While lecturing to AFTRS students last week about multi platform, social media & new forms I got on to games and social virtual worlds. When I asked who knew about Second Life one student chirped up “oh isn’t that the place where ABC TV got bombed”. Now a few things immediately sprung to mind when hearing this comment
Having built the ABC TV Island in 5 days or so and part running it at the time I knew the background to this intimately, so how much detail to go into?
I was also bizarrely running a LAMP residential lab in Tasmania when this event occurred and Lisa Romano then an ABC producer was one of our mentors, she also was in charge of the ABC Island at the time – so very much involved in the response
These events are very rare and my experience was either mostly technical server errors or simple admin error, so the problem was fixed in an hour or so as we immediately liaised with Linden Lab who run Second Life and fixed the problem
But the thing that really sprung to mind was, wow this event was back in May 2007. A two year old story. How and why would it persist so long and into the heads of ‘one so young’ – well mid 20s gen, young in my book :). Then I started to think about the story I used to tell not so long ago to folk who were fascinated by the story of the intriguing ‘ripple’ effect. How a technical error ended up with the CEO of ABC TV being interrogated in government about the act being about anti- Public Service commercialisation combined with terrorism training. This also reminded me forcibly of Laurel Papworth’s Ripple effect and more importantly the Long Tail of an influenced ripple effect – whereby a story is spread like chinese whispers and in some cases enters into folklore and myth – even with endless online interrogation. I also liken this to the Butterfly effect or chain reaction, where a small event can end up causing something far more significant. In this case study below of ABC Island, as you see below, it was more to do with a kind of mass hysteria about the medium of branded virtual worlds & the reflection of that out into real ‘prejudiced’ society. An example of online mass hysteria or clever marketing? You decide.
So here is a glimpse into the Butterfly Effect chronology on 2nd year anniversary of the momentus event 🙂
Interesting times ahead – the Console space finally collides with the Social Virtual World space as Sony and Microsoft race to be first to offer non-closed beta, ‘social (read: commercial) virtual world’ front ends to their ‘trojan horse’ consoles. Will they start to reap the benefits of a very large installed user base as both are likely to launch this side of Christmas in several international territories, and will they fly?
Both the Social World front end and the DIY games components (LittleBigPlanet and Buko) of these consoles have tremendous impact potential due to the massive installed base. As at the end of 2008 we are looking at PS3, XBox360 and Wii have a potential ‘Console Social Virtual World’ user base of 100 million! Compare that to the 1.5 million Second Lifers or even the 12 million WoW addicts…
The report from International Tribune about the two new ‘social worlds-in-your-console’ rivals, XBox New Experience (launching Nov 19) and Sony’s PS3 Home, suggests that Sony has cried wolf too many times. Sony have over-delayed the launch and are probably are trying to start out too big (vs the lower rez, cartoony avatars we see in the Wii [Miis]) and now the XBox equivalent, image above.
…Hirokazu Hamamura, a game expert and head of Japanese publisher Enterbrain Inc., who was at the Sony booth, said he needs to see more to assess “Home.” “You still can’t tell what it’s all about,” he told The Associated Press, adding that “Home” may be coming a little late compared to rivals. “There are so many more possibilities for a virtualÂ community.”
The NewXBoxExperience (NXE as it shall be now known) on the other hand has much more accessible friendly ‘toons’ which are very simple characters representing you in the basic XBoxLive interface. As I mentioned the interaction is likely to be similar to that on the Wii and Animal Crossing Wii also about to launch looks interesting too in this regards. But NXE will likely put off some of the hardcore gamers who don’t want to be represented by Simpson’s like avatars with minimal options to customise/personalize and make them their own? But is this just a half baked attempt at encouraging more group/tribal ‘mall’ type interaction to get folk to watch more of those ‘netflix’ (one of XBox’s live partners) videos or peer pressure to play/purchase online games they wouldn’t normally play? One think I do like the idea of is layering groups of avatars over full screen movies, so they can ‘play/chat/critique’ but I suspect the studios will put pressure on Microsoft to not allow that. We shall see. Other key partners in the NXE include Netflix, USA Network, MGM, NBC Universal, Universal Studios Home Entertainment and the SCI FI Channel.
The other big question is how to ‘really’ commercialise these spaces vs just incrementally increasing sales of existing product, like videos, within the portal. It is one thing getting your massive online user base to create an avatar and hang out with their friends in an abstract ‘exhibition’ hall while clicking (with a TV remote) on buy-me items like videos and other online games as in NXE but another to draw them in to having their own ‘pad’ as the case in PS3Home.
Having a persistent place to call your own produces, like Second Life, a big increase in user hours (for those who stick with it!) approaching 50 hours per week in the social space. This also brings with it the desire to purchase ‘virtual life’ enhancements (show-off pixel products) and the whole thing turns into aspirational lifestyle marketing on the Home side vs a 3D ‘TV-catalogue’ world on the NXE side. The next question is advertising during your social console moments. Both Home and NXE worlds will have a spattering of environmental or portal advertising from the outset and it will be great to see some contextual ads in there vs generic billboard equivalents. I would hope that Sony or Microsoft don’t go it alone here (even with Massive’s involvement with MS) and that they do adopt the expertise of the worlds largest advertising corporation Google.
So with Google moving into the fray with adsense now being delivered into online games reported by Reuters if brands don’t reach the gamers in the social front end worlds then they have another chance in the games themselves. Google are keen to point out the benefits they offer marketeers here A selection:
Drive your brand: In-game ads have been shown to drive brand familiarity and consideration by significant percentages*
â€¦and have the option for custom sponsorships and integrations: In addition to the media buy you make directly with Google, your Google sales representative can connect you directly with publishing partners for deeper integrations.
Reach the new generation of social gamer: The face of online gaming is changing to include users of all ages, backgrounds, and interests. Get your brand in front of users on the largest social networks, including MySpace, Facebook, and sites across the web.
OK they are starting with simple flash games and SocioNet widgets but they have their sights on traditional online games as it says in the Reuters report they are working with Konami and Sony and a few other key partners are already listed on their Adsense in Games site. (It is interesting to note also that Google are kicking advertisers into action with other initiatives including text ads in Google Maps/Earth and YouTube click-to-buy buttons – both reported by TechCrunch).
But back to the ingame advertising which if done right and using dynamic behavioural and personalised targeted techniques will indeed be a significant step forward for marketeers who are just getting their heads around basic social media. One big hurdle to come though is the old walled garden product/service vs open field product/service – you have lots of great ingame ads pointing to limited content in say NXE or Home Walled Gardens vs the potential of wandering around Halo 3 or Far Cry 2 and being able to purchase the ‘book, music, film’ inserted with 1-click to buy from Amazon, while STILL ingame or at least a quick hop out to the ‘social virtual world portal’.
This is all about clever product placement and relating it to the game your in (see my recent post on the renaissance of hundreds of films being made of games) is both the opportunity and the real challenge (being ‘sensitive’ to the story world and narrative of the game). So for example making sure the latest 2008 car is not being advertised in the 2020 story world of Crysis or subscriptions to Star Trek eps on demand embedded in Star Wars Galaxies. At least the social, vanilla spaces will allow contemporary advertising without too much jarring such as in a simple ‘gathering environment’ like Home below…
In summary I still think NXE is a half way house, a little too old school, cable/IPTV for my liking, and that Sony have the right model in the medium/longer term by persisting with a much more sticky, immersive and larger scale social ‘customisable’ environment – which as we have seen for the past 4 years in Second Life will drive much more inworld commerce. I hope that PS3Home allows some ‘theme’d’ areas too – based on loyal fans of certain games – to the extent that the social hangout becomes almost like a TV/film green room, a place to relax outside game world but feel your with like-minds…the 3D forum becomes a reality.
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 LifeÃ‚Â® Assassin by visiting the Nomad Hotel in Second LifeÃ‚Â® 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 gameÃ¢Â€Â”anywhere in Second LifeÃ‚Â®. As long as a player is wearing the HUD they are considered actively participating in the game. While actively participating in the game, a playerÃ¢Â€Â™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 LifeÃ‚Â®, 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 preyÃ¢Â€Â™s hit list (in addition to their original targets)Ã¢Â€Â”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 playersÃ¢Â€Â™ maps), Bonus Name (gives the user an additional online target), Homing Shot (Heat seeking bullet), and Shield (may take 5 direct hits before being Ã¢Â€ÂœkilledÃ¢Â€Â).
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 LifeÃ‚Â® 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 preyÃ¢Â€Â™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 SmokinÃ¢Â€Â™ Aces Headquarters and Virtual NBC Headquarters will also increase a playerÃ¢Â€Â™s bounty.
If a player is Ã¢Â€ÂœkilledÃ¢Â€Â, their current dayÃ¢Â€Â™s point bounty will reset back to 100 points and they will start from scratch with the gameÃ¢Â€Â™s default weaponry.
vMTV. Outside the SL environment we have MTV who seem to be happily ploughing ahead on the there.com platform and a new world created based on ‘The Hills’ TV show. I reported first hand about Laguna Beach Virtual World back in Sept and I was a little dubious of how this would progress being a closed world, almost the equivalent of a couple of SL sims. The 2nd outing seems far more integrated with the show and avatarorial representations of characters will role play and invite you into the ‘story world’. So it seems I have been proven wrong about the walled-garden nature of this, by MTV’s statistics at least, from this Hollywood R report about their second property to be delivered on the platform:
The launch of “Virtual Hills” follows and is an extension of MTV’s first virtual reality community, “Virtual Laguna Beach,” which launched in September. Bostwick said that virtual community has 350,000 registered users, but more importantly, a high level of engagement. In the past week, the average time spent “in-world” per visit reached 46 minutes per user, without any on-air integration.
Now it seems sometimes that vanilla virtual spaces, being open and void of goal and game, is very attractive to large numbers but I still think that Second Life and Linden Lab are losing the 90% of those who try it simply because it is so ‘directionless’ for many. It will be up to entertainment brands I believe, to stretch their professional muscles and lead the way for a sizeable potential MUVE community. Endemol have made a start along with NBC and MTV now. The BBC radio thing was not IMHO a good use of the environment the same as most of the commercial brands (who use it for external PR). There are exceptions such as those who are now really starting to look at collaborative product design combined with customer relations – such as the recent Sears/IBM initiative. Phillips were ahead of Sears in this as they are already down the road with Rivers Run Red in creating a audience centric design development presence in Second Life – as reported by their own news center. This is a really interesting space to me as brand driven collaborative design, drawing in audiences to contribute. Not in the wild west YouTube ‘any-old-rubbish-will-do” mode, but a mature and structured design methodology.
So both the TV and the design initiatives are starting to feel mature – well there are lessons being learnt very quickly in these MUVEs as most are open access and as soon as you TP into the areas you immediately pick up what works and what doesn’t – and that learning is open to all. I will leave the final word to Matt Bostwick, senior vp franchise development at MTV, who is also pretty bullish about the road ahead for them, I suppose because the there.com platform really hits their demographic target fair and square.
“We’re going to do a whole series of integrations with content and shows,” Bostwick said about future virtual realities tied to MTV’s shows. “Each is going to establish a new piece of geography or subculture.”