NPR's Science Friday featured an hour on virtual worlds and research 8/31/07.
The podcast is up at: http://podcastdownload.npr.org/anon.npr-podcasts/podcast/510221/14106215/npr_14106215.mp3
At State of Play V in Singapore, Joshua Fairfield and I had one of our regular arcane discussions about the various merits or otherwise of real-money trading (essentially, the conflict between financial capital and gaming capital in these environments).
That's not what this post is about.
What this post is about is our different perceptions of the extent of RMT in today's virtual worlds, in particular WoW.
According to this Wall Street Journal article about a Second Life user whose real-life wife isn't too pleased about his in-world marriage, "a typical 'gamer' spends 20 to 40 hours a week in a virtual world." First off, I love that the word gamer is in quotes. Do we really exist? Who knows! Second, that number sounds sensationalist-ically high to me. When I said so a few weeks back over on my blog, a reader reminded me about Nick Yee's actual research on the subject. According to Nick, the average amount of time an MMO player spends in-world is indeed around 20 hours a week. Where The Wall Street Journal got 20 to 40, the world will never know.
As this month of guest blogging comes to an end culminating in me reaching the ripe old age of forty I have the phrase "Game Over man" from Aliens ringing in my ears. It did remind me of some things I have observed about the whole notion of a game being over from seeing my kids start to take in interest in my games consoles.
The most unusual point is that the 4 year old looks at games with no sentimental baggage, nor with any desire to win in the old fashioned sense. This manifests itself in some very quirky ways and has got me wondering where the limit is in educating a new game player about the social norms that apply just as we educate them with everyday social skills and rules.
To my daughter "Game Over" is viewed as a reward and the cause of much enjoyment.
Lately I've been doing some amateur dabbling in theories of space. One interesting book I'm reading is Kevin Lynch's The Image of the City. According to the Lynch, our cities should not be understood as facts about arrangements of bricks and metal, but as a shared social constructs, collectively read and navigated by inhabitants. In the minds of their residents, cities are mentally modeled around important landmarks that function as connecting passages and allow the creation of heuristically functional (though perhaps factually faulty) cognitive maps. (De Certeau would add that in daily life, we read and write cities as we traverse them, drawing and inscribing new meaning with each navigation.)
Earlier this week I was mesmerized by "Secrets of the Stately Garden," an ITV (UK, Channel 4) history/archeology feature. True, 18th century English gardens had a penchant for classical design, but what I found fascinating was Tony Robinson's presented thesis that these gardens could serve as canvases upon which their designers fashioned messages to clever readers. Messages that we find hard to comprehend whilst on our 21st century walkabout...
Many TN readers know that I have been interested in developing a virtual world platform (Worlds For Study) that can be used to study regulation. To get an idea of what I mean, consider the following experiment in a game like World of Warcraft or Entropia, except with a business focus (hostile takeovers, but no dungeon raids; I think of it as World of Bizcraft):
There are obviously many hurdles in succeeding in this ambitious project (as pointed out by the excellent comments to these posts), but also tremendous educational side benefits. Today, I want to focus on one particular issue: Can one craft an End User Licensing Agreement (EULA) that gives players few enough property rights to allow the world developer to impose their own inworld regulations, while still protecting property rights enough that players have strong incentives to pursue profit?
State of Play V, from immaculate Singapore, kicked off this morning with a panel on "Building Businesses in Virtual Worlds." As I write I'm listening as the panel wraps up, with the panelists -- all involved in business development companies that focus to some extent on virtual worlds -- taking questions from the audience. But continuing to resonate in my mind is a phrase that panel participant Ken Brady of Centric used in his remarks to characterize what businesses should aim for in virtual worlds moving forward: "sustainable branding." This idea was echoed by the others on the panel as the discussion progressed, and to me this should prompt us to continue to think about the current era of virtual worlds as one that is beginning to be defined less by the relationship between their makers and their users (as individuals or nascent groups), and more by the expansion (one might even say colonization) of them by both emergent and pre-existing institutions.
While the idea of trading card tie-ins is not new, Rory Starks, one of the designers and artists of Arden, reports that Sony will make a trading card game that is played from within the MMO. There are some new issues. Rory's analysis:
**** BEGIN QUOTE***
EverQuest: Legends of Norrath: Oathbound: The Trading Card Game
During the Fan Faire MMO event a couple of weeks ago, SOE president John Smedley revealed a new trading card game based on the Everquest franchise – "Legends of Norrath: Oathbound". At first glance, this news was not too entirely exciting considering that EQ fans can play the EverQuest pen-and-paper RPG, various spinoff games, and they can even light up their cigarettes with EQ-emblazoned Zippo lighters (provided they have the requisite skills in fire crafting). On the other hand, what was interesting about this announcement was that Smedley revealed that the game is online-only and played from within EverQuest 1 and 2. Players can purchase cards and construct decks inside the two games and then challenge other players to a game. There will eventually be a standalone client so that players can even play the game outside of the two EQ titles (and without having to have a subscription).
It looks like I’ll be on BBC Radio 4 tonight debating with Baroness Susan Greenfield, director of the Royal Institution, the question of whether Virtual Worlds replace the messiness of real life relationships with sanitized virtual ones.
I thought I would use TN as a jotter for how I was thinking about replying.
If you are reading this Baroness Greenfield – welcome to TerraNova, and I mean that is so many ways.
The BBC have kindly sent me an MP3 of the segment, you can now download load it here.
Augmented Reality has been around as a concept for a long time. It has very often been described in images of the future as enhancing the real world with additional layers of digitially created information. As more people are becoming aware of virtual worlds and seeking to build within them they, in general, start with trying to recreate some element of Real Life. This may be representations of themselves as avatars, existing buildings and offices they frequent. real world metaphors such as chairs, tables, presentation screens. This is something I have observed as the willingness to engage with virtual worlds has extended past gamers and early adopters. The representation is focussed on the boundaries of the environment being used and on how to manipulate the building tools to create that vision, crafting for that environment.
We are seeing more uses of things from the real world crossing over into the non-game metaverse environments. e.g. tennis ball trajectories and scores from Wimbledon into Second Life.
Is this augmented mixed reality? Are we creating Augmented Reality for virtual worlds? Is there a continuous circle feeding real things and virtual things into representations of one another?
Within about 10 minutes of each other, I read two news reports offering opposing implications on the social impact of virtual spaces. First,* Alexandra Alter of the Wall Street Journal reports on how some Second Life players are ruining their real life relationships by spending too much time in SL (Forget for the moment that the RL relationship in question didn't sound overly solid to begin with. Move along, these are not the droids you are looking for). Next, GamesIndustry.biz reports the abstract version of Mark Griffith's latest research on MMO players, namely that they are very social. (Forget for the moment that Prof. Griffith offers a lengthy and nuanced series of papers on the grey areas of play, sociability and compulsive use. Don't look at the man behind the curtain.)
Continuing some themes from several prior posts, we find John Tierney of the New York Times presenting Nick Bostrom's argument that life is just a sim created by a higher being. Link. Tierney says he's convinced and adds:
[I]f owners of the computers were anything like the millions of people immersed in virtual worlds like Second Life, SimCity and World of Warcraft, they’d be running simulations just to get a chance to control history — or maybe give themselves virtual roles as Cleopatra or Napoleon.
This morning I had a very interesting talk with Dan Miller, Senior Economist at the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress. Dan has previously talked about the taxability of virtual wealth, on a panel at State of Play, and to reporters. Now the JEC is trying to stay ahead of the issue by laying out the arguments against real-world regulatory intervention by the IRS and others (like the SEC)—before regulatory bodies take official steps (like issuing regulations or interpretations) that are difficult to reverse.
My hope with this post is to spark comments that would help the JEC identify the most persuasive arguments for and against keeping regulators out of the innards of virtual worlds. I know Dan will see your comments, because he told me that he views Terra Nova as required daily reading—some comfort to those who have read arguments that TN is no longer relevant.)
In a week's time I'll be lounging by a pool in Singapore, drinking three or four insanely alcoholic drinks in preparation for State of Play V.
I'll be thinking about the dinner that I'm about to have, that will be followed by Glenn Thomas's film "Ideal World". I'll be wondering which of the following two day's panels I will enjoy the most, and which of the workshops I'll attend. I'll be thinking about the dinner the following evening at the Zoo, and the subsequent Night Safari. I'll be wondering whether Doug Thomas will, in fact, be mistaken for a large primate and not allowed out of the grounds, even if he is going to be interviewing John Seely Brown. Oh, and I'll be thinking about chili crab.
I may ask where you and your friends are. I suspect that many of you will be there. And you will be thinking of chili crab too, and so we'll make a plan to head out and get some.
[From Marc Fetscherin, Editor of the Special Issue]
Journal of Electronic Commerce Research (JECR): Special Issue on Virtual Worlds
CALL FOR PAPERS
Special Issue on Virtual Worlds
Submissions due: November 1, 2007
Scheduled Publication date: August 2008
The emergence of virtual worlds and Web 3.D change the way of doing business. Web 3.D is the synonym for Internet-based virtual worlds, where people can create own 3-D *virtual* personalities. Virtual Worlds such as Second Life and others are undergoing an evolution similar to that of the Internet in the mid nineties and might impact profoundly the way people cooperate, communicate, collaborate, and conduct business. The recent entering of companies such as Toyota, American Apparel, Nissan, or Adidas indicate the upcoming role of this platform for the next generation of conducting electronic business. This call for papers is intended to cover a wide range of business and research topics that fall within the broad description of activities, challenges, opportunities, applications, innovations and implications associated with Virtual Worlds as the emerging new online business landscape.
Like a lot of other people, I read Neil Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash back in the mid-1990s (along with other staples like Neuromancer and the still-applicable True Names). Like many, I was entranced by the idea of digital avatars with detailed facial expressions (something we were working on in 1995 and continue to today), and by the idea of the ‘Metaverse’ – of having a digital home in a bustling virtual world that was somehow entirely immersive, that moved beyond visual and auditory to the kinesthetic. I was so taken with the idea as presented that I was willing to overlook its technical faults, and like so many others, dreamt of a huge all-inclusive world.
Many people continue to hold out hope for some Snow Crash analog as an all-encompassing virtual world: mostly this is discussed as the transfer of the Web to a VW, typically imagined in 3D, sometimes as a vision of something like Second Life (albeit more open, more interesting, with better performance, and maybe less of an emphasis on sex). This Snow Crash Metaverse is the online equivalent of the “flying cars” view of the today as seen from 1935. The latest installment in this vague, hand-waving exercise in techno-fantasy comes to us in the Business Week article, "Just Ahead: The Web As A Virtual World,” which enthusiastically describes the typical justifications for a 3D Web – buying jeans in 3D, walking from one web site to another, checking out a 3D virtual mall or hotel room, etc. – without more than a glance at the crippling issues and inefficiencies pipedreams like these present.
So it needs to be said: Death to Snow Crash. Death to the sugarplum visions of the 3D Web World that dance in our heads. It’s time to move on.
I keep thinking about a single interesting sentence from a profile of Wikipedia in the NY Times magazine in early July, a prediction that the written word would continue to be Wikipedia's main focus even if pictures, sound or moving images could be appealing supplements to its information. I know that doesn't sound too profound: it's like predicting that human beings will continue to communicate with one another using language. But the point raised in the article is that writing works for Wikipedia not just because it's what we're historically accustomed to as a medium for communicating information and knowledge, but because it remains a superior technology for the kind of collaboration that Wikipedia is built upon. It's the best authoring tool that we know of: supple, flexible, easily adapted to new purposes, relatively easy to teach to a very wide variety of author-users and widely distributed through the population as a result.
Back in 2005, IBM published a set of blogging guidelines for employees. The introduction said
In 1997, IBM recommended that its employees get out onto the Net -- at a time when many companies were seeking to restrict their employees' Internet access. We continue to advocate IBMers' responsible involvement today in this new, rapidly growing space of relationship, learning and collaboration.
In so many way, nothing has changed with the adoption of virtual worlds. Last month, IBM's virtual worlds guidelines pointed out that
IBM believes that virtual worlds and other 3D Internet environments offer significant opportunity to our company, our clients and the world at large, as they evolve, grow in use and popularity, and become more integrated into many aspects of business and society. ... IBM encourages employees to explore responsibly and to further the development of such new spaces of relationship-building, learning and collaboration.
There has been a lot of press coverage of these guidelines. An Associated Press article was run pretty much everywhere (here's an example at TIME). Since people are often quick to assume that IBM is clamping down on its employees use of virtual worlds, and that's really not the case, I'd like to attempt to clarify a few things here and give even more of an insider's perspective than I previously did on Eightbar. It may be an interesting discussion for anyone thinking about whether companies need virtual worlds guidelines, why we bothered and what implications they have for employees using virtual worlds on their own time.
According to a four-page article in today's New York Times, there's this 3D virtual site called Second Life where people can log on and make virtual houses. This one guy actually made a Mexican-style "villa", in a virtual "neighborhood." He says his virtual "neighbors" come over for visits with their "avatar", just like in the real world. Huh!
A theme strand has developed in how I view virtual worlds and metaverses. It has formed from online and multiplayer gaming but been flavoured by my work environment (As with all these posts these are merely my opinions not those of the IBM). That theme is about performing, about the nature of the live performance as opposed to the crafted and edited kind.
What are the opportunities to benefit from live expressions of knowledge, talent and ideas? How does this change the perception of a metaverse environment when it is regarded as a performance medium as much as a canvas for fixed assets to be displayed?
I think there are two main ways people express themselves through their actions. The first is the product of their actions, something manufactured, crafted and delivered for other people to use. The other is through live performance actions of some kind.
Metaverses and virtual worlds are as much about live performance as they are about manufacturing and creating content.
In the vernacular of game lore, a "grognard" is one who plays board wargames (fn1). "Grognard-capture" came along later as an apparent dilution (and a mildly derogatory one at that) to stand for hard-core gamers in general (fn2). Perhaps the latter hijack is the better sense of capture.
I spent the last couple of weeks reminiscing (with help) about what the board wargame legacy is (or, as stated, perhaps it's obituary is premature). Personally I look to the wane of this genre of play as a symbol of the larger demise of turn-based gaming in general. Lazy RTS! [humor]. Lazy, lazy First Person! [more humor!] More seriously, I'd like to collect pointers to the recollections of others on this and related subject.
I list a number of essays/posts that I have that are in turn entry points to other resources (avoiding duplication). In general I am somewhat disappointed with the quantity of commentary that I've been able to find. I'm sure it is generational - every Tom and Sally MMORPG player is an online commentator in this age, but in that age...
I would be most glad for insight and comment from players - X or otherwise.
Hi. Thanks for having me. Before I get started I should mention, as I do in my own blogs, that I write as an IBMer rather than IBM. My posts don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions. Hopefully, that much is obvious, but perhaps it's worth mentioning in case anyone mistakenly thinks anything that follows is an official company direction.
I recently (and finally) read 'The Tipping Point' by Malcolm Gladwell, which my friend Andy was so insistent I should read that he loaned me his copy. While of course it made me ponder, yet again, the explosive growth of interest in virtual worlds in the past couple of years, the thing that struck me most was the Dunbar constant. Malcolm Gladwell quotes anthropologist Professor Robin Dunbar on the subject:
"The figure of 150 seems to represent the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuinely social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who they are and how they relate to us."
For anyone interested in enabling (or even participating) in online communities and social networking, this idea is obviously an important one.
Back in May, I first brought this up.
Well, now we can answer the question, "How much gold?" It turns out, somewhere between $250 and $500 for every single current paying user. As in, about 3-6 years worth of revenue from each of them.
That is to say, between $350,000,000 and $700,000,000.
Various news outlets announced today that Disney has bought Club Penguin for $350M in cash, with the rest of the deal being worth up to another $350M over the next two years. For those doing the math exercises at home, the company has three founders who reportedly own all the equity. They will become part of Disney. Disney has said it has no plans to change Club Penguin at all, other than to add the Disney name to it.
But other than really good times in British Columbia, what does this mean?
Why, here's an interesting article (now being linked all over the Intertubes). It has particularly choice quotes such as "Kevin Zuccato, head of the Australian High Tech Crime Centre in Canberra, says terrorists can gain training in games such as World of Warcraft in a simulated environment, using weapons that are identical to real-world armaments."
I'm expecting that any day now we'll read the following news bulletin:
"A terrorist attack on London yesterday failed due to the lack of adequate healing, several broken sheepings, and inadequate dps. The detained suspects also agreed to testify against each other after one was accused of ninja-looting a nearby electronics store during the attempted attack."
Roo and I are very much looking forward to these guest posts we are going to be making here where it brings a chance for yet another voice to be developed. So thank you for the invitation and an obvious /bow to Ren Reynolds.
Before we start I do have to say the postings on this site are of course our own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.
Having worked in a corporate environment for a 17 years, but having been a serious gamer for even longer, I have been struck by the similarity in some of the concepts found in games and how they appear to be being played out in a supposedly buttoned down, “professional”, serious environment.
Much of this thought has been sparked by the challenges Roo and I faced in the last 17 months bringing virtual worlds/metaverses, such as Second Life to a corporate environment initially under the banner of Eightbar. We have spent a long time explaining to people that just because it looks like a game, it does not mean that it is. Now I am starting to look at the opposite point of view that business is a game it just does not look like one.