Trademarking Avatars and the Future of Virtual Ownership

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Aimee Weber (TM)

Back in late October I wrote about how how Second Life content creator Aimee Weber sought to have her avatar's name made into a registered trademark. Well, all legal hurdles were cleared and a bit of virtual world history made in the process. 

 

This is a natural progression of any technology that allows individuals to make profit. Many virtual worlds journalists have been predicting an "avatar singularity" – where the user creates and owns a single avatar for use in virtual worlds as far afield as Blue Mars and Everquest.

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Could Standardizing Virtual Worlds Turn Off Consumers?

3059934552_c9b5be27d9 One of the major impediments to widespread use of virtual worlds is standardization. What virtual worlds need for mainstream success, the theory goes, is unification across platforms.

One article argues that this means the ability to carry one avatar between worlds.

Pixels and Policy takes a look at why consumers may not stomach the shift.

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Why Do People Pay Real Cash for Virtual Items?

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Here's a question many researchers have stumbled over at one point or another in their careers as pioneering virtual world analysts: Why do people pay real money for virtual items?

Pixels and Policy takes a look.

Digital Growth, Real Revenue

The virtual economy is certainly more than an aberration, and with Second Life bringing in nearly $500 million a year in virtual sales alone, the virtual economy may even be doing better than the real economy!

A new report published in the Virtual Economy Research Network argues that Second Life and other virtual worlds have such healthy real-to-virtual economies because of one main factor: social pressure.

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2009 in Review: Virtual Worlds Take Over Hollywood

As James Cameron's 3D epic Avatar surpasses record after record for a newly-released film, many in Hollywood are looking for the next big film. A few years ago it was teen wizards. Last summer it was sparkling vampires.

2009 may well be known as the year virtual worlds got their big-screen endorsement.

Pixels and Policy looks back at how three major films explored virtual reality and attracted new converts to the world of interactive synthetic environments.

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Multiplayer Gaming: Bigger than Hollywood.

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Forget watching Iron Man and thinking you're superhero-with-attitude Tony Stark. Multiplayer video games allow you to be a Tony Stark-type character.

It's this interactivity and customizability, says Tom Chatfield

of The Guardian, that explains why multiplayer gaming has surpassed moviegoing as society's imaginative escape of choice.

Pixels and Policy investigates.

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Players May Soon Use One Avatar for Multiple Worlds

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One of the major impediments to
widespread use of virtual worlds is standardization. I like to think of
the hundreds of virtual worlds out there as early Italy – a dozen
little empires going about their business more or less independently.

What the virtual world needs is unification, one avatar to rule them all.

As several sources have
been reporting, the desire for one unified avatar is growing, and
worlds interested in capturing e-commerce may find they have no choice.
The age of the persistent avatar may be closer than we think.

Continue reading Players May Soon Use One Avatar for Multiple Worlds

The L.A. Times Contemplates America’s Avatar Addiction

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As we discussed yesterday, the recent spate of virtual reality action flicks has Hollywood is gaga over gamers.

Between James Cameron's Avatar, the Bruce Willis vehicle Surrogates, Gerard Butler's Gamer, and anything else currently in the pipeline, more people are experiencing virtual worlds through old media than ever before.

The Los Angeles Times has a thoughtful report on the prevalence of virtual worlds movies and what this means about what our society is thinking:

"One life isn't enough for anyone anymore," said Mark Neveldine, who co-directed "Gamer" with Brian Taylor.
"Part of it is people get heavily isolated today and then they also
greedy, they want more than the life they have and what it can offer."

Read on to uncover why the Los Angeles Times thinks the trend of virtual worlds flicks will only increase as we move deeper into the Metaverse.

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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:

 
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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.