Sep 032007

Virtual Worlds Necessitate Corporations Develop Personality followed by Gary’s top 15 tips to becoming human in the metaverse (and 2D socio-nets).

I have been doing a lot of work moving brands, properties and companies into social virtual worlds and networks recently and in the process I am often forcibly reminded of the divide that naturally exists, in these new worlds, between ‘the corporation’ on one hand and ‘the individual/community’ on the other. The 3D Virtual World is being used in many ways by the natives (aka the public, a bad definition I know), living out their fantasies in a very chaotic but social way. In strong contrast to that we have companies who are naturally bland, characterless, faceless and in the worse cases anti-social.

American Apparel

It is not all bad as we are seeing something very positive emerging and being played out as both sides manouver and become better aligned. We are also seeing the next phase as the early mistakes pull out and leave the new entrants to learn from those errors. So I have collected some of my thoughts below on how companies need to approach the development of their personality.

First though let me explain the title of this piece with two simple examples. I was struck, like many by the documentary film ‘The Corporation‘ which began by explaining at great lengths how similar the actions of large organisations (if they were looked at as an individual) are psychopathic in nature. I quote the definition they use as the basis to extemporize and a taste of that from Mr Monks.:

World Health Organization ICD-10. Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV
– Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships
– Deceitfulness: repeated lying and conning others for profit
– Incapacity to experience guilt
– Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behavior
– Callous unconcern for the feelings of others

“A corporation is an externalizing machine in the same way that a shark is a killing machine. Each one is designed in a very efficient way, to accomplish particular objectives. In the achievement of those objectives, there isn’t any question of malevolence or of will, the enterprise has within it, and the shark has within it, those characteristics that enable it to do that for which it was designed.” Robert Monks, Corporate governance advisor

Mac Pc

Of course I am being deliberately provocative in stating this but in the context of an immersive fully rendered world there is a high degree of potential for levels of the above to continue unabated. If a slightly anachistic documentary is not to your taste then the second one will hopefully clarify. “Hello I’m a Mac and I’m a PC” – or translated “Hello I’m Apple and I’m Microsoft (Windows)”. We all know what that series of ads is really saying and it leads into the main part of my post nicely. The PC character in those ads represents dysfunctionality (mild pyschopathy), corporate stubborness, overweight, bad eyes and old school ‘tech’ thinking, whereas the cool Apple dude represents the opposites – friendly, balanced, youthful, innovative and even understanding of PC. Those ads are great fun but they become very serious for the corporations when you start to consider the inhabitants partying in Virtual Worlds deciding which one would to hang-out with. Commercial organisations need to have character and an indentifiable personality in the metaverse and cannot rely anymore on corporate slickness, blandness or aloofness. To engage with audiences and inhabitants in these spaces they need to learn how to be human.

BigPond SL

So I have collected for all those corporations out there wondering how to accepted in the 3D and for that matter the 2D social network, my top tips for those thinking of jumping in or those who are wondering why things are not going right. So before you get hung up on demographics, ROI, KPI, psychographics or the latest fad platform consider what it means to be human and authentic!

One: Understand the Culture by Spending Time There
Make sure you have people who know the culture of the world and who have spent enough quality time inworld across the whole gamut of experience. Do not rely on reports from tourist consultants, so-called emerging media experts who can see an opportunity and sell themselves as folk who know about the world and who may have set up an account and visited it on a few odd occasions. Ask them how long per week they personally use the social network. If it is 10-20 hours then keep talking, if they pop in for 10 minutes a day when they are not busy or taking the kids to school then give them a miss – you will get better advice by going inworld yourself and talking to experienced inhabitants. Also make sure the people who you employ to represent you inworld are extremely familiar not just with the local space they will be hanging around in but the whole social world. Make sure they have a passion for it and are not being forced to go in there – so they can talk to inhabitants about other spaces from experience. This will engender trust and more importantly friendship.

L Word

Two: Be A Part of the Conversation
It goes without saying that you have to be in it to really be in it. Corps can’t sit on the sidelines or be the obligatory wall flower, spying on others at the party. They have to be in there talking, befriending and listening. Just being present is not enough to integrate properly. I have seen many companies entering a space who don’t join or setup groups, never go to other events and meet others which is odd given this is a social network – no different to those dive bar, industry get-togethers in the real world. Finding someone who is passionate in your organisation and who can then commit time is the only way to go. Don’t become the officious big brother, watch-dog. With the advent of voice in Second Life new factors come into play of course. Your company representatives are in there having real time phone conferencing in effect with anyone and everyone who decides to drop in. Think carefully about the things you need to say vs those that will endear you to the community. It makes a lot more sense to talk about the shared experience than saying how wonderful your company is. Organise specific events where you will be expected to talk about the brand vs trying to constantly slip it into social discussion.


Three: You Are What Your Environment IS
Just as we can tell an individual from the places they visit or the state of their work and social rooms, the same holds true of companies. Your corporate personality is reflected in the spaces you build. If you look at the native environments vs the corporate ones in the metaverse you can see a world of difference. The commercial ones are often built by a team which has been steered by many, many meetings that have sand-papered away all the risk and character. They end up being designed by committee and as such are not resonant with anyone – apart from the corporate lawyers who can only see ‘safe’. Whereas an organic, rich, deep welcoming space has the opposite effect. I have talked for two years about over representation too. If you build a clone of your office, complex or city you are stating two things – 1) corporate vanity and 2) lack of innovation. You should take a certain level of risk by creating environments that engage before they try to impress or show business control.


Four: Corporate Avatars Need to have Character
This is a critical point in how to be human in these spaces. Have avatars that have a personality, meaning make sure the person on the other side of the avatar is not some bland company customer relations person who can only talk about the business parrot style. This is the opportunity for your company to really shine and show a different side to herself. Oh yes the lawyers will be screaming ‘disclaimer’ from the rooftops. Well fine go for it and to be literal, have a permanent sign on your t-shirt with the obligatory “the views I express are mine and not that of…” and so on – not suggesting you do that precisely, but you get the point. A community will only start to connect when ‘company’ characters are present. Think of the Virgin empire. They shout personality, that youthful exuberance, those Branson clones – allowing the person inside to come out. They are sadly let down by having to wear the uniform but in these environments you don’t have to be the photo-realistic clone of your real self. Do what the natives do and be imaginative with your representation and the words you deliver.


Five: Listen, Listen, Listen and Respond
Corporations find it hard to respond because anything of significance has to be rubber stamped by people that all too often have no idea what it really means. “All the inhabitants want SkyDiving competitions every Sunday” – passed to the lawyers who spend weeks working out the liability aspects of that, what if someone gets injured can they sue – until someone chirps up “actually no one can be harmed” and even then they look into psychological torture. By this time the residents are already running competitions on their own land or with a more responsive competitor. Another aspect of listening is not pushing. Too many corporations think that if they blog or stand in the crowd and talk then they are mixing with the web 2-3 communty. They are not – they are pushing it one way and unable to listen to the replies and respond. They become an incarnation of traditional broadcast media. A simple rule here – Do Not Talk in the Community Unless you have the Mechanisms to Respond. Sadly so many corporations just don’t respond to suggestions or in the worst cases do not even acknowledge. This is the most disenfranchising thing there is for someone who is starting to want to make things better, to be ignored by the administrators. This requires some sensitivity at the admin level, which is often lacking if they are hired help or jaded managers.


Six: Rich Kids Shouldn’t Copy
Every ‘expert’ in marketing in Second Life say bring something of value to the community – which can only be defined if you know the world. It may already be there. But even more important is to bring relevance and something new. It is OK initially showing off like the rich kid with some wonderful interactive toys you have bought or giving lots of ‘branded’ things away but you need to go way beyond that. Do something completely different and potentially on a grand scale. The advantage you as the corporation have over the natives is that you really are the rich kid on the block. So don’t set up a tiny cool drinks dispenser, or a shop sized office or a beach resort – be bold and consider multiple islands that offer rich immersive experiences (see previous post on this). You can still be rich and relate to the community – give them places to tell new stories. Too many times I hear “Oh yes the new CorpX sim is OK, the usual shops, club, offices but bit boring and here is the baseball cap – detach”. Offer things that fit with your brand but doesn’t contradict it – become almost like a friendly, approachable benefactor. Also be wary of just buying things that many may have experienced already. Plagiarism is rife in social virtual worlds because of the scale, most people are not expected to get around that much so there is a certain complacency that corporations think that as they are bigger than the others kids, they can ‘nick’ the idea. The community is very sensitive to this. Corporations without imagination are just rich kids, not imaginative rich kids.


Seven: Be Consistent and Beware of Real World Journalism
Authenticity is about being consistent and not schizophrenic. You will find it hard to survive if you are having conversations in these social networks as one persona then in the real world a journalist requests an interview in which you talk about the community as folk to be manipulated. Most Second Life journalists understand this and will often do interviews inworld, the ones to be aware of are the attention seeking real world journalists who are after something sensationalist to prop up their dwindling traffic rating. Most of these haven’t the slightest idea about integrating into social networks (apart from their own) and will not print anything to do with ‘Corporation Working Well with Community’ stories – they want ‘Community Griefers Attack Corporation’ ones, they sell. Keep well away from that kind of fiction.

But consistency of persona is hard to do across the many social networks as many are abstract (in other words, the 2D, non-real time facebook are a series of panes that supposedly make up who you are) – in the metaverse it is extremely close to real life. What you say, do and who you relate to give real time feedback to those around about who you really are – corporate robot or passionate person. Inhabitants like to come back to places where the ‘general’ experience is known. If they enjoyed it once when they come back they don’t want a different character in charge who is dull or uninterested in them. This requires great effort on the part of the corporation to set a style of interaction with its visitors which must be kept consistent.


Eight: Do What the Natives Want
Social Virtual Worlds like Second Life and Sony Home are mostly about shopping, media based activities, lifestyle emulation and socialising. As a corporation or brand sitting on top of, or rather inside an existing companies infrastructure you need to be careful to not do what everyone is already doing. There is an attraction in setting up an environment and then setup rental land for homes and shops because that is what inhabitants seem to want. But that says more about the social network than you bringing something to it. It also pangs a little of laziness and doing something tried and tested. The natives also love to make things (well 30% in Second Life) so be really active in encouraging and rewarding that. Get them to design and build your branded play area with you.

Nine: Keep Reinventing Yourself and be Fresh
Remain consistent in character but always have new things happening to show how dynamic you are. Don’t limit it to dances, music concerts or presentations (in SL you can get these everywhere) but go down to the level of environmental decoration, the signs, subtle changes to the spaces and tell people about those changes. But the most critical element of being dynamic is to listen to suggestions from your visitors, do changes on the spot and even do personal fit outs for the loyal inhabitants of your space. Many organisations fail in Second Life by launching with something which then sits there and decays (with no updates). People get bored with people that don’t change and will drift away for new pastures. Invite suggestions for change but always have the resources within your organisation and with your developers (who will often know a lot more than you – having time to spend inworld) to do regular facelifts.

Ten: Share Your Assets and The Paradox of Risk Aversion
Inhabitants of your space will feel more inclined to stay if you provide them with some chance to own parts of it through the opportunity to affect it. Think of this as the rich kid who invites the world onto their mansion grounds for a party. Do not be the party host that goes around sweeping up every time someone drops a few crumbs, they will not return. Instead accept a certain amount of chaos and allow them to influence and have a sense of ownership. You will get more respect for empowering them and allowing an element of free reign. But so many companies are terrified of ending up with egg on their face through griefing or being sued for some copyright infringement that they lock everything down. This just says you as an individual are controlled by lawyers, who cannot express their own mind who as we know are the worst folks to have in any social group.

AOL Skate

Eleven: Don’t Always Try to Be the Centre of Attention
Companies that expect their ‘characters’ to be in control and always leading the conversation will be seen as anything from show off through to bully. Social networks are democratic, your brand is as important to the inhabitants as their own identity or groups they belong to. Do not metaphorically walk into a crowd and pronounce your self-imposed importance, this jars with the whole premise of social networks.

Twelve: Story Environments
By all means create spaces that are really great to hang out in for long periods of time but also try to give the place some history and depth. When your not around you need the evnironment to speak for you by speaking, literally in some cases, with the visitors. So embed or write some history into it, create some myth, make it feel like you have been around for a bit. This depth is attractive to those visiting. See my wikipedia article on this topic here which covers ways you can give yourself (represented by the environment) some back story and depth.

Thirteen: Help create a Trusted Community
If you have followed some of the above advice then you will start to become the space to be, full of character, innovation and depth. As the traffic increases you just wont be able to manage it all by yourself and tensions can result. It is not a bad thing for the company characters to fly off the handle occasionally because of being over stretched with requests, endless IMs and so on – it shows they are human. But this is also a warning sign to start to create tiers of help within the community, namely the most loyal and immersed inhabitants themselves. Give them limited powers but ones that has enough responsibility to make them feel empowered. Set rules up for them that are part of a discussion as to the best ways to operate. If they make mistakes do not slap their wrists, change the framework of how they can operate. Of course the lawyers kick in again here with non-employee representatives (many of whom may not be know in the real world) – but again that wonderful disclaimer can be pulled out of the hat. To think you can manage without community support at admin levels means you will be over stretched as a person corporation, become stressed and in the end find it more comfortable to not be in there in the first place – contrary to all the above.

Billabong Bar

Fourteen: Entertain
It is fine being a wonderful administrator and organiser but you will be looked on to provide entertainment sometimes. You can’t expect your community to just do it all the time. You need to step in on a regular basis to show that you can put on big events. This encourages the relationship and more importantly suggestions as to how to make the events and activities better or develop new ones.

Fifteen: Don’t Listen to Too Much Advice
I would recommend listening to advice from trusted developers who have a track record for creating really good social spaces and not listening to out of world consultants. But in the end go with your gut reaction based on your personal experiences about what you think fulfills the needs of existing inhabitants in these 3D social networks. Having a genuine approach will most likely create a genuine response from your potential community. Remember though at the start you are a tourist and as such not doing anything until you are ready makes the most sense.

Gary Hayes is the Head of Virtual Worlds for the Project Factory and Director of the Laboratory for Advanced Media Production, LAMP. He personally produced and built the top brand in SL Telstra’s ‘The Pond’ and ABC TV (top ten) in several statistics (New World Notes and TPF) over the past 6 months. Recent other launches include Thursday’s Fictions and Melbourne Laneways.

Posted by Gary Hayes © 2007 All Rights Reserved.

May 062007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you and time for a few questions?

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

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2007

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 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 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

5 pages