Will the ‘Avatar Based Marketing’ initiatives be a tsunami that will break down the fourth wall of Second Life for most, and in the process end the growth of premium subscribers many who use the world for other things besides doing enhanced duplicates of their first lives.

The shared virtual online world Second Life is at a crucial time in its life. On one hand it is going through obvious expansion pains, falling down technically and regularly, with weekly 50MB updates and on the other hand the dropping of the metaphoric castle drawbridge and its approach to allow anyone and everyone to join without ID (one that has forced Snapzilla a SL flickr to protest by going offline). The other main area of expansion though that could truly prove its demise is to allow unfettered influence from real world marketing. The panel (in-world last night) that looked at marketing and advertising in Second Life actually occurred when most people in Australia were in bed but I took a look at the transcript on Brands in Games just now and was quite dismayed.

Most of the discussion was about brand, advertising, getting virtual eyeballs on your product and selling Real World items off the back of SL exposure. Business, business, business – how to use the world to get most impact. Not one suggestion that perhaps many people use Second Life to escape from the endless blitzkrieg of brand pushing in the real world. The reason World of Warcraft is so successful is that it is one place you can get away from the endless advertising that we see in the real world. We know that commercial free to air tv is more and more irrelevant to young people (see my post Ambient TV, Immersive MMORPG) – because it adopts a one to many approach, broadcasting bland generalistic ads that only resonate with an aging audience. Young people need to play, be social, be immersed and certainly have personalized targeted brand experiences (as I have mentioned in many posts before) on their terms. Second Life has an important decision, be driven by corporate business or large numbers of users paying smaller amounts and who have more to do. To simplify – 5 times $10 million is the same as 10 million times $5.

There was a suggestion in the talk that Second Life’s growth may now actually depend on the big brands to support it and move it forward – the advertising sponsored virtual world. This would work in a free-to-join environment BUT there are two classes of citizens in SL and if a commercially-funded-free-to-join policy is adopted perhaps Linden Labs could consider paying back all those on premium accounts – or at least taking away the tiers many have paid to get LLabs to where it is at the moment. Here are some quotes that reinforce the above’¦

Hamlet Au: I think Second Life has long passed the days where it was a hothouse utopia where any hint of the outside world, especially the corporate for-profit world, causes much of a ripple. Now the challenge is to create cool, lasting, *exciting* experiences’”and the companies are competing on an equal level with the best creators in SL.

Yes Hamlet forget the many new entrants to SL are escaping from commercial TV and real world malls. The only real suggestion to keep mainland SL free from RL influence was to make sure that they stay on Islands and invite people to their wonderful interactive, brand-washing experiences.

Cristiano Midnight: Well, to expand on what Tony said, I do think that each environment is different and more or less viable for various reasons ‘– SL,