It’s All Virtual: Hear from a Panel of Virtual Worlds Entrepreneurs

Part 2 of 3 posts by Dennis Shiao.  On September 24, Fountainblue held it’s second annual State of the Virtual Worlds Industry Event over at the Cisco campus.  The next night, I took a red-eye from SFO to NYC add spent the next 7 days in humid tropical weather, on my feet, and exhausted down to my bones.

Thankfully, Dennis Shiao, who did a fantastic job moderating the second panel of the Virtual Worlds Conference, wrote 3 great blog posts about the first trends panel, the third entrepreneurs panel, and 3 Virtual World Technologies to Watch.  After I get these posted, then it’s my turn to write about Dennis’ Corporate Panel: Serving Customers, Building Communities, Training Users.

Here’s Dennis’ link and post about our third panel:

Hear From A Panel Of Virtual Worlds Entrepreneurs

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

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

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

Adapting your business

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

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

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

Online gaming

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

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

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

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

Virtual worlds and engagement

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

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


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

I agree that a key to these entrepreneurs’ success has been their ability to follow their passions and evolve.  And they all involve social interactions – either on a 2D monitor screen or blurring the lines and merging the digital world into our real world. 

But don’t be fooled – it’s a struggle.  Notice that only 1 (Rocket On) of 5 companies (I’m including Virtual Greats who couldn’t make it because of illness) is based in the SF Bay area.  The digital world and AR space doesn’t fit that VC model of huge exits so these companies had to flex to support themselves. 

The digital world space is struggling to find density of players, and the ability to find common ground to even create a groundswell of momentum.  That spaghetti is looking pretty spread out on that big blank wall and strands are falling off every day.

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