· 52 min read · Features

Virtual Worlds Roundtable

Published:

Roundtable on Virtual World Technology and Human Resources 31 October 2008

Chairman: Peter Crush, Deputy Editor, HR Magazine.

Attendees:
Jude Ower, Fonder, Digital 2.0.
Graeme Duncan, CEO, Caspian Learning.
Andy Powell, Head of Development, The Eduserve Foundation.
David Wortley, Director, The Serious Games Institute.
Ron Edwards, CEO, Ambient Performance.
Clare Rees, European Marketing Director, Linden Labs.
Marc Goodchild, Head of Interactive and On Demand, Children's BBC.
Kevin Aires, virtual worlds Community Leader, IBM.
Paul Sweeney, Director of Education, languagelab.com.
David Woods, Online Reporter, HR Magazine.

Peter Crush
Thanks everyone for taking time out of your busy schedules to come and be here. In case you do not know much about HR magazine, we are a monthly HR title and we talk to HR directors about everything to do with people issues and their business. A major subject area is Learning and Development (L&D); roughly 50% of our readers are responsible for L&D in their organisations. Today, we are talking about virtual worlds learning, which - though I have been slow to introduce it to the magazine - is a subject that has interested me over the last year. Now, there is more currency in the press and people are starting to hear more about virtual worlds, and I think that now is the right time. What we want to do with this round table is to put it on the agendas of HR directors. For many of them, it will be the first time they have read about the subject; as such, we want to talk about what virtual world technology actually is; how it can be applied to their business - HR directors want to know what it can do for them; and debate as to where it is going; about some of its applications; and whose leading the field in this area, and we want to do this with the help of you, trailblazers in the industry.
How I write this up will depend upon the way the discussion goes, but I will involve as many of your views and comments as possible. So, we want to get at least a few comments from everyone; I might pick on people who are not saying much, but that is as much as I will do.

Kevin Aires
I am a virtual worlds specialist with IBM. Specifically, I am working on a project that is looking to use - in this case - Second Life, but it could be the Agonistic platform. IBM talks a lot about the coming 3D internet; our department is interested in whether we can we sell IBM products, using a virtual world, and the department is learning how to do so. I was recently elected leader of IBM's virtual universe community of people interested in virtual worlds, so - whilst I am not directly involved with learning - I am aware of the myriad of initiatives that IBM are trying out with virtual worlds.

Jude Owre
I am founder of Digital 2.0, which is a serious games consultancy. We do the strategy and deployment of serious games, which means that we do not have in-house developers, but we will work with development partners, depending on the project. So, we make sure we do the requirements gathering before a client goes straight to a particular type of technology. Even though we specialise in serious games, I am here today because virtual worlds can be a part of that, depending on the requirements. So, if you need a flexible space, virtual worlds may be a solution, but, if you need more of a closed structure space, it may be that a serious games application better suits the client. I came along today to give a few of my views and opinions and to hear what everybody else has to say about virtual worlds.
Marc Goodchild
I am head of Interactive and On Demand for Children's BBC (CBBC). I come from a traditional television background - many years ago - and, over the years, I have got more and more sucked into alternative media in an organisation that remains a broadcasting organisation first and foremost. I started off in Children's - working in documentaries, factual - and ended up back in Children's in the last year. We launched a single player virtual world earlier this year, which was very much a toe in the water. What is most interesting, for me, about the virtual worlds space is the notion of virtual worlds being second nature to our audience, and yet, there is this big discrepancy between them and their parents, who, most of the time, do not understand what is going on at all. They also have all sorts of concerns, from moral panic, at one end, to a denial that this is going on at all, at the other. We are trying to grapple with the benefits, but also the potential risks, for the younger audience and seeing that, as more kids are using these things, their behaviour is starting to shape different uses of virtual worlds, whether it is 2D or 3D etc

Clare Rees
I am the European Marketing Director of Linden Lab, makers of the Second Life platform. I am relatively new to virtual worlds, having joined Linden Lab earlier this year. However my background is with some of the web companies that pushed forward on learning opportunities, such as Macromedia and Adobe. At Adobe, I focused on the education, training and learning aspect of their business. So, I have a broad background and what attracted me to Linden Lab is that the current stage in the development of virtual worlds reminds me of the early days of the internet, where people were just beginning to see the opportunities, and the relevance, for a broader number of applications than was at first thought. It is no longer a few people in the corner who like to escape from the real world and do something that we do not really want to think about, but instead represents a really strong opportunity for collaborating, for immersive learning, and for really rich experiences around training and learning. The more I've learned over the last few months, the more I am convinced that this is something that is going to make another step change in how people interact with these worlds. I'm very excited and very interested to hear what everybody around this table is thinking about.

David Wortley
I am director of the Serious Games Institute, which is part of Coventry University. We focus on both virtual worlds and serious games. Our aspiration is to be an International Centre of Excellence for the use of these technologies for serious purposes; a large part of that involves learning applications. I am excited about participating in this discussion forum because I do not think that virtual worlds and games are at all new as mechanisms for learning. So, our challenge is to help HR directors to understand that this really is nothing new; rather, the technology is maturing and presenting new opportunities for doing something we have done since the dawn of time. It will be interesting to discuss how we can get that message over and how we begin to understand the roles current technologies for virtual worlds can play in a total blended learning solution. Instead of replacing everything with virtual worlds and serious games, we can begin to understand where they deliver real benefits, and make the most of the emerging technologies.

Graeme Duncan
I am the CEO of an organisation called Caspian Learning. Caspian, for our sins, is one of the longest standing serious games companies in the UK; we created technology, which is called Thinking Worlds, and it is a 3D games engine that has game mechanics and learning tasks hard coded into its DNA to enable far more rapid, and reusable, creation of learning interactions. I am here today because, as an organisation over the last 9 12 months, we have evolved; we have branched out into other areas, including casual games, advergames and, in their broadest sense, virtual worlds. We are seeing a massive fusion of movements: social networking sites, virtual worlds, serious games and casual games etc, coming together. We, ourselves, are involved with some projects with Adobe, where we are starting to unlock some of the technical barriers that have stood between the HR community and virtual worlds: big executable files, downloads. Now the ability to run this stuff through the web browser: real time, no files, is there. My interest is not only in the core business we have been running over the last five or six years, but also in the opportunities that we are seeing, where the major web players are putting time and effort into this place in order to remove the barriers that have existed for HR directors when thinking about this technology.

Paul Sweeney
I am the Director of Education at languagelab.com. Hopefully, we are going to be a very large language teaching organisation inside Second Life. We are here at the suggestion of Linden Lab - and I thank you for that - because at the recent virtual worlds conference, your CEO held us up as a real life example of a real business, charging real money to real people who had not heard of virtual worlds before they started using this type of thing. I have a deep background in language learning, language teaching, education and e-learning, but the business of Business English is something I hope to find out about and contribute to. I notice that - because of the early stages of development of virtual worlds - that there are these pockets of expertise and it is handy to contact them; I find we have few peers in terms of language learning or, even, general consumer education, in virtual worlds. When I was at Online Educa in Berlin last year, I found that I learned far more talking to a person who had done a real project about sex education and intercultural relationships, than I did from the academics, who dryly speculated about the potential for deconstructing education.

Andy Powell
I am Head of Development at the Eduserve Foundation, which is an educational charity based in Bath. Actually, as a company, we have few interests in virtual worlds or Second Life, but we do give research grants back into the Higher Education community, which is the focus of our charitable mission. A couple of years ago we gave some grants in the area of virtual worlds, and that stirred up a lot of interest in the community. So, in a sense, we funded some of those academics. Coming out of that work, we funded a series of snapshots looking at how Second Life in particular - but actually, now, broadening more generally into virtual worlds - is and are being taken up and used in UK Higher and Further Education. I am here on the basis of those snapshots.

David Wortley
I am director of the Serious Games Institute, which is part of Coventry University. We focus on both virtual worlds and serious games. Our aspiration is to be an International Centre of Excellence for the use of these technologies for serious purposes; a large part of that involves learning applications. I am excited about participating in this discussion forum because I do not think that virtual worlds and games are at all new as mechanisms for learning. So, our challenge is to help HR directors to understand that this really is nothing new; rather, the technology is maturing and presenting new opportunities for doing something we have done since the dawn of time. It will be interesting to discuss how we can get that message over and how we begin to understand the roles current technologies for virtual worlds can play in a total blended learning solution. Instead of replacing everything with virtual worlds and serious games, we can begin to understand where they deliver real benefits, and make the most of the emerging technologies.

Graeme Duncan
I am the CEO of an organisation called Caspian Learning. Caspian, for our sins, is one of the longest standing serious games companies in the UK; we created technology, which is called Thinking Worlds, and it is a 3D games engine that has game mechanics and learning tasks hard coded into its DNA to enable far more rapid, and reusable, creation of learning interactions. I am here today because, as an organisation over the last 9 12 months, we have evolved; we have branched out into other areas, including casual games, advergames and, in their broadest sense, virtual worlds. We are seeing a massive fusion of movements: social networking sites, virtual worlds, serious games and casual games etc, coming together. We, ourselves, are involved with some projects with Adobe, where we are starting to unlock some of the technical barriers that have stood between the HR community and virtual worlds: big executable files, downloads. Now the ability to run this stuff through the web browser: real time, no files, is there. My interest is not only in the core business we have been running over the last five or six years, but also in the opportunities that we are seeing, where the major web players are putting time and effort into this place in order to remove the barriers that have existed for HR directors when thinking about this technology.

Paul Sweeney
I am the Director of Education at languagelab.com. Hopefully, we are going to be a very large language teaching organisation inside Second Life. We are here at the suggestion of Linden Lab - and I thank you for that - because at the recent virtual worlds conference, your CEO held us up as a real life example of a real business, charging real money to real people who had not heard of virtual worlds before they started using this type of thing. I have a deep background in language learning, language teaching, education and e-learning, but the business of Business English is something I hope to find out about and contribute to. I notice that - because of the early stages of development of virtual worlds - that there are these pockets of expertise and it is handy to contact them; I find we have few peers in terms of language learning or, even, general consumer education, in virtual worlds. When I was at Online Educa in Berlin last year, I found that I learned far more talking to a person who had done a real project about sex education and intercultural relationships, than I did from the academics, who dryly speculated about the potential for deconstructing education.

Andy Powell
I am Head of Development at the Eduserve Foundation, which is an educational charity based in Bath. Actually, as a company, we have few interests in virtual worlds or Second Life, but we do give research grants back into the Higher Education community, which is the focus of our charitable mission. A couple of years ago we gave some grants in the area of virtual worlds, and that stirred up a lot of interest in the community. So, in a sense, we funded some of those academics. Coming out of that work, we funded a series of snapshots looking at how Second Life in particular - but actually, now, broadening more generally into virtual worlds - is and are being taken up and used in UK Higher and Further Education. I am here on the basis of those snapshots.

Peter Crush
Does being in a Second Life-esque environment, per se, actually create the conditions which make for a more immersive learning experience? So, whether it is the actual experience of being in this strange place or whether it is only a way of getting people together from all over world? So, is it the space itself or is it just a way of getting disparate people in the same room, which would be hard to do in a classroom?

Clare Rees
With regard to Second Life, the platform offers a broad experience, so, depending upon your reasons for being there and so on, you are likely to have a very different experience. There is a lot of research that is leading towards an understanding that being in an immersive world is far more engaging and productive than not. It also has the added benefit of being a great place for people, from all around the world, to collaborate. It is, however, a deeper experience collaborating in a virtual world, than not.

Peter Crush
What is the difference between collaborating in a virtual world and collaborating, as we are here, in the real world?

Marc Goodchild
The crucial thing is less the ‘world,' and more the ‘virtual' bit of it. In my experience, HR directors have always incorporated game play - whether it is role playing in terms of scenarios, how you are going to manage things - that has been part of HR discipline for a long time. In different companies you might get in actors, but you can only suspend the reality so far; it is as good as the actors, it is as good as the environment you are in, you might decorate the office you are going into to create a different sense of immersion. In a virtual world, this can be created in order to take your staff much further into the realms of the unknown, to push them further.

Andy Powell
One defining feature of virtual worlds that is having an impact upon learning and education is user generated content; this is what sets some worlds apart from others.

Peter Crush
Can you explain that? Coming from the academic side, companies are looking to you to see what the academic world is deriving from this, to see how it reflects back on them.

Andy Powell
I cannot give you a good picture of that because it is so broad. It is certainly the case that, to date, interest in Second Life has been the focal point within Higher Education circles that use virtual worlds in education. The reason for this is that it provides a framework to begin with, within which people can build applicable approaches.

Jude Ower
It allows for certain types of training that are quite dangerous in the real world, as well as being high cost. Thinking about carrying out Health and Safety training on an oil rig, you could replicate this oil rig in a virtual world and have people from all around the world carrying out various tasks and, if an explosion happens on the rig in a virtual world, you will have neither any injuries or deaths nor the high costs that are involved in physically transporting people to a rig for training. It is a safe environment, as well as being able to engage a large number of people, in addition to all the other benefits: the time of travel, the qualitative and quantitative benefits, the reduction of carbon footprint; these are all big factors. One of the key points for HR directors and trainers is, depending upon the types of training, this safe environment.

Peter Crush
Have you come across any studies that say, for example, that virtual world learning creates 10 or 15% better retention of information?

Graeme Duncan
Yes, case studies are included in the research we are sending out that look at learning in virtual worlds, most of them are skewed towards the defence sector, but include peer reviewed control group trials. This is the same with virtual world games technology, as well; there are many case studies out there - and I will open up the report for everyone to read - they do exist. Before we leave this, there is a phrase: ‘a strength overplayed can become a weakness.' This is not a pop at Second Life, but people have overplayed the virtual team collaboration in Second Life, which is a strength and a lot can be done with it. However - as June has started to unhook - if you only focus on that, people say: ‘What have you got? Okay, you've got some travel benefits, people do not have to get together; they can collaborate; there may be some novelty about the 3D spaces or the immersion.' In addition, there is a whole host of other benefits, the ability to carry out safe failure, for example, to carry out a task that cannot be done safely in the real world, that is, to blow yourself up, and to blow your peers up, and to learn from the experience. There is the ability to simulate events; Ron is involved with the OLIVE platform at Frontera, which has the ability to simulate things that would cost huge amounts of money in the real world, and the list goes on.

Clare Rees
We are seeing a lot of healthcare applications, where people are training nurses, doctors, with deep simulations and immersive experiences, as to where they are going to put the scalpel in.

Marc Goodchild
A lot of people still consider this kind of gaming a niche activity; it is now mainstream. It is still slighted, as if it were the sole concern of those geeks that sit in their bedrooms, which we were 20 years ago; now, particularly with the rise of casual games, everyone is gaming

Peter Sweeney
I agree with that, but I find that we are almost forced into that niche by the question as to the differences between the physical world and the virtual world. In terms of establishing creditability, we can talk to people and do X, Y, and Z, on a more cost effective basis, but the point about virtual worlds is that they can look very, very similar to this room. The fact is that we could create a room that looks like this, and have avatars that look like ourselves, and we could sit round and talk to each other nearly as effectively, although the food would not be as good. In terms of establishing credibility, however, the point is that, in a virtual world, you can achieve almost anything you would want to achieve, in training, when bringing people together. So, there is an immediate saving in terms of cost, as you do not have to fly people in, and then there is all the other stuff as well; but I would chose that as a base for getting the message across.

David Wortley
Virtual worlds - in a way that has never been done in history - simulate peer-to-peer learning. It is not only the virtual world environment that is important; in the case of Linden Lab, for example, one of their key strengths is not only the environment they created, but also the whole social infrastructure, and toolset, that allows peer-to-peer learning and support, which would be impossible in the physical world. People, who would never meet in a real environment, come together in a virtual world and that is where peer to peer learning, and knowledge sharing, are very important.

Kevin Aires
Going back to the oil rig example, in the oil industry - as with many others - HR directors are dealing with an aging workforce, where, for example, there are three people in the company that know this aging oil platform, or computer platform, or whatever it happens to be, and, being about to retire or having just done so, there is no way that they are going to fly all over the world to train new employees. There needs to be a way of getting this information out of their heads, in an engaging way. If they can train 200 people at the same time, it will be not only cost effective but also something that cannot be done in the real world.

Graeme Duncan
There is a simple answer to the question ‘where is the biggest case study?'; I was asked exactly the same question at the e learning conference: ‘where is the proof? How do we know that virtual environments teach people?' The answer being, that there is not an airline pilot in the world that has been allowed to go up there before having immersed themselves in a virtual world and practised those scenarios and those simulations again, and again, and again.. This has been the case since 1948. It is the bread and butter of that industry. This is where David's point is absolutely right; it is not new. The technology may be evolving, but, as to why it is not new, HR directors and professionals have been using game play in sales role-play, outward bound courses, and simulations, for years and years and years. So, the mechanics, the idea, the pedagogical basis for what we do is a well trodden path; it is just the technology that has evolved.

Clare Rees
There are so many different types of training that a company will be considering as to whether it is training health and safety aspects, or languages to communicate around the world, or the training of a sales force to go out and sell a drug, or whatever that is. How a virtual world will be useful depends upon the characteristics of what is being done.

Peter Crush
Is part of it, the fact that the people who will be entering the workplace in 5 years time are part of the ‘Xbox generation?' Does virtual world learning have to exist in order to cater for a schoolchild's lifestyle?

Clare Rees
People are calling them ‘Generation Y,' they want it here, want it now. There is a difference between my 14 year old - he is interested in computers, but he is socially networking - and my daughter who is 11, who is keen on Club Penguin, the intra virtual space that is suitable. There is a difference there. So, as those children come up through, they are going to want to interact in the same kind of way.

Peter Crush
Could you tell everyone about the CBBC world you are creating and how kids get onto it?

Marc Goodchild
At the moment it is a single player world. There is no interaction within the game. We were - with our public service status differentiating us from the rest of the market - keen for the activities played within that game to accord with the BBC's public service remit, which is about encouraging creativity, developing media literacy skills, so we have studios - which you unlock, as with any other game play - and then within these - there is a music studio, a dance routine - you create. The network effect, the peer review, which was being talked about, and the user generated content, happen outside the site. This is a technical thing because we have to take much more care that children are protected and do not share their identities with people they do not know are who they say they are. They do that on a website that is moderated, but they can play the game.
In the HR business HR has always followed the key forms of entertainment media to tell a learning message. First, it was books and pamphlets, then adopting television related techniques and doing television training, now it is virtual worlds. The statistics we have for this year say that, on average, a child in Britain spends 2.6 hours a day in front of a TV screen; but now spend 2.7 hours a day in front of other screens. This is the crucial fact for someone who used to spend a lot of money on a little corporate video of how you were going to be trained, what to do in the event of an emergency. This does not work so much now; in a way, that is just going with the trends, but it is also less effective; watching someone else going through it, is not the same as experiential learning. Experiential learning is powerful.

Peter Crush
The problem HR people will have - and you have almost created my question in saying that HR moves to the next big thing - is that this may just be the next thing for the next few years, i.e. a fad. Has the virtual world community got to persuade HR people that it is not a fad?

Marc Goodchild
I don't think it is a fad. You would not say that TV is a fad and it has died.

Peter Crush
Is it not dead for training purposes?

Marc Goodchild
It is part of the portfolio. What we are trying to do, in terms of the world we create, is to have video being delivered inside the game.

Clare Rees
Somebody mentioned blended learning, which - because we have got a new technology in virtual worlds - does not mean that there will not be lots of crossover opportunities that may start with the web, and end with the virtual world, or, start with a virtual world, and end with something quite different. So, the blended learning is another piece in the jigsaw.

David Wortley
With both serious games and virtual world environments, the role of the facilitator, or the moderator, is extremely important. I think this is a sea change in learning, in that we are going from a model, which is based on the ‘sage on the stage,' who imparts a world of knowledge to willing sponges, to moderated peer-to-peer learning. This is a big challenge for not only for HR directors but also schools, universities, colleges and teachers.

Graeme Duncan
I want to take a step back and say HR and education know that things are wrong in their landscape now. Michael Barber, one of Tony Blair's advisors, coined a phrase, in which he said the world is full of ‘disappointed, disillusioned, and disappeared' learners. It is not surprising when they have been alienated by a pretty dry academic system, which is autocratic, didactic and says ‘I know more than you, have some information.' Information is now free: Google, Yahoo make information free. What differentiates one in the world - and the government has also set this out in the Leach review - is what one does with that information. This is where virtual worlds and games come in because it is not about what differentiates me - as an individual - and how much I know in my head, it is what I can do with that information; virtual worlds and games technology enable you to go into skills practice, mission rehearsal. The Learning and Development community are waking up to this; Scotland published a study looking at the Nintendo DS, teaching children literacy and numeracy in a controlled environment. Some did it, others did not, and there was a positive statistical difference in the attainment in those that did. This is in a subject area that we have struggled - as educationalists and trainers - to get this country up to speed on.

Peter Crush
I do not want to disappoint you, but I might give you some sad statistics. We commissioned Paris Interactive - in preparation for this feature - to ask nearly 1200 actual employees what they knew about virtual worlds training in the context of their general learning and development and we asked them: ‘if you were to receive virtual world training, would it make you more engaged in the training process in general?' These were people who experienced regular training. We were surprised, actually, that, although 28% ticked ‘yes, it would,' 35% said ‘it would not make any difference to them.' So, what does that tell you?

Andy Powell
It does not tell you anything about long term trends.

Peter Crush
But does it tell you how regimented they are?

Andy Powell
There have been studies of 16 18 year olds' expectations of ICT when they get to university; and virtual worlds are not on those people's agendas. They are, in terms of day to day game playing and so on, but they do not expect that kind of delivery of learning once they get to university.

Peter Crush
What does that tell you?

Andy Powell
It does not tell you anything about long term trends.

Graeme Duncan
It also tells you that they do not know what they do not know

Clare Rees
Exactly, if they have not experienced virtual world training, then it is very hard for them to give a view.

Marc Goodchild
Although this is not what virtual worlds are, necessarily, about, but it is a vernacular that - particularly the younger - employees would understand: ‘would you prefer us to deliver you a video or a video game via which to do your core, compulsory training in order to get your accreditation? With this, I suspect, you would get a different response. So, I think it, again, comes down to vernacular. We all live with virtual worlds, but it is not the sexiest of titles. You do not think: ‘Oh, I am going to go on a virtual world game today.'

Clare Rees
No, you say ‘I am going to go on Warhammer' or something.

Andy Powell
I think there is a significant difference between games where you have a purpose to being there, such as to stay alive, and translating that into acceptance of more open ended learning within virtual worlds. I think this is a non trivial transition, and I do not think you can infer too much from one about peoples' perception of the other.

Clare Rees
I think we are still in quite early days for what we have here. If I look at Second Life, it is a pretty big platform - it has millions of people participating all over the world, and in actual fact one of the key statistics is that the age range of the people there currently is quite old. It is not young people, it is 25 and above, and it is 25-40. They are there because of the ability to be creative, and to develop their own interests and the relevance of the virtual world for them. We have only just seen, in the last three to six months, the lower age group of 18 to 24 year olds approaching the same level as the other age groups. There are people out there who have not quite experienced that. The other interesting fact is that although there is a lot of talk about learning in serious games, the majority of people who are in Second Life are these creative people, and most of them would say ‘I wasn't a gamer beforehand'. As this comes together, we are just in the early stages of this.

Kevin Aires
Was it business people?

Peter Crush
Actual employees, yes.

Kevin Aires
How many of those people are allowed to use instant messaging within their company? Never mind Facebook, but just instant messaging. In IBM we have been using instant messaging for years, virtual worlds and Second Life are gradually becoming part of the culture, but are still not everywhere in the company. I would be very surprised if that was the case elsewhere. Even instant messaging is still seen as a waste of time, and distracting people from doing real work.

Peter Crush
What poor browbeaten HR people might have been talking to their CA, and people would be saying to them ‘do employees really want this?' and the HR person would not really know, and has to predict, it makes their case for buying and investing in this harder.

Graeme Duncan
There is a report that QuestG published called ‘the media-savvy generation', which is a huge wake up call to HR directors around the world. It is not just the generational divide - Prensky's rather black and white digital native, digital immigrants - it looks across six different industries, 60 different big blue chip companies, and it says that people are arriving at work digitally wired, connected to the internet, having avatars in virtual worlds, playing casual games, and yet they then compare that to the type of learning that they get. They did a robust survey on that, and these guys are saying ‘it is the most boring experience I've ever had' and ‘I am the type of person that is most likely to leave your organisation'. A total letdown.

Marc Goodchild
There is a danger that at the moment most virtual worlds assume a certain level of knowledge, we all need to work harder at making it easier for ‘newbies'. If you have never done it before that first time you go into any virtual world is quite intimidating. Technically you might have to get over a few hurdles, but then it is quite scary. I have been into worlds and said ‘I'm not staying here' and you get out quickly.

Peter Crush
Kevin, can you tell me what a real IBM virtual world is like? I think IBM have 25 islands on Second Life.

Kevin Aires
I think at last count it was 62.

Peter Crush
What do your islands do?

Kevin Aires
I think one of the things that has distinguished our presence in Second Life, which is what you are referring to. We are looking at a number of virtual worlds, and certainly looked at Second Life quite a lot, because it has been very much at the employee level upwards, it has not been something that started top-down, it has been the reverse of a diktat. A lot of the content has gone back to the idea of UGC, if you wander around the IBM islands there is some really good individual bits. Quite a lot of it does not look as planned as some other corporate environments.
However, in terms of how much they get used, they probably get used a lot more than some environments that web companies have approached by putting in a 3D billboard, hoping that people would come, and then being surprised that they have not. They have fundamentally misunderstood what the virtual environments are about. We have done all manner of things, there is everything from people experimenting with visualisations of molecules - there is a massive molecule you can fly up and sit on.
In terms of training I was hearing about virtual career planning and mentoring, we have done work with something we call a rehearsal studio, again rehearsing different life situations: coaching managers in our own internal world that we call the metaverse, and other virtual meetings and conferences. We recently had a conference style meeting in Second Life, and I really had that epiphany. I always used to say that in my personal opinion, virtual meetings were 20% of the effect of a real meeting, but at 2% of the cost. It is good ROI, it is not as great as a normal meeting. After this conference I decided that I have changed my mind, that yes there is some benefit to meeting. Such as the people in this room, some of them I have met a number of times, but if I had only met them once after that I have got a picture of what that person is about, that is helpful.
After that, the ability to have 3D spatial sound, to do and experience things in a way that I cannot in the real world. The standard memory techniques suggest that the more fantastical you make something, the easier it is to remember. Virtual worlds of any description lend themselves to that, I can fly into this board room, so remembering this meeting would be just as memorable, if not more so, than being here. In terms of ROI I think a lot of these questions over the next two or three years as we see trend in technology availability. It is one thing for an HR director saying ‘do I do this or not?' When the financial director states, ‘you are not doing any physical training, no one is travelling anywhere for the next six months because if we do not cut our budgets we are going out of business'. I think that is going to focus s a lot of peoples' minds, in how to do some training or we will ultimately go out of business. It will become ‘right, how do I do this in the most effective, cheapest, and most compelling way?'

Peter Crush
I am trying to imagine some of things that you have got going. Can people wander in and pick up some simulations if they want to do it then and there?

Kevin Aires
An example of the bit that I am working on, we have got a virtual business centre, and we have taken time to sculpt the environment and make it an attractive place. You can just go into Second Life, type in IBM business centre, and you can meet with a real IBM salesperson 24/5. We staff it on a follow the sun model. The idea for us is to learn how to engage with people in a virtual environment. That is a real world use, we have made real sales as a result of doing that. We are exploring more, our newest addition is a virtual green data centre exhibit. IBM has many massive data centres around the world. We are pushing our green credentials because the energy to run these is so expensive now; it is almost as expensive to run them as it is to buy them. The ability to be able to bring in customers at any time, and educate them and our sales forces on this stuff, because it is rare that people actually walk out on to the real data centre floor for obvious security reasons. They can wander round in Second Life, and experience from the comfort of their own home.

Andy Powell
I think there is a growing trend towards what I would call hybrid meetings, where you have a real life environment with people standing up speaking, but you stream that in world, and have a second audience which is a virtual audience, watching the same presentation. We have run a number of these events and what I am picking up is we are pretty much at the point where the virtual delegates are saying they are getting a better experience than the people who bother travelling to the real life event. They miss out on stuff, but the thing they get, in virtual worlds and web 2.0 things as well, they are getting a real feeling of presence with other people, and they are getting a hugely rich back channel of chatter around the presentations. Genuinely I am hearing people say ‘we will not bother coming to the real life meeting any more, we will just do it virtually because the experience is just as good, or better'.

Peter Crush
I might be wrong here, I have read about some really fantastic stuff where you can go into Second Life and you can actually pop up a Google page within Second Life and talk to someone about it and see that page.

Clare Rees
You can do that with Google pages, you can do it with PowerPoint and other media. There are more and more media types of communication. That means for HR people if they look a load of content they have got already, the next steps are going to be much more about looking at some of the reusable content, which they can then apply with relevance.

Peter Crush
So pre-existing content can be exported into a Second Life environment.

Clare Rees
Although, you have to be slightly careful with that, because you want to make it use of what you have in a virtual world. That is certainly something that would help ease the question of how to get started.

Andy Powell
I think that is an area where Second Life is quite weak; the integration of stuff outside of the world. I think a lot of educational resources are text-based, and probably always will be. This is an area where Second Life is weak, and is one of the areas where I think the growing competition from other virtual worlds will hopefully push this.

Clare Rees
I will just see what we have got in our development group.

Kevin Aires
We had a series of meeting recently in Second Life. We had real IBMers delivering PowerPoint based training in a series of slides, which is ultimately not the most effective way, but often people who have got slides see it as reusing assets, which is sensible. People would show up to the meeting they wanted to attend, no travel, or having to listen to meetings that they were only semi interested in. You could dip into the ones you wanted. I had a water cooler experience, I had come out of one meeting and returned to the start point, where I met someone I had not seen for a while, and just got talking. I wandered over to him; it is full spatial chat, so I can hear him in 3D. You just cannot do that with other forms of e-learning, and there is no way that this event would have run in the real world. It was only on for a day and many of the people there were not allowed to fly from all over the world to attend the event.

David Wortley
The other thing about it, in defence of Second Life and other forms of meetings on the way in which they can integrate existing content or data; one of the strengths of virtual worlds is the way you can visualise data in 3D, in a way that you cannot in any other format. That can be anything from a Google Earth mash up, where you can take someone and wander round the 3D city - taken directly from Google Earth. To stuff that one of our partners is doing with taking real time data from air traffic control, and showing how the planes are stacked above an airport, and enabling you to point to a plane and see what height and speed it is, and where it is from. You could not do that in traditional learning techniques, this is an area where virtual worlds have a real advantage.

Marc Goodchild
I wonder whether there is a problem. At a number of companies I have worked at I have always remembered that my training was the thing where I got ticked off on a chart, and I wonder if there is an issue about how HR directors measure their effectiveness. This is actually putting a lot more onus back on the individual, which is actually quite hard. Are they playing? Are they messing around?

Graeme Duncan
I have sold to this group for the last six years, HR, learning and development. You have to do two things; number one is you have to do exactly what Kevin was saying there, that I can do this in a more cost effective way than your current methods. Virtual worlds inherently allow you to do a number of things more cost effectively. The second thing we have to do is realise that 80% of the budget goes on formal learning, on training courses. Such as training to be a better salesperson, marketing excellence training programmes. To introduce a freeform virtual world is an alien concept, and I do not believe it is the right technology to do that formal learning within. It goes back to your point, there are some instances where end points are needed. You have to give them objectives for being there, you need to give them structure. Part of the reason people arrive in virtual worlds and are scared is technological, part of the reason people have limited life spans in Second Life is that they do not know what to do.

Paul Sweeney
That whole area, when educationalist and technologists get together, they fantasise how the world could be different. That has always happened, and they tend to leave the consumer out of it. We have had two year's of experience now with consumers. Because technologically you can do anything in Second Life, and the only question is what education value does it have, but even then you can give people a lot more freedom than they are prepared to accept. We have this virtual city, which is peopled by actors, and people with real life skills like professional musicians, people with HR expertise, and people in retail roles, restaurants and shops. There are clearly situations about why you are learning a language. We give people the ability to interact with them - all the actors have back stories, it is like a mini soap opera. There is enough potential for learners to go in and simply interact.
However, teachers are central to the way that learners see learning. We have experimented with game play within Languagelab, and it was incredibly motivating, we had to drag our test subjects away, four hours into it at 23.00 as we wanted to go home. It was very successful, but people do not want to be left alone. They want to work within a structure - a series of linked activities which is leading somewhere. That does not mean it is dry or boring teaching, but it has a beginning point, an end point, and a way to know how they were doing along the way. Or we give people the freeform option of jumping into the virtual city and interacting with actors, who can give you a soft landing in an immersive scenario. They absolutely need about one class a week, they insist on it, because they want reassurance that ‘I am saying the right thing, I am doing the right thing'. Formal teaching is by no means dead, speaking as someone whose Second Life name is actually ‘Head teacher' I have something to defend there.

Graeme Duncan
The only thing I would come back on there, is that you said that people need that contact. That content can be delivered through artificial intelligence. I wonder whether it is affected by the type of subject area - language learning is an inherently interpersonal communication. We do a lot in sales training, where one of the bread and butter things they do is role play, and it is one of the biggest wastes of money they have ever done. They do it with their friends, over the table, in a false environment. You can put them in a virtual world with a fake client and with artificial intelligence, so you do not know what is coming. This is inherently more beneficial.

Paul Sweeney
I prefer to put them in a simulation in the virtual world with an actor, or a teacher, but you need the element of uncertainty. The task has to be able to go wrong for you to take it seriously and try and do it right.

Ron Edwards
Adding on that, you want to bring in the self directed learning at first, before people get a chance to practise the role play. There is a mix of types of content and learning experiences, from self directed page turning e learning, which can be blended in with e learning, game based learning, facilitated e learning in a virtual environment; so getting the instructor guiding you, taking whichever form of learning it is, to do live role playing is much closer to the environment that you are actually going to operate in. You have said that an environment like Second Life you can deliver any type of training. I think there is a range of virtual worlds, one of the challenges that we have with HR directors is that if you say virtual worlds it has become synonymous with Second Life. That is good and bad, Second Life is a particular type of technology and is good at particular things. I might agree that you can do almost any kind of education in it, it is similar to saying almost any car would get around a Formula 1 race course, including an electric car, but it would not necessarily win the race. Different platforms have different strengths and attributes, one of the things that we can help with is educate the people that we are selling and talking to that there is a variety of approaches that match with learner needs, but also organisational needs. I like the idea of polling employees of whether they might be interested in learning in virtual worlds. All that does to me is open a door, as it means so many different things to so many people. They have to experience it and we talk about virtual worlds learning. There are a lot of different things, is it more engaging, is it more role playing. It is a challenge for us to help educate the market on what is out there and what is possible.

Graeme Duncan
Ron's point is absolutely key. Someone like Jude, an independent consultant who is not tied to a technology, can help in this environment. I want to pick up on this because it is crucial and is not a pop at Second Life, the one thing they have done very well is PR. It is wonderful, let us be clear, there is a range of different learning objectives, and there are far better tools out there to do it with. I have had conversations with Jim and he has said ‘we can go out to be an education tool, we can go out to be involved in learning, people found us and are using us for x and y, because of the great PR that Second Life has generated'. In a number of situations people ask me questions and I will tell them the OLIVE platform is what you need, or the x-platform.

Peter Crush
Is it becoming a platform discussion? I do not know much about Forterra, but maybe someone could fill us in on that. As I understand it that is where you can just build your own virtual world within your own internet. It is divorced from Second Life.

Ron Edwards
It is purpose built behind the firewall.

Peter Crush
What are the benefits between that and being on Second Life?

Ron Edwards
Second Life is a public platform today, so has the limitations of a public platform, in terms of reliability, usability, interoperability, and security. These are all aspects of having a publicly hosted platform. If you have a platform behind a firewall some of those issues go away, specifically security as it is as secure as your own network. That is just one thing of putting a solution behind your firewall, and there are a couple of other platforms that would enable that. The other things are key differences in the technology.
Forterra OLIVE was designed from the ground up to be a collaborative learning environment. The aspects that it has are designed with that in mind. There are some key capabilities, of being able to record the whole session and play it back, having real word physics and explosions, there are avatars that actually talk to each other with lip syncs and gestures which makes it a better environment for role playing. You can do role playing with avatars that do not look at each other, and it is better than nothing. There are some key differences that allow approaches. Another key difference is the geospatial accuracy, that means that a mirror world like OLIVE is the same size as the earth, which means that if you put buildings a certain amount apart they are accurate.

Peter Crush
That is all beautiful, but is it going to interest an HR person?

Graeme Duncan
If you are the HR director at BP, or a pharmaceutical company, or one who is responsible for health and safety around a plant...

Marc Goodchild
This comes back to what you are trying to do. I have an analogy, when I was making television programmes I was one of the early pioneers working in a virtual studio. It was the classic, for the first two or three years we tried to replicate what were doing in the office studios, and found it cost us a lot more, was not as good, and then we started realising it was good for the things we could not do in the real studios. It was good for dinosaurs and space. The other benefit was the only other place where we found really strong benefits were those studios which you have got out of the set dock every week, like news and sport, and it was cheaper than having all the crew pulling it out and storing it. To say there is one HR solution is wrong, you have to work out what you are trying to achieve, and what it is that your real world scenarios are lacking, that could be geography, because you have a disparate workforce that cannot physically meet, it could be that you want much more peer to peer support. You need a platform that does each of these, or it could be security.

Peter Crush
What do all these things cost? I am asking because I am trying to anticipate all the stupid questions that HR people might want to ask. I would anticipate that it is a bit simpler to go into Second Life than invest in a massive bespoke construction of a world within your firewall.

Jude Ower
It depends, you could built a simple Flash game for about £10-15,000, you could build a more complex Flash type game for about £80-100,000. It does not have to be Flash, I am just using that as an example. You could build something that has got fantastic artificial intelligence built in, for about £500,000. There is just such a huge range you cannot pinpoint it.

Clare Rees
It really depends on what you want to achieve and how intense that experience to be.

Graeme Duncan
That assumption I would have to say is fundamentally wrong. If you went into Second Life you would have to invest in unlocking the whole IT infrastructure of that organisation in 90% of organisations. Every organisation we go into could not run Second Life.

Peter Crush
I was going to say that, I tried to install it for something I was doing six months ago, and my IT systems just did not want to know.

Graeme Duncan
That is hardware, Ron's other point is the secure local server, and there are other platforms that bypass that and just deliver it, nowadays they could do it from the web.

Peter Crush
Tell me about the web. For HR people, is it a big IT problem that they just think is too hard to think about?

Graeme Duncan
It is for us, part of the reason we invested well over £1 million in doing what we have done with our technology is that there is no executable file. You have nothing on your local machine that you need to install, and it makes the 3D web a reality. You consume an HTML page, you consume one of our simulations. Flash is 2.5D, and that is one of the reasons that 96% of PCs have Flash on them. That does not mean that Flash is right, that does not mean that ours, Ron's, or Second Life is right. What you do is sit down and look at all the platforms and say ‘what is my learning or performance objective, what is the technical infrastructure I operate within?' And then make an informed decision.

Marc Goodchild
I would say that if you were going into this as a novice, do not think that you are going to build the perfect solution first time. I would piggy back on what already exists, rather than try to completely custom build a whole environment on Second Life, or on any other platform. First do tests to try it, just play with it and treat it as R&D.

Clare Rees
Most of the people who are working with Second Life, it is not Linden Lab and Second Life that have put that in place, it is people who are experienced in working with that environment; the tools are there already for the background and platforms there. The majority of people who come to us are coming through developers, solution providers. Then you are working with a third party that is keen on building on the right relevant experience for you. Increasingly that will be what happens, it is how the web worked. People built the relevant experiences using Flash, it was not Macromedia that built the Flash opportunities. It is a very familiar way of putting applications in place within a company. With HR directors they do not always go straight to IBM, they will be looking at different ways of doing it, as they come to somebody who is experienced with that type of environment, and then look for how they would do that. It is always about the relevance of what you are trying to achieve. When you get a group of people together like this it is interesting that we get back to the technology again. That is not what is going to be relevant for your readers in terms of what they need to see as the opportunities.

Kevin Aires
It is time to start exploring, because some companies would be ready to invest lots of money with a provider of a technology platform. However, a lot of HR directors are not going to be ready to hand over tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of pounds. If you look at what is going to happen in the next two or three years, the trends are that the laptops that were ordered two years ago are still going to be there for the next year or two, and currently they do not run a lot of this stuff very well. By the time the next refresh comes around, suddenly it is going to work a lot better. The broadband access that employees have at home and work is only going to get better, cost pressures are only going to increase, even if you do not your competitors are going to start looking at this. Now is the time to start exploring some of these technologies. If you do nothing else but send a few of your team-out to go and play, and do research in what is good to look at, you will start to get a body of experience and knowledge, then when you do want to approach somebody you have got some sensible questions.

Marc Goodchild
You were saying that IBM was a bottom up scenario; I think that is an important lesson to learn. I suspect in most of these companies there are probably employees who inhabit virtual worlds when they go home. Therefore find them, and give them a little bit of seed money, and ask them to try virtual conferencing.

Andy Powell
This is exactly what has happened in higher education: there are very few institutions where there has been a top down strategic decision. There are exceptions, but in the main it is individuals or in some cases departments. The reason Second Life is successful in that respect is that it is very low cost on the face of it for people to try stuff out. What we are now seeing through the snapshots is that people are concerned about their reliance on an external service provider, on the open world nature of Second Life. The fact that there are things going on that they may or may not want to be putting their students in front of. That is why there is growing interest in things like open sims, which is a way of moving almost exactly the same technology behind their own firewalls. Wonderland, Metaplace are the two things in the most recent survey. Wonderland is a Sun thing, a java-based virtual world, I had never come across Metaplace.

David Wortley
Is it metaverse?

Andy Powell
Metaplace.

Graeme Duncan
Have a look at Korea and the Far East there are communities online in virtual worlds that dwarf the figures we have.

Clare Rees
Last week we did talk about our ‘behind the firewall' section.

Kevin Aires
If you look at how this is developing, what Second Life has done, and which is why they have become synonymous, they have been great at marketing, I think the quote was: ‘a better place for your mind to dwell' was what he was trying to create, which is a fantastic sound bite. I think that has increased peoples' awareness of the industry. One of the potentially, clearly biased comments, is what could change for IBM directors and a lot of business people in terms of looking at this, is that IBM is looking at a messaging platform, which thousands of business people have on their desk, we are looking at ways of using Forterra, the OLIVE platform and also open sim, looking at how do we integrate virtual environments, so when I ping you for a quick instant message, can we set up a quick 3D environment, perhaps it is persistent, the stuff we talked about last time is still up there. I am not part of that group so I am not going to comment on how we are going to develop that and whether there we are going to productise this, but it is something we are looking at. It may be that three years down the road hundreds of thousands of people across the world suddenly have this thing on their desktop, and having these conversations will result in ‘that is kind of like what I do every day'.

Andy Powell
On the virtual intranet issue, clearly there we are seeing a desire to move stuff behind the intranet firewall. I think that is quite dangerous, one can understand it in the ethics sector or the school sector where one is dealing with 18 and below, but the danger of it is that you divorce yourself from the world, and we are seeing the real changes in education is getting outside the institution, and this applies to web 2.0 and the virtual worlds. The web would not be what it is if it was a bunch of intranets. It is the web because it is global.

Ron Edwards
You can easily enable access to something behind the firewall.

Andy Powell
Maybe.

Ron Edwards
Not maybe, it is happening today.

Graeme Duncan
Leave it on global servers then, do not lock it down.

Paul Sweeney
If our agenda is about encouraging the uptake amongst HR managers, let us make it as easy possible. Sometimes when experts get round the table we are so familiar with it so we go into an in depth discussion about the technological aspects. This is important and I take you points about Forterra and firewalls. We can also see far over the horizon so we can see things that are going to happen, but are not as close as we would like. The Languagelab analogy with Linden Labs and Second Life, was that it is a platform, so yes assume that your first project is going to be a pilot, so do not spend too much money, and find a platform which will enable you to concentrate on the thing that you want to do, not to create a new headquarters, and not to go and hire a bunch of coders and designers. If you want to do training then find someone who can train and then start doing it as quickly as you van.

Marc Goodchild
I think there is a lot of cross over because are not sure whether they are doing it from a marketing exercise or if it is genuinely learning about how the platform could work.

Clare Rees
I think that is absolutely what happens. Actually the educators are some of the people that push that in a way that sometimes commercial people are not able to do. They start to collaborate and to teach or train at their department level almost. It might be that it was Imperial College working on their links with government and healthcare, but within Imperial College. This would be starting small, and it is pushing the boundaries, experimenting, and thinking about the next thing.

Peter Crush
I quite like this idea of the exploratory feel around, one of my questions was going to be whether the economic conditions we are currently in could be something that impacts on the adoption of virtual worlds.

Jude Ower
I was at a conference in May where Bob Geldof was talking, and he came out with a really good quote when he said that ‘innovation comes from desperation', which I think is true. At this moment we are looking at cutting costs. The first thing is going to cut training budgets, and then marketing budgets. I have researchers who are looking at different ways of modelling traditional training against e learning, against using virtual world schemes and showing the areas where they could save costs, but not lose that capability, because training would be absolutely essential for getting us through the economic crisis at the moment.

Peter Crush
Are you advanced on that research?

Jude Ower
It will be finished by January.

Graeme Duncan
The other thing then is to look elsewhere in the other parts of your business as HR managers. Sales and marketing people have been using virtual worlds in different genres, it might be more first person casual games, for a long while, and have been doing it because they get a better bang for their buck. These guys will be thinking they have to try something new, I have to try something innovative. Once they understand the different varieties that they have open to them, and they understand that other parts of the business have used it with very powerful ROI figures behind them. Go into Second Life, see what Nike, Adidas, and IBM do in building the brand. Then go into the casual games space and see what Pepsi Cola and Coca Cola do in there, there is very powerful ROI hard metrics of that.

Peter Crush
I do not want to get too involved in licensing, but where you can take the content in a virtual world environment, currently the people that have supplied that content are charging for it every time we use it. Have we got to invent new models for how we open up data for the new world?

Ron Edwards
That is an important point, virtual worlds that do not use industry standard modelling tools, you cannot import off the shelf third party models. Other worlds that do you can pay anyone to develop them, or develop them yourself. For example Graeme outsourced development of a lot of the 3D models, we took one and put it into our world, the client decided not to use it, they could then export it to other worlds. If you are using a public platform build, build, build and you cannot take it with you. It is like painting a beautiful picture at somebody else's house, and if you are still friends you can go look at it.

Marc Goodchild
Another interesting thing is workforces shrinking, or being refined; there is potential where you can keep a virtual world which allows you to have a better conversation with your supply base, or your freelancers. As people are downsizing and trying to keep it to a core team, you are still having an ongoing dialogue, you are still keeping your preferred suppliers up to speed. I have not seen anything like that yet, but I can imagine it from an HR point of view. That could actually start to become quite interesting as you would be keeping skills.

Kevin Aires
We have not done that directly, but with a similar motivation we have experimented with onboarding.

Peter Crush
Induction?

Kevin Aires
Yes, it is perhaps an Americanisation. IBM inducts, I would imagine, hundreds of people across the day every day. It has 250-300,000 employees. There is bound to be at any given time a lot of people being inducted into IBM. That is fine if you are in America or the UK, but if you are in one of the smaller countries we work in, maybe we have just got a sales operation or a consultant there. If you spend a few days on this training course, it is then straight out onto a client's site, you, never see another IBMer, or only a few other IBMers for weeks or months. If you can bring those people together, and perhaps create a cohort of people that meet up for that unified induction session when they first join. Suddenly I no longer just know people in my native Malaysia, I know already loads of people across loads of parts of IBM all across the world, and maybe I can keep track of them, stay connected, and yet I never physically see another IBMer, potentially

Jude Ower
Going back to both your points, we have got a client at the moment which we were brought in to create some sort of marketing game to communicate a message globally to thousands of people, but it has folded down into a bit of training now as well, over time. We have tried to articulate a message, but train people on the new ways of working without going into too much detail as different countries are doing the process in different ways. In terms of taking this application it is going through a number of different departments to sense check it, we had to go through health and safety, branding, culture and diversity just to get the big tick that it was okay to be released.
It was an internal game, but there might be people from the different departments, health and safety said ‘we have got artwork here that we could reuse in ways that would help us to our training or our marketing'. Then branding said ‘our biggest problem is trying to get people to recognise our company building, as it should be standardised'. Then cultural and diversity said ‘we could use these characters and the environments'. The artwork was there, so we have started off small, and created a taster of what could be done. We also found out that this company had won an award for their work in Second Life, which a lot of people were totally unaware of, it was just that somebody sent it to me as they thought we could be interested in it. We took this game we had created and put it in the Second Life learning suite that they had, so it created a link with other parts of the organisation. Additionally, what we created links into thousands of other areas, which we are now getting calls saying ‘can we link this to the game?' It is spreading out, and I think that starting off small, and if we could talk publicly more about it, then I think it is a model other organisations could use to adopt games on virtual worlds.

David Wortley
I think another important point from a technology point of view that we have not touched on at all, is that a barrier for older people is the accessibility and usability of these environments. I think what we are going to see over the next couple of years is the development of more sophisticated devices to allow you to access these games and virtual worlds, like the Nintendo Wii. We are experimenting with a device called NeuroSky which allows you to interface with a game and a virtual world by using the power of thought. There are devices which allow you to interface with games without any kind of device at all, simply by using a 3D camera and the natural motion of your hands. As these devices come on stream it would be easier for all generations to be able to effectively participate in these kind of activities. I believe that will make a real difference.

Marc Goodchild
The portability will be important, being able to take a game that you have been doing at work, even if it is a training module that you need to do, being able to take it on the train or tube with you and complete it in your media downtime. That is an incredibly valuable use of being able to port your virtual world across.

Kevin Aires
We can kick people out at 23.00, and say to them ‘take it with you, play it as much as you like, you are getting loads of training for free'.

Peter Crush
Are there any issues we have not yet talked about?

Kevin Aires
I was just going to raise more a sound bite really. In every project that I have been involved with, at the end of it people want something to show their boss. You have done this little pilot project, ‘what do I show my boss to show that I have not just been mucking about for the last few weeks?' The great thing about virtual environments is they look really nice, generally. You can make them look good. You do not just get some good quotes from people saying ‘yes, it was really good'. A really practical benefit, when you want to show this project in your in house magazine, you get some nice screenshots out of it. It is an easy thing to sell, depending on your company. As long as you do not make it too gamey, it sells itself. You can also create a video and put it on the company website to show what you do. Everyone wants something to show for it, they can easily show their boss, and more importantly, their boss can show their boss how the money was spent.

David Wortley
One thing we have not mentioned is the potential of virtual worlds for things like psychometric testing. Last week I saw a game which was designed to help people in the army combat drink related behaviour. This game created a scenario where you saw the soldier with his family at home, and then his mate came along and invited him out for a drink. He was taken out to a bar, and had to make decisions about whether to go with his mate, what to drink, who to be involved with. The whole purpose of the game was to filter out people who were at risk of certain drink related behaviour. The virtual world was fare more effective because instead of sitting down with a sheet of paper and a series of questions, you were actually involved in a real life situation which you found believable.

Peter Crush
Did they know they were being served for that purpose?

David Wortley
I do not know, I just saw the game, and it suddenly occurred to me the value of this immersive environment with a believable storyline, choices that were believable, and not polarised in certain areas. As I understand from the evaluation that has been done it has been extremely effective at identifying the people that are most at risk, and giving them further counselling.

Marc Goodchild
I think the crucial thing is that a metric that you need is the most important thing. If your metric is how many people are going to sit and watch that safety video, the number of DVDs or VHSs you might send round to a big corporation still does not ensure they have all watched the video. I think this is a mistake with a lot of virtual worlds because you think about the metrics afterwards. You think, I want to know how many of the people going into this world not only click on that piece of video, but also watch it all the way through. The beauty of virtual worlds is if you know your metric you can design it so you get all that data, and you can inform your boss that 90% of the people who went to the virtual world have watched it.

Ron Edwards
Better than that, I did not just watch it or pass the test, I can actually perform it under duress, and that is a recording.

Marc Goodchild
We do not really have that; I know the traditional method of disseminating corporate information is a VHS, but it just sits there - you might have put it on, but got distracted by the telephone. There is no metric to guarantee how effective it was.

Graeme Duncan
To raise awareness with this group.
One of the secrets to raising awareness with these guys, is to focus on something that is very close to them. These guys control the training of other functions, however there is some training that they control and inherently they are protective and worried about. We are now involved in our second deployment for grievance procedures and employee tribunals. That enables them to put new managers in the middle of grievance procedures, role play them with artificial intelligence or real intelligence, and make the mistakes in a safe environment. When you show them that type of deployment they understand it. This is because ‘it is here, it is under my control, it is my budget, and if it goes wrong I am already seeing what the penalties look like, and to put them in an environment where I can role play, simulate, practice and not make costly mistakes, is a massive wake up call.

Ron Edwards
It is a good example that there can be transformation giving a new capability that does not exist today, rather than just trying to replicate what is already happening in a physical classroom, rather than just doing that in a virtual, this unlocks new capabilities, things that are expensive, dangerous, or hard to audit in real life.

Clare Rees
Speaking to your point, we are seeing an increasing amount of some of the key things that HR has to take care of, such as interview training, what you must never say. It is a sort of simulation/role play opportunity that virtual worlds is especially relevant for. If you could talk to HR directors those are the sorts of things that they are really going to understand more quickly than talking about training the whole sales force. You have this massive company-wide thing that everyone suddenly has to learn about virtual worlds. These specific things which return to starting small, rolling out, and people seeing the opportunities.

Kevin Aires
One of the questions you sent us out was ‘what is the role of HR in all of this?' You are saying find the experts, find someone who is prepared to explore, find out what you do not know at the moment, and then ultimately it is coming, and it is just another technology to weave into normal everyday business processes. It is not something to be scared of, it is down to curriculum design. You can do some fantastic training in these virtual worlds, you could do completely useless training in these environments. It is down to good curriculum design and all the good stuff involved in training today; it is just another tool that will make what you do already more cost effective.

Peter Crush
I think that is a very positive way to end, has anyone got anything really burning they want to add?

Paul Sweeney
In our experience it actually works, it works because you relate it to real life situations. When you recreate that simulation with enough drama and uncertainty, and I do not mean imagining something that could not happen, I mean let us concentrate on something that could, you are creating a jagged profile, people are moving ahead far more quickly in certain areas of competency, which actually creates problems as they think they are more advanced than they are, it is just that they have got very good. It does work, and for business simulations it is a no-brainer.

Graeme Duncan
Jay Cross a big writer on informal learning from the US - and this is Ron's point - says ‘if we are going to use this stuff more and more let's not focus on technology assisted learning, let's focus on technology enhanced learning'. You can do in these worlds what you can do in the real world, but the real power is you can do some stuff you cannot do in the real world.

Jude Ower
I think one of the best bits of feedback that we got from our user acceptance testing of this game for this organisation was that, when we gave it to the example groups of people globally, we had an amazing amount of great feedback. They absolutely loved it because they had gone through a death by PowerPoint, getting sent 100 page PowerPoints and then being expected to know what was going on. They cannot contextualise the information back to their own jobs. This set it all into context for them, but one guy who had been in the organisation for years, knows the training inside out, had been doing one part of it wrong, and said that he did not realise until he played this game, and now knows the real way of doing it, and it makes much more sense. The perfect thing about this game is not only does it help people onboarding into the company understand the one process, it also helps those people who think they know what they are doing understand what they should be doing. It was brilliant and summed it all up.

Marc Goodchild
The point Jude made there which we have not touched on at all. Generally with any technology build new media thing, we tend to be much more focused on usability, iteration and user testing. What I would say to HR people is do not be afraid of that. Traditional HR methods are that someone designs it, it gets handed down, it is in place for five years, maybe someone asks the question, ‘was that effective?' Whereas virtual worlds are all about iteration, about constantly refining things around the audience, it is not necessarily about what the corporate objectives are. That is not something to be scared of, that actually makes it more effective.

Peter Crush
This is the first of many I think, having met you guys for the first time, I think this is our iteration one of this. I am sure we will write more about this in the future; this is a good way to start. Thank you very much everyone for coming.