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  Notes: ‘Virtual Worlds and Virtual Humans’  
Posted 2007-03-11 by Tony Walsh
My abbreviated notes from the interesting (and packed) SXSW panel "Virtual Worlds and Virtual Humans" follow...

Mark Stephen Meadows, HeadCase

Ben Cerveny, Playground Foundation
Justin Hall, Passively Multiplayer
Susan Wu, Charles River Ventures

Continue reading: Notes: ‘Virtual Worlds and Virtual Humans’
  Three Rings Spins A New ‘Whirled’  
Posted 2007-03-08 by Tony Walsh
Three Rings Design, makers of the addictive swashbuckler Puzzle Pirates and the cunning Bang Howdy, is spinning up its new Whirled--a web-based social world featuring games and user-created content. Currently in closed alpha testing, eager beavers can sign up to be notified when the gates open.

I think "Whirled" is a great name. Why? Because weeks ago I soft-launched MiraWhirl, a slowly-evolving repository of items for virtual worlds and social spaces. MiraWhirl... mirror-world... get it? More on the intentions behind my own project later. In the mean time, I hope Lauren Wheeler, a project manager at Three Rings, will spill some details about Whirled during our upcoming panel at SXSW on March 11.
  PS3 Goes ‘Home’ [Updated]  
Posted 2007-03-07 by Tony Walsh
PS3 Goes ‘Home’ [Updated]
Sony gets worldy.
Thanks to readers Ryan and Victor for sending in the news that Sony has announced Home, a presumably-upcoming 3D community space for its Playstation 3 console. The free service will be accessed through the PS3's "cross media bar," allowing gamers to mingle inside a virtual world resembling Second Life and There. Users may customize the body shape and attire of their avatars using built-in and downloadable options. In-world communication tools include animated emotes, menu-driven phrases, an on-screen keyboard, and real-time voice chat with a Bluetooth-compatible headset.

According to a Sony video promoting Home, the service will "grow into a virtual network of [public and private] spaces" over time. Users will be able to carve out their own customizable private spaces for invite-only chats, or to share media stored on the PS3 via in-world screens and stereos. Users will also be able to group up and enter games together (making Home a bit of a "lobby" used to meet other players).

Continue reading: PS3 Goes ‘Home’ [Updated]
  Voice in ‘Second Life’… Testing… Testing…  
Posted 2007-03-07 by Tony Walsh
Can you hear me now? Selected testers got an early glimpse yesterday of real-time voice communication in the virtual world Second Life. The new voice services, provided by third-party developer Vivox, are expected to be rolled out in Second Life's "First Look" client this spring and provide users with both proximity- and group-based communication at a quality level comparable to (if not slightly better than) Skype.

First-hand reports from the early tests have come in from Johnny Ming of Secondcast (and The Electric Sheep Company) in podcast format, as well as from Satchmo Protoype (also of the Sheep) in blog format. Ming says that a bridge to real-world telephones (as demonstrated last year) is planned for launch within 6 months.

Continue reading: Voice in ‘Second Life’… Testing… Testing…
  Someone Please Blow Up ‘Planet Cazmo’  
Posted 2007-03-01 by Tony Walsh
I'm building my own personal Death Star with which I intend to vaporize Planet Cazmo, a browser-based persistent world aimed at teens and tweens. Cazmo seems to be all about cashing in on the branded virtual world craze, judging by its ill-wrought press release.

"The tech savvy kids who are the next generation of consumers will live, play and buy as much in virtual worlds as they do in real life," reads the release. Grammar issues aside, I take issue with the unqualified statement about consumer habits in children. First of all, when will these young consumers live, play and buy as much in virtual worlds as they do in real life? They certainly aren't splitting their time equally between the real and virtual worlds today. As far as buying goes, are we talking about real money or virtual money here? Are we talking about real or virtual goods? I don't think Planet Cazmo even has a clue what I'm asking.

The press release reads like a poorly-written concept document. "Visitors to Planet Cazmo will have a wealth of activities to choose from... A higher level of customization than previously seen in a browser-based virtual world will allow self-expression and user generated content to thrive... Plans are under way to integrate several real-world consumer and entertainment brands..." I can't see any meaningful community resulting from this, and apparently Cazmo doesn't either. It describes the "massive teen and tween market" as an "easily accessible" community. Just like taking candy from a baby, eh, Cazmo? I'm sure some virtual-world gold-rushing VCs will pump money into this sagging bag of crap. Here's hoping it explodes as a result.
  Canadian Colleges Make ‘Second Life’ Leap  
Posted 2007-02-16 by Tony Walsh
Canadian Colleges Make ‘Second Life’ Leap
Loyalist College on Eduisland: Six kiosks and a tower.
At least a few Canadian colleges have established a presence in Second Life over the last few months, most notably Loyalist College (Belleville, Ontario), Mohawk College (Hamilton, Ontario), and Lasalle College (Montreal, Quebec). Loyalist and LaSalle seem to disagree on which school was first to jump on the virtual world bandwagon, with Loyalist proclaiming to be "the first Canadian College to establish a presence in the social-networking simulation universe," last December, and LaSalle announcing almost two months later (after both Loyalist and Mohawk) that it was "the first Canadian school to open a campus in the virtual world of Second Life." I'm currently teaching game design courses at two Toronto-based colleges, neither of which have jumped into Second Life yet, so I thought I'd take a look at what's already been done by other institutions.

Loyalist College's Second Life presence is based on "Eduisland." A report by the college's newspaper The Pioneer indicates that Loyalist will explore how Second Life can be used in education. A visit to the small Eduisland site shows that journalism students might be the college's first to explore the virtual world. Rather than a unified campus, the site acts as a promotional center and portal to a few other areas the college has built around Second Life, such as the Parrott Centre (library), Journalism department, and Student Pavillion. The college's student government offers a "virtual tour" of its real-life campus, but not its virtual-world campus.

Continue reading: Canadian Colleges Make ‘Second Life’ Leap
  Brand Advice in ‘Second Life’ and Beyond  
Posted 2007-02-06 by Tony Walsh
Leading up to moderating a SXSW panel on "Avatar-Based Marketing," I've been collecting relevant reading material, and I thought I'd share some recent selections with you. Feel free to add your own bookmarks to the comments section of this post.

Gary Hayes of Personalize Media gives us "The Brand Owners Guide to Joining the Metaverse," where 13 tips are presented, including some favourites of mine ("Don't Become Virtual Just Because You Can" and "Be Sensitive to The World") and some practical advice for development, such as "Design Multiple Levels of Navigation" and "If You Are Going to Provide Content Give Enough Choice." Also see Hayes' article "TV & Design Brands and Virtual Worlds."

Avatar Tateru Nino of Second Life Insider expounds on the subject of "Practical Marketing - physical business in nonphysical worlds." In summary, Nino's thesis is that attempting to replicate real products in Second Life is not only futile (since functionality can't usually be replicated) but could damage the brand. I'm not sure I agree 100%, but I encountered great example of this sort of disconnect with Telus' entry into Second Life: Virtual Telus phones didn't behave like phones at all, and didn't seem to offer enough value to consumers... ergo, why bother building a "functional" phone in Second Life?

Then there's a long series of reading material on MTV's Virtual Laguna Beach / Virtual Hills offerings, from Advertising Age's "Case Study: Marketing in Virtual Laguna Beach" (registration required), to Wired's "A Second Life for MTV" by 3pointD's Mark Wallace. Lastly, some quick hits: "CBS machinima ad for Two and a Half Men," Fox Atomic stages a machinima contest in Second Life, and "‘Nicktropolis’ Fails on Many Levels."
  ‘The Lounge’ Gets $5M Injection  
Posted 2007-02-02 by Tony Walsh
Doppelganger, maker of the virtual teen hangout The Lounge, has reportedly raised another $5M after receiving $11M in earlier funding rounds. The Lounge began life as a Pussycat Dolls microworld, and has grown slowly since last year--there are roughly 3,450 signups to its web-based Community page at this time, but Doppleganger hasn't published any other usage statistics that I am aware of.

I'm surprised a virtual world with $16M behind it isn't more successful, even if it has no appeal to me personally. I don't see $11M-worth of product or service in The Lounge, so I'm curious as to why anyone would invest another $5M in Doppelganger. Perhaps the company has something new in the works that will compete against Teen Second Life, Habbo Hotel, Nicktropolis, There, Virtual Hills/Virtual Laguna Beach, Whyville, IMVU, and Areae.

Previously at Clickable Culture:
  Will Open Source ‘Second Life’ Servers Acknowledge Your Investment?  
Posted 2007-01-28 by Tony Walsh
2005 Avatar of the Year Prokofy Neva raised some good points yesterday in a long blog post I'll distill down to this: If Linden Lab moves away from renting proprietary servers and instead turns towards an open-source server model, what will happen to the holdings of users who have invested in virtual real estate?

Considering Second Life's client has gone open source earlier than expected, that Linden Lab has been mulling over doing the same for the server software, and that any true "metaverse" can't be under the thumb of a single company, it's worth considering how the transition between today's semi-open Second Life may transform into tomorrow's roll-your-own universe. Neva wonders what will happen to users who have already paid set up fees in the thousands of dollars to Linden Lab--if the company gets out of the hosting business, users may have to switch service-providers (or host their own worlds) at a substantial cost.

Continue reading: Will Open Source ‘Second Life’ Servers Acknowledge Your Investment?
  Grow Your Own Virtual World With ‘Packet Garden’  
Posted 2007-01-24 by Tony Walsh
Grow Your Own Virtual World With ‘Packet Garden’
Mash up 3D data visualization, virtual worlds, and lifelogging with Packet Garden, a software-based art experiment that monitors your internet usage, generating a 3D microworld based on the servers you visit and the kinds of data you access. Uploads create hills, downloads create valleys, and plants are grown based on the type of services you use (such as web browsing or P2P file sharing).

Created by Julian Oliver, Packet Garden is free (released under the GNU/GPL license) software available for Linux- OSX- and Windows-based computers. I'd love to see the functionality expanded to offer a shared "universe" containing generative Packet Garden worlds populated by dynamically-spawned avatars. I'm thinking of a crossbreed between Packet Garden and VisitorVille. Visitorville is a 3D, avatar-based visualization of web traffic that looks like a cross between The Sims and Sim City. User-created content is hot today, but content created automatically from organic data sources is the future (see Justin Hall's Passively Multiplayer concept).
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