Jan 272009
 

Seem to be in list/research mode at the moment and was looking for one place on the web that had a list of stats about the mix of male and females across the ‘game/virtual world’ space. I have actually found it useful to highlight many of the type of stats to clients who still believe console games, online ‘quest’ based games and virtual worlds are still the domain of twenty something, slightly overweight, couch potato, anti-social males. Nothing could be further from the truth. Read on, and in no particular order!

note: Cross-posted on MUVEDesign (my virtual world build site).

PDF report by Pew Internet. “Adults and Video Games”

  • More than half – 53% – of all American adults play video games of some kind
  • Independent of all other factors, younger adults are still more likely to play games.
  • Among older adults 65+ who play video games, nearly a third play games everyday, a significantly larger percentage than all younger players, of whom about 20% play everyday.
  • Gaming consoles are the most popular for young adults: 75% of 18-29 year old gamers play on consoles, compared with 68% who use computers
  • Computers are the most popular among the total adult gaming population, with 73% of adult gamers using computers to play games, compared with 53% console users, 35% who using cell phones, and 25% using portable gaming devices.

“Games Women Play” Sep 08 from the Edge

  • Online casual games bring in 150 million women every month– roughly half the population of the United States.
  • Nearly two-thirds of women casual players online are over 35.
  • Women play casual games 5 to 10 hours per day – significantly greater than the 7.4 hours per week by a survey by the Casual Gaming Association.
  • Competition, rather than simple relaxation or escapism, motivates them to play.
  • Female players who are 18 and older represent one third of the game-playing population while male players who are 17 or younger represent only 18 percent of casual gamers
  • Playing casual games is often the first thing women do after waking. They check their ranking and play for on average of 2 ½ hours every morning.
  • Women engage in trivia games with the family members but play action games alone.
  • Most women players are married or in a relationship and have children.

Online Gaming Popularity Grows Among Youngest and Oldest Female Segments in the U.S. ComScore report.

  • Significant user growth among teenage girls between the ages of 12 and 17 and women between the ages of 55 and 64.
  • Growth in the 12 – 17 age range was 55% compared to the total female online gaming audience rate of 27%
  • The over-55 age range grew 43%.

BBC 23 December 2008 “Battle of the Sexes”

  • It found that the most hard-core players are female, that gamers are healthier than average, and that game playing is an increasingly social activity.
  • Despite gaming being seen as a male activity, female players now make up about 40% of the gaming population.
  • The study (detailed link here from Wiley interscience) looked at gender differences in more than 2,400 gamers playing EverQuest II.

Industry Facts from Entertainment Software Association ESA

  • The average game player is 35 years old and has been playing games for 13 years.
  • The average age of the most frequent game purchaser is 40 years old.
  • Forty percent of all game players are women. In fact, women over the age of 18 represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (33 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (18 percent).
  • In 2008, 26 percent of Americans over the age of 50 played video games, an increase from nine percent in 1999
  • Sixty-three percent of parents believe games are a positive part of their children’s lives.

Boy Gamer by Gary Hayes

Women Embrace Casual Games from RedHerring “Casual Gamers Anything But”

  • Spend as much as 20 hours each week playing their favorite games.
  • More than 70 percent said they play at night, and 58 percent have no children living at home.
  • Results from the Harris research reveal that 67 percent of the women over 40 who play games do so at least four times per week. Nearly half play every day.
  • Some 60 percent say they would rather play a casual game than talk on the phone or do projects around the home, while nearly 50 percent said they would rather play a casual game than go to a movie.

BBC 17 Sep 2008 “Online gamers are not unhealthy

  • The “couch potato” image of computer gamers is unfounded, with many in better than average shape, claim US researchers.
  • More than 7,000 players of the online game EverQuest II were quizzed about their health by scientists.
  • They found gamers’ body mass index (BMI) tended to be lower than the US average – with many taking “proper” exercise more than once a week.

Driving Force in Video Gaming: Women and Baby Boomers. Reported on PC World Aug 2008. IBISWorld claims that:

  • 38 percent of US gamers are women
  • The average player is 35 years old
  • 24 percent are over 50.
  • The percentage of female video gamers climbed from 33 to 38 percent in five years bolstered in part by Nintendo’s Wii, but also “interactive group games” such as Singstar, Rock Band, and Lips, as well as The Sims, The Movies, Nintendogs and NeoPets.

Demographics of the top 3 games on Facebook – from Bret on Social Games

  • Scramble which is the only game among the top three developers dominated by women(63%).
  • The age of Zynga players is spread more evenly among the three age segments, but with ~50% in the 22-25 age bracket.
  • Blake Commagere’s Monsters games also have ~50% of their users in the 22-25 age bracket.
  • They also have a fairly even male-female ratio.

Second Life demographics and usage – reported by Lost in Bananaverse

  • 83.79% of the population is 25 years and older, and the older users spend far more time in Second Life than younger users
  • Females spent nearly twice as long online in Second Life as males. Females make up 45.5% of the Second Life population.
  • Total user hours for April totaled 29,069,684 hours
  • Those 45 and older continuing to be the heaviest users on average.
    • 45 and older: 70.17 hours per user per month
    • 35-44: 66.06 hours per user per user per month
    • 25-34: 55.55 hours per user per user per month
    • 18-24: 37.84 hours per user per user per month
    • Teen grid: 24.67 hours per user per user per month

The demographics of World of Warcraft (useful but old 2005 data from Nick Yee)

  • The average age of the WoW player is 28.3
  • 84% of players are male
  • 16% are female. Female players are significantly older (32.5) than male players (28.0)
  • On average, they spend 22.7 hours per week playing WoW.
  • There are no gender differences in hours played per week.

ESSENTIAL FACTS ABOUT THE COMPUTER AND VIDEO GAME INDUSTRY 2008 SALES, DEMOGRAPHIC AND USAGE DATA (full report from ESA at Scribd)

  • 13 is the average number of years adult gamers have been playing computer or video games. Among most frequent gamers, adult males average 15 years for game playing, females for 12 years.
  • 59% of gamers play games with other gamers in person. This is a rise from 56% in 2007 and from 51% in 2006.
  • The average age of the most frequent game purchaser is: 40
  • 56% of online game players are male 44% are female.
  • What is the One Type of Online Game Played Most Often?
    • 12% Other
    • 47% Puzzle/Board/Game Show/Trivia/Card
    • 16% Action/Sports/ Strategy/Role-Play
    • 14% Downloadable Games Such as Bejeweled and Diner Dash
    • 11% Persistent Multi-Player Universe

Women are hardcore gamers from bNet in 2006

  • Electronic Arts’ casual game site Pogo.com draws 11 million unique users per month. Fifty-five percent of those are women.
  • On the subscription side, 75 percent of the more than 1 million subscribers are women over the age of 35.

Study: Women Gamers Outnumber Men in 25-34 Age Group – from GameDaily 2006

  • Consumer Electronics Association study found that 65 percent of women in the 25-34 age bracket play video games, while only 35 percent of men in that group said that they play video games. The key factor involved with these findings is the increasing popularity of casual games, especially among women. (These casual titles are typically found on web portals like Yahoo!, AOL Games, PopCap Games, EA’s Pogo.com and elsewhere.)
  • Women were found to be slightly less likely than men in the 25-34 bracket to play traditional console games on systems like PlayStation or Xbox.

Old (2000) but interesting item on ‘gender bending’ in games from womengamers.com

  • 6% of subjects play female characters for 25% or less of their gaming time
  • 24% play females for 26-50% of their gaming time
  • 15% play females for 51-75% of their gaming time
  • 42% play females for 76-100% of their gaming time
  • 12% did not answer this question
Aug 242008
 

The Sydney Morning Herald, and a few blogs who should know better, continue the tiresome trend of metaverse and specifically Second Life bashing. Asher Moses ( decided to run a recent item based loosely on a few lines of an old bit of research from a PhD student looking at the potential of Virtual Reality (an old academic term for what we now call Virtual Worlds). The research actually focused on iterative development of the commercial side of virtual worlds and had naturally concluded that the first entrants into Second Life were still learning how to engage with the inworld inhabitants. Well nothing new there, many commentators had already come to that conclusion back in 2006 and in some cases a decade and more ago. But this article was particularly poor due to many factual inaccuracies and a more pronounced negative bias than usual.

NEGATIVE ARTICLES

I have come to expect a certain negative sensationalism from traditional media and SMH particularly have written at least four items of fiction per year for the past two years about the demise of virtual worlds, lead by Second Life. So I thought I would analyse this particular article “Few Lives Left for Second Life” in some more detail, and I have reprinted it in full below with embedded comments. Without over analysing it I can only think the real reason traditional media feel it necessary to ‘attack’ online game platforms is purely a result of survival as their readership plummets while online games see rapid growth. Who knows, perhaps Asher Moses had a bad ‘trip’ in his one day in world in 2006, who knows. Anyhow lets see how this article stands up to scrutiny…

Few lives left for Second Life

Interesting title. Does the journalist want us to believe that Second Life is finished? Does this journalist want to bring about it’s demise? As always poor journalism always begins with sensationalist, opinionated conclusion suggesting from the outset a real lack of understanding. So to the standard ‘text book’ summary of the intention of the article.

The companies that rushed to set up bases within the cult virtual world of Second Life appear to have wasted their time as many have shut down and others are “ghost towns”, an Australian researcher has found.

SECOND LIFE IS OUR BEST R&D PLATFORM

Firstly there wasn’t a rush and some companies spent a year researching and are still researching before fully setting up in a virtual world. Also it is not a cult with over 12 million who have tried it and around 1.2 million who regularly visit it, the average age is over 34 and predominately female. It is mainstream media who haven’t a clue about the significance of social worlds who turn it into a cult with articles that focus on the whacky and negative. Finally the ‘ghost town’ was taken completely out of context as the main thrust of the PhD students article was about something completely different. Kim MacKenzie. the originator of the research, response to this kind of journalism.

“What is it with the Australian media? Why are they focused on slandering Second Life as a failure? I have recently discussed my research findings of commercial activity within Second Life with several journalists, where only minimal quotes have been used out of their original context; in order it seems, to support an obvious negative bias.” Kim MacKenzie, PhD student, QUT whose research was used by SMH

A DIP IN AUSTRALIAN USER BASE IS NOT THE DEATH OF SECOND LIFE

Before we go back to the article lets think a little about ‘ghost towns’. Later on in the article it suggest 12 people at a time on ABC Island is somehow a failure? On the Pond a slow churn of around 50-100 avatars at any time really starts to add up. Those who do not understand game or social worlds, like Asher Moses and other blogs mentioned below, think success is based on ‘number of hits’ when in fact it is about engagement, user hours and much more. Traditional journalist and those who run copy-cat blogs have their heads still stuck in the web of the late 90s. I often present about the difference between simple page hits and user hours as being a key differentiator in the engagement argument. Immersive online experiences need new metrics and marketeers and academics are realising that social worlds do provide the potential for very high dwell figures…slide 17 of a recent presentation I gave on marketing in virtual worlds quotes the following:

  • Facebooks 65 millions users on for just 4 hours per month – Marketing charts suggest it is anything from 30 minutes to 4 hours per month across 2D social networks
  • 132 million americans watching YouTube but they watch only about 5 minutes per day or 2.5 hours per month
  • Second Life (and other social virtual worlds) has the highest rates of loyalty and stickiness of any social network generation more than 50 hours per month per user

Also consider a reasonably popular corporate blog or site, that has perhaps around 600 per day uniques. How many visitors would be there at any one time, the calculation suggests 1 visitor every 7 minutes. Would we say they are a big failure too? – the big difference is the visitor will likely stay 2 minutes on a site compared with a ‘branded (academic or corporate)’ immersive or game space where the visit will be there from anything between 1-6 hours per day…Also Australia is not the only game in town as brands are global and looking at time spent inworld from reputable sources suggest the opposite of what Asher Moses and metaverse journal are purpoting here with Second Life being 3rd only to Facebook and YouTube.

back to the story…

Separately, figures released by the virtual world’s creator Linden Lab in April show there are only 12,245 active Australian Second Life users, down from highs of 16,000 towards the end of last year. During a period of immense hype over the past few years, Second Life – which allows people to interact through virtual “avatars” and build and trade in-world items – was billed as a way for companies to form deeper online connections with customers by connecting with them in a 3D virtual setting. But Australians appear to have lost interest in Second Life and the users still there appear to be shying away from the big corporate brands.

Firstly Second Life is not the only virtual world. As readers of this blog know there are at least 50 other mainstream entities (see my video here) and the total audience according to a trusted site on this topic KZero is well over 300 million and in the 2nd Quarter of 2008, $161 million was invested in 14 virtual-worlds, the 1st Quarter $184 million put into 23 virtual worlds so the total this year alone to $345 million across 37 new worlds. Australia is a tiny market compared with Europe, Asia, South America and USA so fluctuations are highly likely. The fact that the user base of one virtual world fell by 23% in a year is common with any service coming out of a hype phase into a stable mature phase. I wonder if SMH ever do reports of their own newspapers readership dropping by 60-70% and many old-school papers closing down completely around the world. I suspect not. Trad press are keen to point out the demise of online networks, well they would, they are becoming their main competitors for eyeballs.

Marketing pilgrim had a similar issue with the so-called end of Facebook hype from a few weeks ago ‘Facebook Falling Off” and pointed out the hysteria generated by a few dips in this diagram – as Jordon MoCollom said “Guys, this stuff happens. Economies just can’t grow all the time. It’s not the end of the world, and it’s probably not the end of Facebook, either.”

YES, SOME BRANDS (AND JOURNALISTS) JUST DON’T GET IT

Kim MacKenzie, a PhD student at the Queensland University of Technology, centred her honours year thesis around the business applications of Second Life. She studied the Second Life bases of 20 international brands over three months last year, including Dell, Toyota, Coca-Cola, BMW, AOL and Vodafone. “They were like ghost towns,” said MacKenzie, adding that many of the users she saw on the company islands appeared to be staff members. “In terms of customers and perhaps your everyday people, there was no evidence of anybody in there. I was often the only one wandering around these very impressive sites on my own.” MacKenzie said she went back to many of the 20 brand sites this year and half of them had shut down.

Now this did not surprise me because of two key reasons. 1) Many brands and the ‘sub standard’ developers that promised real engagement brought them into world for the wrong reasons. As I have said regularly for the past two years, you cannot build into a social network and not be social. Also see my post on design for much more detail. 2) We are seeing the natural exodus of the ‘showroom, build-it-big-and-boring’ brands and the settling of second generation ‘social’ and ‘purposeful’ brands. So The Pond, Accenture, Playboy, L Word and about five other key brands are really getting to grips with setting up a virtual base in a social worlds. Ms MacKenzie’s research is nothing new, many folk had been writing about the rarely visited ‘over branded’, nothing-to-do sims for the past two years. My surprise is why now? The Project Factory statistics have shown a clear two way split between brands that get it and those that don’t for a similar timescale too.

UNBIASED STATISTICS FROM LINDEN LABS

In Australia, the ABC, Telstra BigPond and realestate.com.au all have Second Life bases. The Project Factory, which helps firms develop a Second Life presence, said BigPond was by far the most popular brand in Second Life in terms of the amount of time spent there by users. However, the reliability of those figures is questionable because The Project Factory was contracted by Telstra to help build its island.

I take offence this slur on my integrity. The unreliability of these figures clearly come from the Metaverse Journal who in the past have said as much several times and who themselves don’t understand how transparent measurement (meaning everyone can check them!) is the key factor. The point that stands out here is that a company who uses open inworld dwell traffic figures cannot be trusted if they themselves develop for one of the brands. Absolute nonsense and this extrapolation by Asher Moses is typical of the level of inaccuracy in this and many of his articles. For those who never get inworld here are the open ‘dwell’ figures based on subsections of branded spaces, an image from over a year ago.

Brands in Second Life 3 Jun 07

The Project Factory have been publishing these figures for nearly 18 months. Many brands have come and gone in the meantime, but the best independent measurement (albeit behind closed doors) by Tateru Nino actually matched The Project Factory figures after a few weeks over a year ago. Here is one of her NWN posts that shows The Pond way ahead of other brands. and a match in the order of branded spaces. As for the way the Project Factory figures are measured this has been quoted on their website for the past 18 months also – repeated again here for those who may have be ‘indoctrinated’ to assume these were ‘fixed’. The only thing fixed is Asher’s disdain of Telstra and Second Life.

These statistics are compiled and published every Monday using the Linden Labs search functionality. The actual vertical figures are based on the the open inworld Linden Lab traffic algorithm. Every avatar gets a certain number of traffic ‘points’ per 24 hour day which are distributed across the areas they visit – sims and/or parcels (subsections of sims). If they spend 100% of their time for that day on a parcel, then that parcel will get 100% of their points. If they spend 50% of their time there, the space would be allocated 50% of their points and so on. In addition, a visit to a parcel is only triggered by being there for more than five continuous minutes.

and the point is anyone can go in world on Monday morning, type in the brand names, look for the parcels/sims that belong to the brand and see the figures aligned. Anything else has to be taken on trust.

SUPERFICIAL KNOWLEDGE INPUT = INACCURATE OUTPUT

Back to the story from SMH.

David Holloway, who runs the webzine The Metaverse Journal, which examines virtual worlds from an Australian perspective, said Second Life’s popularity had “dropped off big time from a year ago”. He said that was largely due to less media attention and the fact that Australians were fed up with significant lag, which arises because the Second Life servers are located in San Francisco. Stability issues are also a significant setback. Linden Lab’s own data shows “one in four times you use Second Life the whole application will crash”, Holloway said.

The metaverse journal was notable for jumping on bandwagon of Second Life and has since been building traffic (probably measured in hits) to sell advertising, sponsorship and other ‘traditional’ commerce around the hype. They/he are part of the hype cycle and often use negativity to garner traffic too. Like many temporary commentators they blow with the wind, without any real passion for this area and constantly refer to ‘old problems’ with the service. Asher Moses using the Metaverse Journal as a source of information for this and other articles, is like asking a tourist for the nearest bank or traffic directions. I know Mr Holloway is rarely inworld, he created an office ages ago, visits events for minutes (takes a snap and leaves) and lives vicariously through other ‘characters’ from whom he gets tidbits of news, many second hand. I have seen this behaviour personally for two years from many ‘reporters’ of the metaverse and like any news source, many of their stories are pretty negative, cut and paste single lines from other sites all with the sole intention of getting eyeballs onto their site.

Holloway said the BigPond island attracted a maximum of only 100 people on a busy day, while ABC’s Second Life site had 12 people or less visiting at any given time. “If you’re looking at real numbers of people in terms of brand engagement, Second Life is really not the place to be,” he said.

A perfect example of his ignorance of the real figures. Even citing figures from August last year where independently Tateru Nino worked out by actually ‘counting’ visitors had over 9000 per week visit the Pond islands (that was when the Linden dwell rating was at 37743). Exactly a year later it was at 47226 – suggesting it is more likely around 11 000 per week or 1570 per day. Even if there are less they must be staying a ‘lot’ longer and I therefore think Mr Holloway’s figure of 100 must have been plucked out of virtual air.

ADDITION: Two days after this post to further emphasise the farcical nature of this article and Metaverse Journal’s statements we find that Second Life has hit the highest number of concurrent users 67 335 since it came out of alpha back in 2003. Obviously that is a single moment in time so over a day the inworld visitors will be much higher.

BRANDS THAT GET IT

Abigail Thomas, head of strategy development at ABC Innovation, admitted the numbers were “still quite small” and the Australian population of Second Life “hasn’t been growing as fast as it was a year ago”. “It was always an experimental project to test these new platforms and understand how we could use them to connect with audiences,” she said. Nonetheless, Thomas said the ABC had built up a small but loyal following of users who were keen to hold events on the island, such as a regular music quiz. Some had offered to rebuild and renovate the ABC’s island. “We’ve allocated an ABC person to go in in the evenings and weekends to talk to the ABC island community and do some moderation and help the community co-ordinate events,” Thomas said.

Of course working closely with ABC and Telstra I know much of the thinking and plans behind their R&D in Second Life. Without disclosing too much I must point out that BigPond has to it’s credit adopted much earlier than all the others, a structured community management system that involved a loyal Australian participant base. ABC had a loyal but often devisive/dysfunctional group but we are just starting to turn that around and may be as successful if they can sort out group management, personality and media issues.

AUSTRALIA IS LEADING THE WORLD IN COMMERCIAL METAVERSE ACTIVITY

Telstra BigPond has 16 islands in Second Life, five of which are “residential” islands inhabited by Australian avatars. Telstra spokesman Peter Habib maintained that the BigPond island was the most popular Second Life real-world brand presence. He said the residential islands had almost 100 per cent occupancy. “Some of our most popular destinations include Pondi Beach, the Billabong Bar (where many users frequently gather to talk and dance), and also the popular Australian icons including the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House,” he said. “We also have a building Sandbox where visitors can hone their virtual creative skills in a safe environment.”

Yes the community hang around and want to ‘virtually live’ close to areas they enjoy visiting. This is about social networking manifest in 3D space and brands who encourage and join in the conversation with those who visit it will survice and prosper. Those who insist on broadcast interactivity (a term I use to describe, build toys to play with and hide) are like traditional media without a right to reply, doomed to shouting from the mountain tops – without realising less and less people are listening, because they are having their own discourse in the foothills. Regarding the Pond I still have a view that the true mark of success of a brand in a social virtual world should be about many other things than renting property though. Something that Linden Lab, the owners of the platform, do as part of the core service. BigPond in this case is just reselling virtual property and as such to me the real success of The Pond is more about the regular events, the creativity of the builders who often come from the community, elements of nationalism and many of the organic spaces that promote stickiness by their ‘ambience’ rather than superficial interactivity. This has been a real differentiator.

MacKenzie said virtual worlds such as Second Life – which launched in June 2003 – were still a few years ahead of the curve and companies hadn’t done enough to advertise their presence there. However, she expected Second Life – or the next big virtual world – to take off within a few years as the bugs are ironed out and more advanced communications features such as voice chat are added.

Interesting how out of date this item is too, and the research? Voice has been in Second Life for nearly a year and now we already have lip synch as well as much better graphics in windlight, upgraded physics and much more. This again goes to show how out of date journalists and some researchers are. So to conclude the real thrust of the Theories that MacKenzie has included in the PhD is about iteration, that Second Life or successors will indeed be with us for a long long time. Brands who entered and enter these spaces early will need to have purpose – beyond hype and associated PR – which as we all know comes back and bites them, in the shape of SMH. More importantly they will learn as they are doing in other 2D social networks like Facebook, how to properly engage, be human and not like traditional media, broadcast fiction that doesn’t allow discussion or more importantly reflect the truth. The real problem is for me the ripple effect of bad journalism with ridiculous titles that have no grounding in reality being regurgitated by others – such as “So, like, whatever. Second Life is collapsing. Big deal” from Boxxet, and others. Finally.

“I think Second Life has been a fantastic first setting for all sorts of organisations to learn those fundamental virtual world tools and building skills,” said MacKenzie.

Ah something to agree on. Yes it is early days and researchers and journalists who report on these baby steps would do well to think of how idiotic those commentators looked who talked about the unlikely success of TV in radio days or more recently in the late 90s how the internet is a fad and has no relevance to business – the only thing that has no relevance is poorly researched journalism, because today with ‘persistent content’ there is no where to hide.

© Gary Hayes 2008

On a postive note: Second Life is a lot more than sex and commerce – here is a little taste of some of the sublime side, a video and image I creaeted from a fabulous sim Templum ex Obscurum

Nirvana Panorama 16

May 062007
 

NOTE: Based on my sticky post ‘The Brand Owners Guide to Joining the Metaverse”.

As promised a rough transcript of my keynote talk to CeBit last week based on my experience of actually building some Second Life sims, talking to those who use them and creating branded environments that have more usage than any others inworld, so far. There will be a video and/or podcast at some point from CeBit TV and linked from our Project Factory main site but for now lots of ‘nice’ words and this YouTube video I uploaded…


Hello I’m Gary Hayes and thank you for inviting me here to speak at CeBit this afternoon. I hope that by the end of this very brief introduction to virtual worlds, and particularly Second Life, you will be more aware of the major changes that are happening to what we used to call ‘the web’. Virtual worlds are a new disruptive and transformative medium and one that is becoming a significant force alongside our traditional media experiences. But it is still early days. It is the silent movie era, a bit like TV in the late 40s or the web itself in the early 90s – but already virtual worlds are a place where the audience stops being the audience, who become and create their own stories. For those without any exposure to virtual worlds this talk will be a beginners guide and for those who already know something or a good deal about these 3D shared spaces there will perhaps be one or two surprises, Hopefully we will go inworld too if the connectivity gods are with us.

So what do we mean by virtual worlds. In very simple terms they are a bit like MySpace meets the Local Pub meets YouTube meets The Shopping Mall meets Flickr meets World of Warcraft – ok not that simple. We are really talking about non-game based, online spaces where people create new identities and become a part of a larger resident community. There are often no rules, only those set by the inhabitants themselves, this makes it a particular challenge for brands as we will see later (they don’t like to be told how to live!). Many of you would have heard of Second Life, with nearly 6 million registrations at the moment, but there are many others. Habbo is interesting as a simple isometric service for teens now with 76 million registrations and nearly 8 million regular users. Playstation 3 is about to launch ‘home’, a sort of virtual apartment suburbia connected to other PS3 players and EA games has just teamed up with Endemol to deliver what we sometimes call Mixed Reality (cross-over programmes between TV and virtual worlds). There are quite a few others such as there.com, Kaneva and many new kids growing up on the block such as multiverse, croquet or outback online. MTV Networks used the there.com engine to do some extremely interesting TV/Virtual World cross-over services like Laguna Beach, which I sadly won’t have time to talk about. Common to all of them are people using these shared worlds to interact with others around the globe, for hours at a time.

So what are the forces at work here, what is driving this change? Well I suppose there are two key ones. The first is the shift from humans wanting the internet to be more than the rather lonely and non-real time experience to one where as a “participant” they can have real time, collaborative and far richer immersive social interactions. Note I am careful to not call them, the audience – be aware that any media that still thinks of the residents of virtual worlds as audiences are doomed to failure. The second force at work here is to do with residents in worlds wanting to be far more active, creationist and imaginative. They are creating their own experiences versus passively consuming media, such as on TV or via YouTube for example. You have all heard of web 2.0 (blogs, wikis, flickr – the sharing web) well I like to think of virtual worlds as ‘part’ of web 3.0, the real time, co-creative web. It is still about sharing but in a far more natural setting – this is a space where you can walk up to someone and ask -Where can I buy some shoes and will you come shopping with me” versus typing the word shoes into some abstract search engine on the web and spending hours looking at flat pictures. A question I often get asked is, -Is this hype and something that will go away?” Absolutely not. I am old enough to have lived through the dawning of the web and early failed 3D world services, this is totally a part of that on-going evolution and this will now be here for good. The real question that should be asked, and perhaps the focus of my talk, is how are brands and professionals attempting to integrate into these spaces, will they create a virtual paradise or another dotcom burst?

The thing that’s common with all virtual worlds is the real time shared experience, and that should be the key to anyone thinking of setting up a branded space inside these worlds. Participants want to be just that, participants and co-creators. In a world like Second Life (now four times the size of San Francisco around 210 square miles) and where 99% of the content is made by the inhabitants, for a brand to simply plonk some souless buildings, or theme park, or even well displayed real world product falls way short of what the residents actually want. The message that we are getting from the inhabitants is for businesses to -play with me, don’t sell at me.” This is very important. These worlds are extremely ‘sticky’ and inhabitants invest a great deal of themselves in co-creating the environment and the numbers speak for themselves. In second life at the moment there are over 200,000 unique entrants per day spending an average of 4 hours in world – that’s nearly 1 million user hours, and with a population growing at around 30% per month you can see why many other virtual worlds will be popping up in the next few months and years to meet this demand.

Lets have a look at a very short video (which can also be seen on the Project Factory stand throughout the day) showing some of the social activities, the thing that is really driving demand in these environments.

SELF CUT VIDEO -a montage of a variety of experiences” (in background starting up SL if connectivity for demo)

So a brief taste of what goes on inworld, very experiential activities such as dancing, sport, ‘inworld tourism’, education, collaborative building and so on. These are often missed or ignored by the mainstream press. With my other hat on as Director of the Laboratory for Advanced Media Production at AFTRS I am also active in the educational areas in Second Life where collaborative, experiential teaching is growing into a powerful tool – a very vibrant and active community. But who are the real inhabitants? In Second Life it is far from being just young males. The average age is 33 and women constitute around 43% of the total. Interestingly the time spent gender wise is reversed. Of the total time spent by all participants, females account for 60%. Looking at the international split around 31% are from the USA, 48% Europe and 21% rest of the world. Europe is by far the fastest growing area now with growing numbers of English, French, Dutch and Germans so the servers (currently in San Fran and Texas are in the wrong place!). Back to the age question, one fascinating statistic I gleaned last week from Phil Rosedale, the CEO of the makers of Second Life, was that those over 60 years old spend 30% more time in Second Life than those aged 30. Lets try to pop into world now, hopefully, and have a quick two minute wander.

DEMO INWORLD. This space is called the Pond. The one that the Project Factory produced and built for Telstra BigPond. I am not sure who is around but regardless lets have a look at how Second Life works. That is me, the one with the wings and here I am at the main welcome area. Lets go for a short walk, if we meet anyone we may have a chat. It is important to have a welcoming or totally unique environment, look the ripples on the lake, palms, things to do, boating, dancing and of course a popular pastime, flying – (impro a bit here depending on audience reactions). I would like you to notice too how the advertising and brand presence is not ‘in your face’, more about that later. CLOSE DEMO.

Second life is not just about sex, money and griefing. Griefing, by the way, is a term used to describe irritating behaviour, which actually is extremely easy to control. Most of the stories you hear about ‘virtual terrorism’ is really a toxic combination of unprepared companies inworld and the media that likes to find ‘an angle’, just like the real world then. The Project Factory and other Second Life developers have many easy to implement strategies to reduce this to a minimum.

Onto money and opportunities for brands. For the moment it is about getting in there early (first mover advantage), learning about what works and collaborating with the existing resident communities. This both shows that you are ahead of the curve but also open to really having a direct relationship with your customers and most importantly learning from them. It is a way to reach and understand your existing clients and prepare for what will be a mass audience in a very short time. A recent inworld survey by CB News in partnership with Repères asked over 1000 Second Life residents their opinion of real world brands and there were some surprisingly results. 66% believe that the presence of RL brands has a positive impact on SL and 45% of respondents even want more brands because they enhance and give more credibility to Second Life, a realism and make SL more interesting, by increasing the number of residents. But at the moment we are not talking about mass audiences. Successful brand presences, and two of the recent Project Factory builds in Second Life are in the top five, may have anywhere between 30-60 thousand unique visitors per quarter. These will seem like small numbers to some brand owners and advertisers, but, and here is where it gets very exciting, the inhabitants are spending anything between 15 minutes and 6 hours per visit to your brand! That figure is unheard of in almost any other media even more significant and important for those concerned with reach is that those residents are the most active in the blogosphere, and millions of impressions are generated outside these worlds – they tell of their lengthy experiences in the other social networks.

Shopping in virtual worlds is actually fun for the inhabitants and comes up as one of the most popular pastimes. The ability to browse products alongside your trusted friends is more akin to the mall than eBay of course so this is a real opportunity for those who want to attempt to make in or out of world sales. The more progressive companies are allowing consumers to co-design product and even order real world product from within the environment. A simple example. Very similar experiences to real life are being created in these worlds such the shared ‘media’ experience – listening to music, watching movies with others is pretty cool, you can chat and play-around with your fiends alongside the latest film. Dominos pizza realised this early and now allow you to order your ‘real’ pizza while you virtually watch movies with your ‘distributed friends’. Domino’s IT director Jane Kimberlin said “Second Life is where Domino’s customers are and therefore that’s where the pizza company needs to be too.”

How to make money? As is well publicised (in fact I can’t believe I am still talking about this) Linden dollars is the Second Life currency which can be converted into real world dollars. There are some businesses operating in Second Life that are earning real money selling virtual products. These include clothing, dance animations, selling or leasing property, buying even selling shares and the number of Second Life residents generating more than US$5,000 in monthly income has more than quadrupled to 116 in the past year, according to Linden Lab. Also brands who create product inside Second Life own the IP inworld and more importantly they retain it if they move it outside and create out of world, real product, so great news for inworld R&D. But selling things shouldn’t be your focus. It should be about integrating your brand and becoming a trusted addition inside this unique and vibrant social network. You must add value and not just build and run or build and not be around to welcome your visitors. There are way too many empty branded spaces in some virtual worlds. Lets see some of the brands that have already taken the plunge, this is a short edit of a longer video I compiled on the stand and it looks at a few recognisable names.

SELF CUT VIDEO: Motion grabs of branded spaces in world. 3 minute edit of the longer 30 minute stand one.

Quite a few recognisable brands there, so how are they doing?. Well on Thursday last week I went inworld and using the built in Search/Places facility which brings up the standardised traffic figures I looked at the ‘dwell’ traffic for each of them. Dwell is not just how many visits but how much of their inworld time they spent with each of the major brands. Also the inworld traffic measurement is the only real way to compare like with like which is why I am showing it to you. So here are the results.

1. BigPond – 18139
2. Pontiac – 13832
3. IBM – 12850
4. Showtime (L Word) – 7233
5. ABC TV Australia – 6898
6. NetG Training – 6536
7. Mercedes-Benz – 5656
8. Nissan – 4269
9. Mazda – 2827
10. Dell – 2759
11. MTVN – 2317
12. Toyota – 2119
13. Sun Microsystems – 1728
14. Sears – 1596
15. Sony BMG – 1560
16. Cisco – 1521
17. Adidas Reebok – 1351
18. Sony Ericsson – 1242
19. PA Consulting Group – 1138
20. Circuit City -1089
21. Reuters – 1019
22. BMW 842
23. Intel – 829
24. AOL – 797
25. NBC Universal 745
26. American Apparel – 596
27. Starwood Hotels – 35

Great news for Australia with BigPond and ABC (built by the Project Factory) in the top five and this is months after launch, so outside the hype curve. But why are some of the others so low? All those wonderfully designed, branded buildings with lots of things to do? Well to me a couple of the critical elements that many brands have missed are –
Firstly- Creating spaces that are just really nice to spend a long time in. Sounds simple but many corporate builds are just cold and too representational. They should be organic, of value and welcoming and where inhabitants can create their identities inside their own stories. Of particular note is the outback bar area of the Pond which is currently in the top ten of all second life brands itself on a ‘dwell’ basis, but more importantly it is part of a mix of features and functions that you need to create.
Secondly – A space where the inhabitants can create or contribute to the environment. So both The Pond and ABC have sandbox areas where residents (particularly new ones) learn to build and add things to the branded space. Also requests for changes from the visitors to the existing build should be taken seriously and acted on. Give them a sense of ownership of the space and they will thank you which will build trust.
Thirdly – Be authentic and talk to them at an equal level. Too many companies still talk down to their customers as their avatars do the ‘hard sales pitch’ thing. This is a real opportunity to show the human side to the brand, give it personality and again that insight will be endearing to the residents. A major consideration for many brands is to actually commit ‘real life’ people to be in the environment with the visitors 24/7. If you think you wont be able to collaboratively manage the community by factoring in the human resource follow-up, it might make sense not to start at all.

Advertising in these worlds are often seen as a big no, no from those inworld. Especially the old in your face, irrelevant, broadcast ad model. One thing we are experimenting with at the Project Factory is personalized and targetd advertising. This is not some Orwellian (or Minority Report) nightmare, more a way that the environment (at its crudest level ad hoardings) will change dependent on who is around them but there are many more subtle ad R&D experiments we are trailing. We, like many other developers, are learning as we go along and will never assume that this sort of functionality will prevail. An area that we definitely believe is here to stay is allowing residents to creatively interact with your brand or product. So let them co-design new product with you and listen to what they say about your existing products or services. Never before have brands had this opportunity to be so close to the consumer, you are in there with them, in real time, collaboratively.

Companies succeed in virtual worlds when they take much more of a lifestyle approach to their marketing. Whether you choose to go down this road and participate or not, Virtual Worlds will remain to be one of the most compelling ways we will interact socially and commercially in the future. The Project Factory’s virtual world services are also about merging the real with the virtual and creating experiences that are interactive, social and immersive. It is a very exciting time to be involved now at the dawning of this very real, virtual revolution. I hope that this brief talk wheted your appetite. If you want more come talk to us on our stand and check out the website listed here.

Thank you and time for a few questions?

and not mine but a great video about potential for brands (albeit slightly smoke and mirrors re: the interactions in this video) from Text100 and thousands of views on YouTube.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2007

Apr 272007
 

Gary Hazlitt orates 01

The Second Life builds I did for Telstra BigPond and ABC TV (interview with me at SLOZ and also here at CeBit about this) have been very successful (via The Project Factory) and I have been ‘sucked’ into doing several keynote, panels and seminars about this exciting development. The growing maturity (2nd generation) of brands, business and advertising in Virtual Worlds are very much in the zeitgeist at the moment (see previous Milia posts for example and from Brad Howarth) and for those around the Sydney area here are the event dates and some abstracts about some presentations I am giving in this space – (below them is some very interesting brand statistics from Second Life…)

May 1 – CeBit Keynote. “A Brand and Media Survival Guide to Virtual Worlds” (I will be speaking alongside Google and Mozilla amongst others)

Thirty minutes to get up to speed with a revolution. Gary takes you on a whistle-stop tour of three-dimensional virtual worlds and the opportunities for your brand development. He will attempt to navigate the complex maze that is the relationship between audiences in worlds such as Second Life and companies that are looking to create a presence there. What do people actually do here? How can you reach them?

A recent report by Gartner says that 80 Percent of Active Internet Users Will Have A “Second Life” in the Virtual World by the End of 2011 and Gary will explore the reasons why virtual worlds are transformative and immersive. He will analyse some of the key statistics about the naturally communicative audience and ask “Is this really a revolutionary web 3.0, the real-time, collaborative 3D web or another bubble about to burst?”.

May 2-5 – Delivering a “Business in Social Networks and Games” at the LAMP/CSB residential helping previous LAMP projects develop business models.

May 10 – “PR opportunities knocking in virtual worlds” at the 8th National Public Affairs Conference.

More than 850,000 users are spending real time and money in virtual worlds such as Second Life. But will the craze last, and how valuable will it become for PR?
– Abigail Thomas, Head, Strategic Innovation & Development, new media and digital services, ABC
– Gary Hayes, Director, LAMP and The Project Factory and architect of Telstra and AFTRS Second Life projects
– Mark Jones, IT editor, The Australian Financial Review

May 15 – “Business in a Virtual World” at an AIMIA Intimate. I am both moderator and panellist.

Virtual worlds, such as Second Life, are getting a lot of publicity. Of particular interest is the bustling economy developing in these worlds. Business is booming and some people are making serious money. The ABC and Telstra both have presences in Second Life. Come along and hear industry experts from Habbo, Legion Interactive, KPMG, Swinburne Univ and others discuss:

– The popularity of a virtual existence.
– The appeal of setting up a business in Second Life, or any other virtual world.
– Doing business in a virtual world and the ramifications.
– The new virtual marketplace – what marketing principles have changed if at all?
– The future of virtual worlds – how sophisticated will these worlds become? What will be the ROI? What challenges lie ahead for the companies behind these worlds to maintain a vigorous economy and vibrant community?

Date: Tuesday, May 15, 2007 Where: The Shelbourne Hotel, “Altitude” level, 200 Sussex Street, Sydney. 6.30pm for 7.00pm start 7.30pm your chance to ask questions and then back to mingling 10.30pm bar is closed.

May 20-25 – “LAMP: Story of the Future.” Directing and leading a special LAMP Residential for a week in Tasmania with eight cool projects with an emphasis on rich narrative, destined for Virtual Worlds, Games and Cross-Media distribution.Phew, lots on. I will post my CeBit keynote here next week for those who can’t pop along to Sydney, Australia but before I go one thing I will be referring to is how branded ‘spaces’ in Second Life are doing, comparatively. On Thursday morning I did a snapshot of the traffic across all the main brands in Second Life and came up with something surprising:

1. BigPond – 18139 2. Pontiac – 13832 3. IBM – 12850 4. Showtime (L Word) – 7233 5. ABC TV Australia – 6898 6. NetG Training – 6536 7. Mercedes-Benz – 5656 8. Nissan – 4269 9. Mazda – 2827 10. Dell – 2759 11. MTVN – 2317 12. Toyota – 2119 13. Sun Microsystems – 1728 14. Sears – 1596 15. Sony BMG – 1560 16. Cisco – 1521 17. Adidas Reebok – 1351 18. Sony Ericsson – 1242 19. PA Consulting Group – 1138 20. Circuit City -1089 21. Reuters – 1019 22. BMW 842 23. Intel – 829 24. AOL – 797 25. NBC Universal 745 26. American Apparel – 596 27. Starwood Hotels – 35

Statistics were complied at 11am 26th April and a little about how the traffic figures are calculated from Linden Lab.

Traffic is a number for each parcel which is based on the amount of Residents who visited, and the time spent on that parcel out of their total time inworld that day. It’s calculated using a complex algorithm. Every user gets a set number of traffic points to give out during the 24 hours between midnight and midnight. Any parcel of land that the user spends more than 5 sequential minutes on gets counted as a place that they spent time. The user’s points are then evenly divided between those parcels. So, if I was online for 1 hour and spent 20 minutes on resident A’s parcel and 40 minutes on resident B’s parcel, resident A would get 33% of my points and resident B would get 66%. Alternately, if I only spent 5 minutes online and spent all of it on resident A’s land, she would receive all of my points.

The images below are grabs a day or so later to show a comparative methodology, the only real way to compare like-for-like using the search/place traffic data built into the interface.

SL Stats BigPond 02

SL Stats Pontiac

SL Stats IBM

SL Stats L Word

SL Stats Mercedes

SL Stats Nissan

SL Stats BMW

SL Stats AOL

SL Stats NBC

Lots more projects now in development via the Project Factory to build on the foundation of the Australian brands that are themselves moving into a third phase – keep an eye out here 😉

Posted by Gary Hayes © 2007

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