Thursday, November 30, 2006
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last six months, you will have noticed that the virtual world Second Life is much in the news. According to its home page, there are currently around 1,700,000 residents, who are spending $600,000 – that's real, not virtual, money – in the world each day. These figures are a little deceptive – there are typically only 10,000 to 15,000 residents online at any one time, and the money flow is not a rigorous measurement of economic activity – but there is no doubt that Second Life is growing very rapidly; moreover, we are beginning to see it enter the mainstream in a way that has close parallels with the arrival of the Web ten years ago.
Companies are beginning to set up shop in Second Life, including big names like Adidas, American Apparel, Dell, Nissan, Penguin Books, Reebok, Sun Microsystems, Toyota, Reuters and Wired. Often they choose to create their virtual buildings on self-contained islands, which are essentially three-dimensional analogues of the early corporate Web sites: that is, vaguely pretty to look at, but not very functional.
One of the pioneers in Second Life is IBM, which also played an important part in helping to make the Web (and open source) respectable for businesses. Here's what Irving Wladawsky-Berger, vice president of technology strategy and innovation at IBM, and the man who oversaw the company's GNU/Linux policy in the early days, says about IBM's interest in Second Life:
I think that what we are seeing is the evolution of the Internet and World Wide Web in incredibly important new directions. Foremost among them is a much more people-centric Web.
We see this people-centric evolution of the Web in social networks and Web 2.0 - capabilities that enable people to find each other, form communities, share information, and collaborate on a variety of endeavors. Now we are bringing to this new people-centric spirit the highly visual, interactive applications in Virtual Worlds. This new breed of applications is being rethought around the people who design them, maintain them and use them, instead of asking those people to come down to the level of the computers.
We can now bring these exciting capabilities, already in wide use in science, engineering, defense and consumer applications, into the worlds of business, education, health care and government. This was the step that led to IBM’s e-business strategy ten years ago. Could we be at the onset of v-business? Based on my initial experiences in Second Life, we are all in for an incredible ride.
His boss, Sam Palmisano has backed up those words with actions. A couple of weeks ago, he entered Second Life himself to give a major speech about IBM's future path, and announced a $100 million fund to create 10 new businesses within the company, including:
3D Internet: Partnering with others to take the best of virtual worlds and gaming environments to build a seamless, standards-based 3D Internet -- the next platform for global commerce and day-to-day business operations.
So, things look bright for Second Life and the other virtual worlds that are being developed. There's just one problem: they are all closed source. This means that free software is falling behind in one of the most innovative areas in computing today.
Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, is very open-source friendly. Its computing infrastructure is based on thousands of servers running GNU/Linux, Apache, Squid and MySQL. Alongside the usual Windows and Macintosh clients for Second Life, there is already one for GNU/Linux (if still a little rough at the edges).
And Linden Lab hopes to go even further by opening sourcing Second Life's software. Here's what Philip Rosedale, Second Life's creator and CEO of Linden Lab, told me during an extensive interview recently, when I asked about his current thinking on opening up the code:
Without speaking to specific timing or plans - and we've thought and are thinking lots and lots where there might be exceptions to this - but it seems like the best way to allow SL to become reliable and scalable and grow. And we've got a lot of smart people here thinking about that.
Further proof of Linden Lab's goodwill towards the free software world can be found in its tacit approval of an open source project to reverse-engineer the Second Life protocols. Called libsecondlife, it has already done valuable work, although this has been overshadowed somewhat by the recent brouhaha over the CopyBot program, which drew on libsecondlife's code. CopyBot allowed some or even all of an object in Second Life to be copied. This is obviously a problem for a virtual economy that depends on selling digital objects. And yet, despite many cries to the contrary, the sky is not falling, as I've explained elsewhere.
More than the blip of CopyBot, there are deep problems that need to be addressed in the context of creating an open source version of Second Life, notably as far as security is concerned. Most of them have to do with how open source clients would interact with Linden Lab's servers, and how it might be possible to allow users to run their own Second Life servers – effectively creating separate virtual worlds based on the same protocols.
As well as libsecondlife, there are a couple of other open source virtual world projects of note. For example, Croquet employs an ambitious approach that goes beyond Second Life in many ways; however, it is still at an early stage. The same can be said about Uni-Verse, a European consortium that includes the foundation behind the popular 3D tool Blender.
These are all useful initiatives, and there will doubtless be others. But if open source is to give the lie to Jim Allchin's famous jibe in the first Halloween Document that it is always "chasing tail-lights", the free software community must become more involved with the existing virtual world projects, and invest much more time and effort in new ones.
Developing expertise with the underlying technologies is particularly important because it is quite possible that the next stage in the Web's evolution will incorporate elements from three-dimensional virtual worlds. Philip Rosedale explained why he thinks that is likely:
People always believe that the idea of simulating a three-dimensional world will make the experience of people in it different because it's three dimensional, and that's certainly true. However, there's a second thing about the 3D web that makes it different than the 2D web, and is really important, which is that there are other people there with you when you're experiencing it.
Look at MySpace. When you go to a MySpace page, you can listen to their music. What is the listening experience like? Well, it's still just you sitting in front of your computer listening alone to that music. But in SL, if you're listening to somebody's music, whether live or pre-recorded, there's a very good chance that there's someone next to you listening to the same music, and so you're able to turn to them and say: What do you think? Or you're able to turn to them and say: Have you been here before, and, if so, do you know where the lawnmower section is?
That, I think, is what makes the potential of the 3D Web different perhaps even more so than the spatial difference between 3D content, and 2D content. And I think that alone makes it very likely that there will be a kind of a 3D Web, that has this shared experience property. That's what everyone will look back on and say: Wow, that is what made it different.
Languagelab.com is a language school unlike any other. Students explore a whole new world using a virtual body, called an avatar, that can interact and talk with other avatars - all controlled by real human beings. Some will be teachers, some will be other students, and still others will be native speakers; all will be there together to learn or to facilitate learning. We are currently offering English and Spanish, and plan to expand to other languages soon.
For a realistic experience, Languagelab.com uses a specially designed voice system that enables participants to speak to one another in real time. Languagelab.com offers classes as well as a full range of learning events. Classes are small, generally 6 to 8 students, and run for 50 minutes.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
A little more than 50% of the ad revenue will come from traditional static ads (billboards, etc. you see inside the game while driving), which can't change after a game is published. But the remaining ad revenue, nearly half, will come from dynamic ads previously not used by EA. For anyone playing the game online (via a computer or Xbox 360), new types of ads are added and updated seamlessly into the gameplay.
Advertisers seem very interested, as study after study indicate that 18- to 34-year-old men are spending more of their time playing games at the expense of missing what's on TV. Some advertisers are making parallels between this new form of advertising and the huge growth of web advertising. Mostly it seems that advertisers are dying for new channels to reach audiences more effectively.
Electronic Arts expects to sell about 30% of what is being referred to as its "advertising inventory" (positions available and suitable for advertising) in the new Need for Speed game. That leaves room for even further growth just from this one game. Still, others are skeptical about how exactly this can work in the longterm. The factor not studied very well is the level of advertising gamers will tolerate after paying $50-$60 for the game in the first place. And some games, such as fantasy or role playing games, might not work well with advertising; ads in such games would seem a little weird and out of place.
Personally, I'd like to see some market research on in-game ad tolerance levels, but my gut feeling is that this isn't a bad way to go for advertisers and probably won't bother gamers much, if it's not "abused" (well, at least it won't bother this gamer, but the problem is "abused" is going to mean different things to different gamers).
By Bob Caswell
Sometimes futurists get the future right. Millions of us now commute to massively multiplayer online games in worlds much like the metaverse predicted by William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and the Wachowski brothers. We live vicariously through our digital avatars in lushly rendered virtual environments, building and bartering, chatting and flirting, even falling in love. The population of the computer-generated universe is increasing at a rate that rivals email's growth 15 years ago. A decade hence, you'll drop a reference to your virtual doppelg�ngers just as casually as you give out your email address today.
But virtual reality has failed to conform to forward-looking visions in one crucial respect. We don't live in the Matrix, but in the matrices. Your World of Warcraft persona can't visit a Stonehenge replica in Second Life. You can't impress an EverQuest elfin hottie with Jedi skills honed in Star Wars Galaxies. If you want to buy an Ultima scepter with Therebucks, you'll have to exit both worlds and consummate the transaction on eBay.
Because the current metaverse evolved largely out of videogames, it makes sense that it should be composed of fiefdoms - after all, you wouldn't expect a Grand Theft Auto crack dealer to drop in for a barbecue with the Sims. But there is reason to believe that the divided metaverse is merely a transi�tional phase, and that its component worlds will coalesce.
All virtual worlds require a communication protocol that lets you talk with other people, a software platform that lets you build things on top of it, and a currency that enables trade. These three elements share one thing: a gravitational pull toward a common standard. Think of the diversity of the
PC marketplace in the early 1980s: the Apple II, Radio Shack's TRS-80, IBM's PCjr, the Commodore-64, the Atari 400/800 series - they all ran different operating systems or flavors of Basic. Ten years later, however, Windows held 90 percent of the market. Email followed the same pattern. Diverse and incompatible standards - CompuServe members could only email other CompuServe members - gave way to a common platform that allowed everyone to connect.
The logic of convergence may be even stronger in the metaverse. The cost of switching from Windows to, say, Linux is just annoyance and expense: You have to buy applications and port data to the new OS. But if you view your avatar as an extension of yourself, moving from EverQuest to World of Warcraft is like volunteering for a lobotomy. You have to surrender the skills you've culti�vated, along with all your (other)worldly possessions.
Within a decade, then, the notion of separate game worlds will probably seem like a quaint artifact of the frontier days of virtual reality. You'll still be able to engage in radically different experiences - from slaying orcs to cybersex - but they'll occur within a common architecture. The question is whether the underpinnings of this unified metaverse will be a proprietary product, like Windows, or an inclusive, open standard, like email and the Web. (The Open Source Metaverse Project is currently working on such a nonproprietary platform.)
One way or another, consolidation is all but inevitable. A single, pervasive environment will emerge, uniting the separate powers of today's virtual societies. And then we really will have built the Matrix.
By Steven JohnsonPage
When Multiverse's team of world-class engineering and business professionals worked at Netscape in the very early days, they helped architect the Internet-based platforms now used by hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Other ground-breaking companies they have made significant contributions to include Borland, Silicon Graphics, Excite, and Netflix. The full Multiverse team also includes video game industry veterans.
The Multiverse Solution
Multiverse's unique technology platform will change the economics of virtual world development by empowering independent game developers to create high-quality, Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs) and non-game virtual worlds for less money and in less time than ever before. Multiverse solves the prohibitive challenges of game creation by providing developers with a comprehensive, pre-coded client-server infrastructure and tools, a wide range of free content--including a complete game for modification--and a built-in market of consumers. The Multiverse Network will give video game players a single program--the Multiverse Client--that lets them play all of the MMOGs and visit all of the non-game virtual worlds built on the Multiverse platform.
For the first time, indie developers will have the opportunity to create the virtual worlds they've been dreaming about. And many of these new worlds will attract players who are completely ignored by today’s MMOG publishers.
This is the start of a revolution.
The program's original goal was to be the 3D-equivalent to a 2D browser (such as Internet Explorer or Mozilla). Instead of creating a website, the user could construct an office, building, or area in which to display products or information. Currently in version 4.1 released May 30th, 2006, there are many new features which allow users to interact with the environment more so than previous versions.
The necessity for 3D art within Active Worlds to enrich one's world has led to the development of a market place for 3D models, textures, avatars (and associated animation sequences), and more. There is also plenty of free exchange of 3D content. There is also custom design services for 3D art available, especially avatars.
Language teacher Ailin Graef sells virtual property--and becomes a real millionaire.
Ailin Graef--who is better known by the name Anshe Chung--works as a real estate developer. She buys property, develops it, resells it, and uses the profits to buy even more. Her business has rapidly snowballed, and she has just made her first million--although none of the "property" is real.
All the houses are virtual houses in the online game Second Life--where players create an avatar and can buy, redecorate, and furnish property; run businesses; and interact with other players. Now Graef has become the first virtual-world millionaire.
Graef started with an initial investment of just $9.95 and developed her fortune over 32 months. She worked along the same principles as real estate developers do--she began by buying small amounts of virtual real estate, which she then subdivided and developed with landscaping and "themed architectural rebuilds." She then resold or rented the property out for a profit.
Second Life has had a lot of publicity recently--companies including Dell and Sun Microsystems have held press conferences in the virtual world, where Reuters has a reporter covering goings-on. All this publicity has meant more curious gamers opening accounts and needing somewhere to "live" in the game--which is great news for real estate agents such as Graef.
The currency used in the game is called Linden dollars, and the exchange rate is around $1 to 275 Linden dollars. The average going rate for land parcels in Second Life is between $100 and $1,000 and players can also buy virtual clothes, furniture, and other accessories from a variety of in-game businesses.
Graef was born and raised in Hubai, China, although she is currently a German citizen. She now runs Anshe Chung Studios with her partner Guntram Graef--the company has a real office in Wuhan, China, and is currently recruiting to expand its workforce from 25 to 50.
She said she believed that the estimated valuation of her virtual assets was in fact somewhat "conservative" and that the actual value may be "significantly higher." She also owns virtual property in IMVU, There, and Entropia Universe.
She will be holding a virtual press conference in Second Life on November 28 to discuss her success.
Join people from around the globe who use the Entropia Universe currency, the PED, to develop their characters everyday on the untamed planet of Calypso. The unique and secure Real Cash Economy allows you to transfer your accumulated PED back into real world funds.
Online around the clock for decades to come, the Entropia Universe is continually enhanced with new content every month and supported by the Entropia Universe Support Department.
The Entropia Universe is a direct continuation of Project Entropia, which had a 2005 turnover of 1.6 Billion PED (160M$).
* From the moment you enter the World you'll discover a vast digital continent, teeming with people, entertainment, experiences and opportunity. Once you've explored a bit, perhaps you'll find a perfect parcel of land to build your house or business.
* You'll also be surrounded by the Creations of your fellow residents. Because residents retain the rights to their digital creations, they can buy, sell and trade with other residents.
* The Marketplace currently supports millions of US dollars in monthly transactions. This commerce is handled with the in-world currency, the Linden dollar, which can be converted to US dollars at several thriving online currency exchanges.