Friday, October 10, 2008

IBM gets into virtual Fashion

After blogging the Forbidden City today and Boulanger3D two days ago I've yet another post about IBM in Virtual Worlds. Rest assured, I am not becoming an IBM-er, I rather find it troublesome that IBM is the only bigshot from the traditional tech companies that is actually doing stuff in the Metaverse these days. Fortunately, it's not a guaranteed success with them for now. I was disappointed in Boulanger3D, but on the other hand found the Forbidden City actually quite exciting to explore.

This time is the news that's been inbox since yesterday when my obsession to get to hear Terry Pratchett in Second Life prevented me from keeping on top of the news. The news is actually not a release yet, but just a press statement that IBM signed a service agreement with the Fashion Research Institute.

Fashion Research Institute, headquartered in New York, NY, conducts research into technology-based initiatives and develops emerging technologies to overhaul traditional fashion practices and methodologies. FRI's mission is to reduce the carbon footprint and change the environmental impact of the industry in ways that are sustainable, replicable, respectful of the practitioners, and meaningful for all stakeholders. FRI maintains Shengri-La, a five-island complex in Second Life, and an OpenSim complex.

The most interesting point in the press release to me is that we have now officially left the small cash development scenery of Second Life (ranging from 50K to 500K for a sim, okay small cash which doesn't fit into my wallet either), but are actually moving on to million dollar assignments.

NEW YORK, NY, Oct 09, 2008 (MARKET WIRE via COMTEX) --

IBM today announced it has signed a multi-million IBM Global Business Services agreement with the Fashion Research Institute (FRI) to implement a first-of-a-kind Virtual World Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Enterprise System.

...

"We're proud to pioneer the first big business solution that leverages the OpenSim virtual world platform to address economies of scale," said Shenlei Winkler, FRI. "The Fashion Research Institute understands how to design real world consumer goods using a virtual world environment, and IBM understands the scaling challenges of global enterprise. Taking on both simultaneously is a winning move."

This virtual world enterprise solution, expressly created as a product design environment, will offer a fundamentally new work flow addressing critical issues facing the design industry, such as ensuring manufacturability of designs and decreasing substantial sample costs by two-thirds. Users of this solution will ultimately be able to enter a virtual world, receive training on the systems, and take a design from concept to prototype -- with every step short of actual manufacturing being done virtually.

Read full press release here.

Another interesting point to note is that the FRI also has a presence in Second Life and Opensim. They've worked with IBM to explore Virtual Worlds. This experiment led to the believe it was worthwile pursuing a full scale Virtual World. Contrary to the believe that Second Life is a total business failure and stories about companies fleeing Second Life, this is once again an example of where Second Life has been the catalyst. The platform in which companies could (relatively low budget) experiment with 3D-ness and prepare a full launch in a socalled extraverse (also named themed world or branded world).

Visit the Fashion Research Institute in Second Life at the Shengri La island:

SLURL: http://slurl.com/­secondlife/­Shengri%20La%20Peace­/161/182/91

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Levi's Extraverse

In October Jeans tycoon Levi's launched its own extraverse, Levi's World, in Hong Kong, a branded virtual world dedicated to Levi products. It's first live hours saw over 6.000 registrations with eager fashion addicts and pretty soon we'll see the English version go live.





The campaign for Levi's World has been created by TEQUILA Hong Kong (TBWA) and OMD. Their view basically comes down to:


"Are you fed-up of Facebook, sick of Second Life? If so, then you may be interested to know that Levi’s are claiming to have ‘disrupted the convention’ of such social networking sites with the launch of the first ever (do they really think so?) branded virtual world. No prizes for guessing what it’s been called, though"

Levi's weren't the first to go extraverse, but it is a logical step. Throughout the Metaverse you see people paying a lot of attention to their avatars, with clothing being a hot marketing item.


First images do not show this world as able to create realistic avatars and environment, but a bit more cartoonesk graphics. The world is aimed at 15-25 year olds and has a free membership model. However, economy and marketing comes into play as you're able to buy your Levi stuff and can obtain vouchers which can be used at Real Life Levi stores.

Here's a YouTube movie about the launch:

To go from scratch to a dedicated extraverse is a giant leap, but Levi's has got several years of experience in the Metaverse which they started to explore as early as 2003. Along with Nike, Levi's was one of the main sponsors that pushed the launch of There.com.

"27,000 There
There launched its beta-test form -- 27,000 users have already entered the There world -- in January, with Nike and Levi Strauss & Co. among marketers who partnered with the firm to see how their wares fared in a virtual marketplace. Both brands will continue their relationship with there."

Full There.com launch article here.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

More Forecasting on 2008

In my previous post I already did some forecasting on 2008 and 2009 in terms of where the NVE industry is going. Today, Virtual World News (the guys from the VW Conferences) released a survey on the trends for 2008. In this survey some 45 industry leaders participated.


For a good overview of the contents of the 36 page whitepaper visit Fleeep's blog. My general observation is that each of the respondents is very positive about the developments of the industry. 2008 will see explosion this, massive growth that and so on. Since the majority of the respondents are either from MDC's (Metaverse Development Company) or from MSP's (Metaverse Service Provider) this positive view can be expected. I'm not sure it's fully safe to base your investment plan on their opinion.


The Questions


The questionairre is simple, it's not a long list to pick and choose, but 5 open questions which makes it possible for all of us (not among the 45 chosen) to ponder them ourselves. The questions are:



  1. What are your top 3 trend predictions for 2008?

  2. What business goals have you set for 2008?

  3. What challenges do you expect 2008 to bring for the virtual worlds industry?

  4. A number of new platforms are launching in 2008. What are the biggest impacts this will have on the industry?

  5. How will the above changes affect your specific segment of the industry in 2008?

The Answers

  1. What are your top 3 trend predictions for 2008?
    At this moment I don't have a clear top 3, I see a number of scenario's and trends emeriging this quarter though, here they are:
  • In 2008 we're going to be disappointed in Virtual Worlds. As I've pointed out a few times in the past weeks on this blog the current setup is it's Dozens of Them (which by the initials DOT is probably heading for another dot-world crash). What I mean by this is that we've seen about a hundred big companies immerse in Second Life, all with pretty much the same content: Information stands, auditorium and some entertainment stuff. While these are created with great skills by the MDC's it's pretty much the same stuff over again. Right now, most of these virtual enterprises are Marketing & Communication department babies and they're going to be disappointed as they don't bring USP's and ROI's. From this angle we have to differentiate between type of immersion, like:
    - mere presence
    - branding
    - crowdsourcing
    - engagement
    and forget about Business Development.
  • As a result of this disappointment, more MDC's will have to cut down capacity like ESC, or bring in different expertise. 2008 will see a slight shift from the current MDC's to more traditional IT companies like Sogeti or Capgemini who have longterm relations with their clients and a proper supply of Business Analysts who know their clients core business and have the ability to translate that core business to IT and VW solutions.
  • The former means that 2008 will focus on integration, creating API's and mashups, providing data-mining tools etcetera.
  • From a social point of view there will be disappointment in Virtual Worlds as well, mainly produced by lag and hardware power. 2008 will be a good year for NVidia, Intel, AMD and other hardware producers as both the Gameverse and the Metaverse will require a boost in sheer graphical and processor power. Another fundamental part of this new univerese will be the availability of bandwith as worlds like Second Life use streaming technology and are producing over 8 Gbps in data traffic. It will be up to Internet2 / Lamdarail to put their 100 Gbps network into full production (which will probably be beyond 2008) to service this bandwidth need.
  • The Metaverse in general will concentrate in general on the Extraverse, the branded or themed worlds. Since we do not have the ability (in most cases) to translate our core processes into virtual representations, the NVE industry will still be an instrument in marketing media in 2008.
  • As far as extraverses go, they will get more and more aimed at specific groups, for instance girl worlds like Barbieworld and GoSupermodel will grow rapidly. 4th quarter 2008 might see it's first VW specifically aimed at 50+ agegroups in beta.
  • The majority of funding will be coming from governemental organisations exploring virtual worlds in serieous gaming ventures.
  • Social Worlds will lean heavily on the gameverse to find the key to upgrading registered users to active users. This will mean that more and more storylines will be implemented in the Metaverse and offer new handles for interactive media (convergence with television a.o.)
  • Another challenge for Social Worlds will be the mashup with social networking sites like linked-in, Facebook and the likes. This also brings in the all important question of Identity Management (and in its wake interoperability and portability).
  • On the part of Second Life we will see improvement in stability as Aric Linden's QA team will be finalising their tests on the new Windlight client in January, making it the most stable release Linden Lab has ever produced. Havok 4 will be implemented somewhere mid 2008 as physics engine.
  • Aside from taxlaws and other governmental regulations the industry will gain some significance for retirment funding and insurance companies as more and more people will earn their living in virtual environments.
  • A huge issue will be the "What if I die" scenario: What happens to my second life and my virtual assets when I'm no longer there. When I'm gone, who owns my identity, will there be successionrights?

Okay, past bedtime now, the other questions will have to wait.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Charting the new Worlds

UPDATE: The numbers in this blog are old. There will be an update shortly.

This blogentry was posted first at the Virtual World blog powered by Sogeti Sweden. As it is a new blog I gave an outline of the market we're dealing with. Several bits and bytes have appeared on this blog before - VeeJay



It's a brave new world out there, the question is which world? We've seen the industry of virtual worlds explode in this past year with billions of dollars of capital funding, takeovers and corporate builds. Over the past year Second Life has drawn more media attention than any other virtual world, respectively positive and then later ill-informed negative publicity has driven the world of Second Life into a hype cycle (as defined by Gartner).




Networked Virtual Environments

There's more to it though. There's not only a brave new world out there, it's an entire universe. It was also Gartner who did a short report on virtual worlds in december 2006 and introduced the term NVE, Networked Virtual Environments as an overal term for the industry, their definition:



An NVE is an online platform in which participants are immersed in a three-dimensional representation of a virtual space. Other, analogous, terms for
NVEs in the market are metaverses and virtual worlds.


It's not a 100% definition as the industry also includes 2D spaces. I'd like to use it as a term for the entire universe whereas I would reserve the usage of the metaverse for a specific section in the industry.



So how big is the market we're talking about?

A very good kick off was given at the Virtual World Conference in San Jose (10-11 October 2007) by Christian Renaud. He put in some good effort to come up with a list of about 75 Virtual Worlds with subscription numbers.





This subscription pie is based on the number of subscriptions per virtual world. Adding up to a grand total of 465.000.000 registered users. Wow, that's huge. That's the entire population of North America, or the entire population of Western Europe. And this is not even counting the Asian (Ralph Koster estimates the number to be close to 2000!).


This might be an unbelievable number. We have to put that into perspective. People do sign up a lot, then drop out. The current number of registered users in Second Life is about 9.2 million of which close to 2 million are active. Christian Renaud estimates the total number of active virtual world residents to be close to 50 million. Still, the number of signups is impressive. Let's take a look at the Social Network list on Wikipedia; it gives a list of 85 community sites totalling 1 billion registered users. Like web 2.0 sites, we do travel a lot. We sign up, play around and then move to the other world / site. And there's people like me. I'm registered at about 15 Virtual Worlds.



A division by Universe

This is the division of the NVE's I'd like to make




How do we use these worlds?


A quick and easy split up is to say we use these worlds for social activities (i.e. Social Network Worlds) and for personal recreation (online gaming). But we also start to use these worlds for business purposes: online meetings, training, simulation, promotion, recruitment etcetera. Where does the business fit in? There's a number of platforms out there that could be considered as being typical business environments. Like Qwaq with office applications and Forterra which focusses on training and simulation. And then there are the intraverses. These have a business oriëntation as well. The chart below shows the division by usage focus. There is business on Second Life, but Second Life is not focussed on business.







What is my audience?


Each world has its own culture and its own demographics. The chart below gives an overview of agegroups. It's not a demographic of the VW residents but an overview of worlds focussing on a specific agegroup. Teen Worlds are growing fast in the sector. There's no world yet that has a focus on elderly people yet. The virtual residents are generally young people. But there will be a market for elderly people, I'm sure. One of the problems of a lot of elderly people is a lack of social contact. We'll be seeing our first virtual elderly home in a few years time.






Genderspecifics


In a virtual world there probably is no discrimination by gender. For example. Construction is an industry in which we usually find very few women. Perhaps it's prejudice, but the genereal thought is that women can't carry a load of bricks. Physical inhibitions don't count in virtual worlds. Another point is that we use avatars, representations, choosing whichever form we like. I know enough men dressing as women or vice versa in Second Life. Likewise, most worlds are open to both man and women without specifically aiming at a gender. There are a number of worlds however that are specifically targeted at teen girls. I've called them Girl Worlds. They're usually running on an extraverse, being brand driven. Examples of these are



Here's a chart of the marketshare these worlds have:




Finally, it's an enormously varied landscape. Different cultures, people and habits. A wide variety of engines are used to drive these worlds. Some are java-based, some are desktop applications that connect to grids and some are using streaming technology. It's almost impossible to try and define these worlds, let alone find ways for unified communications, interoperability and portability for the sector.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Virtual CosmoGirls goes There.com

I just received a comment on The Office stars Second Life by an author of the Dutch "up the vortex" blog. I followed the link and took a peek. One of the most recent articles features another upcoming Girl-World: CosmoGirl. The American teenmagazine, which is also available in the Netherlands is partnering with Makena Technologies to build their virtual hotspot on There.com. Teen worlds seem to be the fastest growing in the industry.

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