Second Life developer Linden Lab today announced a strategic restructuring that will see it invest in new initiatives, including the development of a browser-based version and the use of social networks to extend the Second Life experience even further. At the same time, the company hopes to become more cost efficient, and to this end has chosen to prune its staff by 30%. Apparently, it has already shut down its UK and Singapore offices while reducing staff in San Francisco, Seattle and Mountain View. Linden also bid farewell to the entire enterprise division.
A virtual world has to be based in an imaginary setting, right? Wrong. An upcoming virtual world called Project X is likely to please those who find current virtual worlds too surreal or outre. Micazook, the start-up behind Project X, wants people to turn its virtual world into a replica of our planet piecemeal. It closely resembles Google Maps with Street View, save for the fact that users can interact with each other using 3D avatars.
Members can further bring Project X closer to the real thing by lending 10 to 15 minutes of their precious time in creating the buildings themselves – from building a virtual copy of your entire neighborhood to a famous local landmark. The developers want the users to contribute to Project X with the same zest as they display on other crowdsourced sites like Wikipedia. However, Micazook has every intention of profiting from its creation and to this end plans to impose a 30% levy on each virtual item sold. Furthermore, users will need to shell out $4.99 each month for each building they want to own.
As Project X is a browser-based virtual world, it requires a plug-in to deliver hardware-accelerated 3D graphics. It is due for a change of name before its beta launch a “few weeks” from now.
Massively multiplayer online everythingamajig Second Life’s total player numbers may be debatable at best, but the dedication of said, er, eclectic legion sure isn’t. According to a study conducted by Nielsen Media Research, Second Life gets more average playtime per week than games like StarCraft, Warhammer Online, and even World of Warcraft!
Lest you cry foul of Nielsen’s study, however, know this: World of Warcraft players still far outnumber those of Second Life, racking up 46.710% of total PC gaming time, while Second Life picks up a silver medal with 3.206%. Second Life’s significantly smaller group of players, then, just loves its game of choice a bit more than players powering Blizzard’s piggybanks.
Even so, however, Second Life still far outstrips most every other MMO on the market -- in terms of average playtime and total percentage of the pie -- including Warhammer Online and Eve Online, both of which didn’t even make the top ten.
Just for clarification’s sake, the study was conducted among a sample of almost 200,000 people –- not just hardcore gamers. It was, apparently, a random sample.
The only thing that makes us question this study? That’d be Dark Horse of Might & Magic in third place. Um, really? Not to question the alchemy behind Nielsen’s algorithms, but do you know anyone who actually plays that game anymore -– on a regular basis, no less?
According to Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, the International Revenue Service should start taxing the economies of Second Life, World of Warcraft and other virtual worlds. In an annual report posted on the IRS website, Olsen has stated that there are a number of issues that the IRS should address before they get out of control.
"Economic activities associated with virtual worlds may present an emerging area of noncompliance, in part, because the IRS has not issued guidance about whether and how taxpayers should report such activities," Olson writes in her report. Alongside that, she identifies that almost all income is subject to taxation, even prizes and winnings.
This isn’t the first time this issue has been mentioned, though. Since 2003 people both on and offline have looked ad the taxation of virtual economies and Dan Miller, a senior economist for the congressional Joint Economic Committee, has started playing with the idea of taxing MMORPGs after he’d taken a step into online gaming.
With any luck, this won’t come full circle. It would be a huge burden on taxpayers, having to report their every move in World of Warcraft to Uncle Sam, but who would really want to get caught up in paperwork just to play a video game?
According to a recent report enterprise virtual worlds are much more effective than web conferencing for conducting business. The report is based on the idea that possessing the ability to expand, introduce characters and produce virtual presentations in a simulated environment will easier and more cost effective.
In fact, the technology has already been demonstrated. At Fall IDF 2007 Pat Gelsinger gave an on-stage presentation lasting nearly a half-hour entirely though Second Life. He displayed how simple it was for users to create their on avatars, and engage in virtual business. It’s even expected that shopping will take a virtual turn sometime soon, with online shoppers viewing texture maps instead of products and virtual sales assistants instead of store clerks.
While this idea is cool, it sounds shockingly familiar. Either way, the potential for twenty-something, extremely fit avatars walking into business meetings seems extremely high, and that’s an idea that I can only promote.
With a struggling economy and an uncertain market, economic times are tough all around, but not just in the real world. Virtual worlds are feeling the crunch as well, as Second Life netizens are unable to escape their first life financial troubles.
News outlet Silicon Alley Insider reports Second Life's base of paying customers continues to decline. But that's just the beginning. Prices for virtual land have bottomed out, the site says, and Linden Lab hasn't been able to introduce new land into the virtual environment for months.
The inability to sell new land is bad for Linden Lab, who's business model largely revolves around this source of income as opposed to selling advertising. It's also bad for existing players, as Linden Lab just announced a revamped pricing model for its "Openspaces" virtual land. Beginning January 1, 2009, the monthly maintenance fee will increase two-thirds from $75 to $125 per month (those are U.S. dollar signs, and not Linden dollars).
For those not familiar with the game, "unlike normal regions that effectively get a CPU to themselves on the server, there can be up to four Openspaces on a single CPU (so 16 on a quad-core machine), sharing the resource." Linden Lab says that these Openspaces were originally intended for light use - ocean and green spaces - but they're instead being used with more content and heavier traffic than expected, hence the price hike.
Is Linden Lab justified with its price increase, or are existing customers footing the bill in what Silicon Alley Insider says is Linden Lab's Bailout Plan? Hit the jump and sound off.
Gamers have enough trouble trying to come up with a game plan to beat pesky end bosses and single-handedly defeat armies of mutant soldiers. Saving often gives gamers an endless advantage and cheat codes can help in a pinch, but neither of these tactics will do any good against an increasing amount of real-life threats the online gaming scene.
More than just an annoyance, time spend in virtual worlds like Second Life can translate into real currency and it's attracted the attention of organized criminal gangs. According to security software vendor ESET (best known for its NOD32 Antivirus products), "high volumes of malware intended to steal passwords for online gaming and virtual worlds" have been detected since 2007, resulting in a "dramatic upsurge."
The alarming news comes courtesy of ESET's mid-yearly Global Threat Report, which focuses on broad trends in malware over the past six months. In addition to an upsurge in attacks against gamers, ESET notes that malicious software that tries to use the Windows Autorun facility to self-install from removable media continues to flourish.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the company reports email bound malware is in "dramatic decline," at least when it comes to dirty attachments. Malicious URLs passed through email messages have taken the place of attachments.
Further reading to keep yourself (and your virtual self) protected:
Google launched their take on Second Life called Lively. The idea behind both Lively and Second Life is to bring a better social dimension to online interaction, or chat in 3D basically. Better is the operative term here. Second Life didn’t hold any appeal for me, it got boring in very short order. I’m just not a sit and chat type person and listening to someone laughing repeatedly is so beyond lame that I would rather go deal with the wife’s “Honey do list” than socialize in Second Life. Give me good old IRC every time. Lively is on the same order of things.
Lively does however have different aspects to its similar approach. Where Second Life is an entire world, Lively is compartmentalized with rooms. I am sure that it would be fairly easy for Google to make that jump and sting the rooms together to be seamless, but it really doesn’t need that. I like the feel of Lively better. Avatars are a little more cartoon like than I remember in Second Life. There are a number of preprogrammed emotes set up for the characters, and there are sure to be more things added both by Google and users daily.
Make the jump to see what else Lively has to offer.
Although trustworthy subscription figures are still awaited, Second Life undoubtedly is the most populated virtual world. It was launched five years ago on June 23, 2003. Second Life’s developers have planned a fest to mark its 5th anniversary. The celebrations will be confined to the Second Life world only.
The extended birthday bash is scheduled to last for two weeks from June 23rd to July 7. Obviously, there will be self-laudatory speeches from the Linden Labs top brass detailing exactly how Second Life has changed the world. Anyways, the fest is being plugged as a cultural event.
Second Life’s developers are trying to churn out a clean event with a PG rating and have expressly proscribed mature content in any of the exhibits.