How Evolving Laws and Workplace Needs are Bringing Companies into Harmony with the Virtual World

The sputtering global economy
could have a silver lining – companies looking to cut travel costs are
turning to the virtual world for more business services than ever. As a reader recently pointed out, this means more than traveling to a meeting in the virtual world instead of trekking across the country. It also means that important training and workforce development projects are finding happy homes in the Metaverse.

As
CNN reports
, companies are increasingly turning to telecommuting
and virtual conferencing in graphical virtual worlds as a means of
shaving costs and remaining competitive in an economy where credit is
still tight and government life preservers are harder to come by. Let's take a look at just how serious this trend is.

Continue reading How Evolving Laws and Workplace Needs are Bringing Companies into Harmony with the Virtual World

Larry Rosenthal on the Transition from 2D to 3D Interfaces

Today's post is a great one from Larry Rosenthal (Cube Inada), a virtual thought leader and creator of Cube3, a front-line design and consulting firm founded in 1990. Larry has been active across a broad spectrum of virtual worlds for nearly two decades, and brings a wealth of industry expertise to his subject matter. Larry originally explored these ideas in the virtual world magazine Maxping,

It's been almost 25 years since the GUI of the MACINTOSH was
unleashed on the design community in 1984. It's black and white
"icons" led to the death of the "text-dos" interface and the birth
of the 2D GUI interface. First used by the public on the Mac, then
almost everywhere else with the introduction of "Windows", the 2D
GUI and its language of metaphors and iconography has become the
standard for computer-user interface in today's world.

The inherent
strengths of the 2D GUI created a medium where the tool maker and
tool user both learned to understand the media by "how to get
around" and "what the story is " and "how this thing is to work "
from the use of visual cues and relationships. These cues became so
obviously more effective than the text-only interfaces that had
been offered to do the same before as a text only interface.

Continue reading Larry Rosenthal on the Transition from 2D to 3D Interfaces

Eulb Deco Slams Blue Mars Content Creation Restrictions in New Machinima

Avatar Performance Artist Eulb Deco – also known as Jeremy Owen Turner of Vancouver – recently published an interesting machinima to celebrate his release from Blue Mars's non-disclosure agreement.

The machinima takes aim at one of the topics Pixels and Policy has investigated in the past: Whether Blue Mars is unfairly restricting content creation among small developers in favor of more profitable corporate deals.

Pixels and Policy is proud to host Deco's machinima. Below the fold you'll find one of the first pieces of Blue Mars performance art, and Deco's description of his work.

Continue reading Eulb Deco Slams Blue Mars Content Creation Restrictions in New Machinima

Blue Mars Brings Business-Friendly Adobe Flash Capability In-World

Adobe_flash_1470_1470 Another day, another step forward for Pixels and Policy's most controversial acquaintance, Blue Mars.

This time, though, Blue Mars takes a development step even we can't quarrel with – fully integrated Adobe Flash for interactive in-world 'net browsing.

Pixels and Policy takes a look at what this means for Blue Mars and its competitors.

Continue reading Blue Mars Brings Business-Friendly Adobe Flash Capability In-World

Blue Mars Developer Partners with the Smithsonian Institution

6a0120a51c39be970b0120a5c93252970c-800wi Pixels and Policy took its knocks a few months ago for reporting on the content creation and ownership system of the new virtual world Blue Mars, but now it's Second Life against the ropes.

As a recent Business Journal article points out, Blue Mars is making some big partnerships in an all-out bid to displace Second Life as the virtual world of choice for individuals and business clients alike.

Take a look below the fold for more on the story.

Continue reading Blue Mars Developer Partners with the Smithsonian Institution

Disabled Gamer Sues Sony For Lack of Access to Virtual Worlds

1-thishandoutp Virtual worlds have the potential to improve the lives of the disabled, but not everyone thinks the Metaverse will solve problems of accessibility.

Pixels
and Policy looks at how one disabled gamer is suing the developer of Everquest
for alleged discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Continue reading Disabled Gamer Sues Sony For Lack of Access to Virtual Worlds

A Closer Look at Blue Mars and Corporate Content

Bluemars02 Monday's article outlining how Blue Mars appears to be setting up a content creation system tailored toward established businesses stirred up some strong reactions in our e-mail inbox.

Virtual entrepreneurs raised on Second Life's individual development environment protested Avatar Reality's "brazen sop" to large companies, as one commenter posted.

Blue Mars had its defenders, exemplified by commenter Rock Vacirca, who gave us a tongue lashing for ignoring the intricacies of Blue Mars's 'terraforming' system. Vacirca argued that the registration process discourages the intellectual property theft currently rocking Second Life.

At the prompting of readers both for and against the article, we explored further into Blue Mars's content creation plans. What we found further confirms our worries.

Continue reading A Closer Look at Blue Mars and Corporate Content

Blue Mars Gives Corporations a Monopoly on Content Creation

Bluemars6s

   Will players accept very restricted development tools?

We received our strongest hints yet that Avatar's Blue Mars is moving towards an in-world policy that would make large corporations the sole licensed content sellers in their virtual realm.

I spoke with Blue Mars guide Summer Studio about the ins and outs of getting content built in Blue Mars.

As you might recall, our review of Blue Mars praised its graphical beauty and hauntingly realistic character models while slighting it for feeling empty. Now, we don't mean empty in the physical sense. We just felt something was, well, missing from Blue Mars.

That missing something is content creation, and by the look of things, individual users have some serious hoops to jump in order to unlock the modeling power of CryEngine 2.

Continue reading Blue Mars Gives Corporations a Monopoly on Content Creation

Beta Testing the Beautiful and Troubled “Blue Mars”

You may recall we
knocked Blue Mars
in the past for cozying up to corporations by restricting
content creation rights to big business. It was surprising, then, that our
number came up for an opportunity to beta test Avatar’s well-promoted baby.

Never one to waste a good opportunity, we jumped into Blue
Mars with a palpable excitement.

The character
creation screen is necessarily slim.
I don’t hold this against Avatar,
since the important point was to get players out into the world. For its slim
selection of faces and hair, though, Blue Mars provides an impressive rendering
of the human form. The level of customizability – a slim eyebrow here, pouting
lips there – provides depth while not feeling overwhelming.

This is a major point in Blue Mars’s corner, as Second Life
has perhaps the most user-unfriendly interface for a player new to online
gaming.

You’ll find an
endless ocean in the “Landing Zone.”
This vast expanse of nothingness is a
simple way of introducing the player to the movement and interaction modules. A
dutifully assigned Avatar intern greets you upon arrival, and you’re likely to
see five or ten other avatars milling about, learning the controls, exploring
nothing in particular.

Desiree

             
Click to enlarge

This was where the beauty of Blue Mars’s characters really
stands out. I met an avatar named Desiree Bisiani, pictured at right, and she
was, without a doubt, pretty. The avatar is leagues ahead of anything available
on a free-to-play MMORPG, no doubt thanks to the all-consuming CryEngine2 and its graphics
pumping ability.

You encounter a major
gameplay hurdle
at this point. While Blue Mars is certainly beautiful, it’s
demanding on an older computer. Even my GeForce 8600 GT struggled to run the
game at anything near the default high-graphics setting to which it’s locked.
Blue Mars staffers in the Landing Zone readily admit it that running the game
without debilitating graphics stutter requires a GeForce 8800.

That’s a big investment for a casual player, and cutting out
a wide swath of your potential user base at the outset is hardly a wise idea. Avatar
insists it is running Blue Mars at high settings for testing, but will soon
allow the player to downscale the graphics. But in a world built so wholly on
beauty, this kills one of the game’s major selling points.

There is also a shocking lack of direct-chat and instant
messaging features
, and this was a complaint many players came back to in the
Landing Zone. Aside from complaints over graphical demands, a lack of utility
for the friends list was the most common one I heard.

Staggered graphics
aside, it feels empty in Blue Mars
, and not because there are only a few
people there. Sure, you can sail a ship along a photorealistic ocean; you can
golf and take in idyllic views; you can explore New Venice, pictured to the
left, and go on an orb-hunting adventure. But these games won’t hold players
for long. This leads to one of Blue Mars’s major let-downs:

 
Venicejg
                  
Click to enlarge.

Content creation is a
no-go unless you’re corporate.
Unlike Second Life, players can’t produce
content and expand the game beyond its original parameters.

That right belongs
to large landholders, mostly corporations, which found themselves shut out of
Second Life due to their inability to compete with the native content
producers. It really is a shame, because content creation would put Blue Mars
in a league of its own.

Blue Mars will
succeed in its own right regardless of content creation, because Blue Mars
caters to a different kind of gamer. There are countless players to whom
learning content creation and scripting skills reminds them of homework. I’ve
yet to create anything in Second
Life. For those players, Blue Mars will succeed so long as it continues producing
engaging, immersive activities and fascinating landscapes like the one pictured
at right.

Blue Mars may not be
a Second Life killer, but it won’t matter.
These two games, it is clear,
are not competing for the same fan base. With increasing numbers of online
gamers logging on for the first time every week, there is an expanding and
heterogeneous group of new recruits from which to choose. Blue Mars simply
pulls from a different group.

Venice 2p

                            
Click to enlarge

Its graphical benchmark aside, Blue Mars has potential. It
will be interesting to see how the corporate-friendly model works, and it would
be wrong to condemn it too harshly.

The Metaverse is a place of infinite
experimentation, where worlds like Blue Mars and Second Life can exist
side-by-side, trying out opposed market ideas and viewing the results of their
experiment in real-time.

Now if only Blue Mars let you fly.

Accolades Continue for Our Piece on Iranian Protesters

Our article on the Iranian opposition using Second Life has seen a lot of press and publicity since it was posted on Pixels and Policy. It's received mentions on dozens of major websites, including
the excellent policy and politics website Truthout, Canadian newspaper Alternatives, and Iranian newspaper Iran-va-Jahan. Now it's getting one more.

This is a great way to end the week. Just got word from an eagle-eyed reader that our to continue their pro-democracy rallies, which was originally featured on the Institute for Policy Studies' Foreign Policy in Focus think tank, has been promoted once more!Untitled

An FPIF staff writer got in touch with me a few days ago about my edits and thoughts on making a summary version of the original Iran article as part of FPIF's "60 Second Expert" series. These articles are intensely summarized pieces that explain arguments and facts of an article in a way that is easily digestible to a busy reader.

Well, I just found out that the 60 Second Expert piece based on my original story (this blog's inaugural piece) was posted! Here's hoping that even more people get an opportunity to see the amazing ways virtual worlds are changing foreign relations