Virtual Worlds Conference at UT Austin


I had the good fortune of keynoting the Virtual Worlds conference at UT Austin. The conference was broken into two days: Academic and Enterprise. You can see the agenda here.

On Thursday, the winning papers submitted to Management Information Services Quarterly (MISQ) special edition on Virtual Worlds. Over 60 papers were submitted to this special edition – a significant number to be sure. The papers spanned both MMORPG and Virtual Words and explored issues of indentity, place and space, and virtual trading/commerce.

There is some GREAT academic working going on in the Virtual World/MMORPG space and I would encourage you all to get a hold of the special issue when it comes out.

Last night Eilif Trondsen and I had the chance to walk around the campus and check out the famous bats in Austin. It was certainly a sight to see. Here is a shot of the tower at UTA. I just love campuses so much energy and curiosity. Wherever I go I always try to walk the campus to feed off that energy.


On the enterprise side, Craig Becker form IBM addressed a very large audience at the Business School yesterday evening. He did a great job of sharing the IBM story. Most notable to me, however, was when Craig asked how many people had an Avatar in SL, less than 10 folks raised their hands…and most of them were faculty not students.

This morning I addressed the group and worked hard to tie the research papers to the Seven Sensibilities of Virtual Worlds that I talk about a lot. Turns out that there was a very good mapping.

Here are the charts:

Panel 1: Virtual Worlds as a Platform for Commerce and Collaboration
Right now, listening to a great panel that includes Dell, Cisco, American Cancer Society, and U of Stockholm.

Laura Thomas from Dell mentioned how she leverages twitter to drive spontaneous virtual world interactions around emerging news. She simply tweets that she will be in the Virtual Cafe on Dell island and those who follow her on Twitter show up if available.

Anne Lange from Cisco, following on Laura’s theme, brought up some great points about Virtual Worlds being but one component of the emerging digitally enabled Human Network. I think she is right on. I have written on this before in this post where I ask “What is the Uber Web 2.0/3Di Mash Up for the Enterprise”.

David Neff had a great talk on how the American Cancer Society is leveraging virtual worlds and seeing significant value. In building their environment on a community model, ACS generated $2,000 in charitable donations in 2004. In 2005 that number rose to $5000, In 2006 it jumped to $41,000, in 2007 they were at $118,000, and in 2008 that number rose to $215000. David’s talk was truly inspiring and a GREAT example of how they are able to leverage the virtual world for a very noble cause. As he says Cancer never sleeps and neither will we.

Robin Teigland from University of Stockholm is talking about the commerce in Entropia Universe from Mindark. Entropia does not get near the visibility of Second Life but they are certainly worth checking out. Entropia is very much oriented around virtual commerce and they are now a real Sweedish bank, having secured a license in March 2009. Entropia is different in that virtual assets deteriorate. If you are a digger and you use a shovel, it wears out and you need to buy a new one.

Mindark is partnering with CHINA (yes China) to create a “Virtual Economy District – A Virtual World where millions will work, communicate and be in love.”

Robin’s View of the she explores two key uncertainties to set up a potential set of scenarios:

    In 2012 how advanced will the usage of virtual worlds be? Very Advanced or Less Advanced

    How integrated will virtual worlds be? Integrated or Fragmented

This analysis sets up Four Scenarios for 2015: Integrated Worlds versus Fragmented Worlds and Advanced Usage versus Less Advanced Use.

Scenario 1: In one converged universe (Integrated and Advanced)
You have a gigantic market of consumers. High penetration, easy avatar mobility, High scalability and Security and Business Transformation.

Scenario 2: Digital Divide (Integrated, Less Advanced)
Ease of mobility, self governance, dominance by gaming, traditional versus virtual biz.

Scenario 3: Virtual Silos (Advanced, Fragmented)
Many competing limited worlds, Difficult Avatar and Asset Mobility, Limited Scalability,

Scenario 4: Wild Worlds (Less Advanced, Fragmented)
MMORPG like context. More grassroots and not a lot of business traction.

Key question for panel, if Virtual Worlds go behind enterprise firewalls for legitimate security and privacy reasons won’t we be further fragmenting the VW space? This speaks directly to one of the key issues I see in terms of what kind of business model virtual world providers will use: Software as a Service or Enterprise License? If it goes enterprise license, we will end up with a lot of enterprise islands of collaboration but not an overall virtual market within which people participate wholesale in a 3D virtual economy.

Keynote: Eilif Trondsen – Virtual Worlds for Work and Learning

Eilif gave a great overview of enterprise applications and again echoed that virtual worlds are but one of many collaborative technologies. Business people do not like to bring in disconnected tools. They need them to be connected and integrated. Eilif also mentioned that there are 100 lawyers holed up in Silicon Valley working on the IBM/Sun deal and that could set up a lot of opportunity (or threat) for enterprise virtual worlds.

Eilif also had some very good analysis of the different platforms available. I will ask him to post the charts. In looking to the future Eilif proposed five possible futures: Grand Unifying Theory (Habbo and Disney say no), Balkanization (Where we are today), Semi-Unified Theory (Sun and IBM), De-Facto Standard (Microsoft), Web as a hub (sending data back and forth between worlds via the web).

All very interesting stuff and I leave the conference pumped up for 3DTLC!

Hope to see you all there!


Interview in New Online Journal

A colleague from IBM interviewed me for a new online journal called Transformative Works and Cultures.

A few quotes from the interview to whet your appetite:

    Whether you come at it from the gaming industry perspective or from the perspective of gaming sensibilities making their way into industry in general, at core is the fact that as we move from a world where we connect to the Web to one where we connect through and within it, the enriched communication and social interaction is changing how we live, work, and play.

    In the services-driven, information-age economy, the need for collaborative cocreation of new offerings at the edge of the enterprise is becoming increasingly important. This in turn raises the question whether the bureaucracy that was created to optimize efficiency in the industrial age is the best enterprise governance system to drive innovation and creativity in the information age

    I believe that as we become further immersed in the information age, it will become increasingly important to invoke play into daily work to cut through the routine and mundaneness associated with many analyst-type roles. We are already seeing this pop up in different industries where gaming techniques and incentive schema are being applied for everything from recognizing and naming craters on a newly identified planet to coming up with a commercial spacecraft.

To read the whole interview you can read it here.

HBR: Leadership’s Online Labs

I was in the Houston Airport today and saw that the May edition of HBR has finally hit the stands.

Byron Reeves, Tom Malone and I have an article in the issue that talks about two research projects we conducted looking at the application of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) and their application to Leadership. I have talked a lot about his research in previous blog posts that you can read here.

This is a big day for those of us who study learning, leadership and virtual world technologies ; )

A very well respected business journal talking about gaming and learning. I must say that I am very proud to have been part of this effort. On that note, credit is due to a number of folks who made this article happen. This research could not have happened without the foresight of David Yaun, VP of Communicaitons at IBM who leads the GIO project among other key innovation initiatives. Furthermore, beyond David’s insight, without the ongoing support and guidance from Kris Lichter, Director of the GIO program, it would never have been realized. Finally, when it came to the running the internal survey with IBMers who were also gamers my colleagues Eric Lesser and Michael DeMarco were instrumental in driving this work to completion.

18 months ago I shared with Tom Stewart the research we were doing and suggested that HBR readers might find it of interest. He put us in touch with Paul Hemp who was wonderful in helping take our research and helping us craft it into a piece worthy of publishing in HBR.

Today, a year and a half later, I see the article in glorious technicolor print in Houston. It has been a long journey, kinda like getting to level 70 in WoW, but we made it!

Thanks to all. Publishing in HBR truly is a collaborative, co-creative sport!

Games and Learning? Getting Serious!

Well it has finally happened ; )

As part of IBM’s Global Innovation Outlook 2.0, I have been working for about a year on looking at the application of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) to learning. I have written a lot about this in earlier posts on this blog, but today I can finally point you to the research itself.

This research, done in conjunction with Byron Reeves (Stanford), Tom Malone (MIT), Seriosity, and Eric Lesser and Mike DeMarco from IBM’s Institute for Business Value (IBV), was announced at the MIT and IBM Virtual Worlds: Where Business, Technology and Society Converge conference.

Virtual World News was kind enough to liveblog the event so if you were unable to attend, you can see what was said. I’d draw your attention to the panel discussion led by Mitch Kapor where Tom Malone goes into some of the findings from the research. It can be found here.

The press was there too, Business week gave us a nice plug in the print magazine (see below) and there is even more about it in the online version that you can read here.

To get a succinct overview of the research you can listen to an 8 minute podcast here.

The first piece of work looked at gamers in their natural habitat. We used the Sloan Leadership Model to examine leader behavior in games. You can find the write up from that work here.

The second piece of work then took the findings from Virtual Worlds, Real Leaders and validated the findings via survey research with 214 IBMers who are both experienced leaders and guild leaders. You can find this write up here.

It is a privilege to work for a company that had the vision to spend the time studying this space. It was an honor to work such fantastic folks on this research. We sincerely hope that this work helps open the aperture about the possibilities at the intersection of Virtual Worlds and Learning.