China, Zynga and the Growing Clout of Digital Communication

Honda-factory-riot-police-006 I began Pixels and Policy as a way of exploring my thoughts
about digital communication as a potentially transformative medium on the
global stage. Around the same time as I began writing Pixels and Policy, way
back in August 2009, tens of thousands of brave citizen activists in Iran stood
up to a regime universally regarded as brutally repressive, violent and theocratic.
Within days of Iran’s
rigged election, the governing powers enacted strict limitations on the flow of

Though much of their fight took place in city streets and town
squares, the rest of the world came to know Iranian protest figures like Neda Agha-Soltan
and Mir-Hossein Moussavi chiefly through their creative use of digital
communication sources as a platform for civic protest. Western news outlets couldn’t
get enough of how the pro-democracy “Green Revolution” mobilized disparate groups
of protesters through online social media like Twitter. Less reported was their
widespread use of virtual social media like Second Life and Facebook, where
communication could carry on unencumbered by the heavy hand of Iranian security

Nearly one year on from my first article about Iran, both
Pixels and Policy and the digital communication landscape have changed
markedly. Without noticing it at the time, Pixels and Policy moved from serving
as a space for compelling original analysis of digital communication on the
world stage to serving as a sort of sub-par news aggregator for virtual worlds.
Pixels and Policy also became uninteresting to read along the way, as my
interactions with readers illuminated. Now I hope to correct course and get Pixels and Policy back to what it once was and should be.

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Social Media Gaming and the Changing Landscape of Virtual World Viability

The virtual world industry can be a very contradictory one, where trail-blazing developers often allow vision and possibility to run ahead of market feasibility. Raph Koster's Metaplace project partnered with the virtual education firm 3D Squared to promote higher standards of hands-on technology education nationwide, but fell victim to a lack of profitability in the short-term. I even applauded Metaplace for its innovative approach to embedded virtual world spaces just hours before Koster publicly announced Metaplace's scheduled closure.

Now a similar fate has befallen, which recently announced its scheduled closure after twelve years as an interesting playground for fun and research. This stands in sharp contrast to the success of social media developers like Playfish and Zynga, the latter of whom is on track for a highly-anticipated public stock offering and its most profitable year to date.

I've seen a few articles about how the closures of hyped worlds like Metaplace and portend the end of the virtual world "hype cycle," with aging platforms like Second Life and new entrants like Blue Mars facing an uphill fight in a bad economy. The Escapist even reports on how advertisers are running from the current virtual world business darling, Playstation Home.

But this is unnecessarily negtive. One need only take a look at the booming market for social media games to see that the current trend is not so much the end of virtual worlds as a transition towards innovative new ways of delivering content.

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