Michael Arrington is reporting that the AOL Games Group may be getting ready to launch a social network for World of Warcraft players, since the company owns wow.com. Could AOL’s reach make wow.com a category-killer? Sean Fanning’s Rupture, another WoW socnet, hasn’t particularly taken off, as I understand it. New entrants to virtual world social networking include Koinup as well. More on the subsector at GigaOm.
Meet the new boss
Good news, all you obssessively grinding World of Warcraft addicts: “Success as a business leader may depend on skills as a gamer,” according to Jim Spohrer, Director of Services Research at the IBM Research Center in Almaden, California. IBM has just done a study with Seriosity (one of the cooler companies at the virtual goods summit) which found “significant parallels between online gaming and the future of work,” according to a press release. “Today’s gamers are learning collaboration, self-organization, risk-taking, openness, influence, and how to earn incentives linked to performance and be flexible in the way they communicate.” That’s a lot better than the hand-eye coordination that most people think as the limit of what games have to teach. More below. 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 Cash was withdrawn from your real-world account, converted on the fly into PED, Entropia’s virtual currency (which is fixed at 10 to the U.S. dollar), and deposited into your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
The presentation I gave in Berlin on Thursday was ostensibly on “virtual worlds, media and identity,” but as I’ve been going over it I’m finding it’s extending itself into a small picture of what the next generation of virtual worlds might look like and how we might get there. A lot of it was stuff that’s probably pretty basic to 3pointD readers, but it might be worth going over anyway. And since it marked my first PowerPoint presentation (and hopefully my last), I can even paste in some slides below. (If you want the full set, send me an email.)
I started out by comparing what can be conveyed via traditional communications media, or rather, what tools are at our disposal when we work in various media. In SMS text messaging, of course, we’re very limited in how we communicate (despite the fact that a lot can be communicated via SMS). In instant messaging, we have a little more leeway, and in email yet more. Voice adds a great deal of breadth to the channel, video conferencing expands it further, and of course the broadest channel through we communicate is face to face, since we have access to facial expressions, gestures, proximity and other “messages” at a higher “resolution” than in any of the other media in the chart. I actually thought this would be pretty unremarkable to most people, but more than a few audience members were quite excited to see things arranged like this — which means I’m going to stick with my habit of pointing out the presumably obvious; sorry, guys. Continue reading
Venture capitalist and World of Warcraft addict Joi Ito and lifelogger Justin Hall sat down for a conversation together in Room 9C on Monday afternoon at South by Southwest. Ben Cerveny joined them midway. Title of the talk: Online Games: Beyond Play and Fantasy.
Ito: I know everyone says this, but we’re going to try to make this as interactive as possible. Justin and I are going to talk about online games and what we can learn from them and things like that. I play World of Warcraft and mess around in Second Life, I think it’s stupid to compare them, it’s like apples and oranges. If you played text MUDs you know MOOs and MUDs split at some point. People who were into furries tended to go toward one, people who went toward the other focused more on gamplay and quests and levels. But it is interesting to compare in terms of what you can learn from them.
I play my WoW videos inside of SL and plan WoW raids in SL. SL is more for simulation for me, I do lots of ritual there, talks and things like that. It’s really not where I build relationships, although different people do that.
Shows a slide of WoW UI. Think all the way back to LambdaMOO, Pavel Curtis was saying the whole Internet will eventually be MUDs or MOOs. You can think of WoW as an evolutionary point in interface design. You can think of this as an interface to everything on the Web. You can make add-ons, there’s the Lua language for scripting that you can do. Shows his own more complex HUD with lots of add-ons. Most of the screen is in 2D. There’s all kinds of sophisticated stuff. Sometimes the 3D world is really important, but when I’m engaged in a boss fight it’s like a pilot looking at instruments rather than at terrain. A Lot of the innovation happens in the user community. 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!”
As previously noted, I spent much of Friday and Saturday at the joint State of Play / Terra Nova symposium at the New York Law School. I’m always happy to spend a couple of days talking virtual worlds with a lot of smart people, and the symposium was no disappointment in that regard. Great panels were held on governance, methodologies of study, diversity, taxation and learning, but what was hardly touched on were the putative topics of the meeting: “How did we get here?” and “Where now?” As revealed below, however, there was much to be learned about both those topics at the symposium. Continue reading
One of the first stories from the new Reuters bureau in the virtual world of Second Life flags the fact that the U.S. Congress is in the preliminary stages of looking into virtual economies such as Second Life’s and World of Warcraft‘s, and the public policy issues surrounding them. The story quotes Dan Miller, senior economist for the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, as saying, “Right now weâ€™re at the preliminary stages of looking at the issue and what kind of public policy questions virtual economies raise â€” taxes, barter exchanges, property and wealth.â€ Many SL residents already pay taxes on their virtual earnings, of course, but a Congressional investigation could lead to legislation governing tax and intellectual property issues in virtual worlds. Whether lawmakers will treat such places any differently from other Internet-based commerce sites remains to be seen; it’s not clear that the issues are very different. VW economies, of course, do feature their own currencies, which could make things sticky for Congress and game companies alike. In any case, it will no doubt be a matter of years, not months, before legislation is even contemplated. But it’s heartening to see the issue being taken seriously in Washington. The challenge will be to educate lawmakers in such a way that early steps will not have a chilling effect on activities in the virtual world.
That said, some Congressmen are already educating themselves: â€œI can almost guarantee that there are some members of Congress spending time in Second Life or World of Warcraft,â€ Miller tells Reuters.
SLBoutique‘s FlipperPA Peregrine flags a Slashdot post about the fact that World of Warcraft will be featured in tonight’s season premiere of South Park, of all things. Check out the video clip. As Flip points out, this is probably the first mainstream appearance of machinima. Here’s Blizzard’s press release about the episode, which sees Cartman, Kyle, Kenny et al. charged with saving WoW itself from the depredations of “a renegade player.” A very interesting mashup of virtual worlds as well as entertainment media. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Ron Howard reportedly has a television show in the works that features a massively multiplayer online game, and James Cameron is said to be making a film that will be shot partly within a virtual world. Look for 3pointD this fall at a theater near you.
World of Warcraft guild We Know has garnered some repute for being run by venture capitalist Joi Ito, who says he listens to the guild’s TeamSpeak channel even while cooking dinner or driving his car. We Know’s latest innovation is to use the virtual world of Second Life to plan their end-game raids on World of Warcraft instances, the tough dungeons that can only be conquered by intense planning and lockstep cooperation. In Ito’s Kula sim, the guild has set up maps of several WoW instances (taken from WoW screenshots), and annotates them using SL objects. [Via Metroblogging Azeroth.] Ito spoke at SD Forum about the fact that his guild uses SL as a place to review in-game video footage of their raids, much as a football team would review game videos. Now SL is being used as a place to prepare specific strategies, in what amounts to a nice virtual world mashup. How much cooler would this be, though, if We Know was putting the instance maps into something like angrybeth Shortbread’s communal writeboard or one of the other collaborative annotation tools that are available in Second Life? And even cooler than that if the maps were made interactive. Just watch out for Overlord Wyrmthalak.
I’m blogging this from the Austin Convention Center in Texas, where the Austin Game Conference is in full swing. The highlight for me so far has been (not surprisingly) the panel I spoke on yesterday with Corey Bridges of Multiverse; Raph Koster, formerly of Sony Online Entertainment and now of his own stealth virtual-world startup, which has just gotten a first round of funding, according to Raph; Cory Ondrejka, chief technology officer at Linden Lab, makers of the virtual world of Second Life; and moderated by Jerry Paffendorf, resident futurist for the Electric Sheep Company (sponsors of this blog). There’s an audio file of the panel that I’m going to post here as soon as I get hold of it, but for now I thought I’d share a few of the thoughts and opiniosn that I managed to remember throughout the thing.
If you can pardon my obviously biased opinion, it seemed to me that we rolled out a bunch of interesting thoughts and questions having to do with the future of virtual worlds (which was the topic of the panel), and, judging from the faces in the audience, managed to blow a few minds in the process. Continue reading
Whatever the “correct” population number, Second Life has seen strong growth over the past year — strong enough to inspire a mildly famous quarter bet between Linden Lab‘s CTO Cory Ondrejka and University of Illinois games researcher Dmitri Williams. Cory puts his coin on Second Life having more North American users than hit MMO World of Warcraft by March 2008. A couple of recent reports suggest Dmitri may have to start saving his pennies (well, 25 of them, anyway) in order to make good on the wager. Continue reading
Well, read about it, anyway. Dibbell, a journalist, Terra Nova contributor and author of the new book Play Money, Or, How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot, comes to the virtual world of Second Life today — not once, but twice — to promote his new publication (which is sitting on my desk at the moment, but which I’ve barely had time to crack yet). Check him out for a book signing and “informal chat” at noon SL time, and a live interview with New World Notes‘s Hamlet Au at 6pm, followed by audience Q&A and more signing. Continue reading
Ted Castronova, author of Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games and perhaps the person who’s done most to advance the study of MMOs as an academic discipline, has launched a new Synthetic Worlds Initiative at Indiana University.
The Synthetic Worlds Initiative is a research center at Indiana University whose aim is to promote innovative thinking on synthetic worlds. . . . Our goal is to learn about this technology and deploy it for research and education. The Initiative holds a bi-annual series of conferences, the Ludium, and is building Arden: The World of William Shakespeare, a massive synthetic world.
The Acceleration Studies Foundation is wrapping up its work on a first version of the Metaverse Roadmap, a document designed to look ahead at the next 10 years of the metaverse, and to be updated along the way. (I participated in the meetings that gathered thoughts for the Roadmap back in May.) To celebrate, the ASF is holding a pre-release party at EyeBeam in New York City on Thursday, August 10. The party is free and open to all, but space is limited, so RSVP on Jerry Paffendorf’s Sheep blog to reserve your ticket. Continue reading
So far, this hasn’t been a very self-referential blog. That’s been a conscious choice and a natural decision, since it isn’t my first impulse to just bung the details of my personal life onto Teh IntarWeb. It’s been tempting, at times, but then I ask myself: How 3pointD is this really? And the answer is usually “Not very,” so I don’t see that changing much anytime soon. (Readers breathe collective sigh of relief.)
That said, this is a slightly self-referential post, but it has to do more with the content of the blog than with the content of my hours and days. Basically, I’m putting you all on notice that I plan to expand the scope of 3pointD.com slightly to occasionally take in a bit more of the cultural reportage on MMOs that used to appear on my now nearly defunct blog, Walkerings. Continue reading
You have to admire a guy who blithely posts a 50-minute videoblog interview. But when the interview subject is venture capitalist and hardcore World of Warcraft player Joi Ito, it’s not so far-fetched to think people might watch it. (Which I plan to do, once it finishes downloading.) In any case, here’s the link, from TypePad‘s Loic Le Meur, which I spotted on Deckuf‘s always delightful MMO blog. Hadn’t seen it before, though it was posted two weeks ago. Enjoy.
Voice can be a contentious issue in virtual worlds. Many MMOs rely on it. It probably wouldn’t be possible to participate in the “end-game” in World of Warcraft and EVE Online without benefit of a VoIP app like TeamSpeak or Ventrilo. Using voice in Second Life is becoming more common, especially for making presentations. But many residents of virtual worlds shy away from it because they perceive it to be anonymity-breaking. A number of apps let you mask or change your voice in order to avoid this problem, the latest of which is linked from Gamasutra and is available for free from a company called Screaming Bee. Personally, I don’t need this kind of thing, since I don’t mind people hearing my voice. But do we think it will be popular among those who do?
Over at the Metaverse Sessions site, John Swords has posted a keynote speech by venture capitalist Joi Ito in which the avid World of Warcraft player talks about “monochronic” and “polychronic” time, and gives the audience a look into the crowded world of his computer’s desktop. (I liveblogged the presentation at the time.) It’s a very interesting take on how Ito interacts with the real and virtual worlds at the same time, and definitely worth a listen. (You can listen here in the sidebar if you like, or on the site.)
We’ll be on the road next week (or, more accurately, in the air), headed to the Supernova conference in San Francisco, where I’ll be moderating a workshop on the social, business and work-oriented lessons we can learn from massively multiplayer online games and virtual worlds. We’ll have two hours to fill, hopefully with plenty of audience participation, so if you’re at all interested, drop by Wharton West early on
Tuesday Wednesday, June 21st. The four very cool panelists include Corey Bridges of Multiverse; Nic Ducheneaut, who’s doing awesome work scraping data on social interactions in World of Warcraft over at the PlayOn project at PARC; Jerry Paffendorf, the resident futurist over at the Electric Sheep Company (our main sponsor here at 3pointD); and Helen Cheng of Seriosity, which is studying the overlap between work and play. The rest of the conference is filled with interesting people as well, and I’m definitely looking forward to meeting a few of them and blogging what they have to say. If you’re in the area and have any 3pointD news or just want to chat, feel free to drop me a line. Keep in mind, though, that I’m actually very bad about returning my emails. In any case, I look forward to seeing who’s around next week. Should be fun.
Amazingly, this Undead Mage has just hucked a fireball at that guy’s house! What’s amazing about it is not the fireball itself, but that he’s done it in a commercial for Farmer’s Insurance. If there’s any doubt that this is a commercial based on World of Warcraft or a similar swords-and-spells game, it’s dispelled by the first line spoken by the insurance agents once the scene cuts away from our friend, the Lord of Mishap. (Don’t worry: no spoilers here.) Kind of made my jaw drop. But the thing that makes 3pointD really care about this is the deep cultural penetration it’s evidence of. Continue reading
I don’t usually post about Second Life membership numbers, but reaching the quarter-million mark (which I spotted on SL resident Tateru Nino‘s blog) seems significant to me. Tateru follows up with a post attempting to look a bit more closely at the numbers. Neither she nor I have great insights into the matter, but the point here is that the quarter-million mark I just blogged is actually relatively meaningless, since as far as I know it merely counts number of characters that have been created historically. (These could be defunct accounts, multiple characters on the same account, etc.) A better number can be found on SL’s economic statistics page, where it says that 124,028 residents have logged in during the last 60 days. But even this is obscure, since it counts characters, and not actual real-world people. And neither of these numbers give any indication of how many people are actually paying money to Linden Lab (basic SL accounts are free). A month or two ago, when I chatted with LL CEO Philip Linden on related subjects, the company had only 12,000 or so paying customers. Continue reading
Got any ideas for how to mashup Second Life and World of Warcraft? Post them over at the Second Life of Warcraft wiki page, where Jerry Paffendorf of 3pointD sponsor the Electric Sheep Company is putting together an event we blogged back in April, now planned for this summer, that will stream WoW into SL and recreate bits of the popular MMO in the virtual world. Because WoW doesn’t feature user-created content, it’s a bit of a one-way affair, but it should be interesting nonetheless, and at the very least will raise some fascinating issue of what the virtual world will be like when some 3D online spaces allow us to travel freely from one to the next.
The Smart Internet Technology Cooperative Research Centre in Australia is bringing positional voice and audio to online games and 3D virtual spaces. Its Immersive Communications Environment will represent environmental audio and users’ voices positionally: the gamers and gunshots that are closer to you will sound louder, while those that are further away will sound fainter or won’t be heard at all. For gamers, this is a step forward in games like World of Warcraft and Counter-Strike, and could add a great deal to virtual worlds like Second Life and There.com, for those who care to adopt it. The system can only support around 1,000 users per server at the moment, but for most conversations and contexts, that will be more than enough. It doesn’t seem to be commercially available at the moment, but I’m betting it’s only a matter of time. I definitely want to hear my guildies’ voices echoing down the halls of WoW instances in a positional, directional way, rather than just everyone shouting at once. [Via Glitchy.]
There was a lot of talk of virtual property and secondary markets and other such sensible things. . . . I also enjoyed the whole spectacle of people discussing World of Warcraft spot and future gold markets in front of both the Financial Services Authority and the Bank of England!
I’d love to hear more about their remarks, and about the reactions of the bankers. (I didn’t know there was a futures market for WoW gold, though it doesn’t surprise me.) It’s good that this kind of information is beginning to filter out to the world of real-world commerce, but more interesting would be to school such august financial types in the more open markets of Second Life and hear their take on that.
An update from the Metaverse Roadmap: We spent a fun session this afternoon envisioning some of the things that might come to pass in the metaverse in two- to ten-years time. Some tentative conclusions, for your perusal:
More and more virtual worlds will start coming online as venture capital money discovers the space. As this happens, they will wink out with greater frequency as well. The coming and going of VWs will be disruptive to many of the communities that have formed in these worlds, but communities will prove stronger than platforms, and will migrate from world to world in search of a safe and stable home. To facilitate this, more cross-platform applications like Xfire will emerge, ultimately leading to a strengthening of bonds among users.
A few more possibilities, drawn at random from the crowd (though admittedly leaning toward the more amusing), after the jump: Continue reading
Joi Ito gave a fun talk at SDForum about being a massively multiplayer online game player, rather than a venture capitalist, and how the player’s experience could lead the development of virtual worlds. “The whole concept of cyberspace is holding us back a little bit,” Ito said. It’s not the case that cyberspace starts when you log into an immersive virtual world like Second Life or World of Warcraft, Ito said. I couldn’t agree more. The virtual world is simply a seamless extension of the real world. “We need to rethink the idea of cyberspace,” Ito said. Continue reading
20-something hipster boy to 20-something hipster girl getting off the subway in Manhattan’s East Village last night: “Yeah, we had to cancel the raid because our Druid didn’t show up.”
This article from CNet’s Daniel Terdiman describes the ongoing server problems that have been plaguing World of Warcraft lately. With 6 million subscribers, the company must be running something close to 1,000 servers, each one supporting several thousand accounts. Unfortunately, they seem to be crashing a lot lately. Could it be that Blizzard has topped out its ability to maintain the hardware that runs its world? This is something Linden Lab, makers of Second Life, has contemplated in the past. Part of their rationale for eventually moving to a more open-source model, as they’ve discussed doing, is that it will soon become impossible for them to run and maintain all the servers necessary to support a growing population. LL already runs close to 2,300 servers in support of its world. What’s the cut-off point? If the pace of growth picks up too much for either WoW or SL, it will simply be physically iimpossible to put on new servers fast enough to support the population explosion. How do you decide when it’s time to throw in the towel and let users host their own servers, or move to a more Web-like model in which service providers rent space to individuals? Because that, I think, will eventually be the future for virtual worlds.
One of my World of Warcraft guildies (not that I have time to visit Azeroth lately; I don’t know how Joi Ito does it) passes along this link, in which a LiveJournal user called MonkeyModulator describes a World of Warcraft plug-in he’s writing: an eBay-style reputation system for use by players within the world.
Somebody up and leave your group in the middle of an instance? Just leave them negative feedback. Find an awesome player to group with? Leave them positive feedback. Before grouping with anybody, pull up their feedback (preferably inside the game.) Continue reading
Sir Bruce Sterling Woodock has new population figures up on his excellent MMOGChart site, which tracks the population of massively multiplayer online games as well as a few virtual worlds like Second Life. Sir Bruce’s new data only covers up to about January of this year, but it’s worth slappping an eye on his charts, as his site is about the only one tracking numbers like these (plus it’s pretty). That said, there’s not much that’s terribly notable to report this time around (a new release is coming soon, according to the site). Asheron’s Call and Ultima Online continue to bleed customers, RuneScape continues to climb and, interestingly, A Tale in the Desert and World War II Online, though both small, seem to have leveled off without dropping customers for some time. Sir Bruce still has World of Warcraft at 4.5 million, though it’s since passed 6 million, I believe. Then there’s the issue of Second Life. Continue reading
Clickable Culture reports that Zach Brock of alwaysBETA will be liveblogging during a raid in World of Warcraft‘s BlackWing Lair, one of the toughest instances in the game. The raid is set to start Saturday, April 15, at 7pm Eastern. I kinda wish this was a podcast, but it should be a nice look into what the most formidable reaches are like in one of the world’s most popular massively multiplayer online games.