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!


Virtual Worlds 2007 Data Dump from Day 1

WOW. All I can say, is that the last two days at this conference really opened my eyes to the possibilities for virtual worlds. I leave even MORE convinced of the potential for virtual worlds to change the real-world and being committed to finding a way to dedicating all my energy to contributing to making it happen.

Mark Wallace over at 3pointD is the most prolific blogger in this space. You can essentially see transcripts of all the panels there I gotta learn to type faster…I wonder if he has some kinda voice to text cos he does a masterful job.

Since it is now 1AM and I am going into the Game Change conference in Toronto tomorrow I can only do a data dump list for now. I will double-loop all this when I get some time on the plane tomorrow. But wanted to get raw ah-has out there tonight before I lost them.

Go to Mark’s page for more details, but here is what I had highlited as left-hand-column instances of brilliance in my experience of the conference:

Philip Rosedale Keynote:

    Second life is a playful place to make neat things.

    The thing that is cool about Second Life is not that it is 3D it is that it has other people in it and you can interact with them.

    When you go to Amazon to buy a book there are hundreds or even thousands of folks on that same page but you never know that. Virtual worlds are technology mediated experiences that include us in it!

MTV/Nickelodian KEYNOTE(Media Meets Virtual Worlds)

    The true potential is when linear content (i.e. programs on TV) meets user generated content. When watching TV becomes living TV.

    When individual and independent avatars can influence the story arcs for linear programming, audience consumption and engagement goes up.

    Our (Laguna Beach) audience lives in a world that is parallel to what they see on air, only they are the stars and they create their own experience.

    Media does not replace Media.

    In the new world of media it is about participation, personalization and customization. We have to move from passive consumtion to active engagement.

    In this new world the AUDIENCE IS THE CONTENT.

    We need to make the GLIDE PATH into vitual worlds a lot less onerous to increase adoption.

    NEOPETS: 11 Million monthly users, 150 million game plays per month

    NICKTROPOLIS: 2.4 Million users, 1.3 million rooms created 7.5 million visits, 50 million game plays, 21 Million items exchanged.

    Don’t sit this one out, join us and help us make it so!


    Corey Bridges of Multiverse talked about the idea of a universal metaverse browser. This is first incling of the notion of intraverses where I can go from verse to verse (meta or intra). Their business model on the B2C side is cool…software is free and we take 10% of what you sell after that, but enterprise clients wanting to do B2E stuff will need another model to engage.

    Trilogy got in with There to do the Laguna Beach stuff. That is showing how the gaming capabilities of flow/addiction and slick visual rendering and some captivating elements of rendering are bleeding into the free for all UGC end of the spectrum that we find in SL.

    Entropia continues to be of interest with its hard wired real-economy dollars (PEDs). They are up to 600K users and the currency throughput has gone up from $150M to $360M in a year. John Bates brought up the notion of involvement marketing by showing a Video that an Entropia fan put together. There is more and more of this. Kinda like the meme of residents building stuff in world for Second Life tallies up to about $1.2B per year, here we have folks building commericals for the prodcut because they enjoy the experience so much and want others to grok it. Could not find the exaple John used, but there were plenty to choose from on You Tube. Here is one to give you a taste:

    Another issue the panel brought up was the notion of taxation and or regulation to stop laundering. Most panelists think that it is just a matter of time until government swoops down and slams VWs with taxation on casinos/gambling in VWs.

    One of the big dualities emerged in this panel and the meme propogated throughout the conference: User Generated Content on a fully open platform (SL) versus a heavily locked down platform where players are bound by narrative and rules and have little or creative liscence within world (WOW). This was further broked down into two types of platform: Blank Canvas (With No Vetting or Some Vetting) and Themed Worlds (with various graditions of allowing for UGC).

All in all I was blown away by what MTV is doing with their themed worlds. They are taking the aggregation of “couch potatos” and trying to turn them into “mouse potatos.” They went with as a platform, but also leveraged Trilogy (game design folks) to make the world more nuanced and aligned with sensibilities of the demographic. The are now building highways between the themed worlds (Hills, Laguna and new Van Nuys build for Pimp My Ride).

Oh, by the way, 4 years from now the millions and millions of kids who have been living, learning, working and playing in this way will be walking thorough the hallowed halls of corporate America. What will we have that is as engaging and sticky as what MTV is doing to keep them passionate and engaged in endeavors that bring value to business and society? Time to get a move on folks!

Almost 2 AM gotta go to bed. I will do a dump on Day 2 tomorrow. My favorite was Future Panel and the Motorati story. But for now some shuteye. Carbon life forms need to recharge too you know ; )

Over and out from Toronto.