Hiro Pendragon on the Shifting Focus of Virtual World Platforms

Today's post is a great read from Hiro Pendragon (Ron Blechner), former CTO of Involve, Inc. and a long-time writer and analyst of business and professional trends in virtual worlds. Hiro recently sat as a guest for a Second Life panel discussion about PBS's "Digital Nation" documentary.

This year will see increasing corporate and academic use of
virtual worlds for private, individual ventures. Marketing efforts in virtual
worlds are pretty much frozen solid, but will thaw a little proportionate to
the recovery of the economy.

Second Life will continue to be the industry
leader for interactive virtual worlds, while opensim-based and Second Life
spinoff worlds will enjoy success for ones that stay cheap or that cater to a
specific niche. But first, let's rewind to 2009.

2009: The Year Of The Social Media App

Let's look at 2009 and see how we arrived here. In one year,
we have seen a number of large, well-funded and publicized virtual worlds
close. We have seen the explosion of “free-to-play” (F2P – or “Free to Pay” as
I like to call them) games on social networks; we also see traditional Massive
Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG) like Everquest 2 and World of Warcraft continue
to draw millions of monthly recurring revenue subscribers.

Second Life is still
industry king of non-game virtual worlds, though the hype-driven growth of 2006
to 2007 has slowed to a more gradual – yet steady – growth rate. Major virtual
world focused developers are gone; only boutique and cross-media shops remain.
The media's focus is on augmented reality and F2P, as well as mobile

Who Turned Off The Lights?

We saw multiple virtual worlds close down in 2009. The ones
that folded were marketing-focused; companies just are not spending significant
money for marketing projects with virtual worlds. This is a combined fault of a
lame economy and a vicious push-back in the media against the over-hype of 2006
and 2007. There are examples of great virtual world marketing projects I have
worked on (such as with Involve) and by
many colleagues.

Virtual worlds offer fantastic marketing opportunities to have
extended brand immersion with thousands of users, but big brand companies just
will not listen anymore. In a bad economy, the money is spent on more
traditional projects. Combine this with sour-grapes media who tried virtual
worlds and failed horribly; they were old media trying to use new media without
understanding it.

Add a fine layer of “journalists and bloggers don't seem to
bother to do any research and mis-portray virtual worlds constantly”. The
result is that there are much easier things to pitch as marketing solutions,
like Twitter and Facebook and iPhone.

First to close was Google Lively, which closed the first day
of 2009. This whole story was surprising to me. One would assume Google needed
only to grow its Google Earth team, perhaps grow alternate planets and allow
private spaces to which one can link and teleport. No, instead we saw a
IMVU-clone, minus the wacky IMVU nested-item economy. With all the media power
and money Google had, it only took half a year for them to close down Lively,
and retroactively call it an “experiment”.

Meanwhile, Google's Sketchup and
Google Earth community continues to post tons of content that is easily
accessible and contextually relevant. If I want to find National Geographic
pictures of wonders of the natural world, I can. If I want to learn about the
genocide in Sudan, I can. If I want to see Rome as it was in its golden age, I
can download that and place it on top of modern day Rome.

Towards the end of the year, Metaplace announced its
imminent closing. I had been rooting for Raph Koster and the Metaplace promise
of pocket virtual worlds that could be embedded in Facebook and websites.
Unfortunately (again, hindsight is 20/20), the focus was initially on
developers and marketing.

The platform needed third party developers to sell it
to clients, and the virtual worlds marketing trend was in the midst of a
cooling. Koster and company were smart enough to realize this and switch to a
more game-centric approach that appealed to end-users. I thought they were
starting to have it down, but it appears that the funding ran out, and they
needed to move on. Whatever's left of Metaplace is working on F2P games on
Facebook, as far as I can tell, and will probably do just fine.

In addition to the closing down of several virtual worlds,
we saw the stagnation of several other worlds who have re-branded themselves to
try and stay fresh . Multiverse continued to seek out developers and brands to
make worlds, and while it has a lot of “Multiverse Places” that are listed “in
progress”, we still have not seen any specific examples of the MMOG-in-a-box
that Multiverse promised when it opened. Open Croquet was reanimated, again, as
Open Cobalt, and enjoys similar levels of open-development talk as previous
incarnations of Open Croquet; it's a very promising platform that needs serious
funding and focus.

VastPark has not needed to re-brand, but are still seeking
developers with funded projects to show off the platform. The ill-named Qwaq
smartly renamed into Teleplace, and offers a variety of virtual world in-a-box
solutions that play nice with Windows Office applications and easy document
sharing. Teleplace shows, in my opinion, the most promise to grow out of any of
these, being that they had a good product to start with, and now have a
sensible name.

Virtual World Developers Scatter

We used to have an industry called “Metaverse Developers”.
Now we have a whole bunch of independent artists and boutique shops, most of
whom specialize in multiple social media platforms. This is, in the end, a good
thing, as my own practice has been to work cross-platform. Have a web
micro-site with video and tie-ins to community forums, a Second Life
destination, and extend into Facebook and mobile applications. That's the smart
way to go.

Really, the problem was that we developers walled ourselves off into
a new industry, rather than integrating with the emerging social media
industry. It's not really our fault; traditional media wouldn't have us.
Traditional media is still convinced that eyeballs on a TV screen is still a
great idea, in the age of DVR and Netflix. But I digress.

There were also big Metaverse shops that made big mistakes.
Some, like Electric Sheep Company (ESC), grew too large with workers too
specialized in one platform, and lost their ability to be agile and flexible.
Others, like Rivers Run Red (RRR) and Millions of Us (MoU), delivered products
with great launch events and nothing for visitors to do in a virtual
destination after the launch.

Or, as with RRR and Duran Duran, garnered lots of
media attention but never delivered a product in the end. ESC, MoU, and RRR
were “The Big Three” in 2006 and 2007, and now they're basically out of the
non-game virtual world space. It's not entirely their fault, either. The “Build
it and they will come” mentality was prevalent, and media was swarming to cover
the latest hype It was very difficult to say no to clients offering 5 and 6
digit contracts but demanded that the developer did things their way, rather
than listening to common sense.

Ignored were things like, “You should have a
staff member around at least part time.” or “A giant car vending machine as the
focus of the attraction? After you do that for 5 minutes, then what?” Instead,
we had things like Wired Magazine's circuit board logo, Reuters' tall office
towers, and empty-car-lots-a-plenty from various auto-makers. RRR has switched
gears and offered an business application for Second Life. MoU moved on to more
game virtual worlds like Habbo and Gaia Online. ESC moved to game-worlds and
their own platform.

I pick on Wired and Reuters particularly for a reason – besides being made by
“Big Three” metaverse developers, they both complained about sour grapes. Chris
Anderson wrote
a piece in mid-2007 throwing Second Life under the bus
. Wired would then
publish Julian
Dibbel's article
six months later portraying anti-social behavior as the
norm for online virtual worlds and games, and a wholly acceptable emergent

pulled both of its reporters by March 2009
, who have both expressed
dismissive comments of Second Life since, while Reuters declared its coverage
“ground-breaking”. This sour grapes attitude was shared by a great deal of
traditional news outlets, both network and online, who hyped Second Life far
beyond reasonable expectations in 2006 and 2007, and then blasted or ignored it
in 2008 and 2009.

Second Life is Still King

Second Life is still on top, as far as virtual worlds. In
fact, it never went away. A 2009
Neilsen report
put Second Life as second overall for all market share of
hours-played, lumped in not just with virtual worlds, not just online games,
but all PC games. Further, when it came to rating based on average hours per
week per user, Second Life was number one, beating even World of Warcraft. Last
quarter, Linden Lab released year-end numbers for Second Life. While
the reality is not as shiny and happy as Linden Lab portrays
, a steady 7 –
10% growth rate for a platform that's been out nearly a decade is nothing to
scoff at.

At the same time, Linden Lab is moving forward with a
variety of new initiatives. They launched the Second Life Enterprise (SLE)
product last year, after successful closed beta testing. While the price-tag is
high (about 50 grand US$), it provides behind-the-firewall control of a private
grid of Second Life that many large companies (like IBM) have been clamoring
for years to get. (And special customer support, as well.)

This year, Linden
Lab has privately shown off their Viewer 2.0, a long and highly anticipated
upgrade to the Second Life viewer both with interface improvements and new
features. This should be released to the public any … day … now.

Focus On Education, Business Use

While marketing is off the agenda for most companies,
education and business use have been strong. There are plenty of projects
involving distance learning, remote business meetings, and simulation. Second
Life has been used for many of these, which you can read about at
. There's Forterra's Olive platform, who has been doing
simulations and drills for government and medical projects, which recently was
acquired by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC).

there's speculation as to whether SAIC will shut down Olive, it's obvious that
the client-base that uses Olive will be absorbed and continue to do business in
virtual worlds. The recent PBS Frontline documentary, Digital Nation,
featured a number of real-business applications, including IBM, education, and
military. There are companies such as The Magicians and Global Kids who
continue to use virtual worlds as educational platforms. The education and
business uses don't get the press that marketing projects with virtual worlds
get, but then again, marketing projects by their nature always push on news
outlets for publicity.

We can safely assume that business and educational uses will
continue with virtual wolds. We will see more universities and high schools
develop classes that utilize virtual worlds, both as the focus (such as a class
on social media interaction) and as a setting for meeting online. Businesses, especially
given the need to cut back spending, will increase their use of virtual worlds
as a way to do meetings of small and medium size.

For larger meetings – getting
into the thousands, such as large conventions – virtual worlds may still have
their place. But rather than trying to cram everyone into one place, virtual
worlds will serve as an extension of a physical event that has limited space.
The smart thing to do is to record video and audio from the event in-world, and
make it available in podcast form so that people can watch an event
asynchronously, in the same way they would any other event or piece of

Private Grids Expand

The biggest change in 2010 and into 2011 is going to be the
expansion of private virtual worlds. Unlike previous attempts, the successful
ones will be based on easy-to-use software and out-of-the-box solutions. What
we are looking at is pre-packaged content offered at a reasonable price, with
the ability to customize with only a medium barrier of entry. “I'll take the
conference room, but I want to put up different furniture and posters from my
company's site.”

Linden Lab started selling starter sims in 2009 to this end.
As people look for budget solutions, OpenSim and variants based on the
open-source viewer technology of Second Life will grow. The key to their
success is not to try and compete with Second Life, because they will never
succeed at establishing the rich, large, diverse community. Instead, the smart
thing is to make private solutions:

Run your class in an OpenSim grid and play
around with simulations

Meet with your colleagues in a virtual office

Do a live event in a private space that you
control and you sign up users via a website


There are already players in this space, and the
world-makers are in store for lots of competition. But for developers who can
keep overhead low, this is an ideal space, and will work like traditional event
planning and Content Management System management.

Game Worlds

Game worlds are hugely popular. If it was not obvious from
how the Engage Expo is almost entirely game-focused, what should be fairly
visible is the number of game worlds that are out there that continue to
thrive. Online game worlds include Habbo, Gaia online, Dinokids, Webkinz, and
so on. They thrive because they have an established overall world with a story,
and they market to kids who are hungry for games that are interactive.

I predict growth in this industry, but not at the rate it
has been going. There are literally hundreds of game-worlds from which to
choose; some of them are going to have to close down simply due to competition.
Established brand names like Disney, Barbie, et al,  will find great success leveraging their
existing, recognized brands. I think also that worlds that tie-in to real
products have a clear ROI as consumers can go and buy more stuff and companies
can give away the virtual world for free. (Or at least, F2P).

Keep it Small, Keep it Niche

While I would like to say that marketing with virtual worlds
is on its way back, I think this is premature. This is not the fault of the
technology, but of the publicity. Virtual world platforms have a big uphill
battle that needs to be fought, and public relations people at these companies
need to be working major overtime. Furthermore, developers need to be part of
this push, and a unified, cohesive message will need to be delivered. “Virtual
Worlds are Ready for Marketing, Just Don't Make The Same Mistakes!” And really,
this is not a new issue. Virtual worlds already went through this in the 1990s,
and marketing and advertising experts failed to retain much, if any, knowledge
gained from it when they tried it again in the 2000s.

If your target is virtual events, private interaction
between users, and educational simulations, then you have a market that's
already ripe, and underdeveloped. Keep your costs low – things do not need to
be as fancy and detailed as marketing projects. That doesn't mean go to a
hobbyist, or even that companies ought to try and do things themselves – but jobs
need to be done by 2 to 5 people, rather than 10 to 20 as they have been. Stay
lean, stay flexible, stay agile, and leverage different social media

Or, If You Need To Be Bigger, Keep It Mixed

If you can offer cross-platform services, then you can take
on larger projects. If there's a lack of new business, consider working on your
network of developers, and go the contractor work for now. You may not need an
iPhone or Facebook apps developer on staff unless you have a steady stream of
these projects. At the same time, there are lots of hungry independent
contractors looking to make friendly with development and social media
marketing companies.

If you happen to be one of these contractors, well, I just
told you who to buddy up with. If you instead want a salary, go knock on the
door of the game-world developers and provide a portfolio of published games on
which you have worked.

Businesses: Wake Up and Converse with Customers

Old media isn't dying, but it is completely changing. You
will not get the reach with banner ads and television or magazine spots that
you used to get. There are wonderful ways to reach consumers, and they all are
social media based. They include platforms like Twitter, Facebook, iPhone and
Android apps, augmented reality, and yes, virtual worlds. You want to be like
newspapers and magazines who are downsizing like crazy?

Be my guests, but if
you want to reach people, you need to make your brand relevant and not random.
Meanwhile, if you have a good product, keeping the conversation with them going
in any of these mediums means tremendous customer loyalty.

Want to paint your website green and take advantage of the
Green Movement? Go virtual. Think less standees in supermarkets and more
micro-games in social networking sites. Consider whether your staff –
especially your highly-visible executives – really needs to travel by
plane to meet more than once or thrice a year; instead, have them meet
virtually for, as multiple accounts agree, is usually about 10% to 30% of the

2010 is the year social media goes corporate. Don't miss


About the Author & Disclaimer:

Ron T Blechner is a social media and virtual worlds expert
professionally since 2005. Ron has contracted previously with multiple
companies listed in this article. Until January 2010, He has been CTO and
Software Project Manager at Involve, Inc. Clients have included Dell Computer,
General Electric, Linden Lab, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, The Weather
Channel, and many others. Ron maintains a blog about technology about virtual
worlds and social media at: www.secondtense.com.

None of this article is meant as investment advice. None of
this article was sponsored by any company. The contents of the article are
copyright 2010 Ron T Blechner and cannot be reproduced outside of Fair Use
without express written consent of Ron T Blechner and Pixels and Policy.

21 thoughts on “Hiro Pendragon on the Shifting Focus of Virtual World Platforms”

  1. Hiro,
    I worked for Sheep, MoU and Rivers Run Red. I was also around when your own attempts at creating ‘marketing’ projects was in full swing. I also remember at SLCC, how it totally upset you got, that your own company, was not was not part of the ‘big three’. How your business partner, heckled a panel with the words ‘big four’! ‘big four’!
    I love how you’re writing a revisionist account of these projects. Most of which, were successful and met the clients briefs. Of course, there was exceptions to the rules, some worked better than others. Also, some fell on their faces. The interesting thing, most of these ‘crap’ projects didn’t come from the ‘big three’. Although, I do wince at some of the mistakes and missed opportunities made at MoU! I do love though, how you’re mainly attributing success factors based on having a ‘person manning the island’. I also love, how you’ve based judgement on projects without a working relationship with the actual client, the brief or the clients marketing goals.
    You’ve also missed how the ‘big three’ won an Emmy, numerous Webby Awards, and other industry plaudits for their work.
    The real issue here, and I recently heard this from someone at Rivers Run Red, was down to the longevity and commitment coming from the nature of the initial engagement. They used the Adidas campaign in SL as an example, they distributed over 50,000 of virtual sneakers. The inworld campaign, out lived the real life campaign. It was also a PR exercise; with SL being part of an overall strategy. So on that measurement, it worked well. The problem was, most of the projects in SL, were driven by other agencies, who commissioned the ‘big three’. Not the actual brand owners or the company. Once they did it, it was time to move onto other ‘new ideas’ and places. Again, they said, there was a difference between ‘campaigns’ in Second Life which was all about 2006/7 and the later ‘community’ projects like Orange, BigPond, Virtual Holland, SecondFest etc. in 2007 and 2008+
    You’ve also glossed over the fact that Mou, RRR and ESC moved on to other things in 2007/2008. Which is now, almost 2 or 3 years later? MoU run a successful product and image licensing company, RRR are knee deep in the Enterprise market, forming a strategic parternship with LL and the SLE in 2008… ESC created their own platform. Hiro, the problem here is that you’re stuck in 2007. What have you done to ‘involve’ since the heyday of 2007? I would take a long hard look at your own projects, as I recall they suffered the same issues. Looking at your own company website, which hasn’t changed since 2008?! What work, projects or products have you developed?
    Also your arrogance of attributing ownership of this article, by trying to own it?! If you’re going to be so arrogant, then re-edit and attribute the various Trademarks associated to the companies.
    Yeo Kalshaw
    SL developer since 2004 (with over 30 commercial projects under her belt!)

  2. @Yeo:
    I’ll respond to your comments:
    RE: SLCC 2006 – I seem to recall joking about that. With people. I hardly was the only one joking about that.
    RE: “Most of these ‘crap’ projects didn’t come from the Big Three”. That’s up for debate. My criticism was more about the hype and financial cost of the projects far outweighing the success of the project. There were some nice builds that should have costed $50,000 or $100,000 and clients were charged literally 10 times that. I know, I’ve spoken with some of these clients after the fact. If these clients thought that these were successes, well, then the developer did a fine job convincing them that their money was well spent. However, given that 90% of the push-back from the media against Second Life for marketing has been “it costs too much for too few people”, I’d say my concerns are valid.
    RE: Good projects. The Big Three had successful projects, as well. Adidas stands out as one. The L-Word stands out as a strong one for E-Sheep. MoU did some great events. If I haven’t made that clear, I apologize.
    RE: Awards they won awards – and that was part of the hype problem. I saw far worthier projects from smaller companies that just did not have the hype machine. People win awards for good work plus mass exposure. Sure, the stuff that won awards was good work, but they also needed the mega-hype or they would have been overlooked.
    RE: ” I also love, how you’ve based judgement on projects without a working relationship with the actual client, the brief or the clients marketing goals. ”
    Incorrect assumption. I spoke directly with almost every client from early pre-production phases of projects. Involve had repeat clients as the rule, not the exception.
    RE: “What have you done lately?” A combination of internal business enterprise projects, stuff under NDA that is still pending release, software development tools, and some projects that we did not put on the website yet. Some of the public ones from late 2008 / early 2009 include 7 Days Magic Bakery (billion dollar Greek company looking to expand into the US) – which was a cross-media campaign (and still ongoing with more things pending), US Holocaust Memorial Museum.
    RE: “The problem was, most of the projects in SL, were driven by other agencies, who commissioned the ‘big three’.”
    I agree! I acknowledged this fact in my article when I wrote: “It was very difficult to say no to clients offering 5 and 6 digit contracts but demanded that the developer did things their way, rather than listening to common sense.”
    These companies grew big and had to shed quickly. I know dozens and dozens of developers and artists who were dropped by the Big Three as they fled from Second Life and distanced themselves as anti-hype about marketing hit. They were left with little choice, but at the same time, they still bear the responsibility for going with the hype.

  3. Thanks for the mention Hiro of Global Kids work in virtual worlds like Second Life, Teen Second Life (TSL) and other platforms. Global Kids was the first organization, beyond Linden Lab itself to explore educational work in TSL and we have been diligently keeping a blog record of this, and projects in other online digital media spaces, since early 2006.
    You can read more at http://olpglobalkids.org
    Global Kids also set up a great community site for educators and other practitioners using virtual worlds and games spaces at http://www.RezEd.org
    Rhiannon Chatnoir
    (Production & Web 2.0 gal for Global Kids & co-owner of the ed/nonprofit focused dev company http://theVesuviusGroup.com)

  4. Hiro…
    You said – “There were some nice builds that should have costed $50,000 or $100,000 and clients were charged literally 10 times that. I know, I’ve spoken with some of these clients after the fact”.
    I literally fell off my chair laughing when I read the above! I was a project manager, I never saw a project 10x that value. Totally wrong. In fact, your $50,000 or $100,000, is totally on the button. Where did you get and why have you made up project budgets at $1,000,000+?! I worked at Sheep and RRR and MoU, on at least 15 projects. There was never a project at that level. Total conjecture. Totally wrong. Totally crazy. I also worked/work in the web/creative industry for 15 years, those budgetproject figures are a different scale of work. Shame on you Hiro. Then again, other than SL, you’re CV is bereft of agency work. You did tech support, right?
    This was never the case, in fact, even today, most projects are from 10k to 50k to 100k.
    Again Hiro, these are projects I have worked on. This is not conjecture and a ‘I spoke to the clients after the fact’ bs.
    Again Hiro, you neglect to actually share with us projects. Instead, you hide behind your clients NDA?! The one project you talk about, 7 Days Bakery, from Sept 2008. Was heavily critiqued for being ‘pretty’ but without any purpose. As one blogger put it, “it’s great quality work, but lacks a reason for being or with a purpose”.
    Again, all style and no substance. Built at the end of 2008, when no one was coming to SL for brand-fluff-marketing. Nice. This was 2008, when the success was coming from community led work from Orange, Big Pond, Second Fest and Virtual Holland. Way to go Hiro!
    So you’ve learnt from your own mistakes? Which is great! Just be man enough to admit it, as it actually could lend a small amount of credibility to your argument.
    Also, all this is from a man who just left his own company in Jan 2010… right?! A company, who hasn’t even updated their copyright notice or site since 2008 – LOL.
    Your last point, I’m working at one of the ‘big three’ at the moment, they seem to be busier and more in SL than ever before! Just not in the public eye, a company that is actually doing and delivering it. Not just talking about it. They still have a lot of the original designers/people/managers from their early days. Including me. They seemed to have avoided over expansion, which blighted ESC. Then again, I’m not expecting you to be balanced here Hiro. As I was informed, you have personal gripes with MoU, RRR and ESC.
    Again, this all feels like you’re talking SL in relation to 2007. Like this just happened today? Why is this news now in 2010, when you’ve even said yourself, that they moved on in 2008?
    Talk about 2010, in relation to 2011-2012. Not a personal history of your own personal baggage. That is personal, and is insulting to people like me, who worked on projects, and continue to work in SL over the last four years.
    It doesn’t matter if I have forgotten if he has on the panel or in the audience. It was still *arrogance* and someone trying way too hard. Was it 2007? Again, a long time ago, and as about as relevant as your argument.

  5. Yeo:
    “Where did you get and why have you made up project budgets at $1,000,000+?!”
    Maybe you weren’t on the big projects. Did you miss when CBS gave E-Sheep 6 million dollars to do a few projects? That’s the most glaring example. Where do I get my numbers?
    1. From past communications with people at the companies. If you’re saying they were exaggerating project sizes, I suppose that’s possible.
    2. From Linden Lab’s developer numbers that they published.
    3. Most importantly, from the mouths of clients who worked previously with these companies.
    “You did tech support, right?”
    I suppose if that’s your definition of CTO. I suppose I’ll take your derision as an opportunity to tout my experience:
    – Provided technical perspective on every single project in concepting and pre-production phases. All elements were discussed as to technical viability, and many suggestions were made and accepted as to what technology could provide as far as features. I did lots and lots of research into technologies, what they can do, what other people were doing with them, how much they cost, and provided guidance.
    – Project managed all software projects and the software team for almost all projects. (Some of the smaller ones I didn’t need to.)
    – Coded when required.
    “Instead, you hide behind your clients NDA”
    Generally that’s what you do with NDAs. You don’t violate them.
    RE: Your quote from SLAmbling:
    Actually, you completely invented that quote. No where in the blog you linked does it say that. In fact, that blog post was overwhelmingly positive. Here’s a real quote from it:
    “There’s a lot more I could say about this place – but really the only thing I would say is: add it to your ‘Must See’ list. No.. don’t do that. Just go there.”
    Shame on me? You just outright lied and invented a quote. I have nothing else to say to you. Liar.

  6. Hiro,
    Where did you see or make up a $6,000,000 project fee from CBS? If you mean the VC and investment at ESC, you have a point, but this yielded the WebFlock platform. Again, you’re blowing hot air. You weren’t there. I spoke to my original colleagues at ESC, who told me you worked for the Sheep. Which ended acrimoniously, with Sheep basically asking you to leave. There was never that kind of investment at RRR or MoU. I just asked people at RRR, who told me there was never that level of budgets, it was maximum 100k and most commonly 15k to 30k. Also, those SL developers numbers surveys, are not checked and you can put anything you want.
    OMG CTO?! Of a what was it, 3 or 4 person company? Grandious delusions of grandeur. Before SL Hiro, what did you do? As for the job description of what you did… really!? is that needed? My question is what you did before Involve. You did tech support and engineer support, right?
    HIro, do a trawl of the bloggers who mentioned your project/s Or even do a search on the opinion formed about you, your company and what you have said in the past — all makes for interesting reading. I was actually being kind, by not REALLY showing you what people say about you.
    7 Day Bakery – You managed to miss my point, it was a Pure Marketing Fluff job.
    When everyone else had stopped doing them, by your own admission by Sept 2008. The ‘big three’ had left to do other things. As it was not sustainable, and the promise was not fulfilled. Why then did you continue to waste client money on unsustainable projects?
    Yes, it’s a nice report. A really good design, nice looking and all. But we know it doesn’t work as a marketing exercise. People were not coming in the numbers needed to make it worthwhile. Why then did you continue to recommend these marketing fluff pieces, after the hype had finished? How much did you charge the client, knowing damn well that marketing-fluff-sims would not work? There wasn’t even the level of PR opportunity, as the press had lost interest in reporting on Second Life.
    Almost the same month you launched that project, I found this announcement by Linden Lab and RRR:
    A month after that time, WebFlock was launched and MoU were in the license business. Which means, they were developing this all end of 2007, beginning 2008. You launched 7 Day Bakery in October 2008? So you continued to peddle the hype: almost at the end of 2008 and well into 2009. Shame on you.
    Those dates are not liars, they expose the truth.
    So they had moved on, funny how you couldn’t see the writing on the wall?
    I’m not telling you my name or identity, as a woman with disabilities, who attends the SLCC. I don’t want to be confronted by you, I have witnessed your style of verbal attacks. You can be very overbearing, and almost come across as threatening. From what I read in the blogs, my concerns are not unfounded.
    It’s a shame that you won’t admit being a peddler of the HYPE. Preferring instead to blame others, and washing your own hands of any involvement. You forget Hiro, we know you from the past and witnessed your words and actions at SLCC.
    Let’s leave this Hiro, as we’re wasting the readers time. The people who know you, know you. I would suggest people Google you and your time in SL.
    Your also obviously looking for work, as you’ve left Involve now and want publicity. My other thought, as a development company, I would be very aware of how you treat those relationships post employment. Way to go Ron! A great advert for your skills and trust.

  7. Yeo,
    Once again: you completely invented a quote and attributed it to slambling blog. That’s a lie.
    My time with the Sheep? I had a 3-month arrangement with them from Jan 2006. They went with other development teams afterward, and I went with other clients. Lots of other contractors did the same thing with many different development companies.
    About the budgets – for years these same companies were touting huge budgets. Linden Lab would release reports – based on polls done from the developers – and profits were reported as in the millions from multiple developers. If you’re saying now they’re denying it, that would mean that previously they were lying both to the public and to Linden Lab.
    But common sense rules here – Electric Sheep Company had over 60 people at the apex. Even if each person is earning merely $25,000 a year, that’s $1.5 million in salary alone, before healthcare, expenses, travel, and so on and so forth. I can believe that RRR and MoU had smaller budgets, because they had smaller shops and smaller scale projects.
    What I think here is that you’re referring to budgets int he 2008 – 2009 range, and I’m referring to ones in 2006 – 2007. I think that’s a simple misunderstanding.
    Your assertion that Second Life marketing is unsustainable is a matter of opinion. Certainly, it’s up for debate, and I enjoy conversation about it. If disagreeing with you means I’m “Still peddling hype”, well, that’s your opinion.
    RE: Comments about IWS and webflock:
    RRR and Immersive Work Spaces – as I understand, RRR did all the legwork and Linden Lab was happy to promote a product that promoted Second Life. If that’s what “Strategic partnership” means, that sounds fine. I’ve never knocked IWS. At worst, I’ve commented privately to my friends that it’s a temporary product that may be outdated by technology. That doesn’t make it a bad product for now.
    E-Sheep and WebFlock – indeed. They created their own platform. Its focus is business use.
    What do both have in common? They both support the overall conclusions that I stated in this blog post:
    1. That Virtual World focus is shifting to private business use.
    2. That The Big Three have shifted away from Second Life.
    As for your disabilities – I’ve met plenty of people with disabilities who don’t hide behind anonymity. I think it’s unfair that you will attack me quite personally here, and then claim you don’t want to reveal your identity because you fear the same for me. Is this a policy of “pre-emptive character attack”?
    I realize you’re upset about my negative comments to your employer. The thing is, my comments here are *tame* compared to the b.s. I’ve witnessed in this industry.
    Here’s some examples, minus names:
    – Contractor hired, sweet-talked about how stable his job would be, just relocated across the country, downsized one month later.
    – Contractor heard about his unemployment via a web forum after the fact, after the employer promised them steady work.
    – Developer had a multi-million dollar deal with a major company, word got to a rival and it was poached.
    – Developer canceled a job mid-way, didn’t pay the remainder, poached a staff to finish it, then treated that staff like crap until they quit.
    – Person who interrupted a conference panel about working together as developers to promote his latest publicity stunt.
    – Company hears suggestions from contractor, tells them they’re crappy, and then proceeds to make that a core business model.
    – Contractor working on the cheap achieving fantastic results that more than paid for his salary 10 times, laid off right after his wife gave birth so it could go to volunteers instead.
    – Company hires 10 contractors to make the same 10 sims, getting each one to do the first on the cheap, and then firing them claiming the job wasn’t good, refusing even to pay full payment on the *cheap* price on some of them.
    I won’t say whether or how many or which were Big Three, but all of them were from companies that enjoyed hype and reputation. And I’m sure there are other sides to the story. However, there is an ugly side to this industry; it was brought on by the hype. And now that the hype’s gone, I don’t hear these kinds of stories very often anymore.
    As for what I did before Involve – I did misunderstand what you asked. Before Involve, I did a combination of proactive and reactive support for cellular networks and C++ programming. In my spare time, I did extensive research into virtual worlds. But why bring this into question? There are plenty of people who got into virtual worlds who did completely unrelated things beforehand, still doing good work. Giff, for instance, came from Wall Street to join the Sheep. Aimee Weber was a 2-D graphic designer and thrived with 3-D design. Stroker Serpentine was a plumber. Adam Frisby, who runs one of the premier openSim projects, was a student. I also made sure – and continue to make sure – that I listen to people with far more experience than I do. My CEO at Involve had 20 years marketing and advertising experience. My Creative Director formerly worked at Disney and taught game design at a university. I consult people who have been in virtual worlds since they began, people with decades of software development experience, etc. From time to time, I’ll mention them in my blog.
    In short, my opinions are a coalescing of many, many experts with decades of experience. Whenever possible, I promote other bloggers and thinkers who are saying smart things about virtual worlds and social media, Max being the most immediate case in point.
    I’m sorry if I ever offended you personally. I have hope that we can bridge the gap and come to some common ground, even if it’s just for perspective.
    But what I won’t apologize for is writing a post and speaking up for the dozens and dozens of artists and independent contractors who got screwed because the big players couldn’t see that the hype bubble would burst. Meanwhile, these companies shed people, moved on to other areas, and leveraged the positive hype that they helped create to their benefit. It’s not like it was specifically their intention or recklessness, however, it’s still their responsibility. If that makes me a bad person for saying so, so be it.
    What’s happened, happened. To understand where things are going in the next year, I had to explain where we’d come from, and why certain things were the way they are. There is an enormous difference between criticizing the actions of people, and personally attacking them as individuals.

  8. Again Hiro, my point is:
    1) You’re living in the past, this is 2010. Not 2007.
    2) You’ve used this blog to bring up your own personal gripes, perhaps even exercising your own personal demons?
    3) Attributing blame on how these companies dealt with people is the wonderful thing about hindsight. Again, I’m sure every story has two sides.
    4) As one of the people, who was laid off by ESC. Please don’t condescend to play this role of self appointed spokesman. It’s not welcome or needed, we’re all adults here.
    5) The gripes you’ve raised, is not unique to our industry. I have worked in: design, HR, advertising, media, art buying. What you’ve illustrated, is happening everywhere, everyday, now and unfortunately in the future.
    6) From the best of my knowledge, and I worked for them, not just from hearsay and gossip. ESC burnt through their VC money, which was unique to ESC. This means, they spent the money from the investment rounds. I also believe, Sibley used a fair amount of his own money as an angel fund investor. Putting his money where his mouth was.
    This was not based on revenues generated, which is how most companies operate. They spent the money raised, or invested by third parties. When it run out? Of course, it all ended. Those ex-ESC who gripe? Should also remember they were part of the dream, loved the free trips to South Carolina, the good salaries and bonuses. Again, two sides to all stories.
    So yes it was a mad time, hence why it all ended so quickly for ESC. As for RRR and MoU, they didn’t over employ or burn through their capital. Although, I wasn’t as close to them as I was with ESC. The one who I personally have the most respect for is RRR, who continue to be in the space and create interesting work. They have personally helped me, and been very supportive over the years. Something I hear from a lot of people they employ. I wouldn’t work for MoU after a few incidents, my decision is a personal choice, a moral one. I don’t work for people who specifically target 6-9 years old, this is exploitation and morally wrong.
    7) There really wasn’t 1,000,000+ deals, this is pure fantasy. It was the budgets you said: 50k to 100k per project.
    8) You’re over stating your own role, you’ve been a bit-part player in this industry. Your own company haven’t done enough, or delivered enough to be really relevant. Beyond this blog, and few mentions, I haven’t seen you, your company or projects being used in the mainstream press, books or thought leadership conferences. Perhaps I have missed them? Sorry, 6-7 projects over a 7 year period does not make you a leader. Most people don’t know who you are, or even what you do. Sorry, but this is true. Away from this blog post, you’ve been literally invisible.
    Max should have asked Sibley ESC, Ian Hughes EX IBM, Justin Bovington of RRR, Tony O’Driscol, Peter Stephens of Oracle, Reuben Steiger of MoU, M Linden, Philip Rosedale, Cory Linden, Robin Harper, Ham Rambler, The Rezzable teams, Adam Frisby, Aimee Weber… plus about 10 more names, who would be at the head of my queue.
    Sorry about this Ron, maybe this is actually down to Max? Someone IM’d me, saying that Max did this on purpose, he is the master of controversy. He knew that it would make a splash. Knew that it would be thread filler. I’m just surprised Prok hasn’t chimed in, she’s a big fan of yours also? I think you’ve been ‘owned’.
    You win Max! The bee’s nest has been shaken.

  9. “Max should have asked Sibley ESC, Ian Hughes EX IBM, Justin Bovington of RRR, Tony O’Driscol, Peter Stephens of Oracle, Reuben Steiger of MoU, M Linden, Philip Rosedale, Cory Linden, Robin Harper, Ham Rambler, The Rezzable teams, Adam Frisby, Aimee Weber… plus about 10 more names, who would be at the head of my queue. ”
    The fact that within 3 years (2006-2009) almost everyone named here is not working on/in 3dmedia virtual worlds today within a growing industry or company suggests the real value of your thought leaders listed. (Sponsored blog articles and sponsored conference seating positions taken into account)

  10. Doug, you get my point. I’m sure you have a list of names also.
    Hiro, My blog quote was a summary of the overall bloggers opinion. Which is that its good and all, but not really relevant. It was a marketing-fluff-piece. No community and was delivered after the brands, press and very hype. I cited that link a reference to what people said.
    Liar is in many flavors, my favorite being people making rash sweeping statements. Statements that are backed up with, I spoke to a man-who-knows-a-man blog posts. This is not a source or the truth. Just pure conjecture and spin. I was there. I know what happened. You were not there in those companies to know what was happening. Therefore your entire blog is suspect.
    Max who is the editor, should contact the companies asking them to comment. That way, we’ll get the TRUTH from the REAL source. Not someone who has a personal gripe.
    Ron, this would be a fair way for us to know the actual real history?

  11. Doug, the names I suggested I did some deeper research, all the names I mentioned, are in the industry still. All are active and running thought leading projects. Not sure why you came to your conclusion? As for it they spoke, it would turn into a paid advert? This is what happened with Ron, this was a vain attempt at a personal advert. He might as well of signed off his blog with “hey, I’m available for hire as a consultant”.
    As of Feb 2010, and from 2006 onwards.
    Reuben Steiger of MoU – is active and running a company who license brand and products in virtual worlds: IMVU and kids virtual worlds.
    Ian Hughes ex-IBM – now runs Feeding Edge, who are developing their product and services in Virtual Worlds. Including work in Web.Alive and SL.
    Peter Stephens – Oracle: is developing a Web.Alive and works in SL
    Justin Bovington – RRR – are still very active, have been in SL since 2003. They run ImmersiveWorkspaces and other related products.I also know they’re working on a larger new project with LL.
    Ham Rambler – Dublin Sim is one of the most successful community projects in SL. Highly respected, and is a thought leader
    Philip Rosedale – is still with LL, just now running LoveMachine, which is actually being linked with SL. He was even on TED last month talking about SL!
    Robin Harper – is consulting, was recently involved with Metaplace and continues to be in the industry.
    Tony O’Driscol ex-IBM – Now is leading DUKE University virtual world effort. He also just published a book on the subject of virtual worlds.
    Adam Frisby – the face of OpenSim, also owns one of the largest land rental businesses in SL, also an animation studio for SL.
    The Rezzable team – keep a presence in SL, also are working in OpenSim

  12. “My blog quote was a summary of the overall bloggers opinion.”
    No. It wasn’t. Again, the article concludes with: “There’s a lot more I could say about this place – but really the only thing I would say is: add it to your ‘Must See’ list. No.. don’t do that. Just go there.”
    You’re an anonymous troll. Repeating things won’t make them true.

  13. Just about every one listed is now working alone, looking for work, or working as a MUCH smaller. much more exposed, player today. Theres much PR spin on your list.
    If the issue was the focus on virtual worlds platforms as a growth industry media -aka TV, film, or radio before it, then this entire thread, both your PR spin for those you listed, and Hiro’s take on his experiences, show’s that the meaning of the term “thought leadership” was the true casualty of virtual worlds media and actions during the 2006-9 bubble.

  14. @Avery,
    Thanks for commenting. I took a look at the link you provided, and it definitely represents some of the smarter ideas and practices from folks who are running good educational campaigns with virtual worlds. Thanks for sharing that!

  15. There’s plenty of money being made in SL these days… by land barons, Zyngo places, in-world RPGs, and consumer-content businesses (e.g. prefab homes, trees, skins, clothing, scripted vendors, etc… all being sold direct to consumers).

  16. @Jack
    You’re absolutely correct. My focus was geared toward developers; perhaps I could have been more explicit in stating that.
    At the same time, I think my advice of “keep it small, keep it niche” applies to the types of things you listed. From what I observe, people who make money doing virtual item selling do so by carving out a niche and keeping their production methods with as few people as possible.
    Thanks for pointing these out – it’s valuable for developers, media, and businesses in general to realize that virtual goods commerce is still strong in virtual worlds and growing.

  17. This is an interesting article, despite some bitching in the comment stream.
    I agree with many of Hiro’s core points. In particular, Teleplace is a real killer app.
    Many projects in SL were killed by the end clients themselves who grossly underestimated the required effort, especially in terms of attention and time by in-house human resources. I have some realm horror stories to tell.
    If SL is about to reload after the launch of the 2.0 platform (I hope so), my current advice to must prospect clients is: don’t even try to run your own branded sum, but start by renting facilities and facilitators for day events.

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