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The Growing Role of ‘Real Life’ in Virtual Worlds

August 9, 2007

Everyone who plays an MMO will know that ‘real life’ is often a big part of the virtual world experience. Just one example; Nick Yee’s study found that 70% of people played with someone they knew in real life and many people get into an MMO because their friend’s play it. On top of this there are of course hundreds of thousands of blogs, websites and forums dedicated to discussing virtual worlds, the problem is that very few real life brands seem to be aware of these facts.

A good example is Blizzard’s World of Warcraft trading cards game where certain cards come with codes that give players access to unique in-game items, like pets or mounts, very important in an environment where characters can end up looking very similar. According to Virtual Worlds News Mattel are taking a similar approach with their Barbiegirls.com MMO by selling ‘accessory packs’ that contain fashion accessories and virtual currency. I think this idea is actually superior to buying real goods in virtual worlds simply because there are more people in real life who might be tempted to try out an MMO if they saw a product on a shelf in a shop or on a website. The other problem emerging from research I’ve done in Second Life (although I’m still collecting data) is that while almost everyone I’ve interviewed plays with browsers open in the background very few are clicking through to websites, blogs etc. Although publications like the Avastar with something in the region of 100,000+ readers prove that people will click through to downloadable PDFs it suggests that there are issues here that need to be dealt with.

Now why couldn’t those brands going into Second Life do something similar? It seems that currently the kids toy brands are moving faster than the adult targeted brands (see Now 67 in Habbo Hotel) possibly because there is less stigma amongst children about paying for things that aren’t ‘real’, but this ignores the mainstream popularity of virtual goods on sites like Facebook or virtual currency on fast growing sites like iminlikewithyou. As yet these sites don’t charge for virtual goods but it’s only a matter of time til they or similar sites do, then maybe we’ll be able to buy packs of virtual goods in Tescos.

Update: according to this article SOE plan on releasing a TCG for Everquest II, called ‘Legends of Norrath: Oathbound’, that as well as offering unique in-game goods lets players play it in the game world itself!

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