I gave my usual presentation at the end of the conference yesterday, which sets virtual worlds in the context of Web 2.0.
Here’s a the short version of what I tend to try to cover.
I start with a brief introduction to Web 2.0. Since this particular conference was already saturated with people summarising Web 2.0 I did not have to dwell for long on this section. Instead I quickly pointed to the underlying characteristics of Web 2.0 being more important than the technologies which are currently used to implement it. I love Ian Davis’ quote from 2005…
“Web 2.0 is an attitude not a technology. It’s about enabling and encouraging participation through open applications and services. By open I mean technically open with appropriate APIs but also, more importantly, socially open, with rights granted to use the content in new and exciting contexts.”
Next I segue into games and virtual worlds. I use the themes of social networking and user generated content as the natural links between Web 2.0 and virtual worlds. The connection is a also a personal one though; in my previous role at IBM as an Emerging Technology Specialist I had a lot of freedom to explore new areas of technology. Back in March 2006, immersed in Web 2.0, I’d already been recommended to try Second Life several times, but didn’t think it looked interesting enough. When my colleague Ian Hughes gets excited about something I tend to pay attention, and his insistence that SL was both interesting and important was the last nudge I needed to sign up. Since Twitter had been mentioned already during the day, I compared this sort of adoption to the reason I was about to cave in and finally sign up to that; enough people I trust have told me it’s valuable to them. Since I’m always trying to ask myself “what’s next?” and had been wondering in early 2006 what would be the next trend after Web 2.0, virtual worlds seemed worthy of investigation.
So, having tickled the excitement with a technological “what’s next?” I ground it in some reality. Most people (myself originally included) have a natural tendency to assume gamers are young male geeks, and the games industry is a frivolous irrelevance to business. So I roll out some stats from the Entertainment Software Association., “Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry, 2006” to encourage more critical thought. These are for the games industry as a whole, rather than virtual worlds
- 69% of American heads of households play computer or video games
- 42% of online game players are female
- Women aged 18 or older represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (30%) than boys age 17 or younger (23%)
- 25% of gamers over the age of 50
- The average game player age is 33
Interestingly, that last figure now matches the average age reported by Linden Lab. Next I briefly summarise different types of online games by breaking them down by genre.
- MMORPGs (massive, persistent)
- Virtual Worlds (MMO but not RPG. User-generated content. It’s ‘just’ a platform)
I got into EVE Online just before Christmas, and there is usually at least one World of Warcraft player in the room to keep me honest with my second-hand knowledge as I cite some differences between MMORPGs like WoW and virtual worlds like Second Life. He or she often advises me not to get into it.
Then a closer look at Second Life, the currently popular example of a virtual world. “A place for meeting, building, selling, collaborating and exploring”. Some stats, with some big caveats. I have begun to ask if Clay Shirkey is in the room. My take on the recent criticism around SL usage stats: it’s a natural rebalance to the excessive hype, and it’s good to think more critically about the real scale here. The Gartner hype curve applies, and SL is potentially just over the edge of the peak and into the beginning of the trough. That’s progress.
Next a quick tour of various things in SL that have caught my eye in the last year.
- BBC Radio 1 One Big Weekend
- Major League baseball
- Warner Bros: Regina Spektor
- American Apparel
These are not chosen at random; they give me a chance to highlight different elements of the culture(s) and economics of Second Life. Too much to type here (and much of it was posted on Eightbar a while ago), but the impact of a live events, marketing and retail tie-ins are all covered, along with the compelling a content in a social context.
Then, to bring it back down to earth again (see how I raise excitement and then satisfy cynics by asking the questions they’re thinking too) I ask “so why does IBM care?”. In fact, I go further. I propose that they’re thinking that this stuff is all very well for their kids, but can’t see why IBM wasting its time with this fluff. (To be brutally honest, by this point I hope that people already see exciting potential, and no-one is feeling quite that cynical, but addressing this question is the key to avoiding entrenching any negative views, and keeping people open to ideas about their own use of this stuff). Well of course there’s an answer. In fact, there are lots.
- Meetings (internally, the benefits of virtual worlds over conference calls and video conferences)
- Public meetings, conferences etc (e.g. LotusSphere)
- The 3D Internet project funded out of Innovation Jam results, building the future for standards-driven and interoperable virtual worlds.
- 12-island innovation complex
- Early clients: Circuit City, Sears, Wimbledon, Australian Open all get an explanation
- Now that Rational CODESTATION is public I shall also be starting to talk about developer relations, etc.
Finally an admission that we’ve barely scratched the surface of what might be possible. It’s true, and it’s another way to help people wonder for themselves how they might benefit from, and bring value to, virtual worlds.
Q&A. There were lots, but I can only remember the question that was directed to the whole audience rather than to me.
- Q: how many would attend a conference like this?
A: (by show of hands) 50%, with lots of nods and murmers. One dissenter with the very good point that part of the value of a good conference is getting away from work. Learning and socialising online may work, but if you’re at your desktop you’re going to be distractible and interruptible.
I got really close to recording myself giving this, and am kicking myself for not doing it. Especially because some of the questions were quite interesting. Sadly the only place I could leave my recorder would have been next to a projector, and the audio would have been awful. Let me know if you’d be interested in an MP3 if I get a chance to do it next time.
Update: the presentation is finally up at SlideShare.