Jan 062011

New World Notes calls our attention to Avatar Kinect, which basically brings graphical chat rooms to the XBox Live platform.

This is indeed a powerful development. The Kinect has been selling like hotcakes (8 million of them in sixty days), and as a result, there’s now a pretty substantial install base that could get into this.

It’s clear to see the potential for sales of virtual goods and the like; right now, they offer scenes in which you can conduct your chats, but over time, adding in the features to make those into virtual apartments is not at all hard to picture. Add in robust enough objects to buy and the ability to customize your space, and you start getting something that feels like, well, Metaplace.com or Second Life with voice chat and kinesthetic controls. But for now, it’s more like IMVU or Lively, probably, and we shall see how it goes.

One thing that is interesting is that Live is centered on avatars that are pseudonymous but strongly identifiable; there’s an intrinsic extant reputation system there that this system will effectively plug into and leverage. This may reduce the amount of prurient chatrooms and the like (which something like the Kinect surely invites!). It is also telling how little the video centers on technology and how much it centers on women.

Given the connectivity, I cannot help but ponder why avatars as an intermediating technology, rather than video chat.

  • Avatars intermediate; this lets you put all participants in one environment, rather than stitching together disparate couches and living rooms
  • There may well be plans to leverage the pseudonymity into synchronous social game experiences
  • The avatars do allow for a more radical expression of personality that video would, essentially making for a richer profile; I can’t have my weird pet from Limbo cavorting around me in a video call, but I could here.

All in all, an interesting development; I look forward to trying it out.

Game talkVirtual goods keep growing…

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Oct 142009

Sort of an addendum to the previous two posts.

Thanks to the astonishing growth of games on social networks such as Facebook and MySpace, the U.S. virtual goods market is poised to clear $1 billion in revenues in 2009, up more than 50 percent from a year earlier, according to a new report.By 2010, revenues could hit $1.6 billion as users become more comfortable paying for virtual goods in small transactions that are executed in a seamless fashion.

via Virtual goods sales to hit $1 billion in 2009 as social games pay off big | VentureBeat.

Meanwhile, CNet reports that China’s online game market grew almost 40% in Q2 of 2009, reaching over $900m. The bulk of the revenues go to three companies: Tencent, Shanda, and NetEase, which together have over 50% of the market.

Game talkThe Guardian on virtual currency

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Oct 142009

Over time, many technologies pioneered or elaborated in games and virtual worlds have become core parts of the web. Reputation systems. User profiles that track achievements and cumulative past experience. Avatars themselves, now degraded in common parlance all the way down to profile pictures. And now the idea of virtual coins is hot again, after some failed attempts in the 90s boom to make virtual currenct standards for e-commerce. The Guardian has a nice article on it:

Startups such as Jambool and Spare Change have launched virtual currencies that are interoperable across a range of games, applications and social networks, but Twofish’s Rutherford believes only a company of Facebook’s size can deliver the “brand promise” that would give a universal currency widespread appeal. Hale thinks that eventually there will be “a few dominant virtual currencies that by dint of their size become exchange currencies, just as the US dollar is to the global economy today”.

— Are online currencies finally striking gold? | Technology | The Guardian

Are we actually on track for something like this? Well, it’s not crazy. I think a bigger question is whether governments will allow or discourage it from happening — China already cracked down on QQ coins, as I recall.

Game talkXBLA marches on with avatars

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Jul 172009

Are you ready to pay $2 for a new jacket for your Xbox 360 avatar? It’s coming this fall… and there will be more than just clothing, it seems:

The range of virtual goods Microsoft is rolling out for avatars includes branded apparel, animated items called props, and items only earned by playing specific games called “awardables.”

— Virtual Goods News: Microsoft To Launch Avatar Marketplace This Fall.

Is virtual item gifting far behind?

Game talkChinese jail for virtual currency extortion

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Jun 092009

So this gang of bullies strongarms a guy in an Internet cafe in China, and extorts a bunch of virtual goods and a pile of QQ coins from him. He gets caught, and the court rules that since the virtual goods were purchased, this was a valid case of extortion. Thee of the gang got fines, and the ringleader — three years in jail!

According to the Xinhua news agency, the man, along with three others, assaulted another man in the cafe, forcing him to give up various virtual goods and 100,000 yuan ($14,700) worth of the virtual currency known as QQ coins. The coins are the currency utilized by the major Chinese web portal, Tencent. It is used for the purchase of online goods and premium services for supported titles.

— Virtual Currency Extortion Leads to Three Years of Prison in China.

It isn’t too surprising that this sort of thing is getting taken seriously there; industry experts in China assess the virtual goods market there as being 25 times the size of the US market. (You can download an interesting report on this here, or just check out this slide show).

Game talkChina’s taxman came

 Posted by (Visited 5243 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , , , ,
Nov 032008

Virtual Worlds News: China Levies 20% Tax on Virtual Currencies.

This is completely unsurprising — after all, levying tax on earnings made via selling virtual goods is something that the US does already (if you make money, they expect a cut, no matter where how how you made it) and it’s a lot more common in China than here. But there’s a wrinkle:

The ruling applies to QQ coins and the like as well as gameworld currencies, and based on the WSJ report, seems to apply whether or not the value is cashed out.

The announcement, which was distributed to local tax bureaus, specifically takes aim at those who buy virtual currency from gamers and surfers and sell it to others at a mark-up. Taxation officials are granted the right to determine the original price of online virtual currency if the individual fails to provide proof of an original price, it says.

Interestingly, companies seem to be exempt from taxes like these right now, presumably because the government there did so in order to incentivize economic growth in the sector.

However, if the value is not cashed out and taxes are still paid, that could mean (maybe should mean) that the companies are liable if they manage to accidentally delete some of it. In other words, they’re banks.

Oct 272008

VeeJay Burns of the MindBlizzard blog has kindly translated the Court Ruling in the RuneScape Case that was the subject of a post a couple of days ago.

As the virtual amulet and virtual mask as defined in the case at hand meet the aforementioned criteria, the court is of the opinion that these virtual goods are to be included in the concept of ‘goods’ as provided for in Artcile 310 of the Penal Code and belonged to the declarant.

What is most curious to me is how shallow the treatment of “possession” is here:

Case law has previously determined the foregoing is not applicable in case of a PIN number, computer data and phone call minutes in a subscription bundle. In this case the virtual goods, namely a virtual amulet and a virtual mask, were in posession of the declarant. Only he had actual control over these goods.

Manifestly, Jagex has greater “actual control” but the issue of Jagex’s interests in the case doesn’t seem to come up at all.

Oct 232008

Yet another country has come down on yet another side in the ongoing “virtual goods are property” debate. This time it’s the Netherlands.

The Leeuwarden District Court says the culprits, 15 and 14 years old, coerced a 13-year-old boy into transferring a “virtual amulet and a virtual mask” from the online adventure game RuneScape to their game accounts.

“These virtual goods are goods (under Dutch law), so this is theft,” the court said Tuesday in a summary of its ruling.

–Associated Press: Dutch youths convicted of virtual theft.

MindBlizzard seems to have a great and detailed overview. Virtually Blind has a take on it as well:

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