May 292009

ABC Island Second Life Panorama 3000 wide!
While lecturing to AFTRS students last week about multi platform, social media & new forms I got on to games and social virtual worlds. When I asked who knew about Second Life one student chirped up “oh isn’t that the place where ABC TV got bombed”. Now a few things immediately sprung to mind when hearing this comment

  1. Having built the ABC TV Island in 5 days or so and part running it at the time I knew the background to this intimately, so how much detail to go into?
  2. I was also bizarrely running a LAMP residential lab in Tasmania when this event occurred and Lisa Romano then an ABC producer was one of our mentors, she also was in charge of the ABC Island at the time – so very much involved in the response
  3. These events are very rare and my experience was either mostly technical server errors or simple admin error, so the problem was fixed in an hour or so as we immediately liaised with Linden Lab who run Second Life and fixed the problem

But the thing that really sprung to mind was, wow this event was back in May 2007. A two year old story. How and why would it persist so long and into the heads of ‘one so young’ – well mid 20s gen, young in my book :). Then I started to think about the story I used to tell not so long ago to folk who were fascinated by the story of the intriguing ‘ripple’ effect. How a technical error ended up with the CEO of ABC TV being interrogated in government about the act being about anti- Public Service commercialisation combined with terrorism training. This also reminded me forcibly of Laurel Papworth’s Ripple effect and more importantly the Long Tail of an influenced ripple effect – whereby a story is spread like chinese whispers and in some cases enters into folklore and myth – even with endless online interrogation. I also liken this to the Butterfly effect or chain reaction, where a small event can end up causing something far more significant. In this case study below of ABC Island, as you see below, it was more to do with a kind of mass hysteria about the medium of branded virtual worlds & the reflection of that out into real ‘prejudiced’ society. An example of online mass hysteria or clever marketing? You decide.

So here is a glimpse into the Butterfly Effect chronology on 2nd year anniversary of the momentus event 🙂

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Jan 182007


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 Life® Assassin by visiting the Nomad Hotel in Second Life® 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 game—anywhere in Second Life®. As long as a player is wearing the HUD they are considered actively participating in the game. While actively participating in the game, a player’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 Life®, 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 prey’s hit list (in addition to their original targets)—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 players’ maps), Bonus Name (gives the user an additional online target), Homing Shot (Heat seeking bullet), and Shield (may take 5 direct hits before being “killed”).
  • 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 Life® 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 prey’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 Smokin’ Aces Headquarters and Virtual NBC Headquarters will also increase a player’s bounty.
  • If a player is “killed”, their current day’s point bounty will reset back to 100 points and they will start from scratch with the game’s default weaponry.

vMTV. Outside the SL environment we have MTV who seem to be happily ploughing ahead on the 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 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.”

Posted by Gary Hayes Copyright 2007