Electric Sheep Co. of 'Second Life'
Herding pixels for fun and profit
You've probably already heard of the online 3-D world called Second Life: It's been getting a lot of hype lately, in media of all kinds. SL, as it's familiarly known, is an online game that's not quite a game: There are no preset goals or directions governing activities in this virtual world, and almost everything covering the vast, sprawling landscape houses, malls, castles, casinos, dance clubs, museums, entire cities has been built by the players themselves.
Oh, wait: not players but "residents," as many of those who own land in-world and gad about in game-character (avatar) form prefer to call themselves. Gadding about or not, quite a few residents also make their living their real-life living in Second Life, some earning upward of $30,000 a year (yes, U.S. dollars) providing goods and services to other residents or, more and more frequently, to major corporations (like IBM and Sony and CBS and Dell and Toyota) who have decided to establish a presence in the increasingly popular alternate world.
One of the biggest companies native to Second Life is the Electric Sheep Co., which works to develop property and marketing identities for real-life (or RL, as they say) corporations in Second Life, and in other online worlds like There, Areae, Multiverse, and beyond. Three principals of the Electric Sheep Co. will be at SXSW Interactive this year: two (Jerry Paffendorf and Valerie Williamson) to speak on the present and possible futures of online games and virtual worlds and their impact in the real world and one (Keith Morris) to talk specifically about the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life as it's conducted within Second Life.
By way of previewing those talks, and to provide a hard-copy glimpse of what conversations are like in virtual worlds, we thought it would be a neat idea to interview the three Electric Sheep members in avatar form inside Second Life. Luckily, we have a reporter who's been a resident of that world for almost two years and who jumped at the chance to bridge the SL/RL gap in the name of cutting-edge (or something) journalism. Thus it was that the Chronicle's in-world correspondent, Memory Harker, met with SNOOPYbrown Zamboni (Paffendorf), Valtoid Pixie (Williamson), and Jade Lily (Morris) in the top-floor lounge of the Electric Sheep Co.'s skyscraper headquarters, on a winter's evening with a virtual wind blowing gently through the pixelated trees, in order to capture this (judiciously edited for coherence and space) transcript.
Memory Harker: How did you guys get hooked up with SXSW?
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: i gave a presentation on the future of virtual worlds at the austin game conference
Jade Lily: Randal Moss invited me to speak on his American Cancer Society panel. It's coincidence that I'm going as a sheep.
Valtoid Pixie: i was intro'd by jerry who got me on the mapping panel. jerry was austin game dev conference
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: as in rl, so it goes
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: yes, i met lindsay muse from sxsw screenburn after a panel at the agc on the future of virtual worlds
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: with three great people representing three virtual world platforms
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: and the world's finest virtual worlds journalist ;)
Memory Harker: That would be Hamlet, would it?
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: those would be cory ondrejka, cto of linden lab/second life, and corey bridges, vp multiverse, and raph koster, president areae
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: and, no disrespect to hamlet who is sl specific, but mark wallace was the journalist :)
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: and lindsay was impressed by the views i was bringing
Memory Harker: And the enthusiasm, I'll wager.
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: a new kind of conversation about networked virtual worlds and a transformed social web
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: and we started talking about how we could bring these ideas to sxsw, which is my favorite conference thingy of them all
Valtoid Pixie: definitely virtual worlds are ready for prime time
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: i love the mix of all media at sxsw
Valtoid Pixie: and sxsw is putting all of the hottest trends on the map (so to speak)
Memory Harker: Can y'all tell me what each of you *do* for Electric Sheep? Jade?
Jade Lily: At the moment, I'm doing customer support for SLBoutique.com. As soon as I'm able to go full time, I'll be more involved in community development.
Jade Lily: So helping to organize people and events around projects such as The L Word
Memory Harker: And what about you, Val?
Valtoid Pixie: I am VP of Marketing and Business Development for ESC
Valtoid Pixie: we strive to take on great projects that can showcase our creative abilities and represent the community on SL
Valtoid Pixie: we are also working on projects that bring in new communities into SL
Valtoid Pixie: for example, The L Word. it's a vibrant community on 2d TV, being brought into SL to provide an additional, more immersive experience for L Word fans. There's a built-in fan base being provided with something more deep and meaningful than passively watching pixels go by.
Jade Lily: The SL Relay For Life is another good example of a community project we're striving to create more of.
Jade Lily: The thing that's most interesting to me about it is that the community at large is doing more than just consuming parts of the project, as they mostly do at The L Word. With the Relay, they're producing it.
Memory Harker: So the Electric Sheep is (are) already having quite an impact on Second Life.
Valtoid Pixie: yes indeed, especially with the large media properties we are bringing into SL
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: yes and we hope to make that more so, in truly empowering ways, and not just with the media projects, but tools and software and efforts that help people organize their second lives, and create generative systems, or content that helps people create more content
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: my title is resident futurist, and my job currently is to spend my time trying to understand what's happening in the wider metaverse space which i draw as being video games, virtual worlds, mirror worlds, augmented reality, and this idea of lifelogging or recording and tracking history and identity
Memory Harker: So with this explosion of content providers and different games and worlds, is it a problem to make sure all the platforms can interrelate?
Valtoid Pixie: they interrelate in many ways
Memory Harker: How would I teleport to Areae, for instance? Like, stepping between worlds?
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: easy, you just sign-up for it, make yourself whatever you want, and then when someone clicks you you have a system for conjoined identity. Like onxiam.com hints at we can help create interoperability on a social and identity level, even if code and file formats fight each other currently
Valtoid Pixie: yes and more importantly right now we can make the connections between TV, the web and virtual worlds
Memory Harker: So this is a near-future thing?
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: what did emerson say? i'm vast, i contain multitudes? something like that?
Memory Harker: [smiles] Nah, that was Whitman.
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: yes, but emerson was his avatar name ;)
Jade Lily: lol
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: i'm pretty sure he's on my buddy list
Valtoid Pixie: the 3-d metaverse today is very similar to what the www was back in 1995
Valtoid Pixie: altho it will happen much faster
Valtoid Pixie: and already is
Mapping: Where the F#*% Are We Now?
Saturday, March 10, 5pm, Ballroom F
On the Edge of Independent User-Creation in Gamespace
Sunday, March 11, 5pm, Room 9C
American Cancer Society: Applying Technology for the Nonprofit Sector
Monday, March 12, 11:30am, Room 10AB