Bootlegged Superheroes Safer in ‘Second Life’?
  Mixed-Reality Magician Wins ‘Virtual NBC’ Talent Contest  
Posted 2007-06-15 by Tony Walsh
Mixed-Reality Magician Wins ‘Virtual NBC’ Talent Contest
Fish the Magish in Austin Texas, May 2007. Photo credit: Tony Walsh.
SLNN reports that a magician in the real and virtual world has won a million Linden Dollars (worth nearly $4000 USD) through slight-of-hand. Avatar Tuna Oddfellow reportedly cast a quite a spell over audiences of Virtual NBC's "Avatar's Got Talent" contest held in Second Life, and wins not only in-world currency, but a chance to appear on the real NBC TV show America's Got Talent.

I saw Oddfellow's real-world counterpart "Fish the Magish" perform live during South by Southwest earlier this year. He put on a really entertaining show, very much a "classic" magician if there is such a thing. While most real magicians don't reveal their secrets, avatar magicians are a little looser-lipped--Oddfellow told SLNN that his Second Life performance combines custom visual effects and scripts with gestural animations bought via in-world merchants or donated by friends. Pity I missed his virtual show, it would have been interesting to compare it to his real-world show.
  Games, Television, Dreams, and Doing Things Over  
Posted 2007-06-12 by Tony Walsh
Why would office workers watch shows like The Apprentice or Hell's Kitchen and professional soldiers play games like Full Spectrum Warrior or Battlefield 2? The first thing that comes to my mind is that certain TV shows and video games provide an opportunity for a "do-over" that real-life, high-stress jobs don't allow. Television shows give us a form of weak agency, where we can imagine what we might do in another person's shoes and potentially work through the day's problems as a result. Games give us a strong form of agency where we are largely responsible for our own path and fate--as well, we are afforded multiple attempts at solving the same problem.

According to some, dreaming is a way for us to re-envision, re-enact, or re-contextualize the day's events. Do dreams provide a similar do-over environment to digital games and so-called "reality" television shows? In the preface to the book Lucid Dreaming, author George Parish writes "Dreaming is our method of assimilating the new by either discarding it or integrating it into our world model. During dreaming we eliminate errors from and make modifications to our internal private virtual reality, our world model... The business of living does not allow sufficient on line time to even attempt to perform the process of critical assessment and integration of new information into our world model. Our waking minds are not equipped to conduct the review, analysis, and modification required. Dreaming is the process by which our brain integrates the new into our personal virtual reality."
  ‘Whyville’ Avatars:  WhyEat?  
Posted 2007-05-28 by Tony Walsh
Why eat? The real-life answer is obvious, but synthetic biological needs are rarely a factor in avatar-based environments. Since 2005, kid-oriented virtual world Whyville has featured hungry avatars as part of a project entitled "WhyEat," funded by the University of Texas. WhyEat entices kids to plan and purchase meals (with in-world currency) in order to avoid such disfiguring avatar maladies as scurvy or weak bones. A "virtual dietitian" provides advice on a case-by-case basis, helping kids make food choices which will result in a better health (and therefore a better appearance). To date, the project has resulted in over 3.5M visits to Whyville's virtual cafeteria, where 8.5M food items have been consumed. Researchers at University of Texas' Health Science Center are now investigating the effects of this virtual-world program on real-world health, according to a recent press release.

Promoting healthy eating is a noble objective, but I suspect there are better ways to entice kids to lead leaner lifestyles. Such as opting for physical activity over virtual activity (or at least on par with virtual activity). I don't think WhyEat has much to do with eating, ultimately. It's more about finding ways to motivate kids to make consumer choices, and tracking those choices. Even better if those consumer choices bleed into the real world. Whyville has already been a marketing vehicle for brands such as Toyota, Stacie Orrico, and Celestron through "edutisement" content. How long before Whyville's eateries include McDonald's restaurants?
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