Virtual Worlds Forum Unplugged, The Hospital Club, London

Virtual Worlds Forum Unplugged was an impromptu replacement event for the last minute cancellation of Virtual Worlds Forum (6-8 Oct) due to an unconnected shooting near the event location.

It was hosted in The Hospital Club, a rather swanky venue billed as a place for new media professionals to gather meet and entertain. It ran on Barcamp style unconference rules – ie you turn up and pick a slot in the schedule to talk about your given subject. It was originally a rather large conference so there wasn’t the time or room for everyone to participate in true Barcamp style, but having only a few hours notice I think the events team did well to put this together and it was a great place for all the stranded delegates and speakers to meet.

I met up with a few friends and colleagues and had a very nice day. It was certainly really cool to sit with some of the leading lights and legends of the virtual worlds community, hear them speak and discuss thoughts with them in a way you don’t get to do in a traditional conference.

Below are some notes from a couple of the talks I attended. I hope the organisers aren’t bankrupted by the cancellation of the original event and are able to restructure it at a later date.

The first talk I sat in on was about virtual hospitals and medical facilities
, apologies I didn’t get the name of the chap who was chairing it as I missed the first few minutes. There was a debate around whether health companies would use VW hospitals as a cheap alternative to the real thing.

Education was also discussed, how virtual worlds environments can be used for teaching purposes, but it was emphasised that there needs to be a separation between adult and teen access and different levels of education. Heard what I thought was some quite uneccessary worrying over kids having access to information to do/make sinister things in Second Life and also results of some data on US prosecutions for men picking up young girls on Second Life apparently said it was the girls looking for the men – hmmmm!

Anyway, the bottom line with medical areas in Second Life is not when, but how these technologies are going to change the future of medical services!

Jessie Mulligan, COO, ImaginVenture SA

Talked about trends in gameplay, firstly discussing three different markets:
* One is kids games – huge growth in kids’ games over the last few years
* Games worlds – social worlds, neighbourhoods, theme parks World of Warcraft Habbo Hotel
* Industrial parks – enterprise solutions – Second Life makes more money with corporations

Theme parks are making the most money – a 5 billion dollar turnover – China has a game which has the world’s most simultaneous users. QQ tokens became the currency of choice for gamers and got so big that the government regulated them. Apparently they were used for money laundering and even sex, so the government clamped down on them.

Games are going to grow regardless – it looks like they’re going to branch out more into Triple-A online games (games that you have to download a client to play) such as World of Warcraft. But web browsers games such as MMOGs and adult social world bridge the divide between high price condos and the ghettos – this is where gamers are dividing.

Accessibility and engageabilty – web based products are going to get very popular.

Cultural differences around the world are another consideration. Apparently Greek and Italian gamers have a history of not getting on too well with each other in World of Warcarft. Issues like whose national laws apply in virtual worlds and heavy laws such as people having to register their blogs, laws on gender such as if players are allowed to change their gender online are all things that have different rules in different countries. Huge concern over cultural indifferences in games narrative – when the US brings games into Asia they find the habits of people are different, from art direction to personalities, to technology.

In the next 6 months, apparently Brazil is going to be the third largest owners of installed PCs in the world. Someone asked about metrics for India, apparently they don’t have good enough graphics cards for a lot of games and virtual world play and it’s also an unknown territory as no one has any gaming stats for India. In china MMOGs dominate – because they’ve been so good at monetising gaming in lots of small games – this means they don’t need to have a huge take-up to make money. They’ve been firing off lots of run of the mill MMOGs because they know they can make money really quickly even though the graphics are outdated and in terms of story line they’re nothing new. The money comes in because kids in China are willing to pay to upgrade to a bigger sword whereas mostly in the West people don’t tend to do this because it’s seen as cheating.

For collecting money in Asia the trend is toward micro-transactions because it’s a low barrier to kids and it’s very social – in internet cafes kids show off and interact. They’re very susceptible to new trends. The West is more subscription based.

Games based worlds are going to keep going strong for next 5 years the key words are accessibility and engageablitly and be more web based.


Mark Simpkins lead a discussion on tracking world issues that encompassed virtual worlds, role-play, ARGs and exhibitions.

Mark talked about ‘World Without Oil’ an ARG from Canadian Public Broadcasting Corp and designed by Jane McGonigal. It simulated the first 32 weeks of a global oil crisis and anyone could join in by tracking events, writing stories and sharing solutions. He then went on to tell us about the very recently launched Superstruct game. It’s a massively multiplayer forecasting game based on world threats and how to fix them, in a world set in 2019. It encourages people to think about how they would live with threats such as population explosions, pandemics, power struggles and more – building a virtual world. When you sign up for the game, you can create profiles and imagine structures around how you think the world will be, and submit stories of what you imagine the social structures will be – a bit like a live action role player game – it’s text based, so low tech.

It launched at 4am this morning (6th October) and people are generating stories already with a serious edge.

Last Friday there was a photography project launch – an effort to tell the world about the story of an extremely drug-resistant form of tuberculosis, XDR-TB. Through photographs taken by James Nachtwey. The aim of this project is to raise awareness – it’s curable if you catch in time and people stay on their medication. He created which contains slideshow of his work to break this story globally on blogs, etc and breaking the story of pandemic that is happening now.

The Institute for the Future, based in Palo Alto, California is an independent think tank with 40 years of forecasting experience who work with organisations to help them make more informed decisions about the future. They are going to produce reports from Superstruct.

We discussed how we could deal with a pandemic right now if we thought about it and documented it on a platform such as Superstruct. It was proposed that we could use structs to document all our stories, posts, etc about issues that are important in the world right now. and also thinking ahead that when we are presented with the results of Superstruct we can compare them to other peoples ideas – creating a parallel metaworld on top of Superstruct.

We agreed that Superstruct and was a very interesting project to generate social ideas – promoting the general public to think about real world problems for the future. The question is what should people think about in particular? The credit crunch and other issues of the moment could be social ones such as knife crime and public health issues are a good examples of things we should be considering solutions for now rather than thinking about how to cope with them in the future.


David Burden of Daden showed me Charlotte a virtual chat bot that he’d made for BBC Backstage a couple of years ago, which was a nice coincidence 🙂