Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Filipino Internet Users Still Lack Appreciation of Virtual Worlds

A Filipino in Second Life
Like most kids, Rodion Herrera has always enjoyed games that relate to the concept of "let's pretend", such as "let's pretend to be an astronaut" or "let's pretend to be a pilot".

What set him apart from other kids was the realization (at a very young age) that being aware of the advantages of having the ability to pretend and imagine what it would be like to be in someone else's shoes, enhances one's ability to analyze situations and thus get a better perspective about the world around, and increases one's knowledge of the world.

"As I grew older and got introduced to computers sometime in the mid 80's, I realized that I was living in the dawn of an era wherein technology can actually allow humans to take the pretend concept further and actually allow users to immerse themselves in pretend environments, spaces that free of the natural constraints of the real world."

Rodion developed a fascination for simulations and 3D environments. Even though his formal collegiate training and background was rather unrelated to his passion for simulations, he kept abreast with what was going on by casual research and self study. In 2000, he became a member of the Philippine Flightsimmers Group, an informal gathering of flight simulation enthusiasts, that fueled his yearning to be involved in a project that was concerned not only with simulation of aircraft flight, but of how the entire world works.

"In 2004, I first learned about the emerging virtual worlds, and was introduced to Second Life sometime in mid 2005. I didn't undergo the "bewildered phase" that most people get when they first step into a virtual world. My background interests in 3D graphics, 3D games, and flight simulations provided me with the necessary foundation to be immersed in the instant I got into the world. Of course, it took a while for me to learn the complicated user interface, but once I managed to do that, I found myself in an environment which beckons endless possibilities--I felt I was in my element, and thus am constantly excited with what the future of virtual worlds hold for everyone."

Around January 2007, Rodion learned that Dennis Bacsafra started a metaverse consultancy agency called Avatrian in Cebu City, and found out they were in need of someone who had the skills to create and develop in virtual worlds, particularly Second Life. "I immediately applied for the position and was accepted into the company in March 2007. It's nearly a year since I joined the firm and the level of excitement and enthusiasm I have, as well as my fellow employees remain at an all time high and we constantly look forward to the things that other various upcoming virtual world platforms have to offer that would utilize our unique and varied skill sets."

Today, Rodion works as creative Director for Avatrian LLC. The company started in San Francisco, California, USA on October of 2006. Later on, it expanded operations in Cebu.

As a startup company, Avatrian currently has 6 employees, 2 of which are part-time workers. In the virtual worlds community, Avatrian is a solutions provider in Second Life and constantly serving "inworld" clients since they opened doors. The company is also listed in the Second Life GRID. "Visitors in Second Life regularly visit our own "sim" or server, which hosts our Avatrian Central island, containing our virtual office and showcase areas where we display and sell our varied products," Rodion explained.

Despite being a young entity, Avatrian is slated to have presence in the upcoming prestigious Virtual Worlds Conference (VWC) 2008 to be held in New York City on the first week of April, where they shall have a display booth.

"Our virtual products have been featured in a Second Life journal and various Second Life Blogs all over the net. So yes, even if we are small in terms of "real world size" as a company, we have definitely taken major strides in terms of creating content for the virtual world of Second Life."

Why aren't there Filipinos in Virtual Worlds?
In the Philippines, virtual world programs and their popularity has not much picked up (although I'm still about to write to Groovenet hoping to get their insight in this field). I asked Rodion what he thinks is the reason that is stopping Filipinos from participating and how can they be encouraged.

Rodion believes that Filipinos in general, still consider television, movies and karaoke as their primary means of electronic entertainment.

"Admittedly, age plays a factor in determining what sort of electronic entertainment the average Filipino considers as worthwhile recreation. Consider this example. There is a substantial number of Filipino teenagers who are into MMORPG gaming, which makes it an age-specific form of online recreation. However, television in the Philippines is NOT age-specific--it still has a to all age groups. Considering the average purchasing power of a typical Filipino in terms of up-to-date computer hardware, and a decent DSL internet connection (prerequisites to be able to participate in virtual worlds), and comparing that to how easier it is to just buy a television set, a cable connection, a karaoke set, etc, then chances are, the average Filipino would still find it impractical to invest in technology that they perhaps would have difficulty in comprehending.

For most Filipinos, it's still easier to identify with celebrities like Willy Revillame or Ces Drilon, rather than some obscure blogger or a metaverse content creation guru (perhaps totally alien concepts to them) -- they want to be entertained and be informed by "real" people, and all things virtual to them are still largely obscure--they simply have no idea why there is a need for a virtual world.

Unless you can convince the average Filipino that participating in social networks on the web, or participating in virtual worlds as being more "interesting" or rewarding, and that peer-to-peer exchange of news and info is better than listening to news on TV or radio, then he/she will stick to more traditional forms of mass media."

Rodion sees the typical Filipino Internet using the communication medium for casual purposes or for business use. "Assuming these people indeed have the hardware and a robust internet connection, I believe that the only hindrance for them in fully participating would simply be an assumption that these virtual worlds, are nothing but hyped-up e-marketing strategies or they are simply "games" that the "serious" internet user and/or entrepeneur should veer away from. Unless you can convince the average Filipino internet user that participating in virtual worlds, now categorized as under Web 3.0, is indeed rich in creative, educational, and commercial opportunities, then he or she will stick to more traditional forms of internet use."

Opportunities in Virtual Worlds
Although there is much opportunity, companies in the developed countries have a difficult time transitioning into this new technology. Several well-known American companies and corporations, for instance, have dived blindly into Second Life and invested huge amounts of money in it, only to find themselves closing shop after a few months.

Rodion observed that businesses and companies have no idea on how to "manifest" themselves in these worlds. "They were basically sucked in by the hype and when they found themselves in the world and didn't know what to do, they basically withered and died. Thus seeing these companies' experiences as examples, it is not advisable to merely jump blindly into virtual worlds without first knowing what they are all about. And perhaps the most striking feature of virtual worlds is that it is not something you just explain via an article or a Powerpoint presentation--it simply has to be experienced first hand for one to fully appreciate the potentials that 3D spaces and environments have to offer, in terms of creative, educational and commercial purposes."

An example on how Filipino entrepreneurs should use Second Life
Rodion gives this idea. "Say, there is a Filipino furniture manufacturer and exporter who own a static website displaying his wares. In order to keep abreast with the advancements in browser technology, the next step for him to do is to introduce interactivity, via technologies such as Flash and Javascript, which would allow site visitors to click on the displayed furniture examples (images) and allow color changes etc. But there will be limits to the interactivity that a visitor can do with this, simply because it is still all happening within the confines of a Web 1.0/2.0 level browser.

Now, imagine this furniture website translated as an actual virtual shop inside Second Life, where vistor's avatars can go around the furniture, sit on it, rearrange it inside a sample room to see various layout opportunities, change color or some basic stylistic forms--the possibilities are endless--virtual worlds offer an almost limitless potential for product evaluation and design, because of it's 3-dimensional, immersive nature."


cremebrulee1979 said...

SL is indeed an emerging tool that is yet to be discovered, but actually, there are plenty of Filipinos in SL, but they are scattered from all over the world. Community is a key area in which SL can be utilized too...imagine sharing your culture in SL, and bridging Pinoys together in one environment that is better than chatting in a chatroom, where OPM music can be played in a nipa hut...unfortunately that hasn't happened yet, I tried but it wasn't a permanent presence like some other countries have in SL.

it would be nice to have a virtual embassy or philippines here. what a grand way to show our culture!

Perze said...

Let's just say that we have this bunch of kids that looks up to Rodion as a mentor and I was one them. I had the privilege of being in his sphere of influence growing up and I remember going to computer trade shows, playing and hacking the same games, trying to be a Depeche Mode and MOD tribute band, and who could forget our cybernet exploits :-) hah. I bet he was the only person at that time that ran a BBS in a 10 province radius.

If there is one thing that I've learned from Rod, is that it would be the capability to think out of the box and that one does not always look as they seem. Fast forward 10 years, it's funny how our career paths have brought us to opposite ends of the same IT spectrum as a Creative Director for Avatrian, Rodion builds things, as a Quality Assurance Analyst for the New York Times, I break things. But I can't deny my roots and I would say that Rodion was a big part of it.

Treasure Box (Eleanor Tesoro) said...

That lack of appreciation for virtual worlds is still true all over the world, even in North America and Europe. However, that's changing rapidly and it won't be long before virtual worlds become as indispensable as the web.

But, yes, third world countries have the most to gain in the rise of virtual worlds. Like the web, virtual reality "flattens" the world (as Thomas Friedman would say). Filipinos and other folks from third world countries have the same opportunities to earn as much as their peers in first world countries. Literally and directly.

And Rodion understands that opportunity very well. He'd be the perfect evangelist for that. :) said...

@cremebrulee1979 - i wonder what will it take for a country like the Philippines to have an island there so to speak.

@perze - i didn't know that Rodion was an early pioneer there. Thanks for sharing!

@treasure box - thanks for sharing. I wonder how do we fair in the region in terms of joining virtual worlds like Second Life.

GrooveNet said...

In general, virtual worlds are still a niche. Not just for Filipinos but for everybody. However, the communities in all virtual worlds are growing with members from countries all around the world. I believe more Filipinos will engage as time goes on. They just need to be introduced like everyone else.
Regarding GrooveNet's take on this, GrooveNet is actually the exclusive publisher for in the Philippines. Members can register for There through GrooveNet and even use ePINs sold at Loadcentral in cafes throughout the country. There actually has an island inside its virtual world called, "There Philippines". This is where a lot of Filipino members hang out and have virtual houses and other property and objects. If you register, download the client and log on to There you are sure to see Tagalog and Visayan in chat bubbles floating in There. :)