The SLENZ Update – No 121, July 31, 2009

VIRTUAL WORLDS “BOOMING” despite doomsters

“Twitter makes the noise while

Second Life makes the money”

-Victor Keegan, The Guardian UK

Second Life can do his … Tribute to Lachlan Campbell from the
Second Life Relay for Life benefit event – July 11, 2009.
LabGraal: Vocal, Rosalba Nattero

While Facebook and Twitter are lauded to the skies,  neither has found a way to make money – whereas virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft, Entropia Universe, Habbo Hotel, Club Penguin and Second Life are all profitable because their business models are based on the digital elixir of subscriptions and micropayments,  according to Victor Keegan (pictured) in the UK  Guardian.

It’s a formula that other websites, including newspapers, would die for,” he says. ” Twitter makes the noise, Second Life makes the money … actually, they are booming.

In a message which will have the virtual world doomsayers frothing at the mouth Keegan quotes the UK consultancy kzero.co.uk,  the world-leader in understanding the marketing dynamics relating to virtual worlds,  as reporting that membership of virtual worlds grew by 39 percent in the second quarter of 2009 to an estimated 579 million, although not all are active.

“If you think virtual worlds are a passing fad, look at the figures,” Keegan says “Almost all of the 39 percent growth came from children. Girls used to grow up with their dolls; now they are growing up with their avatars. This goes largely unreported because the users don’t read newspapers, but as Kzero reports, poptropica.com – aimed at five- to 10-year-olds – has 76 million registered users.keegan, victor

“If you move up to 10- to 15-year-olds, users rival the populations of countries – led by Habbo (135 million), Neopets (54 million), Star Dolls (34 million) and Club Penguin (28 million).

“It starts tailing off among 15- to 25-year-olds – apart from Poptropica (35 million) – but it underlines the likelihood that as youngsters get older they will be looking for more sophisticated outlets and for ways to link existing social networks such as Facebook or MySpace to more immersive virtual worlds. The telephone was a one-to-one experience; email linked friends and colleagues; Facebook extended this to friends of friends but virtual worlds offer – as Twitter does in a more constrained context – the opportunity to link with anyone on the planet sharing similar interests.”

Keegan, noting that Second Life  is consolidating as it tries to make the experience easier and less crash-prone,  says it is still the creative laboratory of the genre even though it may not end up as the preferred platform as new business models take advantage of the rapidly improving technological developments elsewhere.

“In order to get a more streamlined experience, most of the new virtual worlds don’t allow users to make their own content,”  he says. ” Twinity, which has just raised €4.5m in new funding, has a virtual version of Berlin and Singapore (with London still in the pipeline): you buy existing apartments or rent shops but can’t build yourself. Bluemarsonline.com – still in testing mode – promises much better graphics and more realistic avatars at the expense of not allowing members (as opposed to developers) to create their own content.”

“With technology moving so fast and a whole generation growing up for whom having an avatar is second nature, virtual worlds have nowhere to go but up.

“Only they won’t be virtual worlds – just a part of normal life,” he concludes.

Kzerochart

For the full kzero reports go here and here and here

The SLENZ Update – No 101, June 18, 2009

Is there really virtual world

promise in peer-to-peer

… at this stage?

As if,  worrying whether the soon-to-be-released Second Life Viewer 2009 will  require educators to completely revamp their techniques and training of students, was not enough, we still have to wonder whether we might not have backed the wrong  horse and that the possible peer-to-peer virtual world competition for Second Life -  both public and behind the firewall – waiting in the wings, might not provide better applications.

We already have Entropia, Forterra(Olive),  Twinity, Wonderland,  Croquet, Prototerra, Kaneva, Hipihi,  and others  in the virtual world arena but just when one might have thought that Second Life and the Second Life-based OpenSim worlds – OpenSim, OpenLife, OsGrid, and smaller players like ONGENS, etc – were holding their own for education purposes,  at least one and perhaps two of  the Open Source alternatives to Second Life appear to be  breaking through, although they don’t have numbers yet.

The latest food for thought on this issue came from Feldspar  Epstein, of  The Metaverse Journal, who  explains the difference between the OpenSim concept, and that of Open Source such as  “Open Cobalt” and “Solipsis”,  as being that essentially while  OpenSim grids are designed to be served from a common point,  Open Cobalt and Solipsis implementations are designed to be served from many points – they are both peer-to-peer technologies.

“Open Cobalt (based on Croquet technology) consists of two parts: a browser and a toolkit,” Epstein says. ” The browser is used to view the 3D virtual workspaces created with the toolkit. Each workspace can live on a separate personal computer. Workspaces are real time and computationally dynamic, and each can host multiple participants. Additionally, individual workspaces can be interlinked into a private and secure network of work spaces.”

Attractive features

Epstein lists a number of  attractive Open Cobalt features, particularly for researchers and  educators, as: Open source licensing (MIT);  deeply malleable, collaborative space; runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux; internet access is not required; it can run over LANs and Intranets;  private and public environments can be created; in-world text, voice and video chat, web browsing (VNC allows access to browsers like Firefox) and annotations; Access to remote applications via VNC; Navigation between virtual workspaces is possible using 3D hyperlinks; Mesh, texture, media, and whole avatar imports.

An alpha phase Open  Cobalt download is available here and further information is available here. The beta release is due this year, and a full implementation is expected to be released in 2010.

Meanwhile the efficacy or on-going  viability of the French Telecom-developed Solipsis is more murky, although according to Epstein it is about to go into beta testing but I would question this.

A search of the net would suggest otherwise.

On Solipsis netofpeers.net  it  is revealed,  in a link from Professor  Shun-Yun Hu, of  the University of  Taiwan, that although Solipsis is a pure peer-to-peer system for a massively shared virtual world with no central servers,  only relying on end-users’ machines, the initial Solipsis project  ended some time ago when the core team left the project. The original Solipsis web site is available here. Although the dowloads are available there appears to have been little real activity since 2005, and the developers’ page is here but a number of the links appear dead.twinverse

More recently, however,  Joaquin Keller, has started TwinVerse – a virtual world based on geography, pictured right- and which seems little more than a glorified video and text chat room overlaid on Google satellite pictures/maps of various world spots, and nothing like the 3D virtual worlds, as presented by Second Life or Twinity or Entropia et al, and less than half as interesting.

Speaking of peer-to-peer virtual worlds Epstein doesn’t go into the much-touted Australian startup, Project Outback (from Yoik) which  folded sometime ago after considerable promotion by one of the former Kazaa peer-to-peer network promoters, nor the most viable other offering VastPark. currently in closed beta (downloads here) and based on the OPeN (Univ. of Melbourne) software funded by NICTA, Australia’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Research
Centre of Excellence,  which signed a commercial license agreement with VastPark, in 2008.

Other peer-to-peer possibilities, in various states of array and disarray, include :  Colyseus (CMU); HYDRA (National Univ. of Singapore);  and peers@play (Univ. of Mannheim, Duisburg-Essen, and Hannover).

However, after looking at all the offerings I could find for peer-to-peer worlds ( I may have missed some) I believe that aside from Open Cobalt, which is actually Croquet in another form,  and VastPark, there appears nothing in the peer-to-peer virtual world public domain that is any real threat at this stage to Second Life and open-source Second Life-based products, for credibility, ease-of-use, attractiveness, population, and what I believe is the fundamental key to virtual world success,  immersibility (suspension of disbelief).

So forget peer-to-peer virtual worlds for the moment and concentrate on worrying about  the Second Life 2009 viewer, or perhaps the new adult continent of Zindra.  Just kidding.

The SLENZ Update – No 80 , May 11, 2009

Need a virtual loan?

Creating a ‘real buck’ - virtually-speaking

dollarbills

Picture: Freefoto.com

The Linden dollar  has  had its ups and downs and Linden Lab’s is probably making a fortune out  of  of its forex dealings, but there is still no dedicated “real world” banking/forex facility in  Second Life, or any other virtual world.

That, however,  is now changing  with the creator of  the Swedish-based virtual world, Entropia Universe, MindArk, being  granted a license from the Swedish government to open Mind Bank, which will exchange Swedish kronor for Project Entropia Dollars (PEDs).

The currency will be used by Entropia’s 1 million users to buy and sell goods on the planet Calypso, according to a report in Businesweek by Olga Kharif.

The PED is among a growing number of alternative currencies changing hands in virtual worlds, social networks, and other web sites which are clamoring to make it easier for users to spend money and carry out other transactions while online as the on-line virtual market becomes a multi-billion dollar opportunity for virtual currency creators, she said.

China’s virtual goods economy, the largest in the world, is worth US$800 million and growing 30 percent a year, according to Shaun Rein, managing director at China Market Research Group.

SL ‘Economy on a tear’

In Second Life, one of the biggest US-based virtual economies, transaction volume is expected to rise 39 percent, to $500 million this year, according to the world’s creator, Linden Research. “

Our virtual economy has been on a tear,” Tom Hale, Linden’s chief product officer, told Businessweek.  “It’s grown much better than the real economy. It’s a wonderful, wonderful business.”

“We’ll try to make the link between real and virtual world as close as possible,” Andersson,  of Entropia’s MindArk, said. Users currently buy and sell land, minerals, and tools by depositing US dollars or Swedish kronor directly into the game. Once Mind Bank opens, users will be able to link real-world checking and savings accounts to the virtual world. Eventually they’ll be able to take out PED loans.

Services such as eBay’s (EBAY) PayPal and credit and debit cards currently provide a way for people to pay for virtual goods or site-specific virtual currencies but  many  users balk at the high fees levied by financial services on the sub-$1 transactions commonplace in the virtual-goods world. “

As users of Second Life  have found to their cost, however, the mere setting up of virtual banks is not without tears. The onetime unregulated, unofficial banking system in Second Life is believed to have cost users hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions. Their real money  turned  virtual  and disappeared almost overnight when the banks which had been offering outlandish interest rates, collapsed.

As Businessweek notes,  as virtual trading’s use spreads, so could accompanying problems, such as fraud.

Sites have to ensure that users can’t “manufacture” virtual currency without paying for it with real money or earning it in game play.

The sites themselves may need to be regulated by the government to prevent fraud, according to Mark Methentis, a lawyer and author of gaming-law blog, Law of the Game. “We need transparency, as with other investments, [including restrictions on insider trading],”  he said.

The SLENZ Update – No 20, October 30, 2008

From the top of my head!


It might be simplistic but it appears to me that Virtual Worlds, although attracting a claimed 160 million users around the world, need someone to recreate something like the virtual world equivalent of Tim Berners-Lee (Pictured -From Wikipedia) and Robert Cailliau’s 1990 WorldWideWeb browser for multi-user virtual environments to really take off.

I have an eerie sense of déjà vu when I look at Virtual Worlds today  and I think of the time when full text-database retrieval systems were taking off in the early 1980s and the dead-end pre-Web application, Videotex, was being promoted in competition with them.

There is no doubt that Videotex, developed to download data within the blanking interval on a television screen, but later used for online share trading and news services among other things, was easy to use with a box and a TV set but no one really had any idea how to make comprehensive text pages attractive and easy-to-use by everyman and woman, until the WorldWideWeb came along.

This was despite the fact that scads were spent around the world on travel, conferences, promotions and fact-finding for both online text retrieval and Videotex and other  retrieval systems.

The WorldWideWeb gave the world the information revolution it needed. It had a graphical user interface (GUI) but it could not display web pages with embedded graphics until the creation of NCSA Mosaic 2.0  by Marc Andreessen and Jamie Zawinski. NCSA Mosaic for Microsoft Windows, the Macintosh, and the Unix X Window System, enabled the average person to use the web.

I believe that MUVEs are currently in the same space that the Web was before Berners-Lee created his prototype. Today there is a need for an “universal VW browser and teleportation pad” to make sense of all the worlds and to link them all – or the majority of them – transparently, as Berners-Lee linked the pages on the web.

In education MUVEs could provide an enlightening learning environment for distance students but in countries like New Zealand this is problematic  because of  the lack of a generic  VW “browser”, bandwidth problems, inconsistent broadband line speeds that are often  little more than dial-up speeds  and spurious line speed claims and promotions by the two major ISPs -TelstraClear and Telecom – who have failed to keep up with the rest of the developed world although charging like wounded bulls for bandwidth usage (I believe because of their tardiness similar problems will face those who want to endulge in “cloud” computing in the New Zealand environment).

New Zealand’s ability to move into the 21st Century of Virtual Worlds  will probably be compromised until either the Kiwi telecommunications providers lift their game – or the Government takes over their game from them – and/or  a major part of any Virtual World content is able to  be held on the user’s desktop as it currently is on some of the more popular MMORPGs, which already provide  a better experience than most online virtual worlds.

Another solution could be provided by  the advent of Kiwi or other OpenSims and  the development of the ability to teleport with assets between virtual worlds,  the possibility of which has been demonstrated by Zha Ewry of IBM and Second Life

If trans world teleportation can be mastered one could  enter virtual world’s like Second Life or Twinity or Entropia to socialise with the world and  then via an inworld teleport point move backwards and forwards between your own inexpensive OpenSim “home” and the VW: it would be a “home” where you could do the same things one does in commercial virtual worlds and it would be home where you could invite guests at little cost.

SL not only English

Peak concurrent users of SL

Residents from non-English speaking nations make up almost 40 percent  of Second Life’s users, according to the latest metrics made available  by Linden Labs (http://secondlife.com/whatis/economy_stats.php).

The United States with almost 14 million residents or 40.13 percent, however, still makes up the bulk of residents, with Germany in second place a long way behind with 3.5 million users or 9.99 percent.

The United Kingdom has 2.3 million holds thrid place with 6.82 percent ahead of Japan, 6.1 percent, and France, 4.9 percent. Brazil, Canada, Netherlands and Italy each have well over a million users.

Australia is still in 11th place with 694,580 users or 2.01 percent.

Interestingly males have moved to the forefront of user hours, accounting for almost 60 percent of the time spent in SL.
On the age front the over 35s account for 48 percent of the usage hours and the 24-35 age group for almost 35 percent.

Total hours in SL

SL in our backyard?

Although it might not help Kiwi’s frame rates, access speeds or lag problems given  the paucity of our overseas internet pipes to Asia it appears we are about to get two Virtual World server farms almost in our backyard.

Second Life’s  Linden Lab has announced plans to locate servers in Singapore within the next six months in what might be seen as a ploy to upstage that other virtual world, the new Berlin-based  Twinity Beta,  which has also announced plans for a server farm in Singapore (http://www.straitstimes.com/Breaking%2BNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_294972.html

Meanwhile Metaversum‘s Twinity Beta, which entered public beta a little more than one month ago appears to be moving ahead  and now already is claiming 50,000 real users.(http://www.virtualworldsnews.com/2008/10/quick-stat-over-50000-users-in-twinity-beta.html)

With a virtual Berlin, Twinity already plans to launch a virtual London and Singapore later this year. Metaversum is also working with the government of Singapore on a mirror world project, Co-Space.

NASA selects three

The US space agency NASA has selected three teams to present proposals for its learning virtual world.

The teams being considered are MindArk, presenting Entropia Universe; Saber Astronautics, Nocturnal Entertainment, and Big World; and Project Whitecard and Virtual Heroes, according to Virtual World News (http://www.virtualworldsnews.com/2008/10/nasa-selects-3-proposal-for-learning-virtual-world.html).

The teams are scheduled to give live presentations at the Goddard Space Flight Center on November 7.

The groups were selected from more than 100 which attended a workshop held in April to discuss needs and opportunities for the virtual world.

The project aims to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education in colleges and high schools. Citing the longevity and adaptability  in addition to the ability to form communities as advantages for an MMO over a simpler educational game, NASA has said the selected team will fund the project internally, working on a licensing model from NASA, which will supply personnel and expertise.

VWN quoted MindArk director of special projects, Christian Björkman,  as saying “This opportunity to build the NASA MMO is very much in line with our strategy to enhance the learning aspects of the Entropia Universe Platform. It is a perfect way for us to work in collaboration with top academics and scholars to create a stimulating, challenging and educational experience.

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