Hear From A Panel Of Virtual Worlds Entrepreneurs

September 30, 2010

On September 24th, FountainBlue held its annual virtual worlds conference.  This year’s event was hosted on Cisco’s campus in Milpitas, CA.  In the afternoon, a panel of virtual worlds entrepreneurs spoke about new developments in the industry.  The panel was titled “Entrepreneur Panel: The Tools, The Goods, The Immersion Experience”:

  1. Facilitator Nina Gerwin, The NRG Group
  2. Michael Gold, CEO, Electrotank: virtual world & virtual games development platform
  3. Steve Hoffman, CEO, Rocketon: virtual world for tweeners
  4. Albert Kim, CEO, Zenitum: Augmented reality with 3D displays
  5. Jim Parker, President, Digitell: SaaS 3D immersive virtual events and virtual training

I covered some of these entrepreneurs’ businesses in a separate posting about virtual worlds technologies to watch.

Adapting your business

Each panelist was asked to describe the genesis behind their business.  As is customary with web startups today, no one is working against their original business model or vision.

For Digitell’s Jim Parker, business began by assembling content for online libraries.  Then, he was struck by the notion of allowing consumers of the library content to meet and collaborate in real-time.

Zenitum’s Albert Kim experiments with a number of different technologies.  When one set of technologies differs enough from the core set, he looks to spin that out into an independent company.

Online gaming

Online and social gaming may be the hottest trend on the web today.  So of course the topic arose with Electrotank’s Michael Gold and RocketOn’s Steve Hoffman.  Gold and Hoffman highlighted technologies available to game makers today:

  1. Flash
  2. HTML5
  3. Objective C
  4. Unity

Note: Unity’s David Helgason spoke on the Trends Panel at this event.

According to Gold, HTML5 has its benefits, but you can’t yet develop a game using it.

Note: Michael Gold posted the following clarification:

“I just want to make a quick correction on a statement about HTML5 that was attributed to me in this blog post. What I said on the panel was that HTML5 is not yet practical for developing *virtual worlds* but has great potential in a few years.

Virtual worlds and MMOs present unique technical challenges that are distinctly different than those presented by the majority of social and casual online and mobile *games* Thus in my opinion it is completely possible to develop *games* using HTML5 at the present time. There are several developers focusing on these games right now. In fact, Zynga recently purchased one – Dextrose, a German development studio. I actually believe you’ll see a significant number of HTML5 games on the market a year from now. Just not so many virtual worlds or MMOs.”

Virtual worlds and engagement

An audience member asked how virtual worlds can track engagement – so that in a corporate setting, the meeting host can measure whether the content is hitting the mark.  Digitell’s Parker notes his clients often use his system for accreditation.  The system uses an idle timer – it renders a “click to continue” message and if the user does not click within 10 seconds, “you don’t get accreditation.”

Studies have shown that viewers of webinars often lose attention and multitask.  A virtual world forces users to remain engaged.  Parker notes that for some sessions, the instructor leads the “students” on a guided walk.  “If Jim doesn’t follow the rest of the group, then you know he’s not paying attention.”

Conclusion

Believe it or not, it’s not a bad time to be a virtual worlds entrepreneur.  As the panel demonstrated, the key is to be nimble and adapt to a changing marketplace.  Next year, it will be interesting to see how these entrepreneurs evolved – and, to see what new entrepreneurs appear on the scene.


3 Virtual Worlds Technologies To Watch

September 26, 2010

On September 24th, FountainBlue held its annual virtual worlds conference.  This year’s event was hosted on Cisco’s campus in Milpitas, CA.

The event was attended by entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, investors and virtual worlds practitioners.  Several virtual worlds entrepreneurs spoke on the scheduled panel discussions and a few set up stations to demonstrate their technology.

I’d like to highlight 3 virtual worlds technologies that caught my attention.

RocketOn: A virtual world layer on top of the entire web

Presenting executive: Steve Hoffman, CEO

RocketOn takes my “Best in Show Award” for most innovative virtual worlds technology.  While Facebook and Twitter have propelled social networking to mainstream adoption, surfing the web is still a solitary experience.

While many web sites have added community features (e.g. membership, comments, Facebook social graph integration, etc.) – it’s still the case that when I browse my favorite content sites, I have no idea who else is reading the same page at the same time.

RocketOn seeks to change that.  Using a Flash layer placed on top of web pages via an i-frame, RocketOn users can create their own avatar and have them walk atop any web page.  They can then see other RocketOn users who may be visiting the same web page.

Perhaps you’re reading a movie review and happen to bump into a friend, who’s reading the same review.  You decide to visit a site that hosts a trailer for the movie, so you both navigate to the trailer site, watch it there and continue your chat.

A Foursquare for the entire web

One of the captivating features of Foursquare is the ability to see who else is at the same physical location as you.  RocketOn has built a similar feature for the entire web.  While the service is focused on a consumer audience initially, imagine how this technology could be used in a corporate setting.

Browsing your company’s intranet could become much more productive and engaging.  Now, water cooler conversations could occur online, as you bump into colleagues at the employee directory page (rather than the kitchen).

Additional Information

  1. The “About Us” page for RocketOn
  2. More details on the RocketOn platform
  3. Neat 2-minute video about the RocketOn service

Zenitum: Bringing virtual worlds into the real world

Presenting executive: Albert Kim, CEO

I admire technologies that flip conventional models upside down.  While we visit virtual worlds from the real world, Zenitum seeks to have virtual worlds elements visit us in the real world.  CEO Albert Kim receives the “Jetsettter Badge”, having attended the conference from Zenitum’s home base in Seoul, Korea.

When publicly released (later this year), Zenitum’s technology will be supported on iPhone, Android and Symbian.  Zenitum will provide their app and an SDK (software development kit) for free.  They are encouraging widespread adoption of their technology – consumers use their app and device manufacturers develop services using their SDK. Zenitum will monetize their service via advertising (“augmented advertising”, perhaps).

Our reality will forever be augmented

When you run the app, your smartphone scans your surroundings, attempting to recognize images.  If it finds a match, Zenitum overlays a 3D animated object on top (or around) the real world object.  For example, let’s say a comic book publisher is running a campaign and loads an image of a comic strip into the Zenitum platform.

The same image is on a billboard on a city street.  When I walk down that street with the app running (and my smartphone positioned properly), Zenitum detects the comic strip image.  It then inserts animated 3D objects (perhaps other characters from the comic strip) around the real world object.  As I move my phone left, right, up and down, the animated objects adjust their positions accordingly.

Possible use cases

Imagine the use of this technology at a museum – as you walk past a painting, its “virtual artist” could appear on your phone and speak to you about the inspiration behind the work.  At a trade show or conference, walking down an aisle could cause executives (virtually) to spring up and give you a brief pitch about their product.

Neat stuff – I hope we’re able to keep the distinction clear, though, on what’s real and what’s virtual!

Additional Information

  1. Zenitum’s “Company” page on their web site

Digitell: Bringing a global audience to your next meeting

Presenting executive: Jim Parker, President

Digitell uses the ActiveWorlds 3D platform to bring you hybrid meetings, virtual events, virtual communities and webcasts.  Jim Parker, Digitell’s President, notes that a common client of his service is associations, who want to extend the audience for their annual meetings.  Parker notes that the immersive experience of Digitell makes attendees “feel like they’re there” (at the physical event).

Parker’s clients who run these hybrid events often charge the same amount on virtual attendance as they do for the on-site event.  In this way, the common objection of cannibalization goes away, as the virtual component generates additional audience – and additional revenue for the meeting organizer.

Dispelling the notion that virtual worlds are for the younger generation, Parker notes that the average age of a Digitell user is 44 (wow!).  Users are so passionate about the experience that they often comment, “when’s the next event, I want to use my avatar!”.

Parker has created 3D replicas of museums, which allows students (across the globe) to visit and experience the museum’s works, without having to be “bused” to the physical building.  Imagine how easy it would be to have a virtual guide take students on a tour of the museum’s main works, any time of day, with students participating from all over the world.

Additional Information

  1. More info on Hybrid Meetings from Digitell

Conclusion

While the term “virtual worlds” has a negative connotation in the minds of many, it hasn’t stopped innovative entrepreneurs from developing new and exciting services.  It will be interesting to watch each of these technologies to review their adoption, growth and monetization.


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