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September 20, 2007
Virtual Worlds Fall 2007 Interview with Chris Sherman
 

By: Michael Dougherty

Virtual Worlds 2007 is the leading event for Fortune 500 businesses seeking to understand and maximize marketing and business strategies within virtual worlds. Virtual Worlds Conference and Expo Fall takes place October 10-11, 2007 at the San Jose Convention Center.

Michael: Thank you for taking the time to answer a few of our questions Chris. Let’s start by you telling us what your position is within the Virtual Worlds Team as well as what your job requires you to do?

Chris: Executive Director. That means I do a bit of everything. Or, as the case may be, I do a lot of everything. When there is no one else to turn to for something it’s my responsibility to get whatever it is done.

Michael: Next maybe you could give our readers an overview of what Virtual Worlds Management does and a brief history of the company.

Chris: We see ourselves similar to a trade organization. We help people network and learn best practices. We serve as the glue, bringing together professionals in the virtual worlds industry. We also see our selves as an educator for companies and individuals who are interested in using virtual worlds applications and technologies to help grow their business.

We started out as The Game Initiative in 2003 focusing on the game industry. From 2003 to 2006 we produced the Austin Game Conference and a number of game industry tradeshows. In October 2006 we shifted gears to focus on the emerging Virtual Worlds industry. We sold all of our game tradeshows to CMP Technology (the owners of the Game Developers Conference) and changed our name to Show Initiative. Virtual Worlds Management, the division of Show Initiative focused on the virtual worlds industry, was launched in November 2006.

Michael: What is the basic concept of Virtual Worlds and what advantages do they offer over real world collaboration?

Chris: Virtual worlds applications range from pure social networking (think kids just wanting to chat in a 2D or 3D environment with some form of avatar) to full blown business uses such as virtual collaboration. The easiest way to think of virtual worlds being used in a business environment is to imagine Web conferencing with a full-blown 3D interface rather than a simple Web interface. Already we’re seeing platforms in development that are fully 3D with avatars sharing and collaborating on everything from spreadsheets to software code. As the technology gets easier to use and the interface tools become more robust you’ll see more businesses adopting the technology.

Michael: What prompted you to change your focus from game-based Virtual Worlds to non-game Virtual Worlds, and do you have plans to do more work with game-based Virtual Worlds in the future?

Chris: Two things really: 1) the timing was right. Business Week at the time was running a new story on virtual worlds almost every other week; many times they were devoting several pages to the technology. To me this was a signal that the technology was moving into the main stream, lead by the Second Life platform.

As I looked at the space I found quickly found that there were many more players involved in virtual worlds than I would have thought. Right now there is simply a huge amount of innovation going on in the space: from the technology to the variety of uses for the technology.

That coupled with 2) the desire to do something new, made for an easy decision.

Michael: This conference follows the highly successful Virtual Worlds 2007 Spring, which was held in New York City. What kind of a turnout do you expect in San Jose and what companies can we expect to be there?

Chris: We’re expecting 1,000 people in San Jose. What’s interesting about this marketplace or industry is that it is comprised of many individuals coming from all types of other industries.

In the game industry you kind of know where you stand – you’re in the game industry – that’s that. But the virtual worlds industry… is still being defined and the people coming into the space are coming into it from all over…. from entertainment companies to insurance companies and everything in between.

Think of it like you think of the Internet. At first you had the Internet industry – ISPs, hardware guys, networking guys, browser guys, etc… but as businesses realized the power of the Internet businesses of every type and size jumped in and adopted the Internet to their own needs.

Virtual Worlds are no different. We’re seeing a wide variety of businesses jumping in with the goal of applying virtual worlds uniquely to their particular needs.

Michael: You are expecting 100 featured speakers at Virtual Worlds 2007 Fall, including many CEOs, directors, and professors from various businesses and universities. Who at the conference are you most looking forward to and why?

Chris: So some highlights:
Paul Yanover Executive Vice President & Managing Director Disney Online – this will be an informal fireside chat so I’m interested in hearing how Disney’s strategy will evolve.

Anthony E. Zuiker, Creator, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: Miami, CSI: NY - I want to see how he plans on creating cross platform entertainment between TV and virtual worlds.

Daniel Schiappa, General Manager, Strategy Entertainment and Devices Division, Microsoft Corporation – Microsoft has yet to make a move in the space but when they do it will be big. I’m hoping Daniel will be able to share some of those details at the show.

Raph Koster, President, Areae, Inc. – they’ve been so secretive about their plans I hope they live up to the non-hype they’ve created around themselves. :-)

Michael: For those of our readers who might be interested in attending could you describe a typical day at one of these conferences?

Chris: Keynotes will kick-start each day. The sessions usually run an hour in length. We know that networking is the most important component at events like these so we don’t pack the day. We leave 30 minutes between sessions so everyone has plenty of time to network. This is something we learned running AGC. Also like AGC we’ll have an attendee lounge in the exhibit hall and free beer on Wednesday afternoon.

The San Jose Convention Center is a great place because all the sessions and the exhibit hall are on the same floor. This makes for a nice setting where you’ll have the best opportunity to run into all the other attendees and speakers. Since we’re only expecting 1,000 people you should be able to get great networking done in a casual manner. We’ve even set up an advanced social networking site called Virtual Worlds Passport that lets attendees get to know each other now, prior to the show.

Michael: The Fall conference promises 30 Virtual World platform companies to be present. How about a preview of what we might expect these companies to showcase?

Chris: We will see a range of platforms – some geared to entertainment – others geared to get business done.

Animax Entertainment is going to show how they built the TyGirlz.com site for toy company Ty Inc. (the beanie babies company). HiPiHi is coming all the way from China to talk about the China market. They're getting ready to launch so it will be interesting to see how their platform is evolving.

One of the most interesting panels is likely to be the "Visionary Panel - Where the Platforms Are Going Next" Speakers include:

- Christopher Klaus, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Kaneva
- Raph Koster, President, Areae, Inc.
- Michael Wilson, CEO, Makena Technologies (there.com)
- Hui Xu, Founder & CEO, HiPiHi Co., Ltd
- Stephen Lawler, General Manager of Virtual Earth, Microsoft
- Corey Bridges, Co-founder, Executive Producer, & Marketing Director, The Multiverse Network

Also there is a whole group of platforms for business uses, including: Quaq, Forterra, ProtonMedia and Unifair.

Michael: Lastly, what do you feel the future holds for Virtual Worlds and what impact do you think it will have on the way companies do business?

Chris:
Virtual worlds have the power to transform business similar to how the Internet transformed business in the 1990s.

Thanks again Chris for taking the time to answer a few questions for our readers. Sounds like you have a great event planned! Virtual Worlds Conference 2007 Fall information can be found at http://www.virtualworlds2007.com/ Those of you interested but unable to attend this conference can surf on over to http://www.virtualworldsmanagement.com/  for information on future conferences.

 
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