Feb 012009
 

What may save TV may also truly grow Social Virtual Worlds. As online audiences continue to ignore TV and vanilla/social virtual worlds suffer from a lack of direction, perhaps the marriage of the two will save both from irrelevancy? A report by Gary Hazlitt in various TV branded virtual world spaces.

twinityspiritThere have been several forays by TV properties (gradually losing their audience and associated ad revenues) into social virtual worlds over the past two years. I don’t just mean branded one-off events but actually setting up shop, building a familiar and representive space for the ‘users’ to play in. These forays range from at one end, simple branded spaces pushing episodes on screens through to actually running variants of the TV format to be played out by participant avatars in a detailed build -with many points in-between. But before the meat of the post (a couple of new entrants) here is a quick list to give you an idea of some of the shows and channels that have tried, had some success or failed. As I have been involved in a few of them and visited all, I have listed ones I think have had most impact (engagement) through to those who didn’t quite get it (reversioning).

  1. NBC’s Gossip Girl
  2. MTV’s – Laguna Beach on There.com (also Hills, PimpMyRide etc)
  3. Big Brother – PersonalizeMedia detailed report & at launch
  4. Showtimes The L Word
  5. CBS -  CSI:New York and from TechCrunch
  6. Weather Channel – Info, simulations and Extreme Sports area
  7. Australia’s ABC TV Island – Channel & some programmes (eg: Librarians)
  8. NBC Universal Media Island – Channel & concerts & events
  9. London Live – the first music show to appear on the cyberchannel: Virtual Life.TV
  10. SkyNews Island – News Set role play
  11. The Money Programme BBC screening
  12. Channel 4 – Radio Station
  13. Sundance Channel – Virtual screening room
  14. Inhabited TV 1997! – BBC, BT, Illuminations and others
  15. many more…0ver to you and comments!

twinityspirit01There is a rule of thumb regarding TV execs and virtual worlds or serious games initiatives – do not let the TV folk take control as they have too much ingrained baggage around non-participatory media and the resultant compromise is often of no use to anyone – get people who understand game play (and be aware that often excludes traditional game developers) and social media involved or face the consequences. The ones above that really worked allowed the participant audience to really ‘live’ in the shoes of the characters either by having activities similar to the protagonists, meeting the ‘fictional characters’, a social space that resonated with the shows aesthetic or a great set with game-like elements. I have talked a lot about Mixed Reality Entertainment in the past and how one of the most innovative uses of virtual space is to extend the TV or Film property into a 24/7, participatory environment. The main reason for doing this is to drive traffic to the TV but also to keep existing followers loyal to the branded property. As an example there is more detail about the reasoning on my post on Big Brother (good and bad) in Second Life (Witnessing the Birth of an Entertainment Form) as well as posts nearby on CSI in Second Life and many of MTVs properties in There.com (TV Property Branded Virtual Worlds – The Beginning). There are moves around the world including BBC and many European broadcasters who are creating worlds alongside and in some cases in front of the TV episodics and this is the important point. Promoting films with games or virtual world spaces has a very limited life span, forging a strong link between virtual world events and TV episodics is to me a virtuous circle – especially considering the 200 plus worlds populated by the youth audience who are typically turning off TV – teens and tweens. Earlier there were many experiments of TV/World hybrids and I was involved, as mentioned before, in the Mirror. Here is John Wyver (then Illuminations) talking about that (remember this is circa 1997!).

The other key element that contributed to the success of The Mirror, much as in real life, was the provision of regular “hosts” for the space. These needed to be frequent visitors who spent a significant amount of their time in the world, and whom users could have some reasonable expectation of encountering when they logged on. These hosts would greet new entrants, introduce people to each other, point out activities and generally help people around. More than this, however, over time they became the core of the community of the world, encouraging people to return and beginning to develop the particular language and culture of The Mirror. Needless to say, they were the saddest to see it turned off after seven weeks – although a number of relationships begun virtually have continued in the real world – including at least one marriage and one recently born child.

Recent company start-ups or collaborations also suggest that there are moves afoot. Icarus studios are squarely aiming at the TV/VirtualWorld hybrid and about 18 months ago Endemol & EA teamed up to create Virtual World TV formats (VirtualMe) based on Deal or No Deal and Big Brother. Also there have been a plethora of immersive film launches (play-in-the-set-type builds) across the metaverse and I Legend, Digital Hollywood, Iron Man, Quantum of Solace and Transformers spring to mind as I write – but as I said this post is more to do with a continuous, what happens on TV resonantes into the virtual world and what happens there is reflected into the TV episodics. (I regularly consult on this specific area so won’t go into any more detail!)…

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So, it is interesting to see this trend continuing as new world Twinity starts to do more experiential ‘film’ property marketing and even more ‘demographically focussed’ the current series of Heroes being extended into Habbo

The agreement was brokered by the William Morris Agency and marks the first time ‘Heroes’ has partnered with a virtual world.

..but not in the usual way. As reported by LA Times “‘Heroes’ hops on to Habbo’s virtual world” they will be introducing a virtual-only character Syn Anders who will act as a bridge or guide to the TV series. NBC themselves give more detail here.

While following directions from a mysterious virtual messenger, the new character will take the audience on an adventure as she discovers the history of ‘Heroes’ through a journey that travels back and forth between Habbo.com and the ‘Heroes’ Evolutions site. “We’re excited to work with Habbo to introduce a new character that will extend the enormously popular and Emmy® Award winning ‘Heroes’ interactive story beyond the official Web site on NBC.com,” said Stephen Andrade, senior vice president, Digital Development and General Manager, NBC.com. On Habbo.com, fans of the show will be able to interact with the new virtual hero through a variety of in-game activities. Habbos participating in a weeklong quest will discover their own special powers and will be recruited as new heroes. Those who successfully complete the mission will be awarded various virtual prizes. On the ‘Heroes’ Evolutions site, the new virtual hero will be woven into several of the in-universe, interactive extensions of the on-air show, including a character profile, the Primatech Paper Assignment Tracker and new chapters of the ‘Heroes’ graphic novels.

One of the more obvious links between TV and film of course is simply to broadcast a seed back story as a series, animated makes most sense to keep a strong visual link and then run a MMOG alongside it. This extends, involves the audience more in the narrative and allows them to personalize the experience. We are seeing this about to play out (in Asia at least) with Fusion Fall on the Cartoon network.

This is a great use of virtual worlds and it also shows that you don’t need richly rendered environments to be able to engage with participants in these spaces. Also in terms of the ‘linking’ paradigm, it is close to ‘my’ level 3 wikipedia cross-media definition

Excerpt “Cross-media 3.0“ Bridges. – The truest form of cross-media where the story or service structure is specifically authored to drive the audience using strong Call-To-Actions, across media devices to continue the journey. The content placed on the other platform is critical to staying in touch with the experience and the narrative bridges tease you towards investigating or moving to another media form/platform. Obvious examples include a TV show that ends suddenly and gives you a URL to explore more. It may be an SMS that teases and points you towards a live concert in a city square which then leads you to a TV show, then to a podcast then to subscription emails. The trigger, or bridge, is the critical component of this in motivating the cross-media action.”

twinityspirit02Onto Twinity and the images here and above are me playing around in the pre-build set of the recently released and not universally praised film The Spirit. Although it grossed $10 million in the first 4 days it was pulled up for being unemotional and 2D. Well part of the problem generally with many big features now is that audiences have changed and want something more experiential – especially with ‘comic-noir’ films – why not let them ‘live’ in the story environment (my wikipedia item)? Twinity though have teamed up with Will Eisner studios to do this event (not in any way my ideal episodic but potentially a way for the Twinity user base to ‘create episodic, comic-noir’ machinima on-going?

CineStar Spirits you Away to Another World – CineStar’s CUBIX cinema in virtual Berlin is the premiere address for all movie-related events in Twinity. The cinema is currently showing the trailer and other exciting movie material from the upcoming premiere of The Spirit, a movie based on Will Eisner’s cult 1940s comic book series, which will be coming to a cinema screen near you from 5 February.  Fans of the movie can get their hands on exclusive Spirit merchandising: including posters, standees, and an incredible Spirit mask that lets you see special visual effects inworld. Find more information here. Save the date and come to the opening party!
Date: Monday, 2 February
Time: 17:00 Berlin, 11am NYC, 00:00 Singapore
Where: CineStar CUBIX

twinityspirit03Twinity (by Metaversum, the German created virtual world) are a long ways from a mature stable platform, hence being in beta for the past 12 months or so, but are already exhibiting the best ‘world-led’ event-based, user activation. This in my mind is high on the list of reasons for likely success over many of the areas that over-hyped Second Life suffered from in the early days. OK the world is quite big and empty and many ‘social’ tools are not yet available inworld but the kind of activity quoted below (calling for videos, images, stories etc: attached to some well know brands) is great first step community building and more importantly getting a growing community to market for you. Even I had a go at one a few months ago – video embedded below 🙂 BTW Metaversum you really need to improve the video tools (detached camera please!).

Submit Your Artwork and Win! – Take part in The Spirit Screenshot and Machinima Contest and win an exclusive film poster signed by cult film director Frank Miller or The Spirit action figures.
Things Are Looking A Little Different Around Hereos
Wear the mask and see Twinity through the eyes of the Spirit! – Use Twinity’s screenshot and recording tools to create incredible Spirit- inspired images! To be eligible to win the contest, screenshots must be created while wearing the Spirit Mask and its visual effects must be demonstrated in your machinima. Screenshots may be submitted in jpg, png or gif formats.
Sensational Prizes – You have the chance to win sensational The Spirit prizes! Three prizes will be given out to the lucky winners of the Screenshot and Machinima Contest:
* 1st prize: The Spirit action figure and film poster signed by Frank Miller
* 2nd prize: The Spirit film poster signed by Frank Miller
* 3rd prize: The Spirit action figure
To take part in the contest, all you have to do is:

  • Submit your screenshots together with your Twinity name to quest@twinity.com or
  • Upload your movie to a video sharing website, for example “YouTube”, then submit the link to your uploaded video together with your Twinity name to quest@twinity.com
  • Competition deadline: 28 February 2009

We’ll celebrate the winning entries with a Winner’s Gallery party in the CineStar Event Hall! Artwork will be displayed in the CUBIX cinema during The Spirit promotion. Keep an eye on Twinity’s Event Calendar for further details!

Of course I would encourage all TV producers to think about their current audience and whether they want to reach them this way. More importantly you need to think of the appropriateness of creating inworld characters or environments for them to exist in – serious games (from documentaries) and childrens episodics are hot ones at the moment . The real effort is more about having great characters that are persistant in the space but beware of bots or NPC’s (non player characters) pretending to be real, this can have a strong counter productive effect. More later.

Oct 252007
 

As usual I feel so guilty about not blogging as much as I should – partly due to just producing so much…starting to believe the new adage that someone mentioned to me a couple of years ago – “those who don’ t produce, blog” – that might muster up a comment or two 😉

Anyway onto this little quick post which I am creating a lovely 3D graphic for for as I expand it – Augmented Reality TV. The two videos below basically say it all and please wait for a fuller commentary in the next few days. My key interests in this space are obviously running LAMP and steering its direction, Head of VWs for “The Format Factory” (linked to The Project Factory) where I am also creating and drafting several formats in this hybrid space and many public presentations, bite size one here for example and invited to talk on this topic in a few weeks in Brussels at the Cross-Media Storytelling shindig. But anyway videos speak louder than words (ish) so here goes…

TV and Story Enter Virtual Worlds – CSI today!


Virtual Worlds Enter TV and Story – Boxi, HTV7 Vietnam

BTW you really have to watch to the middle of the last one and then imagine if those avatars were being driven in real time by say Second Life users, using their own SL identities! I think the two examples above highlight in the most simple way the rich hybrid space growing as the two hemi-spheres of influence of 1) Social Network Virtual Worlds and 2) Traditional Broadcast media begin to overlap. I also love the CSI example (are they really gonna crash the grid today expecting 2 million to flood in – I hope not! ) as it fits neatly into my Cross-Media Level 3: Bridges zone. But this is about participation, participatory TV, inhabited TV and other variant, combinations. This has far more significance than the SL Big Brother I blogged extensively about last year, which was really a Virtual World clone of the TV one. This new form is drawing large numbers of audiences onto shared screens and into virtual spaces creating a great combination of non-passive immersion.

More to come and a lovely 3D diagram naturally 😉 Finally a couple more trailers for the CSI in Second Life show

and a shorter version

© Gary Hayes 2007

Metaverse Brands

 Posted by on February 4, 2007 at 10:10 pm  Add comments
 

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or thirteen non-exhaustive tips for organisations considering becoming stars in the new web 3.0 revolution…

I have mentioned before that I am currently working on a couple of major and one or two minor media companies first forays into the metaverse, or its most accessible incarnation Second Life. I can’t talk about them directly of course pre-launch so I thought why not create a ‘simple’ guide for brand owners using a couple of recent Second Life launches AOL (today) and the LWord (last week). What follows are thirteen basic principles for brand and property owners as they create a virtual presence in any multi user virtual environment which really came about from my own work in the past year considering what works and what doesn’t, combined with an observation of some of the ‘commonalities’ in many recent more mature brand launches. Some of this also cross relates to a post I did mid last year on how to achieve immersion and these are not focussed on ‘formats’ or new forms of entertainment that I cover elsewhere.

I have chosen AOL and LWord because the former is quite a broad media company without a clear single identity and the LWord because it is has a very narrow and defined identity but also as I was the line producer on an eTV version a couple of years ago. Another reason is that both are implemented by Electric Sheep and it is obvious they are developing their own little ‘format’ bible. The recent entries inworld from NBC, Reuters, Dell, Endemol (Big Brother) and MTV on the there.com platform all follow these basic principles which I illustrate below – some more than others. This will be a broad brushstrokes introduction as I don’t want to put the growing number of companies and one-avatar-and-their-virtual-dog operations out of business. I also don’t expect any self respecting brand to try to do this without contracting a company with significant experience either, the social, environmental, game/play, scripting, design aspects of this are very unchartered and it is critical to engage those who at least have some semblance of a map. Anyway on we go.

1 Don’t Become Virtual Just Because You Can

By way of an introduction a cautionary note. Sure there is a certain PR cache, trendy or super cool in being one of the first to participate a new kid on the emerging media block. Every second week there is a new ‘celebrity’ entrant and although I personally think in the medium/long term these worlds will be come commonplace for business, entertainment and education, we should view most of the current raft of services as experiments. The old ‘build it and they will come’ adage is risky at the moment when there is only around 40-50 000 concurrent users across all the fully rendered avatorial based ‘non-game’ virtual worlds. There are a lot of empty streets across the ‘branded’ grid and these early entrants are either in for the strategic long haul or just grabbing a smaller and smaller slice of the Second Life press pie. On the positive side though the learning that comes from each incremental new service is part of building a robust and longer term metaverse for all. There are many who say SL is purely about sex or money (just like the real world then, big revelation there) and that brands are not invited. I used to have the same view until I realised that without some form of organisational presence, educational purpose or celebrity event Second Life was really going nowhere – a glamourised chat room. New ‘brand’ entrants need to realise that they are to a great extent last minute guests at a party and as such need to bring something significant to it. It doesn’t have to be about sex or money but it should definitely be about new experiences and play.

2 Make Joining Simple, Accessible and Branded

One could think of Second Life particularly as the walled garden portal that hosts the content that comes from individuals and companies/organisations. A sign of maturity is creating a way for niche or interest audiences a way to participate without their feet actually touching the ‘aggregator’. So we are seeing as in the L Word example below ways to use exposed APIs to register and download the client without going to Second Life at all. This simplifies the relationship initially for these existing brand loyal audiences, sure it gets complicated later when they realise there is a sea of potentially more interesting ‘stuff’ in lorry loads, but the entry is far more elegant.
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3 Once In World – Hold Their Hand, With Your Brand

A third part making the ‘birthing’ process easier for ‘newbs’ is to drop them into familiar surroundings. Their beloved stars (in the case of L Word) telling them how to get the best out of the world. The Linden orientation is simply a ‘tech manual’ approach, its fun, but is still about which buttons to press, the L Word version is ultimately clearer, because most of it is about making your avatar look presentable.
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You can see other orientation islands and in the foreground here a simple circular path with very, very basic instructions. Given the audience are likely to be the metro-sexual crowd, we must expect lots of time to preen their avatars. It would have been good to incorporate this as part of the main environment, but I suppose this could be considered the dressing room and rehearsal space before ‘going on air’, where you are the star.
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In my experience many RL people spend the majority of their first week tweaking their image, quite naturally, so the L Word (E Sheep) have provided as you can see in the last image in this category four orientation islands, just in case there is a sudden rush of a couple of hundred avatars. Really that is the fourth ‘entrance’ tip, make sure you can handle a rush for the door. People who are bounced rarely return so have enough ‘welcome’ zones, just in case.

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4 Design Multiple Levels of Navigation

When people arrive in the main environment you should think of it as a metaphorical homepage. You must make several things clear. All that’s available for them to do (not consume), how to get to these places, a feel of the ‘world’ they are entering and lots and lots of ‘why’ they should stay and explore. The welcome/arrival area should ideally have eyeline to the main sites too. So central and raised is the usual deal. AOL’s environment feels a little like a Disney-type theme park (fun fair) and is laid out that way. Its general theme of entertainment is echoed in the overall consistent colour palette, the signage, the walkways and slight sense of discovery – if everything is telegraphed there is the alternative problem that avatars will think they don’t need to explore cause the labelling is too ‘samey’. This could be an issue with AOL’s signage below – which is a shame cause they do have a few surprises – see point 7.

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5 Decide Early On Your USP

I am glad to announce that the last few ‘brands’ that have entered Second Life have moved away from building the office blocks and sticking their logo on the outside, with only a very slight nod to where they are. Thanks to developers who are growing in experience virtually all the new entrants have one or two new things, never before seen. Some are very superficial, some are just ‘ the best implementation of…”. AOL have decided to create a few ‘lets be the best at that…” items such as a fully branded skate-boarding area.

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Complete with piped Real Life skateboard championships as you tumble around the heavily graffiti park. One wonders about sport in SL. This is a long way from Tony Hawks as the performance of SL servers and client are just not up to it (unless really optimised – meaning a whole sim to skateboarding only). So these are social spaces, skateboard for a few minutes, then find a corner and chat about it. This must be built in and planned for. See later.

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Another fun item which falls in the ‘only one in SL’ bracket could be this other simple offering from AOL, the avatar ‘sticky wall. ‘Physical’ activity needs to be sprinkled across any offering, forcing quests and mind games all very important. This is about delivering an eclectic range of services vs something too narrow in focus.

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One of the L Words USPs is the speed dating tables in the central part of their main island. This feels much like Big Brother that I blogged about earlier in that it is an already unnatural social interplay now with the added layer of being virtual and partly anonymous. I haven’t tried speed dating in SL but I suspect inside the ‘virtuality’ of L Word and (as you can see on the instructions here) if it is moderated well, it could be a great way to meet ‘new’ friends. SL is like any ‘club/bar’ situation not an ideal way of finding romantic or like-minded partners, Showtime are moving in the right direction with this.

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Torrid Midnight of the SecondCast team and a leading fashion designer, is one of the first to try out the skateboard park which launched today.

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6 Make sure the Environment has Synergy with the Brand

Now we can all imagine (I have been there hundreds of times) the discussions that take place when a group sits down to make any existing property ‘immersive’. The ‘we could do that!’, how about recreating one of those and so on. Many metaverse entrants insist on identical duplication, or model building of corporate buildings (NBC Rockefeller) or the actual TV sets as in the L Words version of the Planet Cafe below.

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I am not going to dwell to much on over representational builds as I covered that in a post a year ago, but just to say that there are two ways to go here and the middle ground is the dangerous one. The brand should either be in your face and as precise a copy as possible of something that clearly represents the brand (or the context) or something such as Vodaphone’s build (a large megaphone, hearing aid) slightly surreal and tiping their hat to this ‘naturally’ strange world, where anything, seriously is possible. I still yawn a bit at the endless brick walled buildings, blue glass and ‘mall’ness to many of the current builds, but I am also aware first hand of the number of suits in companies who ‘need’ something recognisable and enough branded signs scattered around the place. As an example the easiest option would be for say a French brand to place a model of the Eiffel Tower on their sims, the more brave route is to create something ‘new’ and unique, a place you enjoy going back to. I personally have ‘done’ the real Eiffel tower on at least five trips, I have no real urge to do it again but I absolutely love the ‘essence’ of the French countryside such as Provence though. I wont go on as I will be exploring environmental identity in virtual worlds and what makes some more sticky than others, in a Terra Nova post in the next couple of months.

7 Be Sensitive to The World – Playful, Deliver Expectation and Have Depth

Now for the key ingredients for all new entrants into these spaces. It must deliver expected features in ‘island’ sims such as shops, cinemas/screens, dance areas and even branded things to buy. It is no different than being a tourist to a distant island and feeling that the environment is self-contained. Another major requirement is all visitors need to play/do and even in a ‘no rules’ game like Second Life, you can create smaller, casual games, particularly social ones.

Here AOL provide the staple branded clothing. I have never seen any figures in how many people actually buy this stuff, but I have also never seen avatars wearing non-fashion branded clothing (apart from Torrid above). Perhaps I need to get out more 😉

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The quiz in the AOL sim is really good fun. It feels like interactive TV inside a virtual world. Simple multiple choice (the four colour selector – just like fast text keys in UK iTV), timer based questions and a top scorer board on the left. This would be great in a more ‘organic’ pub environment vs the rather board room look and feel here.

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Virtually all new branded sims have the dance club/bar combination. For the L Word it works very well and when I was there, it had a constant churn of people. I think part of it is just checking out for reference what are the best clubs to landmark but part of this one is the obvious lesbian overtones. Yes all the avatars in there were female. The club itself was pretty dark and dismal and not on my return list.

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The layout of the L Word sim I found a little disappointing. It had a similar feel to the there.com Laguna Beach (I blogged about in Sept), as the stores and buildings were just a little spread out and hidden. Even flying you felt things were disconnected and fragmented. It is important to make sure that although avatars will expect stores, and appropriate ones, that they should be integrated and not glued on as an afterthought.

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Most of the shops for the L Word were indeed skins, clothes and various relationship ‘toys’.

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8 Make the Experience as Personal as Possible

As I have indicated before in my web 3.0 posts, inside these worlds there is already a rampant web 2.0 paradigm. Avatars want to share and blog their experiences (I know I do whenever I get time). So in any build that has that first ‘wow’ factor about it, make sure there are enough places that allow the users to get the word out (that’s assuming you want traffic). The actual SL interface has much of this built in, but it is buried inside profiles and not where most viewing is – in the real web 2.0 world. So AOL have set up simple sets to take pictures of yourself and drop them onto the AOL blog site. In fact there are a few points where they encourage this, the sticky wall for example. To drive traffic to your virtual space you need to have lots and lots of content placed outside in the web 2.0 space.

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One of my favourite bits of the AOL sim from a personalization perspective is the walk of stars for two reasons. One of them is the first picture on this post, a way to leave your mark, collect a copy of the star (because it will be erased by the next avatar of course) and take your picture just like a real ‘star’. The other thing that impressed me was the way a path can be made compelling. I spent as much time reading all the funny SL variants or real world stars names than I did in the whole rest of the sim. Partly because there were a few chucklers, partly because of the depth (a lot of effort from the Electric Sheep had gone into thinking them up as Johnny Ming told me) but mostly because they felt more integrated than everything else. They were embedded in the environment vs being stuck on or in like everything else.

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9 If You Are Going to Provide Content Give Enough Choice

As a brand AOL is known as a kind of one-stop-entertainment-shop. So it was no surprise to see lots and lots of content in the various viewing halls and on screens in hidden corners. There was some disconnect here though as the sign outside in the first picture here says ‘millions of high quality videos’ and once inside the option is from a rolling list of about ten. So the outside the environment corporate message is lost inworld. The two have to be aligned. A message like the ‘worlds largest new network’ over a two floor brick office inworld, has a disconnect. Make the inworld messages appropriate and have a proportional scale and those that refer to the real world, clearly make that obvious.

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10 Make Inworld Advertising as Integrated as Possible

Companies have seemed to be a little nervous about product placement and advertising from other companies in their spaces. This seems odd to me as in many situations such as the skateboard park below adverts actually work very well, especially ones for inworld services. I suspect that the ad departments in the respective companies look at the raw numbers and think that 3rd party adds will dilute their brand. I suspect there is a little truth in that, but a world without adverts embedded in places you expect them becomes quite paradoxically empty and missing something. This is not a flip-flop statement for me because I have always said ‘appropriate’ advertising vs ads rotating on fifty meter hoardings above residential areas, or above malls dropped alongside a peaceful beach retreat.

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11 Be There In Person, Communicate and Learn

Any entrant into these worlds must, and I stress this, must have a constant personal presence. This is not the web. Put up your website and sit back and watch the page views, this is real people expecting to talk to the creators or the brand owners or especially the stars (or people role playing the stars). For AOL’s launch today we have Morton from Electric Sheep and Johnny Ming (of SecondCast again) and now Electric Sheep too. Both are happy to talk but their primary reason for being there is too see how things are used, if people are not getting to their ‘jewel’, how long they spend on the ‘activity’ that they thought would keep them occupied for hours and so on. Never before have we had this sort of ‘research detail’. This is the equivalent of getting inside the mind of the person using your homepage or site for the first time. You can follow them around, ask them why they went left rather than right. I won’t go on cause this will be another Terra Nova post when I am guest there in a month or so.

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Adam Ramona and I chat with Johnny Ming about making Second Cast a little more arty, amongst other things.

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12 Have as Much Content as Possible Inworld and Not on Weblinks

OK. Second Life is a pain when it comes to getting content into it. I spend most of my time importing textures (images to place around sites), sounds and animations. Getting web pages and RSS feeds is clunky to say the least. The easiest option is to just link out of SL to the default web browser of the user. There are no alternatives to this really but the temptation should be avoided to make every single item a link to a web browser, because simply the user will realise that the place is actually quite empty as they are spending most time on an external website. This is not rocket science. The user has made a concious decision to boot up a resource intensive 3D virtual world browser and not to browse the fast super efficient 2D web. They want social interchange and experiential activity not a bunch of branded web pages. Just as people say ‘oh I could never watch a full length feature film on my mobile’ there are several truths here. Avatars:
1 Will not click through and read more than a few pages of text on ‘your’ site.
2 They will generally will not watch long form movies, unless it is a pre-arranged social gathering. Short 1-4 mins only
3 Previews of audio and video are best, but make sure there is enough there to surprise them and ‘make’ them want to click to the web to discover more and possibly buy
4 Will only blog and send pictures to external sites (yours and theirs) if it is transparent and simple in your space. Take a picture, click this button, chat your blog text. Anything that involves putting notecards into objects, or crossing to a webpage forget it.
5 Enjoy anything that has a live’ness, a happening now in the real and virtual world. The nearer to a database driven website the virtual space is the more of a turnoff it will be. Sims should have lots of randomness scattered about. Sound that changes and shifts, images that tick over on ad hoardings, a sense of life, creatures and so on. This to me is all about content as well. Organising events on a regular basis is fine but they need to join your main group and this should be a priority at the beginning.

For brands that have no specific identity such as AOL, then something may have to be created for them. A virtual world incarnation of their 2D web ‘portal’ness, which I mentioned earlier. They went for the entertainment themepark, they could have easily gone for a vision of the future or a journey into the past, something abstract and unworldly, played with scale or just recreated a part of San Francisco.

13 Give the Environment Identity Make Social Activity Easy

My self agreed 90 minute blog time is up sadly so I will finish on this last point about social spaces in virtual worlds, which again will be part of a few posts on other more prominent blogs. The number of cafes, cinemas, meeting rooms, lecture theatres, living rooms and so on that are completely empty, yet just outside the door are groups of avatars happily chatting away, staggers me. Developers, including myself sometimes, put great effort into lots of interior detail, to then find later no one is using it. We imagine scenes of avatars role playing, or at least imagining they are really in those places, yet there is something quite claustraphobic about these ‘realistically’ enclosed spaces in many cases (as an aside I tend to build broad stuctures with very high ceilings (usually domes) if I want a sense of ‘indoor’ness). Unless there is an organised event at the auditoriums, cinemas and cafes they are usually empty. Design social spaces outdoors or at the very least give them an outdoor feel. Avatars in Second Life can fly and to block this 3rd dimension of travel makes many feel uncomfortable and disabled. It was interesting to be party too the types of conversations, when collecting some images for this post and checking out the new sites – the difference between AOL and L Word. The L Word group below were discussing intimate aspects of lesbianism and societies labelling of single gender relationships while in the L Word stores couples were shopping as if in real ‘L’ life – most kept referring back to the L Word and what was going on in the show or how it is being manifest here. On the AOL site the conversations I participated in were very broad, all topics, no focus and none of them referred back to AOL, apart from the media types who were prowling. Perhaps part of that was due to the fact that like Big Brother the L Word already has a ‘social’ expectation of its participants and back to point one above, if your brand is not already a conduit for a part of the global conversation, don’t expect it to become one in the metaverse.

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Posted by Gary Hayes ©2007