Jul 202008

Fed up with your avatar having to live inside a wall-garden world? Want to bring it out into the wider web to play? Well it seems a revolution is at hand, early days and a few notable services listed below, but keep your eyes peeled as virtual characters start to infiltrate our flat 2D web and turn web pages into a game, a veritable MMO. There are naturally several new and emergent marketing possibilities.

With the recent addition of Google Lively and a host of other character based browser enhancements what follows is a summary of applications or services that sit neatly between your traditional web 2.0 2D website (flickr, youtube, blogs etc) and a fully rendered ‘walk-around’ world. These are apps that mash game-like avatars with web pages, allow you to move inside pages or play with friends over the top of them. There have been many trials and false starts of these over the past decade but given the ‘game generations’ that are so used to being a toon/avatar/game character it seems a natural step to turn some, not all, web pages into something a little more ‘representational’ of our real social environments – for example why not gather around that cool YouTube video that has just come out, no not embed on a screen in second life, we all go to the YouTube page and hang out! Firstly though a reminder of where web 2.5 probably sits based on my oft cited diagram from a couple of years ago…we are looking at that point 2008 where the two way web merges with the live Web 3.0.

Web 1.0 to 3.0

There have been quite a few early ‘avatars’ on a page services and games in the past and many successful ones using basic pandora/ALICE type AI technology to create talking heads that welcomed you or read the page or even recommended things for you to go and consumer. Then I recall way back when AI type pets Catz/Dogz for example, that ran amok across your computer desktop. Then there are the newer generation browser’creatures’ neopets/webkinz and others that allow an element of tracking outside the worlds. But this list below is about casual, social virtual environments layered or embedded into traditional social media websites with the specific purpose of stimulating ‘chat’, sharing and other emergent and natural behaviour alongside traditional web media.


A german friend in Second Life who knows the developers personally alerted me to Weblin a few months ago and they have gone from strength to strength. To quote from their own website

“Meet your friends and new people on every website! – Your personalized weblin avatar surfs the web with you, enabling you to see friends and meet new ones on the same site as you. Weblins can chat, move, show emotion, visit lounges, and trade stuff with other weblins.”

It has been PC only so far IE and Firefox with a weblin lite for mac and linux now in beta. I have ventured around a few media sites looking for the crowds gathering and chatting about the page they are walking around. The rich media sites work best of course and having yourself as a little character walking around the bottom of a web page takes a little getting used to and best done with a group of friends, touring the web together, remotely so to speak. Tremendous mash-up potential with Digg/Delicious and others. The point though with sharing a page with others is to have enough to talk about and even better in synch, so video sites are preferable to a single image on flickr for example. There is potential also for education use where a class of remote students and mentor travel the web and congregate around large text pages for discussion etc:


Much in the same ball park TechCrunch covers this Weblin clone-type start-up in a brief article based on their press release and quotes them – the company says

“we’re not targeting kids. I know those initial avatars look very Club Penguinesque, but when you see the full system, it will become clear that we’re going for teens and up (15+).”

This is currently in closed Alpha and it sounds like they are still raising funds from investors as their website is pretty thin but they have a lovely promo video below. This great article by Kirsten Nicole of Mashable (credit: linked image with Coke above) takes us on a step-by-step walk-through and leads to the most exciting but rather no-brainer element – as you surf around some ‘partner’ sites will have applications where your wandering avatar can interact with the page. So prizes for coming back, small games to play with others on the page and so on – marketers time to play! Another aspect that may make RocketOn more sucessful than Weblin is of course the fact that the avatars can roam around pages and build on them – well that’s the way it seems from the promo, in reality we shall see.


Unlike the two above ExitReality takes a slightly different approach to making flat boring 2D web pages more avatar friendly. They turn them into 3D worlds! Yes your heard correctly. The image below is me walking around a flickr page which almost instantaneously was converted into a 3D walk around gallery. Still very buggy on my souped up main PC with many sites not rendering at all, this has some real potential once they fine tune that dimensional converting widget. Keep an eye on these.

Text from their website:

  • What is ExitReality for?
  • View any webpage in 3D… every website is now a virtual world
  • Turn your standard 2D web page into your own unique 3D space
  • Meet and chat with people in 3D
  • Search and explore thousands of online 3D communities and meet new people!
  • What Can I Do?
  • Convert, decorate and share your Social Network Page in 3d
  • Collect cool objects to add to your 3d space or apartment
  • Create a 3d Avatar, chat with friends and meet new people
  • Invite people to your virtual space
  • Host real time parties and events at your online space

Google Lively

Google Lively - SilkCharms Pad 02

Well we all know about the new 500LB Gorilla in town, masquerading as a cutesy, half-baked 3D chat space. I have blogged about this a couple of times already and made a strong point that it is the ability to embed your small ‘lively’ window in ‘your’ sites as being its USP. I copy an extract from my post of a few weeks ago…

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.


This new 3D ‘vivaty‘ plug-in for Facebook has lots of other web 2.0 integration Wired has a good introduction article on it from July 08…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.

Another quote from their site:

Vivaty’s vision is to make the Immersive Web a reality by transforming the flat web into a more visually rich and expressive experience that amplifies socialization and engagement. The company’s end-to-end web platform is designed to enable distributed virtual experiences anywhere on the web. Founded in 2007, Vivaty is led by a team of web, gaming, and graphics experts…


(Disclaimer: I do some work with these folk.) This is really a development of the old ‘talking head bots’ of the 90s and early 00s but with a twist. MyCyberTwin is you, well as close an approximation to your personality, wrapped in an AI text based engine which you train based on conversations people are having with you on yours or other’s web pages.

MyCyberTwin is a website that allows you to quickly create compelling virtual personalities called CyberTwins. These virtual beings live and breathe on the web and chat to your friends, family, colleagues or customers on your behalf.

OK how is that a LSVW (Layered Social Virtual World) I hear you ask? Well as they say “MyCyberTwin is a website that allows you to create virtual personalities that can chat for you online.” So this backend persona can be plugged into any client – we have done it with Second Life but their real model is having MyCyberTwins have ‘social’ conversations on blogs or marketing sites and so on. It is really you being able to chat non-real time, asynchronously to friends or interested parties 24/7- it is you digital proxy.

Pandora and SitePal

At both ends of the rather off-line talking at you continuum we have a free to use AI backend that allows you to run customised chat mash-ups over your web site in Pandora (1) and then the most commercial example of the same thing in SitePal (2). There are many in-between.

2 SitePal provides a number of powerful, yet easy-to-use features for designing, scripting and publishing your animated speaking characters.

1 Pandorabots is the place where you can create and unleash virtual personalities. Pandorabots is an experimental software robot hosting service based on the work of Dr. Richard Wallace and the A.L.I.C.E./AIML free software community.

From any browser, you may create, design and publish your own software robots – and make them available to anyone via the Internet. Sign-up for an Account to begin creating your own virtual robots.


Otherwise known as Passively Multiplayer Online Gaming with a catch phrase ‘play the web’ and more about playing as groups across web pages rather than ‘real’ avatars layered on or in your web browser. PMOG’ers are given or create quests, missions (hundreds of them!) and most importantly set traps or goodies for each other and can literally bury treasure or mines or other clues on specific URLs that other players are likely to ‘stumble’ across – all managed from a “World of Warcraft’ type plug-in, bottom bar for Firefox. They earn points travelling around that can be spent at a ‘Shoppe’ – which I have yet to find myself!

There is a link between PMOG and a site called GameLayers who have a large team and advisors including Cory Doctorow. They are lead by Merci Victoria Grace as CCO whose bio reads:

“a creative force in the field of immersive entertainment design. A writer and artist…At GameLayers, Hammon envisions a game built on top of the entire internets and works with creative people to materialize that vision.”

TechCrunch about summed up some of the fun to be had with this ‘layered’ gaming saying that they already had 15 000 players back in May of this year – PMOG Launches – Go Lay Some Mines On Your Friend’s MySpace Page. Here is a quick screenshot of a quest just about to happen with players on a mission for Content Virtual Worlds

OK a quick round-up of a few new services currently enabling a new way to browse the web. There are many important implications that come out of this collision mainly around the investment of time people usually put into their avatars in self-contained world could be stimulated in some of the examples above – loyalty for browsing and tracking as your avatar automatically gains extra powers (game speak for reward for completing goals) as it visits ‘enhanced’ sites. There is also the possibility of interoperability with your other 10-40 avatars in other worlds that could receive some of the characteristics of the ‘web’ wanderer. The list goes on and I have to get back to good ole traditional web browsing. If you know of other examples of the above please meet me on this page regularly at 10pm AEST 🙂 Or just comment!

Oct 052005

Pacific Stump ©Gary Hayes 2005Films of games in my mind don’t cut the mustard. So why are they still making them? It comes as no surprise that Halo (a game which was part-epithany for me) is being made into a large scale feature film. Also not surprising that Mr. Lord of the Rings Peter Jackson is going to take charge as reported by Reuters yesterday.

Jackson and his wife, Fran Walsh, will serve as the executive producers for “Halo,” which is targeted for worldwide release in mid-2007 by Universal Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox film studios.
“Halo” will be shot in Wellington, New Zealand, and will use Jackson’s production and post-production facilities there.
“I’m a huge fan of the game and look forward to helping it come alive on the cinema screen,” Jackson said in a statement.

Big name producers aside I get the sense that this game remake of films or film remake of games shows a part lack of maturity and risk in the industry – understandable given the poor box office performance at the moment. A more mature industry would of course be confident to develop games and films in parallel, knowing that the two can be marketed well and have a life in the market (the matrix and a couple of others had a go at this – but not the norm). Even more important for the future are hybrids of the two – a film that is part game and a game that is part film. A real problem here for me is that ‘canned’ games (ones fixed on disks without online component) and ‘canned’ films (all of them!) are not that well…compelling anymore for the new audiences. The uptake in online gaming is massive, because it is dynamic and has surprise and human characteristic. I think it is really flogging a dead horse, cynical marketing and lacks innovation – the films that have been made from games are not exactly up there in my top 100, sorry 1000!

“By the time of its release, “Halo” will join other video-game inspired films such as “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” “Resident Evil,” and “Doom.” But the industry’s Hollywood inroads have not been without bumps.”

This is more about brand exploitation than story of course and everyone knows it. I can’t imagine a screenplay getting past first post if it was pitched as “super-robot guy helps human soldiers kill aliens on strange planets” 😉 Suppose the real issue for me is that we all throw our personal constructs and emotions onto games when we play them – it becomes a unique experience, almost an event in our minds. I still remember a few long nights trying to get Lara through the canal level, yes I am not that good! But I now strongly associate Tomb Raider with Venice! Bizarre, that neural, cross-association thing again – my experience. Making a film of that event is more particularly a single (script writers route, or alternate story) journey through a non-linear game (well mostly non-linear – see previous post/article about serendipity “The Certainty of Chance“). It is like, well making a film that we can ‘relate’ to, familiarity but which is overtly articificial. I avoid talking about the differences between free-form game and narrative in this post as that is covered by a million voices outside but will refer you to this article by Gonzalo Frasca – which is a very accessible read. Part of the ludology vs narratology debate.

Back to this post. I wonder if this current trend by Hollywood is almost the last wag of the tail of ‘studio empire’ lion – the road from being the number one entertainment, to recycling b-movies to making a film about anything that has pulled the audience away from the box office, (video games). Will film itself move into its own genre – perhaps in 10-20 years when we refer to a film it will have it’s own connotation, something about people…perhaps and we can hope it will bring audiences back because cinema will be one of the few remaining mediums actually reflecting humanity. Still like games, in life we should still play with new forms in this cross-over period – some will rise, many will fail, I suggest most films of games or in fact any shared ‘personalized’ event might be one them.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005