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Oct 102008
 

Interesting times ahead – the Console space finally collides with the Social Virtual World space as Sony and Microsoft race to be first to offer non-closed beta, ‘social (read: commercial) virtual world’ front ends to their ‘trojan horse’ consoles. Will they start to reap the benefits of a very large installed user base as both are likely to launch this side of Christmas in several international territories, and will they fly?

Both the Social World front end and the DIY games components (LittleBigPlanet and Buko) of these consoles have tremendous impact potential due to the massive installed base. As at the end of 2008 we are looking at PS3, XBox360 and Wii have a potential ‘Console Social Virtual World’ user base of 100 million! Compare that to the 1.5 million Second Lifers or even the 12 million WoW addicts…

The report from International Tribune about the two new ‘social worlds-in-your-console’ rivals, XBox New Experience (launching Nov 19) and Sony’s PS3 Home, suggests that Sony has cried wolf too many times. Sony have over-delayed the launch and are probably are trying to start out too big (vs the lower rez, cartoony avatars we see in the Wii [Miis]) and now the XBox equivalent, image above.

…Hirokazu Hamamura, a game expert and head of Japanese publisher Enterbrain Inc., who was at the Sony booth, said he needs to see more to assess “Home.” “You still can’t tell what it’s all about,” he told The Associated Press, adding that “Home” may be coming a little late compared to rivals. “There are so many more possibilities for a virtual community.”

The NewXBoxExperience (NXE as it shall be now known) on the other hand has much more accessible friendly ‘toons’ which are very simple characters representing you in the basic XBoxLive interface. As I mentioned the interaction is likely to be similar to that on the Wii and Animal Crossing Wii also about to launch looks interesting too in this regards. But NXE will likely put off some of the hardcore gamers who don’t want to be represented by Simpson’s like avatars with minimal options to customise/personalize and make them their own? But is this just a half baked attempt at encouraging more group/tribal ‘mall’ type interaction to get folk to watch more of those ‘netflix’ (one of XBox’s live partners) videos or peer pressure to play/purchase online games they wouldn’t normally play? One think I do like the idea of is layering groups of avatars over full screen movies, so they can ‘play/chat/critique’ but I suspect the studios will put pressure on Microsoft to not allow that. We shall see. Other key partners in the NXE include Netflix, USA Network, MGM, NBC Universal, Universal Studios Home Entertainment and the SCI FI Channel.

The other big question is how to ‘really’ commercialise these spaces vs just incrementally increasing sales of existing product, like videos, within the portal. It is one thing getting your massive online user base to create an avatar and hang out with their friends in an abstract ‘exhibition’ hall while clicking (with a TV remote) on buy-me items like videos and other online games as in NXE but another to draw them in to having their own ‘pad’ as the case in PS3Home.

Having a persistent place to call your own produces, like Second Life, a big increase in user hours (for those who stick with it!) approaching 50 hours per week in the social space. This also brings with it the desire to purchase ‘virtual life’ enhancements (show-off pixel products) and the whole thing turns into aspirational lifestyle marketing on the Home side vs a 3D ‘TV-catalogue’ world on the NXE side. The next question is advertising during your social console moments. Both Home and NXE worlds will have a spattering of environmental or portal advertising from the outset and it will be great to see some contextual ads in there vs generic billboard equivalents. I would hope that Sony or Microsoft don’t go it alone here (even with Massive’s involvement with MS) and that they do adopt the expertise of the worlds largest advertising corporation Google.

So with Google moving into the fray with adsense now being delivered into online games reported by Reuters if brands don’t reach the gamers in the social front end worlds then they have another chance in the games themselves. Google are keen to point out the benefits they offer marketeers here A selection:

  • Drive your brand: In-game ads have been shown to drive brand familiarity and consideration by significant percentages*
  • …and have the option for custom sponsorships and integrations: In addition to the media buy you make directly with Google, your Google sales representative can connect you directly with publishing partners for deeper integrations.
  • Reach the new generation of social gamer: The face of online gaming is changing to include users of all ages, backgrounds, and interests. Get your brand in front of users on the largest social networks, including MySpace, Facebook, and sites across the web.

OK they are starting with simple flash games and SocioNet widgets but they have their sights on traditional online games as it says in the Reuters report they are working with Konami and Sony and a few other key partners are already listed on their Adsense in Games site. (It is interesting to note also that Google are kicking advertisers into action with other initiatives including text ads in Google Maps/Earth and YouTube click-to-buy buttons – both reported by TechCrunch).

But back to the ingame advertising which if done right and using dynamic behavioural and personalised targeted techniques will indeed be a significant step forward for marketeers who are just getting their heads around basic social media. One big hurdle to come though is the old walled garden product/service vs open field product/service – you have lots of great ingame ads pointing to limited content in say NXE or Home Walled Gardens vs the potential of wandering around Halo 3 or Far Cry 2 and being able to purchase the ‘book, music, film’ inserted with 1-click to buy from Amazon, while STILL ingame or at least a quick hop out to the ‘social virtual world portal’.

This is all about clever product placement and relating it to the game your in (see my recent post on the renaissance of hundreds of films being made of games) is both the opportunity and the real challenge (being ‘sensitive’ to the story world and narrative of the game). So for example making sure the latest 2008 car is not being advertised in the 2020 story world of Crysis or subscriptions to Star Trek eps on demand embedded in Star Wars Galaxies. At least the social, vanilla spaces will allow contemporary advertising without too much jarring such as in a simple ‘gathering environment’ like Home below…

In summary I still think NXE is a half way house, a little too old school, cable/IPTV for my liking, and that Sony have the right model in the medium/longer term by persisting with a much more sticky, immersive and larger scale social ‘customisable’ environment – which as we have seen for the past 4 years in Second Life will drive much more inworld commerce. I hope that PS3Home allows some ‘theme’d’ areas too – based on loyal fans of certain games – to the extent that the social hangout becomes almost like a TV/film green room, a place to relax outside game world but feel your with like-minds…the 3D forum becomes a reality.

Next Step – Gamer Created Games

Now lets go the next step and imagine a great deal of that inworld content is user to user created – things get really, really interesting! 🙂 (see “LittleBigPlanet: 45 minutes of boredom, then the awesome“  and “PS3’s LittleBigPlanet births YouTube-like social game design” I will be posting much more on this ’emergent’ behaviour and its commercial implications shortly!

Sep 282008
 

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

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

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

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

Game story starts to lead film development?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More about my video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scroll at the end of the compilation:

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

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

Mixed Reality Futures

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

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

Other posts on this topic:

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

Jun 232008
 

For those folk who fancy a trip down to Monash University Law Chambers on Wednesday 25 June and who want to see where ‘Underbelly’ meets Social Virtual Worlds and Online Games well we have just the seminar for you. My opening talk’s title “The Sex, the Violence and the Dirty Money: The Truth about Social Virtual Worlds” constructed several months ago now seems a little OTT, wonders how he will live up to the promise…oh yes just cite every mainstream ‘heritage media’ article about the evils of online games and social virtual worlds and voila. Of course I will be talking about some of the benefits too. I might also use this lovely video I picked up from a side exhibition in Seoul last week from APEC Education Foundation Series which points out the evils of the internet (sorry, safe use of) – this particular one entitled ‘Copyright Infringement’ is ‘so swank’…btw I will be putting up my Seoul talk at the trilateral Broadband Summit in a day or so.

Seminar (PDF available from here)
Wednesday 25 June 2008, 4 – 6.30 pm
Monash Centre for Regulatory Studies, Monash University Law Chambers
472 Bourke Street Melbourne
Key Speakers
Gary Hayes, Director LAMP @ AFTRS and Head of Virtual World Development, TPF
Dan Hunter, New York Law School, Melbourne University Law
Melissa deZwart, Senior Lecturer, Monash Law
David Lindsay, Senior Lecturer, Monash Law

Businesses, and communities of users are increasingly operating in virtual worlds, such as Second Life. But doing business in virtual worlds raises many complex, novel legal issues. Already, potentially landmark cases have come before US courts. This seminar features well-known experts and legal academics in this rapidly-emerging area. It will be an indispensable introduction to virtual worlds, as well as an overview and analysis of significant legal issues.

Program
4 pm Welcome
4.10 pm The Sex, the Violence and the Dirty Money: The Truth about Social Virtual Worlds
Gary Hayes
4.40 pm Property, Intellectual Property and Virtual Worlds: What Do Virtual Worlds Tell Us About Property?
Dan Hunter
5.10 pm Beyond the Terms of Service: Legal Issues in Regulating Virtual Worlds
Melissa deZwart
5.40 pm Copyright Protection of Buildings and Artistic Works in Virtual Worlds: Comparative Legal Analysis
David Lindsay
6.10 pm Questions & Discussion
6.30 pm Refreshments

Speaker profiles
Gary Hayes is the Director of the Australian Laboratory for Advanced Media Production
(LAMP), which is run through the Australian Film, TV and Radio School (AFTRS), based in Sydney. LAMP is rapidly emerging as Australia’s preeminent media R&D and production lab. Through AFTRS, he runs workshops in multi-user virtual environments (MUVE), exploring the potential of shared social online virtual spaces for collaborative production, creativity and education. Gary is also Head of Virtual Worlds with the UK-based Project Factory. In this capacity, he has produced and built both the Telstra and ABC Second Life presences, and is currently building and devising other commercial and game-like services for virtual worlds. From 1995-2004, as a Senior Producer and Development Manager for the BBC in London, Gary led the BBC’s development of the internet, interactive TV and emerging platforms. As a published music producer, composer and performer, he has had over 200 works performed live and on TV, film and radio. Gary has been an International Interactive Emmy juror for the past two years.

Dan Hunter is an expert in cyberspace and internet law, and artificial intelligence and cognitive science models of law. He holds a chair in law at the University of Melbourne, and will join the New York Law School faculty permanently in mid-2008. Dan regularly publishes on issues dealing with the intersection of computers and the law, including papers dealing with the regulation of virtual worlds and high technology aspects of intellectual property. He was one of the first scholars to examine the social significance of virtual worlds, co-founded the scholarly blog Terra Nova (terranova.blogs.com), and ran the 2006 State of Play/Terra Nova Conference at New York Law School, and the 2007 State of Play Conference in Singapore. Dan holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge on the nature of legal reasoning. He was a tenured faculty member at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, from 2000-2007, where he continues to teach as an adjunct faculty member. Prior to joining Wharton he taught on the law faculty at Cambridge University in
England.

Melissa deZwart is a Senior Lecturer and Director of Teaching in the Faculty of Law at Monash University, where she teaches Cyberlaw, Law of the Internet, Intellectual Property and the Internet, and Introduction to Legal Reasoning. Melissa is an expert in cyberlaw, e-commerce law, information technology law, technology contracts and copyright law, and is widely published in these areas. She is the co-ordinator of a Monash Arts/Law grant researching the law and regulation of virtual worlds, and has been instrumental in establishing the Monash presence in Second Life. In 2008, Melissa will introduce the graduate subject, Law of Virtual Worlds. Melissa has a PhD from Monash on the intersection of copyright and contract in the digital environment. Prior to joining the law faculty, she was the Legal Manager at CSIRO.

David Lindsay is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at Monash University teaching Intellectual Property Law, Copyright, Law of the Internet, Communications Law & Regulation and Trusts. He is the author of many articles and reports in the areas of intellectual property law, internet law, communications law and privacy law, and a wellknown speaker on these areas. David is a contributing author for Copyright and Designs (Butterworths, Sydney, 1996-) and the author of International Domain Name Law: ICANN and the UDRP (Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2007).