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  Electric Sheep Builds Its Own Flock  
 
 
Posted 2008-07-17 by Tony Walsh
 
 
     
 
TechCrunch reports on the release of WebFlock, a hosted, in-browser virtual world service offered by The Electric Sheep Company. Formerly Second Life-obsessed (weren't we all at one point), the company brought a number of major brands into the overhyped virtual world (such as Major League Baseball, LEGO, and Starwood Hotels). Now, the Sheep have cut out the middle-world by starting up their own.

Because WebFlock is Flash based, it's accessible by over 90% of the web browsers out there: in other words, everyone can get in easily (unlike the recently-launched Google Lively, which requires a large plugin download and only runs on Windows-based PCs running Internet Exploder). Gotta like low barriers to entry.

Sheep CEO Sibley Verbeck reportedly puts the price of basic private-world hosting at "under $100,000" for a year of service. Well out of the range of any but rich corporations. Showtime is coughing up for the service, bringing an extension of its L-Word TV property to WebFlock after a successful splash in Second Life. I suspect many major brands will follow suit, as controlled spaces are much more attractive than "anything goes" sandboxes.
 
     
 
   
 
  6 comments  
  Is The Cartoon Network Confused, Or Is It Just Me?  
 
 
Posted 2008-05-01 by Tony Walsh
 
 
     
 
Clipped this from a Cartoon Network email I received minutes ago, talking about how awesome its upcoming FusionFall MMO is going to be:
"How is FusionFall different from other online games out there?

The biggest difference is that we are combining two play styles: platform gaming with RPGs. That hasn't been done before in an MMO and it's really exciting."
Hasn't MapleStory combined platform gaming with RPGs in an MMO format since at least 2005? Someone tell me if I'm wrong, this Cartoon Network assertion is making me dizzy.
 
     
 
   
 
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  A Smart Way to Handle In-Game Ads, For Once  
 
 
Posted 2008-04-17 by Tony Walsh
 
 
     
 
Long-time readers of this blog will know how I loathe in-game advertising and how it is often rammed into games with ham-fisted clumsiness. This being said, I'm pleased to discover that in-game ads are coming to massively-multiplayer superhero games City of Heroes / City of Villiains (known as CoX in combination). Why am I pleased? Because those responsible for the move have obviously learned from past advertisers' mistakes and are being considerate of the players and the world they inhabit:
  • CoX world is a contemporary, urban setting. Perfectly suitable for contemporary, urban advertising (unlike far-future sci-fi settings, for example)
  • Ads will only be displayed in areas that had already featured fictional ads--not a major impact on the aesthetic of the game, and, arguably a method of increasing the world's "realism"
  • Most importantly, players can turn the ads off.
  • Players have been invited to submit their own advertisements for inclusion in the world. Great move, getting the players involved and feeling ownership over their environment--players are probably less likely to turn off ads this way
  • Ad revenue will bankroll further development of the subscription-based game rather than simply make the publisher richer.
 
     
 
   
 
  3 comments  
  Mixed-Reality Sweatshops  
 
 
Posted 2008-04-11 by Tony Walsh
 
 
     
 
Annie Ok sent word that Invisible Threads, a video she co-directed and shot in Second Life is available on the interwebs. The 8-minute film outlines "10 Simple Steps to your very own Virtual Sweatshop with Telematic Manufacturing."



The film is satirical in tone, but actually, worlds like Second Life which allow user-created content and real/virtual currency exchange are viable places for hiring out "sweatshop" labor, depending on what sort of work product you're looking for.

So-called "camping chairs," which pay Second Life users to linger in specific locations (known as "camping" in gamer parlance), pay a very low wage to workers in North America and Europe, but could actually provide a decent income in some countries. A few years ago, the New York Times reported that most Chinese gold farmers make under $0.25 USD per hour. The sweatshop featured in Invisible Threads pays in virtual currency equivalent to $0.90 USD hourly.
 
     
 
   
 
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  Imminent Toronto Gaming Action  
 
 
Posted 2008-04-08 by Tony Walsh
 
 
     
 
Indie warlord Jim Munroe informed his mailing list today that his Artsy Games Incubator is holding an open house in Toronto at the Mobile Experience Lab on Wed. April 23rd at 7pm. Writes Jim, "there'll be short presentations of the games we made using accessible tools... we're also inviting people in the indie games community at large to bring their games-in-progress to demo -- and no, you don't have to identify as an artist." Yes, but how do we define "indie?" And what if I'm not indie but I'm making an artsy game?

The third installment of the Toronto Game Jam was announced to mailing list members today. Registration is now open for the frantic game-making event, which runs May 9 - 11, 2008. From the call-out: "It's FREE and open to anyone in the world with a modicum of game making ability. Coders! Artists! Designers! Musicians! All are welcome." Sounds like fun, if you can stay up for 72 hours straight.

Lastly, the Second Skin virtual world documentary will make its Toronto debut on April 21 and 23. I make a 15-second appearance in the film, so I'm totally biased when I insist that you go see it--more importantly, help the filmmakers get the word out to local media so that the uninitiated flock to the film in droves.
 
     
 
   
 
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  VWC NY Postmortem  
 
 
Posted 2008-04-05 by Tony Walsh
 
 
     
 
Nothing to do at the airport right now except wait for the bar to open and blog, so here goes: I'm on my way back home from the 2008 Virtual Worlds Conference held in Manhattan. Overall, I think it was a worthwhile trip--next year will be more so once Phantom Compass is able to talk about and demo some of its projects.

High Points
  • Meeting the people behind the avatars. Some extremely friendly and fun gatherings.
  • 1,200 attendees compared to 400 last year. Impressive.
  • Huge, mainstream business interest in virtual worlds, social spaces, casual games this year. It seemed like there were lots of potential clients in the crowd for those working in VWs and related industries.
  • Major interest in VWs for kids from numerous parties.
Low Points
  • Sponsored panels resulted in a lack of diverse and interesting viewpoints. I didn't pay $600 watch an infomercial.
  • Weak moderation in most panels--to quote Star Wars, "Stay on target... stay on target..."
  • Weak speakers in more panels than I would have liked--unfocused, self-promotional, dull. Boooo.
  • Same speakers on multiple panels (in a few cases). There's no good reason for this.
  • Beginner-level subject-matter in most panels. Nothing for pros to do here except network.
  • Most players in the kiddie-world space aren't doing anything interesting. Everyone's building consumer-driven, status-based spaces--buy your way up the social ladder.
Despite the low points, it's likely I'll go again next year. Definitely to the meetups if not the conference itself. I'll be interested to see how VWC evolves--will attendance continue to grow? For the next year or two, almost definitely. Beyond that, who knows. This internet thing is just a crazy fad.
 
     
 
   
 
  3 comments  
  Google Spreadsheet As Virtual World  
 
 
Posted 2008-03-28 by Tony Walsh
 
 
     
 
Probably someone out there's already mentioned this, but the Google Docs spreadsheet application shares a few features with virtual worlds. I've been using the Google Docs quite a bit lately to work with my distributed team, and the spreadsheet seems to really shine in terms of worldy potential. Here are the features:
  • Controlled multi-user environment: Simultaneous usage by multiple persons. Access is controlled by the person who created the spreadsheet--users can be set as collaborators or just viewers.
  • Presence indicators: All users sharing the spreadsheet are informed of the presence of others in the form of a chat window, temporary notifications, and a mobile avatar (see next point).
  • Real-time text chat: Plus voice if you use Skype.
  • Unique, mobile avatars: Each user is represented by a uniquely-colored outline on an individual spreadsheet cell. A simple avatar, but distinct, and user-controlled. It can move around the spreadsheet.
  • Spatial relationships between users: My avatar can be beside, above, or below yours.
  • User-generated content: All Google gives you is a blank spreadsheet. The users add the content. I don't think it's possible to add proper graphics to a spreadsheet, but it is possible to color a cell and to add colored text to a cell. It is also possible to lock rows and columns, which could provide a visual effect.
  • Dynamic content: It's a spreadsheet, so it's possible to put formulas into cells which rely upon and affect other cells.
  • Inhabitable zones: A spreadsheet can have multiple pages ("sheets"), allowing users in the same spreadsheet to occupy distinct areas--each area is visible only as a tab until clicked, allowing a mild degree of privacy, and a sense of "travel" between sheets.
  • Persistent world: A Google spreadsheet endures over time--it is a "live," changeable, but persistent environment which remembers its state after the users have logged out.
  • Communication with outside world: Users can opt to be notified by email when the spreadsheet has been changed, on a global, sheet, or cellular level. I believe a Google Doc can also be embedded in a web page.
Certainly a Google spreadsheet is not a fabulous virtual world, but I see potential for socializing and play there. The barriers to entry are definitely very low, and content creation is easy, too.

[Update1: added real-time chat to the list. Update2: added spatiality to the list.]
 
     
 
   
 
  5 comments  
  Game Narrative Quick Links for 2008-03-19  
 
 
Posted 2008-03-19 by Tony Walsh
 
 
     
 
 
     
 
   
 
  0 comments  
  Headless Linden Lab Seeks New CEO  
 
 
Posted 2008-03-15 by Tony Walsh
 
 
     
 
I'm about a hundred internet-years late on this 24-hour-old story, but here it is: Linden Lab founder Philip Rosedale will step down as the company's CEO, becoming full-time Chairman of the Board. In an official blog post about the transition, Rosedale wrote that he will "focus on product strategy and vision, continuing to design the right kind of company, and being an effective communicator and evangelist about Second Life."

I'm not really qualified to comment on Rosedale's move (I'm no business analyst), except to note that it follows Linden Lab's long-time CTO Cory Ondrejka's departure from the company late last year due to philosophical differences. It's curious that a replacement for Rosedale wasn't secured before the announcement--the choice of a new CEO will say a lot about the future direction of Second Life as a technology and social platform.

Previous Rosedale Riffs on Clickable Culture:
 
     
 
   
 
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  SXSW 2008 Notes:  Jane McGonigal’s Keynote  
 
 
Posted 2008-03-11 by Tony Walsh
 
 
     
 
Rough notes liveblogged from Jane McGonigal's keynote presentation at SXSW...

The Lost Ring has been in pay for a week, there are already over 100 screen grabs from the game trailer posted to flickr.

We need more alternate realities... the real world needs to be redesigned as a game...

Slide: "A game designer's perspective on the future of happiness"

Research around the subject of happiness... the science of happiness... we've started to see a backlash after a period of happiness study... one area of study looks specifically at what makes us happy and function well... it's been all over the popular press...

There's an amazing parallel between what makes us happy and the core tenets of game design...


Continue reading: SXSW 2008 Notes:  Jane McGonigal’s Keynote
 
     
 
   
 
  2 comments  
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5224 comments
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Dinozoiks wrote:
Wow! Thanks for that Tony. Just posted a bunch of other tips here... http://www.dino.co.uk/labs/2008/45-tips-when-designing-online-content-for-kids/ Hope it helps someone... Dino...
in Dino Burbidge's '10 Things To Remember When Designing For Kids Online'


yes, many of the free little games are crappy. but as an artist who has recently published free content on the itunes app store,…
in Free iPhone Games Are Awful: Strategy?


I vote for popup radial menus. Highlight a bit of text, the push and hold, Sims-style radial menu pops up with Copy, Paste, etc....
in More iPhone Gestures, Please


Hey Tony! A client of mine is looking to hire an internal Flash game dev team to build at a really cool Flash CCG…
in Dipping Into Toronto's Flash Pool


Yeah, there's a lot of weird common sense things I've noticed they've just omitted from the design. No idea why though....
in More iPhone Gestures, Please


It also bears noting there's no mechanism right now for a developer to offer a free trial for the iPhone; the App Store isn't…
in Free iPhone Games Are Awful: Strategy?


@GeorgeR: It's on my shopping list :) I've heard good things about it as well. And Cro Mag Rally. @andrhia: meh, I don't know…
in Free iPhone Games Are Awful: Strategy?


...you get what you pay for, you know? I actually bought Trism based on early buzz, and it's truly a novel mechanic. I've been…
in Free iPhone Games Are Awful: Strategy?


The only one I've heard good things about is Super Monkey Ball. Have you given that a whirl yet?...
in Free iPhone Games Are Awful: Strategy?


Advance warning: this frivolent comment is NOT RELATED or even worth your time ... But whenever i hear "Collada", i think of that SCTV…
in Electric Sheep Builds Its Own Flock


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