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  This Week’s SL TV Tidbits [Corrected]  
Posted 2006-12-20 by Tony Walsh
 reports that virtual-world branding firm Rivers Run Red soft-launched its awaited earlier this week, screening a SciFi Channel movie before an audience of 20 avatars. According to the report, Rivers Run red plans to roll out 100 always-on channels by the end of 2007, possibly including a Second Life news channel. Such a channel would compete directly with The Grid Review, a service established by rival metaverse-services firm The Electric Sheep Company in partnership with PR giant Edelman.

The Grid Review launched December 12, 2006, and is operated by two Second Life machinimators. So far, a handful of topical videos have been posted by the pair, and while an offer stands to post short videos submitted by citizen journalists, no such "amateur" works have been published. I haven't been aware of much buzz around the channel, and given the initial lack of outside submissions as well as the scarcity of comments and trackbacks to The Grid Review's video segments, I'm guessing it hasn't yet caught on [update: Hank Hoodoo points out that there are outside submissions. I wasn't looking closely enough. Sorry, Grid Review].

The Electric Sheep Company is staging a event tonight in NBC Universal's 10 duplicate regions, each of which can hold roughly 50 avatars. Warner Bros. recording artists Marc Roberge and Robert Randolph will be performing live in a real-world studio while their avatars appear in one of the NBC regions--the performance will be broadcast across all 10 regions and to the web at A rep for the Sheep tells me "We will be interspersing live Q&A with Second Life residents via text chat. Residents can join the group NBC Universal to participate in the chat and receive updates."
  Tech Digest:  ‘Justin Bovington Was Not Misquoted’  
Posted 2006-12-13 by Tony Walsh
At issue: Whether or not Justin Bovington of metaversal branding agency Rivers Run Red said "'We did a block party with Reebok, and it was the first time we saw black avatars coming into Second Life." The quote appeared in a Tech Digest article on Bovington's Second Life efforts. I re-published the quote in a post about Bovington's alleged statements.

Bovington says he was misquoted by Tech Digest, and "doubly misquoted" by Clickable Culture. The author of the Tech Digest article, Stuart Dredge, stands by the accuracy of the quote.

Someone is not being entirely truthful here, and I am stuck in the middle. My position has been to update the relevant posts to reflect each party's position. However, this has been a pain in the ass for me, and possibly for my readers as well. It's also brought a lot more attention to Bovington's disputed quote than he would probably like. This situation could have been handled better from a public relations standpoint, methinks.
  Interviewed by Italy’s ‘La Stampa’  
Posted 2006-11-30 by Tony Walsh
Writer Ivan Fulco cordially invited me to share my thoughts on virtual world Second Life recently, and the results have been published by Italy's La Stampa. Fulco asked me about reasons to both visit and avoid Second Life, about the culture of the growing virtual world, about the platform's staying-power, and about virtual worlds generally. For now, the interview is available exclusively in Italian (I gave my answers in English), but I hope to print the original (English) version soon. Don't bother trying an online translator unless you want a good laugh :)

The last Italian interview I gave was for was for Videoludica (thoughts on that one here). Ironically, I get more play overseas as a game culture commentator than on my home turf.
  Avatar ‘Destroy Television’ Becomes Latest NBC Cameraperson  
Posted 2006-11-29 by Tony Walsh
Avatar ‘Destroy Television’ Becomes Latest NBC Cameraperson
American television network NBC is dropping in to the virtual world of Second Life today between 4-7pm Pacific time to launch its "Very Virtual Christmas." The event, produced by The Electric Sheep Company, will be broadcast to the web site via avatar Destroy Television, a creation of the Sheep's R&D arm. Audiovisual footage is supplied through Destroy Television's digital eyeballs and ears (although she carries a prop camera), and will also be streamed in-world to the 19 "simulators" (regions) rented by NBC and to land owned by participating residents. The event will involve "holiday decor, ice skating, live music, and a coffee shop," as well as performances by resident musicians Jaycatt Nico and Frogg Marlowe. At 6pm Pacific time, a virtual tree-lighting ceremony will take place.

Electric Sheep Company spokesperson John Swords gave me a glimpse "backstage," explaining that the firm is concerned about Second Life newcomers having difficulty finding the event. It was hoped that those signing up for Second Life via would be transported automatically to a custom orientation area, but the technology isn't ready yet. "New users will have to join and enter the standard way," said Swords. He told me that it was difficult to obtain the virtual land being used for today's event due to Second Life-maker Linden Lab dealing with 1,100 sims already on order. "We were able to rent 6 sims from Linden Lab and the other 12 came from the secondary land market. The current order backlog has the delivery date on new orders somewhere at the end of December or early January."
  Ignoring Local Gamers  
Posted 2006-11-22 by Tony Walsh
I'm a bit annoyed with Toronto weekly NOW for failing to find a local connection in its story "Activist Gaming Takes Hold," that ran in last week's edition. It's great that NOW writer David Silverberg covered serious games such as Disaffected!, Darfur Is Dying, The Organizing Game and the McDonald's Videogame, but where's Pax Warrior? NOW is a local weekly, so why not cover Toronto-based game developer 23 YYZee? The studio's serious game Pax Warrior explores peacekeeping in Rwanda and incorporates social studies and history curricula for classroom use. The game was licensed for free to over 200,000 Canadian high school students--that's a generation of potential "activist gamers." NOW clearly dropped the ball on this one.

As an occasional source for the mainstream media, it frustrates me when domestic media outlets go for international talking heads instead of local experts. Earlier this year, Canada's Exclaim! magazine ran a weak piece on Alternate Reality Gaming without one Canadian connection (despite some very obvious choices). I was approached by a producer a month ago about a Canadian TV documentary on MMOs, but he wasn't looking for my participation, only my list of international contacts. Admittedly, I'm crying sour grapes here, but I could have added to the NOW piece on "activist gaming," having written a semi-satirical call to arms for Sims Online players (featured in Canada's Shift Magazine), having once been "disaffected" as a Kinko's midnight shift worker in downtown Toronto, and currently teaching at "The City College" in a Game Design program geared towards serious games. The CBC (Canada's national public broadcaster) has covered Second Life a few times, but doesn't have a great track record for involving Canadian subject-matter experts--here's a recent example (I could have told them it was a non-news item, pointing to earlier precedents).

Continue reading: Ignoring Local Gamers
  ‘Toronto Star’ Takes Bizarre ‘Warcraft’ Trip  
Posted 2006-11-16 by Tony Walsh
Wow. There are so many things wrong with this Toronto Star article on World of Warcraft. I barely know where to start. Wait, yes I do: The reportage is terrible. I'll just pick on a few of the worst points so you know where I'm coming from on this. Writer Christian Cotroneo claims:

"...World of Warcraft is the granddaddy of online communities. On one hand, it’s a sprawling, seamless fantasy, where you choose an avatar — a rogue, fighter, Mage — and go forth in this virtual world to hack, slash and maim your way to glory." World of Warcraft is not the granddaddy of online communities. It's not the oldest one by a long shot, and it hasn't spawned any sequels ("grandchildren," keeping with the metaphor), and it isn't even the largest "online community." And why is "Mage" exclusively capitalized? Don't they have proofreaders over at The Star?

"On the other hand, it’s supremely social. Players band together, chatting incessantly. They hook up for virtual drinks at the inn, share a slab of wild boar meat. They dance, they have picnics in the woods, they even share a bed on occasion." Dude, I don't know what server you are playing on, but I have never heard of players going to an inn in Warcraft for a pint and a slab of meat. Picnics in the woods!?! Cotroneo is embellishing here. Maybe he plays on a server dedicated to role-playing, where players imagined they were eating and drinking together, or having cybersex in the woods, or whatever the hell he thinks he's talking about.

"'Yay! I got my Voidwalker!' some warrior declares in the general chat window that runs along the bottom of the screen. He is, I assume, referring to some fancy piece of equipment earned in battle." For the uninitiated, a Voidwalker is a minion of a Warlock and has nothing to do with warriors or equipment earned in battle.

What I have been seeing a lot of lately are mainstream media outlets increasing their coverage of games and virtual worlds, but not applying the same journalistic skills, methods or ethics to those spaces. No "average" audience member would ever catch the errors, although they might walk away with the wrong idea. But gamers and virtual world residents (of which there are increasing numbers these days) know better.
  Edelman and GSD&M Enter ‘Second Life’  
Posted 2006-11-13 by Tony Walsh
Metaverse developer The Electric Sheep Company has helped usher both GSD&M and Edelman into the virtual world of Second Life.

Austin-based branding agency GSD&M is already buzzing in Second Life with Idea City, a meeting-, exploration-, and leisure-space for the agency, its clients, and the residents of Second Life. Joel Greenberg, a Senior Planner for GSD&M, informs me that the agency will be taking a muted approach to establishing its Second Life presence in order to respect the resident community. While the island has already been built, it has soft-launched with corporate and recreational facilities. Greenberg says UT's CHAOS: New Agendas in Advertising Conference will be streamed via video into Idea City on November 17 and 18.

Global PR firm Edelman enters Second Life with Edelman island to co-produce two projects with The Electric Sheep Company. The first is the SL Business Plan Contest, which puts 6 months ownership of a private island and L$350,000 up for grabs. The second is the Grid Review machinima news site, which will compete in a growing Second Life media space (see Axel Springer's upcoming tabloid and my commentary about SL's media landscape). According to an official announcement, "The Grid Review will be a regular source for Second Life news. It will be in machinima format, with video new spots issued at least once a week, keeping you and your friends informed about the latest goings-on in-world. It is also designed as a venue for citizen journalists; we welcome 1-2 minute video news submissions from individual Second Life residents or teams, for which we will provide full credit." I'm not confident in the longevity of the Grid Review project, despite its funding--machinima isn't easy to make. More importantly, I'm wary of any "news" coming from an outlet sponsored by a global PR firm.
  ‘Second Life’ Transactions-Per-Day Stats Rigged? [Updated]  
Posted 2006-11-10 by Tony Walsh
The Second Life Herald broke news today alleging that Linden Lab has published inflated statistics on the home page of its virtual world platform Second Life. [Update: Flaws in the stats system have apparently been known to insiders for some time, see two comments here, and a recent Reuters update.] According to the Herald, stats that showed $1.6M USD were transferred in a 24-hour period were generated in large part thanks to a Second Life user, who gamed the system by repeatedly passing a fixed amount of cash back and forth between accounts. The user explained to the Herald "When I started the test, the 24 hour total was approximately 486,000 USD. After about an hour and half, my system pushed the total to over 1.5 million. What this means is that Linden Labs does in fact include transactions that net a zero sum."

If true, Linden Lab has potentially been overstating the value of its virtual-world economy--an economy which has been the subject of much media attention this year, and has attracted the interest of large, real-world corporations over the last half of 2006. Last summer, Linden Lab tightened up its population statistics, providing more realistic numbers than had previously been published. By that time, however, mainstream media outlets had reported some wildly overblown population numbers--this data is still commonly misreported. Seems like it's overdue for Linden Lab to tighten up its transaction data (if said data is indeed easily gamed). This might help companies make better decisions about establishing a presence in the virtual world--but what about the businesses who have already opened up shop in Second Life based on potentially-flawed data?
  ‘Guardian’ Fails to Protect ‘Second Life’ History  
Posted 2006-11-08 by Tony Walsh
The living history of virtual world Second Life continues to withstand injury by outside business efforts and lazy reporters. The Guardian Unlimited's Berlin correspondent Jess Smee reports that Bild-Zeitung publisher Axel Springer is about to launch Second Life's "first" tabloid focusing entirely on in-world society and culture. Smee's report is not only incorrect, but it inexplicably ignores the living legacy of the Second Life Herald, a high-profile tabloid that's been happily raking mud in-world and on the web since 2004 (and earlier as The Alphaville Herald). Numerous mainstream media reports have used the Herald as a source over the years in order to bring catchy insider stories to the outside world.

What happened here? How could a seasoned reporter screw up so significantly? I couldn't find Smee's contact information to send an inquiry directly to the writer, so I'll indulge in speculation. Ultimately this boils down to laziness on Smee's part. A Google search for "Second Life tabloid" lists the Herald in the top ten results. So obviously Smee isn't doing even the slightest bit of research. The writer probably just reprinted whatever Axel Springer communicated. I can forgive publisher Axel Springer for being oblivious to existing Second Life culture (although how it thinks it can cover something it doesn't understand is beyond me), but it's insulting when companies try to rewrite community history. Further commentary at the Herald and Second Life Insider.
  An Open Letter to The Internet  
Posted 2006-10-26 by Tony Walsh
Dear Internet,

I regret not being able to defend you more effectively on live television last night. As you know, we have been friends for over a decade, through feast and famine. I've appreciated how you've disrupted culture, politics, and business, and I've come to your defense in small ways over the years, but never took time to write a book or extensive magazine article on how excellent you truly are. Conversely, your detractors Andrew Keen and Steve Maich have written a book and extensive magazine article (respectively) on how awful they think you are. In hindsight, I should have realized it would be difficult defending you when the assumption from the outset is that you "suck." It's easier to tear something down than to build it up. Although I was able to respond to demands for proof of your awesomeness, I was a ultimately drowned out in the scrum.

You and I both know you live a dual life, Internet. While I celebrate your excellence, I simultaneously recognize how other people have misused your powers. You're not the problem, Internet. People are the problem. Some people use you as a tool for plagiarism, for deceitful purposes, or to inflate corporate value--but on the other hand, some use you to bust perverts, break news, or to make crazy money. You're a bit like a knife: Whether it stabs someone in the heart or slices a birthday cake, it cuts both ways. So do you, depending on how you are wielded. I understand your capacity for great good and for great ill, but I'm not sure why anyone would focus only on your bad side. Except maybe to sell books or magazines.

Respectfully yours,
Mr. Tony Walsh, Esq.
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