A few months ago 43 experienced developers of 3D virtual worlds expressed an interest after a formal call to work with UTHANGO in Second Life. Thank you very much for the interest. Some developers expressed that they are very busy this time of the year, and could not submit a proposal, but would like to stay in touch with us. Of course! A number of meetings, visits to sims/island, interviews with clients and formal proposals later – and we are pleased to announce the following five (5) full-service developers for our short-list to develop the first of our sim(s) in Second Life, called VIRTUAL AFRICA (in alphabetical order). From these developers, we will select one to make our project come to life on some sim(s):
(1) DESIGNING DIGITALLY “is a full-service design firm, specializing in organizational branding, interactive learning design, 3d virtual environment design, graphic design, and last but not least web design”. We were particularly impressed by the enthusiasm of Andrew Hughes (SL), which is also evident from a recent interview with an Arizona-based radio station, called KTAR. We agree with his comment: “…the attraction to many is being able to live large – even if it’s in a cyber world”. Many Africans would treasure the opportunity to be able to create an ideal world, to collaborate, to innovate and to expand their understanding of the world beyond the continent. But isn’t this true for all of us, globally?
On a practical level, we are looking forward to attract some African-based hotels to SL and was pleased to see that Designing Digitally built a hotel room for the Hilton Hotel group. The company also lists Ohio University and the Ohio State University as their clients and significantly, both of these universities expressed an informal interest in the work we do in Second Life. We look forward to pick up some links with the higher education sector in terms of virtual worlds.
(2) One of the strongest not-for-profit companies in SL is Global Kids and we have been following their initiative with much interest. It comes as no surprise that they have a well-established developer in the form of FIRESABRE Consulting LLC that work closely with them – especially on the Teen Grid, and we wanted to include the developer on the strength of their experience and innovative ideas. Gus Plisskin (SL) has met with Uthango in-world liaison, Alanagh Recreant a few times and we were impressed by the obvious coordinating knowledge and project management expertise in the company. They were also strongly recommended by some influential clients, such as the acclaimed Maggie Marat (SL) of the Suffern Middle School in the USA – the first school to use SL as learning platform. Here is Gus and Alanagh in a pond, having a serious talk – note the realistic texture of the nearby huts!
Their latest project, the “Virtual World Campus” in partnership with Global Kids, “closes the gap between what basic SL gives you and what you really need. Buy a parcel to suit your project’s size and budget. Work with the Firesabre consultants to build on that land for your specific needs. Let them help with administration during setup and ongoing operations”. In-between attending meetings, virtual worlds conferences and tending to clients, FIRESABRE Consulting managed to send us a proposal and the statement of work showed good insight into our needs to create a unique orientation experience. It is important to us to build strong links with the educational community, and an informal agreement with E-Learning4Africa already sets the scene for close collaboration with educational institutions in Africa. FIRESABRE’s international network and experience in their TEEN GRID in this regard is of immeasurable importance, especially since the promotion of Science, Technology and Mathematics is the foundation for bridging the digital divide in youth programmes. We also think that structured and informal intercultural dialogue between children could truly add value to the virtual educational environment and create understanding between different nations, globally. This is then also an open invitation to universities and schools to contact us for collaboration…
(3) The relationship with HYPERSTRING is another exciting opportunity, and the enthusiasm of PaulC Beck (SL) was clear from their submission being the very first to find its way to our email address. We have also been fascinated by the way this company introduced AI and clever scripting into its developments. The leader of Hyperstring was kind enough to take us on a tour of their sim and Alanagh had her first virtual paragliding experience from a mountain top! Our interaction with the company also led directly to a working relationship between Hyperstring and one of the best creators of African wildlife in SL, PennyWhistle Cameron, to create some animals with clever movement…
Their designs are professional and elegant, with little ‘SL clutter’… This innovative company is exceptionally strong on virtual conferencing with more than one interesting venue and support functions, and their proposal for a conference building at VIRTUAL AFRICA is indeed inspiring and exciting to the Uthango team. With collaboration and showcasing of projects in Africa being an essential part of our strategy, HYPERSTRING offers exhibition spaces and interactive initiatives that will be functional and technically advanced. Below is one of their buildings on their island in SECOND LIFE and you can also visited HYPERSTRING in SL:
(4) We are also pleased to announce that LUNA BLISS also submitted a comprehensive proposal for developing the VIRTUAL AFRICA gateway. Luna has estinguished herself as one of the leading “virtual environmental designers, sim developers and landscape artists’ in virtual worlds. For many, to be associated with Luna Bliss designs is an honour as she hand-picks projects due to being in high demand. The vision of creating an African landscape appealed to the development team and it is clear that a lot of lateral thinking has gone into ideas for a varied and exciting, interactive environment.
Significantly, we are currently exploring relationships with conservation organisations in Africa and we were pleased to see that LUNA BLISS was contracted by 8THWOW to “produce a series of concerts in the Bliss concert area to promote Green awareness on many levels”.
We have experienced the highest level of professionalism in dealing with the Luna Bliss team. Their website speaks of “fundamental values” that guide the design team and the fact that they have won multiple awards and will be able to turn our vision “seamlessly” into a virtual reality. There is an element of fantasy in the designs of Luna’s team, and their words “anything is possible in a virtual space” get real meaning if you look at her work and the ideas they bring to the table. Their proposal holds much promise for a sustainable approach and a business model that has potential to grow – especially with other partners in the conservation, educational and environmental fields, with an emphasis on endangered plant species in Africa. Note: We have recently been contacted by the PEACE PARKS FOUNDATION – also exploring the trends in social networking services (SNS) – and it will be very important to develop a strategy that has opportunity for collaboration with other NGOs and charities with different focus areas.
Although wildlife conservation and environment is not at the heart of UTHANGO’s development agenda, we believe that life is experienced holistically and development should not be seen in isolation. In this regard, we always look for appropriate partnerships that are mutually beneficial and in doing so, have a wider impact on communities. LUNA BLISS offers a platform for collaboration – especially in its relation to the environment. In addition, LUNA BLISS teamed up with COW PR – one of the best Public Relations companies globally – to bring a unique marketing angle to the VIRTUAL AFRICA initiative. Unknown to the team, Alanagh and DirktheCow Writer (SL) the CEO and Co-Founder of COW PR have been talking for some time about doing something together, and it was a pleasant surprise to see the suggested collaboration between LUNA BLISS and COW PR…
(5) Finally, the German-based company SL INWORLD PRODUCTIONS has also caught our attention with its efficient and detailed proposal, responding to our Terms of Reference with immaculate precision and extraordinary innovation. We particularly liked the integrated strategy suggested between RL/SL and also the excellent track-record in machinima. (SL-Inworld Productions Germany is currently in running as nominee for Best Commercial Machinima for its video “When the Postman Spits Twice” as part of the first European Machinima Festival in Leicester mid-October 2007):
The DEUTCHE POST has been one of the corporate clients of SL INWORLD PRODUCTIONS and they managed to create a truly interactive experience using powerful design technologies to build and script. We were impressed by the team’s critical and relevant questions, and enjoyed a visit to an expansion of their project into the SPEED ACADEMY where an avatar can build Formula 1 car and race like mad people on a track. We recommend a visit! The company did not hesitate to share all their clients’ names with us and it was a delight to look at completed projects in SL. The experience of the company to manage a portal into SECOND LIFE in the form of a well-established German gateway called SL-INWORLD.DE is evident. Their clients’ advocate that they are one of the leading virtual worlds developers in Germany, if not in the world. We had the opportunity to speak to the leading developers of the company on their request and could share the vision with them to relate our efforts with other virtual worlds, beyond SL. The emphasis of the proposal on SL/RL integration was a a good value offering in the context of creating a social network linked to a unique API for VIRTUAL AFRICA.
The uncluttered look and feel of sims designed by SL INWORLD PRODUCTIONS appealed to the evaluating team. One of the outstanding factors of the proposal is the authentic geographical overlay and eco-system that is integrated into the entire sim(s) development. The academic backgound of the leader of the SL INWORLD team in these fields brings a particular integrity to the project approach, with massive scope for marketing Africa’s beauty and also showing its vulnerabilities. Engaging SL residents in this process forms the backbone of the development, and is indeed a creative approach to increase retention in the virtual world.
We anticipated appointing a developing team on 15 October 2007. However, we realised that the proposals hold so much potential for RL benefit that we should not be hasty in creating a SL presence without significant RL integration. We are now talking to sponsors to increase the budget allocated for our Second Life project in order to incorporate all the elements we wish to address – with the implication to immediately move beyond only one (1) sim as initial development. We hope to let you know AS SOON AS POSSIBLE which of the above brilliant developers will be asked to enter into a relationship with UTHANGO to make VIRTUAL AFRICA reality. In the mean time, we would like to ask that you forward your own recommendation – based on experience or visits to their developed sims – to ALANAGH RECREANT in-world, on a notecard. You are also welcome to post comments here if you have had any interaction with the mentioned developers. In the light of a transparent process, we would like to see that our members and the broader community feel that they could influence the appointment process…
We are extremely excited about making our conceptual reality a virtual reality in order to influence our existing reality! Corporate sponsorship remains important to realise all our dreams, and we look forward to continued (and new) engagement of companies interested in virtual worlds. We invite companies with ties to AFRICA to contact the UTHANGO Directors for opportunities, via our website!