Ian Hughes from our IBM Hursley Research Labs led me onto this company that does 3D Printing of objects from Second Life
. Essentially, any 3D object in Second Life
can now be "printed" as a physical sculpture/model out of foam or waxfor about $30 or $60 up to a size of 9" x 5" x 5". I can't quite tellwhat kind of 3D milling/printing device they use but you can contactthem for more info.
I was thinking of modes of real business services in terms of virtual environments and came up with this list:
- realuser2hoster services - where the user pays the company that runs thesystem for some kind of service (typically, a monthly fee)
- realuser2system services - where the user pays the system forsome kind of service (e.g. buy more credits with online payment likePayPal)
- realuser2realuser services - where the user pays another useroutside the system/game for some kind of product/service (e.g., thelegal/illegal exchanges that take place outside the game for Everquestor World of Warcraft items, on sites like eBay, or this 3D printingservice above)
- virtualuser2virtualuser services - where the user pays another user forsome kind of service or product within the system itself (usually ingame dollars)
- realuser2virtualuser services - where a real world person pays avirtual character for some service (I can't think up specific examples)
- virtualuser2realuser services - where the user in the system/gamepays a real world entity for some product or service (e.g., ordering areal Domino's pizza from inside World of Warcraft)
There may be more such modes but this is a starter list. Theexchanges/modes listed above have different behaviors. The primedifference between real and virtual users here is where the businessexchange occurs. It doesn't always have to be in (real or virtual)currency, certainly; it can be in terms of information, access, orbarter for real or virtual goods.
I bring this up to consider where the business opportunities lie. WhileI considered the above scenarios for SecondLife (SL) in particular,this is really a generic model that may apply to any online retail website. In the vast majority of such retail web sites, the trade is forcurrency for real goods, but this exchange can occur between a realperson and a virtual identity (it might be one person, it might be awhole company of people). E.g., on eBay, when you bid and buysomething, you never really know if that person on the other end is asingle real person or multiple people.
This is a factor to consider for conducting business. I tend toconsider all interactions significant. The more you interact withsomeone, the more trust (or distrust) you build with that person. Youmight remember fondly of previous exchanges or, after some few basicexchanges to build familiarity/trust, you suddenly find that you aresuddenly suckered out of your money when that big exchange happens. (atypical con-job as we say here).
Trust models thus play an important part in exchanges and mostmultiplayer environments these days have to build in some sort oftrusted exchange system. Most MMORPGs that allow users to exchangeitems have a special "Trade" window where both parties must check a boxto accept the trade for it to complete. This is a scenario that happensin type 4 virtualuser2virtualuser
On the other hand, on eBay (realuser2realuser
),since the actual exchange involves some form of physical exchange orshipping, they need another another way to designate each identity'strust level, within the system. Thus, you have a rating system tosymbolize that level.
One thing to note is that there is a continuing rise in virtualuser2virtualuser
as well as realuser2virtual
usertrades. In fact, the latter even applies between you as a real personand your character. E.g., in SL, if you transfer your Linden$ into realdollars through Paypal (i.e, withdraw currency from the game), you arein effect doing an exchange between your physical and virtual selves.
Also interesting is that there are some virtualuser2realuser
servicesemergine like the Pizza example. I would daresay this isn't the firsttime this has happened. Some in the late 1980s (if I recall right), atMIT, you could actually order real sodas from the soda machine throughyour emacs
text editorenvironment on your online Unix account identity which would chargeyour school food account (one of those cool hacks that Stallman andcrew did with emacs). If this 3D printing service was paid entirely inLinden$ then it would fit into this mode as well.
The biggest deal out of all this is not just in the types of exchangesbut the value applied to virtual objects. That'll be a future post...
BusinessWeek magazine has an interesting online article titled The MySpace Generation
that talks about the new generation of people who live, buy, and play online. There's also an subplot about marketing Coke through social networks.
MySpace.com now claims 40 million registered users with 20 million logged on in October alone.
If you're a fan of the genre that Sid Meier created with the original Civilization, the latest incarnation released through 2KGames
was probably already on your list.
Despite the fact the game actually keeps crashing on my WinXP box due to problems in its use of DirectX somewhere during cut-scene/video playback, it's still gives the excitement I enjoyed with previous version. Civ
- original game - well-worth it thenCiv 2
- some improvements but nothing really fancy
CivNet - really lame excuse for a multiplayer versionCiv 3
- new graphics (eh so what), and only real new element is the "loyalty" factor displayed on the map. It's like they weren't really even trying to make it better.
Civ Test of Time and other off-versions - I can't tell if these were knock-offs or that while they used the Civ2 engine they were written by an entirely different team(s).Civ 4
- TBD... at least the multiplayer aspect looks more practical.
What I really get out of it is the interesting game elements they try to layer into the game without making the process of building a civilization way too complex. (After all it is a game).
Common elements and Civ 4 adds:
- cities/centers of population
- units for military, commercial, and now religion
- buildings that provide benefit
- a technology tree for advancement and research
- economic trading systems
- Great People/benefactors that are suprise goodies that can boost your civ's advancement
- Culture rather than happiness as a growth factor
- realistic limited resources and unlimited resources (forests can grow back now)
- pollution is a element from the beginning which you counter with health (which also counts for growth factors)
It's still a game in the fact that the rules have changed but it still fun to play. Too much detail in graphics. It's hard to see things clearly with so much detail. This thing is also getting so resource demanding of your computer, it's not a surprise to me that my install is running into problems running the thing. The more complex the simulation after all... Who knew that old "cell" game from the 1960s/70s would grow up to be this...
Now if they'd only help fix my DirectX problems that cause blue screen of deaths. I guess I'll go look at Civ Fanatics
The notion that there are bits of information about us all over the Web has been a nagging feeling for many although theyre not quite sure how to deal with it. A few react to it with pride. Some people consider it as a minor issue with a reaction of needing to be careful but not in panic. Others more wary are who the insurance and financial companies are trying to target with new service offerings.
Kathy, our marketing leader, recently showed me a site that uses a combination of two Web 2.0 technologies, search and user identities, and it brought up not just a surprising collection of info but also a small shock and that old nagging feeling.
If you go to Zoominfo
, youll find a whole new way to feed either your ego or paranoia, or even both. You can type in the name of any person or organization and it will search the Net for all the info it can where your name is published, most likely areas that do not require registration.
I came across only a handful of results mapping back to my name at previous jobs (LinuxWorld, RTD System & Networking, etc.), and automatically builds a new online profile about me. I could then register as a member and create a more detailed profile by editing it. In some ways, it builds on what LinkedIn
is missing, that is, auto-filling in my information rather than entering it by hand.
Thats probably not as surprising as the other linkages it finds. For example, it does a lateral search of other people who have worked at these organizations to find my peers and coworkers. Youll probably be surprised who you remember and who you dont. It probably doesnt find info which requires you to enter an account and password but I have not explored this fully yet.
The core idea in this model is to build an online profile that can be reused. In Web 2.0 terms, you can then probably use this profile in other applications, sites, etc. in ways the dreamers, innovators, and entrepreneurs will figure out.
I dont know how the tool is implemented but my guess is that it involves one or more of the large search engines to perform the searching. This application focuses on conducting multiple sequential relevant searches and consolidating it under a common presentation, backed by registration and other tools.
This is an example of a federated identity but not in the sense of user-account identities and single-sign-on applications. It is federation around online information centered on your own real world identity, or at least your name.
I've always considered multiplayer games as something beyond pure entertainment. My early experiences with text-based MUDs (precursors to highly graphical MMORPGs of today) showed that players spent significant amounts of time interacting with other players rather than just play the actual game itself.
While the moving-between-rooms-killing-hapless-virtual-beasts metaphor still remains, the more interesting applications of these virtual environments are starting to be appreciated at a level beyond entertainment for kids.
Note the statistic per The Economist
, only 30% of gamers are under 18. The majority of ~40% are 18-49 and 19% are over 50. Most blockbuster games of today are targeted for the young and middle age adults.
I should mention that the Serious Games Summit
coming up on Oct 31-Nov 1 in Washington DC will be discussing games as they pertain to Education, Government, Health, Corporate, Science and of course Military environments. The lessons to learn lie in Instructional theory and practice, Simulation, Contests, Public Affairs, Diplomacy, and marketing.
In search of more turn-based games to fill my baby-watch time (see my reasons), a friend told me about this fantasy mod for Civ IV where they redesigned the gameplay almost from ground up. I went looking for it and found Fall from Heaven
, a free player mod (version 1.0 released in April) that rewrites much of the Civ IV game from classic countries and developing nations, to more of one set in a fantasy world where it is about improving characters and combat. If you want to download this use the download.com site
; they also have some screenshots there.
The set up is that there are a number of different races: orcs, merfolk, minotaurs, knights, etc. that each have their own religion. The units are very different and there are many more upgrades/enhancements that each character can get. Thus most people start with Warriors that can actually last quite a while gaining new skills. The city buildings are completely different with lots of added benefits: with wine, your brewery raises revenue and food; hunting lodges to improve your scouts to hunters and assassins. You can tame wild animals, etc. The tech tree is very different, and so are many of the Wonders.
While the map style looks the same and some of the units are still around, the gameplay is quite original. This took a lot of work to put together. This is what I call a player mod done right. Most other mods are simply changes to the units, or smaller fixes here and there. I'm surprised Firaxis doesn't consider licensing and selling this commercially. I'd put this comparable to the Rise of Nations
commercial add-on, Rise of Legends
, but instead of three new nations, this one has about eight. It's obviously more well known because of the big marketing engine of Microsoft Games behind it.
It's these kinds of player mods that I really enjoy. From over a decade ago, the MMORPG text-only games like MUDs had a programming aspect to it so users could add more areas to the game. Most MMORPGs don't allow that any more because of uncontrolled growth and often poor execution on most users parts. Secondlife, while not really a game, is gaining a lot of success (see Wired article) because it goes the very opposite direction: build all you like. It can be chaotic, but this is really pure capitalism at work: the successful ones should get the most attention and reward. To make a success, you need good planning and execution, as well as all the other things: marketing, delivery, customer satisfaction, etc., but it still starts with having a good idea that people will want.
I was about to go pay $50 to buy a new game like Caeser IV, but I thinkthese guys should get my money instead, if I can figure out how.They're off working on the next version, Fall from Heaven 2
There are many examples for successful projects that are being built by a team of people across the globe (e.g., Skype). This is becoming less and less unusual. What is rare however, is an account of what this experience is like and what it takes to successfully carry out such a project.
This is project management to a new degree with people you may have never met before, who may not even be in your organization. Undoubtedly, our industry has advantages because it naturally allows this kind of collaboration using tools, and communication mechnisms that are cheap or even completely free.
What we don't hear about are the specifics:
- What is the best way to communicate with people across multiple time zones? What is practical and what is productive?
- How do you document or track how the project is going? Is there a common tool that works and is available to all the members?
- How can you trust people you have never met before to work on a project? What helps you build that trust?
- What identifies a persons past experience and how do you know they can work on the current project?
It's these kind of questions that really bug me and generally where I think a lot of people need a lot of guidance. I do think that software tools are just the first step.
As I mentioned previously, the HBR article, Avatar-based Marketing,
talksa bit about how 3D worlds and online characters are becoming asubstantial population online. The author (a senior editor at HBR)mentions the big names like World of Warcraft, Everquest, etc. thathave millions of members focused in game-based environments, and theopportunity to market to this audience. He also mentions the otherenvironments that are more based on socializing such as SecondLife
, Stagecoach Island
, MyCoke/Coke Studios
The article has potential and certainly opens this topic up to a wholelot of others who would probably not be familiar with this newtechnology (i.e., HBR readers tend to be high-level business andmanagement folk). This is a hot topic obviously if it is starting toinvade such ranks.
However, the article seems to focus primarily on how to advertise
in such environments as the marketing strategy, in subtle or obvious forms. This is a certainly of interest to the avant-garde
advertisingand marketing firms. My interests lie elsewhere primarily in the newdomain of building online communities as not just an advertising basebut an actual loyal following of members.
The utility of the online world still seems to be lost on many people;instead they focus on existing strategies/mechanisms that they couldtranslate into an online setting, such as the advertising strategy.Advertising will always have a place in the world, but it is only thevery first stage of gaining a following.
In my view, there is actually a progression of "people interested in what you have": the uninitiated
, the aware
, the casual member
, the customer
(or user), and finally the fan
(theeager customer). Advertising primarily focuses on driving the firstthree towards a vague hope of them becoming customers. Most companiesare happy when people become customers, even if some are reluctantcustomers. The real wins come from those who become fans.
The thought goes that the fans are the ones who assist in acquiringother new customers. This makes it easier on the organization's effortstowards growth. The fans are worth a whole lot more to an organizationthan just a regular customer. An easy example is Apple, which has asignificant number of fans compared to regular customers. This hashelped them not just stay in business but also in the lead as one ofthe most insipiring and innovative companies.
The honest truth is that it takes a lot to elevate customers towardsbecoming fans. This is based on not just the creation of innovativeideas technology but also on how these innovations are conveyed anddelivered. Then comes the on-going support of these fans, not just theproducts and services.
The million dollar question: How do you start and cultivate fans?
I'll give a hint, it's not a short-term process...
Marketingprofs has something to say about using virtual environments as the next venue for advertising
. The examples they give come from SecondLife, CokeStudios, and others like it. Unfortunately, it ends with a lot of questions everyone else is asking already, but its a nice overview.
Maybe, I'm misunderstanding the goal of this new US federal guideline but it sounds like a bonehead idea
to me. The goal of this guideline is to standardize how employers track data on diversity of job applications. However, it requires very specific aspects that makes it quite impractical to apply for jobs online.
Per this article on Money magazine, one item is that you need to exactly match the text in your resume to the exact qualifications that the job posting requires. Otherwise the employer will never see the application in the first place.
If you have written enough job postings before, you may know how challenging it is to describe exactly what you want. Not only that, the not everything is so exact that people describe the same skill by the same definition. So if the applicant doesn't understand what the potential employer means by it, they can rewrite their app to match but that doesn't mean that they have a proper match. This means false matches.
Another way to look at it, even if you do want to apply for a job, it has to be written exactly per the employers needs. While it's not a bad thing to design your resume around the employers needs but, just mechanically having to format your resume and application per each employer is just time consuming (and I argue wasted effort).
I don't know who was involved in this but it doesn't sound like they spent a lot of time researching the user experience on how people apply for jobs online.
One trend that sci-fi authors, role playing games, movies and multiuser environments have talked about for decades, is finally becoming more and more real.
Examine these parallel trends:
A. Dungeons & dragons / Role playing (non-computer) characters
-> text MUD games players
-> MMORPGs (e.g. Ultima Online, Everquest, World of Warcraft)
-> Non-RPG-based environments (The Sims Online, Second Life)
-> Military Tactical/Strategic representations
-> Telemetry and Remote Imaging
-> Battlefied information systems
-> Robotic military (Remote guided aircraft/UAV, bomb-detection robots, etc.)
C. Heroic Mythology (Greek myth, Viking sagas, Chinese myth)
-> People with secret super-hero identities (Batman, Daredevil, Spiderman)
-> Robotic personas (Voltron, Gundam & Macross series)
-> Virtual worlds (Tron, The Matrix trilogy)
D. User accounts
-> Web home pages
-> individual blogs
-> Group content/documents (wikis, forums, chats, etc.)
-> Spaces (combining Web pages, blogs, other Web 2.0 services)
-> Online personas
While different in form and utility, what it is pointing to is a change in how we perceive our identities in the rise of the online/alternate world.
Call them what you like, your blog, your avatar, your character, your robot, your role in the Matrix... It all points to having a separate identity for yourself in an environment other than the one you live in right now.
I tend to see this as a continuing trend where we will see more and more of ourselves participating in the online world on a regular basis.
However, I also think that people will start making distinctions. Most of us have different faces even in a typical day: there's a similar but distinct persona of you at home, at work, at school, with your family, with your friends, with the government, etc.
They are all you, just different aspects of you. With the online world, it's easier to make those different aspects, or even create new ones based on the online environment.
This comes back to developers in a real way. There is probably a "developer" identity that you put on (some of the time, or even much of the time for others).
What that developer identity needs is a environment of its own. In fact, traditionally we have that too:
> assembly language
-> programming languages
-> compilers & other developer tools
-> integrated development environments
-> online searching
-> online code repositories and exchanges
-> online group projects and identities
The X here is where it all comes together into an online space that is yours and that you have your developer avatar participate in, and that can interact in an online community or virtual world with many other developers.
In this virtual world, we're not talking about a game of fighting other developers (aka WoW style), but in a real sense of getting involved in projects, learning new ideas or meeting new people who are working on things you are interested in. It gives the setting for participating.
Once someone builds that participation environment, you as a developer can suddenly see or be exposed to the many opportunities that lie ahead. This opportunity can translate into dollars and jobs in the real world.
My Linux mug is starting to crack.
It's not really a Linux mug, but Joe Barr gave me this present some years ago (when I was still with LinuxWorld), which was an oversized coffee mug with handpainted penguins and snowflakes on it. It's now starting to show some cracks after many, many times in the microwave.
My wife thinks its a Christmassy thing since it has snowflakes and penguins on it, although I think of it as a Linux thing because of the penguins and snowflakes (it's cool!). Funny how different a meaning it gives to each of us.
Also years ago, I tried convincing an analyst that there was a market for multi-player games. In 1995 that was a hard thing to prove. PC and console based games were far ahead of the text-based MUDs, MOOs, MUSHes, etc. that were around. However, a PC player long used to playing by themselves would either get it (fun with friends), or miss the point entirely ("this is so graphics-primitive!"). No one quite believed that people would actually pay to play on a regular basis.
By 1999 the time finally came for a new generation of graphical multiplayer games and MMORPGs. Another 5 years later it's widespread. In five more years it'll be almost difficult to consider a world without MMORPGs.
I guess I hadn't quite learned the business-language needed to convince folks.
I started out on the game Second Life
justrecently to investigate how it works. It's not really a game per-se inthat it is not a goal-oriented activity like other 3D games. However,it can be pooled together with the other Massively multiplayer onlinerole-playing environments. It's free to try out, so I registered,downloaded the game, created a character and walked around. It's a 3Dworld like many others. However, the here the point is more that youcan create objects, buildings, vehicles, toys, clothing, etc. I'm stilllearning how to move my avatar around so I haven't taken any photos yet.
What struck me is the similarity to the concepts in LPMuds where Ispent some years playing away in. LPmuds had a C-like programminglanguage that (once you've been promoted to a wizard) you can use tocreate any kind of event-driven software objects. Essentially, the gamehandles much of the work for you and you define the behaviors of theobject. In SL you can also draw and visually create the object as well,starting from simple generic shapes.
For a developer, this is really a bit of virtual heaven. You can pretty much build any kind of object (a prim
or primitive) you can conceive of and utilize it. E.g., some peoplecreate clothing fashions for the characters, others create new actionsthe characters can do, yet others create houses, buildings, cars, toys,etc. In fact, when you first enter, you are on Help island, wherenewbies go. Here, you can experiement with your own prims or you cantry out some other prims that others have created. For example, thereis a Simon game (remember those), a Sudoku board, a mahjonggtile-matching game, and an arcade Space Invaders style game. These areprims that others have created that allow your avatar to manipulate toplay; so you are playing a game within a game.
For each prim, you have a scripting language that looks similar to C,Java or Python, familar control structures, a library of functions forstring manipulation, math, communication and lists, an event system,and system standard constants. A number of other functions areparticular to the 3D environment and geometry.
All that is not surprising to build into a game these days, but what issurprising is the economy and the impact of retail activities...(continued
In Second Life
,the economy is based on Linden dollars (named after Linden Labs, thecompany that created it). This isn't unusual in itself, but thedifference here is that there is an actual exchange rate from Linden$to US dollars, about 300 to 1. Thus, if you sell something in the game,you can make money. Right now it's small change, but what is happeningis that there are enough players that are interested in there where youcould technically make real income from it.
The way it works is that every player by default earns a certain amounta week. A first basic level membership is free for anyone and gainsthem L$50 a week. A premium player paying US$9.95 a month getsL$500/wk. With this ingame dollars, you can buy things from otherplayers or the game itself. You can also create prims and sell those toothers for L$. It's market-driven based on what others really wouldbother to pay for your creation.
These creations really come from two types of labor: visual creation,and/or programming effort. The former is what the object looks likeusing the 3D basic shapes. There are some cute works of art, but itcould also be a house, a park, a toy, etc. The latter is what you cando with the object based on its programming. Most prims are somecombination of both. Even those that don't really do anything have somedefault code.
It takes time, effort and brainpower to build anything since the mostbasic shapes you have are cubes, spheres, pyramids, cones, and otherpolygons. You can grow, squeeze, extrude and combine multiple shapes tomake more complicated ones, then apply colors or textures to it. Usingsuch building blocks, you can make more and more complex objects. Thus,any developer working on a prim would need some level of drawing skilltoo. Any object you create is yours alone, but you could allow othersto copy it, or if you really want to risk it, edit it. More on thislater...
This is a pseudo-real currency (like the Reward points etc fromAmerican Express or other credit cards, or airline mileage cards)because of the tie to real-world currencies. You can extract some ofyour L$ to real currency via Paypal or credit cards, that Linden Labspays you. Thus, if you have earned L$3 million, you have just made$10,000. (Not that that's trivial to do). If the BusinessWeek article
is correct, some of the top players have made hundreds of thousands ofUS dollars from things they have created and sold in the game.
The economy is smart enough and the world is well-managed enough thatthings don't go awry easily. E.g., you can't kill anyone and take theirprims and/or money. It doesn't work that way, and in fact, just bumpingpeople can start raising eyebrows until you get banished.
First thing to note: Linden Labs gives you $50/wk or about $200 amonth. That's about US$1 a month that they have to put into the game(since that dollar could get extracted from the game by the player).That's quite trivial in real dollars but what it really does is incentyou to play the game. You can think of it as a customer-acquisitioncost which at just $1 is really low. A premium player gets more like$10/mo, which is about what they pay in real dollars for their accounteach month.
Technically with the ability to create and sell a prim, it is possibleto mint your own money. The practicality however is that with asufficient number of players, you have a large number of producers, andthe consumers have a lot of choice on what they want to spend theirmoney on. Also it takes time and effort, thus, nothing is really free.Still, the amount of currency in the game is based on two factors: howmany premium players are in the game and how many active basic playersexist. The total wealth increases every month in proportion to this.Not all players are active, and leave after a while (you have to appearon the game each week to gain your L$ stipend).
However, when it becomes really successful, and Linden has a millionactive basic players, they'd have to pay a million dollars into thegame each month, which can be quite expensive. However, the truth isthat more of the active players would likely go towards premiummembership.
So far, I haven't talked about how Linden Labs itself makes money.... in the meantime, you might want to read this article on Virtual Worlds, Virtual Economies
Carol Jones mentioned the Ariadne project
in her recent blog post
which I find very, very interesting.
It uses graph theory (Computer Science) to help draw a call-graph between the people involved in a project. This is just the kind of tool one could use to build a Friend-of-a-Friend or Degrees-of-separation system. This application focuses on the relationships between developers working on an Eclipse project, but the ideas could be extended for determining the relationships in any network.