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

Metaverse Brands

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

BrandMeta01

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.
BrandMeta02a

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.
BrandMeta03a

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.
BrandMeta03b

BrandMeta03c

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.

BrandMeta03d

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.

BrandMeta04a

BrandMeta04b

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.

BrandMeta05a

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.

BrandMeta05b

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.

BrandMeta05c

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.

BrandMeta05d

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.

BrandMeta05e

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.

BrandMeta06a

BrandMeta06b

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 😉

BrandMeta07a

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.

BrandMeta07b

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.

BrandMeta07c

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.

BrandMeta07d

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

BrandMeta07e

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.

BrandMeta08a

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.

BrandMeta08b

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.

BrandMeta09a

BrandMeta09b

BrandMeta09c

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.

BrandMeta10

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.

BrandMeta11a

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

BrandMeta11b

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.

BrandMeta13a
BrandMeta13b

BrandMeta13c

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2007

Feb 042007
 

BrandMeta01

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.
BrandMeta02a

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.
BrandMeta03a

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.
BrandMeta03b

BrandMeta03c

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.

BrandMeta03d

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.

BrandMeta04a

BrandMeta04b

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.

BrandMeta05a

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.

BrandMeta05b

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.

BrandMeta05c

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.

BrandMeta05d

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.

BrandMeta05e

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.

BrandMeta06a

BrandMeta06b

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 😉

BrandMeta07a

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.

BrandMeta07b

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.

BrandMeta07c

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.

BrandMeta07d

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

BrandMeta07e

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.

BrandMeta08a

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.

BrandMeta08b

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.

BrandMeta09a

BrandMeta09b

BrandMeta09c

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.

BrandMeta10

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.

BrandMeta11a

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

BrandMeta11b

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.

BrandMeta13a
BrandMeta13b

BrandMeta13c

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2007

Apr 292006
 

L Word ©ShowtimeEver since I line produced the ‘personalized’ interactive pilot of the L Word with the AFI and Showtime I have been keeping an eye on initiatives that Showtime have been trying out – many via the web given iTV, 3G and IPTV are still just coming out of the woods in US. It was fabulous to see therefore that yet another world first (not again!) – an episode of a major scripted drama, produced to air but wait for it…written by a loyal fan base through the L Word Website. PR News article “First-Ever ‘Fanisode’ Successfully Scripted by Fans of ‘THE L WORD(R)’” has good coverage

The collaborative writing contest launched on February 3, when millions of fans of THE L WORD(R) were invited to write, read, rate and discuss short scenes based on an instructive “scene mission” provided by a member of the writing team from the hit cable series. Fans submitted their original scenes, the online community voted, and at the end of each week, the most popular fan-submitted scene was added to the script in progress. The process repeated each week with a new “scene mission” until the entire script was completed.”

L word ©Showtime“People Powered Entertainment” -LOVE IT! Proudly rings on the FanLib website. I am pretty sure that this has been done before, I know of several BBC and Channel 4 collaborative script initiatives (will get details later) but this looks like a successful variation on the theme, kind of like those, write line-by-line, cover and reveal games you play with friends and family. The most important aspect of this of course is the fact that the media professionals are nurturing the latent creativity in its audience – drawing out in essence where the best stories are. Another aspect to this is that it is difficult to keep team writing a drama over 3 or 4 series, in the case of the L Word after every character has slept and split up with every other character ones narrative options start to diminish, so throw it open to the fans that write with a real passion. The fans carrots are fame, fortune (some prizes) and social currency (which is different from fame of course) – the later being the big one. Opening the doors had many other benefits:

“Showtime announced that ratings jumped 51% over the previous season. “Fans of THE L WORD(R) are among the most creative and passionate around,” said Rob Hayes, General Manager, Digital Media at Showtime Networks Inc. “The success of this event proves that the combination of fan fiction and network support creates a powerful two-way relationship between the fans and their favorite series…The fanisode was tremendously engaging to the online community. During the eight week contest the site logged 175,000 visits and generated over 3,000,000 page views. Fans spent tremendous amounts of time on the site creating over 18 page views per visit.”

So there we have it folks, simple, get the fans involved in the story world, not just extending the world with exploratory/puzzle based web quests but actually involved in the construction of the main show plot and your ratings start to escalate (of course involving viewers in the creation of webquest shows is already being done). We are seeing more and more of the “create our ad campaign”, “help design our website”, “draw up our strategy papers” – well probably not the last one directly 😉 But calling out to those who can do (they now have the tools), and can do with passion (they have the inclination) makes so much sense. Well done to Chris and Rob at Showtime!

Given that there must have been hundreds of alternative routes generated by this exercise I suddenly realised that we have a great way to generate non-linear narratives here. You know follow this path or this story etc: Showtime have released an eZine with some of these alternatives but hey show creators out there how about a multi-path, or at least a call out for story ideas with character maps/traits, plot structures, so the next phase of dramatic narrative (AI based) has some good raw material – perhaps that is a little too much for the audience at the moment. Here is a link to the actual Call to Action website the L Word a ‘fanisode’.

Contributors of highly-rated scenes and other winners were featured prominently online during the event, giving them a taste of online fame. Showtime and FanLib will publish a free commemorative eZine (a downloadable digital magazine) featuring the completed script, plus a number of alternative scenes and editorial features including profiles of the winning contributors and other participants.

and from the site itself

A FANISODE IS BORN
Thanks to all participants!
What an incredible journey. After seven exciting rounds, 1,258 scene submissions and over 124,000 votes and 30,000 comments, almost 20,000 L Word fans have collectively created the world’s very first Fanisode.

Will talk more on this because it has more far reaching consequences but for now a final word. I think given the subject matter of the programme that ‘fanisode’ may not be the best term to describe this format outside of the US 😉 Just kidding, get trademarking CBS.
Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006

2 pages