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 There.com, 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 There.com 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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Manual Labor in Virtual Worlds: How Fair Are In-Game Auction Houses?

One of the most frustrating times in an MMORPG player's digital life is "grinding" for experience to attain a game's highest levels. This often entails killing hundreds – if not thousands – of enemies over the course of days and weeks to obtain a small advance in the character's level and vital statistics.

But what happens when in-world auction houses like those in World of Warcraft, EVE Online and other games allow time-strapped players to contract out portions of quests to be completed by others in exchange for money?

Pixels and Policy looks at some interesting emerging research on the subject.

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Is 2010 a Breakout Year for Virtual Economies?

A2(1) Thanks to enterprising social media developers, virtual economics hit the stratosphere in the second half of 2009. Companies like Zynga turned low-overhead, pay-for-premiums games like Farmville and Mafia Wars into a profit stream stretching into nine figures.

Can this fantastic growth in the value of virtual objects and virtual economies continue into 2010, or could developers be headed for their own virtual financial crisis?

Pixels and Policy does a little digging and takes a look at a recent Forbes interview with Slide CEO Max Levchin to assess the growth potential of the virtual economy in 2010.

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