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Sep 232008
 

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 🙂

16Â September, 2008

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

15 September 2008

AFTRS_island_008Games and Virtual Worlds: a new frontier of experience

Can games have real story and rival the emotional pull of the cinema? Australia’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.

“There 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.” 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.

“Games are a key element of the global revolution in digital content” said Peter Giles Director of Digital Media at AFTRS. “We 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, “It 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 experience”.

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.

Visit www.aftrs.edu.au/games for more info on how to apply.

For further information:

Karolina Lipiec
The Lantern Group
Ph: (02) 9383 4029 / 0415 985 058

Sep 012008
 

Social Media and Web 2.0 is a lot about providing the tools and therefore the means for everyone to create content, that they believe others may want to see. I have personally created a lot of corporate, professional entertainment and music films over the years using high end equipment but now, like many millions around the world, find it a fun and satisfying process to be able to create films and stories in virtual worlds, aka machinima. (Quite a few are over on my personal virtual blog justvirtual)

There are literally millions of machinimas emanating from the likes of World of Warcraft, Sims, Movies, Halo, Second Life, Half Life and many more. Most are done for the love vs the money and some make it onto the big screen. For the creators it is about expressing ‘their’ world and experiences to each other but of course there is something else as important here.

Laurel (heart) talked recently on a machinima I did in Twinity and about the ‘free advertising’ it offers for the brand or platform. For me it is also about creating an environment where simple tools encourage large numbers of people to come together remotely and do real-time, collaborative content creation for extended periods. It makes the world very, very sticky when they have shared creative goals and purpose – not just pre-constructed game play. Some may say game quests are social too and I believe when the players get ‘creative’ with the mechanic and ‘bend the rule’ together it certainly is.

Comfortably Fun

Using game or social virtual worlds to entertain each other in this deeply immersive way, leads us to imagine what the potential will be when bandwidth and graphic realism are no longer limitations. Perhaps a portent of the future here is a machinima I did of a forty three minute performance of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, in a social world, Second Life. It was captured last week and it is useful to remind us all what is going on here. There are around 70 people logged in together in real time from around the world, most audience a few performers. About 8 are ‘animating’ on stage or controlling lights, effects or triggering scripted animations and I am recording the whole thing at the same time. This is digital puppeteering. I captured elements of the performance three times and put together this compilation edit. More after the embed…

So this all started with an invite from a self motivated group, led by Debbie Trilling, who for the love of what they do, created an inworld, cross-reality, musical tribute. CARPs (Cybernetic Art Research Project) inventive and emotionally driven version of Pink Floyd’s 1980’s album was a truly international affair and many hours were spent developing and performing a Virtual Show to this music that reaches a new audience every few years.The reason the music reaches new audiences is because of its use in ‘community created content’ just like this, a far more poignent way to share digital content. More than 2000 avatars have experienced this particular concert inworld generating 10 000s of impressions across blogs and media sites. That is the key point – don’t dismiss game or virtual worlds as being irrelevant because of perceived low numbers – these are active and proficient online users who see the 2D web as a ‘simple’ publishing tool and become prolific creators of content and by implication major influencers.

Professional marketeers need to be aware of the power of machinima (consumer films in worlds they are very loyal too) and how by allowing the use of often locked down content is probably the best way to introduce ‘old’ content to new audiences. As an example, while I was putting together this ‘mash-up’ compilation I tried a recording of the reunion performance of the Comfortably Numb at Live 8 a few years ago and was entranced by the synergy of visual and song. Hope you do too. BTW a medium quality (90MB MP4) download of the YouTube above is available here. Worth playing full screen with the volume up and the lights down 🙂

To further consider how effective game world movies are. I created again out of a moment of relaxation a ‘flycam’ film around some of my ‘builds’ in Second Life. I like others were entranced by the new feature in the engine, Windlight. This rendered more naturalistic reflections and skyscapes for example. The machinima was a self expressive piece, some improvised guitar and piano and flowing movement, not really an typical ‘traffic’ generating video.

Ticking along at a few hundred views over a month on YouTube then Linden Lab decided to feature it on their machinima page. For a week or so it was getting between two to four thousands views per day. Over the past four months or so it has been viewed over 30 000 times, not bad for an ‘art’ video? But outside the numbers what is the dynamic at play here? Well it is really simple. If you own any space where people frequent, make it really, really easy for them to share their experiences. You scratch their back and they will yours. Give them the tools to make it easy to create professional looking content. Let them do the viral marketing for you. Even though the community realise they are doing you a ‘big’ favour, the joy they get from sharing is part of their own virtuous circle.

Aug 252008
 

“Make Games and Virtual Worlds at Australian Film, TV and Radio School” – OK time to wear that other hat as Director of the Laboratory for Advanced Media Production at AFTRS and plug some of the cool new courses we are delivering in 6 months time.

CREATE ENTERTAINMENT EXPERIENCES OF THE FUTURE

Discover new opportunities to express yourself in an exciting collaborative environment where film meets game worlds. Build your knowledge base on strong foundations of cinematic storytelling, gameplay and virtual environments.

I have been in this LAMP role for over three years now (wow, that long!) and the changes I have seen taking place in AFTRS, a 30 year old establishment, with a new CEO and the move to a sparkling (read: still fixing the place up!) new building are utterly transformative. This new environment has had a positive effect on the desire for Australia’s leading linear ‘story production’ establishment to also become Australia and the world’s leading trainer in cross-over, game/film worlds, is a delight to see.

A range of traditional marketing initiatives will kick-in over the next few months with roadshows, open days and printed press but no doubt the blogosphere will start to reverberate with excitement as a few ‘web 2.0 friendly’ staff trickle the news out to ‘trusting’ recipients.

There are some useful details (also copied below) from the MakeIt prospectus site about the game and virtual worlds courses, and yours truly as a lead creator in virtual worlds and other game spaces, is heavily involved designing these and others. Also other emergent cross-media forms will continue as they have done over the past 2 years at AFTRS and these include Cross-Media Storytelling, Social Media Entertainment, Episodic Drama and Participatory TV. Rather than be ‘extra’ modules though, this time they will be embedded into the many ‘heritage’ areas of the curriculum such as Directing, Screen Studies, Sound and Writing making for a truly integrated cross-media development approach. Things are changing fast here and nice to be a part of positive ‘change’.

My favourite rag SMH 🙂 also covered this shift today in its item “Sharing the Stage” and featured Peter Giles talking about the courses…

“The first of these courses will show students how to work in the virtual environments that are creating films, video games and alternate realities such as the online Second Life. The school’s director of digital media, Peter Giles, says students will look at the creation of 3-D worlds that might be shared by a film and a game. “Eventually games are going to be designed in the same virtual space as the film will be,” he says, citing James Cameron’s sci-fi movie Avatar that will be released in 3-D next year. “They’re launching the massive multi-player game prior to the feature film,” Giles says. “People will get to inhabit that world before they see the film.”

The two hundred students starting here in February will be in for the ride of their lives! Oh I have been nudged, must use the agreed marketing phrases 🙂 Here are a selection “Do you have a story in you?”, “Create Entertainment Experiences of the Future”, “Do you have a passion and talent for screen storytelling?” or “In 2009 AFTRS will deliver learning programs that match the 21st Century needs of the Austrlian screen arts and broadcast community.”

OK some ‘new’ course detail. First, Virtual Worlds…there are no direct links on the micro-site as it is a flash movie but here is a link to the other ‘web 1.0’ site course description.

GRADUATE DIPLOMA VIRTUAL WORLDS

This multi-disciplinary course develops the skills and understandings necessary for constructing computer generated story worlds for use in a broad range of media industries. Project work will include pre-visualisation sequences for film or TV, virtual spaces for use in massively multiplayer online games and social virtual worlds and rich environments for CG animation or machinima.
By the end of this course students will have experience::

  • Creating a range of pre-visualizations of both real and fantasy spaces
  • Exploring the strong links between real set design and virtual world design from a production and cinematographic perspective
  • Using a wide range of environmental design tools, off-the shelf virtual worlds and the various advanced techniques required for high-end production
  • Exploring spaces and tools designed particularly for multiplayer quest-based game play
  • Creative worlds designed for low end browser-based social interaction through to 3D immersive social virtual worlds
  • Finding stories and locations in game engines and creating a wide range of Machinima

Throughout this 32 week course students will work on several practical projects including a real industry brief.

  • Through lectures, demonstrations, masterclasses, and industry guest speakers students will investigate areas such as Cinematography, 3D set and landscape creation, Voice Over Scripting and Production, Lighting, Team Production, Character Animation, Game Play and Sound and Music Design.
  • This course provides opportunities to develop creative ideas and projects in a multi-disciplinary environment.
  • Pre-requisites
    • Demonstrated proficiency in one or more of the following areas:
    • Filmmaking – Such as: Production, writing, animation, cinematography, sound or music design, digital visual effects
    • Interactive Programming and/or Design – Such as: Online Coding, Interactive Design, Installation Art, Social Web 2.0 Development, Offline Scripting, Interactive Production

Course Modules

Course Modules Include:

  • Story and Machinima
    • This module explores new opportunities for storytelling using machinima (a hybrid of ‘machine’ and ‘cinema’), a technique to create movies by using video games as virtual film set.

  • Audio Worlds
    • Sound and music are important aspects of developing sophisticated story worlds and help to and immerse the participant in any virtual environment. This course explores the potential of interactive sound.

  • The Live Virtual Camera (Pre-Visualization)
    • Pre-visualization serves two primary purposes — to sell a concept and save time and money. Also pre-visualization is becoming an end in itself and the cross-over with high production value machinima is investigated.

  • World as Character
    • Understanding virtual space as being heavily linked to story and also integrated with the film story or game and social characters within it followed by machinima workshop.

  • Social Worlds
    • Designing Social Spaces require cross-over skills between town planner, web designer and psychoanalyst. These particular worlds range from cartoon cut out grids on web sites through to fully immersive photo-realistic spaces.

  • Production Project
    • The Production Project is the means for students to apply the skills, understandings and ways of working they have acquired in undertaking other Graduate Diploma units in their area of specialisation. The Production Project Module may take the form of a group or individual project or industry attachment and is intended to enable students to utilise their creativity, imagination, skills and knowledge in their area of specialisation.

  • Content Incubator
    • This unit is designed to develop the skills of brainstorming and rapid creative project development. Flexibility and adaptability in creative teamwork are a focus of this unit. Students learn to work to a brief under time pressure and develop skills in the visual, written and oral presentation of ideas.

and of course Games Design – again a link to the main site details here.

GRADUATE DIPLOMA GAME DESIGN

This intensive one year course enables students to develop the practical skills necessary to design games.
Game Design offers a unique mixture of practice and theory developed and taught by industry experts, mixing classwork, workshops and production opportunities in a creative multi-disciplinary environment.
Students are encouraged to build a course that fits their passions, skills and needs through a structure that allows each student to create a unique specialist pathway by a combination of core and elective subjects, including subjects from new Graduate Diplomas in Virtual Worlds, Animation Directing, Directing (Fiction and non-Fiction), and then put that into practice.

By the end of this course students will have had the opportunity to:

  • Acquire skills in designing a wide range of games and experiences
  • Initiate and lead a creative project
  • Explore the role of gameplay and narrative in game design including conflict, goals and managing uncertainty
  • Design characters and environments that effectively support the player experience
  • Experience the dynamics of single player and online communal environments
  • Experience production focused learning in a creative multi-disciplinary environment
  • Learn to incorporate cinematic storytelling into the language of gameplay

Through lectures, demonstrations, masterclasses, and industry guest speakers, students will investigate areas such as narrative space, character, performance, fundamentals of gameplay, and creative leadership necessary to design games.
Pre-requisites: Demonstrated proficiency in one or more of the following areas:

  • Computer programming
  • Fine arts
  • Digital Arts (3D/2D)
  • Interactive Design
  • Animation
  • Creative Producing
  • Game design
  • Filmmaking

Directing Concepts and Skills:

  • A practical and theoretical exploration of the key conceptual knowledge and skills required to lead creative projects

Production Workshops:

  • Work in teams to develop a short production from idea to fine cut.
  • (Shared with students from other disciplines)

Major Project

  • Work individually or in teams to create an original work. Students are encouraged to form teams with students from other disciplines, depending on the needs of the project.

ELECTIVES
Students will be required to complete 8 electives. Elective topics include:

  • Character and Performance
  • Script and Narrative Structure
  • Level Design
  • Story, Space and Performance
  • Directing Voice Performances
  • Original Property Development
  • Character Design
  • Storyboarding and Pre-visualisation
  • Acting for Animators
  • Casting Techniques and Processes
  • Content Incubator
  • Emerging Media

Modules from the Graduate Diploma: Directing (Fiction and non-Fiction), the Graduate Diploma: Animation Directing and the Graduate Diploma: Virtual Worlds

In addition, students will share Screen Studies units with other disciplines, including genre studies.

Aug 242008
 

The Sydney Morning Herald, and a few blogs who should know better, continue the tiresome trend of metaverse and specifically Second Life bashing. Asher Moses ( decided to run a recent item based loosely on a few lines of an old bit of research from a PhD student looking at the potential of Virtual Reality (an old academic term for what we now call Virtual Worlds). The research actually focused on iterative development of the commercial side of virtual worlds and had naturally concluded that the first entrants into Second Life were still learning how to engage with the inworld inhabitants. Well nothing new there, many commentators had already come to that conclusion back in 2006 and in some cases a decade and more ago. But this article was particularly poor due to many factual inaccuracies and a more pronounced negative bias than usual.

NEGATIVE ARTICLES

I have come to expect a certain negative sensationalism from traditional media and SMH particularly have written at least four items of fiction per year for the past two years about the demise of virtual worlds, lead by Second Life. So I thought I would analyse this particular article “Few Lives Left for Second Life” in some more detail, and I have reprinted it in full below with embedded comments. Without over analysing it I can only think the real reason traditional media feel it necessary to ‘attack’ online game platforms is purely a result of survival as their readership plummets while online games see rapid growth. Who knows, perhaps Asher Moses had a bad ‘trip’ in his one day in world in 2006, who knows. Anyhow lets see how this article stands up to scrutiny…

Few lives left for Second Life

Interesting title. Does the journalist want us to believe that Second Life is finished? Does this journalist want to bring about it’s demise? As always poor journalism always begins with sensationalist, opinionated conclusion suggesting from the outset a real lack of understanding. So to the standard ‘text book’ summary of the intention of the article.

The companies that rushed to set up bases within the cult virtual world of Second Life appear to have wasted their time as many have shut down and others are “ghost towns”, an Australian researcher has found.

SECOND LIFE IS OUR BEST R&D PLATFORM

Firstly there wasn’t a rush and some companies spent a year researching and are still researching before fully setting up in a virtual world. Also it is not a cult with over 12 million who have tried it and around 1.2 million who regularly visit it, the average age is over 34 and predominately female. It is mainstream media who haven’t a clue about the significance of social worlds who turn it into a cult with articles that focus on the whacky and negative. Finally the ‘ghost town’ was taken completely out of context as the main thrust of the PhD students article was about something completely different. Kim MacKenzie. the originator of the research, response to this kind of journalism.

“What is it with the Australian media? Why are they focused on slandering Second Life as a failure? I have recently discussed my research findings of commercial activity within Second Life with several journalists, where only minimal quotes have been used out of their original context; in order it seems, to support an obvious negative bias.” Kim MacKenzie, PhD student, QUT whose research was used by SMH

A DIP IN AUSTRALIAN USER BASE IS NOT THE DEATH OF SECOND LIFE

Before we go back to the article lets think a little about ‘ghost towns’. Later on in the article it suggest 12 people at a time on ABC Island is somehow a failure? On the Pond a slow churn of around 50-100 avatars at any time really starts to add up. Those who do not understand game or social worlds, like Asher Moses and other blogs mentioned below, think success is based on ‘number of hits’ when in fact it is about engagement, user hours and much more. Traditional journalist and those who run copy-cat blogs have their heads still stuck in the web of the late 90s. I often present about the difference between simple page hits and user hours as being a key differentiator in the engagement argument. Immersive online experiences need new metrics and marketeers and academics are realising that social worlds do provide the potential for very high dwell figures…slide 17 of a recent presentation I gave on marketing in virtual worlds quotes the following:

  • Facebooks 65 millions users on for just 4 hours per month – Marketing charts suggest it is anything from 30 minutes to 4 hours per month across 2D social networks
  • 132 million americans watching YouTube but they watch only about 5 minutes per day or 2.5 hours per month
  • 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

Also consider a reasonably popular corporate blog or site, that has perhaps around 600 per day uniques. How many visitors would be there at any one time, the calculation suggests 1 visitor every 7 minutes. Would we say they are a big failure too? – the big difference is the visitor will likely stay 2 minutes on a site compared with a ‘branded (academic or corporate)’ immersive or game space where the visit will be there from anything between 1-6 hours per day…Also Australia is not the only game in town as brands are global and looking at time spent inworld from reputable sources suggest the opposite of what Asher Moses and metaverse journal are purpoting here with Second Life being 3rd only to Facebook and YouTube.

back to the story…

Separately, figures released by the virtual world’s creator Linden Lab in April show there are only 12,245 active Australian Second Life users, down from highs of 16,000 towards the end of last year. During a period of immense hype over the past few years, Second Life – which allows people to interact through virtual “avatars” and build and trade in-world items – was billed as a way for companies to form deeper online connections with customers by connecting with them in a 3D virtual setting. But Australians appear to have lost interest in Second Life and the users still there appear to be shying away from the big corporate brands.

Firstly Second Life is not the only virtual world. As readers of this blog know there are at least 50 other mainstream entities (see my video here) and the total audience according to a trusted site on this topic KZero is well over 300 million and in the 2nd Quarter of 2008, $161 million was invested in 14 virtual-worlds, the 1st Quarter $184 million put into 23 virtual worlds so the total this year alone to $345 million across 37 new worlds. Australia is a tiny market compared with Europe, Asia, South America and USA so fluctuations are highly likely. The fact that the user base of one virtual world fell by 23% in a year is common with any service coming out of a hype phase into a stable mature phase. I wonder if SMH ever do reports of their own newspapers readership dropping by 60-70% and many old-school papers closing down completely around the world. I suspect not. Trad press are keen to point out the demise of online networks, well they would, they are becoming their main competitors for eyeballs.

Marketing pilgrim had a similar issue with the so-called end of Facebook hype from a few weeks ago ‘Facebook Falling Off” and pointed out the hysteria generated by a few dips in this diagram – as Jordon MoCollom said “Guys, this stuff happens. Economies just can’t grow all the time. It’s not the end of the world, and it’s probably not the end of Facebook, either.”

YES, SOME BRANDS (AND JOURNALISTS) JUST DON’T GET IT

Kim MacKenzie, a PhD student at the Queensland University of Technology, centred her honours year thesis around the business applications of Second Life. She studied the Second Life bases of 20 international brands over three months last year, including Dell, Toyota, Coca-Cola, BMW, AOL and Vodafone. “They were like ghost towns,” said MacKenzie, adding that many of the users she saw on the company islands appeared to be staff members. “In terms of customers and perhaps your everyday people, there was no evidence of anybody in there. I was often the only one wandering around these very impressive sites on my own.” MacKenzie said she went back to many of the 20 brand sites this year and half of them had shut down.

Now this did not surprise me because of two key reasons. 1) Many brands and the ‘sub standard’ developers that promised real engagement brought them into world for the wrong reasons. As I have said regularly for the past two years, you cannot build into a social network and not be social. Also see my post on design for much more detail. 2) We are seeing the natural exodus of the ‘showroom, build-it-big-and-boring’ brands and the settling of second generation ‘social’ and ‘purposeful’ brands. So The Pond, Accenture, Playboy, L Word and about five other key brands are really getting to grips with setting up a virtual base in a social worlds. Ms MacKenzie’s research is nothing new, many folk had been writing about the rarely visited ‘over branded’, nothing-to-do sims for the past two years. My surprise is why now? The Project Factory statistics have shown a clear two way split between brands that get it and those that don’t for a similar timescale too.

UNBIASED STATISTICS FROM LINDEN LABS

In Australia, the ABC, Telstra BigPond and realestate.com.au all have Second Life bases. The Project Factory, which helps firms develop a Second Life presence, said BigPond was by far the most popular brand in Second Life in terms of the amount of time spent there by users. However, the reliability of those figures is questionable because The Project Factory was contracted by Telstra to help build its island.

I take offence this slur on my integrity. The unreliability of these figures clearly come from the Metaverse Journal who in the past have said as much several times and who themselves don’t understand how transparent measurement (meaning everyone can check them!) is the key factor. The point that stands out here is that a company who uses open inworld dwell traffic figures cannot be trusted if they themselves develop for one of the brands. Absolute nonsense and this extrapolation by Asher Moses is typical of the level of inaccuracy in this and many of his articles. For those who never get inworld here are the open ‘dwell’ figures based on subsections of branded spaces, an image from over a year ago.

Brands in Second Life 3 Jun 07

The Project Factory have been publishing these figures for nearly 18 months. Many brands have come and gone in the meantime, but the best independent measurement (albeit behind closed doors) by Tateru Nino actually matched The Project Factory figures after a few weeks over a year ago. Here is one of her NWN posts that shows The Pond way ahead of other brands. and a match in the order of branded spaces. As for the way the Project Factory figures are measured this has been quoted on their website for the past 18 months also – repeated again here for those who may have be ‘indoctrinated’ to assume these were ‘fixed’. The only thing fixed is Asher’s disdain of Telstra and Second Life.

These statistics are compiled and published every Monday using the Linden Labs search functionality. The actual vertical figures are based on the the open inworld Linden Lab traffic algorithm. Every avatar gets a certain number of traffic ‘points’ per 24 hour day which are distributed across the areas they visit – sims and/or parcels (subsections of sims). If they spend 100% of their time for that day on a parcel, then that parcel will get 100% of their points. If they spend 50% of their time there, the space would be allocated 50% of their points and so on. In addition, a visit to a parcel is only triggered by being there for more than five continuous minutes.

and the point is anyone can go in world on Monday morning, type in the brand names, look for the parcels/sims that belong to the brand and see the figures aligned. Anything else has to be taken on trust.

SUPERFICIAL KNOWLEDGE INPUT = INACCURATE OUTPUT

Back to the story from SMH.

David Holloway, who runs the webzine The Metaverse Journal, which examines virtual worlds from an Australian perspective, said Second Life’s popularity had “dropped off big time from a year ago”. He said that was largely due to less media attention and the fact that Australians were fed up with significant lag, which arises because the Second Life servers are located in San Francisco. Stability issues are also a significant setback. Linden Lab’s own data shows “one in four times you use Second Life the whole application will crash”, Holloway said.

The metaverse journal was notable for jumping on bandwagon of Second Life and has since been building traffic (probably measured in hits) to sell advertising, sponsorship and other ‘traditional’ commerce around the hype. They/he are part of the hype cycle and often use negativity to garner traffic too. Like many temporary commentators they blow with the wind, without any real passion for this area and constantly refer to ‘old problems’ with the service. Asher Moses using the Metaverse Journal as a source of information for this and other articles, is like asking a tourist for the nearest bank or traffic directions. I know Mr Holloway is rarely inworld, he created an office ages ago, visits events for minutes (takes a snap and leaves) and lives vicariously through other ‘characters’ from whom he gets tidbits of news, many second hand. I have seen this behaviour personally for two years from many ‘reporters’ of the metaverse and like any news source, many of their stories are pretty negative, cut and paste single lines from other sites all with the sole intention of getting eyeballs onto their site.

Holloway said the BigPond island attracted a maximum of only 100 people on a busy day, while ABC’s Second Life site had 12 people or less visiting at any given time. “If you’re looking at real numbers of people in terms of brand engagement, Second Life is really not the place to be,” he said.

A perfect example of his ignorance of the real figures. Even citing figures from August last year where independently Tateru Nino worked out by actually ‘counting’ visitors had over 9000 per week visit the Pond islands (that was when the Linden dwell rating was at 37743). Exactly a year later it was at 47226 – suggesting it is more likely around 11 000 per week or 1570 per day. Even if there are less they must be staying a ‘lot’ longer and I therefore think Mr Holloway’s figure of 100 must have been plucked out of virtual air.

ADDITION: Two days after this post to further emphasise the farcical nature of this article and Metaverse Journal’s statements we find that Second Life has hit the highest number of concurrent users 67 335 since it came out of alpha back in 2003. Obviously that is a single moment in time so over a day the inworld visitors will be much higher.

BRANDS THAT GET IT

Abigail Thomas, head of strategy development at ABC Innovation, admitted the numbers were “still quite small” and the Australian population of Second Life “hasn’t been growing as fast as it was a year ago”. “It was always an experimental project to test these new platforms and understand how we could use them to connect with audiences,” she said. Nonetheless, Thomas said the ABC had built up a small but loyal following of users who were keen to hold events on the island, such as a regular music quiz. Some had offered to rebuild and renovate the ABC’s island. “We’ve allocated an ABC person to go in in the evenings and weekends to talk to the ABC island community and do some moderation and help the community co-ordinate events,” Thomas said.

Of course working closely with ABC and Telstra I know much of the thinking and plans behind their R&D in Second Life. Without disclosing too much I must point out that BigPond has to it’s credit adopted much earlier than all the others, a structured community management system that involved a loyal Australian participant base. ABC had a loyal but often devisive/dysfunctional group but we are just starting to turn that around and may be as successful if they can sort out group management, personality and media issues.

AUSTRALIA IS LEADING THE WORLD IN COMMERCIAL METAVERSE ACTIVITY

Telstra BigPond has 16 islands in Second Life, five of which are “residential” islands inhabited by Australian avatars. Telstra spokesman Peter Habib maintained that the BigPond island was the most popular Second Life real-world brand presence. He said the residential islands had almost 100 per cent occupancy. “Some of our most popular destinations include Pondi Beach, the Billabong Bar (where many users frequently gather to talk and dance), and also the popular Australian icons including the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House,” he said. “We also have a building Sandbox where visitors can hone their virtual creative skills in a safe environment.”

Yes the community hang around and want to ‘virtually live’ close to areas they enjoy visiting. This is about social networking manifest in 3D space and brands who encourage and join in the conversation with those who visit it will survice and prosper. Those who insist on broadcast interactivity (a term I use to describe, build toys to play with and hide) are like traditional media without a right to reply, doomed to shouting from the mountain tops – without realising less and less people are listening, because they are having their own discourse in the foothills. Regarding the Pond I still have a view that the true mark of success of a brand in a social virtual world should be about many other things than renting property though. Something that Linden Lab, the owners of the platform, do as part of the core service. BigPond in this case is just reselling virtual property and as such to me 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.

MacKenzie said virtual worlds such as Second Life – which launched in June 2003 – were still a few years ahead of the curve and companies hadn’t done enough to advertise their presence there. However, she expected Second Life – or the next big virtual world – to take off within a few years as the bugs are ironed out and more advanced communications features such as voice chat are added.

Interesting how out of date this item is too, and the research? Voice has been in Second Life for nearly a year and now we already have lip synch as well as much better graphics in windlight, upgraded physics and much more. This again goes to show how out of date journalists and some researchers are. So to conclude the real thrust of the Theories that MacKenzie has included in the PhD is about iteration, that Second Life or successors will indeed be with us for a long long time. Brands who entered and enter these spaces early will need to have purpose – beyond hype and associated PR – which as we all know comes back and bites them, in the shape of SMH. More importantly they will learn as they are doing in other 2D social networks like Facebook, how to properly engage, be human and not like traditional media, broadcast fiction that doesn’t allow discussion or more importantly reflect the truth. The real problem is for me the ripple effect of bad journalism with ridiculous titles that have no grounding in reality being regurgitated by others – such as “So, like, whatever. Second Life is collapsing. Big deal” from Boxxet, and others. Finally.

“I think Second Life has been a fantastic first setting for all sorts of organisations to learn those fundamental virtual world tools and building skills,” said MacKenzie.

Ah something to agree on. Yes it is early days and researchers and journalists who report on these baby steps would do well to think of how idiotic those commentators looked who talked about the unlikely success of TV in radio days or more recently in the late 90s how the internet is a fad and has no relevance to business – the only thing that has no relevance is poorly researched journalism, because today with ‘persistent content’ there is no where to hide.

© Gary Hayes 2008

On a postive note: Second Life is a lot more than sex and commerce – here is a little taste of some of the sublime side, a video and image I creaeted from a fabulous sim Templum ex Obscurum

Nirvana Panorama 16

8 pages