Mar 122009

Dying? More in the middle of this post – Thought I would share my lil’ introduction slides from ad:tech 2009 earlier this week. It is such a short time (each panel is given 50 minutes) to cover such a vast area and myself, Jeff ( and Mitch ( were all struggling to impart tons of great info/examples and have enough time to get interactive. I hogged the first 15 minutes by giving a broad overview and some examples I have been involved in that fitted the brief of the talk.

Below are my slides,  a little descriptive text below that and at the bottom of this post some deeper insight into SmallWorlds (given most of my readers probably know Habbo already? – If not, Why Not!? ). I included one slide from Jeff Brookes set looking at Hitwise’s stats on browser worlds and other sites in terms of session length which will raise a few eyebrows!

Virtual Worlds & Business: What’s The ROI?

Virtual worlds are maturing at a rapid rate and brands are realising there are valuable business opportunities within them. Whether the objective is engagement, research or brand presence, virtual worlds are proving to be a legitimate marketing channel. In this session our panel will look to provide insights into the business benefits of working within a virtual world.


  • Gary Hayes, Director, Laboratory for Advanced Media Production, AFTRS & CEO MUVEDesign (Australia’s leading SL developer!)
  • Jeff Brookes, Regional Director – Asia Pacific, Sulake Corporation (
  • Mitch Olson, Co-Founder,

There were several important messages in my introduction. Firstly making sure we all understand the different platforms social virtual worlds are operating on so I briefly described

  1. Layered or Parallel worlds – cute 2D type avatars that move over the top of 2D web
  2. Browser Worlds – walled garden that run inside web browsers, often as isometric views as flash or shockwave
  3. Client Worlds – anything from 20MB to 3GB downloads of data and the world is obviously much richer than browser worlds but do need higher spec computers
  4. Console Worlds – a relatively new kid on the block, social spaces that exist on games consoles. All the rendering grunt is there and the avatars are often linked to the PS3, Wii or XBox360 real life account. PS3 Home is the easiest way to match to worlds like Habbo or
  5. Note there are hybrids of the above and  I would put ExitReality down as a hybrid of 1 and 3 as it turns a web page into a client style world

Here are the images of the above part of the presentation


I decided that a good ‘spine’ to hang the introduction on was the sort of negative questions floating around from those who don’t really understand what’s happening with web 3.0, the live virtual world space. This includes the paranoid printed press, a few out-of-touch businesses, and digital media companies/consultants more interested in iPhone/mobile games or Facebook widgets which is something they can truly explain (read: make money off).

Press hyperbole or myths?

  • Virtual Worlds are on the decline?
  • There’s no one in them?
  • & people don’t spend long there?
  • They are for kids or social ‘games’ not business?
  • There are no marketing models?

But I then addressed each question in turn showing real world stats and examples which turned all of these on their heads. Obviously in recession investment in new tech/services are going to be hit and recent reports do suggest a minor consolidation of investment into kids worlds, hinting at a lowering of VC in the ones I highlighted in my presentation, but this whole area is still something education & business are advised to R&D and understand fully – as a minimum. As we know it will be new ways of doing business, more immersive and efficient ways to collaborate and alternate forms of entertainment that will be partly what will bring us out of recession. Some reports even say that investment is high regardless (hat tip Mitch)

For Virtual Startups, There Are VC Funds Aplenty

If there is an economic crisis, then it isn’t impacting any of the startups making virtual goods, online games or virtual worlds. In just the last month alone, three companies have raised mega-millions from venture capitalists.

  • Greystripe, a games-related advertising network, raised another $5.5 million in funding, bringing its total to $15.6 million. We have covered them in the past.
  • SuperSecret, a San Francisco-based online social gaming company, raised $10 million in Series A funding led by Opus Capital. They are targeting the tween market and hoping kids graduate from Club Penguin or Webkinz to their offering.
  • Offerpal, a startup that links virtual currency to real-world marketing deals, raised a whopping $15 million in funding late last month from D.E. Shaw Ventures and others.

The investor interest in these startups mirrors the growing popularity of social games and virtual worlds, especially among younger web users.

I finished the talk with a quick overview of the main models that virtual worlds (and most online games) can be monetized. Items 1, 3 and 4 were picked up in a talk on the 2nd day of ad:tech looking at how Nike engaged with console ingame campaign experts Massive across a few platforms.

  1. Static Advertising
  2. Promotions & Sponsored events
  3. Virtual Goods & Product Placement
  4. Dynamic InWorld Advertising
  5. Branded Spaces
  6. AdverWorlds & AdverGames

After my talk some great examples from Jeff Brookes from Habbo followed by Mitch from Smallworlds. I am always fascinated by the methods Habbo engages with its loyal and large community and was equally fascinated by Small worlds thinking too and how they are ‘integrating’ themselves with the existing 2D social networked web. This video by the infamous Robert Scoble features Mitch Olsen and Ted of SmallWorlds

They talk about the main traditional world features but then go onto the interesting areas of embeddable worlds (the Google Lively Killer app – not exploited), API integration with almost anything (twitter feeds, YouTube vids, FB updates on walls anyone) and the most interesting ‘missions’. You are encouraged to explore, meet folk, shop and basically get involved – Mitch says this is like the LinkedIn profile thinking, until your profile is 100% filled in you feel like you are missing out. I likened it much more like World of Warcraft, set players tasks, set them group tasks, give them rewards. This to me could be SmallWorlds real killer applet. At the moment they have around 400 000 users and that looks set to take off in the next months.

Tony Fendall blogged about a particularly cute feature that allows (his words) –

One important thing which was missed is that they didn’t have time to talk about all the cool micropayment features (which Ted alludes near the end) such as Gambit, OfferPal and Zong. Gambit and OfferPal are both services which allow users to earn SmallWorlds currency by completing tasks. These tasks include things such as answering surveys and give amounts of currency proportional to the amount of effort put in. This is a great way for players (who may not have a credit card) to still be able to earn a premium SmallWorlds experience. Zong is a simple cell phone payment service, where by users can pay for a premium SmallWorlds experience using their mobile phone. For an excellent look at how we have integrated Zong into SmallWorlds, check out this YouTube video created by the developers at Zong:

Oct 222008

OK you should have spotted quite a few characters living on this post :)  Originally there were ‘video-real’ talking, salesy character centered on the page courtesy of CLIVEvideo but I still talk about them more below.

A few months ago I blogged about the new kid on the intranet block, those  ‘layered’ social virtual worlds. Quite simply they are communities of pseudo 3D avatars layered over the 2D web (browsers). I noted that these services are a transition to a ‘live’ collaborative web 3.0 world as this is more of a “let them dip their toes in” before committing to a higher bandwidth, more fully rendered 3D world such as many of those on my sticky video of the 08 metaverse.

I certainly think is the best approach for large numbers who wouldn’t be seen dead or alive in something like Second Life. This is another quick whistle stop tour of a quickly evolving player, Rocketon and also a recent Aussie company who have an alternative approach -  ‘live action’ video layered over the 2D web (Incidentally if everything is working you should have had a person talking to you in the middle of this post – if not it may be many months later and things have broken OR some other technical reason I cannot ponder at the moment – IE!). Even though I start by talking about Rocketon and it’s implications, having the privilege of playing with the demo of CLIVEvideo for a while I realised many points are relevant to both – bar the ‘big’ nay huge fact that Rocketon is social (shared, real time and partly pulled) and CLIVE is pre-rendered, pushed and fixed (although they tell me they are working on being a bit more web 2.0).

I have been beta’ing and playing with Rocketon for the past few weeks trying to see how it fitted in with my normal zillion web 2.0/3.0 application lifestyle and finding out where the real attraction is for large numbers to adopt this hybrid paradigm. Firstly it I noticed that with Rocketon in minimize mode, every web page I visited it seemed to be doing something in the background, watching? Spying? Regardless every hour or so it gave me a present – some pixel jewelry, a funny avatar – I have a massive collection of stuff now – what to do with it all and how does an emerald relate to me browsing a ‘map of sydney site’? I have still to work out what is going on with general browsing but two killer apps are evident with Rocketon after a few hours tinkering. 1 – Making existing branded websites fun/sticky and 2 – Making web surfing more social, gamelike and challenging.

The first image you can see above is me and SilkCharm being silly so and so’s dropping Burger King pixel toys on MacDonalds sites (only we can see it of course), but with a larger group like the top image, it starts to have significance…if only in the ‘power’ to do so and the fact that pictures/videos are taken and put on blog posts/flickr/YouTube (ah the old rippling impressions). I also made a quick film of a few of us invading the SMH webpage, partly Laurel and myself showing how ‘communities’ can and will make ‘statements’ – much the same as we do in group based social situations in the real world. The potential for positive product placement, interactive toys, loyalty benefits and so on will not go unnoticed by readers of this post!

But the more interesting element of Rocketon for me is where the community are given the tools to create quests, puzzles or games for each other. To demonstrate the potential of CCG (community created games) the Rocketon team set up a simple quest with pretty easy clues. The process, you are given a mission, you read clues, travel to websites (with the Rocketon layer activated) come back to a base and so on.

The thing I really like about this simple example is that you can embed pixel ‘treasure’ or goods on websites, without any recourse to the website owner of course. (I am sure Rocketon are thinking hard about the legal ramifications of hundreds of RTons heading off to litigeous sites to find inappropriate items and then posting the experience!). Anyways you can see in these two images I have been given a secret envelope and sent to ebay to collect a parcel to post and then await further instructions. Suddenly a couple of web pages turn into a scene from The Thomas Crown Affair.

I have quite a lot more to say about Rocketon and it’s distant cousins such as weblin but time is pressing and lots more to get on with. For the moment though all I can advise them is to enable tools for the community to develop their own fun or for marketeers to start to offer quite tricky quests for real world prizes – I am sure this is happening, it is the only path to really get the numbers up.

So to CLIVEvideo. I have literally been playing with this for less than an hour today after Scott from Maxy’s grabbed me on twitter! It looks very promising. I have seen many variations of this over the years but the implementation of this particular technology is pretty accessible and is squarely aimed at ad agencies, SMEs and larger companies and those who want to differentiate their website and make it a little more viral. As with the points above about Rocketon the real value of having layered personalities over the webpage is to build bridges between the layers (the avatars or video peops relating to what is below them) – or why be there in the first place. have some great tools to build ‘key’ed’ (invisible backgrounded people) sequences and to also add in sequence applications (person, flash demo, person, page link, person, product video demo etc) and are focused on sales or corporate messages at the moment.

But imagine a future where the keying is from 4-10 people, a webcam community, who start to act a little like we have been doing with Rocketon. Doesn’t have to be full body necessarily, but why not – webcam pointing at users in front of a green or blue screen in their office/bedroom. Then you really have some potential to make the 2D web much more fun and sticky. The applications for marketing, socialising etc start to kick in when you can (like some video chat applications) render pixel elements over the top of the live video image. Ummmm. *rubs hands*… It will certainly be a lot of effort for some, but having specially designed web pages for ‘Keyers’ (as they shall be known) would also provide Google Lively type integration – key yourself live into this and make the branded movie etc etc: This reminds me a little of the fun video I did at AFTRS recently with SilkCharm and lots of invited real people – keye’d into World of Warcraft – that I shall leave you with!

Finally, finally well still on this topic a new player that makes it even easier to meet and chat based on the web page your on is Live World. It’s product LiveBar is basically a ‘chat’ engine that detects the page your on and connects you to others that are also on that page.

Now we will really see how popular some webpages are 🙂

Sep 092008

A selection of mini posts I did in the last few weeks on the slightly 101 LAMP Watercooler blog

Will they Flock to Electric Sheep’s SVW Browser?

Interesting enterprise development from California based, Electric Sheep Company (notable for doing branded developments across virtual worlds like and Second Life) as well as cross-over, mixed reality gigs like the CSI-virtual world mash-up last year. They have developed Webflock, a easy to implement solution for any company/organisation to brand and deploy, as if any website, a social virtual world (svw) to allow ‘avatorial’ interaction, out-of-the-box so to speak. I expect we will soon be seeing a whole raft of open source, wordpress-like virtual worlds like this for you to use as your home-page (or should that be home-space) in the coming months. Their business model, until the open source stuff comes along, pay the early adopter enterprise price of $100k + .

WebFlock can help you realize your goals for a social, fun and immersive web presence. A basic implementation, which includes the out-of-the-box feature set, custom 3D avatars and 3D space, and 12 months of the application services fees, is available for under $100,000.

Every WebFlock implementation is separate and customizable, which gives companies the ability to control such things as user registration, quality of art content, monetization including advertising or micro-transactions, integration to other Web content or profile systems, and the overall user experience. The front-end is built entirely in Flash, which is already installed on 98% of the world’s Web browsers. ESC made the critical decision to work with Flash because of the barriers inherent in asking mainstream users to download software, whether desktop applications or custom browser plug-ins.

The core WebFlock application includes key virtual world features, such as chat filtering and muting, emotes, load-balancing for massive scalability, and Web-based metrics to be able to track usage. WebFlock 1.0 also includes a bundled social game and a premium live customer support feature. WebFlock can be customized with unique avatars, branded 3D spaces, and new interactivity such as casual games or scripted objects. It can also be integrated to a company’s existing art or game content, registration systems and other Web applications. WebFlock can reside on a single Web page or be syndicated across the Web.

WebFlock supports detailed usage tracking and performance metrics. The default reporting interface is Google Analytics, which allows customers to access results from any location with Internet access. ESC charges a monthly application services fee based on concurrent users, which covers access to the software, hosting, technical support and maintenance. Customization services, such as art creation, game design, or systems integration, are priced separately.

FaceSpooks – Your the star, be IN the movie

A hat tip to Dan Taylor over at BBC for pointing out this lovely little viral that allows you the passive, sit-on-the-couch-and-munch-crisps viewer (well fiddle with laptop) to be the star of Spooks. FaceSpook is a personalized video tool where your face is mapped onto a character in an action scene – and all via the web where the processing took around 1 minute. Here is my first attempt at sneaking into the top secret facility as agent ‘Gary Haye’ (yes limited to 9 characters I found out too late), a leading part of this mini story vignette.

Seems all major films and TV landmarks shows need their viral (above) but also an ARG to surround the show and extend the narrative, the story universe/world/environment. Spook’s ARG is Liberty News, yet another ‘set-in-the-future yarn – go here and check out 2013 now.

Back to the present, below some more stills from the above video which will expire in 3 months – hmmm very Mission Impossible 🙂 First my original face image and then some shots of the ‘very personalized’ video – now imagine this working for a 2 hour feature film at HiDef – bring it on baby ! 🙂

Multiple Places in the Multiverse

Seems you can’t turn your back on Social Virtual World development nowadays. A couple of weeks after I put out this video which covers ‘most’ of the major players along comes Multiverse Places. I suspect that the slow take up of multiverse engine as a ‘tool’ needed a little Linden pzzazz to get things moving. I notice they are promoting the Times Square area which has been around in Multiverse for over a year – but now with added ‘Social Networkness’, or something like that.

A revolutionary 3D virtual world that brings together the best of massively multiplayer online games and social networking sites. The beta release of Multiverse Places enables you to socialize in a visually-stunning Times Square environment through customizable avatars and integrated voice chat. In addition, you can customize your own apartment with images, music, and videos. Like social networking sites, you can learn about a person’s real-world interests and tastes by visiting their place (their apartment). In addition, you can also interact in real-time together.

Making the World(s) a Better Place – Virtual Worlds at Congress

To show how Social 3D Worlds are permeating the real world the first ever Congressional hearing on Virtual Worlds was run in April of this year. The then CEO of Linden Lab (Second Life) Philip Rosedale, testified before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, basically telling them about the likely ‘influence’ that 3D Social Worlds will have moving forward. Here is a seven minute machinima that he presented as part of that talk – just released to the public from Blip.

To show how mixed reality is progressing too more about the simulcast in and out of second life below from America.Gov 🙂

The hearing was streamed live into a three-dimensional (3-D) model of the House hearing room in Second Life, and a gathering of in-world residents watched the proceedings from their seats. Massachusetts Democrat Representative Edward Markey, the subcommittee chairman, presided over both meetings — in person in Washington and as an avatar in Second Life.

“If we want to foster the best of what this medium has to offer,” Markey said, “we must consider the policies that will be conducive to such growth. These include upgrading our broadband infrastructure and speed, fostering openness and innovation in our Internet policies and ensuring that we bridge digital divides in our country so that all Americans can benefit.”

“The Second Life grid is the next step in the fulfillment of the Internet’s promise, where people create and consume content and interact with each other in a 3-D environment,” Rosedale, chief executive of Linden Lab, the company that runs Second Life, told the subcommittee.

“The potential for commerce, education, entertainment and other interaction in a 3-D environment filled with other people,” he added, “is far greater than in the flat and isolated two-dimensional world of the World Wide Web.”

What Mash-Ups are worth ‘Emailing’ About – Firefox Ubiquity

Found this great demo of a ‘semantically’ rich plug-in for Firefox which really suggest where we are headed when things ‘link’ together in a much more ‘human’ way. Enjoy.

Yes you can try it now, get the plug-in from this post…and a great get started tutorial from the Mozilla team.

Ubiquity for Firefox from Aza Raskin on Vimeo.

When Game Consoles Get Serious

I love my little black DS-Lite. It has made several global plane journey’s a lot more bearable with its cute ‘grind’ games, sims, racing, stories and good old brain trainer. I also do serious tech music too and of course have the full Logic/Reason/Live Macbook Pro rig as well as some cool ‘retro’ emulators like the ARP2600 that synch perfectly to the Logic master clock (ok too much detail). Back to the DS-lite. A toy right. Well no.

The guys at Korg and Nintendo got together with a couple of young Japanese design agencies and created something I had to have immediately – a fully featured Korg DS-10 emulator. It looks great on the black DS, a real in-your-pocket analog synth from the 80s – is that Tangerine Dream in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me? Not a toy a two oscillator, four drum track, 16 pattern sequencer and 21 song storage (thats basically 21 times 16 different 4/4 bar configurations) – complete with keyboard, kaos pad and more…so off to eBay, order from Japan and I wait patiently for the postman 🙂 After the embed XBox has some serious applications too..first check out this video and go here to VideoGamesBlogger, and click the video about half way down for a cool interview with its creators and a two DS live jam…

A lot of sites are reporting the new feature with XBox Live used for voting and recruitment around the world. BBC News reports in its item XBox Live in Youth Voting Drive about the online forums being used to garner views on politics from gamers as well as doing ‘test’ votes as part of the presidential ‘opinion polls’…

“To realise our goal of registering two million young Americans by this fall, we need to go where young Americans are,” said Heather Smith, executive director of Rock the Vote, in a statement. “There’s no doubt in our minds that many are on Xbox 360 and Xbox Live.”

Microsoft said that the Rock The Vote campaign to use Xbox Live would begin on 25 August.

In the past Rock The Vote has also worked with MySpace to encourage bands that promote their music via the social networking site to get fans to register to vote.

Through the partnership with Rock The Vote, Microsoft is also planning to have a presence at the Republican and Democrat party conventions to educate politicians about it and its members views.

See Emily Play – amazing CG ’emotional’ actress

At AFTRS LAMP we are very interested in Artificial Intelligence as the foundation of NPC or non player charaters. Once you have a good generative scripted character they can interact with ‘participants’ in cinematic games or virtual worlds and drive narrative by having real conversations. So students can also develop AI to automatically create emotional scenes on-the-fly, using generative scripts.

The only thing that would be missing therefore from a potentially completely self-generating film would be great text-to-speech and real time visual CG characters that had authent realism…Look at this and you tell me if you think we have come a long way from Polar Express in 3 or 4 years…Interestingly this is being sold as ‘a bridge across the uncanny valley’, in truth until this is real time we are just climbing up the other side, for now, See Emily Play…

and some background on the technology Image Metrics behind this…from a New York times article

The team at Image Metrics – which produced the animation for the Grand Theft Auto computer game – then recreated the gestures, movement by movement, in a model. The aim was to overcome the traditional difficulties of animating a human face, for instance that the skin looks too shiny, or that the movements are too symmetrical.

“Ninety per cent of the work is convincing people that the eyes are real,” Mike Starkenburg, chief operating officer of Image Metrics, said.

“The subtlety of the timing of eye movements is a big one. People also have a natural asymmetry – for instance, in the muscles in the side of their face. Those types of imperfections aren’t that significant but they are what makes people look real.”

and behind the scenes (sound is odd but visuals speak for themselves after 1.30 or so)