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Aug 052008

Gary Hazlitt, Gazlitt and me take a ‘break’ in over fifty worlds comprising the current metaverse, here is the holiday video…

I am doing a commercial report and curriculum development on the evolving range of social virtual worlds and have recently ventured into fifty of them to review and sample the culture, creative, business and educational potential. On my travels I got out my virtual camera and decided to capture a bunch of small vignettes which quickly turned into a body of audio visual delights – so decided to create a nice seven minute video for posterity.

I thought I would share the video publically as it demonstrates how ubiquitous, popular and streamlined many of these spaces are becoming across the intraweb / ‘cloud’. With over 300 million frequenting or registering for the non-game based worlds and millions of new investment in 2nd and 3rd generation services there seems to be no stopping them…Enjoy the video  (UPDATE: now standing at over 55 000 views!)

75MB MP4 Download available at www.justvirtual.com/SVWS_2008.mp4

A few immediate things that struck me on my travels:

  • That there are quite a few worlds now getting their balance on the shoulders of Second Life and really getting to grips with the social networking aspects vs the 3D’ness
  • There IS a balance between a social space and an ‘agreed’ advertorial world – “you give me valid experience, I accept a level of advertising”
  • A few new entrants realise that using a fully fledged, 3D game engine as the client for what is in the end a glamorous 3D facebook and requiring a high spec’d PC is not the best way. Second generation services like vSide have followed a good middle ground
  • As I reported a few days ago the ‘layered-over-the-2d-web’ version of these worlds such as RocketOn Exit Reality and Weblin show great usability and promise
  • Some worlds are demonstrating the precursor to photo realism and smooth motion while others have as much ‘immersion’ by providing intimacy with your friends in more cutesy environments
  • Many of these worlds operate without the hype we have seen with Second Life and have slowly been building up large communities. Beware any world that tries to launch on hype, as most of these worlds are still in adolescence and not ready for mainstream
  • The Metaverse is a world of connected worlds, how/when/if they are connected will be a real challenge from a technical and standardisation perspective. Especially as a few are starting to concentrate on themes, music, sport and probably in the end very defined niches – fly fishing social world anyone?
  • It is important for those who are supposedly representing or blogging about ‘the metaverse’ to get in there and try these services – beyond registering and wandering around for only 10 minutes (I could name several who haven’t a clue!) but…
  • There are not enough hours in the day to attempt to truly engage with each world but it is amazing how adept you become at spotting flaws and innovation when you put the effort in
  • lots more to follow from the official report in a future post…

KZero are turning out to be the best resource on the planet, tracking Social Virtual Worlds and their latent potential. They gave me permission to publish/post this great chart with a great stab at putting many of the worlds in the video across content sectors.

Social VIrtual Worlds Logos - End 2008

Here is a list of the worlds featured in my video in order of appearance:

Video details:

The ‘Social Virtual’ World’s A Stage
A Film by Gary Hayes © Personalizemedia 2008

“This is not a Game” – Music composed and performed by
Gary Hayes www.korkyt.net

Sep 262006

Virtual Laguna Beach Party

I was on a Portable Content Symposium panel last night “Content with your content? How the convergence of media is changing everything we know”. A fellow panelist Ean Thorley (Exec prod at MTV Australia) briefly referred to a new MTV virtual space Laguna Beach – when we started talking about the impact web 3.0 on traditional media. It is a shame we didn’t get more time to explore this, significant development – a virtual space branded by but more importantly, containing the story world of the much loved TV programme. Launched in alpha on Weds last week it has been reported across the usual channels. Here is an excerpt of the MTV press release from news.com.

“Viewers can hang out at the beach or shop at the local surf store and interact with one another in ways that mirror the on-air program. Just as the cast gears up for the winter formal, so too can viewers within ‘Virtual Laguna Beach’ prepare for the big night, find a date online and select the tux or prom dress for their onscreen identity.”

Laguna Beach is a 3 year old show and has a loyal teenage following of those wanting a glimpse into youth beach culture on the US West Coast. It is partly reality TV and perhaps suitable for an MMO treatment, the scenes are often filmed from a great distance allowing the ‘mic’d’ characters to do their thing without a large crew around them. Wonder if the virtual version will have cameras rolling capturing the avatar interactions?! Having spent many weeks on and off in the real ‘art center’ Laguna Beach (in between LA and San Diego) I was interested to see where the program, the real environment and the virtual space met.

I joined up a few days ago to their alpha/beta version (running on the ‘there.com‘ engine) to see what is happening and also compare a little to how this may have worked on a dedicated sim in second life. It is obviously a bit flaky at the moment – I kept getting logged out and regularly teleported to random locations – still I saw enough on these first expeditions to get a sense of it. Here are a few screenshots I took on my travels to give you a feel for the space and the branded functionality. (all images are taken by me, the red shirted chap, in the environment may be copyright MTV or There.com – haven’t had time to read the small print, oh the copyright free’ish joys of Second Life).

Virtual Laguna Beach Main Street

After a walk down a ‘orientation’, various how-to stages hill (very similar) to Second Life one arrives at the beach and several street off-shoots with similarly named stores to the series. The interface, not shown, allows you to teleport to a number of locations, around 10 as opposed to the thousands in second life – so wonder when the scale of this environment will mean people will loose interest? This is really aimed at 15-20 year olds, really simple learning curve and designed primarily to get chatting and grouping with others as quickly as possible, much like the Second Life teen grid and of course there.com, which this is built on.
Virtual Laguna Beach Showtime

The most interesting aspect of the world is the carrot of being able to watch some of the shows in advance of the broadcast versions in the virtual space itself as well as getting ‘paid’ to watch ads. I still have 4th wall clashes when one sees photo-realistic video in a virtual world, but one of the nice things here is that the showings are events that you actually book yourself into. Great idea turning a scheduled TV programme into a scheduled show in a virtual world 😉

Virtual Laguna Beach Club Chat

Obviously a big draw of the world is the social networking aspects for teenagers and there are a predominance of show-themed areas to sit, chat, flirt etc: In fact the interface has built in gestures that range from flirt, blush, side kiss etc: Very teenager. I wonder how many of the guest avatars actually do role-play like the show characters? I was told that the virtual space will have guest avatar appearances by the real show characters on occassion. What I would really like to see is scenes played out, almost theatrical, in sets from the TV programme and you can observe but potentially even get involved as extras – then even have the whole thing recorded as if it is a live shoot and output as typical machinima. But that may be too far ahead for the creators who are just getting the thing to stand up at the moment.
Virtual Laguna Beach Pier

Now this is where my real world Laguna Beach memory fades. Does/did the pier really look like this? Of course it is no longer there, one of the benefits of a virtual ‘set’.
Virtual Laguna Beach ATM

OK now down to money. Scattered around the world are the LB ATM machines.
Virtual Laguna Beach Money

Clicking on them tells you how to earn money. Not by making something or providing a service, no you earn your virtual credits by a) taking part in a typical web/ARG quest type game. $500 a day for getting all clues. Will go back and see how hard or easy this is. b) You also, like all good social networks, earn credits for doing social things – having fun, making friends and chatting and c) as mentioned before for watching advertising messages (an idea that is appearing all over the place). One key simularity with Second Life is that you can buy credits by converting your real money into VLB currency (MTVS) – that is the plan. There are a few things to buy, surfboards, clothes, tickets for events etc: There were also a few ‘closed’ houses on the hills and on the dead end sidestreets that did actually remind me of the real Laguna Beach and with premium membership you can own houses and cars – as well as exclusive access to celeb clubs.

and one of the places one spends money, buying those identity defining clothes. On another tack I wonder if there will be a global narrative developed over time so people can role play. Each gender is only given a choice of 8 default characters which do not seem at first look to be the programme characters – which is just as well because on one street corner there were around 15 females all dressed and looking identical. Perhaps the service should be called Salt Lake City? No flames please.


and of course the obligatory in-world cinema with lots of areas ready for synergistic cross-branding – now thats an old school advertising idea…

Virtual Laguna Beach Hoverboarding

Some of the activities include the hoverboarding course. Now is that really in the show?

Virtual Laguna Beach VIP

and again endless teenage socialising. In its alpha stage a lot of the conversations come down to ‘what do we do here’, but I was surprised by the efficiency of creating and joining groups and the chat/IM elements compared with Second Life, which is a bit more down the ‘sysadmin’ tecchy road. Every 5 minutes I would be prompted to join a group by someone standing close – perhaps a range of MTV avatars are acting as social network catalysts.

In summary, will write more detail in a future post when things have settled, this is a significant development as a content convergence between

  1. Channel brand
  2. TV programme brand
  3. Virtual worlds
  4. Social networks
  5. Web 2.0 media distribution

Below is my response to Tony Walsh’s post on the same topic a few days ago which acts as a good final statement

I think this is very significant – and excuse the slight forward train of thought. The engines that sit behind these ‘worlds’ are within reach of corporates now to set up and I suspect (just like blogs and wikis) in the wonderful world of web 2.0, VR world publishing will be in the hands of everyone within 2 years. An open source, easy to set-up on any webserver package will mean Second Life’s days are probably numbered – I think Croquet needs some major tweaking before it becomes a WordPress, but as I suggest in my Web 3.0 post there is an inevitability about corporates and the rest of us being able to host our own virtual spaces – and link them together the same ‘metaphorical’ way we link blogs and comments – so hundreds of thousands of personal virtual mini worlds running on a multitude of apache servers, with a virtual link between them – it appears as if they are next to each other in the virtual space.

This is one of a few planned spaces like this for MTV with LOGO coming up, the branded environment of course felt like many in Second Life, Silent Hill, Myst, several sports and city areas but this had a slightly claustrophic walled garden feel to it as you knew there were ‘real’ city limits. More practically the whole thing did start to feel like an immersive web site (a step on from flash driven psuedo 3D) as I drifted around between branded sections of stores and scenes from the show – which is where the whole web 3.0 thing comes from of course, these spaces become your navigation to text, audio, graphics, media and most importantly at the same time, other people in the same world. From a story angle I am keen to see other players come into the space and run narratives in parallel and connected in true cross-media way to narratives from the TV/Radio/Webisode etc: This seems all very doable, it really comes down to the story people being able to work effectively alongside the tecchy and design folk in their organisation and not running these services as an offshoot but having integrated, 360 thinking inside the channel but more importantly the programme brand production team. We will get there 😉

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006

Jun 242006

Will the ‘Avatar Based Marketing’ initiatives be a tsunami that will break down the fourth wall of Second Life for most, and in the process end the growth of premium subscribers many who use the world for other things besides doing enhanced duplicates of their first lives.

The shared virtual online world Second Life is at a crucial time in its life. On one hand it is going through obvious expansion pains, falling down technically and regularly, with weekly 50MB updates and on the other hand the dropping of the metaphoric castle drawbridge and its approach to allow anyone and everyone to join without ID (one that has forced Snapzilla a SL flickr to protest by going offline). The other main area of expansion though that could truly prove its demise is to allow unfettered influence from real world marketing. The panel (in-world last night) that looked at marketing and advertising in Second Life actually occurred when most people in Australia were in bed but I took a look at the transcript on Brands in Games just now and was quite dismayed.

Most of the discussion was about brand, advertising, getting virtual eyeballs on your product and selling Real World items off the back of SL exposure. Business, business, business – how to use the world to get most impact. Not one suggestion that perhaps many people use Second Life to escape from the endless blitzkrieg of brand pushing in the real world. The reason World of Warcraft is so successful is that it is one place you can get away from the endless advertising that we see in the real world. We know that commercial free to air tv is more and more irrelevant to young people (see my post Ambient TV, Immersive MMORPG) – because it adopts a one to many approach, broadcasting bland generalistic ads that only resonate with an aging audience. Young people need to play, be social, be immersed and certainly have personalized targeted brand experiences (as I have mentioned in many posts before) on their terms. Second Life has an important decision, be driven by corporate business or large numbers of users paying smaller amounts and who have more to do. To simplify – 5 times $10 million is the same as 10 million times $5.

There was a suggestion in the talk that Second Life’s growth may now actually depend on the big brands to support it and move it forward – the advertising sponsored virtual world. This would work in a free-to-join environment BUT there are two classes of citizens in SL and if a commercially-funded-free-to-join policy is adopted perhaps Linden Labs could consider paying back all those on premium accounts – or at least taking away the tiers many have paid to get LLabs to where it is at the moment. Here are some quotes that reinforce the above’¦

Hamlet Au: I think Second Life has long passed the days where it was a hothouse utopia where any hint of the outside world, especially the corporate for-profit world, causes much of a ripple. Now the challenge is to create cool, lasting, *exciting* experiences’”and the companies are competing on an equal level with the best creators in SL.

Yes Hamlet forget the many new entrants to SL are escaping from commercial TV and real world malls. The only real suggestion to keep mainland SL free from RL influence was to make sure that they stay on Islands and invite people to their wonderful interactive, brand-washing experiences.

Cristiano Midnight: Well, to expand on what Tony said, I do think that each environment is different and more or less viable for various reasons ‘– SL,

May 202006

Gary's Second Life BedroomWhat is driving the current shared, participatory virtual spaces? Giving audiences seemingly unlimited personalization and social structure, means big business, if it can be contained within a walled garden where everything you do is chargeable. A phenomenal strategy driving all web 2.0 services at the moment. Second life now with 200 000 plus subscribers and generating around $US80k per day is the current best of breed in the VR arena. Is it though about money, social change, virtual sex or a reflection on RL (real life) societies need to truly escape? I have been immersed in the environment as a property building resident recently to see how things have moved on since VR shared space projects I was involved in over ten years ago and various points between then and now.

When I first got into the ‘web’ in 1993/4 or so I created a homepage, stuff all about me, my partner and my life. Then I discovered that you could share that and meet like minded people just by cross linking or via cool, representational facades. So I was one of the first residents of Cybertown in 1995 a fictional ‘online’ city that you occupied and content from your homepage was ‘sucked’ in. (Homepages BTW for those who have forgotten were basic blogs – especially if you refreshed your content with life ‘stuff’ every few days). In Cybertown you could decorate your ‘flat’ a little with an occasional picture, but apart from the live forums it felt more like an offline environment – you left messages for others, retrospectively shared links and pointed people at your content. I joined and then left several other virtual reality variants like this over the coming years – it was just too time consuming to manually build up your profile though constant interaction and regular visits and the environment, although at first exciting, soon waned and paradoxically became two dimensional.

The Mirror ©BT LabsI joined a small team at the BBC working on many cutting edge projects – even now not realised. One of the first from this ‘multimedia centre’ (12 of us) was a collaborative project with BT labs, Sony and a design company called Illuminations. The project called ‘The Mirror‘ was a virtual world, six of them in fact, we also had video streams delivered to the different areas to draw people around the large screens to provoke semblances of focused and collaborative interaction. From the digispace article on the project…

This was perhaps the very first time that a prime time TV series was mirrored with live experiences in a virtual world. The figure below (above) shows a scene from the Memory world, where viewers donned avatars to view and share commentary on the 1966 World Cup (of soccer) final match. The match is being beamed an image at a time onto a screen inside the virtual world. The BT team that put this project together shares a vision I have had for years, that of making our favorite films, books, and TV media inhabitable.

You can imagine what the quality of the experience was like in 1996, VRML’s manifestation then was still very poor especially on dial-up, but all the right motivations were there with the project – to stimulate interaction, provide focus in an alien environment and collaborative creation. A little later at the BBC Imagineering dept where I was for several months, we created a range of VR properties, many looking forward to the AI component added to VR environments. Several looked at shows based around viewer created artificial life, re-rendered to super high filmic cg quality, others were about feeding the 1st world into the VR spaces to draw the UK together without geographical barriers. (The BBC recently pumped some fetival media into Second Life BTW – ZDNet article).

So 10 years on, after ‘existing’ in World of Warcraft and Everquest for a very short spell, where are we. I found the forced narrative and allegiences too daunting in many MMORPGs and as in earlier vr worlds wanted to be given more of a blank canvas to express and represent ego, and alter ego. So after a proper false start with Second Life a year or so ago I thought I would jump in. SL is a mac and pc friendly application that needs pretty good bandwith and graphics to run well – I found that more than 10 people in a shared area chocked my pathetic Australian 512k connection, but it is far more than the technical boundaries of course. I had a go with Second Life when it started but is was far from populated and I was busy (not the best combination). Now things are a little more active as you can see when you fly around the ‘google earth’ equivalent inside the application and see all the ‘sims’ (land) that have been built on, it truly feels like a alternate world/life. I signed up again (in fact twice) and bought land for both avatars, then built, shopped and met like minded people. The interesting thing about SL (how we residents refer to it, RL is where most of the world is -still) and other virtual spaces – is it is like some kind of organised religion, existing participants do get rather evangelical about the whole thing. After being sucked into SL for a while I can see how/why the Linden Lab folk (the engineers and businessmen behind SL) have built three interesting social calls-to-action, that compells a high level of personal time investment (and associated money). These are my perspective as some folk are happy to pop in, take part in events and chat once a week and nothing else – in terms of developing the SL community, just like real life.

Gary and one of his Second Life homesThe first of these is appealing to your sense of belonging. If you join as a free member your profile shows it for all to see and I was surprised with my second avatar early on how differently I was treated from being a resident. Various SL mentors (sort of big brothers or rather helpful avatars providing orientation) and other quirky characters do the land hard sell -teleporting you to various dodgy plots and offering them at discounted rates (while we are on this subject, real world lawsuits are being brought out for SL property disputes – see this Wired article from two days ago). Other folk are kind of Stepford Wives and Mormon’esque in how they talk about SL. This of course may be an anomaly, but any organism needs to grow and the more land buyers in SL the more likely a point of no return will be met – strength in numbers and dollars. So you need to have a place in SL – or you are drifting, a vagrant hanging out in other avatars pads and there are certain things you cannot do if you are not a resident, naturally. Of course your subscription will jump up to $15, $25, $40 per month depending on the size of land in sq meters – and the land fee to our friends at Anshechung.com of anything from $30 to $1500 and beyond. It is worth taking your time looking for a good spot, I flew around for hours looking for good neighbourhoods, good views, investment for the future and uniqueness. Distance is no object (you teleport everywhere) so look for spots reasonably developed otherwise you may end up surrounded by large buildings filled with porn or dodgy aircraft dealerships! Buying an island is an option for $1k US but not for most. USC Student Mike Shannahan had this to say in his student blog on the socio-economics of SL.

Maslow and other intellectuals explained that motivations of the human subconscious are predictable, and that we often are in one of 5 states of emotional maturity. On a base level, we are fight-or-flight creatures with a need for physical safety. Next we need shelter, such as a cave. Then we need food and water. After that, social needs, such as love and status dominate the human motivation scale. At the highest level, we search for meaning of life or focus on helping others as a selfless humanitarian. Second Life has allowed this behavior to emerge in its system through the virtual home. As was discussed earlier, the cyberspace inhabitant desires to work in a physical space with familiar environments. On the base levels, SL satisfies the human needs through the exemption of physical harm- the game wonÂ’t really hurt you- and the virtual home. The virtual home provides the cave that our base instincts desire. We own the land and the house and we hoard our resources in them. Instead of floating through the intangible cyberspace, we can relax and anchor ourselves in the familiarity and physical security of a 3D home.

Gary's Second Life Media LoungeSecond is peer-pressure (which includes building up your profile, social ratings, and addition to SL society). The other kind is simply just “keeping up with the Jones’s” – you fly around (yes you can fly in SL, I find it better to use a jetpack as the built in flight speed takes too long, anyway) as you fly and look at all the other wonderful creations (98% of SL is built by its subsribers) you realise you have to do more than stick a box on the beach and add a couple of chairs and tables. – so you ‘must’ buy a house, furniture, landscaping, toys, media devices, carpets and ideally personalize all of these. You can build houses in the sky or underground too – which I have done and make them look like anything from fantasy castles, spaceships to boring old mansions and contemporary villas. This is virtual reality after all. This became the most fascinating aspect (after the social uniqueness) – how addictive the personalization element is. I can add any texture to any object on my ‘parcel’ (land) alter all the dimensions of the objects and generally import media for the outside (ok – the web url world, which feels like the outside bizarrely enough). I have my own pictures, music and films running on video screens inside and outside the house and on a small cinema I have also set up. (Personally I feel now pulling in 1st world photorealistic images into 2nd world VR breaks the fourth wall – I prefer anime, CG shorts or machinima of the world itself – in fact highly rendered cg films work great in this enviroment).

You still have to buy pre-made stuff though unless you want to become a 3D artist and that takes even more time! The various vendors inside SL that you browse in scarily real world type malls and stalls, range from cheap and cheerful to quite expensive. It is also obvious that if you do enough exploring and you can find most things free in containers lying around (this is only bits of script after all!)…but I decided to splash out on a nice grand piano that actually plays and a couch plus a few works of art, most everything else apart from a few buildings were free. The tools inside SL are a bit clunky to do major customisation, even repositioning items in rotated super-structures is a chore but re-texturing and object mods are easier. You can build from scratch using the normal 3D primary elements, but best to leave that to those who have time (to make money here) and buy their creations for equivalent of US$0.05 to US$3.00 at the top end. So yes, you have to make you place look presentable SL has set some high standards in exterior builds and interior design – you can peep inside residents houses, but beware of alarms and script bouncing! This land and the increased subscription for land ownership is the major spend inside SL. Everything else is now down to normal social rules – “go here it is great”, “wanna join my party?”, “I’ve got one of these, you should too”, and associated minor spend economics. Business Weeks article entitled “My Virtual Life” points out that all this time consuming, hard work by creative users is an opportunity in itself.

After all my travels around Second Life, it’s becoming apparent that virtual worlds, most of all this one, tap into something very powerful: the talent and hard work of everyone inside. Residents spend a quarter of the time they’re logged in, a total of nearly 23,000 hours a day, creating things that become part of the world, available to everyone else. It would take a paid 4,100-person software team to do all that, says Linden Lab. Assuming those programmers make about $100,000 a year, that would be $410 million worth of free work over a year. Think of it: The company charges customers anywhere from $6 to thousands of dollars a month for the privilege of doing most of the work. And make no mistake, this would be real work were it not so fun. In Star Wars Galaxies, some players take on the role of running a pharmaceutical business in which they manage factory schedules, devise ad campaigns, and hire other players to find raw materials — all imaginary, of course.

All this has some companies mulling a wild idea: Why not use gaming’s psychology, incentive systems, and social appeal to get real jobs done better and faster? “People are willing to do tedious, complex tasks within games,” notes Nick Yee, a Stanford University graduate student in communications who has extensively studied online games. “What if we could tap into that brainpower?”

Gary floats above one of the Second Life newbie meeting area Thirdly. Things to do – part of the attraction for me is the fact that you have to create your own narratives in SL, personalize to the Nth degree. Nothing happens unless you decide to make it happen. As it says inside one of the help areas inside SL “this is not a game, more an area to ‘play” – we all know web 2.0 based entertainment is going of course. Here there are events, clubs, places to explore, lectures, screenings, shopping, thousands of people to meet and do things with – while we are on that subject lets get this out of the way. We are all aware of the numbers of avatars cuddling, fondling, gently prodding each others bits of code, and likely in RL imagining what it may be like to do whats on the screen, perhaps (will leave the deeper meanings to those who think they know). Yes virtual sex/relationships may be the biggest driver of SL but are there other more esoteric areas to explore? I may be unique but I am more interested in the utopian fantasy of using worlds like this to create a better RL world and associated leap in consciousness. I have joined in a few house parties and been to some lectures but their doesnt seem to be just yet a threshold of social engineers balanced against those after a weird time. Speaking to other avatars it becomes clear that every type of persona is represented. Those who simply are lonely in RL and want any kind of contact and speak as the RL person while walking around as a tiger, those who are just living out a deviant fantasy (sexual or representational), those who are truly role-playing and atttempting to create a parallel world and then there are the researchers. Yes I am surprised in how many academics I bump into, all beavering around for some morsel for their next paper – I sometimes wonder if SL is full exclusively of PhD folk and overweight coders – that opinion has been expressed several times to me inside SL.

OK – I realise that this post is turning into a ramble but I will conclude with a few where is this heading points. I just met a computer scientist from San Francisco wandering along on a coastal path in SL. She said that this truly feels like the beginning, the personalization, the ability to create a world from scratch, without the limits of a so called professional guardian calling the shots. We talked about the quality of the experience, how theatre and machinima is very difficult, but we agreed things have started inside SL. It is a real shame that it may get way too expensive to get the several of millions that would really make SL kick off in a big way. Basic membership should include a small 256sqm plot of land on which minor builds can take place. Surely 10 million times $10 is better than 200 000 times $25? On a final point a friend of mine who is also setting up a mini empire inside SL talked about the strange feeling when I wanted to meet him inside SL. It suddenly dawned on me that these enviroments really are private insights into someones alter ego, what they would like to do free of the contraints of the ‘mundane?’ real world – the pictures here for example is one of my avatars and my house/s. (This may be breaking SL etiquette, but it seems fine to bring RL into SL?). Another person from Tokyo I met spends hours fine tuning her cat-like appearance, choosing better skins (the default avatar shapes and skins are considered second class) others simply gender shift, constantly change clothes, subtley enhance their muscular or large chested representation (dull), others become automaton or animal or spirit – and quite a few are pioneering new forms of participation. Great fun. The big lesson here is give people inifinite possibilities for free personalization and like flickr, youtube and real life they will get addicted and happily look the other way when those micro payments come their way.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006