Enough of the fun and games, even reality check happens in Second Life. And as Yeoh Siew Hoon writes, the virtual world is out there persuading companies to use their universe as a marketing medium. You want to give it a go?
I once asked a hotelier, “Are you in Second Life?” His response? “I already have a second life.”
Unfortunately our conversation was interrupted at that point by a waiter carrying a champagne bucket to our table, so I never got to the root of his answer.
What I do know is what I meant by my question – was he a resident of Second Life, that virtual world which now claims 8.3 million residents, 30,000 of whom are online at any one time?
I am. My avatar is Coyote. (There are other Coyotes but we don't share the same family name.) She may have a name that sounds like a dog but she looks more like a cat. A sexy, furry feline with ponytails. It is one of the few avatars you get to choose when you sign up for Second Life.
Anyway, Coyote’s been in hibernation for some time, and I feel rather guilty for neglecting her. She’s only been out to play twice in that world and her attention span, unfortunately, is like mine in real life – extremely short.
And so she is one of those millions of residents who have signed up but are “inactive”.
The “active” ones though have been rather busy. According to the “Starfish Virtual Reality & Customer Communities Marketing Summit” I attended this week, they have built up 65,000 acres of real estate, made more than 200,000 transactions and built up an economy worth US$1.6 million in real money.
Who are the residents? Well, 25-34s form 38% of the population, followed by 18-24 (26%), 35-44 (22%) and 45-plus (12%). There are slightly more males (57%) than females. (This is, of course, if folks aren’t lying about their age and sex.)
When in Second Life, they shop, communicate with each other, build relationships, spend and earn real money, attend events, games and concerts – U2 has held a concert but I am told that it is in no way the same like their live performance – watch movies, experiment, and find a job. (Virtual items, I am told, is apparently a US$1.6 billion industry. Go figure.)
Currently, chatting is done by IM, email or text message but voice will soon be coming to a Second Life near you. Yes, soon, Coyote will be able to pick up headsets and speak and hear in Second Life. I hope I get to pick her voice – one that purrs, of course.
Sounds all very fun and cool so far, right?
Unfortunately though, even in Second Life, there is something called “Reality Check” and so it is at this stage of its life cycle where it’s trying to persuade businesses to use it as a commercial medium – either for branding, product testing, market research, recruitment or, really, anything you can think of …
Some businesses have started using it. Apple, AMD and Dell have virtual showrooms and Adidas and American Apparel run stores where if you buy virtual items, you get a 15% discount on the real thing. Xerox and IBM conduct virtual meetings for their teams. The Vancouver Police has used it to recruit employees, as has ABN Amro. Starwood Hotels & Resorts uses it as an experimental ground for hotel design.
There have however been complaints of “dead stores” – outlets which have been abandoned by residents who have either run out of interest, energy or time.
Truth is, because it is such a new medium, everyone is grappling with it. Nicholas Cameron of Starfish kept stressing the word “innovation” – that brands need to innovate in this environment and not think of immediate ROI. “You may not get a sale now, but you may get a sale in 18 months,” he said.
To me, the biggest rub is that most people go into Second Life for fun and, in a way, to escape the real world. So how would they react to their virtual world being turned into a replica of the real world where they are treated like, dare I say it, ordinary consumers?
As one member in the audience said, “I go into Second Life for fun. Frankly, if someone came along and pushed their products at me, I’d be p…. off.”
Imagine. You could have a virtual revolution, as has been known to happen in other virtual worlds. Then Coyote may have to trade in her purr for a growl.
See News Sense: Asia's role in the building of the global metaverse
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