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VWFall: In for An Exciting Ride, From San Jose at the Virtual Worlds Conference Fall
post Oct 12 2007, 08:10 PM
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Virtual Worlds Fall ’07 kicked off on Wednesday in San Jose, California, in front of a crowd of one thousand. From business strategy to customer service and everything in between, it offered something for everyone. It did not fail to impress me, beginning with the opening keynote speech.

I groggily pulled myself out of my hotel bed and prepared for the first day’s full agenda of meetings, lectures and interviews. I grabbed my morning cup of coffee and hurriedly rushed downstairs to the adjacent San Jose Convention Center, ripe with anticipation of how this event would compare to last spring’s Virtual Worlds Spring in New York City. Clearly, this conference was impressive in size and scope from the get-go, from the number of speakers and attendees to the sheer scope and magnitude of the topics discussed.

After signing myself in and putting the Press Pass around my neck that announced to the attendees that I was there to write about them (though I admit the Press Lounge is an equally nice benefit!), I found the Keynote Hall and took a seat amongst a sea of new faces. Networking is a high priority and the sounds of shuffling business cards was the predominant white noise, followed closely by the shaking of hands and zipping of bags. I thumbed through the conference catalog and assessed the biographies of those that I intended to meet while awaiting the keynote speech. I looked around the massive hall which showcased signage from the prominent VW Fall lead sponsors until the lights lowered to a dim greenish hue and the speakers took the stage.

After a brief introductory by Chris Sherman, the Executive Director and Founder of Virtual Worlds Management, The Electric Sheep’s Founder and CEO Sibley Verbeck ascended the stairs, in relative awe of the number in attendance. Known for his research-laden past with media analysis in addition to the wild success that his company, ESC, has garnered (not to mention his trademark leather cowboy hat and flock of long, dark hair underneath), Verbeck’s enthusiasm for virtual worlds and the future is contagious. Yet, there is one virtual demographic that excites him more than any other: youth. While adult platforms are here to stay, he argues that they do not inherently require the same drive for innovation as do the kid and teen platforms. While there has been significant technological development in the field, he argues, “Adult users have already adapted,” whereas the youth markets necessitate development of technology for easier interfaces and richer user experiences. “Kid platforms are going to push the envelope with technology,” he charismatically tells the audience, citing the need for better technology with fewer machine requirements and the like. “Teen platforms, on the other hand, will continue to implement what teens are already using like instant messaging, forums, and other 2d means of communication, while adding virtual value to them,” said Verbeck.

Following Verbeck’s speech was the keynote, offered not by an industry insider, but rather from an unlikely source, at least at first glance. Anthony Zuiker is the creator, writer and executive producer of the world’s most popular television show, CSI. Syndicated in every country in the world with the exception of six, Zuiker’s CSI, CSI: Miami, and CSI: New York have captivated a mature global audience. Yet, Zuiker and the CBS franchised show are not content with the antiquated idea of actually having an ‘audience’. Afterall, audiences are mere bystanders, unable to participate directly with what they are engaged in, a theme recurrent at some the conference’s panels. Teaming up with The Electric Sheep Company, CSI announced that it is getting involved in the virtual landscape of Second Life in a rather innovative way to push the bounds of their own media. Airing on October 24, CSI: New York’s lead actor, Gary Sinise, will participate on the platform while on the hunt for his suspect. But, more exciting news for Second Life residents and potentials alike is that Second Life citizens will have the opportunity to assist in the drama’s investigation.

Harking back to the VW Spring, it was Verbeck who advocated the need for businesses and major media to find ways to captivate their audience in a virtual setting rather than simply setting up shop and expecting returns. Perhaps taking a cue from Virtual Laguna Beach (on the There.com platform), CSI is seeking to actively engage their audience in Second Life, offering them varying levels of crime scene investigation that correspond to the actual television drama unfolding while enabling participants to look for clues and win items. Mobile alerts are also planned to keep participants involved with the narrative. Of course, product placement will be evident, though in some unique ways (such as abandoned iPod’s that may act as pieces of evidence). A second show is planned after the first of next year to finalize the unfolding events

The largest hurdle to overcome was the uphill battle of enticing CSI viewers (and new participants) to download Second Life and master the learning curve. To offset these issues, ESC has worked to develop a means of a quicker download process specifically for Second Life newcomers from CSI, taking it down to a mere 8 minutes compared to the normal 45, in addition to easier functionality for those that choose it. This lessened learning curve would only enable users to participate in the CSI sim, however unlike any other alternative, it would get them (and hopefully keep them) involved and wanting to explore more.

I couldn’t help but think of cross-pollination while listening to Zuiker talk, and the broader impact that virtual worlds are now realizing on mainstream media. Whereas the television industry is scrambling to keep up with online media sources, the loss of advertising revenue and ever-increasing numbers of tech-savvy audiences, CBS and CSI are clearly looking to remain forerunners by embracing what virtual worlds has to offer for their own medium, and vice versa. If the rest of the conference was anywhere near the exuberance of the initial keynote speeches, I knew I was in for an interesting few days.

If you’re thinking that this conference might mimic the VW Spring’s marketing focus, just wait for my next homepage article featuring an all-time favorite topic of mine, Artificial Intelligence, to be published in a few hour’s time.

"The future is here, it's just not widely distributed yet." - William Gibson
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post Oct 12 2007, 09:04 PM
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<tap tap> I can't get the SvetaCam to work.

But a great article Sveta and very interesting about CSI. I don't know if they have it right yet, but they are trying.
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King Buzzo
post Oct 13 2007, 12:13 AM
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Awesome! :pulltongue:
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