Archive for the 'social networking' Category

Commercial Gold Rush in Second Life

October 19, 2006

A critical mass seems to have been reached over the past six months with regards to the popular online 3D social networking platform, Second Life. Having passed through the initial word of mouth/blogosphere zone, the SL meme now makes regular appearances in mainstream magazines and newspapers from Wired to The Guardian. All this attention has solidified the virtual world’s place at the forefront of what SL “residents” sometimes refer to as “the 3D web.” In what might be the most impressive stamp of approval to date, the Reuters news agency has gone so far as to set up a bureau inside the game. As Richard Siklos notes in today’s New York Times, a mini gold rush is on amongst large media companies to establish themselves within Linden’s virtual economy:

…now, the budding fake world is not only attracting a lot more people, it is taking on a real world twist: big business interests are intruding on digital utopia. The Second Life online service is fast becoming a three-dimensional test bed for corporate marketers, including Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Sun Microsystems, Nissan, Adidas/Reebok, Toyota and Starwood Hotels.

The sudden rush of real companies into so-called virtual worlds mirrors the evolution of the Internet itself, which moved beyond an educational and research network in the 1990’s to become a commercial proposition — but not without complaints from some quarters that the medium’s purity would be lost. (New York Times)

See also my earlier posts, Realtime Performance in Second Life, and Second Life: First Impressions.

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Confessions of a recovered MMO addict

October 18, 2006

The compulsive and open-ended treasure-hunting gameplay of World of Warcraft can destroy lives as efficiently as heroin. This account by an anonymous survivor is particularly harrowing:

First off, let’s go back to the time it takes to accomplish anything in the game. To really be successful, you need to at least invest 12 hours a week, and that is bare minimum. From a leadership perspective, that 12 hours would be laughed at. That’s the guy who comes unprepared to raid and has to leave half way through because he has work in the morning or is going out or some other thing that shows “lack of commitment”. To the extreme there is the guildie who is always on and ready to help. The “good guildie” who plays about 10 hours a day and seven days a week. Yes, that’s almost two full-time jobs. (The View From The Top)

Realtime performance in Second Life

September 19, 2006

Adam Nash presents some interesting insights into the notion of live performance in MMOs on his blog, Adam Nash – Realtime Art Engines – Research Blog:

This overview/review of live performance in Second Life is worth a read. I have very mixed emotions about this whole thing. On one hand, I’m very glad that the MMO space is being seen as a legitimate space for performance. On the other hand, I’m extremely frustrated that people only seem, so far, interested in recreating a real-life live music situation. They model an acoustic guitar, a grand piano, etc. That’s fine, but as somebody who’s been trying to use the native performative qualities of virtual 3d space for a long time now, it drives me nuts that performers are not doing that. Really, what is the point of modeling up a real-life-style singer/songwriter club gig when the performer’s fingers are not actually strumming the strings (if the strings are even there), and their face is not moving in any way related to the performance itself? (Adam Nash)

UPDATE: More on this here.

On meaningful engagement in participatory art

September 14, 2006

With the lonelygirl15 saga now history, the web is abuzz with talk of the birth of a new kind of narrative art form that is shaped as much by its originators as it is by the participation of its audience. Beyond the fact that there’s not really anything terribly new about this kind of interactive storytelling — ARGs, fanfic and MMOs come to mind as other examples of the same basic form, and they’ve all been around for a while — it’s important to note that audience participation alone is not enough to produce a meaningful experience. As Jane at Avant Game notes, game designers should be wary of fetishizing participation without asking serious questions about the nature and quality of the audience engagement that their works make possible:

I agree that serial drama on You Tube is a great art form (so are traditional ARGs, the more elaborate art form that lonelygirl represents a pared back style of, in my opinion), but the real conversation should be not about the realness, but rather: How do people want to participate in it? Do they want to be the makers of their own videos? To have role-playing style conversations in the comments? Do they want to directly influence the narrative or to just speculate and gossip about it so they can be proven right by what happens next? And most importantly how do we inspire participation that is more than hostile juvenile comments? How do we create a real participatory community around an entertainment property, and what forms of participation are possible… and desirable? (Avant Game)

Second Life – First Impressions

August 17, 2006

Sometimes I like to pretend that I don’t have a million unfinished projects that need my attention. It’s during times like this that I think up new ideas, thus perpetuating the cycle of incompletion. I’ve been interested in machinima for a long time now, and I’d heard that the MMORPG Second Life was a promising platform for this new type of filmmaking/animation. So during one of those moments where I was pretending I had nothing more pressing to attend to, I downloaded the Second Life (or SL for short) client, signed up for a free starter account, and started exploring.

I didn’t know what to expect. The idea of a persistent online “mirror-world”, complete with its own internal economy, political system and geography, has been around for a while, but each implementation I’ve seen has been somewhat underwhelming. Popular MMORPGs like World of Warcraft have always struck me as being, well, a little boring — run across the mountains, collect an item, bring it back to a specific place to collect a reward, etc. Such classical adventure-based MMORPGs are only as interesting as their individual adventures, and the social and creative aspect seems to always take a back seat to the sword and sorcery stuff. Second Life is very much the opposite. There are almost no built-in “adventures” or game narratives; everything that happens in the virtual world is created by its participants. As one might expect, much of what happens consequently has to do with sex.

My first experience took place while I was reinstalling the operating system on my Mac. To while away the minutes, I put the SL client on my laptop and started flying around. A few minutes later, Stephanie joined me, and once Tiger was on the Mac, we put SL on there, too, and flew around together (everyone can fly in the SL world). Here’s some of what we saw:

  • A woman building a small chapel for her upcoming wedding. I asked her how long she’d been engaged, and she said only a month (and that even included a recent breakup). She told us she and her virtual lover hadn’t yet met in “RL” (real life). “Hopefully someday,” she said through the text-messaging client. “A lot of marriages in SL work out in RL, too,” she added. We wanted to ask more questions, but her sister appeared and they needed to talk details about the design for the wedding dress.
  • An amorous couple engaged in various sex acts. These two had customized their avatars to look like porn stars, complete with huge boobs on the woman and a giant erection on the man. They had sex right in front of us, and seemed to like the company. “Looks like we have an audience,” the man said as he entered his partner from behind.
  • Several more amorous couples, some of whom did not appreciate our voyeurism.
  • A group of furries, all dressed as horses, gathered in a barn on the outskirts of a more populated area. They were all standing still, staring up at the barn wall. I looked at what they were staring at. It was a slide show of line-art anthropomorphic horse porn. I watched for a few minutes as the group’s leader clicked through the slides. “Wow, that’s hot,” said one. “I’ve already got that one,” said another. It was disturbing but intriguing.
  • A friendly avatar took us to a park for a ride down a river on inner-tubes. We chatted with him as we floated down the river. He said he was from Tucson and introduced us to his friend (perhaps his girlfriend, we weren’t sure), who said she was from Pittsburgh. She later took us back to her private garden where we danced for a while to some 80s pop music. It was a relaxing end to the day.

Perhaps the most exciting thing I discovered while in Second Life was what it offers to filmmakers who want to experiment with machinima. The number of potential sets is basically endless, and there seems to be no shortage of people who could be employed as virtual actors and technicians. And the best part is, you could pay them all scale with virtual cash — “Linden dollars” — which currently exchange at a rate of about 250 game dollars to 1 US dollar.