Develop 2011 Day 1: less starstruck more enthused

This year was my annual pilgrimage to Brighton for the games dev conference called Develop. I have going to this since I chose my independent career path with Feeding Edge. What I do and what I work on is still at the periphery of the games industry compared to the full on AAA title producer firms, but I do have a huge affinity for the indies.
After last year, sitting hearing something was impossible in one of the sessions, when in fact it is exactly what Second Life and Opensim do I was determined I needed to push a few more game company buttons and so volunteered to talk this year and was accepted. I was part of the Evolve stream which is all about new stuff. In a fast moving innovative industry like the games industry it is surprising that many of the things I have to share are still so leading edge, or if not leading edge then woefully ignored.
The industry itself has a huge part to play in where virtual world and online communication fit into the our lives. They have all the tech and know how to get a double bonus from assets. Games are inherently fun and cool, with very a very creative core at the start, then though they become product. Each game follows the same path as any startup, passionate founders, workers making it real and then the dreaded monetization.
It is also still amazing that all these multi site studios with outsourcing etc are not clamouring to use more efficient or creative ways to communicate with one another, that includes the very things they are building.
I think there was a set unifying sentiments, backed up by some action this year though. Three years ago hardly anyone bothered with “social”, last year everyone botched about it, this year everyone wants to do it properly and better. There is also that realisation that developer community is shrinking, the grand masters are getting older, kids are not getting into programming. It’s not really even being taught. From the newest quirkiest indie dev’s, to higher education to the grand masters of UK game development and even to me with my Cool Stuff Collective show strand we are all doing things to try and let people know that there is more to tech than just using it. You can build with it, you can program, you can share and rather oddly there has never been a better time to be able to get together with others and build. There is though a gap in the technology, which was brought out in David Braben’s Raspberry Pi session. The driver behind this is to try and push towards a small very simple device that you can just plug into a screen and get to code, create build share. In a way that it is not complicated to hit the reset button, just as we did in the old 8 bit days. Lots of kids have access to computers but not to develop on, as they may “break them”.
It really is a great plan and aiming to make a £15 machine with a developer community building the right tools for it and then giving those to entire classes years at schools really opens up the potential for a massive wave of technologically capable builders. In the session the spectre of school ICT came up. How once ICT was brought in computer science dropped out. ICT is about using basic tools on a computer, all skills that are needed, but programming is about problem solving and making things happen. My 8 year old (predlet 1.0) referred to here ICT as “I correct text” which I guess she heard somewhere. It is very different learning to drive a car to knowing how to build one. You need both avenues to be available.
Anyway my highlights of Develop
1. New Stories for New Platforms : A great freeform conversation between Adrian Hon, Alexis Kennedy, David Varela and Charles Cecil moderated by Patrick O’Luanaigh. This was away from the pure tech of games and into the narrative. Dicussions of the stories that form in playing simple board games, storyline narrative versus multiplayer shared experiences. Charles Cecil told some tales of how they remastered broken sword on the mobile years after they had thrown all the assets away.
2. Browser – The place where console, web and social games come together Ilkka Paananen. This was partly an advert for but it was based on experience of pushing to the browser. The mechanics of doing social features better seemed to be a theme too. In Gunshine your friends characters become available to play as your team mates but they play in the style of your friend as AI’s. They also get to level up for the other player (or atleast you can reward them for having been picked). So if you play well, you are more likely to get picked for the team.
3. Gamification – Extending the Game Play into business. Mo Touman gave a pitch on gamification. Which in itself had become a word that was both loved and hated in equal measure. Mo gave examples of lots of platforms toolkits that help with some of the basics of light gamification. Badges, points etc. He challenged the games industry to look at middleware. The tendency was to build from scratch still, which is fine if money is no object. He pointed out things like openfeint, plus+, bunchball(nitro participation engine), scoreloop. Bunchball is the one I need to take a look at having explored the others. In the QA the objections to gamification tended to be they indicated lazy bolting on of points. In fact this is a much deeper subject but I guess the early examples are just that.
4.Social Games, Music and Fashion : New frontiers. Paulina Bozek from INENSU gave a great pitch on their social clothed reuse/swapping project and also the up and coming superfan for the music industry. What I liked was the references to the madness of the record industry in trying to control and stifle creativity in the name of profit. Which in the long run fails. The example was of a Bieber fan video, lots of fans had put a montage of photos of themselves each with a word from the song written on a hand, a mirror, a placard etc and posted it to youtube. Bieber commented on how cool it was and that he liked it, then his record company proceeded to issue DMCA takedowns all over the place for breach of copyright. Hitting at the hardcore fans who want to share and create out of passion and interest is, lets face it, dumb.
5. What’s Next. A great panel which included Alice “@wonderlandblog @makielab” Taylor. It was lots of riffing on some ideas, Onlive and Xbox were both represented too. One discussion was have the consoles got good enough that we don’t need to bother pushing forward with the visuals any more. Will there be a next next gen etc. generally we all wanted to not have to bother with worrying what something was on, but be able to play anything anyway.
6. Keynote: Lessons from building Moshi Monsters to 50m Users. Michael Acton Smith was his usually chirpy and enthusing self. Telling tales of the dark days of nearly closing, of burning capital, changing course and then the explosion that is Moshi and moving into other non digital areas. To see the empire grow from those early ideas (which I remember seeing on a visit to mind candy way back) to what it already is and to see where it is heading really is like watching a new Walt Disney arise from the web. (Well done to Moshi Monsters for picking up their award at the ceremony the next day too)
More to come….

Metameets – The last post : 4 of 4 (plus 1)

Finally I get to talk about the last parts of the Metameets conference gathering last month. It is rare that posts take this long as I prefer to fire a quick post up and not leave things lingering, however it was so packed that that just was not going to happen to do it justice.
First it was great to see Toxic Menges tell us all about the now famous Meroos. These virtual life critters are a Second Life phenomenon. They are not simple scripted in world creatures. Their evolution and life cycle is controlled on servers outside of Second Life. They are registered purchased goods expressed and interacted with in Second Life. I did buy a Meroo after the presentation, but it has run away as I forgot to feed it. A-Life is always fascinating and when combined with a virtual world and a value economy even more so. Meero’s evolution and breeding cycle, specializations and changes are all out there to be discovered and lots of people are farming them for profit, or caring for them as pets.
This is really advanced a-life in how it works within the scope of a shared environment. Toxic pointed out how the Meeroo’s come up and give your avatar a hug in world. This is not a standalone tamagotchi.

Next up was a remote pitch by film maker Bernhard Drax/Draxtor Despres on The making of SL/WoW documentary Login2Life. This was part in world (we all rezzed with him in virtual Amsterdam) and then heard all about this new reportage covering all elements of the SL and WoW experience. It is running on German TV very soon and hopefully will be available world wide as we all know Draxtor does great work.

We have Melanie Thielker back to do a second presentation specifically on Roleplay in Virtual Worlds. Melanie enthused about the potential of role play in virtual worlds, how characters form and play and act. It is a very specific form of entertainment that can be a little scary for people used to being handed their experiences. In some ways it is like the difference between a radio and choosing your own songs. Both work, both co-exist and virtual worlds provide an ideal way to explore what role play is.

Toni Alatalo got a chance to show off RealXtend and the subtle differences and extensions that this platform has over SL and Opensim. One of the key elements of the model this works on is that everything is a world object. There is no specific need to have an avatar or an island. (So much nodding and whooping from me). Toni also gave his presentation with the virtual world, mixing and zooming around screens and examples of eagles swooping and catching fish.

Timo Mank came to talk TMSPTV a meditative space and a playground for co-creation across realities. This was an intriguing project that turns the island idea on its head. This was a creative collective that represents its stories and ideas in Second Life in order to reach a wider audience yet is drawn from a physical location which is itself a communal physical island. It has a culture of storytelling and each day the stories are retold as part of a daily routine. That culture is capture and placed in world.

Karen Wheatley talked about The Evolution of Virtual Theatre. This was a fascinating insight from a theatrical production point of view. Karen stages live plays in Second Life but adapted for Gorean culture. The Jewell Theatre has been staging full-length original plays in Second Life since August 2007, so there is a lot of experience on hand. In staging plays Karen has to consider the fact that the audience actually may be sat in one place but can move the camera anywhere. There are no cheap seats in SL. Set changes can happen very much quicker too, with objects rezzed and moved as needed. Most of the plays have been text based due to unreliability of voice sometimes. Chat was adjusted with the equivalent of a text microphone that relays the chat labelled as the character name not the avatar name. Yes thats right a person with an avatar playing a character lots of levels of redirection there. Actors also have to be aware that they need to explicitly puppet their avatars with a directors missive “T*ts to the action people”. Having had to deal with the challenges of locations and tv studios I appreciated the challenges of staging in SL in this more directed way. As Karen said you use what you have got and the challenges of a platform or place become part of the production.

Steve Zapytowski continued the theatrical strand with Blended Performance: Live Actors and a Virtual Player. Steve is professor of Design and Technology, Kent State University. Founding member of the Institute for Learning in Virtual Environments (iLIVE). He presented from in SL and we watched some local videos of his work. This was about a physical production of Hamlet but the ghost was a stage effect that was pre-render animation of a human figure. They had to mix the pre-renders with suitable lighting and cueing to make the ghost move, appear, puff away etc. It look very powerful and very interesting. There was lots of discussion about live puppetry versus the pre-canning but again thats a choice of the environment and how to work. Each has its flavour and challenges.

Finally up was Chantal Harvey / Mamachinima that strangely I already blogged, it was where I started this thread of metameets.

So that was Metameets. An amazing collection of ideas, people and passion. I throughly enjoyed both being the MC and hearing everything and meeting everyone. The Club Karlsson venue was very cool too and everyone was very helpful . What a blast ! Well done all. In particular joja dhara for bringing us all together in the first place (though she asked me not to thank her at the time so I have messed that one up 🙂 )

Metameets part 3 of n : Grid wars and envelope pushing

Metameets might seem a long while ago at web speed but the themes and trends emerging are still relevant. So I make not apology for this being a long run series of posts 🙂
On day 1 we got to another section about the grid and kicking this off was a discussion about Second Life third party viewers or TPV’s as they are called. This is a fascinating case study in both competition and symbiosis with a load of niche and specialised interests thrown in for good measure.
Kirstenlee Cinquetti/Lee Quick is the driving force behind the very popular TPV Kirstens Viewer Lee has a great passion for the Second Life environment and also is very interested in photography and film making.

So the aim of his viewer project was to take the Open Sourced Snowglobe code from Linden Lab and enhance it and improve it to make a very focused viewer that presents a great visual experience, as good as it possibly can be. He makes no apology for the spec of machine needed and this is where the cooperation with SL comes in. He is able to provide a focus and a niche built on top of the standard open source code to enhance some users experiences. However he is, and has to be, so on top of the releases of the code and changes to the grid (servers) that he finds things out before they go really public. When a function appears, hidden away, he and his team will find it, test it and patch their viewer to use it, or work around it if it doesn’t work properly. In many ways he is quality assurance for SL, whilst being completely independent. He said the Lab hates him 🙂 but i am sure they love him in equal measure too. It is difficulty for many commercial companies in andy industry to understand this user/developer/prosumer model. Kirstenlee is pushing the envelope with access to features that are intriguing (like stereoscopic 3d). He is restructuring major parts of code to treat the user interface in a much more engineered way to allow for cleaner layout and transparent parts of the interface. He is now looking at better camera controls, fixed views, dollys etc for the machinima makers to use. All of this is good for SL (and also the related platforms like opensim potentially). The Lab benefits from this focus, but I can imagine that it can also be difficult as when developing an releasing products time and priorities are different for different people.
Next up and on the a slightly different co-op confrontational path was Melanie Thielker. She is another (of the very rare) core opensim developer and has done a lot of the restructuring work. Here though Melanie was talking about her hosted business based on Opensim Avination This venture is a growing business, with a focus on roleplay. It is very impressive to be able to both spark up and push forward a customer facing grid whilst also living in the open source development world. However that gives Melanie a great perspective on what needs to be done and real life systems architecture to keep her grids running and growing. This grid is of course in direct competition with the Second Life one, but exists because of the spin off of Opensim and the open source approach to development in taking something closed and making it better.
Next we had a bit more of a standard product pitch, though it is still a leading edge idea. Fred van Rijswijk from C2K dashed in to share some of the interesting things being done with Layar. Layar is a “traditional” augmented reality application. The client allows the merging of real and virtual content based on location of the client. I say traditional as I think AR is about anything from anywhere merged with anything from anywhere else in more than one way. We do have to evolve to that though. Rather like the early web AR generally requires someone to make things for you. Design and game agencies can craft the 3d models and register them in layers to be viewed. It is interesting to consider all the content creation in various virtual worlds done by general users and how that might be liberated by AR applications? Augmenting one AR with another etc. I do like many of the Layar examples and the increasing move to go from flat HUD styles to more interactive 3d objects in space is an interesting direction.
Finally for the day Tim Goree of Nokia and a rather well known metaversanlity riffed on some ideas without the aid of a power point (yay). Tim knows his stuff and I am happy he has managed to stick with it in a large corporate environment and keep pushing. Tim was musing on the avatar, not just as a single mesh used to represent you in a virtual world, but as an identity construct that flows across all digital media. He talked about some of Microsoft’s work in ultra realistic avatars (which help with the concept of visual identity) but he also talked about the underlying need to choose how and what to share with who and own your own identity.
I am borrowing Tim’s quote from Roland over at Mixed Realties (as I took no notes 🙂 )
“Count up all the virtual worlds user hours, gaming user hours, chances are all this is more important than the web”, so Tim continued. “Avatars have been used to validate transactions for hundreds of years – think stamps, coins for example. These days there are billions of (virtual) avatars out there, why not use them to change society?”
It was then left for me to wrap up, as Tim had said some cool forward thinking things I just mentioned the IEEE Virtual Environment Colab and its event coming up as validation that many people are gathering again to push the industry to the next step and not just considering moving data from a to point b (though we still need to do that). I also pointed to the Btween3d conference in London sponsored by Sony that is bringing thought leaders from lots of industries to consider the whole of the domain.
So with consensus driving bodies such as the IEEE looking for the patterns and exemplars in the virtual world and related technology domain, and a major gathering in London on the subject it was good that the pioneers in the room at Metameets were still very much on the leading edge, pushing things forward whilst the world catches up with them 🙂
Next Day 2 (which is more art than science and a shows the breadth of what goes on out here/there)

Metameets – Lazy teachers and revolving doors – Part 2 of n

In my previous Metameets post I stopped half way through day 1. So we pick up on a change in conversation this time with education.

(image from As I took hardly any pictures at the event!
Education is always a good subject for virtual worlds yet is always a fight against the status quo. It is good to hear where the experts in the field are taking it.
Jolanda Verleg from Insperion started her presentation with a vision of a “Lazy Teacher” getting us to imagine a class full of students busy at work whilst the teacher sat back with their feet up on the table. This was a deliberately provocative image to challenge the nature of teaching. The premise put forward is that traditional broadcast teaching, stood in front of the class needs to be put aside in favour of more engaging techniques that use the immersion of virtual worlds with the students and allows classes to take on a life of their own. The full presentation is here and is a well thought out description of Adventure, Background, Competition and Drama (Jolanda calls those the ABCD of learning) that provide very human focused ways of learning to learn and discovering. To quote directly “Be there for them, just don’t step in front of them to block their way…”

To continue the education theme Ineke Verheul stepped up to describe a school learning project using virtual worlds with the The Chatterdale Mystery. She described an environment that recreated a village and within that a task was set for students to travel the village asking questions of residents to try and discover the location of a bomb. The aim of this was for the investigation team to be exercising their investigative skills needed in the curriculum. It has another fascinating side though in that the people they talked to were not bots but role playing fellow students. For those students this was then an exercise in practising their language skills (in this case english). So there were in fact two lessons going on with different groups interacting in the same environment.

On the schedule next was going to the the Fenêtre sur chambre, which for various reasons as it was a remote presentation did not happen. However we all agree that it is one of the most important and worthy uses of virtual worlds. People cannot be anything but touched by its impact.”windows in the bedroom” uses virtual worlds as a connection between children in long term hospital wards and their parents and friends. Creating and playing together. (It’s not about ROI or profit or efficiencies etc its about people connecting in difficult emotional situations and that is very important)

Our final education slot of the day was down to two students Lars Dijkema and Mathijs Hamers from Elde College. We had to make a fuss of them as they had just graduated the day before, so to come and talk to us was a fantastic commitment and they arrived with a lot of enthusiasm and vigour to share their project with us. The project was a computer science one, but their mentors (such as Rick Reesen, a good friend and still at IBM doing some interesting things all with virtual world flavours) and teachers helped set them on the explore the use of virtual worlds. The overall project for the class was to investigate eco friendly and positive school environments. The guys decided that the idea they wants to explore they would do by building a virtual classroom exhibit. They quickly found that expanding that idea to build the whole school and providing a shared environment for their fellow classmates to show their ideas had a powerful social effect too. In their demo of the build the first thing that struck me was the revolving door. It was spinning away at the entrance. I thought it was just there as a graphical trick but it was spinning to attract attention because it was part of an idea to generate electricity for the school from motion of the door. I thought that was a great idea, and the visual cues and where and when I saw that will stay with me. It may have already been created elsewhere but the guys had taken the idea and implemented, then shared it and now I have that idea in my head. Great stuff!

This does of course link back to Jolanda’s presentation on how to teach and engage. The ownership and drive of the students was enabled and shepherded by the teacher and the attitude of the school. Elde College has a very open attitude to the technology and what can be used and accessed. It is a model that every school should take a look at over the risk averse control mentality.

That’s enough of that for now. Still to come, entrepreneurship, TPV’s for SL, AR and a vision for the future

Busy few days – A lot of sharing, got me thinking

Just before heading to Metameets I did the late night talk with Kevin on inside avatar studio. Yesterday I popped along to the Facilities management forum where I was invited to provoke and spark some new thoughts for people at their conference. So in a virtual world talking, in amsterdam talking and in a hotel near silverstone talking. All about very similar things, but to very disparate audiences and in very different modes.
This one (the first in that list from Rockliffe University) is avatar mediated, tv recorded but was done live. The recording is now up so you can see what I said (and so can I as it was very free form)

Inside the Avatar Studio: Ian Hughes from Metaverse TV on Vimeo.

Yesterday’s FM forum was primarily a version of washing away cave paintings, with a lot of The Cool Stuff Collective pieces as a check a balance to say this stuff is really real you better take note. I may have to borrow the term that was used in the next session, that I also stayed around for yesterday to discuss social media usage. We saw a fairly typical evolution of ideas and bands of adoption, worries and concerns and ultimate success stories shared with the group. However the stand out phrase that was circulating was ROI is Risk of Ignoring. Which is so succinct and brilliant its hard not to use it more.
At the FM forum I had a great conversation too in which we jammed on the 3d printing changing the world concept and ended up at a challenging thought around the vanilla nature of a world where anything can be re-replicated anywhere and whether or not innovation would spring from that or just stable copies of everything for everyone. I had not thought about it that way before so I need to explore that now!

Metameets 2011 – part 1 ( of n )

This years Amsterdam based Metameets had a diverse and intriguing group of people present and attending online. It was also running in parallel with the 48 hour Machinima festival MMIF. When I was asked if I would moderate the event I did not take much convincing and I am very glad that I did. MC’ing an event can be done in two ways. Stand up, introduce the links and sit down again, or pay attention to it all and try and explore some threads in what has been said. I tried to do the latter, which meant paying total attention all the time. This is mentally tiring, but balanced by the fact that everything, without exception was intensely interesting!


One of the key things about Metameets is the diversity and clashing of worlds, and some new perspectives. This is the vision the Joja brings in organising and gathering us all for this event. Our two opening keynotes started that ball rolling. Corporate HR Catalyst for change and Legendary Games Developer.


The opening speaker was Ian Gee from Nokia. He is new to virtual worlds and has been introduced to it by Tim Goree. Tim is a fellow corporate metaverse evangelist, so it is great to see people like Ian getting the message and taking it somewhere new. Ian is Director of Organisational Development at Nokia. He spoke as an observer in the pioneering and exploratory directions many of the people at metameets take. The responsibilities and drivers we all have to explore. He was very much of the opinion that change needs to be radical. It is this “lets do it things a different way” attitude many virtual world people have that attracted him to us as that gels with his challenges to organisations as to why the working day is an 8 hour block, why is the management structure a pyramid etc. Ian also described the avatar representations and life altering experiences many of us are having as a gentle form of Metanoia

Next up was Noah Falstein. He is a long time game designer with a fantastic reputation. He did not disappoint with his presentation either. It is rare that “pure” games development gets anywhere near virtual worlds. Many virtual worlds people are not gamers, they attraction to them was not via games. Many games people don’t understand why virtual world interaction works or what the point of bothering is. Noah is that rare crossover. The early part of the talk was rally putting it all in perspective around evolution. How early we are really in the whole scheme of things. He used many unusual organic pictures of long dead creatures to set the scene. He then dived into showing everyone Habitat from 1985. This was one of the first environments to use home computers (commodore 64) and a modem to connect people with a graphic virtual world. In this case a 2d sprite based one. However Noah pointed out that then in 1985 the adverts for the game had to fully explain that it was real people on the other end of the game. We had not advanced enough or had the technical and cultural awareness that that sort of things was possible. He talked about to the leap this made in peoples understanding and expectation, the subsequent evolution(s) of virtual worlds and games and how some evolutionary avenues are dead ends, but others combine into much more. He has a stealth startup and was not able to share what he was doing with that  exactly but I got the impression that it was something of both a AAA game lineage and a virtual world/social interaction/UGC project. That is going to be very exciting (and I am sure it will be whatever it is. Just look up his games CV !)

So we had two presentations on seismic changes, both made analogies to both evolution and exploration combined with a risk taking pioneering attitude. So I knew we we off on the right track as a conference.


We then had some focus in the agenda on Opensim. This was great as this was scheduled as some technical discussion for the tech’s in the room and some business discussion for those who want to just use virtual worlds like Opensim.

First up was Justin Clarke Casey, a core Opensim developer known to many of us. I know Justin from back in the IBM days and also we live in the same area. It was good to see him get up and explain his vision of where Opensim is going. Much of this was focused on the gradual evolution to the generic interconnected hypergrid. Where your own opensim is able to interact with everyone elses. This does happen now but architecturally the hand over of you to another sim is evolving and Justin could see a time, and a gap for certain common services (akin to DNS) were available to broker this. It shows just how complicated evolving a grid is and the potential security implications and stability problems. At the same time it all looked like it was going the right direction.

(Picture from JustinCC’s presentation)

Next Ilan Tochner from Kitely stepped up to discuss his companies approach to creating virtual worlds on demand. In this case they use opensim, though the principle can be used to start to drive any appropropriate platform. llan vision is to be the Telecom company of the virtual world. Providing some middle ground of communication/hosting etc. Though without the rip off data charges 🙂 The principle is you go to the site, press a button (a large one to attract your attention) this provisions a virtual world for you. You then dive into it and invite others. When you don’t need it anymore you either park it (in storage which is very cheap compared to leaving a server running) or delete it. There are a few companies trying this but Kitely and llan are very active in driving standards and supporting the growth of the industry with a more open approach. llan had some interesting directions for the viewers too. Mirroring what happened with the web and mobile in the early days and moving to transcoding of any viewer code to a suitable renderable platform. Plugin and client free access. You can see why this would appeal both to users (no messing around) and to a service provider like Kitely. If virtual world y suddenly appears you need to be able to provision a y and get users logged on with y’s client. We had lots of back room chat about standards, common approaches, generic versus specialist interfaces. All good and the right sort of conversations to have.

So there was a clear link and need here to push certain function and responsibilities into areas (like a generic avatar service?) into a real layer. From both a service provider of generic virtual worlds and a developer of the core of one the requirement and the evolutionary path was similar.

coming up education, AR and  path to the future to round up Day 1!

Beginning at the end

The last few days I have been here in Amsterdam at the Metameets conference and the MMIF (machinima festival). I have to collect my thoughts and write about the whole thing and some of the ideas that where shared and combined over two days. The good news is I know what they are as I had to pay very close attention to everything as moderator. (A harder job than it sounds, but a blast to MC such an amazing set of speakers and delegates).

However we finished the presentations yesterday with the wonderful Chantal Harvey/MaMachinima showing and talking about some great pieces of work. It was also a bombshell moment when she announced she was no longer doing machinima to concentrate on doing a feature film. I think the room was just shocked and stunned, but I think that this is a beginning at an end.

Chantal makes some great very well produced, very well delivered pieces and I know that the scope and the size of any of her projects will not diminish that.

Her swan song “final piece” in this phase of the life of machinima was this.

Watch this space

Sharing more ideas, Rockliffe and Metameets

The next few days are both busy,exciting and enjoyable with a bit of pressure thrown in for good measure.
Tonight I am on a show online in Second Life and on Metaverse TV for Rockliffe University
“Like oil and water, virtual environments offer a rare and complex mix of technical and social extremes where all the really interesting bits are occurring along the thin edge of the emulsion between the two. This week Kevin and Ian discuss the various perspectives of how technology and social constructs are merging and how far we have still yet to go.”
So I have to have my future brain wired in and see where the conversations take us. As this is just that there is no specific prepared content which is great as I enjoy to buzz of riffing on the ideas. See you there 🙂

The tomorrow I jump on a plane bound for Amsterdam, on the same flight with Justin CC or opensim fame so the southampton virtual world massive is on tour. We, and lots of our european fellow evangelists are heading to Metameets which is always the most vibrant gathering on the subject, mixing art and business and innovative ideas.
See you there too ?

Develop Brighton 2011 – featuring Virtual Worlds

I just got the great news that my application to present at the Evolve portion of this years Develop conference has been accepted. It will of course be an elective session. Having attended Develop the last couple of years, and really enjoyed the sessions I felt that the virtual world industry and the crossover into social media was missing. So this year I thought I would throw my hat in the ring and do a version of washing away cave paintings.
Develop 2011 Brighton
Evolve is a part of the conference on day 1 that is about emerging trends and tech. Michael Acton Smith of Moshi is keynoting the day too 🙂
I submitted this as my talk.

EVOLVE: So You Think Virtual Worlds Aren’t Important?
Session Details
User generated virtual worlds may seem a sideshow. Open source development is making inroads, with Opensim, into fully user generated environments hosted anywhere run by anyone. These are used for entertainment and in training medical staff or school education.

They are an innovative platform for the next wave of designers and programmers. We have shown, on the kids ITV show The Cool Stuff Collective, these virtual worlds are growing to be a distribution platform for goods that will not remain solely as digital properties. Virtual things are getting real. Come and pay attention to virtual worlds and the future.

Wish me luck and maybe see you there (early bird registration finishes june 15th )

My takeaway from FCVW2011

FCVW11 was a great conference for several reasons. The first was to be able to meet and talk with the IEEE VW standards group that is forming. We got to discuss at length the Sep 20/21st summit that is planned for L.A. this year. As a group we have a number of VW old hands and gurus and I am honoured to be in the loop with them all.
Another reason was to meet quite a few people in the industry that we have only met briefly physically or it was a very long time ago. That made this conference a bit of a homecoming.
The third reason was hearing so many presentations and panels by practioners, educators, military, government and alike who are busy doing some really influential and great work.
To hear about the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder helper experiences, or Bill May’s US to Cairo project showed real, tangible and positive uses of virtual worlds.
It was less comfortable to hear about the military uses, but it shows the power of training and simulation in something that in the end could save lives.
Ren Reynolds did point out when on our panel that we were having questions asked about identity and behaviour in virtual worlds, e.g. what about furries. He bravely pointed out (given we were at the National Defence University) that using virtual worlds and games to work out how to actually kill people more effectively was far more offensive than any roleplay elements or socially awkward situations.
However, the military uses can be separated out into organisational analysis or education that applies to more regular applications.
Two of the keynotes that stood out for me, mainly because of the validation or handy terminology they provided were.
MK Haley – Faculty and Associate Executive Producer at the Entertainment Technology Center, Carnegie Mellon University
Dr Chris Dede -Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies, Technology, Innovation, and Education Program, Harvard University

MK was a powerful and sparky presentation that talked about looking at things differently, how creative thinking is possible by everyone but that it is often beaten out of us.

Dr Dede talked (and showed) some kids education environments that were around explore an eco system at a lake. On the surface it was a lake, trees and some overlays, but there were some innovative ideas that he helpfully referred to as “magic”. This magic is where you move from a straight simulation and help with pointers or tools that would not otherwise exist. The first was a submarine that scales you down to microscopic levels to explore the environment. The other was the ability to virtually geotag a single atom and then a HUD that tells you were it is over time as it is absorbed or moved around the environment. The “magic” layers can conflict with the “real” layers but are essential in the balance of immersive environment use. Otherwise there is little extra that the place give you. As a true educator and very well respected he, and his team, are doing the work to compare the virtual experiences with traditional teaching. Though he was very clear that if you compare something to nothing it will always be better. Of it you compare something the the worst example then you are not really helping. So he is making sure in helping explore how kids develop their reasoning.
Botgirl created some great cartoons to sum up each panel, this is the Dr Chris Dede one
FCVW 2011 How Immersion in Virtual Worlds Helps Learners in the Real World
So there are even more people doing real work with the technology and the socially changing impacts of virtual worlds and related tech. It is not dead, it is not all Second Life (in fact increasingly it appears to not be Second Life for some very good reasons). However it is well on its way, and it is helping people. Kids are learning more, patients are being treated better, entertainment is more engaging. Standards and exemplars are being re-enforced and more new people are becoming evangelists. The previous generation and generations of activists in the field are also not going away but supporting everyone else too.
So I am really happy to see this become so normal, yet keen that we push it further and make it extraordinary again.
Well done all 🙂