Virtual Worlds – Futures of Entertainment

Not the Real World Anymore

Virtual spaces are more than sites for emulating the real world. They are becoming platforms for thought experiments — some of which involve fantasies we would not like to enact in the real world, others involve possibilities that we may want to test market before putting into practice. Much more than simulacra of Real Life or a 3D version of text-based Internet communities, online worlds represent new sites for considering questions of community and connectivity. Marked by user- creativity, online worlds balance, sometimes precariously, the rights of users with the rights of sponsoring organizations. As we move closer to the cyberpunk vision of a wholly parallel ‘metaverse’, questions of power, community, and property are coming to the fore.

John Lester, Ron Meiners, Todd Cunningham Eric Rever Gruber (corrected from comment, thanks)

I did not take notes on the intros which turned more into presentations about the worlds and attitudes. See the user biographies and the official blog for this info.

Josh: what is the attraction of an online world?

John: what’s the attraction of dreaming? Two things…connecting with people around the world with similar interests. You connect people on a global sense and you can find people that like what you like.. secondly the dreaming part…the virtual environments speak to brain on a deep biological level…we thrive in a 3d environment. We got it wrong in the 90s with people wearing gear on head…we can take just enough info and form a complete whole.

Ron: in general there is an aspirational quality…to find some of our hopes realised…it sort of widens pipeline of information coming in…online we loose the rich environment that we are in…we lose tactile, visual info and in a virtual space you can at least being to replace these. You can create visual cues, although not a subtle as rich…people develop ways of wishing to speak next etc…there’s more info///you can replicate more of daily experience

Todd: just to participate. participate in the media…people are using more media than they ever have.

Q: Are these global spaces? Are they a third or 4th place?

John: we’ve lost some of those places like bars etc the place where social capital is bridged…this can take the place…we have the opportunity to have a global audience…we can find the best matches for our ‘tribe’ we can have weak ties as well

Ron: some of the fun is the process of developing those ties

Q: is there a distinction in types and activities between the free ranging spaces like SL and WoW? How significant is story?

John: Sl is fundamentally a blank slate…it is an environment within which there are games. And the games can vary. There is 19th century England, there are zoning laws, if you say the word dude you will be bought to task. They make analogue watches. You have other role playing types. We like to experience stories, there’s room for all of things. At times I want to sit back and have a movie fed to me and …there’s room for all. People like to go between, from a game with predefined goals to just socialising.

Ron: interest in this sort of creativity is global…there’s this spectrum, between top down and bottom up creation. danah wrote about the value of being able to flex in and out of different social identities, disneyland is a whole lot of fun at times; there are design and management aspects that go into Disney that makes it very successful. Similarly, too, I’m not sure…I’ve also worked with Myst community. In a nutshell you have found this place…blurring this line between participant and player. How you create story space, as opposed to top down creative mandate, you’ve got participation with wide story space…create something that people can tell stories within the bounds. Tech is enabling us to look at the question now.

Todd: Virtual Laguna beach…just starting out. It was meant to be ‘flat’ etc, we went into this with assumption that there was a huge fanbase who would not normally participate in these kind of things. So what sort of games would these people work with. Working with Secret deodorant…it is a partner. The campaign to get women to tell their secret…they had a tv campaign and they created forum inside virtual leguna to talk about their secret…using machinima to record their secrets…we evaluate and then have an event to play the confessions. That ability to be showcased… plays out well for advertiser and for us.

Josh: We talk about these sites as places to explore thought experiments. Are these places for corporations…can we take things back to real world…or are the things real relationships in themselves and do not need to be experimental.

John: the concept that we are a single identity is an illusions. We are different at work, with family, with friends. Online environments are showing how fluid our brains are. I think the people in these environments are extremely real even if they seem a little weird. There is a beauty to people exploring different aspects of themselves. Unless everything is in a clear roleplay you should assume all these interactions are real.

Ron: simulations in respect to gameplay…simulations are learning experience and that is a large part of why we do things. This can be games to social skills. You can say that we take those skills back out of the world but in another sense it is the same stuff. We are not differentiating these experiences, no switch between real and not. That is coming more and more obvious, developing a richer interrelationship between two facets of lives.

John: I work with aspergers syndrome, where knowing social situations does not come instinctively…they can learn through practice and is terrifying…worked with online patient communities..loved using online boards etc to become social and dipping toes in water. Bought a group into SL which was private…create ideal social setting…one started making boats and selling it. They use the environment to practice social skills, they thought they were learning how to do it. They got confidence, they achieved something. Now when they go into physical world, it was still scary but they could do it.

Eric: testbedding, you can test marketing, people ar living out lives for hours and hours, they spend more time there than with products in real worlds. How do you make real products inside, treat them like real places etc. They are new hangout spots, the hottest places, accessible anywhere in the world. We can treat them like real people…

John: do not look at like a Petri dish, need to engage in conversations and realize there are social fabrics to them

Ron: that was one of the guiding visions at the founding at multiverse…that the cost to building was such a barrier…so independent teams could not make them… multiverse gives these opportunities. There was no way for indis and academics to do it. This gives a toolset for people to experiment.

Josh: there was article in Harvard Business Review…advertising and branding was about tapping into peoples fantasies. So is your avatar you…are the avatars actual representations?

Todd: they can be. If you understand why people chose there avatar you can market to that.

Ron: the emerging change in relationships between content creators and consumers…we are moving out of time when there were definitive answers and it is all becoming a flux with dynamic interaction and there will not be a solution that applies across the board.

John: it is important to give people freedom…In SL there is a place called Dublin that can be created….but you see people and giant robots in the place. You have a fluidity of how people represent themselves…it was all created by the residents…give people the tools to create what they want to create…what they do is not completely bizarre and is not completely mundane but somewhere in the middle. The create bars and streets and a dash of Through the Looking Glass.

Laguna Beach

Eric: widely successful show, went to the city of Laguna beach…the show producers. Took about 10-12 kids and they follow their lives and how they live around the city. We decided to take the show and make a virtual world. It is not exactly the same city, but majority of places in the show are there. There are restaurants, shops, everyplace in the show we try to map out. At the start of season 3 we were working about what it would be. We decided to build the city out, and when cast go to spring break in the show then we unlock the place in the world…you can do the same things. They watch it on Tv and then come in world and lvie the Laguna world. It was unbelievable how quickly…once they saw what the event was, they gravitate towards it. The kids are barely video game players, definitely not in 3d worlds. We gave them the basic tenements of how to walk, talk and shop. It is still an attractive place,,people come top meet up

Todd: in the testing, in this world we had people teaching us but we had to start completely fresh, teching how to walk and talk. Some of it was the shock that was actually happening as they do not do this. We had advertisers that were connected but they were doing it as a test. A lot of media outlets were interested in what we are doing. We were not trying to make the front of NYT, but there was interest.

Eric: ways we didn’t expect? When we first started, we tied it to the show, they would play out the show. They quickly formed own community, did own events formed own friends.

John: can they create own events?

Eric: yes, lots of clubs…we blocked out and let them book events. In the first month there was a birthday party and an engagement party…people went on dates. They made it their own very quickly

Todd: we did not expect it to be as much…because they were not used to it..but they quickly wanted to it.

Todd: one of the biggest challenges was giving up control

Ron; you audience are much more appreciative of a brand…the younger gen is a lot more media savvy.

Ron: the users have created some things…not ramped it up. We want to promote it, there has been some. Its an unbelievable new video medium…the characters respond well, it looks beautiful and that is what we spent a lot of time with people on show making sure we accurately reflected the show.

Josh: as transmedia, what the problems of creating this?

Todd: you have to do stealth work; not everyone if company is aware of the worlds; the system could not take it to get approval from all sorts of people; you have to get people to embrace it, who can help you further along. We are trying to play in their world.

Josh: is SL amenable to a transmedia space?

John: of course. People do, they can buy islands, it is vary doable. You can make it as open or as closed as you want. The first wave of educators wanted it closed…when in a new medium you create what you did in previous mediums. You can control permissions, you need to define for yourself how tightly you need to hold onto everything. Give people the tools, they will run with it. The most important thing to do is to realize they are full of real people, not just consumers.

Ron: multiverse toolset will allow people a very rich opportunity to create. At some level what I think we will see is a culture to encourage experiments.

Josh: what happens when the experiments end?

Ron: the quick answer is…it is becoming more dynamic world and some will fold…and lessons are learnt. The Myst space, having closed down, the users tried to reverse engineer, they went ot other worlds and created Uru diaspora. Cyan released a publically accessible version of the server to continue it. They are now re-launching it due to this community…there is whole range of things that could happen

Josh: what happens if Laguna beach cancelled?

Todd: we have great hope and faith that it will carry on…media does such a terrible job of letting people, to carry on with their love for the brand. If it does cancel there are enough people to keep this alive and hten who knows where it goes. It could turn into a whole other realm. It is very exciting.

Q: what do you think about threat to tax inworld transactions?

John: the government is interested in you getting cash. In SL, it is the same when you get US dollars from Linden dollars. This is all very muddy waters, how do they tax in world. In WoW everytime I kill a boar I pay a tax cos there is a value???

Ron: people in teen world (Laguna) more open to sharing and giving things. So when people come up to you and give you something digital should that be taxed?

Todd: in MTV there are people who go after this exchange of IP, meanwhile the mass of the company is not that way. Depends on who gets the more attention, things can move ahead sometimes form revenue. We look at putting the user in control but squeezed with revenue.

Q: the idea of multitasking and how the younger generation can handle more and more…my sister can handle 10 things at once and I’m 6 years older and can’t do any of that.

Todd: right, young are quite adept at multitask…but look at the numbers, adults are actually more adept than they think they are…look at the work world. People between 21-49 squeeze 35 hours in a day. Media is playing a bigger role, media is less a part of people over 25.

Q: SL economy…what kinds of things are people buying and selling? What is the driver for people to buy ‘food’

John: avatars, clothing, skins, devices, objects, anything you can imagine. Also services, real estate market, people have mad landscaping skillz who charge for this service. But why do people go to a bar, sit down. Here’s a restaurant that take s reservations and a chef prepares food a the table. Why? There is a prt of the brain that like certain things regardless of whether it makes sense. Whne you meet people, you end up sitting down. Why are there houses with roofs? It feels good. It somehow feels right having a pizza in a bar when hanging out.

Q: watching Laguna Beach, as it is tied to a show…do the creators of the show check in on the show, take a look at how fans are interacting with the characters.

Eric: the characters are not there. But we have bought in the cast as celebrity appearances. A huge part of the world is talking about the show, everyone has a strong affinity with the show. There is a lot of learning going on, not just virtual but other places.

Q: I’m looking at this and seeing an opportunity for soaps to crate a world to get people to react with characters, give the writers tools to see how people interact.

|Todd: I’m trying to kill the focus groups. The responders have learned how to manipulate this. It is not what it is about, it needs to remain objective. We screen show in world and get responses that way. At the beginning the creative people were not involved…but we crated it first and when they had something to react to and then we got them involved.

Q; coming out of MUDs etc, what sorts of responsibilities do you think you have regarding addiction? What sort of safeguards should be in the technology to watch out for things

Ron: these experiences are very positive, we do it as we seek to have positive results and often succeed. What is happening is a going awareness of culture and media and the interaction. The culture will continue to learn..

Q: what about the digital divide debate? You as the designers of these new public spaces have gone far beyond traditional designers of public spaces…they have fallen by the wayside….not a question but a general vibe about the overlap of the environments…the difference between my avatar and me can be vast and what overlaps are you seeing.

John: these spaces are very real…look at history of any new medium we think it is going to destroy society. We end up finding a balance. They are just different mediums.

Ron: the paradigms that work for our grandparents do not work for us…but this has been the case for awhile. …. I think it wonderful that teens are not constrained by peers in their immediate location…we are discovering all sorts of emergent stuff and we will continue to do so.

Todd: the digital divide? People are working towards new opportunities, they are not all predicated on people have cable tv and about devices that are more readily accessible. We are aware of the divide, some data shows it is collapsing or is growing. Other brands across the network are targeting these audiences.

Q: I’ve been thinking about Snow Crash…in that world you programming chops defined how you were in the metaverse, it was a single platform that everyone could be in. As these things become more pervasive and talking to each other, people will wan tot take their avatar with them. Is there another kind of divide among about people who can and cannot generate experiences in the world?

John: I suck at making avatars…so I bought this one. Anyone can create things and sell them. There are business opportunities…and that is the way to will be. There is the opportunity for specialisation if you give the tools, the market will solve those problems as it does in the real world

Ron: in the high end WoW your gear indicates what quest you have been in. In multiverse world you should be able to go to the worlds from same client and possibility with same avatar. We are developing a market place for content creators. There is adialogue between marketing and culture that is fascinating as well, part of the human culture defining itself, how we evolve culture,…ties back to individual experience.

Q: Transmedia aspects? How much control about people commenting on experience and community to support. How often do real world communities comment back in the space?

Ron: there’s an evolution, especially in MMOs, where you are tied into the community and my job is learning from the community. That is going to be more and more how content creation compnaies understand their role but interacting with their communities and establishing relationships.. the ones that will be successful…will be sincere.

Eric: we are actively in VLB talking to people, reacting ot people, we change how we do things, how we message things and who we talk to, we posted a forum link buried deep and we got 200postings in 2 days. We love talking to them, some of them we promote and we have a special club and are in constant communications. We love to hear it, they will make it a success.

Q: what are the 2-3 most effective and ineffective research techniques

Todd: ineffective: focus groups, quantitative surveys that are unmediated, you can field a survey and probe when required…where you get moderation to probe, combine qual and quan. Effective, observations research if great…so you see how people are using the worlds etc, costs more money but payoff is greater. Panels never been a fan of and try to avoid, less effective unless tied into something real.

Q: On topic of content creation and having customers doing things in the world that you did not expect? How do you let people create avatars with the things they want? And how do you decide what tools to give people?

John: anyone in SL can create anything anytime, as long as the land allows it. The tools are in the hands of every single user can create. Give people as general tools as possible not to hinder people. You can do what you want…the scripting allows extensions. We give people a touchstone but fromn where they go it is up to them.

Q: concept of IP in these spaces? If I;m generating income from one of the worlds, what makes a creator allow people to move things…and what about the copybot problem?

John: the copybot is not just SL, it is what is on your computer that is copyable. It is more of an issue in SL when there is a inworld economy. We are going to have more attribution etc. from the beginning, we have said that you own it, you can do what you want. We retain some rights to use images in marketing but that is all.

Ron: our goal is to empower range for the designers. There are all kinds of experiences. On movement between worlds…I’m looking for all sorts of emergent behaviour…looking at the multipass..maybe a few designers will join up and sell worlds as a package.

Q: to what extent to these worlds have plans to integrate with the larger information space with the net and leverage that as a way to navigate this information?

John: you can bring video and audio, you can use the scripting to pass info into and out of SL…eg flickr integration. The platform is open to all sorts of things,

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