Hm, I must have fallen out of favor with the folks at MTV, since I heard about this not from them but from one of the artists involved in the project. What is it? It’s nothing less than Virtual Lower East Side, or vLES, for short, which is basically the implementation of what was to be known as MTV’s Music World. Using Doppelganger‘s technology, MTV has built out a more or less street-for-street replica of New York’s Lower East Side, complete with virtual versions of the area’s real clubs and restaurants. This is like the seedy sister world to Virtual Hills and Laguna Beach. Essentially, it’s a 3D virtual world with a MySpace for bands attached. If things are still on course, your band can get promoted from the Web-based social network into the virtual world, if you’re popular enough, with the distant possibility of actually getting into rotation on one of MTV’s channels if you do well enough there. (The site doesn’t say that, but that’s what I was told wehn I was working on the article linked above.) It’s just now in alpha, so you probably can’t get in yet, but the site shows some promising features, including a cool map highlighting the few establishments that have already been built out. But the $64 million question is, Can this gain any traction with young hipsters here and with those who aspire to hipsterdom elsewhwere but who can’t get to the Lower East Side they’ve always wanted to see?
If you can navigate MTV’s Web site, sign up for its new Virtual Pimp My Ride and start pimpin’. The network is giving away a pimped-out 2007 Ford Mustang as part of a show-off challenge in the new gearhead corner of its virtual world. All you have to do is log on (a feat in itself; see below), do your best to pimp out a virtual ride, and send a screenshot to vMTV (at Glinka [at] vlb.there.com) by the morning of April 20th. Members will be able to vote on the best pimped-out cars throughout the week, and the top ten will be shown off on April 26th. The single finalist from this phase of the competition will “get to compete” for a 2007 Mustang, though there’s no indication of what exactly that means. Good luck. Continue reading
The pre-lunch panel at VW07 was on “platforms and technologies,” moderated by Jerry Paffendorf of the Electric Sheep Company. Unfortunately, I chose to sit upstairs by the coffee, which apparently inspired most of the audience to chat to each other throughout the panel.
â€¢ We’ll be open-sourcing the back end so sims can run anywhere on any machine whether trusted by us or not.
â€¢ We’ll be delivering assets in a totally different method that won’t be such a burden on the simulators.
â€¢ Very soon we’ll be updating simulators to support multiple versions so that we don’t have to update the entire Grid at once.
â€¢ We’ll be using open protocols.
â€¢ SL cannot truly succeed as long as one company controls the Grid.
Joe also had a slide showing that SL is going to migrate straight to Havok 4. Eventually.
And now, back to our panel. Continue reading
MTV also announced they’d be launching Virtual Pimp My Ride that will let users customize their virtual rides in Virtual Laguna Beach, as well as hold drag races and participate in other aspects of car culture. The world will build out a pretty good piece of Van Nuys as well as a superhighway that will connect VLB with Van Nuys, according to Matt Bostwick giving a keynote at VW07. Bostwick also said LogoWorld, the planned MTV world for lesbian and gay viewers, would be launched shortly as well. More details as they emerge. Just wanted to get the news out.
MTV’s latest addition to their virtual universe — which already includes Virtual Laguna Beach, the Virtual Hills, Nicktropolis and a planned music world, among others — will be a virtual version of MTV Cribs within VLB that will let users own apartments and trick them out more or less as on the television show, according to MTV’s Matt Bostwick, giving a keynote address at Virtual Worlds 2007. Few details were forthcoming, for the moment, but you can imagine what things will be like.
Bostwick also mentioned some current usage numbers for VLB and vHills:
MTV has registered 600,000 registered users in 6 months.
The median age is 20.
Users are 85 percent female, which is almost an exact footprint of the people watching the shows.
Bostwick said the network estimates they’ll have 3 million registered users by the end of the year.
He said 64 precent of users come back multiple times, they visit on average 1.4 times a week for 37 minutes a visit.
Bostwick also went over a couple of other new features being added to MTV’s virtual universe include, including:
â€¢ Click-through eCommerce, which will allow users to click through from virtual items in order to buy real-world versions of them.
â€¢ Skill ladders that will allow users to bewcome DJs, fashion designers or club promoters.
Overheard at the panel on Avatar-based marketing: “It’s fun, you can sit down, make out with people.” I got most of this panel, including a couple of the audience questions.
Moderator, Tony Walsh of the Clickable Culture blog
Paul Hemp, senior editor Harvard Business Review
Linda Zimmer, CEO of MarCom:Interactive
Eric Gruber of MTV, helped launch Virtual Laguna Beach and vHills
Lauren Wheeler of Three Rings
Hemp posed a question: How does a marketing message aimed at a consumer get refracted when it passes through the intermediary of that user’s avatar? Does the avatar act as a prism that changes in some way a real-world marketer’s messge. While a little conceptual, the question is pretty important. Some would say it’s really a meaningless question because the user behind the avatar has the real-world wallet. What’s the avatar have to do with it? My thought is that the avatar represents something about that consumer that is important. Advertising has always targetted consumers’ alter egos, the smiling happy terrifically popular person just waiting to emerge from the consumer’s psyhce with the help of the consoumnres’s product. Here the marketer doesn’t have to hunt for that, it’s on display in the form of the avatar, and can be segmented, terageted, and help understand the consumer behind it. Continue reading
I came into the panel New Dogs, New Tricks: New Media Goes to the Movies just slightly late, but caught most of it. It looked largely at marketing and promoting films in the new media environment, but didn’t seem to go very far past current services like YouTube and several recent launches represented by the panelists. The MTV rep, however, did venture into the land of new modes of storytelling that new media might make possible.
When I came in, Kirsner was asking about who the new power players would be in the new media space, where long-form downloadable content was concerned.
Rick DeVos from Spout.com didn’t see any big new players in long-form downloadable content. Rick believes in the power of social recommendation and word of mouth to hook up niche filmmakres with niche audiences, which is what Spout is trying to do.
David Gale talked about what he looked at at MTV, which covers everything “from short films to a gaming mechanism. MTV launched the Daily Rage this week, wher the audience can win money in a gamelike mechanism.” They also bought a company recently that takes comic books and graphic novels and turns them into cool new media versions. “There’s a whole opportunity to take what’s been traditional media and turn it into new media. It really opens up another way of telling stories. Film is still its traditional media thing [in terms of MTV’s business]. My division is about taking anything that is not film- or televison-originated and looking at the platform and how you can create things in those mediums.” Continue reading
This flew by me as I was getting ready for SXSW, but MTV, which has been roaring ahead with its virtual-world initiative, has announced it will launch a fashion line based on designs by Lauren Conrad, star of Laguna Beach spinoff The Hills. The designs will be made available first in the the Virtual Hills section of Virtual Laguna Beach. “In addition,” according to a press release, “Lauren will develop a real-world fashion line that will be available in high-end boutiques, retail stores and online later this fall.” Continue reading
The acronyms are flying this month, and I am too. First to the South by Southwest Interactive festival, where I’ll be running a panel in the Screenburn track on microcontent and user creation in online games and how that’s beginning to change the face of gaming. This should be fun, especially as it features Raph Koster, who’ll be able to talk a bit about Areae, the lovely Betsy Book of There.com, Corey Bridges of Multiverse, and Reuben Steiger of metaverse services company Millions of Us, who has been creating cool opportunities for user-generated content as part of corporate marketing schemes in the virtual world of Second Life.
Later in the month I’ll also be on a panel on the future of virtual worlds at the new Virtual Worlds 2007 conference here in New York. This is looking like a great conference, with panels that go beyond the usual fare and actually look closely at what’s happening in virtual worlds and where they might be going. There are four interesting keynote speakers lined up as well, including Matt Bostwick and Jeff Yapp from MTV (both of whom were featured in my Wired article on Virtual Laguna Beach, Steve Youngwood from Nickelodeon, and Colin Parris, VP of Digital Convergence at IBM. What I love about this roster is that it doesn’t include any world-builders. Instead, it features voices from the sectors that are going to drive virtual world development in future: media, entertainment and business. We need more conferences like this. See you there.
Mega-rockers KORN are coming to MTV’s virtual world this Wednesday, February 28, according to a new Virtual KORN domain on the MTV site. The band hits Virtual Laguna Beach on Wednesday to celebrate the release of their Unplugged album. One interesting thing to note: MTV is now referring to VLB and its adjunct areas like the Virtual Hills as “Virtual MTV” when the mood strikes them. It looks like this has been part of the plan all along, as I wrote in Wired magazine a while back, to slowly add areas until the project constituted a big virtual world that wasn’t necessarily tied to any one media property but which funneled an audience in through various portals. It sounds like a sensible strategy. And more evidence that media and entertainment companies are fast growing into the VW space. Unfortunatley, a few of the links on the Virtual KORN site don’t work. The one thing MTV could be better on here is a clearer path into their world. A number of people have commented on 3pointD that they have trouble singing up. Hopefully KORN fans will be able to figure it out.
Well, it’s official: celebrity scents are over. As of tonight, you’re nobody if you don’t have your own 3D virtual world. Just ask supermodel-cum-talk show host Tyra Banks, who opened Tyra’s Virtual Studio this evening with a grammy party. “The studio is a free virtual world where you can listen to music, chat with your friends, get insider info about what’s happening at the Tyra Banks Show and just hang out,” according to the site. But you knew that already. In Tyra’s Virtual Studio, however (which is available for both Windows and Mac), “Your avatar can drop it like it’s hot.” Whew. We knew there was some added value here. Continue reading
The MTV Networks channel Nickelodeon is launching a virtual world for kids today, according to a press release. Known as Nicktropolis, the world will be in isometric 3D, and feature games and video content, branded Nickelodeon environments and characters, and the ability to interact with other users and construct one’s own 3D home. The site isn’t quite live yet, but the world looks to be browser-based, though I’m not entirely sure. Nicktropolis will launch with four main areas, described after the jump. These include the kind of gaming elements that arguably make getting into such a world easier than it often is in places like Second Life or There.com. Continue reading
I didn’t think the link was going live until later today, but del.icio.us user mzn apparently found a way to drill down to it (which I just spotted on the excellent SL aggregator site, World of SL). What is it? It’s my story on MTV’s Virtual Laguna Beach in the February issue of Wired magazine, on newsstands now. It covers VLB and a couple of other virtual worlds MTV has in the works, and notes that the highest levels of the company, including Viacom execs, are ready to throw more money at virtual worlds. This is the new kind of media convergence that’s only going to gather speed in coming years. With Les Moonves of CBS all excited about virtual worlds, as well as the other broadcast networks and people like Disney jumping into the pool, it seems only a matter of time before virtual world integrations are the norm. Of course, it could still all go south, but there aren’t many signs of that happening, while there are a lot of indications of two important things: that companies want to be in these spaces, and to offer them in entertaining ways; and that audiences enjoy them and will only flock to them in increasing numbers. Tune in, or — just keep watching your boring old flat TV, I guess.
As noted here, MTV is expanding its virtual world, Virtual Laguna Beach, to incorporate Laguna Beach spinoff show The Hills. (Read more about MTV’s virtual world initiative and how it came together in my piece in the February issue of Wired, which has just come out.) MTV’s vHills apparently launched last Monday, while I was away, but it’s now kicking off what could be a nice experiment in user-generated content: a fashion challenge (to be announced in vHills on Tuesday, 23 January, at 8pm EST) that looks like it will allow users to become either models or fashion designers. It’s also something that could help push adoption of virtual worlds as 3D social networking sites, if you ask me. Continue reading
If you’ve visited the Virtual Laguna Beach Web site recently, as I just did as I was composing the last post, you might have noticed a new link there (as I just did), to a trailer for something called Virtual Hills. The trailer, which is very slow to load so I haven’t actually watched the whole thing, appears to be not for anything virtual but for the second season of Laguna Beach spinoff show The Hills. But the site itself seems to advertise a virtual version of The Hills featuring “Hot Hollywood locations,” “Fashion shows with Lauren and Whitney,” and “Partying with Heidi.” I’d heard vague plans to expand VLB into The Hills, but this is the first I’ve seen that it’s actually imminent. Look for MTV to add Hollywood locations from the show not as a separate world but as an extension of VLB. And because it’s about an aspiring fashion designer, there are huge opportunities here to incorporate user-generated content and perhaps even skill ladders for popular designers and similar game mechanics. It’s a good indication, too, that MTV is still serious about its experiment and is only pushing forward with expanding its offerings. That implies that they consider VLB a success so far, and lends yet more credence to the assertion that 3D online worlds could well be the next phase of social networking and media convergence.
Fans of Showtime‘s long-running series “The L Word,” which is a kind of San Francisco lesbian version of Sex and the City (and a pretty entertaining show, actually), now have a place to hang out in the virtual world of Second Life. Built out by the Electric Sheep Company (sponsors of this blog), »The L Word« sim in Second Life is a hangout for fans akin to MTV’s Virtual Laguna Beach, a re-creation of portions of the show that fans can occupy themselves. There’s a special L Word in Second Life page on Showtime’s site, and the Sheep have even taken advantage of Linden Lab‘s registration API to create a Showtime-branded SL signup page. This is the first such page I’ve seen and is an especially cool development, as it starts to push SL more toward being a service and away from being a hermetically sealed world. The project also has its own orientation island. Continue reading
Raph Koster flags an Escapist article in which Allen Varney covers “boutique MMOGs” and the fact that they can not only be profitable but can garner significant niche audiences in a similar manner to very narrowly focused Web sites. This kind of thing is along the lines of some of my thinking about virtual worlds. I’m pretty sure we’ll start to see a proliferation of 3D virtual spaces as time moves on and the tools for building such places get cheaper and easier to use. These will be not just individual islands (or collections of islands) floating in 3D cyberspace, built on a platform that resembles an open-source Second Life, but a metaverse of things like MTV’s Virtual Laguna Beach (built on the technology behind There.com), and games and social worlds built on a free platform like Multiverse. Eventually, a large handful of these will come to capture audiences in the hundreds of thousands. The business model is totally viable. It’s working for the games mentioned in Varney’s article, as well as for a game like EVE Online. The Web has shown us that huge “category-killers” like World of Warcraft need not actually kill a category at all; you can successfully launch and run a Web site or a virtual world that aims at a narrower audience. Will the category-killers one day fall away altogether? I doubt it, but perhaps the rallying cry will be something like, “The category is dead! Long live the category!”
It’s audio file day here at 3pointD, apparently. This is a kind of cool thing forward to me by a friend: young indie-emo-whatever-rockers Cartel, who’ve been featured on MTV’s reality show Laguna Beach, have released a three-song mini album of the live tunes they played during a virtual gig in the network’s online world, Virtual Laguna Beach. The tunes have been released through MTV’s Urge music-download service, of course, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a nice instance of media mashup: a band from a reality show whose gig in a virtual world has now been pushed back out through a more traditional media channel. I’m thinking we’ll see more and more such convergence between old media (television), current media (the Internet) and new media (virtual worlds) in the coming year.