Feb 162009

I have blogged long and hard about the future of the metaverse and particularly how key sectors can make use of them as a functional tool. Education are already motoring, social activity is still the key driver, artists use it for music, video and performance and buying/selling ‘user to user’ businesses are still strong. One area that has received most contraversy is of course ‘real brands’, a so called exodus and ‘really’ what is the ROI. I published over at my MUVEDesign VW development site, a first stab at where I think we are on the Gartner Hype Curve for social virtual worlds (not game worlds!). Here it is again (linked from my flickr account).

Gartner Hype Cycle SVW

I do believe we are probably at the lowest ebb for brands in second life. This is bourne out by the SL brand stats I founded over at The Project Factory – you can see the dwell traffic for most brands outside the top 10 are exceedingly low. That doesn’t mean its game over. Far from it, as the lessons are learned and now it is time for companies to get it right, by avoiding developers that focus on build it and run (yes they are still here) and deliver experience, social interaction and relevance. I cover this in a lot more detail in posts back in 06-08!

Andy Mallon over at the Social Research Foundation has published a nice Annual Surver PDF report which is an inworld survey of Second Life users who ‘know’ second life – vs the tourist reports we often get from fly-by-night journalists or Gen Y social marketeers who don’t get it! Heres the blurb on the report (seeing I use the nice charts below!) Gotta earn my keep 🙂

The First Opinions Panel is the largest consumer research panel in Second Life with 10,000 members from newbies to the most active and involved “residents” who, Own the most virtual land, Spend and earn the most money there, Spend the most time there, an average of over two hours a DAY!, Run the most groups. Over 1,000 of our members own one or more groups in SL, many with hundreds to thousands of members. These are the leaders in Second Life. They are studied by over 33 demographic and psychographic attributes from both their real and Second life.

Firstly the longevity for users in Second Life. Remember that at the moment there are between 60-75 thousand users inworld at any moment and 31% spend an average of TWO HOURS a day in Second Life – 2/3 spend at least ONE hour a day! The next question is what is the churn rate, how long do people actually hang around using the service?



So Second Life is perhaps not ‘for life’. It seems many folk do tire of it at around 18 months with only around 20% going for longer than two years. Again this isn’t a real issue for brands as the culmulative user hours across the board puts Facebook, YouTube and other social spaces to shame.

This culmulative dwell is also on the increase. Get a user loyal to your brand and you may have them for longer than a year. Which seques nicely onto how do those inworld for these long periods actually want to interact with brands…


The item that stands out for me is ‘product development’. This has been consistently under utilized so far and there is still a big gap in the virtual marketplace for a big brand to really go beyond designing a hotel layout or fantasy coke machine. I know one brand will be stepping up to the mark this year and demonstrate how powerful this aspect can be. One item that is missing for me is brands ‘presenting’ to inworld inhabitants and facilitating ‘Ted talks’ like events rather than that being the domain of academia only. The SRF published a few choice statements from savvy inworld folk that reinforces several of the key points I and others have been bleating about for years.

  • “Don’t advertise to me – give me something that does not waste my time – make me want to learn more about by entertaining me, informing me or educating me. And make it cool.”
  • “Don’t just expect to do normal marketing – you have to hold events and interact with people”
  • “Bringing real world products inworld is the next inevitable evolution.”
  • “SL is a great way to reach those whom may need services that you may not reach otherwise. ”
  • “Real life companies tend to create great places but just leave them behind. They should assign some people to stay online and accommodate those people who visits their places in Second Life.”
  • “You have to engage people in SL, not simply put up marketing messages and expect residents to flock to you.”

The survey goes beyond well trodden areas too by asking about their Real Life Primary Job and how Second Life has been an enabling tool for it. It is no surprise that learning, collaboration and meetings are high on the list but what will become more and more significant will be real world recruitment – gauging a persons abilities and/or personality inworld. Kelly, Accenture and others are already versed in this space.


With the level of doom about brands in second life this question goes to the heart of what activities are on the decline. So looking at this chart the shorter the bar the better and running RL businesses in Second Life is the least in decline. (It is not clear from this chart if surveyed folk actually answered all questions so will leave it a little to your imagination as regards a true split here)


As a finale and related to the above, Clever Zebra’s Virtual Worlds for Business 2009 is now out as a free publication looking at VW for business applications. Unsure of the ‘enterprise readiness’ of all ten worlds author Nick Wilson highlights companies that are already sold on VW for meetings at least – which is slightly contradictory to him saying, expect to be logged out of meetings regularly? Anyway in the free report here are a few quotes from the document:

Dell “Employees report that they are more engaged in the 3D environment than on a conference call and that they feel more involved and apt to participate. An added side benefit is that this pilot project affords Dell the opportunity to experiment with moving toward a greener future where more and more employees work from home, not the office.”

IBM “IBM estimates that they saved approximately $250,000 by taking the conscious decision not to hold the Virtual Worlds for Business conference (normally a 2.5 day in person meeting) physically this year, and more for the Annual General meeting (normally a 3 day event for 400 Academy members and affiliates).”

Sun “Sun were able to transform an otherwise exclusive, expensive event into an inclusive inexpensive one open to a much wider audience of junior engineers who would benefit from the real learning experiences provided in a virtual setting. They were even able to get Hal Stern, Snr VP Systems Engineering to come in and do 2 full chat sessions exclusive to the virtual component of the 2008 CEC.”

Feb 012009

What may save TV may also truly grow Social Virtual Worlds. As online audiences continue to ignore TV and vanilla/social virtual worlds suffer from a lack of direction, perhaps the marriage of the two will save both from irrelevancy? A report by Gary Hazlitt in various TV branded virtual world spaces.

twinityspiritThere have been several forays by TV properties (gradually losing their audience and associated ad revenues) into social virtual worlds over the past two years. I don’t just mean branded one-off events but actually setting up shop, building a familiar and representive space for the ‘users’ to play in. These forays range from at one end, simple branded spaces pushing episodes on screens through to actually running variants of the TV format to be played out by participant avatars in a detailed build -with many points in-between. But before the meat of the post (a couple of new entrants) here is a quick list to give you an idea of some of the shows and channels that have tried, had some success or failed. As I have been involved in a few of them and visited all, I have listed ones I think have had most impact (engagement) through to those who didn’t quite get it (reversioning).

  1. NBC’s Gossip Girl
  2. MTV’s – Laguna Beach on There.com (also Hills, PimpMyRide etc)
  3. Big Brother – PersonalizeMedia detailed report & at launch
  4. Showtimes The L Word
  5. CBS -  CSI:New York and from TechCrunch
  6. Weather Channel – Info, simulations and Extreme Sports area
  7. Australia’s ABC TV Island – Channel & some programmes (eg: Librarians)
  8. NBC Universal Media Island – Channel & concerts & events
  9. London Live – the first music show to appear on the cyberchannel: Virtual Life.TV
  10. SkyNews Island – News Set role play
  11. The Money Programme BBC screening
  12. Channel 4 – Radio Station
  13. Sundance Channel – Virtual screening room
  14. Inhabited TV 1997! – BBC, BT, Illuminations and others
  15. many more…0ver to you and comments!

twinityspirit01There is a rule of thumb regarding TV execs and virtual worlds or serious games initiatives – do not let the TV folk take control as they have too much ingrained baggage around non-participatory media and the resultant compromise is often of no use to anyone – get people who understand game play (and be aware that often excludes traditional game developers) and social media involved or face the consequences. The ones above that really worked allowed the participant audience to really ‘live’ in the shoes of the characters either by having activities similar to the protagonists, meeting the ‘fictional characters’, a social space that resonated with the shows aesthetic or a great set with game-like elements. I have talked a lot about Mixed Reality Entertainment in the past and how one of the most innovative uses of virtual space is to extend the TV or Film property into a 24/7, participatory environment. The main reason for doing this is to drive traffic to the TV but also to keep existing followers loyal to the branded property. As an example there is more detail about the reasoning on my post on Big Brother (good and bad) in Second Life (Witnessing the Birth of an Entertainment Form) as well as posts nearby on CSI in Second Life and many of MTVs properties in There.com (TV Property Branded Virtual Worlds – The Beginning). There are moves around the world including BBC and many European broadcasters who are creating worlds alongside and in some cases in front of the TV episodics and this is the important point. Promoting films with games or virtual world spaces has a very limited life span, forging a strong link between virtual world events and TV episodics is to me a virtuous circle – especially considering the 200 plus worlds populated by the youth audience who are typically turning off TV – teens and tweens. Earlier there were many experiments of TV/World hybrids and I was involved, as mentioned before, in the Mirror. Here is John Wyver (then Illuminations) talking about that (remember this is circa 1997!).

The other key element that contributed to the success of The Mirror, much as in real life, was the provision of regular “hosts” for the space. These needed to be frequent visitors who spent a significant amount of their time in the world, and whom users could have some reasonable expectation of encountering when they logged on. These hosts would greet new entrants, introduce people to each other, point out activities and generally help people around. More than this, however, over time they became the core of the community of the world, encouraging people to return and beginning to develop the particular language and culture of The Mirror. Needless to say, they were the saddest to see it turned off after seven weeks – although a number of relationships begun virtually have continued in the real world – including at least one marriage and one recently born child.

Recent company start-ups or collaborations also suggest that there are moves afoot. Icarus studios are squarely aiming at the TV/VirtualWorld hybrid and about 18 months ago Endemol & EA teamed up to create Virtual World TV formats (VirtualMe) based on Deal or No Deal and Big Brother. Also there have been a plethora of immersive film launches (play-in-the-set-type builds) across the metaverse and I Legend, Digital Hollywood, Iron Man, Quantum of Solace and Transformers spring to mind as I write – but as I said this post is more to do with a continuous, what happens on TV resonantes into the virtual world and what happens there is reflected into the TV episodics. (I regularly consult on this specific area so won’t go into any more detail!)…


So, it is interesting to see this trend continuing as new world Twinity starts to do more experiential ‘film’ property marketing and even more ‘demographically focussed’ the current series of Heroes being extended into Habbo

The agreement was brokered by the William Morris Agency and marks the first time ‘Heroes’ has partnered with a virtual world.

..but not in the usual way. As reported by LA Times “‘Heroes’ hops on to Habbo’s virtual world” they will be introducing a virtual-only character Syn Anders who will act as a bridge or guide to the TV series. NBC themselves give more detail here.

While following directions from a mysterious virtual messenger, the new character will take the audience on an adventure as she discovers the history of ‘Heroes’ through a journey that travels back and forth between Habbo.com and the ‘Heroes’ Evolutions site. “We’re excited to work with Habbo to introduce a new character that will extend the enormously popular and Emmy® Award winning ‘Heroes’ interactive story beyond the official Web site on NBC.com,” said Stephen Andrade, senior vice president, Digital Development and General Manager, NBC.com. On Habbo.com, fans of the show will be able to interact with the new virtual hero through a variety of in-game activities. Habbos participating in a weeklong quest will discover their own special powers and will be recruited as new heroes. Those who successfully complete the mission will be awarded various virtual prizes. On the ‘Heroes’ Evolutions site, the new virtual hero will be woven into several of the in-universe, interactive extensions of the on-air show, including a character profile, the Primatech Paper Assignment Tracker and new chapters of the ‘Heroes’ graphic novels.

One of the more obvious links between TV and film of course is simply to broadcast a seed back story as a series, animated makes most sense to keep a strong visual link and then run a MMOG alongside it. This extends, involves the audience more in the narrative and allows them to personalize the experience. We are seeing this about to play out (in Asia at least) with Fusion Fall on the Cartoon network.

This is a great use of virtual worlds and it also shows that you don’t need richly rendered environments to be able to engage with participants in these spaces. Also in terms of the ‘linking’ paradigm, it is close to ‘my’ level 3 wikipedia cross-media definition

Excerpt “Cross-media 3.0“ Bridges. – The truest form of cross-media where the story or service structure is specifically authored to drive the audience using strong Call-To-Actions, across media devices to continue the journey. The content placed on the other platform is critical to staying in touch with the experience and the narrative bridges tease you towards investigating or moving to another media form/platform. Obvious examples include a TV show that ends suddenly and gives you a URL to explore more. It may be an SMS that teases and points you towards a live concert in a city square which then leads you to a TV show, then to a podcast then to subscription emails. The trigger, or bridge, is the critical component of this in motivating the cross-media action.”

twinityspirit02Onto Twinity and the images here and above are me playing around in the pre-build set of the recently released and not universally praised film The Spirit. Although it grossed $10 million in the first 4 days it was pulled up for being unemotional and 2D. Well part of the problem generally with many big features now is that audiences have changed and want something more experiential – especially with ‘comic-noir’ films – why not let them ‘live’ in the story environment (my wikipedia item)? Twinity though have teamed up with Will Eisner studios to do this event (not in any way my ideal episodic but potentially a way for the Twinity user base to ‘create episodic, comic-noir’ machinima on-going?

CineStar Spirits you Away to Another World – CineStar’s CUBIX cinema in virtual Berlin is the premiere address for all movie-related events in Twinity. The cinema is currently showing the trailer and other exciting movie material from the upcoming premiere of The Spirit, a movie based on Will Eisner’s cult 1940s comic book series, which will be coming to a cinema screen near you from 5 February.  Fans of the movie can get their hands on exclusive Spirit merchandising: including posters, standees, and an incredible Spirit mask that lets you see special visual effects inworld. Find more information here. Save the date and come to the opening party!
Date: Monday, 2 February
Time: 17:00 Berlin, 11am NYC, 00:00 Singapore
Where: CineStar CUBIX

twinityspirit03Twinity (by Metaversum, the German created virtual world) are a long ways from a mature stable platform, hence being in beta for the past 12 months or so, but are already exhibiting the best ‘world-led’ event-based, user activation. This in my mind is high on the list of reasons for likely success over many of the areas that over-hyped Second Life suffered from in the early days. OK the world is quite big and empty and many ‘social’ tools are not yet available inworld but the kind of activity quoted below (calling for videos, images, stories etc: attached to some well know brands) is great first step community building and more importantly getting a growing community to market for you. Even I had a go at one a few months ago – video embedded below 🙂 BTW Metaversum you really need to improve the video tools (detached camera please!).

Submit Your Artwork and Win! – Take part in The Spirit Screenshot and Machinima Contest and win an exclusive film poster signed by cult film director Frank Miller or The Spirit action figures.
Things Are Looking A Little Different Around Hereos
Wear the mask and see Twinity through the eyes of the Spirit! – Use Twinity’s screenshot and recording tools to create incredible Spirit- inspired images! To be eligible to win the contest, screenshots must be created while wearing the Spirit Mask and its visual effects must be demonstrated in your machinima. Screenshots may be submitted in jpg, png or gif formats.
Sensational Prizes – You have the chance to win sensational The Spirit prizes! Three prizes will be given out to the lucky winners of the Screenshot and Machinima Contest:
* 1st prize: The Spirit action figure and film poster signed by Frank Miller
* 2nd prize: The Spirit film poster signed by Frank Miller
* 3rd prize: The Spirit action figure
To take part in the contest, all you have to do is:

  • Submit your screenshots together with your Twinity name to quest@twinity.com or
  • Upload your movie to a video sharing website, for example “YouTube”, then submit the link to your uploaded video together with your Twinity name to quest@twinity.com
  • Competition deadline: 28 February 2009

We’ll celebrate the winning entries with a Winner’s Gallery party in the CineStar Event Hall! Artwork will be displayed in the CUBIX cinema during The Spirit promotion. Keep an eye on Twinity’s Event Calendar for further details!

Of course I would encourage all TV producers to think about their current audience and whether they want to reach them this way. More importantly you need to think of the appropriateness of creating inworld characters or environments for them to exist in – serious games (from documentaries) and childrens episodics are hot ones at the moment . The real effort is more about having great characters that are persistant in the space but beware of bots or NPC’s (non player characters) pretending to be real, this can have a strong counter productive effect. More later.

Jan 072009


Reflections by me? Been a bit slow off the mark blog wise this year as endless layers of projects overlap and blogging has fallen off the list. But there are some goodies about to be blogged here, just simmering, almost ready for serving. Smell that goodness.

For the moment though two of my ‘thinks’ that others published for me. The first from Bettina TIzzy’s great (‘What the World Needs Now is‘) Not Possible in Real Life (NPIRL) blog who posted a selection of my slightly half-baked thoughts re: virtual worlds. Following that, also featuring SL & Telstra, a rather positive retrospective from ITWire extensively quoting me, about how companies can engage properly, The Pond is a build I created back in early 2007.

OK to the post. I know, a lazy re-posting but there are a few nuggets in here…over to NPIRL.

Gary Hazlitt turns the page on 2008 – What happened and what’s coming in virtual worlds

Sydney-based Brit and marketing wiz, musician, composer and rich content creator in virtual worlds Gary Hazlitt (aka Gary Hayes), is already done celebrating the incoming year, while we wait for a few more hours in the Western Hemisphere for 2009 to arrive.

Gary, who studied physics, is the director of the Australian Laboratory for Advanced Media Production (LAMP), and also heads up Virtual Worlds for the UK-based The Project Factory, for which he produced the highly successful and eminently revistable (as the traffic numbers indicate) Australian Telstra and ABC Second Life presences.

I welcome Gary’s guest blogpost and knowledgeable take on the recent past and the coming adventures of virtual worlds. Happy New Year, everyone! – Bettina Tizzy

In the social Virtual Worlds context, 2006 was about hype… another new frontier ‘kid-on-the-block,’ but became about fast bucks and cheap and cheerful PR. We saw that bubble gently burst in 2007 as the realisation that one world in particular, Second Life – (which is still the leading example of culturally created virtual content), was really about creative communication and artistic expression versus the local shopping mall or a crude business tool.

Last year, 2008, we witnessed a distillation in what Second Life (and by implication other customisable worlds) is really about, leading to a proliferation of new, niche virtual worlds meeting the cultural and entertainment needs of much broader demographics. We effectively saw the ‘fat’ surgically removed from Second Life and an acceptance that this new medium and form is still in its very early days, but in 2008 there are clearer reasons for being a part of the social web mix:

1. An immersive expression of community – Facebook and MySpace-meets-World of Warcraft. This community can create their own environments or swarm around trusted film, TV or lifestyle brands, too.

2. For business, it is more about a place to meet, present and recruit and far less about brand awareness, product sales or vacuous hype. The business model in 2008 clearly came into focus: the community selling to itself – brands needed to court existing inhabitants very carefully.

3. For education, Second Life is one of the most efficient tools in the learning process. Education becomes democratised, everyone can contribute and learn equally, remote learning is far more compelling, fun and immersive.

4 A creative tool. Second Life, in particular, showed significant maturity as we saw a higher number of serious live performance (CARP Cybernetic Art Research Project, NMC, DanCoyote Antonelli, for example), a record number of in-world ‘machinima & TV-like programs’ and by far the largest array of creative statements from virtual environment artists, many members of the NPIRL group. The quality of ‘experience’ creation from talented musicians, designers, photographers, artists, etc., reached new heights.


Investment across the board – more than $900 million US invested since Oct 2007 – has moved away from generalist worlds like Second Life to more focused niche or user base environments with many starting to exhibit core game elements. These include those with renewed investment after new’ish launches: vSide, Football Superstars, Stardoll, Home, IMVU, Metaplace, Multiverse Places, and Music Mogul.

Towards the end of the year, console social worlds came onto the scene. XBox360 and Wii are very similar in ‘cartoon’ aesthetic, whereas Sony is far more game focused. All have very similar business models – create a space to hang out and be ‘tempted’ by games/film/merchandise. Although these are not yet places for community creation, they will soon learn that to keep inhabitants they will need to be or, like Google Lively, have to pull the plug. Embeddable or layered worlds began in 2008 and are likely to be significant in getting people used to real time communication through ‘representational’ avatars – vs text based ‘social network’ profiles. Also, Facebook worlds like YoVille or Vivaty, or layered worlds like Rocketon or Weblin that are embedded on the existing 2D web. The dominance of the likes of Club Penguin and Webkinz at the tweens end of the spectrum will be duplicated through teens and gen y’s as a series of new, highly focused and targeted social worlds launch next year. This has already begun with Football Superstars and Music Mogul but expect to see many more – including several with user created content as a feature alongside the virtual economy.


– Graphics in Second Life become teenagers. Still some way from the likes of Crysis, Second Life Windlight turned the world into something far more fantastical for many. It added layers of light, glow and control to a previously very ‘flatly lit’ world. We still wait for dynamic shadows, better environmental sound and an even more useful scripting language (post Mono), but this was a paradigm shift for environmental artists.

– Some companies got it! There was not a plethora of companies or brands entering Second Life but those that did had continued success as they concentrated on the social (people) rather than ‘product’ aspects of their business. Although the Pond leads in dwell terms, new entrants like Warner’s Gossip Girl have done exceedingly well. Car companies still do well even though Pontiac walked away from Second Life, and Toyota, Fiat and Nissan are always in the top 10 brands.

– The quality of machinima across all social and game worlds increased exponentially this year and a growth in communities watching ‘documents’ of the worlds they spend most of their time in. In addition to some machinima appearing in heritage media (“Molotov Alva and his Search for the Creator” and HBO/Cinemax, for example) there has been a growth in long form game-engine films and notably many more serious issues tackled.

– The New Worlds. A fracturing, as it became obvious that Second Life cannot be all things to all avatars – so nearly 70 other worlds all showed up on the radar. Many are focusing on niche interest or are highly branded. Several of the new ‘jack-of-all-trades’ entrants will learn that enabling community creativity and an economy is absolutely necessary. There were several walled garden/locked content mirror worlds and builds in 2008, which will learn to be not about ‘broadcast’ spaces, and realise that their worlds are far more significant than modelling what is around us – “In augmented and online virtual worlds, humanity will exponentially evolve, free from the limiting ghosts of that other virtual world we called reality”.

The second item appeared following my presentation at the Online Distribution and Business Collaboration conference from November 2008 in which I hurriedly went through some good inworld and game marketing case studies. Kathryn Small here picked up on why Australia’s BigPond is working really well – and no, it is not all about the broadband capping situation in Australia. Most of the regular inhabitants are on other ISP’s – anyway the article covers my thoughts on this and I have a much longer analysis with stats for the nearly 2 years it has been active, in the pipeline. (Also worth mentioning something about the item at the start of this one – Tourism Victoria didn’t withdraw its funding, Multimedia Victoria requested I take down a temporary ‘trial’ build of Melbourne Laneways – which had an original 3 month ‘learn as we go’ tenure on ABC Island. Otherwise a good item below.

Despite reports, Telstra and Second Life remain inseparable
By Kathryn Small 28 November 2008 02:20PM

It’s a match made in heaven: Telstra is Australia’s biggest telco and ISP, while Second Life is one of the world’s hottest social networking tools. So when the media reported that “the game was almost over” for Second Life, Telstra was quick to defend its investment.

Recently, Tourism Victoria withdrew its advertising funding from Second Life’s ABC Island. This prompted Deacons technology and media partner Nick Abrahams to comment to The Australian that “the drop in commercial interest in Second Life had been noticeable over the past nine months”.

Abrahams said that at any given time, fewer than a couple of hundred Australians might be in Second Life.

But virtual worlds expert Gary Hayes said that virtual world ratings should be measured in engagement and user hours, not just hits.

“Immersive online experiences need new metrics, and marketeers and academics are realising that social worlds do provide the potential for very high dwell figures,” said Hayes.

“Facebook has 65 million users on for just four hours per month. 132 Americans watch YouTube but they watch only about five minutes per day or 2.5 hours per month,” said Hayes.

“Second Life (and other social virtual worlds) has the highest rates of loyalty and stickiness of any social network generation, more than 50 hours per month per user.”

Hayes said that Telstra’s islands, known as The Pond, had a steady stream of around 50-100 users at any given time.

Telstra spokesperson Peter Habib quoted figures compiled by The Project Factory which said that BigPond’s islands were the most popular in Second Life.

The Ponds were founded in March 2007 with 11 islands (now 16) which have hosted virtual concerts, ANZAC Day commemorations and even New Year and Australia Day events.

BigPond recently hosted an AUSTAFE event which involved live streaming of the event from Adelaide into Second Life.

The Ponds also contains five residential islands for users to build themselves virtual real estate to live in, at near 100 per cent occupancy.

Telstra spokesperson Peter Habib told iTnews, “BigPond’s commitment to innovation, interactivity and entertainment in Second Life is a key part of our success.”

Habib said that BigPond has opened a virtual in-world service kiosk that allows Second Life users to interact with BigPond customer service staff in a virtual way.

Hayes said that The Pond’s approach to customers differentiated it from many other brands.

“The real success of The Pond is more about the regular events, the creativity of the builders who often come from the community, elements of nationalism, and many of the organic spaces that promote stickiness by their ‘ambience’ rather than superficial interactivity. This has been a real differentiator.”

Habib dismissed the concerns of other providers with success on Second Life.

“While other companies may not share BigPond’s successes, we are more than pleased with the popularity of our Second Life islands”

Hayes said that companies might not succeed in Second Life for two reasons. First, that many brands were brought into Second Life for the wrong reasons, and with misunderstandings about the social network. “You cannot build into a social network and not be social,” said Hayes. “Early entrants simply did not act human; they acted like a corporation, and built clones of the real world, and didn’t think experientally.”

Second, Hayes said that companies needed to change their offering to virtual customers.

“We are seeing the natural exodus of ‘showroom, build-it-big-and-boring’ brands and the settling of second generation ‘social’ and ‘purposeful’  brands. So The Pond, Accenture, Playboy, The L Word, and about five other key brands are really getting to grips with setting up a virtual base in a social world.”

John Brand, research director at Hydrasight, agreed.

“Only organisations who want to be perceived as ‘bleeding edge’ should ever have been involved in Second Life in the first place,” said Brand.

“Now that Second Life is entering its relative teenage years (measured in Internet years at least), the early adopter bandwagon has well and truly been jumped on.”

But Brand (edit: Hayes) noted that Second Life is not the only virtual world.

“There are at least 50 other mainstream entities and the total audience (according to a trusted site on this topic, KZero) is well over 300 million. In the second quarter of 2008, $161 million was invested in 14 virtual worlds, in the first quarter $184 million put into 23 virtual worlds, so the total this year alone is $345 million across 37 new worlds.

“Australia is a tiny market compared with Europe, Asia, South America and the USA, so fluctuations are highly likely. The fact that the user base of one virtual world fell by 23 per cent in a year is common with any service coming out of a hype phase into a stable mature phase.”

Sep 282008

Have we reached a tipping point – with many more user hours spent with games than films are they now more culturally relevant (as in our cultures are saturated with them)? With most films having ‘game-like’ story arcs and, at the last count, nearly 80 films with stories based on game titles in production I am starting to think so.

Game culture and their inherent stories are now absolutely mass media. In a low risk, and dwindling film business, creating stories around experiences that people have already spent 20-40 hours immersed in the story world, is a no brainer, so what we are seeing is a threshold now of game-like films but more importantly films based on games. Anyway more after the ten minute video – stick with it.

“Playing With Stories” THE CINEMATIC GAME. A Film by GARY HAYES

I am designing curriculum for cinematic games and virtual worlds at AFTRS but also doing another report on the market potential of this cross-media, gilm (game/film) landscape. In the process again I threw together a compilation video of notable examples (I know there are at least ten times this btw!) interspersed with tasty quotations. “The Cinematic Game” was initially designed to be a look at the cross-promotion and story development potential of this most powerful mixed-media marketing machine. But, during the process though I was staggered to see the number of major feature films in production based on new and existing game universes (listed in this post below and scrolling at the end of the video) – suggesting to me a tipping point.

Game story starts to lead film development?

TV and Cinema has already become much more of a background or escapist medium for larger numbers of media consumers. In homes around the world we are spending more time in online pursuits than glued to the content breaks, in-between the advertising slots of traditional TV. We are also immersing ourselves in the social and story ‘exploration’ of the current generation of PC and console games. So how will TV and Film survive in a world where social gaming and associated peer appraisal online is far more compelling? Also given the choice will we continue to passively watch the protagonist or ‘be/live’ the hero? It is interesting to see 8000 employee EA Games now developing major strategies whereby games are made to be easily adapted to comics, books, TV and Film. In the business week article “Morphing Video Games into Movies” they note how EA are trying to emulate small non-game companies have built mini empires on their ‘story IP”

The idea is to repeat the success of companies such as Marvel Entertainment (MVL) and Hasbro (HAS), which used their base of fans to transform from marginal companies into Hollywood players. After licensing Spider-Man to Sony Pictures for a string of hit movies, Marvel has created its own studio, with Iron Man and other films set for release this summer. The Hasbro-backed Transformers movie grossed more than $400 million in 2007 global box-office sales, which in turn boosted company sales of movie-related toys and games.

It is interesting to note that the music industry is also starting to ride the coat tails of the games world. Kotaku reported on a ‘run-in’ between Warner Bros. and Activision about Guitar Hero. Suggesting the music publishers should get more royalties from games that use music, Activision’s boss Bobby Kotick hit back at Warner’s and said the following (which implied as the Kotaku item said ‘Perhaps the record companies should pay us‘)

We’re going to favour those publishers that recognise and appreciate how much we can add value to their artists… in the case of those kinds of products, you should be paying any money at all and whether it should be the reverse.

Back to the main thread of the post, it does make you wonder how many screenplay writers are sitting in front of their XBoxPS3Wii’s looking for inspiration nowadays? Variety suggests that in fact ‘all’ games could be made into movies but I will be really interested in what kind of film comes from The Sims and already know the likely story arc of MassEffect having run through it a couple of times but many others on the list below will be of interest, especially World of Warcraft which has around 4000 story threads/quests – so which story will we be ‘offered’?Films of games have had a shaky past with only a few critical successes such as Tomb Raider, Silent Hill, Resident Evil (there are several on slide 75 of my game/story presentation below, that I did several months ago) but given the serious money and credible directors such as Landau, Lucas, Speilberg, Cameron, Jackson etc: plus a deep desire to properly reflect the integrity of the ‘interactive’ experience, the tide is turning. Being an avid machinima maker I know at first hand what it means to capture the ‘essence’ of game playing, adapt it, reflect it and, if you understand the culture of the game, interpret it – the good thing is A list filmmakers (as you can hear Peter Jackson say at the end of my video) understand it too.

I must again finish with a plug for a couple of unique courses at AFTRS and related to this post an article in one of its blogs RedSet called “What’a film, TV & Radio school doing offering courses in game design and virtual worlds?” makes the relevant point:

“AFTRS new game design and virtual world graduate diplomas will push students to go beyond the generation of clichéd actions and stereotypical characters, students of these new courses will be encouraged to step up and learn how to create meaningful interactive experiences for a variety of platforms informed by the expertise offered in all of the other creative disciplines taught at AFTRS such as directing, screen composition, screenwriting, sound design, production design and more. The field of game design and interactive experiences is equally as collaborative as the world of filmmaking, drawing together diverse specialists who together create the whole – writers, screen composers, programmers, animators, art directors – at AFTRS all of these disciplines are already housed under one roof – with a track record of cross disciplinary interaction and a staggering successful graduates.”

More about my video

A non-exhaustive compilation of story rich games or gamic films including in order of appearance: Contact, Indiana Jones, Heavy Rain, The Game, Burning Crusade, Max Payne, The Matrix, Heavenly Sword, Final Fantasy, Lord of the Rings, Ironman, Call of Duty 4, Simone, Rage, Tron, Bicentennial Man, SpiderMan 3, War of the Worlds, Tomb Raider, I am Alive, WoW Lich King, Indigo Prophesy, Jumanji, Desperate Housewives, Da Vinci Code, The Beach, Assassins Creed, Thomas Crown Affair, CSI, Halo, Resident Evil, James Bond, Sleuth, Afrika, The Godfather, The Cube, Narnia, Time Bandits, The Golden Compass, Half Life, Never Winter Nights, Silent Hill, Hellgate, Beowulf and interviews with George Lucas and Peter Jackson plus quotes from many film directors and games designers

My film contains some of the better hybrids, either films inspired by games, games inspired by films or just very rich cinematic, story or character rich games. I make no excuses that I have used a mixture of cut scenes as well as ‘real’ game play in the video – that is really to show where we are heading as game graphics continues to hurtle towards the real time equivalent of the likes of Beowulf and other ‘trickle’ rendered CG features. After the quotes and textual references from the compilation below, are more elements on this very exiting hybrid cross-story, cross-IP, cross-reality world.

I want gamers to be surprised by their own creativity. I want players to feel not like Luke Skywalker, but George Lucas Will Wright (Sims, Spore)

We’re way beyond the notion of game-as-brand-extending afterthought. Let the virtual world–the vibrant, living world that people inhabit–let that influence the movie. Let it feed back into the process and provide unparalleled riches and depth to what we’re doing
John Landau (Titanic)

Games are already good at creating fear, suspense, excitement, shocked surprise, and laughter. Much rarer are games that create genuine sadness … I have never cried during a videogame
Marc Laidlaw (Half-Life)

I think the real indicator will be when somebody confesses that they cried at level 17
Steven Spielberg

When I found out one of my guildmates had died, someone with whom I had fought monsters, explored exotic lands, shared moments of jubilation and defeat, I wept. In spite of having never met him, the knowledge that we would not continue the story together, brought me great grief.
Laurel Papworth

We had a notion to take the stars of the movies and have them play supportive roles in the video game and tell a story that is a companion story to the movies
Joel Silver (Matrix)

If done well, I don’t believe a videogame itself can detract from a film experience. Ideally, it would be a complement to the film and a way for fans to further involve themselves in a world once they leave the cinema
Peter Jackson, (King Kong, Lord of the Rings)

There are scenes that start in the video game and will complete the movie – ¦and fell like it’s a part and experience of the movie
Joel Silver (Matrix)

Games and MMOs in particular are providing such a sustaining experience that challenges us to make the theatrical experience better
John Landau (Titanic)

The next big emotional breakthrough in gaming is being able to tell a story that is consistent throughout the narrative. If the game is 15 levels, it’s just like 15 chapters in a story
Steven Spielberg

We’re trying to understand the language of the film, but diverge in ways that are right for the game medium.
Neil Young’ EA VP (Lord of the Rings)

Games sometimes can reveal things. To watch someone in movement, unconscious movement, can be very stimulating and revealing, whether they win or not.
John Turturro (actor)

People wonder why games don’t have the same emotional palette as movies. But that’s the wrong way to look at it. It’s like saying, ‘Why isn’t radio like reading a book?’ Games, inherently, have a different emotional palette, which is their strength
Will Wright (Sims, Spore)

Scroll at the end of the compilation:

FILMS BASED ON GAMES IN Development or Production 2008/9 (Wikipedia and IGN source)

Alone in the Dark 2
American McGee’s Alice
Area 51
Battle Royale
Biohazard: Degeneration
BloodRayne III: Warhammer
Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars
Citizen Siege
City of Heroes
Clock Tower
Cold Fear
Crazy Taxi
Deus Ex
Devil May Cry
Doom 2
Dragon’s Lair
Duke Nukem
Earthworm Jim
Eternal Darkness
Eternity’s Child
Far Cry
Fatal Frame
Fear Effect
Gears of War
God of War
Hunter: The Reckoning
Jagged Alliance
Kane & Lynch
Legend: Hand of God
Lost Planet
Mass Effect
Metal Gear Solid
Mortal Kombat: Devastation
The Neverhood
Nightmare Creatures
Ninja Gold
Paul Blart: Mall Cop
Rainbow Six
Resident Evil IV
Return to Castle Wolfenstein
Sabotage 1943
Silent Hill 2
The Sims
Soul Calibur
Sonic the Hedgehog
Spy Hunter
Street Fighter:
The Legend of Spyro
The Sims
The Suffering
The Unforgettable
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell
Tomb Raider III
Warcraft (based on World of Warcraft)
Zombie Massacre

Mixed Reality Futures

As a lead into a post about to be published I have been talking for a couple of years now (The Mixed Reality Perfect Storm ) about the fantastic potential of the live and by implication shared TV experience to be enhanced by extending the world into online games. It is exciting to think where we will be in a few years once the ‘broadcasters & studios’ realise that keeping an audience involved in the ‘IP’/programme in-between airings or sequels is a good thing. Good for the story creators, the latent creative audience and of course advertisers who need eyeballs/hands/ears/minds and hearts.

A further afterthought there are several companies around the world developing Cross-Reality forms, one that I am heavily involved with‚ The Format Factory, are pioneering formats that bridge the space between compelling participatory TV/Film and online game worlds. They have a promotional video that metaphorically demonstrates some of the ’embedded’ world-within-worlds. A trailer video teaser for the mixed reality, inhabited TV formats being pioneered and piloted by The Format Factory.

Other posts on this topic: