Feb 162009

I have blogged long and hard about the future of the metaverse and particularly how key sectors can make use of them as a functional tool. Education are already motoring, social activity is still the key driver, artists use it for music, video and performance and buying/selling ‘user to user’ businesses are still strong. One area that has received most contraversy is of course ‘real brands’, a so called exodus and ‘really’ what is the ROI. I published over at my MUVEDesign VW development site, a first stab at where I think we are on the Gartner Hype Curve for social virtual worlds (not game worlds!). Here it is again (linked from my flickr account).

Gartner Hype Cycle SVW

I do believe we are probably at the lowest ebb for brands in second life. This is bourne out by the SL brand stats I founded over at The Project Factory – you can see the dwell traffic for most brands outside the top 10 are exceedingly low. That doesn’t mean its game over. Far from it, as the lessons are learned and now it is time for companies to get it right, by avoiding developers that focus on build it and run (yes they are still here) and deliver experience, social interaction and relevance. I cover this in a lot more detail in posts back in 06-08!

Andy Mallon over at the Social Research Foundation has published a nice Annual Surver PDF report which is an inworld survey of Second Life users who ‘know’ second life – vs the tourist reports we often get from fly-by-night journalists or Gen Y social marketeers who don’t get it! Heres the blurb on the report (seeing I use the nice charts below!) Gotta earn my keep 🙂

The First Opinions Panel is the largest consumer research panel in Second Life with 10,000 members from newbies to the most active and involved “residents” who, Own the most virtual land, Spend and earn the most money there, Spend the most time there, an average of over two hours a DAY!, Run the most groups. Over 1,000 of our members own one or more groups in SL, many with hundreds to thousands of members. These are the leaders in Second Life. They are studied by over 33 demographic and psychographic attributes from both their real and Second life.

Firstly the longevity for users in Second Life. Remember that at the moment there are between 60-75 thousand users inworld at any moment and 31% spend an average of TWO HOURS a day in Second Life – 2/3 spend at least ONE hour a day! The next question is what is the churn rate, how long do people actually hang around using the service?



So Second Life is perhaps not ‘for life’. It seems many folk do tire of it at around 18 months with only around 20% going for longer than two years. Again this isn’t a real issue for brands as the culmulative user hours across the board puts Facebook, YouTube and other social spaces to shame.

This culmulative dwell is also on the increase. Get a user loyal to your brand and you may have them for longer than a year. Which seques nicely onto how do those inworld for these long periods actually want to interact with brands…


The item that stands out for me is ‘product development’. This has been consistently under utilized so far and there is still a big gap in the virtual marketplace for a big brand to really go beyond designing a hotel layout or fantasy coke machine. I know one brand will be stepping up to the mark this year and demonstrate how powerful this aspect can be. One item that is missing for me is brands ‘presenting’ to inworld inhabitants and facilitating ‘Ted talks’ like events rather than that being the domain of academia only. The SRF published a few choice statements from savvy inworld folk that reinforces several of the key points I and others have been bleating about for years.

  • “Don’t advertise to me – give me something that does not waste my time – make me want to learn more about by entertaining me, informing me or educating me. And make it cool.”
  • “Don’t just expect to do normal marketing – you have to hold events and interact with people”
  • “Bringing real world products inworld is the next inevitable evolution.”
  • “SL is a great way to reach those whom may need services that you may not reach otherwise. ”
  • “Real life companies tend to create great places but just leave them behind. They should assign some people to stay online and accommodate those people who visits their places in Second Life.”
  • “You have to engage people in SL, not simply put up marketing messages and expect residents to flock to you.”

The survey goes beyond well trodden areas too by asking about their Real Life Primary Job and how Second Life has been an enabling tool for it. It is no surprise that learning, collaboration and meetings are high on the list but what will become more and more significant will be real world recruitment – gauging a persons abilities and/or personality inworld. Kelly, Accenture and others are already versed in this space.


With the level of doom about brands in second life this question goes to the heart of what activities are on the decline. So looking at this chart the shorter the bar the better and running RL businesses in Second Life is the least in decline. (It is not clear from this chart if surveyed folk actually answered all questions so will leave it a little to your imagination as regards a true split here)


As a finale and related to the above, Clever Zebra’s Virtual Worlds for Business 2009 is now out as a free publication looking at VW for business applications. Unsure of the ‘enterprise readiness’ of all ten worlds author Nick Wilson highlights companies that are already sold on VW for meetings at least – which is slightly contradictory to him saying, expect to be logged out of meetings regularly? Anyway in the free report here are a few quotes from the document:

Dell “Employees report that they are more engaged in the 3D environment than on a conference call and that they feel more involved and apt to participate. An added side benefit is that this pilot project affords Dell the opportunity to experiment with moving toward a greener future where more and more employees work from home, not the office.”

IBM “IBM estimates that they saved approximately $250,000 by taking the conscious decision not to hold the Virtual Worlds for Business conference (normally a 2.5 day in person meeting) physically this year, and more for the Annual General meeting (normally a 3 day event for 400 Academy members and affiliates).”

Sun “Sun were able to transform an otherwise exclusive, expensive event into an inclusive inexpensive one open to a much wider audience of junior engineers who would benefit from the real learning experiences provided in a virtual setting. They were even able to get Hal Stern, Snr VP Systems Engineering to come in and do 2 full chat sessions exclusive to the virtual component of the 2008 CEC.”

Jan 182007


OK yet another post on Virtual Worlds, I know, but I will get round to Joost and YouTube TV channels and so on soon. Being involved as designer/developer in several Australian launches into Second Life in the next couple of months I am sensitized to entertainment or service brands entering virtual spaces and in the last couple of days MTV and NBC have shown more faith in MUVE and their inherent social network by launching some phase two type initiatives. Then there is Sears and Phillips design who are going a completely different route. First though:

vNBC (Virtual NBC) are promoting the film Smokin’ Aces with their Second Life project S.A.S.L.A (Smokin’ Aces Second Life Assassin). I have been trying to get to the game trailhead for a while but it seems to be doing some SL geoIP detect (seems to be for US folk only – which will be a major issue, unless it is somehow in synch with the national film release?) – so not available and with other inworld work I will report first hand later. A quote from the opening page and some of their game rules are enlightening which suggests a little ARG (spread across sims), shoot-em-up and the usual psychological paradoxes ones gets in SL:

Beginning January 17th, players can join Smokin’ Aces: Second Life® Assassin by visiting the Nomad Hotel in Second Life® to pick up game instructions, a hitlist, and weaponry. Think you can smoke Buddy “Aces” Israel? First, you gotta rub out the competition.


  • Targets: The player begins with a contract for 5 hits. The hits are other players in the SASLA game—anywhere in Second Life®. As long as a player is wearing the HUD they are considered actively participating in the game. While actively participating in the game, a player’s location is reported to anyone with that player on his or her hit list. This report will not provide exact X,Y,Z coordinates within Second Life®, but will instead provide the sim name, which narrows the location down to a 16 acre square. When the target is located the two players engage in combat.
  • Contracts: Each player will begin with five potential hits. After a hit is accomplished, the assassin will assume his or her prey’s hit list (in addition to their original targets)—giving them more potential targets.
  • Power-ups/downs: Power-ups are available by gambling on the slot machines in the Nomad Casino. Players use their points for chances to win additional weapons and power-ups. Examples may include Stealth Mode (invisible to other players’ maps), Bonus Name (gives the user an additional online target), Homing Shot (Heat seeking bullet), and Shield (may take 5 direct hits before being “killed”).
  • Virtual Weapons: Will include various munitions, including, but not limited to: Machine guns, handguns, chainsaws, and long-range shotguns.
  • Death & Reset: A player’s current day bounty will reset back to 100 points when killed. Players must either re-register (at the Nomad Hotel lobby desk or at recharge locations throughout Second Life) while wearing their HUD to be “revived” and rejoin the game with a new set of targets. Players keep all accumulated weapons, but lose all power-ups or power-downs when killed. Dead players wearing the HUD will be reminded with a whisper to re-register.


  • Game points are acquired by defeating targets, amount of time spent playing Smokin’ Aces: Second Life® Assassins, and by inhabiting the Nomad Hotel or Virtual NBC Headquarters.
  • Each player will start with a 100 point bounty. With each hit accomplished, the assassin will gain his/her prey’s total point bounty, the addition of their hit list, their weaponry, and all of their power-ups. Active time spent playing the game, and active time spent in Smokin’ Aces Headquarters and Virtual NBC Headquarters will also increase a player’s bounty.
  • If a player is “killed”, their current day’s point bounty will reset back to 100 points and they will start from scratch with the game’s default weaponry.

vMTV. Outside the SL environment we have MTV who seem to be happily ploughing ahead on the there.com platform and a new world created based on ‘The Hills’ TV show. I reported first hand about Laguna Beach Virtual World back in Sept and I was a little dubious of how this would progress being a closed world, almost the equivalent of a couple of SL sims. The 2nd outing seems far more integrated with the show and avatarorial representations of characters will role play and invite you into the ‘story world’. So it seems I have been proven wrong about the walled-garden nature of this, by MTV’s statistics at least, from this Hollywood R report about their second property to be delivered on the platform:

The launch of “Virtual Hills” follows and is an extension of MTV’s first virtual reality community, “Virtual Laguna Beach,” which launched in September. Bostwick said that virtual community has 350,000 registered users, but more importantly, a high level of engagement. In the past week, the average time spent “in-world” per visit reached 46 minutes per user, without any on-air integration.

Now it seems sometimes that vanilla virtual spaces, being open and void of goal and game, is very attractive to large numbers but I still think that Second Life and Linden Lab are losing the 90% of those who try it simply because it is so ‘directionless’ for many. It will be up to entertainment brands I believe, to stretch their professional muscles and lead the way for a sizeable potential MUVE community. Endemol have made a start along with NBC and MTV now. The BBC radio thing was not IMHO a good use of the environment the same as most of the commercial brands (who use it for external PR). There are exceptions such as those who are now really starting to look at collaborative product design combined with customer relations – such as the recent Sears/IBM initiative. Phillips were ahead of Sears in this as they are already down the road with Rivers Run Red in creating a audience centric design development presence in Second Life – as reported by their own news center. This is a really interesting space to me as brand driven collaborative design, drawing in audiences to contribute. Not in the wild west YouTube ‘any-old-rubbish-will-do” mode, but a mature and structured design methodology.

So both the TV and the design initiatives are starting to feel mature – well there are lessons being learnt very quickly in these MUVEs as most are open access and as soon as you TP into the areas you immediately pick up what works and what doesn’t – and that learning is open to all. I will leave the final word to Matt Bostwick, senior vp franchise development at MTV, who is also pretty bullish about the road ahead for them, I suppose because the there.com platform really hits their demographic target fair and square.

“We’re going to do a whole series of integrations with content and shows,” Bostwick said about future virtual realities tied to MTV’s shows. “Each is going to establish a new piece of geography or subculture.”

Posted by Gary Hayes Copyright 2007

Dec 062006

The Relentless March of Channels and Formats into Second Life

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Rather than just referring to the many standard press articles about the growing number of companies or formats that are setting up in Second Life (the media’s favourite MUVE at the moment) I have been ‘living it’ so to speak. My inworld blog JustVirtual provides an inworld perspespective, my avatars POV, of close encounters with the outside world’s ‘brand immigrants’. They are indeed seen that way by many residents, not disimilar to any alien brand entering a real ‘developing’ world. The recent companies include NBC, Philips Design, IBM, Reuters, Endemol and others that suggest that the next generation of entrants are moving in, with a far more robust and serious vision than the first wave who were just pushing product.

I can’t break the 4th wall in my other ‘fictional’ blog, I know strange, so I thought I would comment on two recent events in Second Life in 3rd person. The first is the preliminary days of the Virtual Big Brother and the second is Second Life’s most attended inworld event, the switching on of the Christmas lights in Rockefeller Plaza sponsored by NBC.

Big Brother Begins

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With these new entrants we are seeing a move to second gear, a shift in the maturity of the platform. Not technically (it still falls over an awful lot) or from a business model perspective (subs are still in the low 100k’s vs nearly 2 million registrants) but a web 3.0 paradigm shift – using the environment for quite practical and engaging services. I personally use Second Life (and other MUVE’s) for educational and creative purposes so I am probably already ahead of the curve. But onto to show. Big Brother selected its final 15 contestants (pic below) and I covered much of the lead up in this post. Most of the ‘housemates’ are women, I suspect because the producers are mostly male (I wonder how many of the females avatars women have a real world male driving them? We shall see.) I was actually on the last final 60 shortlist, but being able to commit to 8 hours a day online for the whole of December was impossible for me, so I didn’t pursue.

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A couple of friends are in there and already it is really interesting to see how the virtual Big Brother is becoming even more compelling than the real one! As well as the traditional backstabbing, personality differences or supportive housemate interactions (remember this is real people talking/communicating with other real people) all involved are are allowed to communicate to and lobby the many hundreds of passing/visiting ‘audience’ members. This ‘conversation’ is very engaging for those involved, the audience is resontating with the programme, or rather with the ‘experience’ – because this is no longer pre-packaged or controlled reality ‘video’.

For the audience inworld this is belonging to, and being part of the ‘game’. Lillani Lowell (my current vote and friend leading up to this event) gives an view down this particular rabbit hole for those who are not in Second Life (or likely to be) in her insightful updated blog from inside the house (the equivalent of the diary room I suppose – but here we get to see all entries). The odd but also thrilling part of the experience is being able to go and talk to the ‘stars’ of the show, whenever you want. They are there 8 hours a day ready and willing to ‘interact’ with you, albeit just to get you on their side perhaps, secure your vote, still it beats, hands down, an SMS into the void that we get with most so called ‘interactive’ shows. It will be very interesting to see how Endemol adapt to and learn from this process, this is a really exciting experiment as games/tv and online social neworks collide. Will they copy elements from this evolving format out into the rather stale ‘real world’ version? Perhaps not, as this is after all a self contained hybrid form which is best left to grow and learn to stand on its own feet.

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Above a group of loyal fans of Lillani (a talented scripter and builder) discuss the challenges ahead – in this Big Brother the housemates make things, complex 3D builds for charity. It is easy to appreciate the benefits of a this very diverse audience being used for these kinds of social experiments, game/tv formats. This is web 2.0 meets ‘TV form’ meets ‘games’, all evolving before our very eyes. It is also about game psychology, potentially interesting passive video generation and definitely about immersion for those involved. This particular version of the ‘show’ is thankfully nothing like the ‘real’ big brother, but it needs only the brand really to garner interest. The exciting thing is, it can and will go a lot further and I suspect there will be many other TV ‘formats’ and channels licking their lips. This is a really cheap way to pilot and user test web/tv/game shows after all. The ironic thing is though that this will likely gradually become the format for the masses over the next few years rather than the return to the traditional linear video route.

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A Virtual Christmas

The next event is one that starts to show the way forward as regards ‘merged media entertainment’ as I call it. The NBC virtual christmas was synchronised with the real event in the real New York, there was a virtual camera inworld streaming the virtual event onto the web and there was real TV news reports covering the inworld going’s on plus – a live band playing into the environment. My inworld post ‘Virtual Christmas with NBC’ gives an insight into the experience with far more images, for the 1000+ avatars across 18 or so duplicated sims – second lifes largest inworld event.

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So TV, web 1, 2 and 3, virtual world, live concert and outdoor all mixed and mashed together. I found myself checking nearly all my blog categories for this one! Another important part of this event was the sympathetic branding in the environment. It wasn’t in your face, it felt part of the experience particularly as the incredible build of the Rockefeller plaza and tower was copied down to the finest detail. Aimee Weber and Bedazzle Design are now experienced developers who themselves are old residents and have empathy with residents. This is critical to the future of these spaces. Better films are made by filmmakers who love watching film, games by games players, music by musicians who love to listen to a variety of sounds and virtual worlds by those who inhabit them. No brainer really.

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Above we can see the branding which didn’t spoil the experience for those waiting for the switch on of the christmas lights. The over representational build, the vane attention to duplicating every detail of the real world is not to my ‘particular’ taste but I can appreciate the ‘craft’ and stupendous effort. I think the real reason we are witnessing these 2nd generation ‘build and brand’ combinations is to draw more audience. The more cloning of familiar real world spaces the more tempted to enter, will be those normally reticent in entering MUVEs, virtual worlds and MMORPGs. I also think the more they see (in posts like this even) familiar brands the more comfortable they will be in taking the leap. The familiar chant of ‘get a life’ generally come from those who dont understand these 3D social networks, so now that sustained business models (millionaire Angshe), bona fide identifiable brands and big TV formats are taking root I am sure they may at least want to understand. Its going to be an interesting Christmas 2006.

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Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006