Edward Castronova’s MMO, Arden, is being released today. It’s available to play, download, and modify as you wish.
His new book, Exodus to the Virtual World, is also now available. I’ve been flipping through a copy, and it looks pretty interesting. Whether or not you agree with the thesis — that game mechanics are going to increasingly influence real-world governance and society — there’s a lot of fascinating research packed into its pages.
Arden is made possible through the generosity of the MacArthur Foundation. Read more on both at Terra Nova.
To add to the fun we had at our book party this weekend, Daniel Terdiman is throwing a party of his own, to celebrate the publication of his own book, The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Second Life. If you’re around San Francisco this Wednesday (Nov. 7), crash the party at the CNET offices, where Dan works, pick up a copy of the book, and check out all you ever wanted to know about making money in the metaverse. Rather than the usual thin gloss on selling prim skirts, the book actually takes a deep dive into the process of building and running a business in the virtual world of Second Life, covering everything from laying foundations and writing a business plan, to entering the fashion world, the real estate business, the virtual construction trade, the “adult” industry and even running a business on SL’s teen grid. I know Dan worked his ass off on this one, and it shows. Check it out for yourself and let me know if you agree.
Anshe Chung Studios, which produces digital content and services for virtual worlds like Second Life, IMVU and others, has drawn a round of funding from New York venture capital firm Gladwyne Partners, who were early investors in the Electric Sheep Company. Sources at Gladwyne tell 3pointD the investment closed today, but wouldn’t reveal the amount. Gladwyne should be quite happy to have found another play in the virtual world sector; they’ve been looking very closely at the space since hopping into the Sheep pen. From the sound of things, they’re continuing the due diligence they’ve been doing throughout the space for the last year or two, so look for more, although it remains to be seen how soon. And congratulations to Anshe (or rather, to the husband-and-wife team behind the avatar), who has built an unparalleled “native” virtual-world brand over the last four years or so. Such companies should be under pressure from bigger, more established production houses, but none seem to have made significant in-roads. Anshe also has the advantage of having outsourced much of her studio’s work to employees in her native China, which may have made a difference to Gladwyne. In any case, it’s interesting to see just how far you can go with amateur content-creation, which is where Anshe started. Nice to see Gladwyne concentrating so heavily on the space, as well. We look forward to more.
Terrific. I’m quoted in an article about Second Life in tomorrow’s New York Times. Which of the many topics covered in the interview am I quoted on? That’s right, cyber-genitalia and virtual McMansions. On the whole, though, the article is a pretty good deep dive on why people value such virtual goods, and what utility they derive from them. Check it out.
It’s South by Southwest season again, or at least the run-up to it. For the last two years I’ve headed to Austin for the excellent South by Southwest Interactive festival, a fun week of geeks and great conversations that takes place each spring in one of the greatest small cities in America. The process of choosing who gets to take the stage there, though, starts early. Hugh Forest, who runs the place, has just posted this year’s SXSW Panel-Picker, the mechanism by which a fair portion of the panels are chosen. I’ve proposed two, which I’m going to insist you all go vote on forthwith. Here are the titles, links and descriptions:
â€¢ Presence: Building the Social Web
“Despite social networking, the Web remains a lonely place: a billion people browse it, each one alone. This session examines efforts to make the Web a more social medium by bringing “presence” online. Help us imagine a Web that works less like a library and more like a multiplayer game.”
â€¢ Kicking Virtual Ass and Taking Avatar Names
“What is it like to run the virtual world’s most notorious tabloid? Where do you draw the line between good taste and bad, between information and sensation, between virtual and real — if such a line exists? Explore the role of a very free press in the evolution of online worlds. Dual presentation with [Second Life Herald founder] Peter Ludlow.” Continue reading
It looks like MindArk, the company behind Entropia Universe (whose virtual currency is pegged and freely tradeable at 10 to the U.S. dollar), is getting in on the Washington lobbying act. Congress has been looking at issues of taxation related to virtual worlds since at least last October, and the Joint Economic Committee is long overdue with a promised report. (Or did I miss this?) This week, it seems, they’ll hear from Marco Behrmann, MindArk’s CIO, who is in Washington to speak to the IRS as well, according to this post on the RCE Universe forums. [Via RCEUniverse’s Nate Randall.] I’ll be interested to see where this all ends up, of course, but the most sensible take I’ve heard on this issue comes from Bryan Camp of Texas Tech University, who noted last year that, for the most part, the legal issues are settled, it’s just a matter of figuring out (or deciding) where virtual worlds fall within them. There’s probably slightly more to it than that, but not much. For my money, a more interesting issue is the related one of whether these environments can be ruled to be public places (like some shopping malls) and the implications of such a ruling for governing them. <shameless plug>You can read more about that kind of thing in our book when it’s published at the end of October.</shameless plug>
I’m wearing my Virtual Goods Summit t-shirt today, which isn’t really interesting except that it gives me an excuse to tell you that videos from the event have now been released. This was an excellent day of deep-diving into various business models and approaches to virtual goods — and probably features more information and more angles than you expect. The summit was arranged by Susan Wu of Charles River Ventures, and Charles Hudson, who, until recently, was in new business development at Google. What is Charles up to now? No idea. But he is super smart, very well connected, and friends with the super-smart and very well connected Susan, so whatever it is, it’s probably going to be interested. Stay tuned to his blog for updates.
God bless IBM. Of all the big bad corporations doing business in the virtual world of Second Life, these guys — and, on an individual basis, the company’s employees — are near the top of the “most creative and ambitious” league table (mostly, I suspect, because they can afford to be). The latest: an IBM employee with his own private island in Second Life has had some coins minted that are each worth one Linden dollar. That’s right, you can now hold the Linden dollar in your hand and actually spend it — if, that is, you’re on »Tender Island«, which has been owned by IBMer David van Gent since March.
The coins come complete with an “SL” mintmark, and are “accepted as legal currency on Tender Island.” Before you get your knickers in a twist over who’s allowed to mint coins denominated in a particular currency, keep in mind that in the U.S., at least, creating your own tender is perfectly acceptable — you can print all the money you want (as long as you’re not counterfeiting dollars), it’s just a matter of whether you can get anyone to accept it. Linden Lab, of course, is not a government. But their rhetoric (“I’m not building a game, I’m building a country“) indicates there shouldn’t be anything objectionable in Tender Island coins. Continue reading
I hadn’t heard of Mappa Novus until someone dropped it in the comments here. The Mappa crew is doing interesting work creating maps of the virtual world of Second Life that seem to be mashed up with the Google Maps interface, and overlaid with data layers about population, land sales, etc. On top of that, they’ve layered some advanced edition maps that you can subscribe to for $7.95 a month or $19.95 for three months, which give extra data about land sales. The whole deal seems to be able the real estate business, as there’s also a land search tool available. They also have printed maps available for sale. Continue reading
The Electric Sheep Company (which sponsors 3pointD) yesterday launched its new shopping site for the virtual world of Second Life. Known as OnRez, and launched with little fanfare, the site really constitutes the migration and overhaul of the old SLBoutique (which now redirects to OnRez), one of SL’s longest-standing shopping sites. The Sheep bought SLBoutique early on in the company’s history, and had been struggling with its codebase ever since. OnRez represents the chance to get new users interested in the Sheep’s Web-based services, and as such is an important step forward. Will it work? Continue reading
The Guardian had not a bad story the other day about the potential for virtual worlds, focusing mostly on business uses. In contrast to some other recent takes on this in the press, the Guardian story seems more balanced to me, acknowledging that things are still at an early stage, and also tipping their hat to a wider universe of worlds than only Second Life. The article also calls out one of my favorite subjects: the convergence of virtual worlds and Web 2.0, which is still at a nascent stage. Judging from who’s quoted there, the article seems to have been inspired in part by the upcoming Virtual Worlds Forum Europe (more on that here), which takes place October 23-26 in London. I’ve been hoping to make that, but it’s looking less and less likely. There’s an excellent roster of speakers that are going to be on hand, though, so if you’re in the area, go for it.
With the news a few days ago that MMO space opera EVE Online had hired an in-game economist, most commentators focused on how much fun he would have compared to all the other economists in the world, and how curious it would be to read quarterly reports from an imaginary universe. I think it has broader ramifications than that, particuarly when it comes to economies such as that of Second Life and Entropia Universe, which are explicitly tied to real-world currencies. Though Second Life pushes itself as a place where real money can be earned, it has consistently done a very poor job of making any useful economic information available. Its reports don’t resemble traditional economic and business reports, and in any case lack clear explanation of their methodology. They’re useful as far as they go, but they don’t go nearly far enough — which is an inexcusable state of affairs for a place that’s advertised as a capitalist paradise. The presence of EVE’s new economist should provide at least some distant motivation for Second Life to get its economic act together. Continue reading
View22 has been inking some interesting deals lately, and today comes the announcement of another one: the company, which makes a 3D eCommerce solution called Immersiv, has just struck a co-marketing deal with design software maker Autodesk to cross-promote View22 for sales and Autodesk for design. “Autodesk will recommend View22 as a preferred partner for providing web-based, thin-client 3D sales automation solutions for its current and prospective customers. View22 will recommend Autodesk as a preferred partner for 3D design and engineer-to-order products for its current and prospective customers,” according to a press release. This kind of browser-based 3D eCommerce stuff is likely to become a bigger part of the 3D experience going forward. It’s a lot easier to get in front of people through a browser than it is through a downloaded client. Not that this means View22 or Autodesk necessarily win loyal customers and clients through such a deal, but it could help open the market by getting the browsing public more acclimated to useful 3D.
Google’s Charles Hudson, a host of the Virtual Goods Summit, moderated the last panel of the day, on virtual goods and entertaiment.
Jim Greer of Kongregate
Erik Bethke of GoPets
Sean Ryan of Meez
Charles: What motivates people to stay engaged, and how do virtual goods play into that?
Ryan: For us it’s about self-expression. When our users spend 4-6 hours online, self-experssion as they show themselves in their IM, in their blogs, in the game, is incredbly impoertant to them. Our most loyal users are female. Unlike in Second Life, where they routinely blow up the American Apparel store, it has to be a conscious choice to engage with the brand. We find our users actually associate with brands. It comes down to, I’m online and I want to express something about my identity to everyone else. Continue reading
Conference host Susan Wu moderated an afternoon panel addressing the question of whether virtual worlds are “the next big business model” at the Virtual Goods Summit.
Tim Stevens of Doppelganger
Kevin Effrusy, general partner with Accel Partners (investor in Facebook)
Dan Kelly, CEO of Sparter
Min Kim of Nexon
Susan: How do you guys estimate the size of the overall virtual goods market?
Dan: It’s easily a billion dollar [secondary] market. Consumers have told us these things have value, the industry now is trying to reconcile that with their business model. Continue reading
Nabeel Hyatt of Conduit Labs moderated a panel on Why Virtual Goods Matter, and What’s Driving User Adoption, at the Virtual Goods Summit at Stanford University.
Craig Sherman of Gaia Online
Daniel James of Three Rings
Amy Jo Kim of Shufflebrain
Byron Reeves of Stanford University and Seriosity
Reeves: The human brian is not specialized to differentiate between virtual and real. Same neurons fire when an avatar smiles at you as when a real person smiles at you. Seriosity is looking at what happens when you create an opportunity to do serious things with virtual currency attached, such as sending email messages with virtual currency attached. The result? You open the email faster when currency is attached. Virtual money changes real behavior. Continue reading
Min Kim of Nexon gave a presentation at the Virtual Goods Summit and said the company would probably announce the release of its KartRider in the US soon, which has been in closed beta. Kim also said Maple Story has been “kicking ass” in the US, with 3.5 million registered users. The company is also introducing prepaid cards at Target that can be used to buy virtual items, which it expects will push up sales as well. It also just released Audition, which already has 100,000 registered users, more than half of them female. Continue reading
Kyra Reppen of Neopets gave a presentation at the Virtual Goods Summit on MTV’s Neopets. Like other MTV presenters before her, she began her presentation with a video. Perhaps the most interesting part, though, was about the new NC Mall that Neopets will introduce in beta next week. It’s about customizing and self-expression. It’s complementary to the Neopoints economy, no exchange between the two. Themed items around Neopian events. Launching with PayPal. Why do we think this is going to work? Digital is real life for this audience. Technology is invisible. Emotional connection makes the pixels go away and it’s about these experiences. Virtual worlds and virtual economies are simply applications to achieve those four core goals: fun, self-expression, social needs, and control. Kids ages 6-14 have $60 billion in income. One important feature of NC Mall is try before you buy. Continue reading
David Wallerstein of Tencent began the Virtual Goods Success Stories panel at the Virtual Goods Summit with a presentation, mostly to demonstrate what Tencent is doing in China: Chinese Internet penetration is only 10.5 percent. Wireless is 35.2 percent. Roughly 40 percent of Internet usage in China takes place in Internet cafes. Tencent currently has more than 4,000 employees, with roughly 30 percent R&D staff. Tencent has five leading online platforms:
â€¢ QQ.com is the #1 portal in China
â€¢ QQ games portal is the #1 mini casual games portal in China
â€¢ QQ IM, #1 IM service provider in China
â€¢ They also have a leading wireless portal
â€¢ Qzone, the #1 blog site / MySpace in China
Revenue has grown from RMB250 million in Q1 2004 to RMB750 million in Q1 2007. The largest share, 65 percent, is Internet value-added services. 25 percent mobile, 10 percent advertising. Continue reading
I’m off tomorrow for California, where I’ll be moderating a panel at the Virtual Goods Summit being put together by venture capitalist Susan Wu and Google’s Charles Hudson. I’ll also be hanging around Supernova just to see what can be seen. I’m very much looking forward to the summit, especially because, as Susan points out, it’s now clear that “virtual goods represent a real, viable business model and will likely have a huge impact across all of the consumer Internet.” (More thoughts from Giff.) That means not just as part of gaming or even as part of virtual worlds, but most everywhere. I’m not sure what the recording and archiving plans are for the conference, but look for reports from 3pointD, since plenty of excellent speakers will be in attendance who hopefully will have plenty of interesting things to say.
Virtual worlds entrepreneur Anshe Chung seems to have inadvertently caused quite a stir on the 3D avatarized chat platform IMVU, where she (she is really two people, a husband and wife) makes 3D objects that IMVU members can buy for their virtual environments. Anshe apparently lowered prices on some assets that other people had incorporated into their own products — a move that, given the vagaries of IMVU development, seems to have affected the derivative products by allowing competitors to introduce lower-priced virtual goods. Judging from forum traffic and comments on a recent 3pointD post, a lot of people over in IMVU are mightily pissed off. Anshe has apologized, but as usual, people seem to believe what they want to believe. Anshe has been a polarizing figure in the virtual world of Second Life over the years, so it’s hardly surprising she’d attract similar controversy in IMVU. It’s an interesting question, though, of whether she’s attracting more controversy being a user who has accumulated developer-like weight over the years, or whether a similar cock-up on the part of the developer would attract more ire. Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to discuss these kinds of things at the Virtual Goods Summit this Friday, where I’ll be moderating a panel.
The new virtual world that MindArk, makers of Entropia Universe, are developing for China will focus on business transactions and avoid politics, according to an Assoicated Press story.
David Liu, chief executive of Beijing-based Cyber Recreation Development Corp., compared the upcoming Chinese virtual world with a three-dimensional eBay, where users can shop online through a more visually appealing interface.
(CRDC is backed by the Beijing government and is responsible for the project.) Continue reading
June 13 will see cable new network CNN kick off something it’s calling a Future Summit with a “landmark television event.” Why does 3pointD care? Because the series, which looks like it will unfold more on the Web than on the air, starts with Future Summit: Virtual Worlds, featuring everyone from Linden Lab CEO Phhilip Rosedale to Flickr founder Stewart Butterfield, Funcom CEO Trond Aas, and people like EA co-founder Trip Hawkins, Jimmy Wales and Nick Yee, among others. There’s precious little information on the site about just what’s happening and when, but it sounds like it should contain a lot of information of interest to metaversal types. Continue reading
According to a court brief I’ve just been emailed, a Pennsylvania court has allowed a lawsuit filed against Philip Rosedale and Linden Lab, makers of the virtual world of Second Life, to move forward despite Rosedale’s motion to dismiss the suit or have it arbitrated. The decision is significant in that the court has judged the SL Terms of Service to be insufficient to the job of adjudicating this particular dispute, and the judge in the case went so far as to characterize the ToS as a contract of adhesion — a contract that isn’t necessarily enforceable because it has more or less been forced on a party with weaker bargaining powers (i.e., the SL user) on a “take it or leave it” basis. The brief itself is linked from this Web page. The decision could have important ramifications for the way in which many virtual worlds come to be governed, possibly giving more rights to their residents than they have enjoyed before. Continue reading
Consultants McKinsey & Co. have launched a Virtual Venture Competition in the virtual world of Second Life. [Via Sebastian Kupers, who also provided the image above.] The competition is open to students and young professionals no more than 32 years old, and first prize is US$20,000 in training and career counselling. Teams get 45 days to build a business, but there’s no fixed start or end date, you can apparently jump in at any time. Only a limited number of teams will receive initial funding, however. Speaking of funding, McKinsey is so adamant that no outside funding be used that it will be monitoring account balances during the competition (see the FAQ), so if you want to play, you’ll have to roll a new alt for the purpose. I actually think this sounds like a great project; it should attract young people who aren’t necessarily SL residents already, and it’s a nice vote of confidence that SL is a place with real lessons to be learned. The build looks pretty nice too. Check out McKinsey’s »orientation island« and its »Infocenter«.
View22 Technology has announced what it calls a “3D Web commerce and media platform” that “simplifies the process of adding 3D Web applications and customer experiences into the marketing mix.” Known as Immersiv (and viewable in video clips on the View22 site), the tech resembles a fancy Flash app with a few extra features, including camera controls, integration with Google’s 3D Warehouse of Sketchup objects, support for a number of files formats, and a few other things mentioned at the end of this post. What’s interesting to me, though, is how View22 is positioning the product. If View22’s press release is to be believed, this is one of the first nearly plug-n-play 3D ecommerce packages to come along. (CyWorld USA is using it as an ecommerce solution for one of their media partners.) According to the release, “The new platform enables manufacturers, retailers, media networks, content developers and third-party integrators to quickly customize and deploy a range of in-demand applications such as 3D virtual stores and showrooms; 3D product configurators and visualizers; 3D social networking experiences; 3D Web sales automation systems; interactive 3D room planners; and interactive brand promotion and online advertising.” There may well be one out there, but I’m not sure I’ve seen a Web-based 3D ecommerce system that makes so many end-to-end claims for itself, from the aforementioned file format support to “integrated Web 2.0 services, customizable catalog and user interface, and an ad serving module” (see below). It remains to be seen, of course, how well it works and how easy it is to use, but it’s an interesting foray into the market nonetheless. Continue reading
Virtual entrepreneur Anshe Chung will launch a virtual world-spanning financial market in early June, according to a news release on the Anshe Chung Studios site. The service will “allow direct capital flow and investment across virtual world boundaries,” and will link the markets of Second Life, Entropia Universe and IMVU. Anshe Chung Studios — which is run by German citizens Ailin and Guntram Graef — will provide “a virtual financial market, financial products and a set of services” linking the three worlds. Among other things, the service will allow Second Life residents to invest their Linden dollars in things like malls and other locations in Entropia. Second Life land funds and similar instruments would be available for investment by holders of IMVU and Entropia currency, and IMVU fashion businesses might receive investments in L$ or PED (the Entropia currency). It remains to be seen whether there’s much of a market for such inter-world investment, but Anshe has a very interesting take on the possible effects of making financial borders more porous: Continue reading
A small raft of news emerged from the virtual world of Entropia Universe this week, including tie-ups with MasterCard and a real-life bank, and a new awards show being put on by virtual entrepreneurs Anshe Chung and Jon “Neverdie” Jacobs.
First up, MasterCard. Entropia has been trying to implement a real-life card for some time. A year ago, it gave its customers the ability to deposit real money to their game accounts via a bank card used at an ATM. Cash was withdrawn from your real-world account, converted on the fly into PED, Entropia’s virtual currency (which is fixed at 10 to the U.S. dollar), and deposited into your Entropia account. Entropia also has a reloadable debit card that you can deposit your PED to, which is then available as real-world cash at ATMs. Now, the company has struck a new deal with a financial institution that can give its cards MasterCard branding, Entropia says: “The new card will be cheaper to use for our customers, and have more functions including MasterCard branding which will allow the card to be used in retail outlets as well as traditional ATMs.” [Via RCEUniverse.] Continue reading
I checked into the virtual world of Second Life tonight for a sneak peek at two islands that were just opened by Amazon Web Services as a community-building effort for AWS developers. According to SL resident Jeffronius Batra (aka Jeff Barr, Amazon’s senior Web services evangelist), »the islands« — which are an official Amazon project — will not only provide resources for developers but also link to and show off what the AWS development community has created inside Second Life. (Jeff mentioned Jnana as an example. You can read more about what they’re doing in SL on the AWS blog, or just visit »Jnana in Second Life«.)
The virtual architecture, by Joshua Culdesac (who lives in France), is very handsome, though some of it was too tight for my camera. Jeff did the terraforming. Amazon took delivery of the islands in December, Jeff said, though planning had been going on before then. Amazon’s virtual estate is near an IBM island (and not by accident; Jeff invited them to buddy up), but there’s a mysterious island named Innovation that intervenes. Jeff hasn’t been able to get into it yet to find out what’s going on there. The Amazon islands aren’t quite done yet, Jeff says, but from what I could glean in my visit, they seem to have succeeded in being “very SL-friendly, not overly corporate,” as Jeff says they were intended. Amazon has been poking around in Second Life for something like a year now. Nice to see them finally get something going on an official level. Continue reading
It was just over a year ago that I first blogged about Etsy, the online community for makers and sellers (and buyers, of course) of crafts of all flavors and kinds. Because they’re here in Brooklyn and because they have their metaversal aspects about them, I thought I’d go and pay them a visit recently. The metaversal aspects of Etsy are mostly the doing of the company’s highly talented Flash programmer, Jared Tarbell, and prove that you don’t necessarily need a Z axis to have a good time. If you’ve poked around the site at all, you’ll have seen hints of them, in the form of the various “ways to shop” found on the front page. (Try time machine, and definitely check out the color page, which is slightly too awesome for its own good.) Where Etsy really comes alive, though, is when you become part of the community and start doing things like attending classes and town halls online. Jared’s cool interfaces give presence to your “avatar” (who’s nothing more than a square uploaded image) in a way few Web page have managed to. And now, Rob Kalin, Etsy’s founder, is thinking about putting Jared’s mad Flash skillz to work in a Flash virtual world that would be an online bazaar for Etsy crafters. More on that (and a couple of other interesting developments) after the jump. Continue reading
Nate Randall of RCE Universe sends along the news that Second Life mogul Anshe Chung has won one of five banking licenses recently auctioned in the virtual world of Entropia Universe. Though billed as “banking licenses,” they really give their holders the right to use the in-world interface and non-player characters to make collateralized loans and collect interest, which is an interesting way to go about it. Entropia notes, of course, that “Should an interested party hold a real banking license in the real world, many more services and features can be added.” It doesn’t appear any of the winners meet that qualification, although they are listed only be avatar name, so you never know. It’s an interesting prospect.
Randall seems to have scooped Entropia itself, which is still running the auction announcement. According to Randall’s figures, Anshe seems to have been almost the shrewdest bidder, winning her license for PED600,000, or US$60,000 — the Entropia currency trades at a fixed 10 to the U.S. dollar — while the other winners bid PED590,608, PED900,002, PED950,001, and PED999,000. The auctions were held in the in-game auction system, Randall reports, where bidding was fierce in the final minutes. Continue reading