Monday, October 15, 2007

Virtual Worlds Day Two

Sorry for the delay folks, I know that many of you couldn't wait to get highlights from the second day, so here they are:

Keynote Address from Christian Renaud, Chief Architect of Networked Virtual Environments for Cisco: Urged the attendees to move to open standards with the purpose of propelling virtual worlds into the mainstream. He thinks that to be able to do this, the industry must allow common identities (meaning avatars that can transcend worlds to some degree), common metrics (meaning that the worlds are measured on a common scale so that consumers can differentiate between them in a useful way), common platforms (meaning namely interoperability), and common understanding (alluding to focused vision of where virtual worlds are headed). As Gary McGinty, CEO of Big Bad Wolf, said to me afterward about Renaud's speech, "The quote of the conference was, 'Do you want all of Betamaxx, or a piece of VHS?'"

Visionary Panel - Where the Platforms are Going Next - The panel consisted of Christopher Klaus (CEO, Kaneva), Michael Wilson (CEO, Makena), Raph Koster (CEO, Areae), Corey Bridges (Co-founder of Multiverse), Stephen Lawler (General Manager of Virtual Earth), Hui Xu (Founder and CEO, HiPiHi), and was moderated by Mark Wallace, blogger and co-author of Only A Game with Peter Ludlow, an excellent read: For those unacquainted with this panel, it is populated by some of the most influential people in the virtual worlds industry. The panel believes that there is great opportunity for virtual worlds growth in the areas of web integration (meaning connecting worlds to streaming media and other forms of content already available on the web) and connecting virtual worlds to social networks already in existence, such as Facebook or MySpace. The panel also concluded though that growth is not unilateral anymore and that there is potential to grow in many directions. One such area is in business models. Other possibilities for innovation included easier usability for denizens and capability for users to connect to virtual worlds online. Koster, perhaps the panel's most colorful character, was adamant that 3D was not the answer to everything online. He believes that user interface should be determined by the task at hand, and that there are some tasks on the internet that are just easier in 2D (like reading a newspaper article). He made excellent point that media outlets accrete, they do not replace (TV didn't replace radio, they both exist). Along those lines, virtual worlds are not here to replace old forms of entertainment, but can provide a new vehicle for media delivery. He also made a good point about the lack of difference between games and serious games, stating that we are all in the bookstore business, not the non-fiction aisle business.

Virtual Worlds and the Music Industry - The panel had representatives from Virtual MTV, Zwinky, and Doppelganger, the company behind V-Side: I found this to be one of the most interesting sessions at the the whole show. These three projects all work on delivering music to listeners in new and more interactive ways. Virtual worlds provide a fantastic opportunity for artists to connect with fans on a more personal level without all of the attendant risks of making public appearances. Matt Bostwick, the SVP of franchise development for MTV Music Group, previewed VLES - Virtual Lower East Side - with a machinama music video. The CEO of Doppelganger, Tim Stevens, believes that music delivery is fundamentally changing in that content must be delivered to the consumer now, not like before when listeners had to dial in, tune in, etc..

The conference had a series of lectures, but also an expo hall. In the expo hall I met David Colleen, head of Planet 9 Studios. Planet 9 is doing some interesting work creating 3D models of many of the major cities in the world. They had one particularly cool demonstration of their Virtual Earth (TM) in a GPS navigation so that the map was not a flat, nondescript 2D image, but a full 3D view of the city - very cool. Right after I finished speaking with him, I went to listen to the visionary panel, where one of the speakers was head of Microsoft's Virtual Earth (TM), Microsoft's version of Planet 9's product. Both have the same trademark on essentially the same product. I may be fresh out of school, but...

All-in-all, I would say that the conference was a success, not only for myself, but for the entire industry. They know they are on the cusp of being mainstream - give it ten years.

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