Clip above from the earlier Australian version of The Phone in Feb 09 & interview with its producer Chris Berry here
Interesting timing to receive a prod from the publicist of this show as I am in the middle of mentoring groups of AFTRS directing students who are developing ARG/Social Media drama. The tendency is to always over author the story environments and they turn into endless quests through fixed content but in this new hybrid form The Phone, described below, starts to mash-up urban locative quests with high production value TV crime/spy drama – a true development of form & innovation?
I have mentioned several times in this blog about the next big steps in the metaverse and two of my key points spring to mind, 1) Integration with existing online ‘life’ tools and 2) a company with super deep pockets, Google. So without much fanfare or pomp or circumstance ‘Lively – perpetual beta‘ was sneakily launched. A Google driven Social Virtual World made up of customised and personalized ‘rooms/enviroments’ that runs inside Windows web browsers (IE,FF). After a 2 minute install I was up and running checking out some CCEs (Community Created Environments) and looking for folk to chat to. The YouTube gives a good sense of the experience, but turn the sound down 🙂
With avatars and aesthetic nearer to there.com than Second Life (bizarrely referred to in the marketing blurb above and on the instructional site) the real point of difference here is the fact that you can embed your ‘spaces’ in blog posts and other embed friendly web 2.0 apps. Here is one of my rooms embedded inside my Justvirtual.com blog (yes you have the virtual world as an embedded active window!)…
…plus the fact there is a multitude of other integrations with the Googleverse around the corner. I have seen talk of contextual advertising, built in YouTube on various screens, items within the rooms containing Amazon-type product links and of course the ability to plop your space on top of Google Earth/Maps – the list goes on and on…There is also integration with Facebook, MySpace and others via OpenSocial.
There is also a nod to PS3 Home given the strong create your own room using bits of found furniture (in fact very Habbo also), embed it in your blog etc and what looks like a catalog where 3rd parties can eventually come along and sell pixel products, virtual goods – which is where the real biz model is of course. Here are a couple of room screen grabs I took on a first whistle stop and I will report more when I have had time to dig in deeper…I include the ever so important embed pane at the bottom of each room, will Virtual Environments start to go viral? Sadly using the current technology each room has been crippled to only 20 avatars at a time and the movement around is a rather clunky mix of click to jump there and drag with mouse to smoothly move around. There are some fun elements though…
…and I just filmed and uploaded onto the LAMP channel a quick grab of me Gazlitt and some of the 20 or so avatar interactions – limited to fun-fights or petting ala Simpsons vs sophisticated Second Life custom ones. I can see this type of world working well with the there.com demographic, or even perhaps the 10-early 20s and I am already tempted to create a couple of machinimas due to the cartoon’y nature of the graphics.
… and some more insight – A Google talks YouTube video from January 24 of this year looking at the backend…
Apparently Millions of Us and Rivers Run Red have been making objects and a few first off the block branded spaces – probably as Second Life commissions runs a little low they have time on their hands. A good summary of the service can be read at Virtual Worlds News which features some quotes from Head of 3D Worlds at Google, Mel Guymon…
“Our goal is to get everyone on the Web using 3D and to validate it as a part of the social experience,” said Guymon. “If we [as an industry] are going to do it, I think getting someone like Google to do it is crucial. And since we are doing it, I think weÃ¢Â€Â™re going to look back at having had Google do it as crucial.”
and to show that embedding web 3.0 into 2D social networks are going to be one of the really interesting growth areas this year how about this new 3D ‘vivaty‘ plug-in for Facebook with tons of web 2.0 integration? Wired has a good introduction article on it from last week…Vivaty Scenes Taps Facebook, AIM for ‘Immersive Internet’
A new immersive web platform called Vivaty Scenes lets users create tiny virtual worlds and decorate them with content from around the internet. After adding Vivaty Scenes, which entered public beta Tuesday, to a Facebook or AOL Instant Messenger account, users can set up a customizable “room” where they can host chat sessions or small virtual gatherings within a web browser. The free service lets users pull content directly from some of the internet’s most popular sites. Scenes’ virtual televisions can be populated with any video from YouTube; virtual picture frames can be filled with any picture from a user’s Photobucket, Flickr or Facebook accounts.
OK yet another post on Virtual Worlds, I know, but I will get round to Joost and YouTube TV channels and so on soon. Being involved as designer/developer in several Australian launches into Second Life in the next couple of months I am sensitized to entertainment or service brands entering virtual spaces and in the last couple of days MTV and NBC have shown more faith in MUVE and their inherent social network by launching some phase two type initiatives. Then there is Sears and Phillips design who are going a completely different route. First though:
vNBC (Virtual NBC) are promoting the film Smokin’ Aces with their Second Life project S.A.S.L.A (Smokin’ Aces Second Life Assassin). I have been trying to get to the game trailhead for a while but it seems to be doing some SL geoIP detect (seems to be for US folk only – which will be a major issue, unless it is somehow in synch with the national film release?) – so not available and with other inworld work I will report first hand later. A quote from the opening page and some of their game rules are enlightening which suggests a little ARG (spread across sims), shoot-em-up and the usual psychological paradoxes ones gets in SL:
Beginning January 17th, players can join Smokin’ Aces: Second LifeÃ‚Â® Assassin by visiting the Nomad Hotel in Second LifeÃ‚Â® to pick up game instructions, a hitlist, and weaponry. Think you can smoke Buddy “Aces” Israel? First, you gotta rub out the competition.
Targets: The player begins with a contract for 5 hits. The hits are other players in the SASLA gameÃ¢Â€Â”anywhere in Second LifeÃ‚Â®. As long as a player is wearing the HUD they are considered actively participating in the game. While actively participating in the game, a playerÃ¢Â€Â™s location is reported to anyone with that player on his or her hit list. This report will not provide exact X,Y,Z coordinates within Second LifeÃ‚Â®, but will instead provide the sim name, which narrows the location down to a 16 acre square. When the target is located the two players engage in combat.
Contracts: Each player will begin with five potential hits. After a hit is accomplished, the assassin will assume his or her preyÃ¢Â€Â™s hit list (in addition to their original targets)Ã¢Â€Â”giving them more potential targets.
Power-ups/downs: Power-ups are available by gambling on the slot machines in the Nomad Casino. Players use their points for chances to win additional weapons and power-ups. Examples may include Stealth Mode (invisible to other playersÃ¢Â€Â™ maps), Bonus Name (gives the user an additional online target), Homing Shot (Heat seeking bullet), and Shield (may take 5 direct hits before being Ã¢Â€ÂœkilledÃ¢Â€Â).
Virtual Weapons: Will include various munitions, including, but not limited to: Machine guns, handguns, chainsaws, and long-range shotguns.
Death & Reset: A player’s current day bounty will reset back to 100 points when killed. Players must either re-register (at the Nomad Hotel lobby desk or at recharge locations throughout Second Life) while wearing their HUD to be “revived” and rejoin the game with a new set of targets. Players keep all accumulated weapons, but lose all power-ups or power-downs when killed. Dead players wearing the HUD will be reminded with a whisper to re-register.
Game points are acquired by defeating targets, amount of time spent playing Smokin’ Aces: Second LifeÃ‚Â® Assassins, and by inhabiting the Nomad Hotel or Virtual NBC Headquarters.
Each player will start with a 100 point bounty. With each hit accomplished, the assassin will gain his/her preyÃ¢Â€Â™s total point bounty, the addition of their hit list, their weaponry, and all of their power-ups. Active time spent playing the game, and active time spent in SmokinÃ¢Â€Â™ Aces Headquarters and Virtual NBC Headquarters will also increase a playerÃ¢Â€Â™s bounty.
If a player is Ã¢Â€ÂœkilledÃ¢Â€Â, their current dayÃ¢Â€Â™s point bounty will reset back to 100 points and they will start from scratch with the gameÃ¢Â€Â™s default weaponry.
vMTV. Outside the SL environment we have MTV who seem to be happily ploughing ahead on the there.com platform and a new world created based on ‘The Hills’ TV show. I reported first hand about Laguna Beach Virtual World back in Sept and I was a little dubious of how this would progress being a closed world, almost the equivalent of a couple of SL sims. The 2nd outing seems far more integrated with the show and avatarorial representations of characters will role play and invite you into the ‘story world’. So it seems I have been proven wrong about the walled-garden nature of this, by MTV’s statistics at least, from this Hollywood R report about their second property to be delivered on the platform:
The launch of “Virtual Hills” follows and is an extension of MTV’s first virtual reality community, “Virtual Laguna Beach,” which launched in September. Bostwick said that virtual community has 350,000 registered users, but more importantly, a high level of engagement. In the past week, the average time spent “in-world” per visit reached 46 minutes per user, without any on-air integration.
Now it seems sometimes that vanilla virtual spaces, being open and void of goal and game, is very attractive to large numbers but I still think that Second Life and Linden Lab are losing the 90% of those who try it simply because it is so ‘directionless’ for many. It will be up to entertainment brands I believe, to stretch their professional muscles and lead the way for a sizeable potential MUVE community. Endemol have made a start along with NBC and MTV now. The BBC radio thing was not IMHO a good use of the environment the same as most of the commercial brands (who use it for external PR). There are exceptions such as those who are now really starting to look at collaborative product design combined with customer relations – such as the recent Sears/IBM initiative. Phillips were ahead of Sears in this as they are already down the road with Rivers Run Red in creating a audience centric design development presence in Second Life – as reported by their own news center. This is a really interesting space to me as brand driven collaborative design, drawing in audiences to contribute. Not in the wild west YouTube ‘any-old-rubbish-will-do” mode, but a mature and structured design methodology.
So both the TV and the design initiatives are starting to feel mature – well there are lessons being learnt very quickly in these MUVEs as most are open access and as soon as you TP into the areas you immediately pick up what works and what doesn’t – and that learning is open to all. I will leave the final word to Matt Bostwick, senior vp franchise development at MTV, who is also pretty bullish about the road ahead for them, I suppose because the there.com platform really hits their demographic target fair and square.
“We’re going to do a whole series of integrations with content and shows,” Bostwick said about future virtual realities tied to MTV’s shows. “Each is going to establish a new piece of geography or subculture.”