If RocketOn grows at its current rate it may be the follow-up to Twitter as a real time, web 3.0, animated avatar, 2D web integrated social application.
It will of course need much more sophisticated friend and group management and the following/followers paradigm would work wonders here. But no doubt the company have lots on the boil along these lines?
I have written for the past year or so about those half-way house virtual worlds, avatars that exist as a layer above the traditional, flat 2D web in posts here and here.
Leader of the pack of these ‘parallel’ virtual worlds (I still prefer layered btw!) by some way is San Francisco based RocketOn which now has 114 000 unique active users of the service that primarily operates as a browser plug-in. CEO Steve Hoffman has told me of some key developments that will lift the service firmly out of beta. First and foremost are six major new partners that will expose RocketOn to more than 2 million potential users.
RocketOn Launches Beta with Comedy.com, Hypster, Online Flash Games, Hotspot, faceDub and Boosh Magazine. Parallel Virtual World Platform Goes Live – “Imagine what it would be like if you could join a virtual world on your favorite site and interact with everyone on that site,” says Steven Hoffman, CEO of RocketOn. “And what if you could also take your same avatar to any other website and meet people there?” The result is a parallel virtual world that spans the entire Internet, where users rocket through cyberspace with their avatars and interact with virtual environments on any site they choose.
Having used RocketOn for some time on and off it reminds me of the web equivalent of the flash-mob – adhoc social gathering where you share brief experiences with others, ‘above’ web content, sometimes very compelling. It is fascinating too that there is a strong female demographic (67% in the US) suggesting parallel worlds being seen as (and used) as social vs ‘gamey’ space. More interesting in the stats is the high proportion of 12-34 year olds – often the ages where usage of social virtual worlds tends to dip. So RocketOn is definitely feeding on the traditional Facebook and MySpace network.
So the real time social element is best suited to comedy music, video and casual games where a live, real time’ness is key. Being able to call your friends together for activity and discussion around primary content in this way perhaps turns the back-channel (as in textual chatter) into the front-channel (where physicality comes into play). There is something about synchronous fun (and learning, there is a killer app hidden here for remote learning folks) over full screen video too – so RocketOn over full screen web video starts to remind me where IPTV was meant to be heading back in 2004! Participatory TV via the web back door anyone?
Here is the official press release that is going out today Feb 3rd
Parallel Virtual World Goes Live
SAN FRANCISCO, CA — February 2009 — RocketOn, Inc., a venture-funded startup located in South San Francisco, is rolling out its virtual world platform by embedding virtual worlds on partner sites. RocketOn’s partners range from comedy, music and game sites to community networking sites and college magazines.
“Our goal”, says Bryan Suchenski, partner manager, “is to build social interaction and community on our partners’ websites, thereby weaving a virtual environment into the very fabric of the Web.”
RocketOn has built a platform for easily embedding virtual worlds into partner sites, allowing their users to interact in real-time with one another. Every partner site is part of the overall community, and with the click of a button, users can take their avatars anywhere they like on the site.
“Imagine what it would be like if you could join a virtual world on your favorite site and interact with everyone on that site,” says Steven Hoffman, CEO of RocketOn. “And what if you could also take your same avatar to any other website and meet people there?”
The result is a parallel virtual world that spans the entire Internet, where users rocket through cyberspace with their avatars and interact with virtual environments on any site they choose.
“What caught our attention about RocketOn is the potential for a new type of real-time social interaction on our site,” says Cahit Onur, CEO of Online Flash Games. “We felt this would help build customer loyalty and extend our brand into the virtual world space. We’re happy to be working with RocketOn and are open minded about new projects and ideas.”
RocketOn is announcing six partners now, with more to come in the near future.
ROCKETON’S PARTNERS INCLUDE:
Comedy.com is one of the Web’s leading comedy sites. It combines the best collaborative filtering tools along with exclusive, original-themed content, best-of-the-best lists, and timely topical material. www.comedy.com Hypster is a music discovery site, offering Facebook, MySpace and Friendster users a personalized music player and playlists. www.hypster.com Online Flash Games is a popular Flash games community. www.onlineflashgames.org HotSpot is a community networking site to meet new friends, where users can store or share photos, create blogs, and share interests. www.98spot.com faceDub develops fun and easy software that allows users to insert their faces into any scenario. Boosh Magazine is the newest name in college entertainment. Boosh puts a unique twist on the whole ‘college magazine’ market and comes direct from a network of student columnists across the country. www.booshmagazine.com
RocketOn is a venture-funded startup that is pioneering parallel virtual worlds. Its management team has worked at top game publishers, including Sega Sammy (SGAMY) and Electronic Arts (ERTS).
…and a little end of 2008 Virtual Worlds, State of Play…
Just back from a short break in the lovely town of Broome in NW Australia (my pics). It was interesting being disconnected from ‘the cloud’ but in the process having a few ‘virtual experiential’ moments. One of these was watching the controversial film ‘Australia’ in the worlds oldest picture gardens, Sun Pictures (pictured below). Several parts of the film are set in an open air cinema in the 40s and it was so odd to actually be ‘in’ more or less the same scene of deck chairs, insects buzzing around – as the real sun set, the wind blew off the Northern Territories outback while the film panned around those environments, and lizards crawled around on the screen, bats flew overhead, propeller planes took off from the nearby Broome airport and in the audience several from the Broome aboriginal community. A kind of forget 3D lets get to 4D film experiences.
In other parts of Broome I talked to a few people about some of my work, y’know, the web, cross-media, film and virtual worlds (and just like those low hanging fruit journalists who are constantly predicting the end of 3D worlds) even out here in the styzx a couple of folk suggested that games & social virtual worlds especially will really suffer in this economic downturn and may not survive. Which leads to the point of this post to put things in a little perspective.
IS THERE REAL INVESTMENT?
First lets look at investor confidence in them. From Virtual Worlds Management Reports there was $1 billion US invested in 35 virtual world companies between Oct 06-07 – and since Oct 07 to the present day there has already been $918 million trusted to the success of this particular industry. This breaks down roughly as:
Q3 08 – $148.5 million invested in 12 VW companies
Q2 08 – $161 million in 16 VW companies
Q1 08 – $184 million in 23 VW companies
Q4 07 – $425 million in 15 VW companies
As a topical reference, and to put things into heritage media perspective the total spend on all film and tv drama in Australia in 07-08 was $420 million US (at current exchanges). Now the majority of these worlds invested in are youth based but many specialised ones aimed at the Gen Y hole (see kzero.co.uk charts for more info) that are focusing on key niches. These start to fill in the gaps that ‘generic’, jack-of-all-trades, social virtual worlds such as Second Life cannot truly cut the mustard as sub-builds inside the service. So we have recently had in the last week the to user launches of a dedicated real life buy with real cash Virtual eShopping just in time for XMas and what will be a real winner in my view (having just tried it finally) the social sports virtual world, Football Superstars which combines EA-like footy with there.com-like social activity and even has a bit of WoW-like quest giving challenges.
The social aspect of virtual worlds are not lost on the big consoles either with the Launch of XBox and PS3 virtual worlds that I covered in a recent post and also the Inquirer’s article Sony, Microsoft begin battle of Virtual Worlds. I was going to talk a lot about how during hard economic times people turn to escapist activities. In the past it used to be film or TV, but now there are many more choices and as we haven’t seen a global economic downturn of this scale since the 2nd world war – the escapism of choice is now immersive interactive media. This will not be lost on advertisers who also need to optimise their spend across the many variants of shared social worlds.
BUSINESS WAKES UP
Savvy businesses have now moved beyond the hype bubble of Second Life’s superficiality and realise the power of social collective collaboration. As well as education and science virtual worlds as ‘tools’ are developing into major economic government initiatives. The Athena Alliance have released a report called “Virtual Worlds and the Transformation of Business” with some optimistic summary lines.
“The rise of the collaborative enterprise that is likely to result from the successful deployment of Virtual World technologies will usher in a new era of business. It will change the way firms compete with one another for customers in both goods and services industries. It is our firm belief that if our nation accelerates the development and maturation of Virtual Worlds, it will encourage a more collaborative and enterprising form of business. This will lead to greater innovation, sustained productivity, and competitive growth in the world economy.. the companies and workers can use the tools of Virtual Worlds to transform the United States into a collaborative enterprise-driven economy.”
The use of virtual worlds for simulation is not lost on the military either. This goes way beyond using first person shooter games to train late teens for an army life using well, first person shooter game technology in war zones. Last week the largest global simulation conference ever was held “The Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC)” focused on the use of more social virtual worlds for training and education for military and scientific use. It was keynoted by General Wallace, the Commander, United States Army Training and Doctrine Command who talked with other big government players about the likely hundreds of billions of dollars that will be invested in virtual simulation technology. As we know most media developments have come about from love and death, porn and war. So this growth as always will resonate in the commercial entertainment industry. An example of how military and education are mixing here is The University of Florida recently announced too that it will be spending $1.25 million on building a Second China for the US Foreign Service and Military to understand the culture without the need to go there and fail-forward.
“The goal of the federally funded research project: To educate and prepare foreign service or other government professionals to arrive in the country prepared and ready to work.”
SHOW ME THE VIRTUAL MONEY
On the money side there is a great deal of research now going into how virtual world economic models and currencies will evolve from a range of closed systems to a state that may become viable alternatives to ‘real world’ currencies. The Virtual Economy Research Network just had an interesting article on the VW freemium model – free-to-play but encourages the adoption of the inworld currency rapidly, for example.
Forester and MillionsOfUs have just published a report looking at how traditional corporate business will begin to flourish in these spaces and to quote their executive four point summary:
It grants unprecedented depth of engagement with consumers. Second only to inperson
consumer meetings, virtual worlds allow marketers to get up close and personal
with individual consumers. Using these interactions to allow for feedback, creative tasks,
and just plain fun creates brand and product advocates in the user base who go far beyond
It taps into an audience that is difficult to reach via other channels. Today’s virtual
world users are seen as a minority vanguard for future usage, but they are also difficult to
reach via other channels. This is especially true of youth groups and deeply creative
communities supported by various virtual worlds.
Newer worlds offer better opportunities for cross-channel tracking and more
targeted audiences. Early virtual worlds, while technically groundbreaking and providing
the necessary foundation for future worlds, often lacked audience-tracking tools and were
open playgrounds without a specific purpose. New, recently launched worlds or those just
around the corner will offer better tools for customer tracking and tend to target gamers,
youth, conversation, or other specific tasks, rather than just being open. This allows better
brand alignment and campaign integration.
Virtual merchandizing resonates with youth – and can be very cost-effective. Virtual
items and other digital assets resonate with Gen Y consumers far more than with older
(physical-media-loving) consumers. They appreciate novel, unique items and accept brand
involvement in these items and their distribution – provided it has been thought through.
Needless to say, the creation, storage, and distribution of virtual items can be very costeffective
compared with traditional merchandise like t-shirts and caps.
There is no decline happening. So journos, nay sayers, please look at your own industries please. To reiterate the above examples are social or simulation virtual worlds and there are around 78 currently being used by 360 million people. I haven’t touched on online game worlds or offline games which starts to turn the whole affair into a $40-50 billion industry overtaking movies (including home entertainment elements too). All suggestions are that VWs and Games will be the dominant entertainment form and a widely used tool for business and education and revenues will start to match that of the $300 billion TV industry within five years time. A big issue for me is the lack or real courses in higher education in this space too. Most training is on how to use software to make fps console-type games, there needs to be a paradigm shift otherwise media education will be irrelevant as the heritage media linear form falls into the background.
Now tell me again that these wacky 3D worlds are about to disappear?
To finish I will be adding a presentation I gave at the Online Distribution and Business Collaboration Conference two weeks ago as it contains many references to the above post…hold your breath…
OK I had better blog this ‘press release‘ copied below which quotes me, but also as I am heavily involved in the creation of these courses and still running LAMP (the innovation unit at AFTRS). Frankly it is one of the best things to happen in Australian industry education for the last three years that I have been based in Sydney. AFTRS is renowned for its high production value filmmaking primarily with many students being nominated and going on to win Academy Awards, Oscars etc.
Via three years of LAMP I have had a key role in helping the internal AFTRS culture and curriculum adopt a new way of thinking about audiences and creating entertainment for them. This goes way beyond point and click, cross-media interactivity (very 90s) to experiential services and social media entertainment. So two key new courses below and a variety of ‘hybrid format’ workshops across the school will help create new thinkers – marrying dramatic story and immersive game, blending social with structured narrative and putting ‘play’ into areas where ‘playful interaction’ has previously dared to tread.
This press release from here and more about the courses here. There is already a high demand (Kotaku and Inside Film have more too) but pass this on to folk who want to play a part in the global development of the ‘gilm’ genre (thats mixing game, film, tv and virtual worlds to you and I) !
More on the wonderful world of Games and Film and Blended TV in an upcoming post with a Gary special, montage video 🙂
16Ã‚ September, 2008
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
15 September 2008
Games and Virtual Worlds: a new frontier of experience
Can games have real story and rival the emotional pull of the cinema? AustraliaÃ¢Â€Â™s leading screen arts school thinks so as is introducing courses that prepare students for a future of filmic games and virtual story worlds.
The Australian Film TV and Radio School (AFTRS) has created two ground breaking Graduate Diploma courses specialising in Game Design and Virtual Worlds. These are two of the only courses in the world to explore the link between games or virtual worlds and cinematic story.
Ã¢Â€ÂœThere are already major Australasian filmmakers like George Miller and Peter Jackson working at the frontier between film and games and we know it is timely for AFTRS to integrate games into our screen directing program.Ã¢Â€Â said Sandra Levy, CEO of AFTRS
James Cameron is currently creating games and social virtual worlds around his latest film Avatar and one of his most famous films, Titanic. He said at a virtual worlds conference last week “I’ve always wanted to let people see what it was like to sail aboard the Titanic, to really know the ship, the passengers and their place in history.”
The games industry is growing rapidly and now supports a vast diversity of content ranging from pure entertainment, online social gameplay through to educational simulations of real life and situations. Some of the leading practitioners in the world have helped to develop the AFTRS program including CTO of Relic Entertainment John Buchanan and Matt Costello who wrote the popular Pirates of the Caribbean games.
Ã¢Â€ÂœGames are a key element of the global revolution in digital contentÃ¢Â€Â said Peter Giles Director of Digital Media at AFTRS. Ã¢Â€ÂœWe have built strong foundations for our games and virtual world courses at AFTRS over the past four years. Our expertise in computer animation and interactive writing has been coupled with our experience of rapidly prototyping digital content through our Laboratory of Advanced Media Production (LAMP).
Habbo Hotel, Second Life, there.com and HiPiHi are among 50 social virtual worlds which now command more than 320 million users worldwide. Film and television producers have begun to extend their engagement with audiences by moving them into social virtual worlds and role playing games such as CSI creator Anthony Zuiker who said recently:
“In the gaming area, you want to give people tasks, to shoot things and upload pictures… You’re doing this because you want these people to be creating their own story and it will be part of the crime on the broadcast… Even if it’s not the actual thing I shot, I was part of that experience, that community, that narrative.”
Gary Hayes who has created the AFTRS Virtual Worlds course and led the LAMP initiative said, Ã¢Â€ÂœIt is important when designing any form of digital content that it facilitates active engagement by the audience so that, for example, they may become the protagonist in film-like games or the ability to create their own stories. Our courses will give students the tools to create this new type of experienceÃ¢Â€Â.
The courses will look at the cross-over areas such as previsualisation for films, virtual scenes that aid the filmmaking process, real life motion capture, cinematic writing, sound and music for game worlds and the role of artificial intelligence in creating rich game experiences.
AFTRS welcomes applications from all areas of the industry for these exciting cross-disciplinary courses. The courses are suitable for applicants from creative or technical backgrounds. So if you have highly tuned writing or directing skills we can help you to up-skill in games and virtual worlds. Conversely, if you have a games or virtual worlds background we can teach you the skills in leading and developing story-rich projects.
Interesting enterprise development from California based, Electric Sheep Company (notable for doing branded developments across virtual worlds like There.com 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.
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…
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)