Metanomics master class in game development

Wow. Tomorrow’s Metanomics show will be extremely interesting:

During this Masterclass on Game Development, guest host Dusan Writer will take us behind the scenes with a panel of guests and look at how games are developed. What IS a game, exactly? How do you develop the rules, stages and rewards in order to make a great game? What technologies do game developers use to display their games? What are the advantages/disadvantages of immersive environments like Second Life? How does a game developer deal with ‘emergent behavior’? How are games ‘monetized’ and what are the new models and decisions that game developers need to make? (Freemium, pay-to-play, subscription, etc.)

Game developers Oni Horan, Colin Nilsson and thought leader Tony Walsh will bring us a view behind the scenes but will also explain the broader cultural context.

As usual, more information about the event and the panel members on Metanomics.net.

Join us for this Masterclass on game development on Monday November 22nd at 12 p.m. Pacific.

You can join in through the main stage in Second Life, or watch a live video stream of the event on the Metanomics site.

Mary Meeker sees ‘unusually high level of global innovation’

Mary Meeker (Morgan Stanley) talks in her recent state of the internet about disruptive innovation: new or incumbent players disrupting whole industries by offering cheap or free products and services (Google, Amazon… ) or by creating new markets (Apple, Facebook, Zynga… ).

One of the remarkable aspects of the recent evolution is how innovative also the more incumbent internet companies are. You’ll find concrete information about specific companies in the presentation – and note how of the 15 biggest public companies 9 are US based, 3 are Chinese companies, 2 Japanese (okay, one of those two being Yahoo Japan), 1 South Korean and… zero European.

Meeker also highlights the unusually high level of global innovation, for instance Facebook and Tencent (the largest social network in China) learning from each other’s playbooks.

Facebook has the focus on real-world friends, pictures and events, Tencent on virtual identities and customizable avatars – but both are incorporating each other’s strong points.

Affordable AR glasses plus virtual worlds on any device gives us…

Let’s do something wild and combine two fascinating developments. The first one is about augmented reality. As I said in a previous post, I’m not totally convinced that looking through a smartphone camera is such a compelling experience. What about glasses? The conventional wisdom says that it won’t work: people won’t put some ugly device on their face and walk around like total nerds (okay, some would be happy to do it, because they are nerds geeks, but I’m talking about mainstream folks here).

But can we be that sure? After all, 3D movies are very popular now, and professional augmented reality glasses can do amazing stuff – but they are very expensive. Well, it seems that prices are coming down: Aaron Saenz on the Singularity Hub talks about $2000 dollar (made by Vuzix). Pretty expensive, but clearly the price is getting lower. Here is the video:

Maybe the idea of staring at 3D-dragons is not exactly your idea of great entertainment, but there is also stuff about publishing and education in the video and the story. This being said, a sure sign that this kind of stuff goes beyond the very early adopters will be when the first ‘adult content’ publishers start using it.

Now the second development: the current experiments of running Second Life in a browser. I could not yet check it for myself, but the first reactions on Twitter seem to be positive. Really Engaging Accounting has a first-hand story about the experiments and this video:

Now imagine to combine both developments. The glasses could ultimately replace the traditional smartphone hardware, and virtual worlds such as Second Life or Blue Mars (more a platform for virtual worlds) will run in the cloud and you will be able to use them on lower end laptops, tablets, and I guess smartphones – and so, in a not too distant future, they could also run in those fancy glasses. So start dreaming about seamless integration of virtual, augmented and physical realities (or at least, read some science fiction about it!), and what it will make possible.

Discovering a virtual mine in the Appalachian mountains

Talking about virtual environments and machinima (see previous post), here is a very nice example: today in Second Life the Virtual Mine is being launched:

The Virtual Mine is a complete 3D virtual mountaintop removal mine created by Deep Down in the popular world Second Life.  The virtual mine, developed at BAVC’s Producers Institute for New Media Technologies with funding from ITVS and MacArthur Foundation, is an educational 3D environment, game, and educational curriculum for teachers, students, and anyone who’d like to learn more about mountain top removal, coal fired power production, alternative energies, and the amazing music and culture in the Appalachian mountains.  Read more about our inspiration and development at the Producers Institute, and our meeting with Second Life Education at the Institute.

Shooting video in virtual worlds and games with a virtual handheld camera

Machinima is a crucial aspect of the use of virtual environments for journalism. It basically involves shooting video inside virtual environments and games, eventually mixing this with video from the physical world. Examples can be found for instance on the YouTube channel of Draxtor Despres.

The blog Phasing Grace now has great news for machinima makers: the development of a virtual camera which can be used in a very intuitive way as a handheld camera in a virtual world or a game. The new development in virtual cameras at the University of Abertay Dundee is developing the pioneering work of James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar using a Nintendo Wii-like motion controller – all for less than £100:


Read Phasing Grace for more details!

More news about the use of virtual & augmented reality in newsrooms can be found in this post by Terri Thornton on PBS MediaShift, where she explains how augmented reality invades newsrooms, kids’ shows and ads.

When game theorists become scary

Games, especially video games and online games, are incredibly fascinating. They can be beautiful, intriguing, social, but in order to become a success, they need to be engaging.

There is a kind of gold rush to games by marketing specialists, human resources experts, experimental economists, psychologists, neurologists, educators, and they all want to find what makes individual and groups tick. Games are being played by hundreds of millions, and staggering amounts of data are being collected about human behavior.

Experts point out how interesting and useful it would be to apply core gaming principles to make people more engaged. They give noble examples such as environmental awareness campaigns. But of course, it’s also a matter of making people addicted to your product or service.

Gaming experts can be so convincing they become scary. Are they really unlocking ways which almost inevitably make people engage? Is this a good thing, or is it a sophisticated way of manipulating people so that they spend time and effort for projects the game masters deem important?

In a TED video released today, game theorist Tom Chatfield explains how games engage the brain. He is the author of the new book Fun, Inc about the gaming industry and how it is altering our society.

Hat tip to Chris Clark on NspireD² for posting about this video.

Minecraft, that strange 3D game in our browsers

I saw this fascinating video about Minecraft (via Kotaku). Wikipedia explains:

Minecraft is a sandbox game which allows players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D world. It is currently in development by Markus “Notch” Persson on the Java platform. The gameplay is inspired by Dwarf Fortress, RollerCoaster Tycoon, Dungeon Keeper, and especially Infiniminer. Minecraft was developed for about a week before its public release on May 16, 2009 on the TIGSource forums, where it gained a considerable level of popularity. It has been continually updated since then.

There is now a multiplayer version. I just ran the game in a browser on an office computer – no download was necessary. The game is pretty addictive, the fact that it’s clunky and in some early development phase seems to add to its charm.

It’s another example of how much more is possible in browsers, apart from the usual text/2D animations/video – and also how an individual can create something beautiful and inspiring, going viral.

World of Teachcraft

This seems great:

Title: World of Teachcraft: The Learning Quest

Date: November 2 – December 16, 2010

Location: Rockcliffe University http://slurl.com/secondlife/Rockcliffe%20Library/215/73/23

Campus portion 5 pm SLT Tuesday and Thursday (On Rockcliffe in Second Life)

Reporting over 12 million paying subscribers, World of Warcraft (WoW) is the most popular massively multi-player online role-playing game on the Internet. Rockcliffe is looking for 6 adventurous educators to participate in World of Teachcraft course!

Your Quest: After participating in a 6 week pilot project, you should have experienced, researched and analyzed how this MMORPG could be used in your classroom, online course, after school program or professional development activity.

Your Battleground: Each week, participants will attend a synchronous meeting in Second Life. World of Warcraft will be used for the laboratory portion and online discussions will take place in at Rockcliffe University’s Moodle course.

I loved playing World of Warcraft but I was so addictive I decided to stop. Recently I could not longer resist and I returned with a new character, Wilbear.

Note however that the course also uses Second Life, which is an open-ended while World of Warcraft – to my knowledge – is focused on a specific game experience. I guess World of Warcraft is more popular among younger people, just because it provides well-defined goals even though it allows for a variety of behaviors (for instance catering for players who primarily want to roleplay). The open-ended nature of Second Life is more flexible but makes people wonder “what the hell am I doing here”, so it seems a nice idea to combine both environments in this learning experience.

More information can be found in this page on the site of Rockcliffe University Consortium.

Because I can’t resist, here is the trailer for World of Warcraft ‘Cataclysm’:

Learning about globalization, terror, and media by reading near-future sci-fi

How will the future look like, for media and for society in general? It’s impossible to predict, but what we can do is work with plausible scenarios. One of my sources of inspiration is literature, more specifically near-future science fiction which seems to extrapolate trends we already see happening today. These are books I’ve read recently or which I’m reading now:

Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge. There is lots of augmented reality in the book, and the world has to deal with major security issues. Among the many fascinating characters: an anthropomorphic virtual rabbit. What about media? There are still paparazzi (maybe more than ever) and Vinge dedicates the novel to the internet-based cognitive tools that are changing our lives such as Wikipedia and Google. There are still physical books, but in danger of extinction. Laptops are still being used – by those who are resistant to change. I think it’s possible to use this book as a starting point for a meditation on the radicalization of instant messaging, online networks and gaming and online cognitive tools, discussing the challenges and opportunities of these developments.

Halting State by Charles Stross is a thriller set in the software houses that write multiplayer games. Once again it’s about security issues but also about finance as the software house is a public company. If you don’t have first-hand experience with Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) or Alternate Reality Games (ARG), chances are that this book will make you want to try it out.

Super Sad True Love Story by Shteyngart, Gary. What I like particularly in this book is the fact that the state of the economy plays an important role here. Things look bleak with China (and even Europe) in a very strong position while the US suffers a terrible crisis with massive social implications. Streaming media are a big hit – but do not necessarily contribute to the quality of public debate. Wearable devices double as tools for the security services. Physical books are still around, but they are considered weird.

For the Win by Cory Doctorow also deals extensively massively multiplayer online role-playing games. It’s about globalization, economics, virtual goods and labor. Independent news media production (in China!) is another important element here.

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald is set in 2027 Istanbul. Once again trade, security, economics, globalization and (nano)technology are prominent elements in the story. There are not only paparazzi in the future, but also investigative journalists using stealthy, secretive surveillers – as does the state.

Online social networks, effortless and pervasive instant messaging, the menace of mass destruction or of Big Brother, the transformation of reality in a mixture of the physical world (manipulated on nano level), virtual reality, gaming and augmented reality, the globalization and its geo-political and social consequences are themes in which you can immerse yourself by reading those books.

My project: organizing some meetings about these books, discussing what they tell us about different possible futures. My personal interest would be the future of the media, but others would be more than welcome to look at these and other books from other angles.

We would meet (of course) in a virtual world, most probably in the virtual town of Chilbo in Second Life. If you have suggestions for other books (or games, or videos… ) about the near-future, please let me know.

Virtual Goods: Opportunities, Challenges and Acquisitions

My favorite virtual show Metanomics will discuss tomorrow, on Monday October 18, the hot topic of ‘virtual goods’:

Now, the virtual goods industry has moved well beyond Silicon Valley and has the interest of Wall Street. From Facebook to Zynga to Second Life, the virtual goods industry has seen rapid growth over the past few years. They have redefined games where subscription-based models have been replaced by free-to-play games that sell virtual goods to a thin sliver of their player base: what are often called the ‘whales’.

Michael (Mick) Bobroff is no stranger to emerging markets. In the early 1990s, Mick was deeply involved in another new frontier which opened up in unpredictable ways: Russia. Now, a Partner at Ernst & Young, Bobroff is examining the challenges and opportunities of the virtual goods market.

The embrace of social gaming platforms and virtual goods will, he believes, lead to continued opportunities for venture capitalists and we’ll soon see large firms making acquisitions in the virtual goods arena.

Metanomics host Robert Bloomfield hosts Michael Bobroff at our new day (Monday) October 18th at 12 p.m. PT.

You can join in through our main stage in Second Life, or watch a live video stream of the event on this page.

More about the show and the speaker on Metanomics.net.