Posts Tagged ‘Second Life’

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Putting the Transmedia in Virtual Worlds

October 17, 2007

The only reason I use the word ‘transmedia’ without flinching is because Henry Jenkins bandies the word around as though it never was in fashion. And also because no-one has thought up a less crap alternative, so I will proceed to use it without shame.

I was aware that there was some kind of CSI-virtual world crossover event, but the details announced at last week’s Virtual Worlds conference in San Jose sound even more interesting than I expected. Anthony Zuiker’s (CSI’s creator) ambitious and ARG-like approach to Second Life is extremely refreshing, he seems to have grapsed how 3D interactive spaces can be used to augment stories and therefore take their audience with them. This is something I’ve been excited about seeing attempted for some time as I’m sure is the case for many others. One of Second Life’s biggest failings for me has been its lack of ‘narative’, for want of a better word. The roleplaying sims tend to be fairly exclusive and even adventures/quests, like IBM’s black box feel low key because there seem to be no buzz surrounding it, taking away the feeling that as a participator you’re part of something big.

It will be interesting to see just how successful something as mainstream and old media as CSI will be in the virtual world context. I have my fingers crossed though, because should it work it will undoubtedly open the gates for many other fiction driven IPs to try similar things. As Reuben Steiger CEO of Millions of US stated “What doesn’t really exist are case studies that we can point to … and say,’ Look, here’s a hit that was produced out of this fledgling media’… There are ideas out there that are really, really exciting, but they’re going to require risk taking. The more hits we have, the less risky it will seem.” Naturally, not every TV show will necessarily be able to pull something this big off but there are plenty of alternatives, for example Kaneva have the rights to recreate the Family Guy house in in-world, where users can watch family guy epsiodes, for example.

A concern that crossed my mind was that the potentially mass audience that CSI migh introduce to Second Life would be lost once they tried to figure out the notoriusly difficult-to-use interface. Zuiker stressed that he intends to make it as easy for the Second Life virgin as possible through “shorter download times and an avatar of Zuiker to walk visitors through the virtual Manhattan” , but the big news is Electric Sheep Company’s OnRez viewer that claims to dramatically simplify the UI experience. This is significant , and long overdue, news in itself so it’s no surprise that it ‘s not the only web browser available, Japan’s 3Di recently announced the Alpha of their Movable Life viewer, albeit with mixed reception from users, InDuality’s web browser is also compatible with Club Penguin, Blink 3D and X3D, and back in July a UK student pulled together a Ajax Second Life browser.

Together with Metaplace, Whirled and the BB’s TV-virtual world crossover, 2008 promises to be a very interesting year for virtual worlds although not all agree that the encroachment of big, old media into previously ‘native’ communities is such a great thing, the former examples make it easy for users to make their own virtual worlds without necessarily giving access to large companies, so it sounds possible that there will be something for everybody.

In other Transmedia news, the first few pages of the World of Warcraft comic are on show at MTV’s Multi Player blog and Halo 3 scares the movie industry!

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‘Engagement’: Virtual Worlds 1 – Social Networking Sites 0

October 11, 2007

In true reportage style, I’m going to start with the bad news. I won’t say too much about the Yankee groups recent assertion that Second Life has failed to live up to its hype, as Wagner Au over at New World Notes has done more than enough to discredit their findings, and the fact that the Yankee group have pulled the report says it all. Again, it concerns me greatly that companies like the Yankee Group are paid large sums of money to comment on something with which they clearly have no experience whatsoever.

In direct contrast to the Yankee groups flawed findings, The Guardian recently reported that Second Life users spent on average 5 hours 29 minutes per month in-world in contrast to Facebook users who on average spent but 2 hours 32 minutes using the software in the UK. Linden Labs metrics suggest this figure is significantly higher, which suggests that Nielsen//Net Ratings may have made a similar mistake to that of the Yankee group.

Anyone interested or involved with virtual worlds will likley be unsurprised by this ‘finding’, after all the famous ’20 hours a week’ average for MMO players is touted with some frequency. But I wonder what the time spent playing figures are like for the growing market of casual MMOs (Barbiegirls, Club Penguin, Habbo etc.) touted as the next big things by various virtual world luminaries? Traditional MMOs, like World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, EVE Online etc. have always been seen as the choice of the more hardcore gamer who spends a lot of time gaming anyway, and the same is probably true of the majority Second Life users so I have my doubts that a more casual audience will match the dedication these kinds of players show.

But of course, hardcore gamers are a minority and gaming per se is still a relatively engagement intensive activity. This article in The Escapist points out what the economic benefits of casual gaming are, but what about the ‘attention economy’? Interestingly during the keynote speech yesterday at the virtual worlds conference Chris Sherman asked “how do you make the user experience work for users with short attention spans” in reference to the apparent success of kids virtual worlds. There is clearly some concern that just like Heelies or Friendster a given virtual world will just be flavour of the month and then disappear into obscurity, but for now the strength of virtual world platforms over social network sites lies in the of overlooked fact that they look like and contain games. The concern should be that social networking sites will realise this and bring virtual world features into their friendship oriented environments, as many of the apps on Facebook  already do.

Of course crossover virtual world platforms like Metaplace might iron out these distinctions, and virtual world Scenecaster has already launched its app on Facebook (that as yet I haven’t got working!) so such a distinction might be moot. The competition might end up relying on which company can bring out the next ‘must-explore’ virtual world.

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Second Life, Second Chance

July 30, 2007

Yet another article lamenting the failure of real life brands to work in Second Life and yet another rebuttle from Wagner James Au.

To be fair to both sides the article from Wired doesn’t discuss any of the success stories and Wagner isn’t overly ready to admit that Second Life hasn’t been as lucrative as it could have been for many of the brands who’ve decided to give it a go. But as more moderate voices have reminded us, it is still early days for virtual worlds and to be fair there are just as many expensive marketing mistakes made in real life as there are in Second Life.

I got quite excited when I read Wagner’s post on New World Notes – ‘Wired and the Long Tail of Second Life Marketing’ – I thought he’d had some insight into how businesses could use Second Life to extend their tales as it where. This wasn’t his point sadly, but thinking of Second Life in Long Tail terms is probably a good start for any business.

While Chris Anderson’s point was that storage space and distribution logistics need no longer limit a sellers’ inventories, as a concept the Long Tail is more than that; it’s essentially about getting more people involved with a brand without incurring huge overheads. I’m still quite shocked at the amounts of cash spent on Second Life presences ($500,000 a year quoted in the Wired article, but I’ve heard higher from ESC employees!) and there are certainly cheaper ways of doing it. The first problem with most ventures into Second Life is that they are thought up be people who are unfamiliar with the medium, the second problem is that these ventures aren’t thought up by anyone with imagination. I know that’s harsh, but take a look at the real life branded presences in there, they might have very stylish builds, but that’s where the imagination ends.

Take a look at this.

I know it isn’t in Second Life but there is no reason why Second Life couldn’t do this kind of thing – it’s called KateModern and it’s a blend of social networking site, drama and ARG and it comes from the makers of Lonelygirl15. One of the crucial elements that KateModern uses that Second Life is worryingly thin on is story. I’ve been proposing that Second Life needs to be considered in the light of other virtual worlds like World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online, that ask players to engage with stories. While your typical Second Life ‘native’ caries out business, socialises etc., a quick glance at the number of sign-ups vs permanent residents shows that the former far outnumber the latter. Newbies need engagement and fast, they want games/tasks/quests etc. For many newcomers to Second Life a brand is a first port of call and in this sense it is the reponsibility of brands to make sure they want to stay.

For example the makers of KateModern could have decided that one of the characters has a Second Life residence that hosts multimedia and clues to the events portrayed on Bebo. As the story develops the Second Life set itself could change, perhaps clever players could learn when and where said character was going to be in Second Life where they could question/interrogate his or her avatar. In this context Second Life is just another channel with different interactive benefits.

Importantly companies going in to Second Life need to look at how they can use other mediums like Bebo, Myspace, Facebook, Youtube, blogs in tandem with Second Life. Part of the truth is that brands need to become content creators as much as product/service providers if they really want to see success.